Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is Student Debriefing Hacking?

“How did the test go?”  “Fine.” This common exchange is heard after every standardized test. It does not disclose the content of the test, the questions on the test, or the score. It is more wish than fact. It reveals nothing that is meaningful to student and teacher; a frequent end result of NCLB standardized testing.

The current trend in revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is to add tests within the course to the final test. This is promoted as formative testing. Unfortunately formative testing requires timely feedback. Computers can provide non-judgmental timely feedback. This gave rise to the Educational Software Cooperative, Inc, non-profit. Learning at higher levels of thinking (question/answers/verify) provides effective self-motivating feedback. A standardized test that only returns a test score several weeks later has little if any formative testing content.

The new within-course tests are actually an expansion of predatory testing. Predatory testing crowds out instructional/learning time. It unfortunately encourages lengthy test preparation at lower levels of thinking by the very schools that most need higher levels of thinking instructional/learning time. It encourages a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution (rote over understand).

The classroom teacher has several options:
  1. Devote little, if any, time to test preparation. Conduct the classroom in such a manner that the standardized test is, as knowledgeable students put it, “No big deal.”
  2. Prepare students to take the test at higher levels of thinking by using Knowledge and Judgment Scoring (KJS) on projects and classroom essay and multiple-choice tests.
  3. Continue lengthy test preparation at lower levels of thinking (which in my opinion should be outlawed; recognized as a trait of incompetent school administration).

One way of making ESEA standardized tests function as formative assessments is to debrief students shortly after the test. High scoring classes can do this very informally for the first teacher option above.

Less successful classes, at higher levels of thinking, can collect the topics students find puzzling. High quality students have good judgment in determining what they know and what they have yet to learn.

At lower levels of thinking, students and teachers are most interested in the right answer for each question: A or B or C or D. Debriefing at this level, in my opinion, is as meaningless as reading off the answers to an in-class test.

Each of the above levels penetrates closer to the actual question stem and answer options. The concept of “fair use”, when applied to standardized test questions, requires that whatever is done, it must not reduce the market value of the test. It must not be for profit. It must only be of benefit to the participating students. The actual test questions must not be discussed. They must remain secret. Debriefing is then restricted to a one-time affair. Debriefing is of decreasing value to students performing at higher levels of thinking down to lower levels of thinking.

Student debriefing is hacking:

  1. It is a violation of copyright. (Fair use of copyrighted material does not include disclosing or direct copying of a standardized test question. A standardized test question is used to make comparative assessments [the common items must be protected]. By its very nature, it must be kept secret or its market value is affected. What portion can be copied or referenced is open to interpretation*.)
  2. It promotes the sale of test question answers. (Informal and higher levels of thinking debriefing do not require the exact question stem nor the question answers. Any attempt to recall exact question stems and answers is of limited use as good standardized tests scramble the answer options, edit the question stems, and replace a portion of the questions between each test. Computer adaptive tests [CAT] do much of this during each student application – no two students even get the same test.)

Student debriefing is not hacking:

  1. It makes a formative assessment out of predatory testing.
  2. Debriefing with a test company provided summary lesson plan, listing topics with model test questions, would not be hacking.  For a test of 30 questions covering 6 topics, the 6 topics could be listed with a model question for each topic.  The model questions could be ones released from past tests. In-class scoring of this summary test would provide immediate feedback for students and teachers. This formative assessment lesson plan would increase the test’s market value.

*At one extreme, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission bands any mention, reference to, or discussion of test questions. Students take the test and close the booklets. The closed booklets are collected and returned.

At the other extreme, parents of students who have learning problems can view the test booklets. This is justified as “fair use” as it provides parents some idea of what the student should have been able to do.  It is of help in educating the student. It is not for profit. This one time use applies to no one other than to the parent/school/student relationship. It is therefore not a breach of security.

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