Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When I Look Back At All The Crap I Taught In High School

It's a wonder I can teach at all.

Here's how it works in Missouri. You teach a class for eight months, then you give the kids a standardized End Of Course test that takes 90 minutes. That's how long my kids took, anyway. The first day they had 47 multiple choice questions. The second day, they had two science experiments to analyze and discuss the variables and make data tables and graphs. The majority of my students took 90 minutes or less to finish. Optimistically, I would say they would be lucky to get 10 out of those 47 right. The second part would have been easier for them. My students, the techies, are not good at memorization. But they can reason things out.

I don't expect the results to be great, but I expect them to beat the state average. Our school usually does, no matter what grade or subject. It does not affect my job in any way, except that I will put more emphasis on what was asked on this year's test when I teach my new class next year. Not that it matters. Traditionally, the powers that make the test will then put the emphasis on the other stuff next year. This was the first year for this test, after doing away with the MAP testing.

But I do have some bones to pick with the test-makers. I read through a test that would have gone to one of my absentees. I definitely knew 40 of the answers. The other 7 I would have needed to look up. So you can imagine how my techies fared.

The test instructions emphasized that students were being graded on their ability to follow directions, and their science knowledge. It specifically mentioned that students would NOT be graded on their grammar, spelling, or punctuation. looking over the test, and responding to student questions, it became clear that about half of my students did not understand the questions. I was not allowed to explain any test items. All I could do was pronounce a word. No paraphrasing, no explanation, no reading the question out loud. That would invalidate the test. AND require more paperwork.

One kid asked me to pronounce pharmaceutical. As in "A pharmaceutical company conducted a study..." Could they not have said 'drug' instead? So the kids would not get hung up on a big word and skim over the question? Yesterday, a question concerned the turgidity of cells. Our book does not use the word turgidity, but it talks about cells filling with water in a hypotonic solution. Silly Mrs. Hillbilly Mom spent time emphasizing the difference between hypotonic and hypertonic solutions, and concentration gradients, and semipermeable membranes, and osmosis, and passive and active transport. Turgidity. It's not something I would toss out in conversation. My kids probably thought it had something to do with a turd. The other science teacher said she got out the dictionary to look it up for herself.

In my opinion, if you're testing SCIENCE, then word the questions so that kids can show their knowledge (or lack of knowledge) in SCIENCE, not in reading comprehension. Or at the very least, on the list of what skills students will need to score at certain levels, use the word. For example: students will be able to describe the turgidity of cells in terms of hypotonic and hypertonic solutions. There. You know to prepare the students for the meaning of turgidity.

Tomorrow: In The Trenches. Behold my horror at real questions students asked me during the test. It's not for the faint of heart.

In case you go and look it up, we are discussing the scientific definition of turgidity. Here, I'll make it easy for you: Swollen or distended, as from a fluid; bloated.


DeadpanAnn said...

You looked at a test? In Mississippi, we can get fired and have our licenses revoked and even be prosecuted for reading a test. They threaten us every year, and we have to have a witness with us at all times when we are in possession of test materials. Two people have to go pick up the tests, two people have to go drop off the tests, and if you have the tests in your room before the test begins and you need to go to the bathroom, you have to have someone else come in and stand there with your witness while you leave the room. The most I've ever seen of the MCT is what I caught out of the corner of my eye while the kids were taking the tests, and that wasn't much.

I'm with you on the wording being stupid. And according to our academic coach, on our test the kids are expected to know every possible term for something. For example, they have to know that a subordinate clause is also known as a dependent clause. That's an easy one, but there are some other things in English that have multiple names-- enough that it'd be hard to remember them all. Instead of just saying "Okay, in Mississippi we are going to use THIS specific term for this, and that is the term that will be on the test," they deliberately use all of the terms on the test to trip the kids up when they don't know each one.

It's stupid. They don't need to know every possible term for a certain type of sentence or whatever. I don't know them. Hell, I SO don't know them that I can't think up an example of what I'm talking about right now. It's total CRAP to test them on it. We should be focusing on whether they can comprehend what they're reading and whether they can communicate clearly through writing.

BTW, before I conclude this novella I want to tell you what I do when I have to pronounce a word that I'm not allowed to give the meaning of. Make a "mistake" that will clue them in to the word's meaning. For example, "pharmaceutical" would accidentally come out at "pharmacy... excuse me. farm a soo tickle." You know what I'm saying. Help the little terds out when the man is trying to hold them down.

Hillbilly Mom said...

Miss Ann,
I will excuse the turgidity of your comment.

Our tests are locked in the office until it is time to give them. Apparently, our state loves us more than your state loves you. We can pick up our tests on the day that we give them. They have to be kept locked up, as in a file cabinet, until time to give them. After testing, the tests are returned to the Principal's office to be locked up in a designated room until the next test session.

Missouri has a gigantic test bank of questions. I had 24 students, and thus had 24 different tests. Questions used this year will be placed on the DESE website as released items for the students to practice on throughout next year until time for the test again. Then a batch of new questions will be on the test.

Three of my students were absent, so while my others were testing, I took one of the test booklets and read through it. It's too late to cram kids for this set of 47 questions, and since each test is different, it would have only benefited one student if he was crammable. Not that I have the time or desire to coach one student for one test. That would be against the rules, just as defining turgidity would have been.

This year, there were a plethora of questions about ecosystems and DNA replication. Next year, it might be photosynthesis and symbiosis. It's a crapshoot. We get a list of a bazillion key skills that they should learn, teach them all, and hope they remember enough of the ones that might be tested. I spent two weeks on Mendel's Laws of Inheritance, and there were two questions about it on the test I looked at.

I am not crafty enough to mispronounce 'turgidity.'