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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Don't worry about the facts, just so long as they support your argument

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Author Topic: Don't worry about the facts, just so long as they support your argument
philnotfil
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Seattle Times

quote:
Students must follow lots of rules when taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), as they did this week. They must pack away cellphones. They can't consult dictionaries for most of the test or calculators for some of it.

But when it comes to the writing section, there's one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps make their point.

The state's education office, to the dismay of some teachers, recently announced that making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL — something that on class assignments would mean a failing grade.

"Statistics in a WASL paper can be made up by you, the writer!" says a PowerPoint presentation that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) created to be used this summer for students who fail the WASL this spring. And, a little later: "On the WASL, you can invent an important expert and have that person say something to bolster your opinion."


Sweet!
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Funean
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So, it's a creative writing test? [Wink]
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Eric
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I can kind of see the rationale here. If the goal is to evaluate a student's persuasive writing skills, then allowing the writer to lay down assumptions is (sort of) OK.

Sure doesn't test a student's ability to conduct effective and thorough research.

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Wayward Son
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It goes along with no being able to use a dictionary and calculator, I believe.

If you are quoting facts and statistics from memory, how are you going to make sure you are accurate? You can't. So rather than telling the students not to use facts, experts and such, they tell them that accuracy is not important in an improptu essay. Just write it as if you have the facts in front of you.

Obviously what they are trying to grade is the use of rhetorical devices for a persuasive essay. Will the student use facts and statistics to bolster his point? Will he quote experts? That is what they are concerned about, not whether the facts, statistics and experts quoted are accurate.

So I don't see a problem with this...

as long as it is made clear that it is OK only for this test.

[ March 20, 2006, 02:11 PM: Message edited by: Wayward Son ]

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Digger
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quote:
On the WASL, you can invent an important expert and have that person say something to bolster your opinion.
It's just like real life - except, out here, the people and quotes are real, we just invent their importance and credibility.

[ March 20, 2006, 02:17 PM: Message edited by: Digger ]

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WarrsawPact
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As President Marshall once said, 30% of all quoted statistics are made up anyway.
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javelin
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quote:
Originally posted by WarrsawPact:
As President Marshall once said, 30% of all quoted statistics are made up anyway.

Pretty sure you meant President Thompson, and %53. What are we teaching young folks these days?
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Redskullvw
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I think what they teach today is essentially newspeak.

Reality is what you declare it to be.

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IrishTD
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quote:
If you are quoting facts and statistics from memory, how are you going to make sure you are accurate? You can't. So rather than telling the students not to use facts, experts and such, they tell them that accuracy is not important in an improptu essay. Just write it as if you have the facts in front of you.

Obviously what they are trying to grade is the use of rhetorical devices for a persuasive essay. Will the student use facts and statistics to bolster his point? Will he quote experts? That is what they are concerned about, not whether the facts, statistics and experts quoted are accurate.

So why don't they give them a set of facts, quotes, opinions, etc. ? Or would that make just too much sense. [Roll Eyes]
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WarrsawPact
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javelin - Well, back in President Marshall's day, it was only 30%, which you can confirm by checking Mortimer & Bartlett's Political Review, Volume VI, June/July issue. Thompson was always the cynical one anyway -- he was pessimistic 80% of the time and optimistic the other 45%.
-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Redskull - Precisely.

[ March 20, 2006, 03:08 PM: Message edited by: WarrsawPact ]

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javelin
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Fair enough, WP, fair enough.
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Wayward Son
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Wasn't it Eisenhower who got upset when he found out that 50 percent of student performed below-average on standardized tests? [Wink]
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Clark
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There are a couple of reasons that I don't have a problem with kids making up facts and experts for their writing tests.

First, if the test is to gauge their writing ability then there has to be a way to level the playing field for everyone. If you ask a question about, say, the critical differences between Copenhagan and non-Copenhagan interpretations of Quantum Mechanics and don't allow them to make things up, no one will be able to write an essay that says much of anything. However, the .1% of students who know anything about that topic will be able to write something, which will seem brilliant in comparison to the uniformed masses and they will vault to the top of the group in writing ability. It's not that they write better, it's that they got lucky on the topic. Obviously this is an extreme example, but you get the point. There are two ways to get around this problem. You could ask broad nonspecific questions that don't require specifics, but that makes for a bad test of analytical writing. Or, you can try and ask a question about something that everyone should know a lot about. But that can be tricky. Asking for a critique on a stance on illegal imigration might seem like a good idea, but nationally, people from Texas are likely to be better prepared for that question that someone from, say, South Dakota. In short, finding a well balanced question to evenly test everyone is a tough job.

My second reason for not being too concerned, is that any attempt to force students to be truthful would require massive ammounts of grading time to check facts. I have a cousin who debated in high school who admited to me that he made up facts. On a given topic, he'd just think up a good quote to support is view, then intelligently think of some president from the early 1900 who might have agreed with that statement. He knew that it was against the rules to make it up, but he also knew that there is no way a judge at a debate competition could possibly check it. How are you going to show that President Taft never said that he wished the atlantic ocean was twice as large as it really is, just to keep Europe father away? Someone could spend dozens of hours trying to verify a quote and in the end still not know if it is true. You can't make a rule against making up quotes because you can't possibly enforce such a rule. If you had the rule, all it would do is give an advantage to those who were willing to break the rule.

However, there is one reason I dislike the idea of letting students lie, but its a personal one. I recently took the GRE and had to write a few short essays. To make my point in one of the essays I quickly came up with 3 supporting reasons and then a TRUE story to support each one. One story was about the discovery of superconductivity and another was about holography (holograms) which was invented (in theory) years before anyone could do it in practice. I felt proud of myself for having TRUE supporting evidence and would like to have gotten extra points in the graders eyes for my knowledge. But again, what I'm saying is that I want the essay to test my knowledge and writing ability, which is not what it is ment to test.


Finally, a reminder for Wayward Son:
Imagine a class of 10 students who take a test. 9 of them score 10. One of them scores 1. The class average is 9.1/10, but only 10% of the class scored below average. It isn't usually that way, but sometimes a large percentage can be above (or below) average.

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sbkilb
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I get it! It is either a politician or news anchorman aptitude test. [Razz]
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Pelegius
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No, no, no: What kids really need to do is to be able to ignore real facts, then they can be politicians.
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ngthagg
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The biggest problem I have with that article is (and unfortunately it's not a direct quote):

quote:
The state's education office, to the dismay of some teachers, recently announced that making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL
If you are making up facts, don't call it non-fiction! Instead, instruct the students that they are to write a fictional essay. Perhaps even use Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as an example. (I can't find my anthology that contains this essay, so I don't know if it's really applicable.) But don't call it non-fiction!
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