Saturday, January 18, 2014

Post Traumatic Test Disorder

The problem with this darn selective enrollment test is that it's a lottery at the end of the score range that counts.  Almost anything can happen with a bright, engaged kid.   I've seen kids make up really clever rules to solve test questions that I think are logically valid and that are completely wrong.  All kinds of things can go wrong and do.

The second problem is that the test is not culturally neutral.  When taking the practice tests, I came across much material that I would have know as a boy since I grew up on a farm near a lake.   Huck Finn might have done well despite his average intelligence.   My son, however, who has spent his life in one of the densest neighborhoods in the country, has not mastered the vocabulary of farming and fishing.  I thought this was a defect in the test prep material and a deviation from the test.  I was wrong.

My son knows quite a bit about fruit and vegetables, since that was his entire diet at age 3.  He was like a poop machine, not that you needed to know that.   I tried my best to explain to him all of the different types of meat terms that come from cows and pigs, but he wouldn't eat or learn them.  From current research about the other half of the city, those kids have never seen a fruit or a vegetable, and wouldn't recognize them, but have a large vocabulary about barbecue.  That sounds awful, but it's true.

The third problem is that any of the kids in the 90% to 95% range would do just fine in the GAT program if they and their parents were willing to do 1 to 2 hours of reading and homework each night, plus projects.  That is what GAT is all about - education will get the majority of attention.  A kid who wants to be on the hockey travelling team will pay the price in grades.  A dummy who cheats his way in - I'm not naming names - can get straight A's unless he tries to make humorous responses on his reading test because his father was trying to make homework more interesting that week - again, not naming names.

And here's where my beef comes in.  When my son listed the vocabulary on the Kindergarten test that he missed (he's as obsessed about tests as me), it is clear that a kid growing up on a farm near a lake would know all of these terms.   A kid in the city would not.   Of course, the question is probably designed for the kid to eliminate 3 ridiculous answers to arrive at the correct one, but there's a test proctor watching over his shoulder and my son wanted to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

The end result was that this question shut him out of a Kindergarten GAT program.  Granted, we weren't going to send him there for Kindergarten, but don't think I'm not pissed.

I think this whole thing is a scam.  This GAT program is the education that all kids should get.  They get this level of instruction in every other country except for this one.   Making kids test into it on a high variability outcome exam is absurd.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Assessing the Test

We debriefed a few hours after the test.   I got the "I don't remember" line, but having studied context based memory in one of my more desperate measures to outwit this test, I simply started asking contextual questions about the setting, leading up to 2,000 questions about the exam.

I was surprised that the format is so easy.   My biggest fear is a 5 year old boy who is not going to pay attention or focus because he doesn't want to be there, because, after all, what 5 year old boy would want to be there.   Apparently, the proctors ensure that all the kids finish each question before repeating the instructions for the next question.  How lame is that.  This rendered a portion of our training useless, the portion leading up to the test wherein he had to take ridiculously hard tests that I crafted, all alone, and not skip any.

One little boy came out crying because he didn't want to be there.  One of the proctors took him to his mother, who asked if he wanted to go back in.  He said no.  The proctor then took him back in anyway at the request of the mother.  I'm glad to see that.

My son volunteered to write down questions.  The ones he remembers were so easy that it's not worth repeating here.   They were so easy that I challenged him on whether or not they were sample questions or he was missing some trick.   Then he started drawing entire questions from memory, with all of the answers, and telling me the approximate question order, his credibility increased somewhat.  Of course, the poster boy for test prep is very comfortable in this environment.   This is the first grade test, by the way.  He still occasionally remembers a question from the Kindergarten test, but he was so scared going in there at age 4, questions come in nightmare flashbacks.

The bottom line is that everyone can relax about this test.   Around our house, we were referring to it as D-Day.  (The D stands for day.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Test Day

The big day is finally here.

We entered a very crowded and sweaty auditorium at IIT 20 minutes before our scheduled time.   Parents were nervous.  Kids were not.  I surveyed the room and spotted a few parents practicing cutting edge parenting techniques on their little kids, and other parents handing over an iPad so that their kids could play video games while they waited.

My biggest challenge was getting the shy little guy to go into the test.  Apparently my Lord of the Rings motivational speech did the trick, and he marched in ready for his last charge.

I felt like a parent of an Olympic figure skater watching their child compete in the finals, hoping that he doesn't slip on the ice and wipe out.

Afterward, I quizzed him on the results.  Last year (the "practice" test), he came out and told me all of the questions that he got wrong.   Occasionally a word will come up in conversation or a book and he'll inform me that he didn't know it on last year's test.    This year, he told me that the test was a lot easier than the "math" work that I've been having him do.  I'll talk more about that in the coming year, so stay tuned.

After the test, the testers gave the kids a scented sticker to wear and show the parents.   The testers are part of the IIT psychology department, and they know what they are doing.  The unusual sticker wipes their memories clean.  Like last year, this will eventually wear off and I'll get a better sense of the test.

For the next three months, I'll be concerned with the big question.  Was the test easy because he was over prepared, or was the test easy because didn't identify the the subtleties of the question.  We'll find out in 3 months.

I heard from a 3rd grader taking the test for forth grade.   Apparently, the test is different at that level.  I'll have to do a bit more research to confirm.