Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lowering of Standard(ization)s

Get this straight: I abhor standardized exams, especially those given at the national or international level. The first person to have put the letters G, R, and E or S, A, and T together in that order is hopefully burning in intellectual hell (i.e., teaching at a community college as an adjunct professor) as I type. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity (and pay) to spend the past week in Fort Collins, Colorado, grading the exam that high school students take in order to get college credit or advanced placement. (I wonder if that is vague enough to avoid the use of copyrighted/trademarked material that those “acorn” bastards are so uptight about.)

Despite the seriously flawed rubric which listed the acceptable terms and discussion points, and the fact that I couldn’t sleep very well the first few evenings because my mind kept going over the questions and answers even while I slept—I was grading approximately 125-200 essay exams every day—my experience was, for the most part, positive.

Training lasted about a day-and-a-half; then we were pretty much left up to our own devices as we worked from 8:00am-4:30pm everyday making our way through packets of 25 exams each. For those who have never experienced this before, we were broken into four groups of about 140 high school/college teachers each and assigned one essay question to grade. There were about 6 or 7 readers per table, each with a table leader who was charged with checking our grades against the standard. Of course, the table leader is checked as well by the question leaders, and so on and so forth all the way back up the chain of command. The total number of exams was around 150,000 this year.

Statistics is a spooky thing (and another thing I abhor and find irksome). According to the Great Big Computer that does such things (presumably in New Jersey), the graders for my question were some of the most accurate in the history of this exam. This kind of instant feedback is troubling knowing what I know about the standards of grading we readers were charged with upholding: we were trained to “find the point,” awarding credit for answers that were completely incorrect except for the minutest statement or phrase. There were a couple of exams that passed before me that I had to award a perfect score to despite the fact that they did not have even one complete sentence. And these little bastards are getting college credit?!?! Now I have a greater desire to implement even stricter requirements for my essay exams when I begin teaching again in July.

Besides grading, I was able to utilize the resources at Colorado State University, working out at the gym, hiking in the mountains, taking a yoga class, and having access to an all-you-can-eat buffet/snack bar every two hours. They should’ve provided better coffee, however. My evenings were free, so in addition to visiting the national park and riding to the top of the Rockies (where I saw several elk and deer), I got to spend quality time alone (which was perfect considering most of the readers were only interested in talking about reading after reading all day!); Special K came up from Big D (Denver in this case) Thursday evening, and we had a lovely meal and conversation; and last night I went to see a local production of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Tonight there is a special dinner followed by a “talent show.” And I fly back home tomorrow morning.

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