Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Only One Right Answer

If you don't follow the ongoing struggle over standardized testing in schools, you may not have heard about the pineapple question yet. Basically, a New York State reading comprehension test used a modified version of an absurdist story by Daniel Pinkwater, then asked inane questions about it.

Given that the test's outcome is used to judge important things like school progress and teacher's reputations, there's been a fair amount of outrage about this, and questions raised about the quality of the questions in general, the way they're developed and approved, and the opacity of the whole process.

Today's Star Tribune letters section included another fine example of what's wrong with reading comprehension tests. Like the writer, Natalie Goodson of New Hope, I find it hard not to be sad when I contemplate the logical outcome of the situation she describes:

Some thinking just might be squeezed out

My third-grade twin sons are taking the MCA tests for the first time this year, and their teacher has been sending home some practice packets as homework. One of the reading selections was a poem about children planting a garden, and the question was asked, "What are the children likely to do next summer?"

My son chose "have a springtime party" but the "correct" answer was "plant another garden." I asked why he'd chosen the party answer.

He said, "Because I thought they would like to do something different next year."

I told him the correct answer, and he said, "But they already did that!" I pointed out that a lot of people plant gardens every year, and he looked outside at our blooming tulips and daffodils (perennials, of course) and said, "We don't!"

Finally, I told him, "Well, that's the answer they want you to have," so he fixed it and moved on. But I felt like I had squelched some creativity and intelligent thinking out of him. These tests are supposed to measure their comprehension, but he had understood the poem fine. He just thought about it a little differently than the testmakers did.

It made me wonder: How useful are these tests in measuring what kids know or what they can do? I suppose he's learning how to take standardized tests, of which there will be many in the years to come, but I wondered if his time would be better spent reading more poems, writing poems of his own, or even playing outside.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

I’d like to be in the room where these kinds of questions are invented and answered and offer my perspective. It’s maddening.