On Test-Taking

Eenie-Meenie-Mynie-Moe as a multiple choice technique ?

a testing student.jpg


      This week,  I gave my sixth grade students a district math test, the kind they do completely on the computer.  My job was to walk around and "make sure" they take the test seriously and don't try to look on anyone else's computer monitor.  How do you "make" someone take a test seriously? I do my best to teach the concepts and make the subject matter engaging, but let's be honest: how engaging can you make memorizing multiplication facts?  And yet, that's what these kids need to do if they're to be successful at solving any kind of algebraic algorithm.  In our current educational world, no one seems to get the concept of motivation.   


       As I walked around the testing lab, I saw students choosing answers randomly, students counting off Eenie, Meenie, Mynie, Moe to select an answer, and students staring at the monitor as if comatose.  It was frustrating, because the results of this test are supposed to give me a good idea of who needs more help in certain areas.  But how can I trust those results when I witnessed how little effort was put forth by many of my students?  


          And who can blame the kids, really? I saw some of those problems on the test, and the multi-step processes necessary for solving them kind of gave me a headache. I can’t imagine being a kid taking the test, knowing that the results won’t affect you one bit. I wonder how many adults would tackle a test like that seriously without the assurance that a strong result would give them more money in their job or advancement in their career.          

       Perhaps it's time we as a society stop kidding ourselves: the only way to get an accurate measure of what a student can do is provide incentive to actually try.  Our kids currently skate by elementary and middle school, and even high school to a point.  The first time they are held accountable for the results they achieve on a standardized test is when (or if) they take the SAT or ACT.  Until that moment, nothing matters to them. Only to us, the teachers whose salaries and even job security depend on those tests.  On what planet does this concept even remotely make sense?

        I think again about people who make way more money than I do feeding me and everyone else the line that the only thing that matters in successful instruction (and therefore, successful testing) is how engaging I make the material and leaves out the part where students actually take responsibility in their own education.