I am not a fan of standardized testing. I feel that way too much importance is placed on the results which damage students, teachers, and schools.
My first year of teaching was at a school that was a 100% Title I school. Every child qualified for the free lunch program. Most of these students did not have a lot of opportunities outside of their neighborhood. I had a student, “Bob”, that was very smart and very talented. He was able to take a radio apart and totally redesign it. I would have discussions with him regarding a multitude of subjects that were so incredibly advanced for his age. On the other hand, he was somewhat of a class clown and had a history of behavior issues in his past.
After working a couple months with Bob I decided a lot of his behavior issues came about out of boredom. When Bob was being challenged his behavior was perfect. I nominated Bob for our district’s gifted & talented program because I truly felt Bob would be an ideal candidate. I was promptly turned down solely on the basis of Bob’s standardized test scores from past years. I had to beg and plead with the principal, counselor, and G&T teacher to please give Bob a chance. To please look beyond test scores and look at the individual. There was so much more to Bob than those tests if only someone would take notice!
Finally, by March of that year, Bob was allowed in the G&T program on a probationary basis. Most likely to get me off their backs and to prove they were right! Not surprising to me he did wonderfully! He shocked everyone else!
Bob was being allowed to fall through the cracks because of standardized test scores. How many other students does this happen to every day across our country? How many teachers miss the signs and don’t fight for those students? Talent can be shown in so many ways outside of a multiple choice bubble test!
As a parent, I hate the standardized tests just as much as I did my first year of teaching! My oldest son is not an ideal test taker. His standardized scores do not even come close to reflecting the kind of student he is and does not show what his true ability is. I know these test scores are held in such an importance within the district and I absolutely hate the shadow that they have over my son and what he will be allowed to try. I have seen the unnecessary anxiety that the overuse of testing causes in both my own children and my students.
The main focus of assessment should be given by the teacher in direct relation to what is being taught in the classroom. I also really like the idea that the standardized testing only be administered in a few select years of a child’s education. At the rate we are going now it is way too much. In my children’s district, they have been administering standardized tests in both the fall and spring and as a parent, I had to step in and say, This just too much!” and opt them out.
There are many articles that can be found that encourage backing off the standardized testing or even looking at Finland’s great success and getting rid of them! Our students are failing, our schools are failing, and standardized tests are just not the answer, in fact, I firmly believe they are the main cause!
To use multiple choice questioning or not, that is the question!
I have a strong feeling about multiple choice. It’s more of a hate/love relationship really. In certain instances (a few) I like the option, but in many ways, I try to avoid it. I find it encourages far too much guessing, and not enough valid data on what a student has truly learned. I saw this a lot in my classroom, usually with the students that are struggling the most.
The students who were secure in their knowledge of the subject area were going to do just fine no matter the questioning format. I see this so much with my own son, who has some struggles in school. If he is given a multiple choice test more often than not he’ll just guess, sometimes not even bothering to really read the questions! In creating work for him I always avoid using multiple choice, except in certain types of situations. He has an IEP, and unfortunately more often than not the teachers have turned to M/C for him as an accommodation and then express frustration at his effort and guessing. If he is dealt a short answer question he is much more apt to look for the answer in the work or work the problem out for himself. If the option to guess it there, he’ll always guess and he’ll keep guessing until he’s eliminated the 3 wrong answers. Yes, he’ll eventually get the correct answer, but does that show he knows it or retained it?
I know multiple choice can be a huge time saver for the teacher. It is much quicker and easier to correct papers with multiple choice rather than written answers. I get it, but is it the right choice? What is our ultimate goal? To know the student understood and learned what we were teaching right? How can we be sure with a M/C that it is retained knowledge and not a lucky guess we got?
There are some cases (when done correctly) where I think M/C is fine. In a math problem for instance:
The reason the problem on the left is the wrong way is that the most common mistake a student will make in this instance is the misuse of PEDMA. They will just work the problem from left to right and end up with 6 for the answer. If this is one of the options in the M/C they will choose that and move on, not having any idea that they made a mistake. Instead, if they worked the problem in this manner and the 6 was not an option they would know they did something wrong and go back and check their work. Of course, the guesser, who doesn’t even work out the problem could happen in either case, but the majority of the time the student will stop and take a closer look. I am not an advocate for tricking the student, and in this case, that is exactly what you do when you give them a problem like the one on the left. It’s much less discouraging to a child to have to rework to find a correct answer than to get a test back that they failed due to being tricked!
One of the main resources I offer is novel studies. In my novel studies, there are only two places where you will find multiple choice options. First, there is an end of the book vocabulary quiz. A sentence with the word is offered and then there are 4 choices of a definition. Again, there are the guessers who just guess, but most students will be able to know the true definition when used in context after the successful completion of the novel study activities.
The other M/C option I added based on buyer requests is an end of the unit comprehension quiz. I have an identical quiz in a short answer format, this is what I prefer and use with my students. I have had many buyers ask for M/C options so I have provided that, but I personally don’t use it for the reasons that I have mentioned above.
Where I have not changed my product based on buyer requests is in the comprehension portion of the novel study itself, and I won’t be adding it. I feel very strongly that while reading the book the student should be thinking about what they’re reading in a deeper way. Using multiple choice for comprehension during the reading of the novel encourages the student to skim the text for the answer. It also means most of your questioning will be of the lower order of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I use novels to get away from the M/C type skimming that you encounter in a basal series. My goal in using novel studies is to get my student engaged in a novel and to think deeply about the character’s motives, make inferences, etc. I just don’t think this can be done properly using multiple-choice questions. To maintain the integrity and rigor of my novel studies, I just won’t be changing this. I know there are some buyers who are disappointed in this stance and I know that some buy from my competitors due to this stance, and I apologize to them, but it’s something that I feel very strongly about.
Another reason I stay away from M/C is that it is far too much like the standardized testing that I am not a fan of. Mainly for all the reasons stated above. I want my students to be deep thinkers, not guessers. Of course, the whole topic of standardized testing is a post for another day! 😉