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Constant2 comments on Guessing the Teacher's Password - Less Wrong

62 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 August 2007 03:40AM

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Comment author: Constant2 22 August 2007 10:02:38PM 13 points [-]

To expand on my point, I think there is not enough testing in schools, and what testing there is is too associated with grades. Suppose that you are teaching a child to ride a bike, but suppose that each time he falls you give him a bad grade. At the end of it he knows how to ride a bike really well, and any honest assessment of him should be, "great, he learned well, he's done". Unfortunately, that is not what happens in school. Instead, all his stumbles on the way to learning are summarized and then put into the report card that his parents see.

Once the child has learned, why should it matter how many times he failed in the process of learning? What should matter is whether he knows now.

Because children are keen not to get poor grades, they are worried about never stumbling even once in any of the tests of their knowledge, because they know that each stumble will make it into their permanent record. In order to make it at least possible for students never to stumble, the tests must be designed so that with enough preparation students will not stumble. This limits what can be tested.

The test of getting on a bike and trying to ride will invariably result in stumble after stumble until the child eventually learns to ride. This kind of test is therefore necessarily excluded from the tests that the school will give children. And since such tests are key to learning important aspects of knowledge, schools will fail to teach those aspects of knowledge.

Imagine a bike riding course in which children are taught the theory of bike riding but not actually placed on a bike until the end of the semester. In fact, to ensure that at least some students will pass the test, even the final exam cannot place them on a bike, but will instead need to be a form where they regurgitate the bike riding theory they learned.

I am exaggerating of course, but I do see this as a pronounced tendency in learning.

Comment author: waveman 06 December 2010 06:51:49AM 11 points [-]

W Edwards Deming pointed out in the 1950s, in his books about quality management, the folly of combining measuring for the purpose of improvement with measurement for the purpose of remunerating people. If you do this, the whole measurement process is corrupted - "you get what you measure". Almost invariably however the two forms of measurement are combined because it seems more efficient. As I speak, ambulances are waiting for many hours idle outside my local hospital for a spare bed for their patients, because if the hospital tells them to go to another hospital the hospital gets demerits for failing to have a bed available. If they make them wait, no such demerits are given.

Later, psychologists found that when you externally reward and punish people for doing things, any other intrinsic rewards from the activity tend to be extinguished. Thus (in part) the contrast between the 5 year old who is brimming with enthusiasm for learning and the resentful 14 year old who does as little at possible at school.

Maria Montessori found that if you place children consistently at the sweet spot of learning, where they have to make some effort but it is not discouragingly difficult, they remain enthusiastic and learn rapidly. Micro-tests occur all the time in Montessori classrooms to assess progress. Mainly the tests involve a self-assessment that this activity is boring now so I will move to the next one.