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Are You Better At Math Than a 4th (or 10th) Grader? 845

Posted by timothy
from the tyranny-of-testing dept.
New submitter newslash.formatb points to this Washington Post blog post, which "discusses the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (specifically, the math part). One of the school board members took it and was unable to answer any of the 60 math questions, though he guessed correctly on 10 of them. He then goes on to claim that the math isn't relevant to many people. P.S. — if you want to feel like Einstein, check out some sample questions." Maybe this is mostly about the kind of life skills that are sufficient to succeed in management.
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Are You Better At Math Than a 4th (or 10th) Grader?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:36AM (#38324472)

    That a reasonably intelligent person cannot answer the following question: 1. (47 x 75) ÷ 25 = ... You can use a calculator.

    • by sjwt (161428) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:43AM (#38324490)

      It was hard to believe anyone would needed a calculator for 47 * 3,

      Though I got the triangle one wrong, but realised it as soon as I clicked to get the answers, Its been too long since I used any real graph, I forgot I would only be putting one axis into the negative!

      • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:54AM (#38324536)

        I think your excuse shows why older people fail at these tests: They treat them as something you need to learn by heart. If you visualize the problem, it is immediately clear where the mirrored point is. Then you don't need to remember "how many" signs to flip.

        • by goldcd (587052) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:25AM (#38324718) Homepage
          My partner got crap grades at GCSE maths and wanted to re-take it (originally taken at 16 in the UK, this was ~15 years later).
          Now I got an A the first time around for GCSE, and then at 18 I pretty much completely screwed up my 'pure' maths part and was only partially rescued by the statistical part. Trying to explain stuff to her made me suddenly realize that the parts I was good at, were the parts that I could visualize.
          More than that, it wasn't that I had some mental block on some topics - it was just that I'd never learnt them (or been taught them) properly in the first place. If I spent a bit of time looking at the type of question, rather than the specific question, stuff 'clicks'. I came away with 2 thoughts:
          1) If my knowledge is supposed to grow 'like a tree', a whole load of branches got lopped off a long time ago - just felt a little bit sad that I'd spent so long no even noticing that I'd given up. This led to a pub conversation around differentiation/integration - I knew what to do, I knew what the inputs and outputs meant (i.e. I could do the questions) but I'd never understood WHY. I'd always been very sniffy about those who could say only multiply if they'd learnt their times table by rote, but I was doing exactly the same thing, just on a topic a little bit more advanced.
          2) Other thing I realized was that I was already doing some operations mentally in exactly the same way as some new technique in her book, that I'd never been taught. I'm unsure that everybody thinks in the same way and other techniques vary, but surely I'd have saved time if I'd been taught it - but then maybe it's the fact that my brain decided to solve them this way, that's made it stick for me.
          Take for example the first test (47 x 75) ÷ 25
          You can either know that you do the thing in the brackets first, then the thing outside - as you've learnt your rules. But stepping back and looking at it as a whole, it becomes trivial.
          47 is a bit of a odd number, I'll leave that for now
          I'm multiplying something by 75 and then dividing it by 25. So I'll throw those away and multiply by 3. Leaving me with 47 * 3
          ah, 47 again. Well it's close enough to 50. So I'll do 50*3 giving me 150.
          Finally time for the correction to my not knowing my 47 times table. I knocked off 3*3 to give me the easy 150, so just need to take the 9 off to give the 141.

          I genuinely wonder if everybody else worked that out the same way, but it's now just the way my head works. Bit that annoyed me is that whenever I was taught anything, we were told "how to do it" - maybe education would be better if every teacher has to be able to explain 3 ways of approaching any problem. Better yet, rather than testing the student with the question and just getting a boolean pass/fail - the teacher should ask the pupil around their thought processes when they look at the problem - "talk me through it".
          The chances of every coming across that particular question in the real world are practically nil. So the purpose of the question is to test whether the process is present in the pupil - yet maths papers NEVER seem to ask for this. From memory there was the 'show working' marks, but they just tended to dry up after the first mistake was made - and aren't particularly conducive to how I personally think (mental white-board and processing explained verbally).
          • thank god, i thought i was the only one that did math that way. (it feels sort of wrong, after learning to do it the 'traditional' way) disassembling the problem, rounding, cranking the generator, then fixing for the round. It works, its just makes your math teacher pull her hair out.
          • by CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:57AM (#38324864) Homepage

            For what it's worth, my first step was also to simplify * 75/25 to *3 .
            The second step was also 50 * 3.
            However, my third step was to look at the answers. Only one answer (141) was in the right ballpark. All the others were off by so much that they couldn't be right.

            The 'guestimation' strategy fails at question 5 that has two answers that are very close to each other ($203.00 and $208.80). However, my mathematical instincts tell me that 203.00 is an unlikely outcome when multiplying with 29. I used a calculator to confirm my guess (as allowed by the test).

            • by Skywings (943119) <skywings_wNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:09AM (#38324926)
              Believe it or not it is something I and many others do every. Sure we crank everything though spreadsheets and all sorts of other tools, but its always easy to place an extra zero, drop a zero or transpose number. At least if you have a ballpark figure you know if something is an order of magnitude off it can't possibly be right.
            • by digitig (1056110) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:20AM (#38325012)
              I considered the 50*3 approach for an instant, but decided that 40*3 + 7*3 was easier because I do addition faster than subtraction.
              • by ikkonoishi (674762) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:06AM (#38325736) Journal

                Especially once you realize that 3*7=21 and only one answer ended in 1.

            • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:45AM (#38325600) Journal

              My first step was to laugh at the "you can use a calculator" instruction - what the heck? What are they testing with this question?

              He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

              Yeah, something is wrong. If he took a test with questions like the sample, how the hell did he manage to get a BS without the ability to figure even one of them out. "you can use a calculator"!!!!

              I'd really, really, really like to review the original test now...

              • by AdamWill (604569) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:43AM (#38326078) Homepage

                The test he took was the 10th grade one. The article says the example questions come from the 4th and 8th grade tests.

              • Parent post inspires me to raise a couple of points. Here is the first one:

                He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

                So the guy is highly educated. To which the following aphorism applies:

                Education is what you have left after you have forgotten everything you learned. --anon.

              • Second point (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:26PM (#38327154) Homepage Journal

                Second of two points inspired by parent post:

                If a school board member is incapable of passing the NAEP tests, how the hell can he function as a school board member? Would that not be like having a driver education instructor who cannot pass the drivers license examination? Yeah, lame, but at least it is a car analogy

                Perhaps candidates for school board positions should be required to demonstrate a minimum level of competence in the subjects that high school graduates are supposed to have mastered.

              • by langelgjm (860756) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:30PM (#38327216) Journal

                Yeah, something is wrong. If he took a test with questions like the sample, how the hell did he manage to get a BS without the ability to figure even one of them out. "you can use a calculator"!!!!

                It depends on what the BS was in. A little more digging reveals this:

                A resident of Orange County for three decades, he has a bachelor of science degree in education and two masters degrees: in education and educational psychology.

                I'm not sure why the education undergrad degree was a BS, rather than a BA, but that, combined with the two master's degrees in education, explain a whole lot. He could probably have gone through all of those degrees, including the 15 hours towards a doctorate (by which he probably means an Ed.D., which is definitely not the same as a Ph.D.) without ever taking any math more advanced than basic algebra. Educational psychology might (and definitely should) have included basic statistics, but it might not have, and depending on the way the course was taught, might have been easy to skate through.

                Also, being able to oversee a large budget tell me nothing about his math ability. It tells me he has basic Excel skills. If he thinks he doesn't need those math skills in his job, he probably doesn't realize how much more efficiently/accurately he could be doing his job if he did have and use them.

            • by oji-sama (1151023) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:59AM (#38326234)

              The 'guestimation' strategy fails at question 5 that has two answers that are very close to each other ($203.00 and $208.80). However, my mathematical instincts tell me that 203.00 is an unlikely outcome when multiplying with 29. I used a calculator to confirm my guess (as allowed by the test).

              I calculated the hourly rate and found out that the last digit is not zero.

            • by russotto (537200) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @12:39PM (#38326646) Journal

              The 'guestimation' strategy fails at question 5 that has two answers that are very close to each other ($203.00 and $208.80). However, my mathematical instincts tell me that 203.00 is an unlikely outcome when multiplying with 29. I used a calculator to confirm my guess (as allowed by the test).

              You still don't need the calculator. The problem is (29 * 288) / 40. Reduce that to (29 * 72)/10, and you immediately see the last digit must be 8.

          • by ToastyKen (10169)

            If it makes you feel any better, I work for a software company, and what you describe is exactly how I conduct interviews. I ask candidates to code, but I don't actually care that much if their program is bug-free. I care about how they go about doing it, and how they figure out solutions as I point out problems. I care more about the work they show than whether they happen to get this instance exactly right.

            When I was growing up, my dad told me that none of the facts I learned all the way through high scho

          • I'm multiplying something by 75 and then dividing it by 25. So I'll throw those away and multiply by 3. Leaving me with 47 * 3 ah, 47 again. Well it's close enough to 50. So I'll do 50*3 giving me 150. Finally time for the correction to my not knowing my 47 times table. I knocked off 3*3 to give me the easy 150, so just need to take the 9 off to give the 141. I genuinely wonder if everybody else worked that out the same way, but it's now just the way my head works.

            I personally did the first part the same way (47*3) but then did the multiplication directly (47*3=120+21=141). I did use the round+add/subtract afterwards in the 29-hour-wage question though.

            Better yet, rather than testing the student with the question and just getting a boolean pass/fail - the teacher should ask the pupil around their thought processes when they look at the problem - "talk me through it".

            Here in Czech republic, 7th or 8th graders do this in geometry. Part of the year is spent over writing down instructions how to construct given shapes (for example 30 degree angle using only compass and staightedge) or following such instructions in practice.

          • by bjorniac (836863) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:32AM (#38325098)

            As someone with a masters in maths and PhD in physics, this is the same way I did the calculation. In fact, I suspect it's the way anyone who knows some more advanced maths would do it: What you've effectively done (in maths language) is:

            1) Use the associative property of multiplication and its inverse: (AB)C=A(BC).

            2) Rewrite the unknown product 47*3 in terms of two known products, by first rewriting 47=50-3, thus (50-3)*3.

            3) Expand the bracket: 47*3=50*3-3*3.

            Now this is much akin to the 'normal' method used to teach kids, except they always expand their brackets in terms of positive numbers broken up by powers of 10, ie 47=40+7, however from a mathematical standpoint there's no reason not to use any splitting you like, only the expedience of learning a limited number of multiplications.

            The true gift of good mathematicians is not only being able to make these thought processes, but properly explain them so that others can too. Far too often maths as it is taught is just a voodoo recipe for performing calculations rather than a well explained, reasoned setup. This is fine for people who merely have to perform the function (much as you don't need to know the workings of an internal combustion engine to drive a car) but if you want to derive a deeper understanding of what's going on its woefully insufficient.

          • by DaveGod (703167) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:57AM (#38325248)

            More than that, it wasn't that I had some mental block on some topics - it was just that I'd never learnt them (or been taught them) properly in the first place. If I spent a bit of time looking at the type of question, rather than the specific question, stuff 'clicks'

            I'd done fine at maths throughout school until mid-way through higher (roughly final year of highschool level) I was suddenly struggling. There were whole sections of the syllabus where I just couldn't see it. There'd be a question and I just couldn't grasp how to get from the info given to the solution required. I failed my mock exam, and not just marginally.

            I was a "B maybe A" in all other classes. The teacher was pretty good and everything.

            As luck would have it, my dad was friends with an engineer who offered some tutoring. First couple of sessions were straightforward and he said he didn't know what the problem was. He was giving me stuff that was as hard as it gets in the exam and I was able to solve them and explain it, not just following memorised procedures. Next session we came across something I just had no idea. He walked through solving it and one of the steps I was just what? I can't even remember what it was, some concept that once you have it you don't even think about it, like how you can multiply both sides of the equation to simplify. He'd barely started explaining it and I was like ooh - it just clicked.

            We abandoned the sessions soon after that because I'd literally gone from being an D/E to a strong B student in but a moment of comprehension. I must have simply been off sick that day or something, and the specific weakness never picked up in marking - perhaps due to rather large class sizes. I suspect that's not the real root though. Mid-way through the year, the classes were shuffled and my desk partner was changed from a friend who I worked well with to someone I didn't know and pretty much didn't work with at all. It was probably about this time my grades began to fall and my friend's grades slipped as bad as mine (he was the other mock fail). But he wasn't as lucky as me, he didn't have a dad with an engineer friend, he failed the finals while I was a couple of points away from an A.

      • by AdamWill (604569)

        "It was hard to believe anyone would needed a calculator for 47 * 3"

        The difficulty in the question is correctly parsing it out to 47*3.

    • Re:Hard to believe (Score:4, Informative)

      by toonces33 (841696) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:56AM (#38324550)

      That wasn't from the same test - it was from a test for 4th graders. But if you need a calculator for that problem (esp given the multiple choice answers), you probably didn't do well in math.

      I guess the thing that bugs me about this story is that this administrator concluded that since he was a successful paper-pusher and didn't need to know that stuff, the problem was that the math test was too hard. I would suggest that you give the same test to a set of scientists and engineers and see how they do before one can draw that conclusion.

    • You know that this was a member of the school board?
      You know what state our schools are in?

      Do the math and reconsider the "reasonably intelligent" part. It becomes quite easy to believe.

    • by JustOK (667959) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:12AM (#38325338) Journal

      I selected the text, did a right click, selected "Google search for: (47 x 75) ÷ 25 ="

      and got
      http://www.google.com/search?gcx=w&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=(47+x+75)+%C3%B7+25+%3D [google.com]

  • by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:39AM (#38324476) Journal

    well... that's sad.

  • by Zironic (1112127) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:39AM (#38324482)

    But I found those questions trivial without a calculator, how you'd manage to fail with a calculator is beyond me.

    • by funkatron (912521)
      I used a calculator once because it's too early in the morning to do division. In general though, a calculator won't make much difference to the results of a maths test; it makes working out numbers less laborious but it's no help unless you know what calculations you wanted to do anyway.
      • by Zironic (1112127)

        Well, doing it manually means you at least have to know how to perform the operations, when you enter them into the calculator you just have to know what order they're supposed to go in and with a fancy enough calculator you don't even need to know that since it can solve the entire expression.

        This is important since the only way you'll ever get through calculus is by knowing how to simplify expressions, and if you never learn because you keep using a calculator then like most people you'll fail.

      • by martin-boundary (547041) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:05AM (#38324594)
        Actually, a calculator is a hindrance. One of the virtues of mental arithmetic is that one gets a "feel" for numbers and magnitudes, and how they behave. People who use calculators exclusively never learn that skill.

        It's like putting people in a motorized wheelchair so they never learn to walk. In theory it's not a bad idea - a wheelchair with a powerful motor would give us the ability to drive around faster than we can walk or run, and carry lots of luggage around etc. In practice it's a stupid idea, obviously.

        What you should have done in that one problem was not used a calculator, but looked at the sizes of the numbers given in the multiple choices, and then picked the choice where the magnitude was in the correct ballpark.

        • by zegota (1105649) <(rpgfanatic) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:47AM (#38324824)

          What you should have done in that one problem was not used a calculator, but looked at the sizes of the numbers given in the multiple choices, and then picked the choice where the magnitude was in the correct ballpark.

          Uh, no. If a test question says I can use a calculator, I'm using a calculator. For some of these tests, there's too many questions not to. Obviously, this one was trivial, but you catch my drift. In *most* cases, a calculator is more efficient (yes, you can find some edge cases where realizing the "trick" is faster than typing the equation)

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:06AM (#38324604)

      My guess is that you are not on a school board and instead are doing some productive work.

      If you just sit around lazily all day, your muscles atrophy due to a lack of usage. If you're on a school board, something similar happens with your brain, it seems.

  • by adamchou (993073) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:42AM (#38324486)
    After reading this article, having someone as influential as a school board member take this test and fail it is putting education on a very dangerous course. It normally wouldn't be too bad but this guy's ego is so big that instead of admitting that he just isn't knowledgeable on the subject, he goes on a rant about how irrelevant this stuff is to life and how unnecessary this subject matter is to evaluating a student's college career. I mean sure, it might not be relevant to him for his job duties, but any science/engineering discipline should be well versed in simple math like this. I really hope he doesn't make a push to dumb down these tests to make the math easier.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:49AM (#38324512)

      In science and engineering, answering multiple choice questions is hardly something you need to excel at.

      • by blindseer (891256) <blindseer@earthlinTIGERk.net minus cat> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:49AM (#38324836)

        Exactly. I rarely see the answers presorted for me into four possibilities of which I know one must be correct.

        • One of my high-school math teachers gave mutiple choice tests. Every single one of them had five choices: four possible answers, and "E: None of the above". No partial credit. Kept you on your toes.
      • by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:41AM (#38325574)

        Reading comprehension fail. Note that the grandparent post says "any science/engineering discipline should be well versed in simple math like this." It doesn't say, "answering multiple choice questions." So, to spell out the difference for you, since you seem to not understand it--the format in which the student is tested for proficiency in mathematics is distinct from the knowledge of concepts and skills required for mastery.

        And yes, the grandparent post is correct. Any scientist or engineer should be able to demonstrate proficiency with these basic mathematical concepts (arithmetic, estimation, decimal numbers, rates, the Cartesian coordinate system, basic probability). In fact, I would say that ANY adult who has graduated high school should know how to do these things, for what would have been the point of attending high school in the first place if one so easily forgets such things?

        Here's the thing. We can debate at length about the utility of such knowledge for the vast majority of people in this world who would presumably not need to know how to do math to succeed or even get by in their day-to-day existence. But why is it that this is the measure by which we determine whether something is worthwhile to know and understand? If that's the way we begin the conversation--i.e., "will I ever need to use this?"--then we've already lost the fight to educate subsequent generations. It's a regressive, know-nothing, anti-intellectual attitude that fails to appreciate the value of knowledge for its own sake. It's why American society is so troubled--large segments of the American public have lost the ability to think critically, having become too accustomed to the notion that someone else will do the analysis for them.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:09AM (#38324622)

      Hush! With kids too stupid to do basic math, we have job security to the grave and beyond!

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:45AM (#38324820) Journal
      If the kind of tests he failed is similar to the one linked, it is not just science/engineering careers that are targeted, but anyone that is allowed to have money or contract a loan. How can you fail these questions ? The most complicated question asks you to compute how much you earn in 29 hours if you earn 288$ in 40 hours.

      People who fail at such tests are not functional in society : they cannot understand the basics of employment, either as an employer or an employee. They should barred from contracting loans as they have no way of understanding what an interest rate is.

      I really pray to a non denominational deity that this is a very rare exception rather than the norm. And that this person will be forced to resign.
    • After reading this article, having someone as influential as a school board member take this test and fail it is putting education on a very dangerous course. It normally wouldn't be too bad but this guy's ego is so big that instead of admitting that he just isn't knowledgeable on the subject, he goes on a rant about how irrelevant this stuff is to life and how unnecessary this subject matter is to evaluating a student's college career. I mean sure, it might not be relevant to him for his job duties, but any science/engineering discipline should be well versed in simple math like this. I really hope he doesn't make a push to dumb down these tests to make the math easier.

      School boards already put education on a dangerous course in the US. they are elected and so serve to drive what their supporters want - wether it is prayer in school, teaching "creation science" or it's follow-ons, etc. It's not about education but political control to advance an agenda.

    • by cvtan (752695)
      Any test that I fail must be irrelevant since I KNOW there is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing more I need to learn. My mom told me I was special!
  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:47AM (#38324498) Homepage

    This is an apparently intelligent, certainly successful person - who cannot do basic math. He asks a number of questions - thinking that the answers are rhetorical, but they aren't. BTW, for those who don't RFTA, the guy was lousy on the reading-comprehension as well.

    For example: if people can be successful (he has three degrees) and yet unable to answer these math questions, it must obviously be the case that the math is unnecessary or unrealistic. But there are other possible explanations:

    - He would be even more successful if he actually had these basic academic skills.

    - His success is due to other factors. Maybe he has people skills (i.e., a salesman type). Maybe he knows the right people. Maybe he's just lucky.

    - Maybe his academic degrees are actually worthless (he doesn't say what fields they are in).

    The thing that is most striking about the sample math questions is that you are allowed to use a calculator, even though they are nothing especially complex. At worst, you have to multiply by numbers like 29. These are the kinds of skills someone needs to balance their checkbook, to plan their annual finances, to do their taxes.

    So RTFA, and then: what conclusions do you draw?

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      I don't know how this works in America but in most places the upper management of governmental institutions are chosen based on loyalty and connections, not skill. And, like you said, three degrees are not a guarantee of knowledge.

    • by goldcd (587052) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:29AM (#38324750) Homepage
      I can understand he might get some wrong and have forgotten others - but none?
      My best guess is that he's pissed off with how the school board is being run, he's tried to get things changed and nobody is listening.
      So he wants to go public. How does he get attention?
      "Board member doesn't like tests"
      "Board member didn't do as well on tests as he thought he would"
      "Board member cannot do anything on test"

      In his position I'd be selecting the headline, and then just filling in the test to ensure I got the one I wanted.
    • by EvilNTUser (573674) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:43AM (#38324808)

      Sorry about replying twice to your post, but I forgot to comment on this:

      So RTFA, and then: what conclusions do you draw?

      First of all, we have to remember that the sample questions were from the 4th and 8th grade, but the test he failed was 10th grade. At that age level, the questions might already be hard enough that it's justifiable to have forgotten a couple of rules and fail as an adult.

      It's his reaction that's terrible. Because if you don't understand those rules when they're relevant, you're not going to be able to move on to the harder stuff. Is this guy seriously telling us he has 15 hours towards a doctorate and doesn't have the math skills to even begin to understand statistics?

      The stuff you learn up to high school isn't supposed to be 100% relevant to the field you choose to work in when you're old enough to make that decision. It's supposed to enable you to choose any career at that point, and maybe even more importantly, have a general understanding of how the world works.

      This guy is so strictly confined within his own bubble that he thinks children should be optimized for his one career path out of thousands. And he's on the school board. Ouch.

      • by chad_r (79875) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:29AM (#38325904)
        Nobody has mentioned anything other than a few math questions, so I assume few people RTFA. I think his comment on the reading portion is spot on:

        On the FCAT, they are reading material they didn’t choose. They are given four possible answers and three out of the four are pretty good. One is the best answer but kids don’t get points for only a pretty good answer. They get zero points, the same for the absolute wrong answer. And then they are given an arbitrary time limit. Those are a number of reasons that I think the test has to be suspect.

        This is true of standardized reading tests, and as an analytical-minded person with good math skills, this always troubled me about these tests. Many times there is more than 1 correct answer, and you have to somehow make a judgment as to which is most correct. Whether this comes from intuition, ability to weigh qualitative factors on the fly, or taking a lot of practice tests, it's not a skill that comes easily for many people. It's not just with reading comprehension but also in grammar questions, where there are no clear grammatical errors, but one choice of phrasing is supposed to be "better" than another option that can also be perfectly acceptable.

    • by Hadlock (143607) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:48AM (#38324834) Homepage Journal

      Blagojevich ran the entire state of Illinois, and claims to not know how to use a computer. I'm not sure I could trust him with an iPod.

      A movie star was in charge of California for several years, I am pretty sure we had a professional wrestler as the govenor of another state in the last 15 years.

      Politics and booksmarts don't seem to have anything in common, as far as I can tell. Success in politics seems to be centered around who you know and how adept you are at talking to people and making both parties mutually happy. If politicians were booksmart they wouldn't need to pay analysts to sort out the facts of the studies that they commission.

  • by knuthin (2255242) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:48AM (#38324506) Homepage

    One of the school board members took it and was unable to answer any of the 60 math questions, though he guessed correctly on 10 of them.

    Wait.

    Even a gorilla could have got 15/60. It's probability 101. (And a rather sensible assumption that all questions had 4 options)

  • What this means (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary (547041) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:49AM (#38324514)
    FTFA:

    "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.

    He continued, "It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

    The guy's quite right. He shouldn't have a bachelor, let alone two masters and 15 credit hours towards a doctorate.

    Unfortunately, too many students are in a similar position. Universities have been turned into for pay degree mills, and the qualifications the higher education industry produces are generally not worth the paper they are printed on.

  • by JiveDonut (135491) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:57AM (#38324552) Homepage

    The test that the school board person took was for tenth graders. The sample questions linked are from two entirely different tests. The first three are for fourth graders and the second three are for eighth graders.

    • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:01AM (#38324576) Journal

      From TFA:

      "I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities."

      And he couldn't answer a single question right. How much do they learn between eighth and tenth grade? Is it actually likely that the eighth-grade one is something we should all expect to get perfect on in less time than it takes to write a post about, but the tenth-grade one is so hard that a reasonable person couldn't be expected to get a single question right?

      My guess is tat this guy is not able to make sense of complex data. You are

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TobiX (565623)
      Exactly.

      This is the 10th grade math course [about.com].

      I can see how a successful person from one or two generations ago could fail 100% of it.

      And I don't think such material should be requirement for everybody. People with other skill sets (social, artistic, etc.) should be recognized and valued too. The world needs musicians and clothes designers and yes, managers and salesmen, as much as we need good scientists and engineers.

      • by Thing 1 (178996) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @12:35PM (#38326598) Journal

        The world needs musicians and clothes designers and yes, managers and salesmen, as much as we need good scientists and engineers.

        While I agree with you, I think the world actually needs more scientists and engineers than other professions. As much as "the world" needs anything; to finish the thought of what/why the world needs, the world needs this in order to plan for and survive the next asteroid strike, is where I'm thinking, and also to get off this rock and spread. Thinking perhaps too far into your comment, it reminds me of something my dad used to say, "the world needs ditch-diggers too"; my corollary is "but not that many..."

    • by Pollux (102520) <speterNO@SPAMtedata.net.eg> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @10:27AM (#38325476) Journal

      First, they cite the wrong exam. This school board member was not complaining about the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, but rather the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. (The NAEP test adjusts the skill level of its questions on the fly as you're taking the exam, and returns a score that is percentile-based. I'd actually like to see what this board member scores on the NAEP...it's a very good metric that can be used to measure one's skill level, and is not biased or corrupted by political influence.)

      Second, the sample questions are misleading. Not only are they "4th grade" & "8th grade" leveled questions (not the 10th grade exam that this board member was complaining about), but even those questions are not as difficult as you will commonly find on a state exam. If you want to see the types of questions on the FCAT, you can look at the item sampler here. [fldoe.org]

      I work in Education up in Minnesota. As you can see on page 13 of this report [mespa.net], there is a downward trend across grade levels in "percent proficiency." While the average joe might conclude that most 3rd grade teachers are fantastic while most 11th grade math teachers need to be fired, the skeptic while (rightfully) question the validity of the test. For example, on that table, you'll see that all the 2011 results are about 10-12% lower than their previous years (except the 11th grade). That's because, in 3rd - 8th grade that year, the state moved to a newer, more difficult exam which emphasizes heavier Algebraic understanding (with completion of Algebra I by 8th grade). Because the standards became more difficult, scores dropped. But the uninformed Joe would just conclude that teachers are getting lazier and use these results as a way to blame schools for not doing their job. (These changes to the standards have not affected the 11th grade yet, but will in two more years.)

      I personally coached students for and administered the 11th grade exam last year at my school. The questions on the exam are not simple. Rather than throw traditional skill-based questions at you, the questions are worded in a very complex manner, requiring a deep level of understanding of the skills required to solve the problem in order to recognize which skills are required to solve the problem, much like that FCAT exam I linked to above. This test is not a valid metric of what students know or don't know; I saw one student personally who had no problems with the worksheets I provided him during our coaching sessions, but bombed the exam, not because he was stupid, but because he gets severe test anxiety. Other students told me that they just didn't understand what many of the questions were asking them to calculate.

      The upper-level state exams are engineered to fail students, so that schools can be labeled failures. Particular politicians want schools to appear as though they are not doing a good job, to validate the privatization of our educational system. While you hear the expression "raising the bar," what they are really doing is increasing the failure rate. It's absurd what kids are being asked to accomplish; cognitive science has shown that what kindergartners and 1st grade students really should be doing is playing and reading, and we're trying to sit them down and teach them Algebra skills. (If you don't believe me, ask a 1st grade teacher in the state of Minnesota...even 1st grade standards now are engineered to incorporate "Algebraic thinking".) It's downright ludicrous, and it's all a political game.

  • Meh ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @07:57AM (#38324558)

    Don't act surprised. We're talking about the country where some dumb fucks managed to make creationism part of the school curriculum.

    • Re:Meh ... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by khipu (2511498) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:27AM (#38324734)

      I have less problems with the creationists and theocrats: I don't want them running the country, but at least they don't even pretend to have science on their side. Much worse are people who try to use tidbits of science to push political agendas without having the slightest idea of what they are talking about.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:05AM (#38324596)

    I'm surprised that students are allowed calculators to work out these problems, particularly the eighth grade students. I think mental arithmetic is a useful skill even in the age of calculators/computers/mobile phones with built in calculators.... the ability to estimate an approximate answer is sometimes more useful than the ability to provide a specific answer.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:17AM (#38324660)

    A link at the bottom is named

    "Quiz: How smart are you? Test yourself with some National Assessment of Education Progress questions."

    That has little to do with how smart you are, rather how educated you are.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @08:27AM (#38324738)

    I am a recent import from Canada to the US, working near 'Intelligently Designed' Dover, PA.
    The amount of willful ignorance here in the US is shocking, even this far North.
    This whole article is a symptom of the 'dumbing down' of the the US, embracing style over substance, abandoning reason for the sake of conformity.
    The math questions are relatively easy (even for a sleepy dyslexic), I only had to grab a pen and paper for the hourly wages one.

    Yes, there are smart people in the US, but the majority are afraid to think for themselves.
    They gravitate towards the loud pompous idiots, and will ignore facts and the reality around them.
    Current and past GOP candidates are a very sad commentary of American leadership (Palin for education czar, Gingrich for morals minister?).

    The US is a quickly fading empire, willing to blame anyone and everyone (immigrants) but itself for becoming non-competitive in the world market.

  • by robbak (775424) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:13AM (#38324954) Homepage

    Everyone makes life changing decisions that involve maths - quite advanced math, at that - regularly. For instance, take this type of question:

    Deadly disease X has a prevalence of 1 in 10,000. Consuming substance A reduces your risk by 80%. Deadly disease Y has a prevalence of 1 in 500. NOT consuming substance A reduces your risk by 20%. If this is all that is involved, should you or should you not consume substance A?

    Many decisions we make involve things like this. If one lacks the ability to reduce the maths, how can one live?

  • by rollingcalf (605357) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @09:19AM (#38325000)

    Tests from 2005 to 2007 are available at http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcatrelease.asp [fldoe.org]

    • by Xyrus (755017) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @11:39AM (#38326036) Journal

      So the tests allow you to use a calculator and gives you a cheat sheet of standard formulas used in the test? Even without those the test questions are pretty damn easy, even for 10th grade education.

      How on earth do people like him make it to the school board?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by coldsalmon (946941)

      I haven't taken a math course since high school, 12 years ago. But I got the first 5 questions right without any trouble, then skipped to question 44 in case the hard ones were at the end, got it right instantly, and then quit. I agree with the board member that "something is seriously wrong," but it's not the fact that this test is too hard, or that the problems test useless skills. I use this level of math in my daily life, from time to time -- it really amounts to basic problem-solving skills.

      But anyo

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