When I gave objective tests using scantrons years ago I always did an item analysis.  These can be very revealing as they quickly highlight commonly missed questions.  The teacher can then examine the question and look for reasons for the high failure rate.  Was the question poorly worded?  Did the teacher forget to cover this concept adequately?  Was this left off the review before the test?  Does the teacher need to re-teach this concept as part of the new unit?  Can this information be worked into future warm-ups as a way of teaching by review?

I would like to offer teachers a different way of questioning test results and highlight a new way of thinking about assessments?  This new way of looking at assessments will be from the vantage point of the answers students got correct.  My question is: if the student answered the question correctly, and knew his answer was correct, how did he come by the information that led him to the correct answer?  In other words, where do students learn what they know?

I invite teachers to pick up their next or last objective assessment, that is, one with multiple choice, matching, or true-false answers.  Examine each item in turn with the above question in mind?  Give the most honest answer you can, especially if the correct answer can be found in the student textbook.  Often that bit of text will not be the source of the student's knowledge.  It is my contention that nearly every correct answer can be directly traced back to the teacher, and, most often, from words that came directly out of the teacher's mouth.

If this is true, why is this important?  Because, the common core standards call on student knowledge and understanding to be a direct result of his own critical reading skills.  Let's examine a few standards from different disciplines. Below are three standards from History/Social Science:
  • 4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
  • 5. Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
  • 6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

Notice that all of these standards are text-based.  They assume that students work with text in history and social science and learn to analyze and evaluate it.  They are applying Bloom's taxonomy to complex text they are negotiating independently and proficiently.  The correct anwers to test questions will come from their own critical reading. Teachers should support this process, but they should not do the difficult reading and thinking for their students. If the teachers do this work, the students are not demonstrating content standard mastery.

Let's look at three comparable standards from science and technical subjects:
  • 4. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9–10 texts and topics.
  • 5. Analyze the structure of the relationships among concepts in a text, including relationships among key terms (e.g., force, friction, reaction force, energy).
  • 6. Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address.

All three of these science based standards are also text-based.  Once again, the assumption is that students are being evaluated on not just what they know, but on how they came to know it.  They must continually demonstrate independent mastery of complex, content area text. 

 
I invite all teachers to examine their assessments and be honest about what is being assessed.  Often, it is the degree to which the student has been engaged by his teacher, taken good notes on what the teacher has said, and reviewed these notes for the test.  Often, it involves little to no content area reading on his part, and certainly no independent mastery of text.
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