Another Victory For High-Stakes Testing: The Geometry Edition

New York City math teacher Gary Rubenstein writes (boldface mine):

I got to witness an extreme example of this decision making when I graded the Geometry Regents at the centralized grading center this past June. A huge part of Geometry, in my mind the most important part, is deductive proofs. I’d say that over half of a ‘true’ Geometry course would involve proving different theorems. Well, on the Geometry Regents these proofs are not a large percent of the test, less than ten points out of eighty. So on the June Regents the last question on the test, a six point question, was the proof question and I was assigned to grade about 200 papers from a school, I won’t say which one, to grade. As I graded I noticed that many of the students left the proof blank. By the end of my grading I realized that out of 200 papers, all that could have received up to 6 points for the proof — a total of 1,200 potential points to have been earned on this question, I had awarded only two points total. That’s two points out of a possible 1,200. I asked around and the consensus was that teachers, knowing that proofs would take months to cover but be only worth less ten percent of the points on the test, would be too risky to teach. All the time spent on this tough topic would only, at best, get the students a few extra points while they would lose all that time they could use to teach some of the easier topics that were more likely to be on the test.

Awesome. This is Campbell’s Law in action:

“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Meanwhile, NY Times op-ed writer Bill Keller thinks the problem is teacher training. But he was right about Iraq so what could possibly go wrong?

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3 Responses to Another Victory For High-Stakes Testing: The Geometry Edition

  1. Cathy W says:

    My brain is sputtering. How can … how can … how can you teach a geometry class without proofs?!?!?!?

  2. jemand says:

    I can remember my astonishment talking to my cousins about their geometry class… they *did* cover “proofs” but it was being given a set proof they were expected to memorize and regurgitate for the test. Rote memorization. Considered as “teaching proofs.”

  3. Newcastle says:

    Back in the late 70’s at least half the class (NY Regents Geometry) was doing proofs, I remember that clearly as it was the only math class that I have ever actually enjoyed in my entire life…

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