Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Testing and Context

A lot of attention has been paid to race and standardized tests - including the SAT and ACT. Probably my favorite book touching on the subject is A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League. At issue is that some students - typically those who are neither white nor Asian, systemically perform worse not because they are less intelligent or less able to learn, but because the tests are so loaded with cultural context that students of other races lack the context to answer some of the questions. Because my own children are white and attend school in an affluent school district, I accept that they are advantaged on tests, which is not to say this is right or good. However, even my over-privileged children will find themselves guessing at times.

Last week, Connor's robust vocabulary included the word "thickens". These words are words given to all students, intending to stretch their vocabulary. The children do not have to learn to spell the words, but they need to be able to fill-in-the-blank to demonstrate understanding of the word.

After several weeks of perfect scores, Connor finally got stumped. The sentence?

[BLANK] thickens when cooked.

  • oatmeal
  • water
  • bacon
Connor eliminated water right away, knowing that you don't cook water and if you did, it would simply boil, not become thicker.

He's both a picky eater and a vegetarian - so doesn't eat either oatmeal or bacon.

He took a stab with bacon (a food he has literally never seen), and was incorrect.

Context. It matters more than you might think. And no, I did not appeal the issue to the teacher.


1 comment:

  1. Elaine, Hope in the Unseen is one of my very favorite books. Friends for 7 years, and we are still learning new things about each other . . .