Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When Background Knowledge Can Go Bad


In A Teacher's Guide to Standardized Reading Tests, authors Lucy Calkins, Kate Montgomery, and Donna Santman talk about how background knowledge can get in the way of correctly answering questions on a standardized reading test.  I mention this because I have been working with a group of 5th graders and have seen this first hand. 

Perfectly plausible answers are chosen by students because it fits their background knowledge.  Unfortunately, there is no basis for the answer in the text so the student incorrectly answers the question.  For example, what if a student were reading a selection on dog training ( I made up this example.  Violating test security by mentioning actual items is a huge no-no.) and was asked a question about positive reinforcement for the dog's behavior. Answer B may say "Give the dog a treat."  This is a perfectly logical answer that fits with the student's background knowledge and experience at home. If giving treats is not mentioned in the article, then it is also a wrong answer.

We cajole and beg students to go back to the text when answering questions on a standardized reading test.  I don't think this is enough.  We need to be very explicit in showing how you can pick a great answer that happens to be wrong.

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