Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Housekeeping and Test Grading

I filed all my open tabs into bookmark folders yesterday. Now my browser is much happier, and I'll get a chance to see if I ever manage to write about all those stories without bogging my computer down.

But here's a new story I just saw, from our local paper the City Pages: A classic alt weekly take-down of the test-grading industry, especially damning the grading of the essay tests that have become a requirement in the age of No Child Left a Dime.

Recent college graduates, desperate for a job, are hired as temps. They're given a rubric that asks them to give a 6 to "excellent" writing skills, a 5 to "good" skills, a 4 to "adequate" skills, and so on. But they're given little training in how to differentiate those levels. And then the essays speed by them on a screen, and they're prodded to keep up, and to make sure their scores agree with another reader's at least 80 percent of the time.

Too often, a concisely written essay is graded lower simply because it's short. As if longer writing is automatically better (haven't the testing companies ever heard of that Mark Twain quote about writing a shorter letter if he had more time?).

The purpose of these tests is to determine if the student can write adequately or better, not whether s/he writes a five paragraph essay of a certain length, right? No:

There were the students who wrote extremely well but whose responses were too short—in his mind he saw them, bored with the essay topic, hurrying to finish. Or the essays where the handwriting got rushed and jumbled at the end, then cut off abruptly—he imagined the proctor telling the frantic student to lay down his pencil on a well-written but incomplete response.

And there were the kids who just did what they wanted. Like the boy from Arkansas who, instead of writing about the most fun thing to do in his town, instead wrote a hilarious essay on why his town is terrible and how he wanted to burn it down and pee on the ashes.

"I wanted the kid to get the score they deserved," Puthoff says of his time in the business. "But they want to put them in boxes."
Daughter Number Three-Point-One has a few things to say about the standardized writing test she had to take in ninth grade. Her then-school spent about two months drilling her and her classmates on how to write the five-paragraph essay. All the time that was usually spent on other endeavors like homework help or extracurriculars (not to mention their English class) was given over to this repetitive waste of her time.

When the test finally came, the question was "What would you like to change about your school?" She says she wrote a boring bit about the school's anti-cellphone policy, arguing there are reasonable rules that could allow use in case of emergency or during hall passing times. She got a 4 for her bored efforts.

One girl at her current school wrote about how wrong it was for the school to use elephants as vaccum cleaners. And got a 6. More power to her.

A gray plastic elephant with pink ears, which is also a hand vacuum, cleaning up crumbs

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

The only thing more depressing than the thought of students’ writing being evaluated in these rigid ways is the thought of recent college grads doing this sort of work for a living.