This weekend someone sent me a link to a test called "Are you smarter than an 8th grader?" According to the site, "Great Schools is teaming up with Strong American Schools to ignite change in our schools." The site has both a science and a math quiz you can take and then compare your results to students in 46 countries.
So I took both tests. I generally do well on tests, mostly because I'm good at second-guessing what "they" want. I did well on these tests, too, but I had a strong sense of what a kid must feel when I took the math test. It wasn't that it was particularly hard. It was that one question threw me because I thought the test was trying to trick me. The question asked me to compare the triangles "above" and choose the two that were similar.
I knew which two were similar. But the triangles were not "above" the question. They were below it. My immediate thought was, "Oh, it's a trick!" I scrolled upward, but there were no triangles. I stared at the screen for a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. If it had been a question in something I was reading casually, I would have assumed someone had just goofed. But this was a TEST. I immediately assumed that the test was trying to fool me. Finally, I simply chose the correct answer from the selections below, rather than above, the question. My answer was correct.
Now it just so happens that this error was on a test posted for everyone to see. But how many goofs like this are on the tests kids take, the ones we're not allowed to see? How may questions do actually try to trick kids? How many questions are hard to answer because they are poorly written? We'll never know. We're not allowed to look.
I found it interesting that my first reaction was to figure out the "trick." That, I think, is sad. It isn't because I'm perverted. It's because I'm a good test taker. I know that many questions are constructed in a sneaky way. How many kids stare at questions, as I did, trying to figure out what the heck the trick is or, worse, what the heck "they" want them to do? Is this a real measure of what kids know, or a measure of how savvy they are at guessing what "they" want?
Take a look at the test at http://www.greatschools.net/content/actionForEducationQuiz.page. From what I can tell, the questions come up randomly, so the test you take may not be the same one I took. Maybe you'll find errors, too.