I bit my tongue. I followed instructions. I tried not to yell about the insanity of it all.
I was helping with testing in the kindergarten class where I volunteer. Because kindergartners can’t read yet, I took children out of the room individually and read questions to them so that they could circle the correct answers with purple crayon. I was not supposed to do anything but read—no answering children’s questions, no clarifying, no giving feedback of any kind.
Well, that is a whole lot harder than you might think. First of all, there was the cuteness factor. Imagine adorable little five year olds looking at you with big eyes, eager to please, hoping to do things right, asking you questions, wanting to do their best—and you can only read the question.
I did it, but I didn’t like it.
Imagine, further, that the test questions are often ambiguous and poorly constructed.
They were. For example, one item in the math section asked kids to circle the picture that was shaped like a can of paint. Several pictures followed, and the first one was a picture of an actual can of paint. I would have done the same thing that a number of kids did: circle the can of paint. It did indeed look “the most like a can of paint.” A well-constructed question might have been worded more like this: Look at this picture of a can of paint. (Picture). Now circle the picture below that has the same shape.
In another item, kids were asked to circle the “group” of pelicans that was “less” than the other. However, the groups were really two lines of penguins that weren’t clearly separated, making the picture look like just one large group of pelicans. How do you choose which group is less when you see only one group?
Again and again, children would miss a question simply because the test itself was confusing. They would say the right answer but misinterpret what they were supposed to circle with the purple crayon. Even the layout on the page was a problem. After I would read Question #1, child after child would look to the bottom of the page and circle an answer from Question #3. They knew the correct answers. They just had trouble finding them on the page.
One girl made me smile. On an item asking students to count the number of dogs, she just flat-out refused to circle the correct answer. She decided she wanted to color the doggies purple instead, and so she did. She calmly colored and added little flourishes of random designs all around the page while I waited. I can’t say that I blamed her. I’d rather have colored the doggies purple, too. Maybe some kids just aren’t circle-the-correct-number-of-doggies kind of people. I mean, really. They’re five. Do they have to be?
Another person with issues about kindergarten math questions is author and math teacher Gary Rubinstein. Check out his blog on “My Daughter’s Kindergarten Common Core Math Workbook,” especially the last half that discusses workbook questions about beavers, rolling, and stacking.