My third grade daughter is very bright, creative, perceptive and yet tanks multiple-choice tests. Judging by her test scores, it looks as though she is struggling to understand academic concepts. She's not. Her mind just thinks of all the ways the potential answers could possibly work out. So what would have been an obvious or "best" answer to my older two kids when they were her age, seems like one of several possible answers to this kid. She frequently tells me how she needs more information, more background regarding the questions on tests before she can make a decision as to which answer the "author" is looking for. She eats up a lot of test time wondering about the "author" of the test, what angle they are coming from. To my daughter, every multiple-choice question is actually a mini story to which she is being asked to supply the ending, the answer. How can she give the "author" his/her ending, if she doesn't know more about the circumstances surrounding the question?
Recently a worksheet came home with my daughter with several answers marked as incorrect. Students were supposed to put either a period, or an exclamation point at the end of sentences. I said, "What happened here? Did you have a hard time figuring out what needed an exclamation point and what didn't."? She sighed and said, "How am I supposed to know if the person who wrote the sentence wants it said in an excited tone or not? I don't know who is saying it or why. It's not like I'm hearing an audio version and can hear excitement or a boring voice. Maybe the person saying it is like Eeyore, where nothing is said with excitement. It's up to the author to decide how those sentences are to be said, not me. I didn't write these, so I don't know". This is not an eight year old who doesn't understand punctuation. This is an eight year old who won't make assumptions. However, if this were a "high stakes" test, it would appear as though she had trouble knowing when to use which punctuation mark. She'd be labeled "below standard".
Last night she came home with a graded "weekly lesson test". In the "robust vocabulary" section she got a total score of 6/10, just 60% correct. My daughter's vocabulary is plenty robust. Here are the four questions in their entirety, along with her explanation as to why she chose the answers she did....the "wrong" answers:
A good education focuses on_______.
Correct answer was C "literacy", but my daughter picked D "anticipation" because "If a school focused on having kids really looking forward to being there every day, (anticipation) that would be a great education". She also said that "resources" are important too since she is well aware that there are school that have little to none. And, she argued, that if the "author" was talking about a boarding school, than focusing on the "boarding" part of it, kids feeling comfortable being away from home, would be the best answer. She allowed that "literacy" was important, but since she reads at home, it didn't seem like the school needed to really focus on that.
A_______classroom has a computer and references for the teacher.
Correct answer was H "proper", but my daughter picked F "certain" because "Only certain classrooms do have a computer for the teacher". This seemed very obvious to her. Yes she allowed it would be "proper" but however proper it was, only certain classrooms have computers. She was very frustrated to get this one wrong. She has already lived through one teacher's strike and there is talk of another one. With that in mind she thought "loyal" could have been the right answer too. If a school board was loyal to their teachers, they'd give them a classroom with computer.
The committee members were a _________group, including a teacher, a scientist, and an actor.
Correct answer was A "diverse", but my daughter picked C "proper" because "All those different types of people together would be the right (proper) type of group to discuss or work on things. I can see it's diverse! That's what makes it proper!". She also said that it was possible that the committee was "loyal" as well. She would need more information as to what they were working on. She said it could have been a "certain" group too, as in a certain group working on a specific project. She just didn't have enough background information from the author of this question.
This year, Mr. Smyth is________his horses at Circle Q Stables.
The correct answer was I "boarding", but my daughter chose H "dismissing" because "This one was so hard! It could have been any of them! He could have been "pondering" his horses, you know, thinking about them. Maybe they are wild and this year he is "conquering" them! I picked dismissing them because I thought maybe he's got a bunch of stables and this year he's dismissing them out to the pasture through the Circle Q. Maybe last year he used a different stable". Clearly more information was needed.
I am completely supportive of the way my daughter thinks. I like that she needs more information before making a decision. I like that she can easily see how one question can have multiple answers, depending on the circumstances. However, she will undoubtedly not do well on any kind of high stakes testing and these begin in third grade. In weekly tests like this one, I can talk to her teacher and let her know that my daughter does indeed understand how to use punctuation and her vocabulary is indeed "robust". In the case of standardized tests, her answers will be an indication of her acquired knowledge of concepts and material. Those tests will provide a false indication, but they will become a part of my daughter's academic record. Those scores will not only give a false reflection of her intellect but will also reflect incorrectly on her teachers and school as well. My daughter is not yet nine, and already has test anxiety. How could she not? She desperately tries to be open minded, fair and unassuming in all situations, even a multiple choice test, and for all her effort, she is told she is wrong, wrong, and yet again wrong. I understand that assessments are needed, but how the tests are worded, and what the results are used for should be very, very carefully thought out. My daughter is still young. With her mind as malleable as it is, she can indeed be taught to ignore her initial responses to seek out more information before formulating an answer, and be coached on how to pick the one and only "right" answer. She can be a taught to be good test taker. And what a shame that would be.