I gave my students a science test last week. We've been learning about plants and fungi. The test was 25 multiple choice questions and 3 short essay questions. Most of my kids bombed the essay part of the test, so I decided not to count it. I counted the multiple choice questions and told them I was going to let them retake the essay questions.
One of the essay questions was: "Name three ways a dandelion and mushroom are alike and three ways they are different." This question was worth 6 points. Some of my kids gave good answers such as, "A dandelion has seeds and a mushroom has spores," or "Dandelions make their own food through photosynthesis while mushrooms take their energy from other living or dead things," or "Dandelions are plants and mushrooms are fungi..." y'know...stuff we actually LEARNED in class! A lot of the kids left the question blank, and some put dumb stuff like, "They look different."
They got their papers back and we went over possible correct answers together. When we got to that question, I asked the class what was so hard about this question, and I got an answer I never expected. Many of my kids do not know what a dandelion is. THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT A DANDELION IS!!!! And worse, no one asked during the test! Uh, hello?!?!
Once I described one, they knew what I was talking about, which was somewhat of a relief. I just can't imagine not knowing, at age 9, what a dandelion was. When I think about it, though, it shouldn't surprise me. Many of these kids have spent their entire lives in an urban setting. While the south side of the city has many beautiful parks and open expanses of green, their homes aren't exactly overlooking these areas. Most of the places they go to play are crammed between two concrete buildings and contain no grass.
My biggest concern is that no one asked about the question while they were taking the test. I know it's a test and that they're supposed to get help, but this isn't a standardized state test or anything. I've got a lot of work to do with these kids. First on the list, bring them somewhere nice and green!