Monday, November 3, 2014

A huge conflict of interest -- more from Meredith Broussard's Atlantic piece on textbook companies and standardized tests

[The scheduler sometimes does weird things. This was meant to be the second of two excerpts. Sorry about the confusion.]

You need to read this:

Put simply, any teacher who wants his or her students to pass the tests has to give out books from the Big Three publishers. If you look at a textbook from one of these companies and look at the standardized tests written by the same company, even a third grader can see that many of the questions on the test are similar to the questions in the book. In fact, Pearson came under fire last year for using a passage on a standardized test that was taken verbatim from a Pearson textbook.

The issue often has as much to do with wording as it does with facts or figures. Consider this question from the 2009 PSSA, which asked third-grade students to write down an even number with three digits and then explain how they arrived at their answers. Here’s an example of a correct answer, taken from a testing supplement put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Education:

Here’s an example of a partially correct answer that earned the student just one point instead of two:

This second answer is correct, but the third-grade student lacked the specific conceptual underpinnings to explain why it was correct. TheEveryday Math curriculum happens to cover this rationale in detail, and the third-grade study guide instructs teachers to drill students on it: “What is one of the rules for odd and even factors and their products? How do you know that this rule is true?” A third-grader without a textbook can learn the difference between even and odd numbers, but she will find it hard to guess how the test-maker wants to see that difference explained.

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