Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2+2 = zebra

Yesterday's post involved the idiotic notion that it is a good idea to pay people to remember to take their medication. Apparently, in some people's world, not dying isn't enough of an incentive, but fifty bucks a months seems to really motivate folks. Go figure. Why I should care if they croak it because they're too moronic to realize the benefits of taking medication that they need is beyond me. But I'm guessing that the reason that test scores are going up over there in New York has to do with a method that has to be along these same lines of thinking. That's right. They're giving kids credit on tests even if they have given the wrong answer (including no answer at all). Wait. Wuck?

Correct. According to the
NY Post, on the exams that kids take to determine if they're going to advance up to the next grade, the students " "partial credit" for wrong answers". Now, I read that and I wondered if they were referring to something like essay questions, as you can have rather subjective answers that vary here and there. Good thing I didn't have to read too much farther to learn that is wasn't English or anything like that for which partial credit was being given. No, it was MATH. That's right. Math. See, there was at least half a credit given"...after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide." And "Some got credit for no answer at all." NO answer? Was the answer zero? No? What the what?

Keep in mind that these were not just rogue scorers who were grading these tests and giving away credit like it was welfare. No, this extremely unorthodox (Translation: Asinine) method was discovered when "...scoring guides obtained by The Post reveal that kids get half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem -- even if they screw up the calculations or leave the answer blank." Oh, good Lord....

At this point, I'm still hoping that this isn't going to be as bad as it sounds like it is. Turns out, it's at least that bad. Probably worse. Let's look at a few examples that the Post gives us. Try not to weep until you're at the end. Your eyes will get watery and it will be hard for you to focus on the remaining words.

The example below is worth 2 points. The question reads: "Milton takes $400 on a shopping trip. He plans to spend 1/5 of his money on DVDs. How much money will Milton spend on the DVDs?" Try not to focus on the logistics of why Milton is on a "shopping trip" that includes a budget for DVDs. Also, try not to wonder what he is spending the other 4/5ths of his money on. No, try and focus on how the child whose answer sheet this is wrote down the formula for figuring out Milton's DVD budget, but did not do the calculations. The child knew that you divide 5 into 400.00, but did not actually perform the act of said dividing. Granted, the question did say "Show your work". It did not say "Show your answer". Perhaps this is why the child was given one point for showing the correct equation. Never mind that the child never answered the question, leaving Milton at a loss as to how much to spend on those DVDs. No, he knew the theory behind division, so that's good enough. That's pretty much all they require at NASA, right? Just know basic concepts and those space shuttles will fly themselves, right? Yeah, OK. Next example...

The example below is worth 2 points. The question reads: "Thomas buys a skateboard that is two feet long. What is the length, in inches, of the skateboard?" Never mind that two feet is a rather short skateboard. The poor simpleton who answered this question chose to add 24 and 24. Now, he added them correctly and came up with the answer of 48. Unfortunately, the only thing he got correct was adding 24 and 24. See, it might surprise you (or at least, that child) to learn that there are only 12 inches in a foot. Thus, the correct answer is 24. This child has multiplied the number of skateboards that he has by two. Either that or he had a four foot long skateboard. Both of which are not deserving of ANY credit! But in New York, he gets one point!

Other examples of what New York feels are deserving of partial credit are things like :

A miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is "partially correct" if the student uses the right method to verify the wrong answer. Tell me, how in the hell are you going to use the right method to verify the wrong answer?! If you used the right method to verify, wouldn't you figure out that the answer was wrong and change it to the right one?

A kid who subtracts 57 cents from three quarters for the right change and comes up with 15 cents instead of 18 cents still gets half-credit. Half credit? For giving someone not enough change? Sure, that's fine. Whenever I receive the incorrect amount of change, I always just let it slide because I know that the cashier did something. Yeah, that's how the real world works. Exactly. Perfect. Seems logical!

These scoring guidelines are something called "holistic rubrics". The fact that this stupidity has a name makes me hate it even more. (Though I do appreciate that it has a variation of the word "rube" in the name. That's telling.) This holistic rubric crap "...require that points be given if a kid's attempt at an answer reflects a "partial understanding" of the math concept, "addresses some element of the task correctly," or uses the "appropriate process" to arrive at a wrong solution." I need a wall. I need to bang my head against it until I pass out. Are you effing kidding me?

Please note that it says "attempt at an answer". Does that mean that if the question is "2+2= __" and the kid writes "zebra" that there is partial credit given because an attempt was made? I mean, it does "address some element of the task correctly", right? The kid knew that an answer went in that spot and wrote "zebra". Does that count? It probably does. And do they not see the problem with their logic in giving credit for using the "appropriate process to arrive at a wrong solution"? If you get the WRONG answer, you're NOT using the APPROPRIATE process! The APPROPRIATE process is the process that gives you the CORRECT answer! You morons!

The part that really scares me is that these are not difficult questions. If the scoring has to be dumbed down to this ridiculous level (ie, just marking things correct when they are clearly wrong) for such basic calculations, then how dumb are these kids really? We're never going to know until it's too late. And we might just be a little past too late these days. We're so doomed. Goodbye, sweet America. Goodbye.

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Mark said...

Milton takes $400 on a shopping trip. He plans to spend 1/5 of his money on DVDs. How much money will Milton spend on the DVDs?

What am I, a psychic? OK, it's pretty straightforward to figure out how much he plans to spend. How much will will he spend? I don't know. Maybe there were more good DVDs than he anticipated. Maybe fewer. Maybe the ones he wanted were on sale and he got what he needed for less than he planned.

I can see giving partial credit on math questions when, for example, a multi-step problem has an incorrect calculation which causes the final answer to be wrong but the shown work shows that the student knew how to address the problem. Giving no credit in such a case doesn't, imo, reflect what the student knows about the subject. Knowing that a question requires division and not even attempting the division, doesn't show much mastery of the concept, imo.

Also, I kept waiting to see the following image in your post, since it is the premium example of test answers which, though wrong, deserve some credit. Maybe not academic credit, but some kind of credit.

I can't insert images, but here is the URL.

Mark said...

Also, on the off chance that the test question is real, notice that the mathy test-giver doesn't understand the possessive "its" versus the contraction "it's."

Mare said...

Hey, Mark.

Your comment and rationale about being psychic made me laugh. Exactly! I don't know what he's going to do. And that seems like a lot of money to spend on DVDs. Hasn't he heard of Netflix?

I was (apparently) so annoyed with this whole concept that I forgot to include the very aspect that you mentioned. Yes, if we were talking something like a calculus problem where there are pages and pages of computations needed, I can see giving partial credit for having things set up correctly and going through the correct formulas, etc. But when we're just dividing 400 by 5 and there isn't even an attempt to actually COMPLETE the process? Not so much.

As far as their apparent inability to discern between the usage of "its" and "it's", would it surprise you to learn that they score their English tests using this same method? They give partial credit for giving it a good go! And in that example, we can see how that works out in the real world, can't we?

I wanted to cry right up until I looked at your image that you linked to. That saved me from an afternoon of weeping! Awesome. Completely awesome.

~ Mare

Mark Hallen said...

Well, normal people would just know instinctively that anything called “holistic rubrics” is going to be really stupid. I mean, do you think that a Holistic Rubrics Cube would ever have become popular? It should also be pointed out that New York is a state that has not been able to make a budget add up correctly in my lifetime. (more at

Mare said...

Hey, Mark.

Didn't Scooby Doo have a Rubrics Cube?

The method described here does appear to be similar to how California figures out its budget, too. This is why this great state will be paying the bills with IOUs again come September. So, I'm sure that it will work out just fine for the kids.

Thanks for reading!

~ Mare