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Monday, October 13, 2008

Language: Students cannot form logical position about television's impact?

A reader writes,
The state of Maine gave a test to about 15,000 eighth-graders to assess their writing skills, including their ability to form a logical position. When the state refused to release the results, a newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request and learned that 78 percent of the kids failed, which was 50 percent more than failed the test the previous year. Maine's Department of Education explained the results were "inconclusive", and they discarded them because students reacted emotionally to the test. “Kids got ticked off at the [question],” explained Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, “so it was not an accurate reflection of their writing skills.” The essay-based test asked the students to support or refute the statement, “Television may have a negative impact on learning." (Portland Press-Herald) ...And their inability to form a logical position and refute that is proof that the test is flawed.”
At Bangor Daily News.com, Kent Ward asks:
Just what there is to get so upset about in the debatable proposition that television may have a negative impact on learning, I haven’t a clue. The more so when test instructions clearly gave students the choice of making a case either for or against the premise and provided the pros and cons for making their argument. Which is to say they weren’t exactly starting from scratch, with only a blank sheet of paper and a debilitating writer’s block for inspiration.

In any event, from Kelley Bouchard of the Portland Press Herald (September 7, 2008) we also learn:
Edwards noted that eighth-graders who took the writing test in 2007 were able to draw from their own experience to sustain arguments for or against the following statement: "Rather than maintaining separate teams for boys' and girls' sports, a high school is considering combining teams and having a completely coed sports program."
Now that strikes me as a very emotional question for many students, yet the students could handle it.

Gendron could be right, that the results this year are a fluke. But here's another possibility: Thinking about television induced in many students a state of mind not suited to critical thinking because that is in fact how they react to television. So they were not "ticked off" by the question, they were disabled by it. That's hardly good news, even if it is a fluke.

Let's see what next year brings.

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