Friday, August 14, 2015

Are you smarter than a third grader?

The following headline from the The New York Times grabbed my attention today:  New York State Test Questions Tricky For 3rd Graders, and Maybe Some Adults.  Having just read a related story about the number of students in New York that had opted out of taking the state test, I was expecting to read yet another story about the dismal situation in our nation's public schools, but I didn't.  Or maybe I did, but it wasn't as cut and dried as I've come to expect.

In the opt-out story, some all too familiar sounding statistics like the following were rattled off:

"New York was one of the first states to introduce tests based on new Common Core academic standards, and this year, the third under the new benchmarks, just 31 percent passed reading tests and 38 percent passed math. Both results were slight improvements from last year, and far below the passing rates under the easier, pre-2013 tests."

So when test time came around this year, 20% or roughy 200,000 students (parents) declined to take it for no "known valid reason".  Then the school official spoke as the Times reported,

"This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments, the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said in a statement. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen." 

While I agree with the chancellor's stance on testing in principle, having read the story about third graders, and having taken the short test, my full support of the testing would be contingent upon some earnest work being done to assure the validity of the tests.

Statistically speaking, tests are measured by whether they are reliable and whether they are valid.  A test is reliable if it produces consistent results.  As an example, if a student takes a vocabulary test over and over again, without the opportunity to study in between tests,  and the scores are similar, the test can be said to be reliable.

A test is valid if it measures what it is supposed to measure.  As an example, a test of reading comprehension should test - reading comprehension.

With that background in mind, click the link below to take the brief third grade quiz that accompanied the article to find out if you are smarter than a third grader.  I will go ahead and stipulate that I think anyone reading this blog can answer that question in the affirmative.  So, if you happen to get a problem wrong, it might be because the test is reliable but not valid.  And any good statistician will tell you have to have both to have a good testing instrument.

Take the brief quiz here.

Perhaps the 20% of parents that opted out had validity concerns.  Do you?


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