Now You Know It, Now You Don’t

During the last three years Robert was tested twice with the same test of academic achievement.  After the first test, the person who administrated the test wrote an IEP in which she stressed over and over, how very low the results were.  Very, very low.

I don’t think the numbers changed significantly during the second testing. But there was a difference.  This time, the teacher supported his report with a few pages with Robert’s answers.  Maybe he shouldn’t do that.  After all, the questions are usually kept secret.  Releasing them might compromise the sanctity of the test. I  am, however, very grateful to that teacher for letting me have an insight into Robert’s performance on that test.

One part specially attracted my attention.  It was a set of 38 question which required “yes” and “no” answers.  The questions related to the generally known facts and, in my opinion, Robert knows them all.   And yet, he failed this test.He answered the first question correctly and then from it down he just circled “Yes”, “No”, “Yes”, “No” in ABABA pattern.  Only once, by the end of the page, he circled two “Yes” answers.  Something must have distracted him for a second so he missed the beat and he … read a question for a change..

This tendency to answer in ABABA pattern was not new to me.  I encountered it many times before.  Every time, I devised a way to ask the same question in a different format to asses if Robert knew something or if he didn’t.  Not once, I came to the realization that for Robert knowing something doesn’t translate into answering the questions correctly.  Knowing and knowing how to answer are two different skills.

This test was checking Robert’s ability to answer questions, not the basic knowledge related to this set of sentences.   I know  that Robert is familiar with all the facts (with one exception) but he cannot answer questions about those facts.  Even his correct answers should be dismissed as they were as accidental as the wrong ones.

But the skill of answering questions is important in itself.  In this society (as in probably any other)  we demonstrate our understanding by, most and foremost, answering the questions posed by people around us.

So with one axiom, that Robert knows facts, but doesn’t know how to answer questions about those facts I divided questions into two sets and decided explore the conditions which govern Robert’s ability to reply correctly.

I read to Robert 19 of the questions and he made only one mistake.  Had, I not experienced before that Robert was capable of providing correct answers to questions about things he didn’t know nothing about, I would quickly come to the conclusion that simply removing visual cues in a form of written “Yeses and Nos”  would suffice to put Robert back on track.  But, unfortunately, I knew better. From prior lessons I learned that Robert is very skillful in reading nonverbal cues coming from me, even if I am not aware of the existence of signals I send.

I cut 19 remaining questions into 19 strips of paper, and ask Robert to place them on big pieces of paper with huge words “YES’ and “NO”  written on them.  This time Robert correctly placed all “NOs” and incorrectly almost one-third” of the “Yeses” .  I attributed that to a behavior I had already  encountered in the past.  Robert is a very fair guy.  He is as fair to “Yes” as to “NO”.  He wants them to be spread evenly.  Since there were more “Yes” answers, he had to place them with a fewer set of “NOs” so both groups had the same amount of sentences.

Robert is equally capable of answering questions he doesn’t know answer to and of making mistakes in answering questions about facts he knows well.

And that is a problem.

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1 Comment

  1. jean palmateer

     /  September 18, 2012

    Maria, I enjoyed this.  Brief, clear, and sobering when considering children labeled incorrectly due to difficulty answering questions.

    Jean

    ________________________________

    Reply

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