What is a typical sixth grader?

According to Meredith Kolodner at Insideschools, many principals and teachers have been raising concerns over the rubrics and scoring procedures for this year’s standardized tests in New York State.

Sometimes the rubrics (for the written portions of the tests) are ambiguous. Sometimes they work against good judgment. Sometimes the writing prompt itself puts students and scorers alike in a quandary.

Here’s an example of the last of these:

In addition, a listening passage about a kid who loved music asked students to write about how the child in the passage is like and unlike a “typical 6th grader.” Teachers debated what would lead to a high score: does a typical 6th graders really like music? Does a typical 6th grader attend after-school? Take the bus? There was not consensus on what details would be considered “meaningful and relevant examples,” as dictated by the scoring guide.

Assuming that the description is accurate, I wonder what the test makers had in mind. What is the point of asking students to compare a character to a “typical” sixth grader? Is there such a thing? Are children supposed to know (or care) what a “typical” sixth grader is?

In order to receive a high score, a student must fulfill all the requirements of the task. Here an intellectually advanced student could easily get sidetracked with definitions of “typical” and fail to write the essay as required.

Rubrics have inherent limitations; you can’t standardize good judgment. When applied on a massive scale, they become more limiting still. But they are here to stay, at least for now. Given that state of things, it’s all the more important to create good test questions. This, apparently, is not one.

I scored tests this year but signed a confidentiality agreement. I am not allowed to discuss what I saw on the tests or in student writing. Thus I am limiting myself to commenting on what others have reported. In the past, New York State tests were released to the public after they had been administered and scored. This is good practice; we should all have the opportunity to see and comment on them. After all, they presumably reflect what students are expected to learn.