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Re: Columnist not a 'star' in state test

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  • ralphebedwell
    I thought this column had an interesting perspective. I teach language arts, not science or math, so I don t have much personal knowledge of those aspects of
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 30, 2005
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      I thought this column had an interesting perspective. I teach
      language arts, not science or math, so I don't have much personal
      knowledge of those aspects of the state tests. However, I will add
      that I think the language arts portions of the tests DO directly
      address skills that students will help students be successful in
      later life. Reading comprehension, vocabulary, language conventions,
      etc., all have direct application in higher education and the
      workplace. As far as I can tell, the state tests do a reasonably
      good job of testing these skills, given the limitations of the
      multiple choice format. (I should add, since the article brings it
      up, that critical thinking is an essential part of the language arts
      curriculum; whether you are analyzing a text or drafting an essay,
      you are utilizing these thinking skills to get the job done. I have
      long thought that the REAL subject matter of language arts is
      critical thinking, not reading and writing -- they are merely useful
      byproducts of the thinking skills that we develop in the classroom.)


      --- In wccusdtalk@yahoogroups.com, Hulda Nystrom <huldanystrom@s...>
      > -------- Original Message --------
      > Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2005 10:30:26
      > To: ca-resisters@i...
      > From: Peter Farruggio <pfarr@c...>
      > Subject: [KPFAed] Columnist not a 'star' in state test
      > Printed in the San Francisco Chronicle
      > Columnist not a 'star' in state test
      > by C.W. Nevius
      > Saturday, April 30, 2005
      > Page B - 1
      > http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
      > When it was suggested that I try a sample version of the STAR
      > (Standardized
      > Test and Reporting Program) test that California students are
      > taking, I figured I might have a little trouble with the math and
      > That turned out to be the understatement of the month. I was
      rolling right
      > along until I got to Algebra I.
      > "What,'' question nine asked, "is the factored form of 3a²-
      > You're kidding, right?
      > Of the 16 sample questions in the ninth/10th-grade algebra test, I
      > correctly answered five, or 31 percent. Some of my misses were
      > off- target. For problem five, I thought the correct answer was
      six. It
      > was
      > two. Not even close.
      > In some ways, the right answers were worse. I got eight of 15
      correct in
      > the chemistry section, barely 50 percent, but two of those were
      > wild
      > guesses that panned out.
      > So what does that show? That a middle-aged guy who hasn't taken a
      math or
      > science class for over 30 years can't tell you "the relationship
      > the first ionization energy and the increase in atomic number''?
      > that's true.
      > But there's a deeper concern here. You know how students and
      teachers are
      > complaining about these annual exercises in tedium? How they gripe
      > the
      > STAR tests are full of arcane questions that have almost no
      > to
      > everyday life? How these tests, which can last up to seven hours
      over five
      > days and have a huge impact on the future of local schools, are not
      a good
      > measure of learning?
      > They may have a point.
      > The idea to have some adults take a sample STAR test was the
      brainstorm of
      > Doris Ober and Richard Kirschman of Dogtown, up by Stinson Beach.
      > were
      > interested because of local news reports about the nearby Lagunitas
      > District, where some parents who did not approve of the tests were
      > out their kids. Ober and Kirschman decided to offer a sample test to
      > adults
      > who were interested.
      > Not all of them were. Ober says many were frankly worried that
      they'd be
      > "humiliated'' by their lack of success. Others, like Ober, were
      > confident. As she said, she was among those "who like tests, expect
      to do
      > well in them, and looked forward to the challenge.''
      > Like certain cocky newspaper columnists, Ober says she and
      > "realized immediately we were way over our heads'' in math and
      > Although she says she "aced'' the English, history and seventh-
      grade math
      > sections, she managed just one right answer in algebra, "probably
      > accident. ''
      > When she tallied the results of the 146-question test (the actual
      STAR has
      > some 585 questions), she finished with a 67 percent. My total was
      > but not much, just 71 percent. If those were the totals for a
      school, they
      > would be right on the brink of not demonstrating "adequate yearly
      > progress'' (AYP).
      > Schools who do not make their AYP levels, calculated against other
      > in the state and across the country, face sanctions, the most
      severe of
      > which could be reassignment of the staff and even the closing of the
      > school.
      > So while it is amusing for us adults to shrug helplessly when
      asked "Which
      > of the following atoms has six valence electrons?'' it is serious
      > at the schools.
      > The result is a case of what sounds like a reasonable idea --
      making sure
      > students meet a standard of learning -- turning into a
      > mess.
      > For starters, the kids have no incentive to do well on the tests.
      > score
      > doesn't affect their grade, nor does it help high-school students
      get into
      > college. It is just a long, boring week every year, spending hours
      > in multiple-choice bubbles.
      > Second, the teachers face pressure to "teach the test'' rather than
      > broader
      > concepts. Instead of critical thinkers, the ideal STAR test
      students would
      > be multiple-choice experts who have memorized catch phrases and
      > Finally, many of the questions in the math and science sections are
      > incredibly obscure. Unless you are a mathematician or scientist,
      why would
      > you need to know that information later in life? Ober says several
      > remarked on "how little those subjects we failed at mean to our
      > today.''
      > And that's not to mention the inherent problems of multiple-choice
      > They encourage guessing, are stressful, and most of them -- the
      STAR is no
      > exception -- feature trick questions designed to trip up test-takers
      > rather
      > than to evaluate learning.
      > Oh c'mon, you say. It can't be that bad. OK, smartie, try it
      > Sample tests can be found at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/css05rtq.asp.
      > Let me know how you do.
      > (Just a hint: better brush up on congruent angles.)
      > C.W. Nevius' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in the Bay Area
      > and Fridays in East Bay Life. E-mail him at cwnevius@s...
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