Not everyone who scores Pearson tests is hired from Craig’s List or Kelly Temps. Julie Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher in Néw York recently scored student responses. She stresses that she is not opposed to Common Core or to standardized tests, but she is very troubled by the kind of thinking that is rewarded in the tests.
Because she signed a confidentiality agreement, she does not discuss items on this year’s exams, but released questions from last year.
“First things first, one of the most disturbing trends that I have found examining this year’s and last year’s (released) tests is a shift in thinking toward a kind of intellectual relativism. In other words, any claim that a student makes is correct if he or she substantiates it with some evidence. On the surface this doesn’t sound terribly problematic, but when you start to examine some of the anchor papers, the dilemma with this vein of thinking becomes shockingly apparent. The truth is, not all claims are correct and not all evidence is created equal. Making a feeble claim and using evidence out of context to support that claim is an all too common occurrence on these tests….
“According to Pearson “you choose what you think is right” is the first inference. The list of upsides and downsides is one detail. The student then uses an unrelated second detail about joining clubs and school and makes a second inference that you may really end up enjoying it. Formulaically speaking: inference + 2 details will always yield a correct answer. What we have here is a confusing and clumsy answer to a confusing and clumsy question.
“One might argue that this way of scoring allows students to scrape up extra points and is actually a boon to teachers and students alike. It boosts scores! Hurrah!
“But in fact, it creates a terrifyingly slippery slope. I think about climate change deniers, the Creationist Museum in Kentucky that shows humans and dinosaurs roaming Earth side-by-side, 9-11 conspiracy theorists, and the Holocaust itself! Throughout history, people have made misguided claims and have supported their thinking with spurious details and evidence. Don’t our children deserve better?
“Another disturbing pattern that emerges as one reads the anchor responses for the ELA is what I call “The Easter Egg Hunt.” When it comes to short answer questions in particular, the question that is actually being posed rarely matches the answer required. The wordier the written response, the more likely it is that the student will stumble upon the correct answer, find the decorative egg. (Strategy!) Time after time there is a clandestine condition that must be met in order for an answer to get full credit – “Magic Words.” As my scoring instructor illustrated, it’s kind of like tossing all of the words into a bucket and looking for certain key phrases or ideas to float up to the top.”
The nitty-gritty of the scoring process demonstrates that we have outsourced the most important functions of education to a mega-corporation that is incapable of assessing critical thinking. No standardized test can,no matter who writes it or scores it. Standardization itself is antithetical to the intended result.