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Monday, July 1, 2013

how fair is it?

my next blog posting was going to be about why I thought one particular unit was difficult for my students  last year and what I was planning on doing about it this year.  I'm sure it will be coming soon, but instead....

I had a discussion with 2 other teachers in my school.  I, as a general rule, this past year wrote most of the assessments.  It primarily worked out that way because I was the one teaching the honors class, so I was reaching the material first.  Then, as they caught up, we would review the assessments which I had created and looking at the honor's classes results on those assessments we would "agree" to modify them.  I put the "agree" in quotations because it wasn't infrequent for items to be removed, made significantly easier (reduction in Depth of Knowledge) or otherwise significantly changed.

I'm not using my, limited, platform to complain about my co-workers.  My thoughts are instead drawn to the comment of one of them and I want to stream of consciousness my thoughts about that comment.

The question had the students performing a task which they had not previously done in class.  It was a question relating to probability - and I wish I had saved it to post it here, but when I copied my files at the end of the year onto my portable hard-drive the original was replaced by what was given to the students instead. (If I find it, I'll try to add it, but its not really necessary for the rest of the posting)

Is it appropriate for students to be asked on an assessment to perform a task or experiment uniquely different than something they've previously seen in class, but still within the scope of the curriculum?

The math coach we had said that my question was "ambitious" but she refrained from commenting further when asked about the decision of the rest of the Algebra 2 teachers to remove the problem.  It was pointed out that there were plenty of other kinds of questions which did more closely resemble the kinds of questions the students had previously seen in class which would also assess the same standard.  It was further pointed out that this was a question which the honors kids had struggled with as well (I believe the percentage was about 30% had gotten it correct).

My feeling is that by only asking safe, expected kinds of problems we are limiting our students.  It may be perceived as unfair, but I'd rather a spectacular attempt at a problem that was different than 10 perfectly executed examples which the students had seen, or themselves, done before.  I also point out the argument I used with the other teachers before the problem was removed, - I'm sure the assessments coming down the pike will include many problems unfamiliar to my students and I want them to at least try.

I see both sides and while I feel justified in my position, I can recognize that as many of our students freeze or just write the dreaded IDK (why would they write "I Dumb Kid" on their papers anyway... I can assure you after I question a few of them each year and assure them that I seriously doubt it,  they don't do it anymore in my also point out that they could just as easily have written IDT...I Didn't Try)

It was one thing when NY changed their standards and NY teachers felt pressured, or TX ratcheted up the testing, but now its all of us and I'd rather challenge my kids and drop the points for a question and hand out candy to the ones who succeed or fail spectacularly,  rather than remove the difficult questions from the test.  I want my students to know that on each test that there will be questions which they've never seen and know that something they've learned is appropriate to solving it.  If individually they never have to work on something like this, then I can't imagine how they'll ever deal with the tests which are coming....


  1. Yes, yes, yes! It is OK for students to be pushed on assessments. I got up the nerve to do it this year and was always so surprised by the results and grateful that I had done it.

    I can't find it right now, but in our schools 4-point scale for SBG the description of a 4 says "not explicitly taught in class" so that is what really pushed me to ask those types of questions. Our 4-level is meant to be about making applications/extensions/inferences outside of what the teacher "gave away" already.

    I remember something I was really nervous to put on an assessment about set theory was a compound situation (we never discussed in class). I knew my students could handle the algebra side of things because it was an advanced course and I the students were very smart algebra thinkers. But I worried about them sketching the situation using Venn diagrams. I asked for it anyway and I was so pumped about the results I got. It just blew me away. I love being able to see my students do that!

    1. Thank you, you've reminded me that I really need to put together some things to clarify the 4 point scale for SBG. (though how I am going to pull it off with PowerSchool is still something of a mystery...I have some ideas, but I'm not sure if they truly pull off SBG or if I'm just massaging the points in such a way to simulate SBG in a PowerSchool environment...guess I'll just have to write that post and see what it looks like in print)

      I actually wrote it out once, in a reply to you, but it didn't work (we spoke about that previously on twitter). I have a theory, maybe the ipad is the problem with trying to reply to your posts... I'll have to make a test reply to find out.

      Thank you so much for replying, Kathryn...