Obsession over grades is killing American Education

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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby PeteP » Mon Mar 26, 2012 10:00 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:
Dark567 wrote:
Griffin wrote:I've never really seen the point of multiple choice. At least the bulk of the SAT wasn't multiple choice last time I took it though.
It's absolutely objective. You get it right, or you get it wrong, there is no subjective opinion too it. Also, its easy to grade large number of tests.

The first part doesn't really apply to math questions, and a ton of those are multiple choice too. For reasons I could never quite comprehend. The second seems far more likely to be the prime motivator.

The first math exam at my university were in multiple choice format and I think that's the exam I had to learn the stuff most exhaustively. You can make some quite tricky math questions in multiple choice tests. Though I'm not a fan of them in other subjects.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Griffin » Mon Mar 26, 2012 10:03 pm UTC

I'm just saying multiple choice doesn't make the answer any less true/false.

It DOES make them easier, though.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby CorruptUser » Mon Mar 26, 2012 10:36 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:
Griffin wrote:
Dark567 wrote:
Griffin wrote:I've never really seen the point of multiple choice. At least the bulk of the SAT wasn't multiple choice last time I took it though.
It's absolutely objective. You get it right, or you get it wrong, there is no subjective opinion too it. Also, its easy to grade large number of tests.

The first part doesn't really apply to math questions, and a ton of those are multiple choice too. For reasons I could never quite comprehend. The second seems far more likely to be the prime motivator.

The first math exam at my university were in multiple choice format and I think that's the exam I had to learn the stuff most exhaustively. You can make some quite tricky math questions in multiple choice tests. Though I'm not a fan of them in other subjects.


Oh deity, I can attest to that. Look at the actuarial exam practice questions some time if you think otherwise.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby folkhero » Mon Mar 26, 2012 11:22 pm UTC

Standardized tests can be very good. I remember on the United States History AP test, there was a 'document based question' that was a substantial part of the overall grade. For these questions you have to read primary sources about a topic in history, and combine that with what you already know to write a short essay in answer to a question. If you want to teach to the test, you will have to teach enough breadth of U.S. history to be sure that you've covered the topic/period in question. You have to teach enough depth of subjects that the students understand causes, effects, and will generally have enough to write about, any extra depth you went into on the topic of the question or a closely related topic will be a huge boon for the student. You will need to teach the ability to read, learn from, and evaluate the relevance and accuracy primary sources instead of just reading out of textbooks or second hand accounts. You will need to teach the ability to take in and use new information and relate it to what the student already knows about the subject. So by teaching to the test you have to actually teach information the subject, how to analyze the subject and how to learn more about the subject. If a student learns those things, I don't care if the teacher was teaching to the test or not. The trick is to write better tests that force a demonstration of understanding of methods and analysis in addition to facts, and most standardized test just aren't good at that.

That being said, I don't think we should ditch grades entirely, even if we get these great standardized tests of my imagination. Suppose Alice goes to a poor income poorly performing high school. Alice is intelligent and works hard and she is near the top of her class. Bob goes to a good school in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Bob is no dummy, and he usually gets his homework done when he isn't wasting too much time doing dumb stuff with his buddies. Bob gets B's and C's, with the occasional A in a subject he really likes. On the standardized test, Bob does better than Alice because he has better teachers and a better peer group and therefor has a better overall understanding of the subject. In the short run, Bob is better prepared for his university classes because of his heightened understanding of what he learned in high school. In the long run, Alice has more intelligence and work ethic so she has the potential to not only catch up but exceed what Bob will be capable of. Sure, good grades are only a rough measure of work ethic and smart, but in an area where the information is very incomplete, it doesn't seem wise to just throw out potentially valuable data.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Telchar » Mon Mar 26, 2012 11:58 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Griffin wrote:I've never really seen the point of multiple choice. At least the bulk of the SAT wasn't multiple choice last time I took it though.
It's absolutely objective. You get it right, or you get it wrong, there is no subjective opinion too it. Also, its easy to grade large number of tests.


Again, if your goal is to understand how much about subject x the student has internalized, and you don't want factors like "teaching to the test" and test gaming to be factors, your only clear options left inject non-objective responses into the test. That's not a bad thing if your test passes basic validity and reliability measures. Tests can be subjective and good tests.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby skeptical scientist » Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:10 am UTC

Griffin wrote:In fact... does anyone have any evidence that a base of common knowledge for most of this stuff is actually a good thing?

Speaking as someone who's had a fair bit of experience teaching mathematics, it's hugely important for math, because of how the subject builds on itself (and how much it gets used in science). So a base of common knowledge is basically a requirement for any advanced material in mathematics or science. This is probably true for similar reasons in science teaching, because of how interconnected things are. Understanding physics helps with chemistry, understanding chemistry and physics helps with geology, understanding economics helps with psychology and vice-versa, and a basic understanding of the scientific method and process of science is vitally important for understanding everything.

I think to some extent this is true in every subject. Everyone requires the ability to read, and to understand and analyze what they read. (What is the writer trying to say? Is the writer biased in any ways? If the writer is presenting an argument, is that argument valid?) Obviously this skill requires practice, but that gives the teacher a great deal of choice on what books/plays/whatever to assign. Everyone requires the ability to write decently, and there are a lot of ingredients that go into this which should be taught to everyone. Every English-speaker should be exposed to at least the bible* and Shakespeare, simply because of how influential those two sources have been on our daily language. So there's a certain basic framework which should be taught to everyone.

*Teaching the bible in a religiously neutral way is, of course, a tremendously sticky subject.

Those who support standardized tests, would you support, say, standardized reading assignments in English as well? Every class has to read the same book as every other class, every quarter? Why/Why not?

Obviously not. There are two major problems that immediately spring to mind:
1) There's no freedom to teach material that your students will strongly relate to (e.g. assigning One Hundred Years of Solitude in a school with a large Latin-American population), or coordinate with other teachers (e.g. assigning All Quiet on the Western Front when students are learning about WWI in history class).
2) Teachers will tend to be much more engaging when they are teaching material they find interesting. Removing all teacher choice will make for bored, boring teachers. (Many fewer people are likely to want to become teachers as a result, and it's not the profession draws huge numbers of highly qualified individuals as it is.)
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Dark567 » Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:16 am UTC

Telchar wrote:Again, if your goal is to understand how much about subject x the student has internalized, and you don't want factors like "teaching to the test" and test gaming to be factors, your only clear options left inject non-objective responses into the test.
I am unconvinced this is the case.

skeptical scientist wrote:it's not the profession draws huge numbers of highly qualified individuals as it is
Huh. My understanding was that we are still producing to many qualified teachers, not the opposite.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby jseah » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:16 am UTC

addams wrote:
Dark567 wrote:Of course, there are the practical tests. Those are hard, yet, necessary. Can you apply the theory? Can you do it while an expert watches? Can you do it while people are screaming? Oh. Just how practical do we need to be? Practicals do teach us how to focus. Right?
Hey. Did that guy write that time constraints do not happen in the field? What field is that? Time is a big deal in some areas of study.

Doing practical work while experts are watching is just something you are going to have to get used to. Most work is collaborative and thus there will always be other people around. Apart from that, practicals should be conducted under conditions similar to what the students will be exposed to if they did the subject at university or applied those skills in a job.

Time constraints for small problems like experimental lab work certainly don't exist in the same way they do for tests. You are not under significant time pressure beyond a vague expectation that you'll finish sometime in the afternoon. Most academic work have virtually no time constraints beyond a couple of hours to a day.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby lutzj » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:34 am UTC

I'm also not convinced that "teaching to the test" is much of a problem with most of the AP tests. Sure, a few basic strategies will make it much easier to write your essays and whatnot, but you're not getting a 5/5 on the World History test without comprehensive knowledge of major historical events and a rudimentary ability to understand how they connect to one another, and you're not getting a passing 3/5 without knowing a lot more than the average person. Once you've thoroughly trained somebody to get a 5 on a given exam you're probably taught them most of the subject along the way.

The strategy most teachers at my high school used was to simply teach the class, somewhat faster (because the exam dates were a month before school ended), more rigorously (more emphasis on knowing every damn fact), and with practice exams every quarter to make sure people were comfortable with the format of the exam. We'd use a history textbook alone for US history, a calculus textbook alone for the calculus tests, a survey of American literature for the English tests, and the world language tests were just an option tacked on to the senior-level courses in French, Spanish, and Latin. This system worked well, too; something like 96% of the kids in my 11th grade history class got a 4 or 5 on that exam. Once or twice in my AP calculus course, my teacher would say something along the lines of "the College Board doesn't require you to use the Lagrange formula to find the error here, so we can skip that; maybe we'll get to it after the exam," and we'd move on to the next chapter in the book. Would a truly comprehensive course cover that sort of thing? maybe, but I'm not sure how you'd cram any more material into a one-year course.

I loved most of my teachers and personally feel that the AP courses I took were very enriching, so my experience is probably a bit rosy, and I contrast it in memory with the rampant cheating and grade-inflation that occurred at my school, but in general I think the AP tests are very effective at getting teachers to get students to know lots of stuff.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Bharrata » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:52 am UTC

The U.S. should adopt the Taiwanese system (note that this was described to me by my Chinese 1 professor last semester, who taught in the Taiwan for years before emigrating).

If you can't keep up with the higher level of work and comprehension you go to a different school than the students who can, if you have 3 major disciplinary problems or 9 smaller ones, you get sent to the vocational school, permanently, no matter what grade level you're in.

Students show up from 7 - 5 PM five days a week until 7th grade, where they begin going to school from 7 - 9 PM everyday, with I believe an hour break in the afternoon.

It's not a problem of the material, but the expectations we have of the work we expect students to do as well as a well-intentioned but misguided notion that everyone deserves a second chance academically (they do deserve a second chance, they can bust their ass through college if they wish to improve themselves and show what they're really worth) and that everyone is capable of the same work as everyone else.


I realize there are outgrowths of the Taiwanese system that might not be desirable, lessened creativity maybe, but I think it's better than a lot of the systems currently used in the US.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Zcorp » Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:22 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Griffin wrote:I've never really seen the point of multiple choice. At least the bulk of the SAT wasn't multiple choice last time I took it though.
It's absolutely objective. You get it right, or you get it wrong, there is no subjective opinion too it. Also, its easy to grade large number of tests.

It isn't objective for assessing intelligence, performance or understanding of complex concepts. It is only objective for assessing how well someone did on that test. Someone created the standards, someone the test, that person did it subjectively much like the teacher would be judging the skills of the students. They would also be doing it with little understanding of the population they are teaching. A group dictates what our standard is, what vocabulary is important, how to word the test and various other things. A search on "standardized tests racial bias" will get you some basic articles addressing this problem.


Our best bet for assessment will always be application. Which part of the end goal of education anyway. The primary reason this isn't done is logistical reasons. LaserGuy mentioned how he would take 15 minutes of an oral exam is something he perceives as objectively superior to a 3 hour written one, regardless of the specifics of this claim (and I agree with the sentiment), the problem comes in with listening to 35-400 students do a 15 minute exam vs grading a written one. Even more so when now that exam grading is largely automated.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby nitePhyyre » Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:06 am UTC

The only standardized test we took was for history. The test writers have a pool of a dozen questions per sentence in the textbook. The only way to 'teach the test' was to teach literally everything that could possibly ever be known/asked about the subject. If you can't say the same about your tests, don't blame the tests because your doin it wrong. I don't see how teaching to the test is a bad thing.

kiklion wrote:The problem with going above and beyond the curriculum is that you are failing every other student in the class who is not at that level. A very basic example may be teaching kids factorization if they picked up multiplication/division easily. However by not spending more time on the multiplication/division you are going to have kids that could have learned it with more time, however that time was not given. Furthermore, suppose that factorization would be covered in the next year, those 'advanced' kids would now be taught something in more advanced, while those who still don't grasp multiplication or division fall further behind as they don't have the base to expand on.
The solution isn't teach the dumb ones and ignore the gifted. The solution isn't teach the gifted and ignore the dumb ones. The solution is to group children according to ability rather than manufacture date.

Telchar wrote:
Dark567 wrote:The problem is that an oral test isn't objective, its a subjective judgement by the person giving the test.
Is that bad?
It sucks for smart assholes.

Bharrata wrote:if you have 3 major disciplinary problems or 9 smaller ones, you get sent to the vocational school, permanently, no matter what grade level you're in.

Students show up from 7 - 5 PM five days a week until 7th grade, where they begin going to school from 7 - 9 PM everyday, with I believe an hour break in the afternoon.
Okay, that sounds absolutely fucking terrible.

Sure, if you kick people out of school for poor grades or behaviour it makes your stats look good, but it isn't actually giving a quality education, is it?

And unless kids in taiwan are walking out of high school with a fucking Masters degree, your wasting their time keeping them in school FOR MORE THAN 80 HOURS A WEEK.
If you had told me that I had to be in school for more than 12 hours a day, I'd have fucking blown it up; If I'm going to be locked up, may as well have fun with it. But, then again, I'd have been kicked out during kindergarten for 'disciplinary problems'.

Seriously though, how do you consider any of what you said to be good?
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Angua » Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:31 am UTC

I think the problem with multiple choice questions is that you can't show your thought processes. This is especially seen in maths exams - if it's a multiple choice question then you're either right or wrong, whereas if you are allowed to show your working and how you get to the answer, then the student can at least get points for understanding what they should have done, even if they miscarry a 1 somewhere along the line. You also are less likely to run into problems that you often get in multiple choice where the wording of the question can be misleading.

Also, I never figured out how multiple choice literature is supposed to work. They give four interpretations that are all quite similar, and they are telling me I need to choose the one they think is right, instead of what I got out of it?
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby bentheimmigrant » Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:33 am UTC

Bharrata wrote:The U.S. should adopt the Taiwanese system (note that this was described to me by my Chinese 1 professor last semester, who taught in the Taiwan for years before emigrating).

If you can't keep up with the higher level of work and comprehension you go to a different school than the students who can, if you have 3 major disciplinary problems or 9 smaller ones, you get sent to the vocational school, permanently, no matter what grade level you're in.

Students show up from 7 - 5 PM five days a week until 7th grade, where they begin going to school from 7 - 9 PM everyday, with I believe an hour break in the afternoon.

It's not a problem of the material, but the expectations we have of the work we expect students to do as well as a well-intentioned but misguided notion that everyone deserves a second chance academically (they do deserve a second chance, they can bust their ass through college if they wish to improve themselves and show what they're really worth) and that everyone is capable of the same work as everyone else.


I realize there are outgrowths of the Taiwanese system that might not be desirable, lessened creativity maybe, but I think it's better than a lot of the systems currently used in the US.

I don't mean to be rude, but the kindest way I can say this is that sounds like the worst system ever. In order of major problems I see:
1) You go to a different school if you can't keep up. Way to shame the kids for not being smart enough. What's wrong with having different level classes within the same school? What makes you think the lower school doesn't attract lower quality teachers, and thus continue to condemn the kids to lower quality output?
2) Sending kids to a vocational school permanently for misbehaviour. I'll break this down further:
a. This implies that only kids with behavioural problems should go to vocational schools, as opposed to those who are good at/interested in certain vocations
b. If kids are able to go by choice they are then diluted with kids with behavioural problems, and essentially have their choices disrespected (as their choice is a punishment for others)
c. This is not how you cultivate behavioural changes.
3) Ridiculous hours. I wouldn't ask an adult to work those hours, not to mention children. And how are they going to cultivate an extra-curricular life? Or friendships? This appears to be based on the assumption that the only thing that matters in childhood is academic achievement, and that is an awful thought.

These are essentially moral problems with that system, and I haven't even had a chance to consider the practical issues, such as the lessened creativity you mention.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Magnanimous » Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:54 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:Our best bet for assessment will always be application. Which part of the end goal of education anyway. The primary reason this isn't done is logistical reasons. LaserGuy mentioned how he would take 15 minutes of an oral exam is something he perceives as objectively superior to a 3 hour written one, regardless of the specifics of this claim (and I agree with the sentiment), the problem comes in with listening to 35-400 students do a 15 minute exam vs grading a written one. Even more so when now that exam grading is largely automated.

It's potentially feasible with a lower student:teacher ratio, which would come from a higher financial investment in education. (HINT HINT, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.) We should definitely be emphasizing to students that the whole point of education (in a sense) is to become proficient in actual fields, not test-taking.

But on that note, I bring up something I've always been confused about: Why do students get only one grade, when their success is a combination of learning and work? An easy but time-consuming assignment tells us very much about the student works, but nothing about what they've learned. Conversely, a challenging test with a relaxed time limit shows how much they know, but doesn't require a work ethic. It doesn't seem too complicated to give everyone two grades, and weight everything based on its application.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby folkhero » Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:04 am UTC

Magnanimous wrote:It's potentially feasible with a lower student:teacher ratio, which would come from a higher financial investment in education. (HINT HINT, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.)
What's the correlation between $ spent per student and student performance in the past 50 years? What's the correlation between student:teacher ratio and student performance?

Magnanimous wrote:But on that note, I bring up something I've always been confused about: Why do students get only one grade, when their success is a combination of learning and work? An easy but time-consuming assignment tells us very much about the student works, but nothing about what they've learned. Conversely, a challenging test with a relaxed time limit shows how much they know, but doesn't require a work ethic. It doesn't seem too complicated to give everyone two grades, and weight everything based on its application.
Probably because most teachers don't want to admit that some of the assignments that they give are time wasting busywork for a lot of their students.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Diadem » Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:51 am UTC

I don't know about the US, of course, but here in the Netherlands when people say something like "we shouldn't worry about grades too much" what they usually mean is "we should celebrate mediocrity". As such I'm always hugely suspicious of such statements.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Dark567 » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:31 pm UTC

folkhero wrote:
Magnanimous wrote:It's potentially feasible with a lower student:teacher ratio, which would come from a higher financial investment in education. (HINT HINT, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.)
What's the correlation between $ spent per student and student performance in the past 50 years? What's the correlation between student:teacher ratio and student performance?
So based of what I have read, its very low $ per student(remember the US spends close to the most per student and doesn't achieve the results of other countries). The student:teacher ratio I have seen is weird. It has a small correlation to performance early on, but completely vanishes by the time college comes around. For that matter it also generally seems like its better to have 50 kids in a class with a good teacher, than 10 kids in classes with 5 horrible teachers.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... zFtnS2qbEA

http://qje.oxfordjournals.org/content/1 ... 9.abstract
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Garm » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:01 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I think the problem with multiple choice questions is that you can't show your thought processes. This is especially seen in maths exams - if it's a multiple choice question then you're either right or wrong, whereas if you are allowed to show your working and how you get to the answer, then the student can at least get points for understanding what they should have done, even if they miscarry a 1 somewhere along the line. You also are less likely to run into problems that you often get in multiple choice where the wording of the question can be misleading.

Also, I never figured out how multiple choice literature is supposed to work. They give four interpretations that are all quite similar, and they are telling me I need to choose the one they think is right, instead of what I got out of it?


On the reading sections for the ACT and SAT the right answer is usually the one that's the weakest statement or there will be a conditional that has a direct opposition.

Example for the first:

a) Maisy's train is the longest train in the world
b) Maisy's train carries the most cargo
c) Maisy enjoys driving her train
d) Maisy's train is the best

which one is right? It's a silly example, I know, but a lot of the ACT questions are/were set up like this (it's been a few years since I taught this garbage).

The conditional that's in direct opposition is something like
a) The day was bright and cheery
b) obviously wrong answer
c) another obviously wrong answer
d) The day was dark and dreary

Then you need to go back to the passage and figure out which was correct. This doesn't cover all the reading questions on the ACT, just most.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby dhokarena56 » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:30 pm UTC

I'd like to pitch in and say that a good system for college admissions, at least- or a better system- would be the Japanese system- every college you apply to has its own entrance exam, so each college can figure out and try to test for exactly what they're looking for in the way they want to test for it.

Will it be perfect? No. However, it means that it's up to the college to craft a test that gets them exactly the sort of student they want, rather than a theoretical "College Board" that has to create a one-size-fits-all test that will be looked at by everyone from Southern Mississippi Bible College to Harvard.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Griffin » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:27 pm UTC

A great many colleges in the US /do/ have their own entrance exam. At least one per University, on average.

I went to a state school on a full scholarship, and still had to pass the entrance exam to get accepted. (Well, I was already accepted to the University, but to get accepted to the specific College I had to take another test)
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby maybeagnostic » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:55 pm UTC

dhokarena56 wrote:I'd like to pitch in and say that a good system for college admissions, at least- or a better system- would be the Japanese system- every college you apply to has its own entrance exam, so each college can figure out and try to test for exactly what they're looking for in the way they want to test for it.
In practice this often leads to having many terrible tests instead of one bad one because it encourages universities to test whether a student prepared for their specific exam and not whether they know the underlying material. University acceptance exams should be based on knowledge of the standardized high school material anyway and not on some arcane requirements a specific university chooses.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Zcorp » Tue Mar 27, 2012 4:50 pm UTC

Magnanimous wrote:
Zcorp wrote:Our best bet for assessment will always be application. Which part of the end goal of education anyway. The primary reason this isn't done is logistical reasons. LaserGuy mentioned how he would take 15 minutes of an oral exam is something he perceives as objectively superior to a 3 hour written one, regardless of the specifics of this claim (and I agree with the sentiment), the problem comes in with listening to 35-400 students do a 15 minute exam vs grading a written one. Even more so when now that exam grading is largely automated.

It's potentially feasible with a lower student:teacher ratio, which would come from a higher financial investment in education. (HINT HINT, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.) We should definitely be emphasizing to students that the whole point of education (in a sense) is to become proficient in actual fields, not test-taking.
We already spend more than everyone else. We just don't spend it wisely. I'd argue it is entirely feasible now. We just don't do it and the primary reason seems to be that it will take to much teacher time even if it will almost certainly greatly improve our assessment accuracy.

But on that note, I bring up something I've always been confused about: Why do students get only one grade, when their success is a combination of learning and work? An easy but time-consuming assignment tells us very much about the student works, but nothing about what they've learned. Conversely, a challenging test with a relaxed time limit shows how much they know, but doesn't require a work ethic. It doesn't seem too complicated to give everyone two grades, and weight everything based on its application.

The idea of the time limit is often to assess how well the student knows the material. If you have mastered the concepts you should be able to perform them with great efficiency. While this is generally accurate, there are many cases where this is not true. The more important factor is often the difficulty in retaking a test.

If I perform poorly on a final, lets say 70% correct answers; because I was stressed out that day, couldn't sleep the night before, sat next to someone that distracted or threatened me or simply made one consistent error that I could easily fix within a day or week of having taken the test I still get a lower grade in the class. Which people perceive as not being proficient in the material. Our school structure is terrible for actually understanding student proficiency/mastery.

Dark567 wrote:
folkhero wrote:
Magnanimous wrote:It's potentially feasible with a lower student:teacher ratio, which would come from a higher financial investment in education. (HINT HINT, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.)
What's the correlation between $ spent per student and student performance in the past 50 years? What's the correlation between student:teacher ratio and student performance?
. It has a small correlation to performance early on, but completely vanishes by the time college comes around. For that matter it also generally seems like its better to have 50 kids in a class with a good teacher, than 10 kids in classes with 5 horrible teachers.
There are various observed performance changes and micro-culture changes in the classroom based on student size. Generally this occur with each addition of a student from 1 to 7 and then at ~20 and ~35. The change in efficacy for the 20 and 35 numbers varies based on a teachers classroom management skills, their own personality aspects (including but not limited to their level of introversion) and their relationships with the kids. Many schools are using 35 as the top class size as that had been found to be the norm of acceptable group size before the next drop in performance. But this, like many standards fails to account for individuals differences.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:43 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:I don't know about the US, of course, but here in the Netherlands when people say something like "we shouldn't worry about grades too much" what they usually mean is "we should celebrate mediocrity". As such I'm always hugely suspicious of such statements.


Yes, we have doublespeak here in the US as well.

FYI, "certified pre-owned" means "used", "cozy" means "claustrophobic", "natural" means "ignore every claim we make", "part of a balanced breakfast" means "add balance", "great personality" means "it's the only good thing about her", "this is best" means "for me", "take one for the team" is never uttered by the person taking it for the team, etc.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby kiklion » Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:50 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:
kiklion wrote:The problem with going above and beyond the curriculum is that you are failing every other student in the class who is not at that level. A very basic example may be teaching kids factorization if they picked up multiplication/division easily. However by not spending more time on the multiplication/division you are going to have kids that could have learned it with more time, however that time was not given. Furthermore, suppose that factorization would be covered in the next year, those 'advanced' kids would now be taught something in more advanced, while those who still don't grasp multiplication or division fall further behind as they don't have the base to expand on.
The solution isn't teach the dumb ones and ignore the gifted. The solution isn't teach the gifted and ignore the dumb ones. The solution is to group children according to ability rather than manufacture date.


I think that is a wonderful idea that brings up its own issues. For instance I was able to perform math at an 8th grade level at first grade. However my english was probably a 2nd grade level, social studies is first grade for that school district, science I was teaching myself physics at first grade but had not yet even touched chemistry, geology, bio etc. Unless every class is in the same building (which even then it would be awfully hard to get around in time as it would need to be very large for 12 years of students) it would be impossible to get from one class to another in time.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:03 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:I don't know about the US, of course, but here in the Netherlands when people say something like "we shouldn't worry about grades too much" what they usually mean is "we should celebrate mediocrity". As such I'm always hugely suspicious of such statements.

Is that really true? Our secondary system hardly celebrates mediocrity. It's completely designed to reserve the best teachers and the most tertiary opportunities to the VWO students, and less and less for the lower tracks. But the result is indeed that grades matter less, as long the grades stay high enough to complete a track.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Telchar » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:15 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Telchar wrote:Again, if your goal is to understand how much about subject x the student has internalized, and you don't want factors like "teaching to the test" and test gaming to be factors, your only clear options left inject non-objective responses into the test.
I am unconvinced this is the case.


Do you have any data to back that up? Or is this your subjective assessment...

/irony
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Dark567 » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:20 am UTC

Telchar wrote:Do you have any data to back that up? Or is this your subjective assessment...
Somewhat. If you create a test where the teachers only know the subject that will be taught(i.e. American History) and not the specifics, their isn't a lot of way to teach for or game the test. The most effective way to get the students to score well is for them to know the subject.

Much like its almost impossible to pass anything but the most basic calculus test without a decent understanding of calculus.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Magnanimous » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:22 am UTC

New (mostly facetious) idea: The final exam requires that students teach the material to a younger student over a few days; they have to come up with their own curriculum. Then the younger student gets tested. :P
kiklion wrote:I think that is a wonderful idea that brings up its own issues. For instance I was able to perform math at an 8th grade level at first grade. However my english was probably a 2nd grade level, social studies is first grade for that school district, science I was teaching myself physics at first grade but had not yet even touched chemistry, geology, bio etc. Unless every class is in the same building (which even then it would be awfully hard to get around in time as it would need to be very large for 12 years of students) it would be impossible to get from one class to another in time.

I think it's a great idea to group classes by ability rather than age. Having everyone move up one level in everything each year never made sense to me, but unfortunately that style of teaching has a lot of social momentum.

It would be interesting to have classes divided into difficulty levels, and you're allowed to take any class regardless of your "real" grade (with recommendations from ability tests). A potential problem there is that unmotivated students will take the easy classes, but that's already going on, and having more freedom could get people somewhat more excited about learning.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby curtis95112 » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:29 am UTC

That problem could be solved by requiring students discuss their choices with a counselor before signing up, but then that takes money and competent couselors so I suppose it's not happening...
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby JCM » Wed Mar 28, 2012 4:32 am UTC

As a slightly-above-average American student, I'd like to give my two cents on this.

I am an extremely lazy person. I rarely do homework, I daydream in class, and I study what I need to know to maintain my A/B average. I'm also an extremely bad test-taker. One question, especially if it's math-related, can take me up to ten minutes to figure out. I'm obsessive enough over my grades that even when I genuinely don't know an answer, I simply can't move forward unless I'm 100% sure I'm right, and I'm rarely ever right on those kinds of questions, anyway. Essays are even worse for me, as even though my writing skills aren't bad, I have extreme trouble putting my thoughts to paper, and rubrics that are supposed to help organize my thoughts only make it harder for them to flow correctly when I write them down.

I'm not trying to garner sympathy, since what's wrong with me is probably my fault, but if standardized tests and AP tests only test my ability to test, I am completely screwed. I understand that our educational system is broken, but none of the alternatives mentioned in this topic sound any easier, and all I want to do is get out of school and into the workforce with very little hassle. So, what can I do? Should I just give up while I'm ahead and accept my future position as an office worker? I desperately hope that someone in this forum can provide me with the answers I'm looking for.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Lucrece » Wed Mar 28, 2012 6:11 am UTC

JCM wrote:As a slightly-above-average American student, I'd like to give my two cents on this.

I am an extremely lazy person. I rarely do homework, I daydream in class, and I study what I need to know to maintain my A/B average. I'm also an extremely bad test-taker. One question, especially if it's math-related, can take me up to ten minutes to figure out. I'm obsessive enough over my grades that even when I genuinely don't know an answer, I simply can't move forward unless I'm 100% sure I'm right, and I'm rarely ever right on those kinds of questions, anyway. Essays are even worse for me, as even though my writing skills aren't bad, I have extreme trouble putting my thoughts to paper, and rubrics that are supposed to help organize my thoughts only make it harder for them to flow correctly when I write them down.

I'm not trying to garner sympathy, since what's wrong with me is probably my fault, but if standardized tests and AP tests only test my ability to test, I am completely screwed. I understand that our educational system is broken, but none of the alternatives mentioned in this topic sound any easier, and all I want to do is get out of school and into the workforce with very little hassle. So, what can I do? Should I just give up while I'm ahead and accept my future position as an office worker? I desperately hope that someone in this forum can provide me with the answers I'm looking for.


Lazy is your biggest worry, not the lack of a degree. Many times you can circumvent formal education by starting at a lower position/internship and developing talents you're good at and proving your value to an employer. The most critical part of financial success is your work history and accomplishments you can prove to prospective employers so that they hire you.

Schools ideally teach you skillsets, but the way they're set up many people will just come out of school in debt because all they learned to do in school was how to pass tests/classes instead of actually applying that knowledge and skillset into something marketable. You should not wait for a diploma to start developing talents that can be profitable.


----

On the topic of tests, my favorite tests were the math department tests. I am TERRIBLE at math. I always will be. I still loved the setup of the test, because it tested your ability to reason your way though -- you didn't just have to know some trivia, as every year the questions were formulated in a way that even if you study the topic, your execution of that knowledge is tested.

I also liked it because it didn't punish you for memory. I have a terrible memory, as in sometimes I even forget my own address; I'm pretty sure I'll get Alzheimer's at some point if I'm having memory/awareness/forgetfulness with items problems at this age. And so, they allowed us to bring a sheet of notes, where we could write down formulas and some theorems.

The exams were stupidly difficult given my inability with math. However, when I did well in them, it was a sense of accomplishment that I didn't gain from anything else. Moreover, the way math was graded, you would receive partial points even if you got an answer wrong for calculation mistakes if your process was reasonable.

Another aspect of that format is that it allowed for feedback. These are classes of about 900 students total, and yet every exam I received had feedback on every problem from the grader if I made a mistake. It wasn't just a collection of points awarded, but the grader explained why I got the points and what made me lose points.

I know it might not be time efficient, but when a professor would not submit feedback on a work/test I took great effort to submit, it instantly disengaged from the class and did the bare minimum as a result. No point in going the extra mile if I don't know what the thought process in grading my test was.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby sourmìlk » Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:59 am UTC

As a person who had shitty grades and outstanding test scores, it would give me infinite pleasure to say that the problem is that people are too concerned with grades. Unfortunately, I don't know for sure that's the case.

But I love the article's point about how teachers will inflate grades and that causes people with poor knowledge of the actual content to advance. This has been bothering me for a while. So often I have people in my various classes who clearly do not understand the content being taught, and yet pass due to the "completion" points. And this is clearly a problem with many college professors who complain about how bad their students are at writing. Why are these people allowed to advance if they don't understand that what they're being taught?

Teachers need to place a lot more emphasis on tests or things that actually reflect a students' knowledge, and they should be far more comfortable failing students who don't understand these things. There's no reason people should get into college chemistry and still not understand unit conversions. This only happens if people are being graded on completion points and not on comprehension.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Zamfir » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:45 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Telchar wrote:Do you have any data to back that up? Or is this your subjective assessment...
Somewhat. If you create a test where the teachers only know the subject that will be taught(i.e. American History) and not the specifics, their isn't a lot of way to teach for or game the test. The most effective way to get the students to score well is for them to know the subject.

Much like its almost impossible to pass anything but the most basic calculus test without a decent understanding of calculus.

There's always a trade-off. if you increase uncertainty about the tested subjects and about the style of testing, you increase a luck factor. Different teachers and students will put emphasis different, and the ones who happen to have the same emphasis as the test will do well.

At some point, that becomes unacceptable. Especially for a centralized test whose outcome matters to the students. You can't really say "yeah, you had a good teacher and you worked well, you would have done great on next year's test. But you get a bad grade on this year's test". That undermines a test just as much as easy manipulation.

Thing is, if decide to be vague about the tested content of something like calculus or american history, you are asking people to rely on an implicit curriculum ans style of testing. A tradition that tells a teacher which parts are probably in, which are probably out, which parts are important. Is the first world war an important part of US history? Pre-revolution or pre-colombian history? Should calculus students understand delta-epsilon proofs well? Integrate inverse trigonometric functions? Chain rules? Approximation by computer? Should they be good at numerical calculations, at symbolic manipulation, at proofs, at derivations?

There's always an arbitrary component to such questions, a matter of tradition. Odds are that some teachers are from a similar tradition as the test-makers, and more likely to guess the approximate contents of a test without prior specifics. Elite schools tend to love unexpected, quirky tests that are hard to prepare for. They say it helps them select truly promising students who really get the material. Not coincidentally, it also selects tends to students from a certain background, whose teachers and parents are familiar with the quirks.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby lutzj » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:19 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:Thing is, if decide to be vague about the tested content of something like calculus or american history, you are asking people to rely on an implicit curriculum ans style of testing. A tradition that tells a teacher which parts are probably in, which are probably out, which parts are important. Is the first world war an important part of US history? Pre-revolution or pre-colombian history? Should calculus students understand delta-epsilon proofs well? Integrate inverse trigonometric functions? Chain rules? Approximation by computer? Should they be good at numerical calculations, at symbolic manipulation, at proofs, at derivations?


It's hard to find a sweet spot, but if the test is designed well (i.e., every annual US history test has 2-3 questions about the first world war) you can still be comprehensive without ruining kids that forgot to learn about the British takeover of New Amsterdam. It's hard to decide what topics are important enough to warrant a question on the test every year and which ones fall into the "we could ask this" category, but if it's done well then only people with comprehensive knowledge can perform well with any consistency.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Cleverbeans » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:21 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Is there a way to determine if a student has learned something other than to test them?


Yes, there is in fact, and it's the system they use in Finland, which is rather remarkable. You simply *trust your teachers* to make the evaluation subjectively. No standardized testing required unless you're attempting to enter university, and they have one of the strongest educational recording in the world. This would of course require that we hire teachers worthy of such respect, and that's one of the major barriers in the US, which has historically hired the cheapest teachers they could find while complaining that the Dollar Store quality education they bought doesn't hold up so well.

I really do feel this is at the core of America's educational problems we'll find that hiring incompetent teachers who can't be trusted to evaluate our children's progress in a meaningful way without standardized testing is a far more important issue than trying to twerk how the testing is done...
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Telchar » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:46 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:Is there a way to determine if a student has learned something other than to test them?


Yes, there is in fact, and it's the system they use in Finland, which is rather remarkable. You simply *trust your teachers* to make the evaluation subjectively. No standardized testing required unless you're attempting to enter university, and they have one of the strongest educational recording in the world. This would of course require that we hire teachers worthy of such respect, and that's one of the major barriers in the US, which has historically hired the cheapest teachers they could find while complaining that the Dollar Store quality education they bought doesn't hold up so well.

I really do feel this is at the core of America's educational problems we'll find that hiring incompetent teachers who can't be trusted to evaluate our children's progress in a meaningful way without standardized testing is a far more important issue than trying to twerk how the testing is done...


It's more than that. Finland can find a relatively small number of very good teachers. There are about 5.3 million people in Finland compared to 311.6 in the US or 62.2 in the UK. In larger countries like the US, India, and China you have to take into account the large swaths of very rural, thinly populated land vs extremely large urban centers.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Cleverbeans » Wed Mar 28, 2012 2:01 pm UTC

Telchar wrote:There are about 5.3 million people in Finland compared to 311.6 in the US or 62.2 in the UK. In larger countries like the US, India, and China you have to take into account the large swaths of very rural, thinly populated land vs extremely large urban centers.


So you're saying that the US doesn't have enough smart people who can teach? Sorry, but I don't buy that for one minute, they just go into other professions where they'll be respected, make a reasonable income and have good perks like their own office, none of which are afforded to teachers in the US currently. Canada has exactly the same problems with diverse population and rural sprawl as the US, but we have higher standards for teachers here, and thus better education. Having a four year degree from TSU and passing a test any bright high school student could pass is sufficient to teach in Texas. That's like four years of beer and a one day attendance check if you qualify as a teacher? Sorry the problem isn't in the testing... :roll:
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Telchar » Wed Mar 28, 2012 2:16 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:So you're saying that the US doesn't have enough smart people who can teach?


Clearly Canada has some problems teaching reading comprehension.

Sorry, but I don't buy that for one minute, they just go into other professions where they'll be respected, make a reasonable income and have good perks like their own office, none of which are afforded to teachers in the US currently. Canada has exactly the same problems with diverse population and rural sprawl as the US, but we have higher standards for teachers here, and thus better education.


Yes, one of the problems is diversity, and another is sheer number of people, a problem which Canada does not have. And the idea that American's pay teachers much less than other countries? The average salary of a teacher in Canada is lower in most regions than their US counterparts and even the Brits pay their teachers less.

Your argument for higher standards is commendable but, again, this is where population comes into play. In rural areas you have to pay people significantly more to attract them their, as evidenced by the Yukon's average teacher salary. However, most rural areas in the US can't afford to pay to attract an excellent teacher so they attract whoever they can, lowering their standards for the sake of having a school at all. That's not a choice that they SHOULD have to make but because of the way the US funds schools (based on property tax in the district) it's a choice they do have to make.

Having a four year degree from TSU and passing a test any bright high school student could pass is sufficient to teach in Texas. That's like four years of beer and a one day attendance check if you qualify as a teacher? Sorry the problem isn't in the testing... :roll:


Cite please.
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Re: Obsession over grades is killing American Education

Postby Diadem » Wed Mar 28, 2012 2:28 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Diadem wrote:I don't know about the US, of course, but here in the Netherlands when people say something like "we shouldn't worry about grades too much" what they usually mean is "we should celebrate mediocrity". As such I'm always hugely suspicious of such statements.

Is that really true? Our secondary system hardly celebrates mediocrity. It's completely designed to reserve the best teachers and the most tertiary opportunities to the VWO students, and less and less for the lower tracks. But the result is indeed that grades matter less, as long the grades stay high enough to complete a track.

Well I wasn't talking about our education system as a whole. Just people who make statements like that.

Our education system as whole has over the past decades definitely drifted towards mediocrity though. And often on purpose. Mostly I suspect for financial reasons, good education is expensive, but there's a definite ideological component as well. You see this with all major education reforms over the past decades, from the 'mammoetwet' to the 'bavo' and the 'tweede fase' (in quotes because they are specific Dutch terms), all of which decreased the differences between the different layers of education, and dramatically decreased the difficulty of the top layer. That doesn't have much to do with grades, I admit, but it still demonstrates the existence of such a school of thought in our society.

And I reject this. Excellence does matter. And whether you measure this by getting a high GPA or by successfully passing the highest level of education, is a secondary concern. I do think though the second system is better, because it tailors education towards specific needs, and probably has a lower uncertainty as a measure of someone's true abilities.

The American system of throwing everybody in the same highschool regardless of ability is pretty bad. The fact that "more money = better school" makes it even worse of course, but even without that factor it's a pretty lousy system.
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