## State Assessment Review

I received an invitation about a month ago to attend an End of Course Review Meeting for the State of Tennessee Department of Education (sounds important, doesn’t it?) I agreed even though I was nervous about leaving my beloved students for 3 days in a row (that’s like 6 on the block schedule). I am so happy I came!

I signed a confidentiality agreement so I can’t discuss any of the particulars (I love my job and want to keep it), but I do have a few observations that I think are ok to express.

1. Questions on a standardized tests go through so many people before they see the light of day. This means when a student says to me, “Mrs. C. I found a question on the ACT that was wrong,” the student is probably wrong. There is a very small chance that every professional who looked at, worked, analyzed, and discussed that question got it wrong.

2. Standards and Objectives are open for interpretation. In TN, we use something called SPI (State Performance Indicators). I may read an SPI from the state and create one type of question and you may read the same SPI and create a totally different question. We may both be right or wrong. It all comes down to interpretation.

3. Technology is a fact of our society and our schools should reflect that. The new standards for TN involve SPI’s like “Utilizing technology the student will…” The student must have a graphing calculator to solve these questions. Teachers should be utilizing this in their classrooms daily. Why would a student ever solve a system of 3 equations in 3 variable with anything other than an 84 in their holster?

4. Requiring technology is testing the students on the socioeconomic status of their schools. My students in Algebra 2 each have a graphing calculator. This may not be true next year. Right now I am teaching Algebra 2 Honors. Next year I may teach the standard level of Algebra 2. I’m not sure how I will teach them regression analysis without a graphing calculator. (Can you and if you can why would you want to?) If a student in TN does not have access to a graphing calculator on test day or time to learn with one previous to the test, is that student at a disadvantage? Overwhelmingly, YES! So, our you testing the student’s algebra 2 skills or his parents’ ability to purchase a $120 piece of equipment?

If you ever have the chance to attend a session like this, I highly recommend it. It is a killer knowing so much inside stuff and not being able to discuss it. I guess the fear of losing my job definitely outweighs my gift for gab. My lips are sealed…

Here is a link for our state assessment if you are interested: http://www.state.tn.us/education/assessment/doc/EOC_AlgII_IS.pdf

I generally do regression on my non-graphing scientific calculator (an HP32sii, which is now a collector’s item). A similarly functional HP calculator in their current lineup is the HP33s, which costs about $40. Unfortunately, the College Board does not allow non-graphical calculators for AP tests (which is really a weird prejudice).

If I were teaching single-variable regression, I’d probably use gnuplot (which is free software) rather than a calculator. It is a lot easier to get big data sets into a computer than into a calculator.