Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Scorntron: Please, Start on the Blue Side.

Congrats to Aflu! After perusing all the entries the judges were captivated with his wit, intellect and willingness to post something on someone's blog. My personal subtitle was Scorntron: The Death of Critical Thinking.
Aflu, you can pick up your prize just as soon as you post your next entry.
Here are my thoughts...


Ugh! it pains me to call it by its rightful name. In my world, this engineered chunk of technological absurdity is affectionately known as Scorntron. Although, I don’t believe the device itself is evil, the ripple effect of its presence in the faculty lounge, however, is dangerous. With a quick whisk of a Scorntron sheet, this magical machine can instantly grade a multiple-choice test …and the tail wags the dog.

Because Scorntron offers quick feedback, quizzes and tests are designed to fit the parameters of the machine. The danger is that factual recall questions, the lowest on Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy, dominate. Yes, there must be a foundation of knowledge but if that’s all that’s being evaluated because Scorntron makes it easy, shame on us.

The perilous message we send our students is that factual recall is paramount because that’s what we evaluate - it’s what we expect our students to “learn”. If, at the end of a unit, our tests are saturated with factual recall questions, students walk away thinking, “Hmmmm, Mr. Brandt must think the number of Shakespeare’s siblings is vital. After all, it was on the test.”

A similar parallel exists with vocabulary study. I never want students to take a word they don’t know and memorize a definition they don’t understand. Oh, sure they could correctly answer Scorntron multiple choice question or a matching section, but do they understand the word? Could they use it or understand when it’s used because they opened up a dictionary to page 226, wrote down a definition and studied it the night before the test? The parallel is the same with Scorntron. Do we simply want students to regurgitate information without questioning it, without contrasting it, without analyzing it, without synthesizing it?

Imagine if drivers training used a similar approach:
Here’s the book.
Read all the facts.
Pass a Scorntron test.
Congratulations, here’s your license.
Please wait to drive home until I’ve left the parking lot.

Ugh! If we don’t challenge students to take that factual foundation and analyze, compare, contrast, predict or synthesize it, they walk away with spoon-fed information, not effective learning experiences.

Learning experiences need to be palpable and palatable. Students need to wrestle with the remnants of learning. That doesn’t happen if we only ask them to recall facts. Yes, it makes for a quick assessment that we can log into but it doesn’t create effective learning experiences?

Can the darker powers of Scorntron be used for good? Absolutely! Peruse sample questions form the AP Lit. and Comp test or the AP Language and Comp test. These questions are difficult and drift eastward on Bloom’s taxonomy. However, these questions are not easy to design. Educators must also use critical thinking skills and experiences in the classroom.. If a week’s worth of lesson plans focus on the “what” of the content and students never have to wrestle with the “why”, then slapping a bunch of higher order thinking questions, whether they are in multiple choice, short answer or essay format, on a test will not evaluate what has been taught. We need to make a conscious effort to use thinking tools throughout our lessons. Once this is accomplished, our summative assessments will accurately reflect what students have learned.

Check out the first page of this article in the February 1987 issue of English Journal that reveals similar thoughts.


Andrew Fluegge said...

Thanks for the forgotten link Mr. Brandt, I haven't been there in a while. We'll see if I can do something about that.

D. Rohde said...

Seriously man, it is summer. Give it a rest!

RobinK said...

You get me a great wife that will cook, clean, launder, shop, pay bills, take care of the vehicles, and leave me alone in the evenings, and I'll totally give up scantrons.

Otherwise, it's the proverbial rock me hardplace. If it was ALL I used, I'd feel guilty. But it's not, and I don't. Much.

JBrandt said...

The Scorntron's presence is not evil. It simply opens up the path of least resistance for formative assessments. Critical thinking opportunities are often left behind because Scorntron offers easy evaluation. Multiple choice questions are not inherently evil, but good m/c questions that require critical thinking take time to write. It's time we must take unless our definition of learning is factual recall only.