The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

California considers prizes for test scores

Evidently Governor Arnold doesn't read my blog. California is considering "non-monetary incentives" to students for achievement (or improvement) on state tests. You can read about the proposal.

This could go wrong so many ways. I went to school with kids who would have tanked the test to make it easier to score an "improvement" incentive later on. But the problem is, studies show this won't help math scores.

I have a theory why this is true. Most of our kids can read, and most of them are fluent in English. Our reading tests don't require a lot of outside knowledge (they ask, "What is the main idea in paragraph 3?" or "The underlined work in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to which of the following?"). The math test, however, requires a lot of outside information (they ask, "Which of these forms a Pythagorean Triple?" or "Which measure of central tendency will be affected to the most?").

In short, a student who buckles down on the day of the reading test can boost his or her score a few points. (I was in 8th grade before I realized my score went up if I actually read the entire passage!) There is no equivalent on the math test. Buckling down on the day of the math test won't do much. There are so many pieces to the math puzzle that a student has to collect over several years. Reading the entire math problem does me no good if I cannot remember the difference between mean and mode. I can recheck my answers, but if I write my proportion upside-down, I will never get the right answer.

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