Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Problem of Multiple Choice

Vocabulary Question:

I ______________ the memories of my Grandmother.

A.  hoist
B.  contract
C.  cherish
D.  avoid

This question is given on a professionally created, state purchased test (I just corrected it). Which did you answer? Were there any other possibilities?

How many students have been judged to have not understood the vocabulary, when in fact they understood it very well? Perhaps in seeing two possible answers, the student understands the use of vocabulary better than the professional who designed this question. It is often the case that one economic class tends to select one answer, while another class selects the other.

I see this kind of thing all the time when my students are state testing - questions that have multiple correct answers, depending on the view of the reader.  If the question writers tend to think in either/or terms and lack the empathy to perceive another perspective, it is easy for them to create many questions such as the one above.

There is value in multiple choice tests.  But presently, the success or failure of a school rests entirely on the results of a few multiple choice tests, given over the course of a week in late Spring.


Sulli said...

That is an awful question! As you said, the answer totally depends on the experience of the child.

So frustrating that these tests are the mark of progress or failure in schools. (We are switching to the value added program within the next two years... So it won't be just the school - it will be the individual teachers too.)

Sabio Lantz said...

Sometimes it is not the answers that are a problem, but the question.
For instance:

I _________ my wonderful country!
(a) love
(b) hate
(c) am apathetic toward
(d) cannabalize
(e) terrific

Well, the problem there should be obvious. Now, relating to NP's post today:

I think the Bible is __________.
(a) inerrant
(b) flawed and useless
(c) inspired by God
(d) pure fiction

All these are incorrect answers because the Bible is a collection of books of hugely different content and value. You can't judge the bible as a whole. Fundamentalists want us to judge the Bible as a whole. Instead, it is a little library of very different books. Just like you can't judge America as a whole.

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