A few years ago, I started having trouble helping my son with his first-grade homework. I’m a data-journalism professor at Temple University, and when my son asked me for help on a worksheet one day, I ran into an epistemological dilemma. My own general knowledge (and the Internet) told me there were many possible “correct” answers. However, only one of these answers would get him full credit on the assignment.The entire world has completely lost its mind.
“I need to write down natural resources,” he told me.
“Air, water, oil, gas, coal,” I replied.
“I already put down air and water,” he said. “Oil and gas and coal aren’t natural resources.”
“Of course they are,” I said. “They’re non-renewable natural resources, but they’re still natural resources.”
“But they weren’t on the list the teacher gave in class.”
I knew my son would start taking standardized tests in third grade. If the first-grade homework was this confusing, I was really worried about how he—or any kid—was supposed to figure out the tests. I had been spending time with civic hackers, the kind of people who build software and crunch government data for fun, and I decided to see if I could come up with a beat-the-test strategy derived from a popular SAT prep course I used to teach.
In essence, I tried to game the third-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the standardized test for my state. Along with a team of professional developers, I designed artificial-intelligence software to crunch the available data. I talked to teachers. I talked to students. I visited schools and sat through School Reform Commission meetings.
After six months of this, I discovered that the test can be gamed. Not by using a beat-the-test strategy, but by a shockingly low-tech strategy: reading the textbook that contains the answers.
Why Poor Schools Can't Win at Standardized Testing
Friday, July 3, 2015
Books are better, part 2
In The Atlantic: