A testy response
Everyone in Indiana -- at least, everyone who has a child in school, or is a child in school, or whose job is connected to school -- is stressing out about the ISTEP tests being given this week. Last night, I gave my standard response to some people discussing it. I said that kids should just fill in the bubbles, and hand in their papers. I mean, the test doesn't carry any evaluative function for the individual students: it doesn't determine if they will be remediated somehow; it isn't a grade; next week or next year, it won't matter what they scored.Oh, but teachers' pay and school funding, and yada yada are tied to these scores!
I was told. Well, yes they are, but that's not the students' concern. The students
are not being evaluated, so why should they stress out about it? Pencil whip that sucker and let's get on to recess!
This is not to dismiss the concerns of the teachers and administrators and parents. What I'm pointing out is that the whole purpose of the tests is wrong-headed, if not downright abusive. We are in effect telling schoolchildren that they should worry themselves into a frazzle and beat themselves up to improve their scores in order to bail out their teachers.
But making kids responsible for the behavior of adults is wrong.
Now, figuring out how to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools is a legitimate goal. Without it, any old effort on their part will do -- and that attitude, where people congratulate themselves over mediocre, even failing, results, is common enough (and not just among educators). But the kids should be told to relax. It's not your fight.
Now, for pride's sake, the kids should be challenged to their best. But they shouldn't be made stressed about it, and if the adults around them are stressed, then their duty is not to pass that stress on to their students. And a little test-taking smarts should be shared with every student, to wit:
The proper strategy for test taking is to go rapidly through the entire test section, answering all the questions you can off the top of your head, leaving blank the ones that you don't immediately think you know the answer to. Don't linger; put down your first impression or just leave it blank. After you've gone through the whole test section, go back and look carefully at the questions you gave no answer to. Spend a little time on each one and see if you can't figure it out. If it still eludes you, leave it and go on to the next one. After your second time through the whole test section, if you've got time,
go back for the ones that really buffaloed you.
At this point, before time expires, you only need to know one thing. Is there a penalty for wrong answers? I mean, do we count the number correct out of the whole number (X out of 100, say), or do we count the number correct out of the number attempted (X out of the 90 you put down an answer to)? If the first is correct, then there is no penalty for guessing. So, after your second time through the whole test section, if your time is running out, just color in bubbles at random to the remaining questions; you might get lucky on some of them. If the other method is correct, though -- if you get penalized for guessing wrong, then don't guess on the remaining puzzlers; leave them blank. Et voila! What are they serving in the cafeteria today?