Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Add Detail to Your Writing

The Virginia Department of Education has posted an excellent document of an easy and effective way to add detail to your writing.  We found this gem while searching for something to help us use results from state testing to improve our instruction in the classroom. According the the department of education website:

 "the performance level descriptors (PLD) for the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests...convey the knowledge and skills associated with each performance (achievement) level. The PLD indicates the content-area knowledge and skills that students achieving at a certain level are expected to demonstrate on the SOL...may guide educators and parents in understanding the type of student performance required for each achievement level... there is a detailed description, a brief description, or both.  The brief description is a summary of the content-area knowledge and skills that students are expected to demonstrate on the test and appears on the score reports for some courses. The detailed description provides additional explanation of the knowledge and skills that students are expected to demonstrate".

So, here's what you get.  This is what the brief description for the World History to 1500 test:
 But, suppose that's not enough and you would like a little detail.  Well the folks at the VaDOE aren't going to fail you.  They've created a "detailed" performance level descriptor for the course.  Here is the detailed descriptor:
I'll stop with the snark now.  This really isn't funny.  Someone at the DOE simply added bullets to a paragraph of text and called it "detailed" instead of "brief."  There is no difference in the text from one document to the other.  This is supposed to be information that informs parents, students, and teachers understand what a given test score means about a child's ability.  And to think the Governor of Virginia wanted to pass legislation making it easier for administrators to fire bad teachers, who is accountable for the creation of this document?

To most people this seems like over-reacting, but the people who work for the state and direct education policy for YOUR children either don't care enough to actually add detail, don't think you deserve the detail, or think this is good enough, and somehow nationally the narrative goes "if we could just get better teachers in the classroom."

In addition to the fact that the only differences in the "brief" descriptor and the "detailed" descriptor are bullets, the language itself is troubling.

1) We can actually describe a students level of performance if they fail?  They should be able to locate, identify, and match.  If they demonstrate a proficiency in these skills, congratulations they fail.  What is the label if they fail to locate, identify, and match?  "Fail Really Badly."

2) How about a little creativity?  I'm a fan of Bloom's and all, but this document just walks up the taxonomy without much thought to how it's getting there. Identify, Locate, Match/ Describe, Explain, Explain/ Compare, Organize, Interpret, Analyze.  Was there any thought about "the type of skills a student is expected to demonstrate", or does it just sound good to use the accepted language of the educational establishment to legitimize and strengthen a vague explanation?

3) Can a multiple choice test really measure whether a student is able to describe, explain, compare, interpret and/or analyze?  Try this: 
What is your interpretation of the charts above: 
a) they are an excellent attempt to inform the public of what SOL test results mean.
b) they are the product of overworked and underpaid public workers at the DOE trying to do their best.
c) they are a disingenuous attempt to mislead the public about the reality of testing.
d) they aren't perfect, but we're making progress toward a worthy goal.

Did I measure your ability to interpret?  You may never know because I'm not going to tell you whether you missed the question or not.  That's how SOL testing works silly.  If you don't agree with me you certainly won't meet the requirement of effectively interpreting.  If you do agree with me I'll give you the credit, but then it wasn't really your interpretation either, was it?  I gave it to you and all you had to do was recognize it.  I guess we just fell off of Bloom's ladder.

Look out for a more detailed post tomorrow, I didn't have time to add bullets to the text today.

The documents pictured above were taken from: on May 10, 2011.  Posted tables were found at the link for History and Social Science Performance Level Indicators, World History and Geography to 1500.


  1. And they get paid well to produce such enlightening documents!

  2. See a different issue with "details"