NY Passes Students Who Get Wrong Answers on Tests

Carl Campanile and Susan Edelman, New York Post, June 6, 2010

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Despite promises that the exams–which determine whether students advance to the next grade–would not be dumbed down this year, students got “partial credit” for wrong answers after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide. Some got credit for no answer at all.

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But scoring guides obtained by The Post reveal that kids get half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem–even if they screw up the calculations or leave the answer blank.

Examples in the fourth-grade scoring guide include:

* A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12.

* A miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is “partially correct” if the student uses the right method to verify the wrong answer.

* Setting up a division problem to find one-fifth of $400, but not solving the problem–and leaving the answer blank–gets half-credit.

* A kid who subtracts 57 cents from three quarters for the right change and comes up with 15 cents instead of 18 cents still gets half-credit.

* A student who figures the numbers of books in 35 boxes of 10 gets half-credit despite messed-up multiplication that yields the wrong answer, 150 instead of 350.

These questions ask students to show their work. The scoring guidelines, called “holistic rubrics,” require that points be given if a kid’s attempt at an answer reflects a “partial understanding” of the math concept, “addresses some element of the task correctly,” or uses the “appropriate process” to arrive at a wrong solution. Despite flubbing the answer, students can get 1 point on a 2-point problem and 1 or 2 points on a 3-pointer.

The Brooklyn teacher said she and peers who had trained to score the tests were stunned at some instructions.

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Some testing experts are also troubled.

Ray Domanico, a former head of data analysis for city schools, said kids deserve a little credit for partial knowledge but agreed the scoring system “raises some questions about whether it’s too generous.”

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A year ago, Chancellor Joel Klein boasted that the city was making “dramatic progress” when 82 percent of city students passed the state math test and 69 percent passed in English, up sharply from 2002. And fewer kids have been left back in recent years.

What officials didn’t reveal was that the number of points needed to pass proficiency levels has, in most cases, steadily dropped.

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