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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 12/ 5/2010

Fewer fancy tests, less hiding of exams

By Jay Mathews

Besides this Monday Metro column, I write my Class Struggle column every Thursday for the Local Living section. It focuses on parents. When I move to California next year I hope to rename it “The School Parent” and compare the adventures of families here to parent-school encounters elsewhere. Such stories are full of surprises.

For instance, a McLean High School father complained to me recently about teachers not letting his children take their graded exams home so they could get a better sense of their errors. It was an anti-cheating measure that seemed to frustrate learning. I did my Local Living column about it, assuming it was an isolated phenomenon.

Wrong again. The online version of the column got 68 comments, three times as many as I usually get. E-mails poured in. Hiding exams was more common than I realized. A frustrated tutor in California said “it’s not only absurd, but unethical, for a teacher to withhold the results of tests when they are a major component of the grade.”

Fairfax County parent Phyllis Payne said one teacher told her “she uses the same tests every year, so she can’t let the children keep the test questions. As a former teacher, I’m mystified by this approach.” A top student at West Potomac High school in Fairfax County was ignored when she asked to see a test to determine why she got a D.

Teachers said parents and students missed the point. Anne Cullen, who teaches honors-level journalism at Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery County, said “creating a quality test (e.g. one without ambiguous or misleading answers) takes considerable time and effort, and so it is simply not reasonable to expect teachers to design new sets of tests for each unit taught.” Teachers usually let students review their results in class. Students say that isn’t enough time, and leaves out parents and tutors who want to help.

The exchanges on my blog got ugly. Parents accused teachers of being lazy. Teachers said parents were enabling cheaters who would share the old tests, maybe for a fee.


Some readers asked me to check with test preparation experts before I waded into this swamp. I have been talking to those people, called psychometricians, for decades. They patiently explain the long hours and many dollars needed to create valid tests that are fair to all students and align with learning standards they must assess.

One problem is that many local school districts are going to great lengths to standardize their own tests — making sure, for instance, that all U.S. history classes have the same final — to prepare their students for the standardized state tests used to judge schools under federal and state laws. Having done all that work, they want to reuse at least some questions, so they can’t send them home. But do we really need such well-polished exams at every level?

The SAT and ACT college entrance tests, the AP, IB and Cambridge college-level tests and the state achievement tests are worth the time and expense. They don’t need to be returned to students (although in some cases can be for a fee). Why can’t school districts let teachers write their own tests and let kids go home with them, as happened when their parents were in school?

Districts say they standardize their tests to protect students from unsettling differences between, say, the way Ms. Gonzalez in room 313 and the way Mr. Wu in room 315 grade their junior year English students. I don’t see the need. Students have survived erratic grading for several decades without much harm. It helps prepare them for dating.

Making every test so gold-plated it can’t be taken home to learn from mistakes does hurt the learning process, and needlessly frustrates parents. Some college professors used to hand out many possible exam questions and say only two or three would be used. That produced careful study, and some learning. Isn’t that the point of tests?

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | December 5, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  hiding graded exams, parents and students frustrated they can't take exams home to learn from mistakes, parents say teachers could write new questions and are lazy, problem is districts are creating their own standardized tests and don't want to release them, teachers say they want to stop cheating, tutors denied chance to analyze errors, why not just let the state tests be standardized and let district tests go home?  
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Comments

"Districts say they standardize their tests to protect students from unsettling differences between, say, the way Ms. Gonzalez in room 313 and the way Mr. Wu in room 315 grade their junior year English students. I don’t see the need. Students have survived erratic grading for several decades without much harm. It helps prepare them for dating."


+++++++++
Jay,
so you are not on the Valued Added Method train?

Posted by: edlharris | December 5, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Don't attentive parents deserve to examine the tests whose results should constitute the primary criteria used in determining their child's report card grades?

Posted by: craigspinks | December 5, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

From my high school days in the mid 60s I recall teachers begging us all to show up for exams so that they would not need to prepare a new exam for the makeup. Now teachers can't even be bothered to prepare a new exam each year.

I guess it's the difference between teachers as professionals and 40 hour union stiffs.

Posted by: ronStrong | December 5, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I believe that students and parents should have access to graded tests, but I also see the need for teachers to have the option of reusing some test questions in future years, for a variety of logistical reasons. There are limit to how many quality questions can be generated on a given topic and multiple versions of tests are needed due to the inevitable make-ups, retakes, etc. A compromise might be to keep the tests on file and available for examination and study at the school.

I am distinctly uncomfortable with the possibility that tutors could profit by assembling a file of a given school's tests. Tutors, if used, should focus on enhancing the students' understanding of the material rather than teaching to the questions used at a particular school. Otherwise, there is added temptation to cross ethical boundaries in a way that will benefit the most economically privileged students.

Posted by: ColleenEnglish | December 5, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

It's not 100% clear to me exactly what type of tests we're talking about here. It doesn't seem reasonable to me that a first grade teacher should be worrying about all the work they're going to have to put into designing new math tests for the next year. ex 1+4=? the first year and 2+3=? the next year. Even by high school it doesn't seem to me that this should really be a problem most of the time, but up to a point I think students and parents should defer to the judgment of the teacher, school, and district. After all, for many of the most important courses the student is going to have to take a standardized test provided by the state or some other outside institution where they probably won't be able to see even their own scored answers, much less the original questions(at least that’s the way it was the last I knew). The way teachers handle the use of tests as learning tools in their own right will be reflected in the scores of their students in standardized tests provided by outside institutions. Most of the questions for these tests are changed every year or so and there are numerous study guides for them at most of the major book retailers. I also think that most states provide curriculum guidelines that are what any reputable tutor should be using, not answers to past tests given by a specific teacher. Of course if you're a parent who's mainly interested in your kids grades, ask the teacher to recommend a tutor, then hire that tutor. You'll be amazed at how much your kid's grades improve after that. Here’s a link to a sample MCAS biology question. I can see why a teacher wouldn’t want to come up with a valid substitute for a question like this ever year.

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/student/2008/question.aspx?GradeID=100&SubjectCode=bio_hs&QuestionTypeName=&QuestionID=5912

Posted by: david_r_fry | December 5, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

"I am distinctly uncomfortable with the possibility that tutors could profit by assembling a file of a given school's tests"

Delusional much? I have no idea if anyone does that, but it certainly isn't a reasonable translation of Jay's post--or the original comment from the tutor (me--and, for the record, I'm a public school teacher, too).

Parents often bring in tutors because their kids aren't doing well. In many cases, the student has studied but didn't do well on a test. The tutor (or, of course, the parent) needs to see the test in order to understand why the student didn't do well.

If you have never worked with a student who appears to have a good understanding of the material, but got a B or worse on the test, then you haven't spent much time with students. At the high achievement level (competitive schools), this is extremely common.

"Students have survived erratic grading for several decades without much harm. "

Jay, you persist in your nonsensical fantasy that grades are relatively unimportant, rather than a significant differentiator that makes a huge difference in college admissions. Consistent grading between teachers is a HUGE DEAL. Enormous.

It's just not a good reason to refrain from returning the tests.


Posted by: Cal_Lanier | December 5, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

I think some, but not all, of us may have all fallen against different anatomincal features of the same beast. That is,some of our mystifying experiences may be due to contacts with the invisible empire of standards-based accountability services.

Jay touches it here:
"One problem is that many local school districts are going to great lengths to standardize their own tests — making sure, for instance, that all U.S. history classes have the same final — to prepare their students for the standardized state tests used to judge schools under federal and state laws."

These might be districts which have purchased pricey system-wide "professional development" systems from Pearson Turnaround Partners or a similar vendor. Education week is crawling with their advertisements. Pearson would supply coordination and oversight of the program and a system-wide teacher-leader (the superintendent's niece, perhaps).

For example, to prepare students for the Math or ELA or Biology MCAS, it is necessary to align all activity in all classes exactly to the actual bullets in the state framework, because that's how the "real" test is constructed. The teacher-leaders facilitate(supervise) "benchmarking" activities, where each under-teacher is assigned to reduce the discipline of biology to her assigned bullets, to produce an efficient test-prep outline.

The teacher-leader then is responsible for generating a set of quarterly assessments, which reflect those clearly set-out benchmarks. Since the assessments are now used to rate teachers, rather than just students, they are confidential. In my building, we turn in scantron reports which provide statistical bullet-by-bullet results, but not individual student grades, to our department. The semester and year-end quarterlies are also the final exams, however, and must be assigned to students following rigid rubrics. They constitute one fifth of the students' final grades. We are being watched, by our teacher-leaders and administrators.

The teacher-leader's students do well on this, of course, because she can test them on whatever examples she happens to have mentioned. She thus demonstrates standards-based success, and can apply for administrative openings.

Since my school was used to pilot these proprietary procedures, it was necessary to institute draconian measures to insure their "success" on the standardized test scores. Each incoming freshman class of 420-450 was whittled down to under 300 graduates, the only official MCAS takers, whose average scores did indeed rise.

If you teach or have children in a genteel suburban school, you may be just a collateral victim of the nonsense. History is next.

Here is the problem: it turns out this crap does not "work", even to raise standardized test scores. Eventually, the pushout scams showed through, the score cutoff manipulations were exposed, and no reliable data supports "data-driven" instruction.

Posted by: mport84 | December 6, 2010 4:44 AM | Report abuse

I can understand not "returning" the tests to students in high school where the stakes are higher and cheating is, perhaps, a more pervasive problem. However, I'm not even under the impression that the tests are reviewed in class, what ever happened to the concept of learning from your mistakes?Regardless, the underlying premise is that they are all cheaters and will cheat; that's a sad commentary.

Posted by: PMP1 | December 6, 2010 6:59 AM | Report abuse

Even better, in Montgomery County MD, we cannot bring home many of our children's exams because they have sold the curriculum to a private concern. We are able to review the exams during the one 15 minute teacher conference after signing a non-disclosure agreement. This for a 4th grader!

Posted by: moxiemom | December 6, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

I am going to address these one at a time from my perspective (I teach HS).

First, there is a difference between barring access to the test once it is graded and releasing a test. I do not release tests due to the amount of students that do not take it the first time around. I used to give a separate make-up exam (usually essay format) so that I could release the original exam, but I was told by admin that all students should take the same type of test. So now I simply allow students to see their exam after school or during lunch. Out of 120 students on my roll, 23 showed up last test cycle. However, several students do trade exams from other classes so we see how the released test is really used.

Second, why not just make a new test every year? When would you like me to do that? Recently, our planning periods have been booked with faculty meetings, team meeting, IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, etc. We are required to have several graphics on our exams and how many ways can you ask the same question year after year? It is not an issue of whether or not we WANT to, it is the fact that we have to channel our energy in other directions. God forbid we actually have time to grade these exams! Personally, my contract runs from 7:10-2:45. I arrive at work at 6:45 and leave at 3:15. What other job has workers routinely do that without asking for overtime pay (seriously, I am asking out of ignorance)? I am not mentioning this as a complaint, but I resent being called "lazy" because I do not have the time or energy to re-invent the wheel year after year.

Third, no test is perfect the first time around. Using an exam year after year allows me to improve on the test (for example, did the question really ask what I wanted it to?) and compare the students from year to year. Do I need to focus more on writing this year? Did my adjustment of one chapter leave things out and I did not realize it? There needs to be some strains of consistancy from one year to the next to see how different kids learn material from one class to the next.

As long as testing is the end-all be-all of education, there will be a big issue surrounding test security. It comes with the territory.

Posted by: zeptattoo | December 6, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

I assume Jay's article and the comments of those against releasing tests refer to multiple choice tests. If it's a semester final, then no, the kids don't get to take the test home. All other exams can be given to the student. Of course, it would be nice if all exams weren't muliple choice exams - then we wouldn't have this problem. In fact, it would be nice if most exams weren't mc exams - it's called "writing".

Posted by: peonteacher | December 6, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

@zeptattoo,
There are actually U.S. department of labor rules relating to overtime pay, although I can't remember the specifics. In general there are 2 types of jobs - hourly and salaried. For hourly jobs employers have to pay overtime pay and salaried there are no requirements that your employer pay you overtime of any sort. Salaried jobs are management, scientific, professional,and high skilled technical type jobs - an employer can't just make any job salaried. Teachers are considered professionals and like other professionals are expected to put in whatever hours are necessary to get the job done. Of couse there has to be limits on this so generally for salaried professionals rules involving overtime are a contractual matter between the employer and the employee or their representative. There was a study done several years ago, primarily to investigate how many hours teachers actually put in each year in comparison to other professions, since so-called "tax payer rights" groups were complaining because teachers got the summer off and weren't very smart compared to the other professions and teachers were complaining about all the extra work they had to put in during the school year,etc. and that they had to get all this extra education. What the study found was that when you counted all job related activities over the course of the year, including education/training teachers were near the bottom, but not drastically so. I think they put in something like 2100 hrs per year on the average. Drs were the highest, if I remember correctly - about 2800 hrs. The teachers had the lowest hourly wage but also had the lowest level of comparable educational attainment. I did an internet search and thought this study would pop right up but I couldn't find it with my search terms.
I worked as an IT professional for many years and if I got called in the middle of the night on a regular basis and prior to the internet I would have to go into work to trouble shoot the problem, often for many hours. Also, since technology is constantly changing, and since IT technology had some drastic changes over years I had to spend hundreds of hours a year and hundreds of dolars out of my own pockets keepting current. These are the sorts of things that all professionals have to do, so I get more than a little perturbed by teachers complaining about that sort of thing, and by right-wingers who just want to bash any sort of government worker and don't look at the facts.

Posted by: david_r_fry | December 6, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

This may be one of the strangest crusades I've ever seen an op-ed writer embark on. Am I to understand that Jay is suggesting that teachers should not worry about producing good tests because that's the way it's always been done? Am I misrepresenting him?

I am an AP teacher and have been for years. My questions all need to be "gold-plated" to effectively prepare them for the AP test. The class takes up tremendous time to do effectively as it is and I have a finite number of good questions to give them. (In fact, I'm constantly tweaking my existing question bank to make the questions better.) As other reasonable teachers have said they do, my students are free to come in whenever (and for however long) they'd like to analyze their test questions and talk about the correct answers, but I do not allow the tests to leave the room. That seems a reasonable medium that still allows students to go over their old work but protects those tests.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 6, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Very wise responses:

for joshofsti1---I understand your point, and my response depends on which AP course you are teaching. If it is math, I am out of my element. If it is US History, it seems to me Document Based Questions can be recycled easily just lifting stuff from old AP tests. If the kid prepares by looking up those old DBQs himself and doing the work, you have inspired him to learn and think about stuff he might have otherwise ignored. If you are talking about multiple choice questions, you have a point, although I am still not entirely convinced that repeating them on a 3 year cycle, and still letting kids take exams home, diminishes learning. I can see why stealing this year's test before it is given should be prevented, but many other forms of student preparation that are labeled cheating---like looking at old tests---strike me as one more way to get the kids to review the material. I do prefer, however, the IB exams because the multiple choice questions are usually not used. And many teachers I know have influenced me in that direction.

For mport84-- great post, taking us to the real world of unintended consequences.

For Cal---I agree grades are a big deal, and have written a lot about those erratic habits of teachers. But I can't see, if I am honest with myself, how they have done much actual harm. They are never going to affect an individual student's GPA much over the course of 4 years, and much too little to affect college admissions. If a teacher is really out to lunch, giving everyone Fs or everyone As, the principal will have a word.

For edlharris---it seems to me erratic grading and value added are very separate issues. The grades are the teacher's assessment of each student's work. Value added is about standardized test score assessments of teacher's work. A good teacher who grades in a smart way that motivates kids at all levels will help keep test scores up, but that will be a minor weapon in her collection of motivational devices. I still think value added has some worth in principle, but i have yet to see it used effectively in a real school, and until I do I will be a skeptic, although supportive of efforts to shed light on it, like the LA Times series.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 6, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I salute every classroom professional logged in here for you knowledge, creativity and dedication. Too bad the public has NO CLUE about the job and what you put up with every day. Unfortunately, your load gets worse by the year with more and more demands and less and less flexibility. Your continued blogging will be the only way any of this gets out.

In general, the above comments all point to the freight-train drive of test scores as be-all and end-all to "learning" in America. Those who only remember the "good-old-days" of their own experience are clueless beyond belief (Jay!). Parents and the public have found their latest scapegoast in the teachers for not only being the government-designated baby-siiters for pre-18's but the saviors of the economy and America's future. At least that's what so much of the hyperbole says.

Teachers are professionals with great limitations. They are paid for only the days worked - no holidays - and required to put in long days on a regular basis, not to mention advanced level classes for recertifications. IT's are busy too but at least you are not vilified by the public and punished by the Departmernt of Education.

When the reality of the nitty-gritty of how tests must be designed and handled in more and more restrictive ways becomes known, perhaps some parents will decide to remove their children from panic mode of being Ivy League "prepared".

Our best and memorable moments from school days are rarely or never how well we scored on a test, much less giving those scores credit in whatever success we think we may be having in life. Get a grip on yourselves, people!

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | December 6, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

david_r_fry:
Thanks for the info. I understand that we are not the only ones who actually work beyond certain hours, but amongst my groups of friends (also professionals, but in different careers) I seem to be the only one who can't charge the company for overtime pay. I'm not complaining by the way, I knew going into this line of work that would be the case.

Posted by: zeptattoo | December 6, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't so much have a problem with the tests not going home as I have the actual graded tests never being returned to students so they can see where they messed up. Our son was in a magnet level alg 1 class 3 years ago and the teacher insisted the students were not allowed to see their graded unit exams or final exams because they would be used again. I'm ok with reusing exams,especially ones that are well crafted. BUT...this is a MCPS teacher and the MCPS grading policies state that graded exams are to be returned to the students so they can see where they made mistakes and learn from that. Even MCPS says that's part of the learning process. Teachers may re-collect the tests after they have been reviewed, BUT class time is to be used for reviewing graded exams. It would be nice if MCPS policies were enforced, the parents had to pull teeth to get her to comply with that and other MCPS grading policies.

Posted by: valerie11 | December 6, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse


I send my tests away with students. Of course, I give only exams with essay/short answer/ID with no answer bank. You either know the material or you don't. Looking at a past test really won't prepare you to take this year's version. You actually have to do the work to understand the material and then express the answers clearly. I still have more F's than A's on most exams.

Posted by: wombat2 | December 6, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I send my tests away with students. Of course, I give only exams with essays, short answers, or ID with no answer bank. You either know the material or you don't. Looking at a past test really won't prepare you to take this year's version. You actually have to do the work to understand the material and then express the answers clearly. I still have more F's than A's on most exams. I teach in a public university.

Posted by: wombat2 | December 6, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

"Students have survived erratic grading for several decades without much harm." Apparently you've never been threatened with a law suit from a high-powered lawyer parent who can rip you to shreds on your grading policy. I agree that erratic grading is part of life (happens with bosses, too), but as teachers and school districts in a litigious age, we can no longer maintain a "cavalier" attitude towards grading--we have to justify EVERY question AND be able to show that we taught the answer, when we taught it, and how we taught it. There's a reason so many excellent veteran teachers are leaving for other fields (in our district, of 9 NCBTs in my area, only 3 are still in the classroom). What's the 21st century lesson here? If you don't like your grade, sue. (So far the administration has caved to almost every threat of a lawsuit.) After all, if Johnny gets a B, it will be entirely my fault that he doesn't get into Harvard.

Posted by: pattipeg1 | December 6, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"Students have survived erratic grading for several decades without much harm." Apparently you've never been threatened with a law suit from a high-powered lawyer parent who can rip you to shreds on your grading policy. I agree that erratic grading is part of life (happens with bosses, too), but as teachers and school districts in a litigious age we can no longer maintain a "cavalier" attitude towards grading--we have to justify EVERY question AND be able to show that we taught the answer, when we taught it, and how we taught it. There's a reason so many excellent veteran teachers are leaving for other fields (in our district, of 9 NCBTs in my area, only 3 are still in the classroom). What's the 21st century lesson here? If you don't like your grade, sue. (So far the administration has caved to almost every threat of a lawsuit.) After all, if Johnny gets a B, it will be entirely MY fault that he doesn't get accepted to Harvard.

Posted by: pattipeg1 | December 6, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I hear you pattipeg1, but I wonder if you or anyone else has ever researched the case law on this. Have any courts ever intruded on this issue? I am betting not, but I also recognize that even if the law is with you, the school board isn't gonna want to spend a lot of dough on it if they can save the money and trouble by just giving the kid an A. I would have thought runaway modern grade inflation solved this problem, but I guess not.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 6, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with PMP1, with the idea that students (although it is unfortunate) will always find some way to cheat and will always cheat. Therefore, not allowing students to go through their graded tests really won't prevent cheating in the long run. It will only hurt students. As a recent college graduate, I can attest to having professors or teachers not allow the class to look at tests or only allow us to look quickly and then have to pass them back five minutes later. I can understand the teachers' perspective that, as ColleenEnglish puts it, "There are limit to how many quality questions can be generated on a given topic and multiple versions of tests are needed due to the inevitable make-ups, retakes, etc."
However, the bottom line is still that we learn best from our mistakes. So, it is extremely valuable for students to take home graded tests and go through them with parents or tutors because then they'll understand what they got wrong and, therefore, will likely get it correct on the next test. Welcome to the learning process.

Posted by: DanaKors | December 6, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Owasso Public Schools vesus KRISTJA J. FALVO. Parents sued the school district arguing that having students grade each others work and discussing the questions violated Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. This isn't actually on point, but I have a ton of grading to do so just picked the first case that came to mind. When I started teaching I was told I could be sued if I couldn't justify grades and demonstrate how I arrived at the grade. This means I have to PROVE it. I teach 5th grade so I return my tests and don't worry too much about it. But, at the middle school level I have watched teachers copying tests before handing them back. Students were changing answers and parents were then demanding the teacher give them credit stating they had the answers right on the test.
I understand the frustration a parent might feel if they were unable to see a test, but teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure. For my master's degree I had to take a class on educational law that gave a variety of case law where teachers and schools were sued for a variety of reasons. Can't remember the case, but a teacher was sued for negligence because she allowed students to run out to the playground in front of her. So, now teachers are told to walk in front of students and not allow them to run. Anything you do or don't do can result in you being sued.

Posted by: hkerrie | December 6, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

thanks to hkerrie for the great informative post on the case law. There are times. like now, when I think I only post stuff on this blog so that i can read the comments.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 6, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews,
Thanks for the compliment. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court and it ruled in favor of the school district. But many administrators figure it is easier to placate parents then risk lawsuits and the ensuing legal costs.

Posted by: hkerrie | December 6, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

There is NO reason for a teacher not to allow her students to look over and review their tests during class, at lunch, after school, etc. In fact there should be a way for students to correct their mistakes on tests (retakes/retest/remediation, whatever you want to call it). We only learn from our mistakes when we try the same task again! Is there any other environment other than school where we don't get a second chance to make something better? I am sure Jay can tell you he has an editor to tell him how to make his columns better! I am sure we all have bosses who tell us that our original attempt at something wasn't good enough and to do it again. My point is that remediation is just as important as giving the test the first time. As for test security, it really depends on the class. An AP or similar level class is different than other level classes because the long response questions are more difficult to come up with (but the multiple choice ones are not as hard. Lots of different ways to ask the same question). But that doesn't mean that these AP questions are like gold, meant to be locked up! Create a bank of questions, rotate through the bank each year. If the students are working that hard to figure out which one you are going to use that year, then they need to channel that effort to their hard work. More importantly, if you are giving a test, aren't you reviewing for the test beforehand? Giving out a study guide? Doing practice tests? Aren't you already giving them the answers? Didn't you already give them the answers during the course of instruction? Don't we want to them to give us the right answers? I will bet you that I could give my AP students the question before hand and I would STILL have almost the same distribution of scores I would have by not giving the answers out and giving them a study guide instead. The students still have to RECALL the answers and make sure they structure those answers correctly.

How about this: for the student who wants to take the test home, have them sign it out on their honor that they won't share the test with anyone other than their parents and/or tutor. Tell them that this is your "expectations of integrity" (that one was for Jay) and then let them have the test for 7 days (or whatever). Then have them return it to you. Then check Facebook. If it doesn't turn up there then you know the students aren't sharing the answers!

Posted by: APforyou | December 6, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

@Cal My concern about tutors keeping files did not arise from your comment in the original post. I'll leave it at that.

I have worked with students who study and yet perform poorly on tests. I have found the solution is not to coach to the specific test questions, but rather to build students' ability to think on their feet when questions require application and analysis rather than just recall.

Posted by: ColleenEnglish | December 6, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

@zeptattoo,
One last comment/suggestion. I'm not disputing what your saying about your circle of friends, but in upstate New York salaried professionals working for the government almost never get paid overtime unless it's for specific types of work specified in their contract. For example I got paid quite a bit of overtime for working on y2k, since there was special funding for it and it fell outside my normal duties. It's a regular bone of contention where I live because hourly workers like police and firemen frequently get paid more than management and are constantly working double time their last few years to pump up their retirement. The flip side of that coin are various institutions arbitrarily reclassifying lower wage workers as professional so they don't have to pay them overtime. I'd get a copy of your contract to see what its says, just to be prepared. A number of our local school districts are really strapped for funds and have been laying off teachers then dumping their workload on the teachers that are left. Personally most of the suburban school teachers I know are so overpaid even they laugh about it, however I don't think they should suddenly have a 50% workload increase then not get paid for it.

Posted by: david_r_fry | December 6, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

"They are never going to affect an individual student's GPA much over the course of 4 years, and much too little to affect college admissions. "

This is purely nuts. You think it's just one teacher?

"I have found the solution is not to coach to the specific test questions"

You really need to focus on what people actually write, rather than project your own bizarre interpretations on others.

Try quoting from other people's posts. You're definitely not capable of restating.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | December 6, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

That this is even a contentious issue makes me sad. We're discussing the wrong things in education today. Of course, teachers should return tests. It's ok if teachers' tests are not perfectly uniform. All a class grade represents is the student's ability to perform at a certain level in an individual teacher's class. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it is difficult to construct new tests, but that is part of the job. Not allowing students, parents, and other teachers to see the tests not only keeps students from learning from their mistakes, but also prevents a broad oversight by students, parents, and other teachers.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | December 6, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

In case it isn't obvious I'd like to point out that the nature of the discussion here is a lot differant than it is for many of Jay's other blogs. We're talking about committed dedicated teachers actually making a good faith effort to do their jobs who I'm willing to bet actually are doing a pretty good job, at least in relative terms, and committed dedicated parents and their supporters who are willing and able to advocate forefully in their children's behalfs. Up to a point this is how things are really suppose to work. It's a big part of how we move forward to establish best practices. Unfortunately this isn't what has happened in our urban school districts, until recently. Parents and their supporters commenting here are complaining about teachers who don't return their exams and teachers and there supporters are complaining about parents who sue and are perceived as being obnoxious about "trivial" matters. Until recently who was advocating forcefully and effectively for children in our poor urban school districts? NOBODY!!!! Who advocated forcefully and effectively for teachers and administrators in these districts who wanted to make common sense changes to improve the educational opportunities of probably the most powerless group of people in our country - poor urban minority children? NOBODY!!!! Well, hopefully all that's changed and the teachers unions won't try to turn the clock back like some "liberal" teacher versions of reactionary republican wing-nuts.

Posted by: david_r_fry | December 7, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Are the teachers who never let the students even look at the tests all concerned with cheating? My teachers always handed tests back and went over them in class. On several occasions, students challenged a grade; sometimes we caught the teacher in an error, and sometimes we had interpreted a questions differently. On one occasion, every student in the class interpreted the phrase "peculiar to" as meaning strange, while the teacher had meant it as specific to. On another occasion, we didn't even wait for the results; several of us informed the health teacher--also the football coach--that an extra credit question about football rules was not a "giveaway" question to those of us who didn't like football. (He was shocked that we existed, but agreed to give everyone in the class the extra credit points.) I also recall reading several news articles about students who paid extra to get SAT tests back and found the answers preferred by the testing service were in fact wrong.

And whatever happened to telling students to take a low grade home and have your parents sign that they had seen it?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | December 7, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

THANK YOU JAY! for raising this important issue. Please be advised that Anne Arundel County has "benchmarks" i.e. tests for each and every class. They are provided by the county. The students are not allowed to take them home.
The teachers are not to blame in this county. They are at the mercy of the idiotic county policy. We moved here when my son was in the fifth grade. I couldn't believe he wasn't able to bring home the tests to use them to improve his test taking ability. Nope. In fact, I think they had to send all the tests to the county. Now he is in high school and this policy is still alive. I think this is an attempt to make sure the underperforming schools are teaching the same content as the best schools.
Please continue to elucidate so that perhaps the overpaid bureaucrats that run our Anne Arundel County schools may learn what damage they are doing.

Posted by: mcl2 | December 7, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

David_r_fry you knew you would be working without pay and you still got into education? Why? This brings up the idea that somehow educators get paid in prestige. (An intangible substitute for the lacking monetary compensation.) May I say I feel left out of this conversation as no standardized test has been written for my subject?

Posted by: tristaartist | December 8, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

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