Opening day of testing season: The hunt is on! Wear orange

We stopped education in Texas high schools yesterday to test students’ proficiency with the English language.  English is a difficult enough subject that it merits its own testing day, so as not to discombobulate students for the other Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests.

All controversy aside, it’s a grind.

Yours truly won the straw that got to make sure students made it to the restroom from their testing rooms, and back, without discussing the contents of the exam or sneaking off a cell-phone conversation or text message.  (Yes, testing rules require that students check in phones and other devices during the test.)  Classes in bathroom monitoring and cell-phone jamming cannot be far away at America’s great institutions of learning about teaching.

And you think teachers are overpaid?  In Belgium the restroom attendants get tips.  Same at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.  Not in Texas schools.

The worst part:  None of us on bathroom duty knows what we did that we’re being punished for.   (NB:  This is a joke.  Somebody had to do it, and English teachers did a lot of it, in order to keep them out of administering the tests, where they might be accused of doing something to aid cheating to raise scores — teachers who do their job well may get bathroom monitoring duty as a result . . .)

Dallas ISD and the Texas Education Agency had monitors to make sure our testing was secure enough, though I’m not certain such pains are taken to make sure the tests work.  Our school is targeted for “reconstitution” if there are not dramatic improvements in TAKS scores in math and science, so the monitors hunt for errors.  One wishes that wearing orange would keep the guns from being aimed at one, but one suspects it would only improve one’s targetability.

So we take it all seriously.  One would hate to have been the cause of the demise of a community school for having committed some grand error in monitoring bathrooms.

It was one day of testing, but it cost us more than that.  Schedules were rearranged Monday so that instead of our usual block scheduling, each student got a briefer session with her or his English teacher for last minute review and pep talk.  Faculty meetings were for test administration instructions (required by regulation or law).

On test days, students are asked to leave their books and book bags at home (security for the test, mainly).  What sort of education system discourages kids from carrying books <i>any day?</i>

Math, science and social studies tests come at the end of April and early May.  Other tests dot the weeks until then.  One teacher noted in a meeting last year that testing season marks the end of the education year, since little can be done once testing starts eating up the calendar in such huge chunks.

“Time on task,” Checker Finn used to note.  When students spend time on a task, they learn it.  Measure what students spend their time doing, you’ll figure out what they’re good at.

In Texas, it appears, we teach testing.

Dave at DaveAwayFromHome may have put it best, quoting from Tyson’s recent appearance at the University of  Texas-Arlington (image from Dave’s site, too):

clowns to the left of me...
“When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the children at a school are below average on a test, no one stops to think that’s what average means.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, speaking about math illiteracy.

(Actually, I think that should be “innumeracy.”  Is that jargon?  Do we have to know that?  Does it show up on the test?)

One Response to Opening day of testing season: The hunt is on! Wear orange

  1. John Mashey says:

    Well, of course, this actually illustrates something else, which is a more subtle innumeracy.

    1) It is not necessarily true that half the students are below average, because the average = arithmetic mean, and it depends on the shape of the distribution.

    Half below average is only true when the mean = median.

    2) Of course, if the distribution is the familiar normal (Gaussian bell-shaped) distribution, then:

    mean = mode = median

    3) And, many things do distribute normally, including IQs, human heights (but not weights).

    4) But nothing guarantees a normal distribution at a school. For example, suppose you have a school district with a half families wiht intense education dedication (i’m thinking of some areas into which moved a lot of Vietnamese after the war, wherein the non-English-speaking parents did everything they could … and not too many years later, there was a wave of Vietnamese valedictorians.

    5) So, that kind of situation can produce a right-skewed distribution, in which the average is *higher* than the median, which means in fact, that more than half the kids are below average (in that school).

    6) Anyway, the normal distribution is a good guess, but one usually needs to check, because it’s never guaranteed.

    6) I once participated in an external review for a Singapore polytechnic (17/18/19-year olds) in which their goals were very explicit:

    “We don’t get the top quartile. Our goal is to take the 2nd and 3rd quartile and help them be as good as they can be.”

    And from what I saw, they were pretty good at this. There were 18/19-year-olds I could have imagined hiring as junior members of software teams.


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