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Fact and Opinion Discussion

August 5, 2010

In our teachers’ room, we had a discussion of a fact and opinion item on a test that was used in our reading class. The item read something like this; “she believes the Taliban considers women inferior.” The teacher who wrote the item considered it an opinion item. I and another teacher argued that the statement was a fact statement.

The argument for opinion was based on the use of opinion words like “considers” “inferior” and “believe.” The argument against opinion and for fact is based on the first statement “she believes” introducing a subordinate clause “that the Taliban considers women inferior” which contains an opinion; however, the opinion comes after the reporting verb: believes. It is testable that “the Taliban considers women inferior” because we can ask them for their opinions. So while the statement “the Taliban considers women inferior,” is an opinion statement, the complete statement is a factual statement according to our argument.

This test item grew out of the curriculum which involves teaching fact and opinion discrimination since students are tested on this skill. The students did poorly on the item on the test, and teacher found it to be a very teachable moment. This item resembles items that sometimes occur on departmental final exams. However, our discussion illustrates the difficulty of understanding and teaching, let alone learning, how to discriminate between fact and opinion in sentences that contain more than one clause or when semantic information is relied on without including syntactical information.

We have been field testing several reading comprehension tests we wrote this summer in revising the curriculum for our reading class. I have been doing item analysis of each test as we work to determine whether items which seem very difficult are difficult because of a poor test item or for other reasons. I share the analysis with the teachers. We have changed a couple of items that everyone got wrong because in one case the thinking behind the item was too complex for the test takers. On another item, which everyone got wrong, the distractor was too attractive. We will test that item again with students in the fall after replacing the attractive distractor.

The discussion today was a healthy and engaging discussion because we challenged each other to understand better. It also made me realize again how difficult the challenge that our students face is.

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