Thursday, March 04, 2010

Another Appeal to the Hive Mind

Our local public High School is pretty good. Nice facilities, gang & drug problems that are either non-existent or invisible, and motivated teachers.


My wife and I stay pretty involved in our kids educations. One of the things we do, when able and required, is to go over their tests with them to see where things went astray.

The operative term being: when able. Some teachers will not send tests home.

Following is an email exchange with their math teacher (both are in the same math class). The bottom half has already happened; I haven't pulled the trigger on my latest response:

Dear xxxxx:

Since there is more to taking a test than just the material itself, we have found it very effective to go over test results with our children. Without having the tests available, we are unable to determine whether incorrectly answered questions were due to insufficient preparation, incorrect application, or not answering the question asked. Further, we are unable to help them with strategies for quickly confining the range of possible answers, checking their work, or prioritizing their time.

Not being able to review tests with them considerably handicaps our ability as mathematically literate parents to determine the causes of incorrect answers and thereby improve their future performance. For example, we were able to review with Eric and Lois the questions for the recent AMC test. In the process, we showed them ways to think about the questions mathematically, as opposed to words on a page. In contrast, Eric got a 75% on your most recent test. Since we don't have the test to review, we have no idea if knowledge was a problem, or how to help close any gap between knowledge and performance.

This is more than just an inconvenience. Tests are a valuable assessment tool; they contain more information than just the raw score. Consequently, we strongly desire the ability to fully exploit all the feedback tests provide. Our schedules do not permit routinely coming in; if you were to send the tests home in a sealed envelope, we are happy to ensure they quickly come back to you the same way.

[Hey Skipper & TOSWIPIAW]

Begin forwarded message:

From: xxxx
Date: February 3, 2010 9:02:50 PM AKST
To: xxxx
Subject: RE: [your kids]


Because this is a relatively new text book, we have not had time to develop a test bank for each chapter. You are more than welcome to come in and go over the tests, however we do not let the tests go home. I apoligize for this inconvience.



Sent: Monday, February 01, 2010 6:41 PM
To: xxxx
Subject: [your kids]


Can we please see each test after the kids are done taking them and our kids answers so we can go over them at home?



The way I see it, the tests do not belong to the school, they belong to the taxpayers. Therefore, there is no issue of intellectual property here. I am not insensitive to the issue of making new tests each year. However, with regard to mathematics tests the time required to create a different test does not seem particularly burdensome and is, in any event, part of being a teacher.

Am I out of line pushing back on this?


Blogger erp said...

Stay low key – remember your kids are in the teachers’ hands and will be for a couple of more years. Don't press. Find some other way to make sure they understand the subject matter.

After three kids in four different school districts in three different states, I can say the day my youngest graduated from high school was one of the happiest of my life.

March 04, 2010 2:56 PM  
Blogger Sai said...

There are just some reasons that certain subject teachers won't allow the tests to go home. The teachers may want to use the same test questions again for next semester or they may be afraid of possible alterations to the tests that were taken home.

I know it can be an inconvenience for you, but going over to the school to see the tests is still a good-to-have option.

March 04, 2010 3:13 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I'm not particularly sympathetic to the convenience argument. My kids are not in school for the teachers' convenience, and, in any event, making new tests just isn't that hard.

Besides, if enough students get together (you, remember questions 1-3; you over there, 4-5, etc) the test gets out anyway. However, in this case the teachers get to pretend it didn't.

I hadn't thought of the altered test issue.

There are a couple other things that bother me. These classes have final exams. One way to prepare for the final is to study all the preceding tests.

The teacher has cut off this avenue.

More symptomatically, the notion that assessment tools don't get to go home flies right in the face of continuous process improvement. I know that sounds like hoary business speak, but there is something to it. If I want to get better at something, the sine qua non is to be fully aware of the difference between what I am doing, and what I need to be doing.

I suppose I shouldn't be shocked that public schools are blissfully unaware of the concept.

I still have a week to think about it -- spring break starts tomorrow, and we are off to Hawaii tonight.

I have to admit, though, that regardless of my reasons for responding, you all have me leaning the other direction.

March 04, 2010 6:49 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Hawaii -- not too shabby. Have fun.

March 04, 2010 9:04 PM  
Blogger David said...

I'm not sure how I missed this until today.

As a professional educator (or at least as someone paid to teach), I should have some insight.

For college textbooks, the publishers provide on-line test generators, so that we don't have to make up our own tests. As part of the license, we have to agree not to hand out master tests with answers, because they don't want them getting on the internet. This probably doesn't apply to high school, however.

OK, so maybe I don't have much insight.

I think it's worth pushing a little bit, since having the test is (a) usual and (b) very helpful. But pissing off your kid's teacher probably never pays off in the end.

March 13, 2010 1:07 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Thanks, everyone.

I followed your advice and binned it.

March 22, 2010 10:14 PM  

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