Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What's On The Test?

What’s on the test?
Is THIS on the test?
Kids, you need to know this for the test...

I feel like I have these conversations all the time with teachers. They want to know what’s on the test - the EOC, the Cycle Assessment, the midterm, etc.

Some are even still nurturing a grudge, all these years later, of not being able to “see the test” (like you could see the FSA or SAT or GRE of the FELE or whatever!)

So, I want to tell you what’s on the test -- by telling you what’s NOT on the test.

Are you ready?

It’s trivia. Despite what so many of us tell our students, the details are not really on the test.

Here are questions that are NOT on the test:
  • What year was the Battle of New Orleans?
  • What are the 15 Cabinet positions?
  • Define “push factors”
  • What two cities were decimated by the atomic bomb?
  • Who was the fourth president of the US?
  • What are the requirements to be a Supreme Court Justice?
  • What does “suffrage” mean?
  • What happened in Brown Vs. Board of Education?
  • Define “containment” policy.
  • Who invented the steam boat?
  • What countries were part of the Warsaw Pact?

One of my wonderful colleagues once wondered aloud to me “which set of trivia” his kids needed to know this year.

I feel like I say this again and again but folks still are confused. So I must not say it well enough Let me try again.

Your EOC, your midterm, your final exam ...  


It’s just not.

First, that would suck for kids. No one wants to memorize useless trivia.
Second, that would suck to teach. How boring is it to teach just pure memorization.
Third, that would produce good trivia players but lousy citizens.

So what IS on the test?

Historical/Civic thinking skills. Reading. Higher-order thinking. Application of knowledge.

You know ... the kinds of things a real citizen needs to be able to do to make informed decisions like voting...

You probably know (but maybe haven’t focused on recently) that EOCs, midterms, and finals are written at a 20-60-20.

  • 20% of the items are low complexity meaning they could include trivia, but more likely to include main themes or use low-complexity skills)
  • 60% of the items are moderate complexity, requiring multiple steps of reasoning and/or use of context
  • 20% of the items are high complexity, meaning they require multiple steps of reasoning AND use of context.

So even if there IS trivia on the test, it makes up less than 20% of the test.

Trivia is kind of a waste of time. No one needs to memorize very much now that we all have Google in our pockets.

Please don’t think I’m advocating that we skip teaching facts or details. I’m not. But I AM advocating that we don’t learn facts for facts sake -- but we use them.

Take a load off. Give yourself a break. I know how much you have to do in such little time. So take some low-level facts off of your “to teach” list and make sure most of the rest are really essential and related to some higher-order thinking.

Stop telling kids that they “need to know” the qualifications for office. The test won’t ask them that. And if they decide to run for office in the real world, they can look it up. But ask them who can run for office or why that’s important or whether those are the best qualifications.

Stop telling kids that they “need to know” when the Battle of New Orleans was. They don’t. But as you teach about it, ask them why a winning battle would affect national pride and identity or how do battles affect a national “mood”.

Let’s focus less on the details and more on the big ideas and enduring understandings and skills.

How do you teach with higher-order thinking in mind? Do you make sure to let your kids practice their higher-order thinking several times a period? Do you need ideas on how to do that? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me

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