I began looking at the released 10th grade math questions today, and as usual I found some weird ones.

Here is one, where the only difference between answer C and D is the color scheme (D fits the colors in the graph, C doesn’t). Both of them have the math correct. Is the color scheme all that significant? Is that what we are testing for now?

Here’s another one, which merely asks students to tell the difference between a mean, a median, and a mode. Wait a second – isn’t that one of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade standards?

Here are the exact wordings for the various “standards” that involve mean, median and mode:

For 6th grade: “6.DASP.1. Describe and compare data sets using the concepts of median, mean, mode, maximum and minimum, and range.”

For 7th grade: “7.DASP.1. Find, describe, and interpret appropriate measures of central tendency (mean, median, and mode) and spread (range) that represent a set of data.”

For 8th grade: “8.DASP.1. Revisit measures of central tendency (mean, median, and mode) and spread (range) that represent a set of data and then observe the change in each when an “outlier” is adjoined to the data set or removed from it. Use these notions to compare different sets of data and explain how each can be useful in a different way to summarize socialphenomena such as price levels, clothing sizes, and athletic performances.”

And for Algebra 1: “AI.D.1. Select, create, and interpret an appropriate graphical representation (e.g., scatter plot, table, stem-and-leafplots, circle graph, line graph, and line plot) for a set of data, and use appropriate statistics (e.g., mean, median, range,and mode) to communicate information about the data. Use these notions to compare different sets of data.”

Why is DCPS testing such a low-level skill in Algebra 1? And why do we insist on loading the curriculum with the same eleventy-umpteen standards each year, only varying by an adjective or adverb or phrase or two? Is it because we assume that nothing at all gets learned in any year, so that teachers have to yet again re-teach EVERYTHING all over again, starting from nothing?

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The test makers have come to assume that the kids will learn like lawyers– to select the best available answer, not the right one. So, on the first problem, translating a pie chart to a bar graph, the kid with experience with daily financial reporting will recognize that with specific assignment of value to the lowest y value, A could be a correct answer; the bars don’t have to be proportional in area to their height. But, that would be marked wrong; and you are likely correct about insistence on copying the colors from the pie to the bars to choose make D correct and C incorrect.

As to content: You know that the test is far too short.That contributes to the extensive examples in the Standards coming to substitute for curriculum;and the factoids in the examples are then taught. Leave the standards more general, and Checker Finn at Fordham Foundation denounces them as non-specific. Take your pick: Polymath Martin Gardner’s insistence that a brief 220 page calculus books introduces all the important ideas and gives an opportunity for them to be taught well; or such as the grinds Finn can bring in, for whom a 1200 page calculus books may not be long enough, because they can specifies arcane techniques and theorems which were still not adequately covered and proven.

How many crossword puzzles should one do in one’s lifetime, and how many equations should a 6th grader factor? 1000? 5000? Just twenty?

As to your complaint about recurrence of old material: That’s right, because it never gets remembered. You math teachers are mostly teaching kids to assemble thousand part automatic transmissions and watches. You can sort them on the ability to learn to do it, but several years later, most will have nothing left but different degrees of confidence in their ability to relearn the same or similar skills.

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