Data and the Inner Thoughts of an Adolescent Test Taker

February 24, 2013 — Leave a comment


Standardized testing in Connecticut begins next month. The 10th grade students who are taking a reading comprehension practice test all look like they are engaged. Their heads are bent down; they are marking the papers.  I am trying to duplicate test taking conditions to prepare them for these exams. I also want to compare the scores from this assessment to one taken earlier in the year to note their progress.

Next month, these these students will sit in the same seats, for the same amount of time, perhaps using the same pen or pencil, but they are not the “same”. That is because they are adolescents. They are going through physical changes. They are going through emotional changes. They are are going through a period of social adjustment. Outwardly, they may look calm, but the turbulence inside is palpable.

I imagine if I could tune into their inner monologues, the cacophony would be deafening:

  • “…missed the bus!!!! No time for breakfast this morning…”
  • “…this is the biggest zit I have ever had!…”
  • “…not ready for the math test tomorrow…”
  • “….did I make the team?…”
  • “…why didn’t I get that part in the play?…”
  • “…I forgot the science homework!..”
  • “…When this test was over, I’ve got to find out who he is taking to the dance!..”
  • “…what am I going to do when I grow up?..”
  • “…should I get ride home or should I take the late bus?…”
  • “…Is she wearing the same shirt as me?…”

These students take the practice assessment like other classes of students before them. Unlike generations of students before them, however, social media makes a significant contribution to their behavior. Their access to social media updates with Facebook posts, tweets, or text messages exacerbates the turmoil and creates a social, emotional, hormonal slurry that changes hourly. 

And very soon, in one of those hours, these students will take a real state standardized test.

These factors may explain why the highs and lows of my data collection for several students bear a closer resemblance to an EKG rather than a successful corporate stock report. I may not want to count the results of an assessment for a student because I know what may have gone wrong on that day. However, the anecdotal information I have for a given student on a given day student is not recorded in the collection of numbers; measuring student performance is exclusively the number of items right vs. the number of items wrong.

Yet, there is still truth in the data. When the individual student results are combined as a class, student A’s bad day is mitigated by Student B’s good day. The reverse may be true the following week. Averaging Student A’s results with all the other members of the class, neutralizes many of the individual emotional or hormonal influences. Collectively, the effects of adolescence are qualified, and I can analyze a group score that measures understanding. Ultimately, the data averaged class by class, or averaging a student’s ups and downs, is more reliable in providing general information about growth over time.

Although I try to provide the ideal circumstances in order to optimize test scores, I can never exclude that social, emotional, hormonal slurry swirling in each of their heads. I know that the data collected on any given day might be unreliable in determining an individual student’s progress. I cannot predict the day or hour when a student should take a test to measure understanding.

How unfortunate that this is exacty what happens when students take a state standardized test on a predetermined date during an assigned hour, regardless of what turmoil might be going on in their lives. How unfortunate when that the advocates of standardized testing are never in the classroom to hear the voices in the adolescent students’ internal monologues:“….I am so tired!…..When will this be over?…Does this test really show what I know?”

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