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Looking at Tests
Can Drive You Mad

Publication Date: 2002-09-17

Here's one more example of why the testing industry must keep test content secret.

California Test Booklet, Grade 4
Teacher-Read Directions:
"Please read the directions to yourself. Then turn the page and begin writing."

Page 1

1. Write about an experience, observation, or recalled event
2. Describe what happened so the reader can clearly imagine the event.
3. Use specific sensory details.
4. Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

Page 2
Imagine that you are responsible
for caring for an elephant for a
week.. .

Do Not write in this space.

Page 3 was blank.


The directions children are told to read silently state clearly that they are to write about an experience, observation, or recalled event. In most communities this would seem to preclude writing about caring for an elephant, not that any label told test takers that this was indeed the writing prompt.

The teacher gives instructions: Read the directions, turn the page, and begin writing. But when students turn the page they see a very large box that says "Do not write. . . ."

The elephant care box is one-third the size of the "Do not write" box and nowhere is the elephant box labeled as the writing prompt.

Leaving aside the notion that some testing company thinks it?s a good idea to ask fourth graders to write about flights of fantasy to show off their best writing, the test obviously has other problems. Some children took the first set of directions to heart. They turned the page and didn?t even notice the second set of directions which aren?t labeled as directions. Even those who did see the elephant prompt figured they couldn?t write about that because they have no experience with elephants and the directions said to write about an experience. No matter how well these children expressed themselves, they failed the test. They didn?t follow directions.

In one school 13 of 83 children wrote on a prompt other than the one given. Did they fail writing or did they fail following directions? Who?s grading the direction-writers?

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