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Education Science

Florida Thinks Their Students Are Too Stupid To Know the Right Answers 663

gurps_npc writes "Robert Krampf, who runs the web site 'The Happy Scientist,' recently wrote in his blog about problems with Florida's Science FCAT. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is an attempt to measure how smart the students are. Where other states have teachers cheating to help students, Florida decided to grade correct answers as wrong. Mr. Krampf examined the state's science answers and found several that clearly listed right answers as wrong. One question had 3 out of 4 answers that were scientifically true. He wrote to the Florida Department of Education's Test Development center. They admitted he was right about the answers, but said they don't expect 5th graders to realize they were right. For this reason they marked them wrong. As such, they were not changing the tests. Note: they wouldn't let him examine real tests, just the practice tests given out. So we have no idea if FCAT is simply too lazy to provide good practice questions, or too stupid to be allowed to test our children."
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Florida Thinks Their Students Are Too Stupid To Know the Right Answers

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  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:31PM (#39705099)

    Who's right doesn't matter, who has the power does!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:39PM (#39705163)

      Who's right doesn't matter, who has the power does!

      Yes, but kiddies also need to be taught that it *ought* to work that way.

      Otherwise some of them will get uppity later in life.

  • No child left... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:33PM (#39705117)


  • by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:36PM (#39705143) Homepage

    You have to realize that teachers teach those misconceptions so they can pretend to teach a particular concept when other essential prior knowledge has not been covered yet. This happens a lot in math as well. For example we covered a problem that could be solved without the mid-point formula but the mid-point formula drastically reduced the complexity. Most teachers would just find a way to fudge it. I went ahead and taught the midpoint formula.

    It really is up for debate how much a kid and handle and if we should teach all the essentials or just give them a few hacks so we can teach other parts of the whole. Personally I despise teaching misconceptions but I haven't been around long enough to say conclusively it's not necessary. I just haven't found a particular case yet where it is.

    • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:42PM (#39705199)

      If you read TFA, you'll find that this isn't assuming that student's won't know something yet - it is defining a predator as an organism that gets its nutrients from consuming another organism (meaning a cow is a predictor).

      And even if it was the first, consider the impact on anyone with an advanced-for-their-age understanding, and the impact on them. It knocks down their confidence in their budding intelligence, reduces to the least common denominator.

      No, this is wrong in every way, and not defensible.

    • They should just have different questions then...

    • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:45PM (#39705243)
      I read the article and it seems to me that the practice test has major flaws in that those who wrote the practice tests were not precise. The definitions were off. The 3 of 4 example was one where the student of asked which of the 4 was testable:
      1. The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses.
      2. The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal.
      3. Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers.
      4. Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals.

      Softness is a physical property you can test. Sweetness when it comes to aromas is a chemical response. And size vs bee attraction is also testable. What the question intends is which of these is most plausible when it comes to cause and effect which the right answer is 4. 1 and 3 are right due to the way the question was asked.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Really you can test subjective qualities like prettiness as well.

      • by Milyardo ( 1156377 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:04PM (#39705415)
        The misconception this question enforces is stronger than that. 1 and 3 attempt compare the the measurement of physical properties while number 4 is a behavioural observation that can only be measured through correlation. Numbers 1 and 3 can be proven to be fact through measurement while number can only be a hypothesis(that can only be proven with a causation or disproven with a observation that states otherwise). From the TFA the purpose of the question is asses the student's ability to discern opinion/interpretation from a scientific observation. While number is undoubtedly a scientific observation, asserting number 4 is true after observation is still an opinion/interpretation, making it a poor choice to assert that student has a clear understanding of the difference between opinion and fact.
      • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:05PM (#39705429)

        The response to his questions was pretty telling also. The official agreed with the science, that 3 of the answers were testable, but he said that students who learned about mineral hardness couldn't be expected to realize that applied to other materials, and that students couldn't be expected to realize that you can use a chromatograph (or anything else) to test the qualities of a smell.

        The obvious solution is to choose other properties that are actually non-testable instead of list testable properties and assume the students won't know, but they refused to change those responses.

        • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:54PM (#39705893) Homepage Journal

          When it was found that the British GCSE examiners were marking salt as something you couldn't melt, it was considered a national disaster and the media ripped the examining authorities a new one.

          In Florida, marking something that scientists test everyday as untestable is more likely to get you a promotion and a hefty bonus.

          Standardized exams are EVIL and worthless (exams should be tailored to as small a group as practical and should test that group's ability to acquire and understand knowledge, it's the only way you can establish anything of value) but standardized exams that are also factually wrong should be burned at the stake. There is no excuse for them. Ever.

          It doesn't matter what the examiner "expects" the students to know. A "C" grade should be what you "expect" the students to know. "A" should be reserved for people who know things you DIDN'T expect them to know. If you run out of grade letters, as the UK's A-level group did when they added A* to the mix, then that's for people who know things you didn't even know yourself.

          If you restrict people to boxes, expect them to have boxes for brains when they leave school. Maybe that works "just fine" in everglade country in the middle of a recession, but it should still not be acceptable. Anywhere. Ever.

      • Softness is a physical property you can test.

        Once you have defined a measurement system that correlates with your opinion of "soft". Most readings on the mineral hardness scale are hardly what a normal person would call "soft". A number 2 pencil is "soft", but you can stab someone with it. What scale do you use?

        Sweetness when it comes to aromas is a chemical response.

        For many decades, scientists have told us that sodium saccharine is a "sweetener". Sorry, not to me it isn't. It tastes horrible, not sweet. Women pay lots of money for perfumes that smell "sweet". To me, many of them smell bad and even repu

        • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:56PM (#39705913)

          Once you have defined a measurement system that correlates with your opinion of "soft". Most readings on the mineral hardness scale are hardly what a normal person would call "soft". A number 2 pencil is "soft", but you can stab someone with it.

          The question didn't say "soft", it said "softer". The number 2 pencil might well be hard, but it's still softer than a carbon-steel dagger.

      • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:58PM (#39706409)

        In my wife's school district, practice tests are usually generated from questions that were rejected from the official test. The point being to practice taking the test using questions that don't matter (your don't assess kids using practice tests), and save the good questions for official tests.

    • by tolkienfan ( 892463 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:48PM (#39705273) Journal

      There is no excuse. When there is a multiple choice question where only one choice is allowed, (like most standardized tests), all correct answers should be counted as correct. If there are answers that are correct for subtle reasons, either put alternate (more obvious) incorrect choices, or allow them as alternative correct answers.
      No debate is necessary.

      • by wisty ( 1335733 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:04PM (#39705419)

        In multiple choice questions, the "most correct" answer is the right one. Otherwise, all answers can be correct, if you argue hard enough (if it's at all subjective).

        The problem is, they used a stupid question - you can scientifically test the "softness" or "sweetness" of a flower. There should be one that's obviously "most correct".

        For in-class quizzes, it's not so important (as the student can challenge it), but for a state-wide test there shouldn't be any wriggle room.

        • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:43PM (#39705795) Homepage Journal

          In multiple choice questions, the "most correct" answer is the right one.

          What's the next number in the series [2, 3, 5, 8]?

          1. 13 (Fibonacci style: 2 + 3 = 5, 3 + 5 = 8, 5 + 8 = 13)
          2. 12 (Incrementing by increasing integers: 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 2 = 5, 5 + 3 = 8, 8 + 4 = 12)

          Of those, which is objectively "most correct"?

          For various reasons, I ended up taking an IQ test a while back. The number of unobviously "most correct" answers almost drove me nuts. For a definition of "IQ" meaning "comes up with the same answer as the test author because of similar thought processes", it was great. For "IQ" meaning "able to infer patterns in the world around themselves", it sucked.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:38PM (#39705159)

    Good for making the magic iBoxes work so I can watch porn, but not so much for anything important, like resource utilization or climate modeling. And anyway, math is hard. Who needs it when you can just be a landscaper or stripper anyway?

    • ...reminds me of my nephew. He dropped out of his programming classes because "programming is hard". He decided he wanted to be a game tester. I don't think that worked out.

      Apropos of your comment, he also wanted to date strippers. To my knowledge none of his attempts ended well.

  • by sixtyeight ( 844265 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:39PM (#39705169)

    I've been noticing stories that are covered much like this a lot on Slashdot lately. It's difficult to know whether it's journalism - which reports the facts and allows the reader to reach their own conclusion about them - an editorial piece - which is where blatantly opinion-laden writing is usually found - or tabloid reporting - which purports to be legitimate but is usually written for sensationalism.

    I realize that proper journalism went out when political pundits were brought in, but this weird crossbreed of online reporting is becoming a trend.

    • by Kidbro ( 80868 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:47PM (#39705259)

      Could you please point me to a place where they have this proper journalism of which you speak?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:54PM (#39705325)

      No. You're wrong.

      Assuming the author isn't batantly fabricating anything (i.e. the responses from the state) this is fact, not opinion.

      If you RTFA the sample questions listed clearly have multiple correct answers and that's the crux of the piece. One could argue that the official answers are "more correct" (e.g. frequency of bee arrivals may be easier to test than the softness of a petal), but the issues documented in the article are real and relevant to the public interest.

      • THe crux of the piece is that they assume that the child wont be able to extrapolate from one area of science (testing hardness) to another, and will penalize the student smart enough to make that extrapolation.

        This bugged the heck out of me throughout school, how the standardized tests were ambiguous as hell. I generally knew when I didnt know a concept, but I think more often my wrong answers were because I didnt pick the specific correct answer that the test key had.

        It ends up not being a test of knowle

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:41PM (#39705191)

    News stories out of Florida always paint Floridians as stupid, so this is why has a special "Florida" tag.

  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:45PM (#39705245)

    Teacher was introducing order of operations, and started off by using the incorrect way as an example of what not to do (as in "you solve it this way right? AHA you were WRONG! It's actually this way!) Well, being the smartass who already knew order of operations I jumped the gun had to make it clear to her how wrong that was. Got yelled at for messing up her teaching plan haha

    • by captjc ( 453680 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:05PM (#39705427)

      I had a similar incident around 3rd or 4th grade about the "3 states of matter". There was a bit of a kerfuffle when I mentioned plasma. It got worse when I later corrected that glass didn't technically fit the classical model of a solid. That is what I get for reading too much...

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      While not quite the same thing, I have an interesting anecdote from elementary school as well. By the time I was in the 4th grade, I was already reading books such as Michael Crichton. In 4th grade we used to have to fill out sheets showing what books we were reading. One week I put in that I had read The Lost World. When the teacher returned it to me, she had written on there asking if I wanted help finding "more age appropriate books". I remember our school library had a set of books on the Vietnam W
  • Not just florida... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:47PM (#39705263) Homepage

    In michigan during the 80's I proved a chemistry teacher wrong in the 6th grade. He Flunked me on the test for being "combative" and "not respecting authority". I took it home to my dad and my oldest brother, who worked as a chemist looked at the problem and my answer and said, " you are correct, the teacher is an idiot" and went with my dad to a conference with the teacher asking the principal to be there.

    By me saying " no you are wrong", and then saying "NO WAY! THAT"S UNFAIR" I was being combative. my dad ripped into the principal and the teacher for 1 hour. My grade got changed to an A before they left.

    A lot of teachers are not teaching but regurgitating what is in the book, and the book was wrong. the teacher was outed as not doing his job and by dad found out he actually was an english major and had only 1 class in chemistry.

    Any monkey can regurgitate a book. IT's time we get real teachers in there and fire all the administration that makes retard decisions to have the Phys Ed teacher, to hold the algebra classes because he knows how to use a calculator.

    • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:52PM (#39705307)

      If we want good education for our kids (and thus, to maintain our position as an economic world power), there's two things that need be done.

      First, hold teachers accountable. As you note, having the tenured gym teacher teach algebra because he can use a calculator must stop.

      But the other bit is that we have to pay the true professionals what they're worth. Look at the teachers in the nations that lead on the test scores (Finland, Japan, etc) - they're not only highly respected, they're highly paid.

    • by Amouth ( 879122 )

      I still remember having an elementary text book wrong, and the teach teaching too it.. it has a typeo saying the Statue of Liberty was made of bronze.. When i pointed it out after the teacher read it.. she paused and then just moved on ignoring me.. what can you do right? i believe i was ~6-7 years old at the time, but i knew i was right so i crossed it out and corrected it in my book so the next kid would get it right.

    • by PeanutButterBreath ( 1224570 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:29PM (#39705673)

      IT's time we get real teachers in there and fire all the administration that makes retard decisions to have the Phys Ed teacher, to hold the algebra classes because he knows how to use a calculator.

      Obviously, the Phys Ed teacher is better suited to teaching Physics, what with being a professional Physician.

    • by nukeade ( 583009 )

      Not quite the same, but I've seen college exams where the professor had it wrong, marked me wrong, and would not fix the mistake.

      One professor (computer graphics exam) thought the Sun behaved like a point light source on Earth. It does not, it behaves like a plane light source because it is much larger than the Earth and the light arriving from the sun is for all computer graphics purposes arriving with the same vector direction. He would have none of it.

      The other was on a quantum information exam, with a

      • by j-beda ( 85386 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @10:54PM (#39707061) Homepage

        Not quite the same, but I've seen college exams where the professor had it wrong, marked me wrong, and would not fix the mistake.

        One professor (computer graphics exam) thought the Sun behaved like a point light source on Earth. It does not, it behaves like a plane light source because it is much larger than the Earth and the light arriving from the sun is for all computer graphics purposes arriving with the same vector direction. He would have none of it.

        Humm, he wanted to treat the sun as a point source at 1 AU (93 million miles, 49,597,870.7 kilometres from wikipedia), while you wanted to treat it as a point source at infinite distance (thus generating plane waves)? Any "plane wave" like behaviour of sunlight is not because the sun is huge, but rather because the sun is far away. The larger the sun, the LESS its light behaves like a plane wave.

        From a shadow casting point of view, both plane wave illumination and distant point source illumination result in sharp shadows, with very little to distinguish them. For a point sources at 1AU, the difference between angles on different sides of person-sized objects at for person-sized distances where the shadow is formed, is pretty minimal. To get a 1% increase in shadow size, you would need to have the shadow be 1% longer than the distance from the point source to the object casting the shadow, or about one million miles - which is probably not the type of thing you are trying to represent with your computer graphics.

          I've never done any computer graphics involving scene lighting or anything like that, but I doubt the difference between point source and plane wave would be noticeable in modeling sunlight.

        In actual fact, the sun is not a point source, it is an extended object about 1/2 of a degree in size, which means that shadows cast by sharp edges in sunlight have a "penumbra" of 0.5 degrees. Here is an image showing the formation of this type of shadow: []

        For a shadow cast on something a meter behind the object, using good old trig (1m) x tangent(0.5 degrees) = 0.00872686779 m or almost 9 mm. Thus sunlight shadows are fuzzy edges for real-world distances (albeit not really very fuzzy), compared to the sharp edges that plane waves or point sources would cast.

        It may well be that the professor was "wrong" to model sunlight as a point source, but it seems at least as wrong to model it as a plane wave, when there is up to 1/2 of a degree in difference between different directions of the light from the source.

    • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:11PM (#39706043) Journal

      In fairness, sometimes you have to teach a topic on which you are not an expert. My daughter was homeschooled for a few years (she's now about to graduate 12th grade at a magnet school) and I don't mind telling you, I had one hell of a time with biology, which I had skipped in school. (My school allowed you to take physics instead if you had already passed chemistry.) I wasn't even a chapter ahead of her; often I was only two or three pages ahead of her. (Geeze, biology is hard! I now have a profound respect for people in that field. As an engineer, I always thought of organisms as "really complicated machines". Now I think of organisms as "impossibly complicated machines".) And because I did not know the subject (as was the case with your teacher) I did not unquestioningly believe the textbook. If we found something questionable, we looked it up on the internet, found three or four sources, and saw if they agreed. (Not a sure thing, but better than having only one source.) We never found an actual error, although in a couple of cases I'd argue that some parts violated the "correlation is not causation" rule.

      And then, we got into US History at her current school, and wow! Talk about logical fallacies! In reading the text to her, I'd have to stop every second paragraph and remark "those two things are actually unrelated". or "that's demonstrably untrue" or "that's a false dilemma". It was hard to get through the materials, find answers that passed the course, and still leave her critical thinking skills intact.

      In summary, it's not necessarily how well the teacher knows the material, it's how well the teacher is engaged as a teacher.

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:58PM (#39705365)

    They admitted he was right about the answers, but said they don't expect 5th graders to realize they were right. For this reason they marked them wrong.

    Some of the problematic questions given as examples are close to techno-babble -- ie, the more you know about the topic, the less sense it makes. I'd venture a guess that the FCAT likely has not been through any sort of rigorous analysis of its test design (let alone the question of test content).

    Even without knowing anything about the content, you can learn a lot about a measurement instrument's internal validity by doing analysis on the students' results. One particular technique that would be applicable in this case -- upon examining the particular students that got a disputed question wrong (or right) , was it the highest-performing students that tended to get it wrong, or the lowest? (This type of analysis assumes that the test is valid overall, with occasionally invalid questions).

    • by reve_etrange ( 2377702 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:38PM (#39705751)

      Just like the green and violet stars []. Unfortunately, the problem has been widespread for a long time.

      The link is to Feynman's account of the various problems with math and science textbooks (and the text selection process). There certainly isn't any more competition or higher standards among textbook publishers today - indeed, the anti-patterns of the Texas schoolbooks are often even foisted upon states with far superior science and math (and history and English) standards.

    • by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:47PM (#39706323)

      Absolutely. My wife is a 5th grade teacher. I'm a physicist by training, engineer by trade, so she'll often bring home some of their testing materials to have me take a look. There have been quite a few "That's not right. That's not even wrong" moments where the question and answers were clearly written by somebody who did not fully understand the material. A lot of it appeared to be misguided attempts to put something from a textbook into their own words. Confusion on similar terms like meteor, meteorite, comet, asteroid, etc.

      It's the kind of mistakes I would never fault an individual for making (5th grader or not). It's easily corrected, and not harmful in and of itself. However, when teaching this problem is amplified. You end up with students who are even more confused, and the one person who is supposed to alleviate that confusion can not. You end up reinforcing the "science is hard" mantra and have a disengaged class as a result.

  • by jdbannon ( 1620995 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @06:59PM (#39705373)
    This sort of thing was the start of my disaffection with school in about the first grade. Up to this point I was really excited to come and learn, and then we got a math workbook that had a tremendous error rate in the answer key. I pointed some of these out to my teacher and she actually went back to check the answer key again to tell me I was wrong. I don't think it would have been possible to design a better way to show me that:
    1. The teacher didn't care.
    2. The system (IE the textbook writers) didn't care.
    3. The teacher was so caught up in the system that she depended on an answer key for checking rather than performing the simple addition herself and seeing what was obvious.
    4. School was irrelevant. Even in elementary the teachers were dumber than the students, and grades didn't necessarily correlate with anything important in reality.
  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:03PM (#39705409)
    Oh man, everyone's turning a multiple-guess test, into an essay question.

    When there are multiple answers that could be correct, the job of the test-taker is to choose the "best" answer. Almost invariably "best" is "the one that the test writer was thinking of". Clearly you have to put yourself in the head of a high school or middle school or grade school teacher to understand "best" in that context, and someone with a PhD or even just graduate coursework in the subject is going to be at a disadvantage.
  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:24PM (#39705617) Homepage Journal
    Naturally, when your state can't handle simple math, the science, technology, and engineering will end up failing as well. It's a good thing that Florida does so well at ... wait, what was it that Florida did well?
  • by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:32PM (#39705721) Homepage

    it's how you handle it that counts. Years ago, I was part of a program where a college did some summer school programs for (IIRC) middle school students designed to give them more exposure to science. On the whole it was a good program, but the college physics students working that summer looked at the physics questions on the final test and discovered several problems. To the credit of those running the program, when the college students pointed out the issues to the program leaders they either struck the questions or gave credit for correct answers when more than one answer was shown to be correct. And they did so as the test was in progress, rather than let the students trip on them and get slowed down. I was impressed at the time, and am more impressed in retrospect.

    Science questions can be tricky to get right - what seems like an unambiguous question when it is written turns out to be much less so when you start thinking more "generally" about things like frame of reference. It's important to own up if those kinds of mistakes happen though, because the students who are thinking about the questions deeply enough to spot those issues are exactly the ones you most want to encourage in scientific study. The response "yeah you're technically right but we're not changing your score because we meant this" is very discouraging, and will tend to cause students to shy away from complex subjects. It demonstrates that learning the material is not always enough to get decent grades - why bother putting effort into it when there are other fields that more reliably reward their efforts?

    Part of me wonders why teachers are still having to write their own questions for basic subjects like this... you'd think there would be Creative Commons licensed materials assembled that had been widely vetted and community reviewed... add a bunch of vetted, correct "twists" to each question that the teacher could opt for when assembling a given test and memorizing all the possible answers gets prohibitive - or at least, gets hard to do without actually learning what needs to be learned to answer correctly in the first place...

  • by deweyhewson ( 1323623 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @07:45PM (#39705813)

    Another classic example of the system - and this is hardly unique to public education - putting emphasis on teaching what to think, instead of how.

    I had a 4th grade teacher who I used to drive bonkers because, while teaching mathematics, she would teach that it was not possible to subtract to any number smaller than 0, similar to teaching that you can't divide by zero. This was because, at that point, the curriculum had not yet reached the level of negative numbers. Well, I would constantly insist that no, you could subtract to a number smaller than 0, but because it was contrary to the point she was trying to teach she would tell me I was wrong.

    The problem is in having a system which is so structured to the point of quantifying learning to a set of metrics based on what we want children to think that any actual education, or independent thought on the part of the students or the teachers, is completely marginalized and often destroyed.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:00PM (#39705939)

    We cannot assume that student saw a TV show or read an article."

    You also cannot assume that a student DID NOT read an article.

    If they had read an article, you could be penalizing them for having an additional understanding beyond the material in addition to full understanding of the material.

    Tests are supposed to be objective measures of understanding of the material under test. Not subjective measures of the student's level of understanding matching your assumptions.

    And tests are not supposed to be measures designed to ensure that students do not have an understanding of other matters unrelated to the material; whether that came from independent learning, instructors providing students learning opportunities that encompass the material but exceed it, etc.

  • by MDillenbeck ( 1739920 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:06PM (#39705985)

    'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?'


    'And if the party says that it is not four but five -- then how many?'


    The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston's body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O'Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

    'How many fingers, Winston?'


    The needle went up to sixty.

    'How many fingers, Winston?'

    'Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!'

    The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.

    'How many fingers, Winston?'

    'Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!'

    'How many fingers, Winston?'

    'Five! Five! Five!'

    'No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?'

    'Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!'

    Abruptly he was sitting up with O'Brien's arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds. The bonds that had held his body down were loosened. He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably, his teeth were chattering, the tears were rolling down his cheeks. For a moment he clung to O'Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O'Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O'Brien who would save him from it.

    'You are a slow learner, Winston,' said O'Brien gently.

    'How can I help it?' he blubbered. 'How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.'

    'Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.'

    I can understand the viewpoint given in the summary - how can a 5th grader possibly know the answer to such a challenging question? After all, are not all children ranked by their grade and set to be equal to their peers in that same approximately 1 year category? It defies their understanding of "abstract though begins at age x", and they forget that their is variance within that spectrum. There may be a child in 5th grade that understands advanced scientific topics, but since the probability of that is far, far lower than the probability of selecting the answer at random when given 1 of 4 or 1 of 5 choices, they have assumed the child just guessed.

    However, there is something frightening about assessing the right answer as incorrect. Perhaps the testing needs to be redesigned to eliminate the ease at which randomly guessed right answers can be assessed. Unfortunately, scantrons are cheap ways of correcting thousands of tests - thus the write your answer and have a human correct will probably never be reimplemented. (Sorry for the ramblings - I'm cramming for a Linear Algebra midterm while slashdotting.)

  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:07PM (#39705995)

    "Robert Krampf, who runs the web site 'The Happy Scientist,' ...

    I read his blog post, Robert doesn't sound so happy.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @09:04PM (#39706459)
    Reminds me of a story about a student who was asked to measure the height of a building, given nothing but a barometer. The answer was the obvious one, but rather than give that, she came up with three alternatives.

    a) Measure the height of the barometer, and carefully laying it end to end on the side of the building, find how many barometer-lengths high the building is.
    b) Measure the length of the shadow of the barometer and the length of the shadow of the building. Using proportions, work out the height of the building
    c) Locate the custodian of the building. Say to him, 'If you tell me how high your building is, I'll give you this barometer".

    History doesn't record whether she got a pass or not.
  • Test taking skills (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JazzHarper ( 745403 ) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @01:02AM (#39707649) Journal

    It's not about knowing which answers are accurate--it's about passing the test. Perceptive students learn very quickly how to provide the answers that are required, regardless of whether they are technically true or not. There is new about that--I learned it 40 years ago and scored much higher on standardized tests than I really deserved. It is utterly naïve to cast that in terms of recent politics.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?