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.Well, hey, this is science education, and grammar is sooo 20th century.NJPAA Performance Assessment for Science Teachers Manual, p. 14
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.