“Whoa!” you say. “Everyone knows that you have a 50-50
chance with two choices. What planet is
this crazy lady from? ”

You are not alone in this thinking. I hear over and over that we have to give
MANY choices per question…and have gotten caught up thinking this way myself in
the past. We think many choices will prove our kids aren’t simply guessing. When
our kids deal with motor impairments, though, too many choices can be an access nightmare. What to do, what to do?

The fact is, with testing, selecting from two choices

**give statistically irrefutable results showing mastery of information. Let’s look at how this can be…**__can__**First let’s look at what makes a 50-50 chance**

We’ll start by backing up to a situation where two choices
DO have a 50-50 chance of being correct. Take a coin and predict whether it
will land with heads or tails up. Now toss it one time and let it land. At this
moment, you DO have a 50-50 chance that it will show heads. Or tails. Agreed?

You could repeat this same random coin toss ten times and

*about*five of those tosses would be heads.
Try it a hundred times and you should get

*about*50 tosses coming up tails.
Why is this so? Why do half the tosses give heads and half
give tails?

Because the only factor at play is luck. All the other
factors are equal for each side of the coin on every toss…the balance of the coin, the number of rotations in a flip,
the speed of travel... These weigh equally on the outcome. They won’t change
the probability of a guess based on luck.

If a student is

*genuinely guessing*at answers, they are strictly shooting based on luck. You could expect about the same results as the coin toss. They would score about 50% correct on the answers of a true/false test, a sorts assessment with two columns, or another binary choice test.**When odds are no longer random**

When all the factors to support student success are in
place, luck doesn’t particularly influence the outcome. If the child knows the
answer, has the appropriate access methods, and is caught on a day when health
and sensory issues are met, then a correct answer likely has nothing to do with
luck.

The factors at play—knowledge, access, and health issues—change
the game completely. Testing is unrelated to the coin toss, even when there are
only two possible responses.

When a child is able to score 5 correct responses on a 5-point
true/false test, the statistical likelihood that this was achieved by pure
guessing is about 3%.

But 3% still leaves a tiny possibility the child was
guessing. Three chances in 100. How do we reduce that so we can know beyond a
doubt that the child was demonstrating knowledge rather than luck?

**It doesn’t take very many corrects to get pretty strong**

**data**

Five isn’t many questions for a test, but it IS a good
number for a child whose ability to attend to a task is impaired by issues of
access, attention, health, or sensory processing. If you can cycle through a
longer test in short 5-question chunks, you can get some highly valid
information in relatively short time.

5/5 correct can only be achieved by
guessing 3% of the time, as we said earlier.

5/5 done

**(totaling 10/10) gives <.1% chance--less than 1 in 1000--of guessing as the means for achieving the score. That’s good enough for me (side note: this would not be adequate if we are talking about skills needed to fly a commercial airliner or perform neurosurgery, but for academic skills for most kids, it works).***twice*
5/5 done

**(or 15/15 total) only gives a .00003% chance of guessing…and that is statistically improbable. Most definitely.***three times*
The great news is that a child can still demonstrate high
levels of understanding even if they can’t get a perfect score every time.

Let‘s say they can manage to get
4/5 correct on a group of True/False test questions. There is a 16% margin for
guessing, which is too high to put our money on.

If they can get 4/5 again on a
second try (a total of 8/10), the likelihood of arriving at this score by
guessing drops to 4%. Still a little high.

The third time they score 4/5
(raising the total to 12/15), the probability of guessing drops to 1%. That is
1 in 100, so getting smaller!

The fourth time they manage 4/5 (or
16/20 now), the likelihood they are guessing drops to only .4%, or 4 in 1000.
For basic academics, this satisfies my confidence they are exercising skill rather
than luck.

**Great news for our kids with motor impairments**

This shows that kids with severe motor impairments who can
only select between two responses really

**can demonstrate**to us that their answers are intentional.
Obviously, having the motor control to indicate an answer
from THREE choices is terrific for giving strong proof that your answers are
not guesses. It lets you get to that point faster.

For example, in a 5-question quiz where each question has
THREE responses, a perfect score of 5/5 only has a .004% chance of being achieved
by guessing. Everyone can agree that this score is pretty unlikely to result
from luck!

But when motor skills dictate that TWO choices are best, our
kids can still demonstrate their proficiency without the fear of that guessing
has influenced their scores. It just takes longer.

Also, it takes longer if they can’t achieve a perfect score
every time. But it can be done. That, friends, takes a huge burden of pressure
off both the student and his teacher!

**A tool to simplify this statistical computation**

Back in my college statistics class, we had to crunch the
numbers to rule out the probability of guessing. On scratch paper. By hand. It
was grueling!

Now, we have a fantastic FREE tool online
that can do this for us. In a
split-second!

www.stattrek.com/online-calculator/binomial.aspx |

It’s so easy to use!

1.
On the first line, type in the "chance" of getting
one problem correct, expressed as a decimal. In a 2-choice problem, the chance
is .5. In a 3-choice problem, the chance is .33. For a problem with 4 choices,
the chance is .25. Kids with motor issues should not be given more than 4
selections per question, so I won’t go farther.

2.
On the second line, tell how many questions on
the test.

3.
On the third line, write how many corrects the
student scored.

4.
The fourth line will tell you the probability that
the student could have arrived at their score by guessing. The tinier the
number, the less chance there is that the student guessed.

**Hidden messages: guessing and intentional misses**

Scores that are not perfect (or close to perfect) hide
important information for us to uncover.

Those that fall around the 50% chance of being achieved
simply by luck were probably the result of guessing.

**Do they not care? That’s OFTEN the case! Do they not understand? Very possible, but the fact that they haven’t established any kind of generalization, even an incorrect one, means they have not caught ANY of your instruction.***So*__why__is the student guessing?
Scores that show a statistical probability that answers are actual
errors (say, 0-1/10) rather than guessing are also strongly telling. When you
type the figures into Stattrek.com, you will see that the likelihood of
guessing only errors is a slim as guessing only corrects.

**Does the student understand the teaching wrongly, applying the concepts backward? It’s very possible. Is the student trying to tell you she is bored? Hmmm…we need to pay attention to this.***There is a message in a page full of errors.*
Are you feeling more confident now in providing tests that
ask students to select from just two choices? They can be devised to give you
very accurate feedback about the child’s understanding.

The key is in

**. Once you start crunching numbers, you can see that tests don’t need to be pages and pages of questions. Go small, add more if needed, and check back with Stattrek.com often to see if you’ve eliminated the probability of guessing. You saw from our examples how a perfect score on only 15 true/false questions is statistically irrefutable as being skill rather than luck!***the number of repetitions, but even that can be surprisingly small*
Let me know if you still think I’m a crazy lady from another
planet or if this makes sense. Just leave a comment in the box below…I read
them all!

## 2 comments:

Cool!

I stumbled across this post tonight. I am also a parent of a daughter with Rett and coincidently was blogging on exactly this topic yesterday, the difference being that I am not an educator (or at least not of of school-age children). I have bookmarked your blog to share with my daughter's teachers. Glad to have found your blog.

(http://rettisa4letterword.wordpress.com)

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