If you’re confused by the title of this post, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The 8th grade New York ELA exam last month included a passage entitled “The Hare and the Pineapple,” a nonsensical story patterned after Aesop’s well-known version. See here
for a copy of the story and associated questions. In the middle school where I teach, students were equal parts baffled and annoyed. When the wider public caught wind, the ensuing uproar was dubbed “Pineapplegate.” Pearson, the maker of the NY state test, had this to say
in defense of the passage.As a teacher who already has concerns about widespread standardized testing starting in third grade, I take issue with the whole thing on a number of levels. First, even I had trouble deciding what the “correct” answer was for several of the questions. I earned a perfect score on the ACT. I actually enjoy
taking standardized tests. So when I’m baffled by a question on an 8th grade English test, I assume it’s not me. It’s the test.
Second, I wonder what sort of accountability Pearson has for their testing materials. Considering the company just won a $32.1 million contract to provide testing materials for the next several years, it seems that they should provide quality assurance measures. Perhaps Pearson should pay a $100,000 penalty for each question that needs to be thrown out. There were several in this year’s math & ELA exams. (For example, this 5th grade math question was thrown out after teachers realized it was impossible for students to solve.)
Finally, how can we make standardized tests more useful for students and teachers? As a student, I just see a summarized score of 1 through 4. For example, what would a “3” really tell me? Research tells us feedback must be timely to be useful. Currently the standardized test results come back too late to be useful for students or teachers. The full breakdown of student results by standard don’t arrive until well after the end of the school year. And even then, teachers don’t have access to the original questions. I understand that norm-referenced tests need large samples of data and are often field-tested for validity. But more transparency would be wholly appropriate and ease concerns of all parties involved. (Except perhaps the testing company.)
My first year of teaching I was both blessed and cursed by a lack of curriculum. The previous 8th grade math teacher had left a collection of NY state test questions from the past several years. But even as an unsophisticated first year teacher, I realized this was a far cry from a well-planned curriculum. And so I spent about hours and hours every unit scouring the internet for different ways to teach a concept, interesting problems, and standards-driven activities. This constant quest for good resources has dramatically accelerated my growth as a teacher and is a continual supply of professional development.Now that I have surveyed the landscape, I feel ready to give back to the community. My initial contribution is a unit on percents
that I planned while student teaching in an 8th grade classroom. There are several features I’d like to highlight that I think were valuable. In this post I will discuss the use of a pre-assessment
This was the first time I gave a pre-assessment. In the past I didn’t gave much thought to prerequisite skills and understanding. By giving a pre-assessment, I forced myself to consider what students needed to know to learn the new material. I also sent students the message that I was serious about helping them be successful, and not just blindly following some curriculum.
Following the pre-assessment I collected student work and used the document camera at the front of the room to briefly flip through student responses. It’s important that this process is anonymous, as the point is to display the range of ideas and not single out students for their mistakes. The teacher may also want to slip in his or her own work to make a particular point (whether it’s a common misunderstanding, a correct solution, or a controversial answer). For example, this student’s solution prompted an interesting discussion.
After giving a pre-assessment it’s important to put the data to use. I found that students had a lot of trouble multiplying decimals and converting between fractions, decimals, and percents. So I planned a station activity the next day where students could practice two skills. Each station was led by a teacher or pair of students who had demonstrated mastery of that particular skill. In this particular instance I allowed students to decide which skill to practice, but you could also assign groups.