# Wrong is right (partially)

2 + 2 = 5? New York students can get partial credit for wrong answers or no answers at all on the state exam, reports the New York Post.

Despite promises that the exams — which determine whether students advance to the next grade — would not be dumbed down this year, students got “partial credit” for wrong answers after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide. Some got credit for no answer at all.

Students can get half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem.

Examples in the fourth-grade scoring guide include:

* A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12.

* A miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is “partially correct” if the student uses the right method to verify the wrong answer.

* Setting up a division problem to find one-fifth of \$400, but not solving the problem — and leaving the answer blank — gets half-credit.

* A kid who subtracts 57 cents from three quarters for the right change and comes up with 15 cents instead of 18 cents still gets half-credit.

* A student who figures the numbers of books in 35 boxes of 10 gets half-credit despite messed-up multiplication that yields the wrong answer, 150 instead of 350.

These questions ask students to show their work. The scoring guidelines, called “holistic rubrics,” require that points be given if a kid’s attempt at an answer reflects a “partial understanding” of the math concept, “addresses some element of the task correctly,” or uses the “appropriate process” to arrive at a wrong solution. Despite flubbing the answer, students can get 1 point on a 2-point problem and 1 or 2 points on a 3-pointer.

Scorers joked about giving points to kids who wrote their names, brought a pencil or shared gum, a Brooklyn teacher told the Post.

A year ago, Chancellor Joel Klein boasted that more students are passing the tests, but didn’t say that “the number of points needed to pass proficiency levels has, in most cases, steadily dropped,” reports the Post.

Via Flypaper.

1. Many of these are misleading in their phrasing. In the “half-credit” problems, there is a maximum score of 2, with only whole numbers allowable. Essentially, 0 is clueless, 1 is partial understanding, 2 is completely correct. To argue against partial credit is to say that a student who miscalculates should get the same 0 as a student who had no clue what they were doing. That seems pretty asinine to me.

2. tim-10-ber says:

maybe — but partial credit on basic math — no way; i can see making a mistake in a formula but when do multiple choice tests allow for formulas to be calculated and seen on the test?

3. Cynical says:

Partial credit combined with a low cut for passing scores means moving students along before they grasp the material.  Especially in math, that material is probably prerequisite for all further study.  This does nobody any favors.

4. pm says:

I guess this means that a score of 0 would really be higher than a score of 100. You’d have to be pretty bright to figure out answers for which no partial credit could be given.

5. Recognizing a partial understanding of a process or concept is fine– a good atta-boy to encourage a student who’s made a start. It’s something to build on in the learning process. It lets the teacher know where a student is struggling and what needs to be retaught. But giving any credit for adding 24 + 24 to find out how many inches are in two feet — on a test to measure math competency– is plain wrong.

6. ricki says:

Okay, fine. It’s good for the kids’ self-esteem, maybe. But I don’t want any of these kids growing up to be the guy who estimates how many shingles I need to pay for when I get my house re-roofed. Or who calculates the dosage of anesthetic I need for surgery. Or designs a bridge I have to drive over.

One of the reasons I liked math in school was that there were clear right and wrong answers. And I suspect some of these kids know they’re being gamed when they’re told it’s “OK” that they said a 2-foot skateboard was 48 inches long because they used “logic” to get the wrong answer.

7. There are two legitimate questions to be considered:

1. In general, should a test be seen as an educational opportunity, or as a plain assessment device.

2. In particular, should the state math proficiency test be seen as an educational opportunity.

I describe this episode in a blog post alongside an incident that illustrates the treatment of question #1 years ago in Russia.

8. There seem to be many misconceptions here about the formulation.

Only part of the exams are multiple choice. There is no partial credit on those parts. These examples are all from the short response sections.

I said many, not all. The student who understood that to take one-fifth was to divide by 5, I.e. to divide by the denominator has demonstrated understanding of the concepts, better than many of my eighth graders. We’re not talking about kids ready to enter the workforce; these are lower elementary students.

Also, these tests have nothing to do with whether or not the students advance. That decision must be made in June, and we’re lucky to get scores in October. The decision of whether or not to advance a student is purely on the district level, based on their coursework and assessments. It is there that the standards fail.

9. I’ll bet the State of New York doesn’t give you “partial credit” if you calculate your taxes wrong.

10. SuperSub says:

Ok some complaints about NY testing from a NY science teacher –

The tests have become dumbed down in content. Any teacher I know who taught before the 2001 standards realignment will say so, rather angrily. The recent 8th grade science exam looked pretty much identical to the 4th grade science exam. Biology questions from the 8th grade exam looked strangely familiar to questions on the high school Living Environment Regents Exam.

The tests have increased in reading difficulty. My guess is that this is a lame attempt by test writers to reach higher levels of Bloom’s.

The state constantly sets a low bar for passing in ‘universal’ tests to ensure that a set number of students pass. The Living Environment (Biology) Regents exam usually requires only 48-49% of credit to receive a passing 65 mark. The state only releases the final scores for middle school exams after the tests have been done for months… our school has seen relatively constant final scores despite variance in raw scores.

The middle school exam scores are given to the schools long after they could be useful. Students have already started attending classes the next year and teachers are already engaged, preventing students from receiving extra assistance they may need or teachers to do any major curriculum changes.

NY used to be one of, if not the, best states for public education. Right now the substance is gone but the reputation is still there… but it looks to be falling apart.