Monday, May 11, 2009

Testing one...two...three

This week starts the state's misnamed EOC ("end" of course) Biology Assessment--our students do not finish until June 18th, and Bloomfield's schedule is not unusual.

My biology students will be taking the performance assessment part on Wednesday designed by the New Jersey Performance Alliance Assessment (NJPAA) project, a collection of education experts, politicians, and businesses.

From their lovely fully colored 157 page 2009 manual:
All high school students enrolled in any biology/life science course during the 2007-2008 school year was [sic] required to participate in the end-of-course assessment regardless of year in high school.
NJPAA Performance Assessment for Science Teachers Manual, p. 14

Well, hey, this is science education, and grammar is sooo 20th century.

The colors highlighted all kinds of wonderful fluids in beakers lovingly gazed upon by young students without protective eyewear!


Before I get my non-tenured butt too exposed here, let me reiterate my appreciation for any attempt to foster critical thinking in the classroom.

I keep reminding myself it's a field test.
I keep reminding myself it's well intentioned.

And then I read last year's test again, and my mood darkens.

Last year's prompt involved mating horseshoe crabs to produce antibodies that could be used to test an antihistamine because "your company has developed a new antihistamine that could help many people who suffer from allergies, colds, and the flu."

This was a week after I discussed why antihistamines may not be effective for viruses.
"Um, Dr. D you said...."
Yes, I did, but just answer the question as well as you can.
"What's a freakin' horseshoe crab anyway?"
I'll show you a picture of one tomorrow....

Now those of you who happen to live by the annual orgy at the shore can laugh at the rest of Jersey's lack of intimate knowledge of horseshoe crabs, but most of my students have no idea what a horseshoe crab is. It doesn't help when I tell them it's not really a crab.

I thought about drawing one on the board, but I was not sure if that was within the guidelines of clarifying questions, and a badly drawn horseshoe crab can get into the kind of biology that gets teachers in trouble.

It gets worse.

[T]here are only four (4) adult horseshoe crabs that are available for breeding and all four have different genotypes.... The four original horseshoe crabs have these genotypes and sex:
HH: Male Hh: Male HH: Female Hh: Female

"Uh, Dr. Doyle, I only see two genotypes here."
Do the best you can.
(I am crumbling inside--I can only see two as well--HH and Hh; a year later and I still only see two.)

These adult horseshoe crabs produce approximately ten thousand (10,000) eggs in a single mating. On average, one thousand (1000) eggs hatch and only one hundred (100) survive to adulthood. One-half of the surviving crabs will be male and one-half will be female.
(Please don't ask me under what conditions, please don't ask me under what conditions, please don't ask me under what conditions...I cannot believe I am praying to the god of uncontrolled experiments after preaching to my class the importance of defining all parameters in an experiment.)
"Um, Mister Doctor D?"
I know what's coming....sigh.
"Are these numbers in the lab or in the wild?"
I don't know, do the best you can.
I know it will get better. I do value the intent. We spend a lot of time in class and in lab developing critical thinking.

It's a hard thing to test, but an important one.
It's still just a field test, and it's going to get better.
I do not mind pushing my students to their limits.

Next year put safety glasses on the students in the manual, and use a more ubiquitous Jersey critter, say a mosquito, and I will blog about things that matter.

UPDATE: This year's test was much improved. I may revisit this once the test is released to the public.


Kate said...

Uh, Dr. Doyle?
Would a simple 'Oy' work here or do you need a head shake and an eye roll as well?

On the bright side, you can tell by their questions that your students are thinking.

Patrick Higgins said...

To use the terminology of the day, ROFL. Doyle, you are making a bigger difference than you know. I agree with Kate, your students are thinking at the level of where the test should be.

John Spencer said...

I told my students this year that the AIMS test would be too easy. "What's harder for you, a question like 'Write a letter to your principal about the cafeteria food' or 'In a globalized society, do nations or companies have more power?'" The students agreed that the standardized tests are trickier (they try to catch them) but easier.

Based upon the questions your students ask, I am convinced you are doing something right.

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

My kids give me enough eye rolls in a day to last a year, but thanks.

Thinking is a tricky proposition--if we all started to think, society as we know it would collapse.

Oy, indeed.

Dear Patrick,

I hope so, but hard to tell. Some days are good, some days I wonder how humans managed to get past the Stonehenge days.

Dear John,

Well, I keep trying, anyway--reading about your kids helps me with mine.

Anonymous said...

Do districts volunteer to participate?

Do they pay money to anyone?

Have you participated in scoring?

Has DOE asked for any formal feedback on forms or otherwise?


An investigator for taxpayers.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Districts volunteered for the initial field tests; it's now mandatory for all public school districts.

The development of the test was grant funded; I'm assuming folks got paid, but I'd have to check.

I have not participated in scoring--last year that required taking time off in June when our district was still in session, and it seems a bit icky for me to take (good) money promoting something of questionable value. Again, I do not object to the type of teaching the test promotes, but we've put the cart in front of the horse.

The DOE (or perhaps it was the NJPAA) does indeed ask for feedback. This year's test was much more reasonable, and some of the students enjoyed applying what they knew to the problem.

As far as being an investigator for taxpayers, no investigation is needed--whether you agree with the test or not, its development is up front and available for review at the NJPAA website.