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Curmudgucation: Adaptive Students and Adaptive Tests

One the great unexamined assumptions of the test-driven accountability fans is that students will actually give a rat's rear about the tests.

I'm not sure why the test fans make this assumption. Maybe they were the kinds of students who took every single test with the utmost seriousness, whether it mattered or not. Maybe they have convinced themselves that the tests are super-duper important and they can't imagine how anyone would think otherwise. Maybe it's been a really long time since they met someone who was fifteen years old.

If you like your "news" in anecdote form, there's this piece that's been bouncing around the internet that gathers a few choice tweets about the PARCC. Not exactly conclusive, but I'm betting few high school teachers read it and shake their heads, thinking, "My land, but I never heard of students saying such a thing." No, in high school land, we already know that one of the challenges of the Big Standardized Test is convincing students it isn't a complete waste of their time.

But this unexamined assumption really hits the fan when we get to adaptive testing.

The idea of an adaptive test is, of course, that it adjusts to the student level-- the smarter the student appears to be, the more the test ramps up the question.

But that only works if the student is motivated to do his best no matter what, if his reward is knowing he's done the best he could possibly do. However, if a student thinks the reward associated with the test is to be done with the test, adaptive testing looks completely different.

If my reward is to be done with a minimum of fuss, then I can adapt to my adaptive test easily, because here's the deal-- the more questions I answer incorrectly, the easier the questions get, and the quicker I can finish. And as I was writing this this morning, stories are starting to wander into facebook of exactly this happening-- students who have been burned out on endless pointless testing are starting to figure out how to game the new super-duper tests.

My reward for answering questions well is that the test gets longer and harder.

Adaptive tests can only work for a body of students who are driven to do their very best and show that impersonal, inhuman, pointless, no-stakes, computerized test just what they're made of. It's for students who are incapable of analyzing and adapting to their testing environment, but who are simply stuck in a default full-on setting. For everyone else, this is like some bizarro video game where the more fights you lose, the sooner you get to the final boss and the easier he is to beat. Tell me my students don't have the critical thinking skills to figure that one out, or the adaptive response skills to adjust to it.

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...