Tag Archives: bias

Are You Smarter Than A 10th-Grader?

No, it’s not a game show.

Instead, there’s been a lot of talk in education circles lately about the horrible fashion in which students and, by extension, principals and teachers are being judged. By the results of standardized tests of achievement.

That is, for you North Carolina residents, the End of Grade testing. Florida parents might know it as the FCAT, or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It’s a standardized test in which students bubble answers in on a separate sheet of paper, which then is run through a scantron to determine the score.

Personally, I don’t mind these sorts of things. I usually do pretty good at them. But I am something of an exception. There are some people for whom these tests are absolutely impossible. I’m talking about very smart individuals, but dudes and dudettes who don’t have the right wiring in their brain for these sorts of things.

Not to mention the poor kids who have ADD or ADHD and find it almost impossible to sit still and concentrate for the several hours these tests take. And if students don’t do all that well on these tests, then teachers and principals can be judged to have not done their work and might get pay cuts or be fired.

Not only do I hate that very idea, I think it’s appallingly unfair. If kids don’t pass these tests, they are not allowed to move on to the next grade. Which makes these tests astonishingly important and put all sorts of pressure on young minds not necessarily ready for that sort of problem.

And then there’s the whole issue of whether or not these tests can be culture-neutral so they aren’t biased against different segments of society. I used to think that last concern was a bit overhyped, but, after spending a year as a Title I Tutor at Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, I think it’s, if anything, underhyped.

There’s also a growing movement among people to have these tests scrapped because they don’t actually measure any useful knowledge. In an article by Marion Brady, a school board member talks about the results he received when he took a test meant for 10th graders.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.”

What’s worse, he continues, is that scores of that sort would have turned him away from the life he lives today, in which he holds multiple doctorates and other degrees, supervises thousands of employees and oversees a massively large budget.

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.” 

So I did what he did. The Washington Post linked to two seven-question sections from the FCAT. (Here’s a link to the reading test, and her’s a link to the math test.) I took them both. I scored perfectly on the reading and five out of seven on the math, mostly because I was careless on both the misses. I knew the procedure for finding the answer, but didn’t pay attention to what the question actually asked.

Which now makes me wonder about the school board member we talked about before. Still, I understand his point. In most jobs, you won’t have to know how to find the correct number of degrees in an angle, or interpret poetry. What I think he might be confusing is, these tests are supposed to be testing your ability to think, and finding the right answer is only part of the solution.

Unfortunately, all that matters is the right answer. Don’t get that, and you dudes are out on your ear.

This kind of pressure must be appalling to these kids. There must be some other way we can make sure the young dudes and dudettes in school are getting the education they need to learn to think well on their own, and measure that without these sorts of all-or-nothing tests.

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Living In The Hear And Now*

Making promises is easy. Keeping those promises is where it gets hard for some dudes.

Time, people and circumstances change. We realize that the future is an undiscovered country, but still believe that we will remain the same no matter how much time passes.

Yesterday, I talked about how present bias can make for a difficulty in keeping promises that you have to make come true somewhere down the road. You can’t conceive that you’ll behave differently, feel differently than you do right now, so you assume you’ll be able to follow through on your promise.

That. . . doesn’t always happen. Which can cause quite a ruckus with the little dudes and dudettes in the household.

Here’s another fun little thing you might want to consider. It’s called generalization. What basically this does is, the little dude will take one example and then apply that to every single other thing.

Little dudes love routines. Really they do. Have you ever seen a kid who’s cranky during the first little while of summer break because he’s no longer in school, where he’s supposed to be every morning? If not, you will. Just give it time.

However, there do come exceptions to every rule, breaks in every routine. That’s where the danger comes in.

If normal bed time is 8:30 pm (maybe earlier than some of his classmates, but you understand the importance of daddy-alone-without-kids time), but you tell him he can stay up to talk to Aunt Sonya, who’s just come into town to visit, but only for one night, what do you think the little dude is going to want to do the next night that Aunt Sonya is there?

If you guessed scream and yell about how he’s supposed to stay up with Aunt Sonya, you’re 100 percent right. That’s the way kids’ minds work. Since they crave routine, every event is the start or continuation of a routine. Stay up late one night, then that’s going to be the new routine.

It’s as if they’re doing their very best to ensure that the future them gets to do the same thing as the now them. It’s almost like they’re intentionally creating a present bias that works to their own benefit.

Of course, they’re not doing it intentionally. Kids that young can’t actually think. They can simulate it and — maybe — eventually grow into the ability to think, but not when they’re young. Logic, to them, is what happens to old dudes.

The way I’ve grown to look at it is that present bias, a very real and quite studied concept, is a leftover from childhood, when we wanted desperately for things to stay the same, because we understood it, we knew what was coming and it all worked out for us.

Just something to consider.

*Yes, I realize this isn’t the correct use of hear. It was supposed to be a punne, or play on words, because of all the instances of talking, listening and screaming in the post. Really. You believe me, don’t you?

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Procrastination, Or Why We Keep Putting It Off

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, dudes.

I know what you’re asking yourself: Did I really dig up a bunch of information on procrastination just so I could use that joke in the opener. Yes. Yes I did.

However, that doesn’t mean that procrastination isn’t something we can just forget about. It seriously is a problem here in Casa de Dude, especially around me. I tried to adopt the motto: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I tried, but I kept waiting to actually do it.

Heck, I think so much about procrastination, I made the character in my latest novel, Until Tomorrow, the godlet of procrastination. And, no I’m not kidding. The character’s name is Tom Sure, which is short for Tomorrow, For Sure. As in, that’s when I’ll get it done.

So, yeah. Procrastination. Let’s dig in.

David McRaney over at You Are Not So Smart put up a comprehensive post on procrastination the other week and I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.

McRaney uses your Netflix queue as a great way into the idea of procrastination. Take a look at your streaming queue. There’s a ton of documentaries and important movies in there, isn’t there? I know it’s the case in my queue. It’s sad how many “great” movies I’ve got lined up to watch and, yet, never get to. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason for that. And it’s not because I’m a bone-headed ig-no-ramus.

Okay, sure, I probably am, but that’s not the reason I don’t watch all these movies.

Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.

As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.

This is called present bias, which is the inability to understand that our wants and desires will change over time. It’s why, as a kid, we’re always so shocked that adults, who have the time and the money, don’t really have any of the cool toys.

Present bias is why you’ve made the same resolution for the tenth year in a row, but this time you mean it. You are going to lose weight and forge a six-pack of abs so ripped you could deflect arrows.

One day you have the choice between running around the block or watching a movie, and you choose the movie. Another day you are out with friends and can choose a cheeseburger or a salad. You choose the cheeseburger.

The slips become more frequent, but you keep saying you’ll get around to it. You’ll start again on Monday, which becomes a week from Monday. Your will succumbs to a death by a thousand cuts. By the time winter comes it looks like you already know what your resolution will be the next year.

Yep, that’s procrastination.

And here’s some more. I’m going to put off the end of this post until tomorrow. McRaney just has so much good stuff I want to share, I think I’m going to have to come back for more. Join me, won’t you?

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