Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Devil

I administered the state science exam today, at least, the first part, the performance exam. It took me 3 1/2 hours to set up the classroom with fifteen stations on Wednesday afternoon, and another hour or so after school today to disassemble the stations. So far, I have spent about an hour grading exams.

The test went smoothly in regards to bringing the kids into the classroom, giving them the instructions, rotating among stations, and keeping everything on schedule. The kids left exclaiming about how easy the test was, and I felt confident based on what I'd seen as they worked.

I did notice, flipping through some of the completed booklets, that nearly all of my students got the last question wrong (it was easy to check, since it was on the back page of the booklet). But it was one of the hardest questions, relating to an abstract concept, so I didn't sweat it. I also noticed that some kids forgot to do the entire last page of the test. The previous page did say "go on" in the bottom corner, but the questions were printed on the back cover of the booklet, which is unusual, so I think it was a combination of carelessness on the kids' part and poor test design on the state's part.

I started scoring the first station feeling pretty confident... but I've had my confidence shaken. The station was worth 15 points, and I'd be pretty happy with scores of 12 or higher. What I found was that my students lost lots and lots of points due to careless errors. I can't explain in much more detail due to test security, but many kids did all the fundamentals right, but reversed the answers from the way they ought to have been written, and made other mistakes along the same lines. We had lots of scores for that station in the 8-11 range, which I suppose is not awful, but it is not up to MY standards.

Maybe I should be happy that the errors weren't really to do with science, for the most part, but with following instructions and paying attention to details. But it's frustrating, because observing details are a part of science and a part of doing anything well. I've emphasized attention to detail in previous assignments, and the one thing I stressed above all on this exam was reading the directions carefully. I'm just not sure how to get middle school kids to pay closer attention to detail.

I'm not "details-oriented" in the sense of being particularly "anal" or focused on details to the exclusion of the big picture... but I do tend to note & remember the specifics of how something is supposed to be done, what it is called, how a word is spelled, etc. On my more misanthropic, half-empty kind of days, I look around me and see a lot of carelessness in our culture as a whole - does anyone really pay attention to detail these days?

It seems like two things are required in order to be in the best state of mind for following instructions efficiently and precisely. First, you have to want to do something really well, to take pride in your work. Second, you have to be fairly calm and focused.

I know the kids wanted to do well. Some of them may have been rushing, worried about running out of time. Others may have been a bit overconfident, skimming instructions instead of reading them carefully. And others may have overthought the questions, believing they were more complex than they really were. *sigh*


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