Atlantic Magazine Article on What’s Wrong With the New SAT

Interesting article in the Jan. 20 The Atlantic Magazine concerning the problems with the new SAT (which once was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test).

One problem is that the problems are wordy as all get out and are mostly testing the students’ ability to decipher highly abstract text, not their ability to do math. For example, I present two questions that were cited in the article.

First problem, which you may click on to enlarge:

predicted metacarpal

Not having studied the bones of the hand since junior high school, I didn’t recall what the “First Metacarpal Bone” was;I wrongly guessed it was one of those little tiny bones that allow you to bend your wrist. Only when I looked at how long thse bones are ( 4 to 5 cm) and looked it up online did I find that this is the long bone at the base of your thumb, as you see here in red.


Of course, this fact was was not explained anywhere in the text; and if your first language isn’t English then you are going to have a very hard time with this question. I suspect that the reading level of this problem is very, very high.

Having studied and taught some statistics, I know that the slope of the line of best fit for this graph shows how an increase or decrease of 1 cm in the length of that thumb-bone will predict an increase or decrease in the height of those people.

Now, here is a graph of a very similar correlation (hand length and height) from a real study (and for which a line of best fit would be a whole lot more realistic!):

second metacarpal versus height

Why does David Coleman feel the need to make everything so obscure? Oh! I remember! He’s never taught students, ever!

Oh, and by the way, this question is considered by Mr Coleman to be “easy”.

As is this one, which I am also taking from the Atlantic article:

standard deviation psychology

I will recommend that you read the Atlantic article, since that author has much more patience than I do to explain all of this stuff. The basic idea is that when you sample more items in a population of things or people, then your margin of error gets smaller, which is highly counterintuitive! So asking more people will give you better results, hence a smaller margin of error. Which is not really taught outside of statistics classes. (Assuming that these students generally read for pretty close to an hour and a half a day and feel like telling the truth, OR that they know that they are supposed to say something near 90 minutes a a day…)

In any case, the readability of this question is pretty high, according to the Fry and Lexile algorithms that I used.

Recall, this is supposed to be an EASY question!

And PS: I defy my readers to solve this question: (p,.111)

An international bank issues its Traveler credit cards worldwide. When a customer makes a purchase using a Traveler card in a currency different from the customer’s home currency, the bank converts the purchase price at the daily foreign exchange rate and then charges a 4% fee on the converted cost. Sara lives in the United States, but is on vacation in India. She used her Traveler card for a purchase that cost 602 rupees (Indian currency). The bank posted a charge of $9.88 to her account that included the 4% fee.

part 1

What foreign exchange rate, in Indian rupees per one U.S. dollar, did the bank use for Sara’s charge? Round your answer to the nearest whole number.

part 2

A bank in India sells a prepaid credit card worth 7,500 rupees. Sara can buy the prepaid card using dollars at the daily exchange rate with no fee, but she will lose any money left unspent on the prepaid card. What is the least number of the 7,500 rupees on the prepaid card Sara must spend for the prepaid card to be cheaper than charging all her purchases on the Traveler card? Round your answer to the nearest whole number of rupees.

Correct Answers to High School Common Core Questions?

After wading through various hardware, software and connection problems on my iPhone, laptop and desktop, I have attempted some of the released model sample high school Common Core English and math questions.

I am profoundly underwhelmed by the questions and by the supposed genius of David Coleman — their mastermind and Rhodes scholar, who however has never taught any classes ever in any K-12 level.

You can look at them for yourself here.

The English section compares two poems about Daedalus and Icarus (the waxy feathers flight melt-in-sun myth). One poem was originally by Ovid, a Roman poet, but we are reading it in one particular translation into English. The other one is by a modern author.

I actually read quite a bit of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Latin about 50 years ago while a student in a DC public school and two high schools elsewhere. (This except was taken from that enormous work which goes on and on.) I don’t have any of Ovid memorized*, but while taking the ‘test’ I kept thinking more and more that a halfway decent argument could be made for every single one of the proposed answer choices, but even more than on other IQ- type tests, I was being asked to guess what David Coleman or one of his acolytes would think was the correct answer.

(As an example: with a little effort I could write a well- defined polynomial function such that the number that comes after 0, 2, 4, 6, is not 8 but -22.31415777 instead. I remember well a student telling me the next number in that sequence should be 0, since she guessed that the pattern just repeats. Frankly, she was at least as right as me!)

Knowing that the stories of Icarus, Perseus, Minos, the Minotaur, and Daedalus were made up and embellished by various Greek and Roman authors from a basis of ??possibly some distorted historical facts or else pure patriotic propaganda or ??? And knowing how pompous and full of c#%p I thought most Roman poets were, I gradually came to the conclusion that the best answer to just about all of those questions was one of these (take your pick):

1. Who cares?
2. None of the above.

3. I don’t feel like playing your little obscure mind game.

4. I reject your rule that in today’s society with ubiquitous electronic devices that are often (but not always) able to connect students to world-wide, instantaneous sources of information, students would be prohibited from doing so and would be obliged to parse two long, stupid and very ambiguous and pretentious pieces of literature, and guess what DAVID COLEMAN was thinking.

Did I mention that I’m not very impressed with either poet’s work?

When I got to the math section, I began to throw up my hands again. I mean, who in their right mind wants to solve math problems by writing on a keyboard the way they want you to?

It takes much more time and is much more technically difficult to solve problems on a keyboard than it is with a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. (Graph paper would be nice but not required.) for example- just try writing a proportion and factoring equations and drawing and labeling a diagram via Mouse & keyboard? It’s nuts!

It’s fairly simple, and cheap, to give students a piece of paper and a pencil and eraser. It would take time for an experienced teacher to look at the student’s efforts, naturally, and figure out how much the child understands. But- woo-woo — that wouldn’t produce large bucks for Pearson, Apple, Microsoft and a whole bunch of corporate profiteers.

And this is how teachers are going to be judged– by “improvements” in scores on this sort of cockamamie, poorly thought out test? I think if a teacher could somehow teach well enough that 90 % or more of his or her students actively boycotted the test, he or she should be given a nice framed certificate and a pat on the back and have his or her suggestions for improvement to schooling taken seriously for a change!!



*I’d be glad to recite the first few lines of the Aeneid if you like. Poor Vergil wrote book after book of this supposed founding myth of Rome, but by the end of the work, the hero had barely even reached Italy!

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 10:07 am  Comments (6)  
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