Science testing is often done badly, says this Education Week article. It gives examples of questions that telegraph the correct answer, testing students’ ability to read and use common sense, rather than science knowledge. Here’s my favorite example:
Some states avoid directly testing whether students have learned meaningful foundation knowledge, aiming instead to measure how well students “relate and use knowledge.” Testing on use of knowledge, rather than possession of knowledge, can lead to test items that are poorly grounded in the content of science, as this writing prompt from an 8th grade state assessment illustrates:
Your school’s Academic Team has chosen Archimedes as its mascot, and for the team shirt you have created a new symbol to represent Archimedes and his discoveries. The team members have asked you to attend their next meeting to inform them about your symbol. Write a speech to read to the team members, which describes and explains your symbol and tells why it is appropriate for the team.
Perhaps designing an Archimedes logo for a shirt does relate and use knowledge of Archimedes, but it also tends to treat science as a “scenic” background rather than a central element of the test. Another example from a 5th grade assessment asks students to measure the length of a caterpillar in a picture. The item tests only the skill of measuring, not knowledge about the living organism or its development.
What about kids who aren’t good at design, drawing or writing but know a lot about Archimedes?
Here’s another one:
Students may also divine the correct answer on a test item by responding to differences in writing style. In the example below, answer D is the only one written with a qualification (“… that it could contain”) and is also the wordiest answer:
The statement that the relative humidity is 50 percent means that
A. The chance of rain is 50 percent.
B. The atmosphere contains 50 kilograms of water per cubic kilometer.
C. The clouds contain 50 grams of water per liter.
D. The atmosphere contains 50 percent of the amount of water that it could contain at its present temperature.
Even if students don’t know the correct answer, they may sense that more effort went into writing answer choice D, and that the writing seems more cautious and scientific. As a result, students may be drawn to the correct answer for reasons unrelated to knowledge of science.
My science knowledge is — let’s say limited — but I could get guess the right answer to every question.