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Math Education United States

A Math Test That's Rotten To the Common Core 663

Posted by timothy
from the two-trains-leave-chicago-with-opposite-polarity dept.
theodp writes " The Common Core State Standards Initiative," explains the project's website, ""is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt." Who could argue with such an effort? Not Bill Gates, who ponied up $150 million to help git-r-done. But the devil's in the details, notes Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss, who offers up a ridiculous Common Core math test for first graders as Exhibit A, which also helps to explain why the initiative is facing waning support. Explaining her frustration with the intended-for-5-and-6-year-olds test from Gates Foundation partner Pearson Education, Principal Carol Burris explains, "Take a look at question No. 1, which shows students five pennies, under which it says 'part I know,' and then a full coffee cup labeled with a '6' and, under it, the word, 'Whole.' Students are asked to find 'the missing part' from a list of four numbers. My assistant principal for mathematics was not sure what the question was asking. How could pennies be a part of a cup?" The 6-year-old first-grader who took the test didn't get it either, and took home a 45% math grade to her parents. And so the I'm-bad-at-math game begins!"
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A Math Test That's Rotten To the Common Core

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  • is the answer D? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by comrade1 (748430) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @11:52AM (#45311403)
    Because the pennies add up to 5, and to be whole it should be 6? Or is whole milk 6% fat and 6/100 = .06 * 5 pennies = .30, or in other words 30%, which is why the genius kid picked B? Or is it message about the deflation of the value of the dollar in international markets and the price of milk?
  • An earlier edition of the "Social Studies Extended Response" stated the following [] (emphasis mine):

    Thus, poor countries are often home to terrorist groups that are free to plan and carry out attacks on the rich, industrialized nations, without fear of being stopped. This is in fact what happened on 9/11 when terrorists from Afghanistan hijacked planes and carried out attacks on the United States.

  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:13PM (#45311577)
    It's a system full of good intentions, but the people that come up with the questions appear to be gearing things toward a certain way of thinking. I'm all about the system, it is designed to show the children how they think, and how they work out problems naturally, in their mind's eye as it were.

    One problem that I have had with it in the past is that the way the questions allow for assumptions. For instance, I'm from Alabama. In Alabama it's generally hot and humid. When we take our kids to the park, they generally are wearing sandals or flip-flops. Any time they're playing in the sand, they're going to be bare-footed, or at the most, sandals/flip-flops. They give the kids a story to read about a kid that goes to the park. The story is basically this:

    Story title: 'A day at the park' Timmy goes to the park. He plays in the park. He plays in the sand. It starts to rain, so Timmy has to leave. Timmy goes home and puts on dry socks. Timmy then takes a nap. When Timmy wakes up, the sun is out. He goes back to the park. Timmy likes the sun. Timmy smiles.

    Then the questions that they ask are something like this:

    1) What's another good title for this story? a) The sun b) Timmy goes to the park c) Rain and sun d) Timmy takes a nap

    2) Why did Timmy put on dry socks? a) Because Timmy was home b) Because his socks were wet c) Because he was sleepy d) Because Timmy wanted to go back to the park

    So question #1 is asking for an opinion, and question #2 is asking about something that's not mentioned in the story. After my kid missed both questions, I asked the teacher why, and her answer was that the questions are introducing higher learning. Higher learning? An opinion is higher learning? Asking questions that are full of assumptions not mentioned in the story, is higher learning?

    So in that way it needs to be improved upon. But for math, they allow the kids to express the algorithm in any way, and as long as they get the answer correct, and the algorithm that they use is logical, then they're credited with learning. And I think that's way better than, "Here is an algorithm, learn it, and use it." Because if you don't understand how that algorithm came to be, you will not be able to use it in real life. Whereas if you came up with the algorithm yourself, you cannot explain how or why you came up with it, but you understand how to use your brain in the real world.
  • Range of problems (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Boawk (525582) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:21PM (#45311663)

    The problems with Common Core are manifold, from the (lack of) primary research behind it, to the squishiness of the outcomes. Here's a nice quote: "even if they said 3 X 4 was 11, if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer, really in words and oral explanations and they showed it in a picture but they just got the final number wrong; we’re really more focusing on the how and the why." (Fuzzy Math [])

    Since 1970 we've more than doubled per-pupil spending on primary and secondary students in real dollars (National Center for Education Statistics []) with little to show in academic improvement. <sarcasm>But hey! We've found the problem! What we need to do is yoke all 50 states to a common set of education standards! That'll help!</sarcasm>

    I abhor the intelligent design crap that some states try to shove into primary and secondary school curricula. However, all the power to them as long as I'm free to influence the math- and science-rich curriculum I want established in my state. I find it more repugnant that the Federal government sees fit to bribe states to adopt a one-size-fits-all model.

  • Pearson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by C3ntaur (642283) <centaur@netEINST ... minus physicist> on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:35PM (#45311765) Journal
    Is this the same Pearson that designs and administers tests for IT and other professional certifications? If so, it would explain a lot. The ones I've taken seem to be designed not to test your skills in the subject matter, so much as to test your capacity to parse bad English and to solve trick questions. It's horrifying to think that we are subjecting first graders to this crap.
  • by pla (258480) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:17PM (#45312107) Journal
    Show 5 smaller cups (shot-glass sized) filled with a dark liquid. Show a measuring cup with lines labelled 1-7, and filled to level 6 with a dark liquid.

    I mean this with no disrespect, because I largely agree with your bigger point. But you've illustrated part of the problem with the original test - People designing tests for kids who don't understand how those kids perceive the world.

    Until at least age 7 or 8, and usually later, kids have a very poor grasp of conservation of volumes []. They will tend to linearize the problem, seeing the "full" smaller glasses as having the same volume as the marker with the same height on the larger measuring cup.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:29PM (#45312207)

    The problem itself is valid, and it's very sensible to expect a 6 year old to understand it. The presentation is beyond idiotic, though.

    How about writing "whole" and drawing a piggy bank (to make a connection with the coins) with a "6" on it. Then writing "taken out" and drawing 5 coins. Then writing "left?" and drawing the piggy bank again, this time with a big question mark, along with a piggy bank next to A, B, C and D with the 4 possible answer numbers on them.

    Clear, simple, easy to understand. The guy who made that test was responsible for user interfaces at MS before, I betcha.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:46PM (#45312323)

    If I had to assume that I do NOT know jack about math or life (which is pretty much the situation for 5 year olds...), the assumption could as well be that I know I have these 5 discs and somehow have to stack or otherwise assemble them to create a cup, and now the question is what is missing. The answer 3 seems valid, since it does look a bit like the handle of the cup.

    Remember that to kids numbers are not simply abstract symbols but they do have a "face". Actually, I remember that as a kid the 2 looked very friendly, the 1 was stern and the 5 pretty evil and intimidating. There is a reason why many 4 year old can solve the riddle below but few adults can:

    5628392 = 4
    5093526 = 3
    8522100 = 4
    7664921 = 3
    1226112 = 1
    1099712 = 3
    5723445 = 0
    8192341 = ?

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:05PM (#45312843)

    Yes, and that's the whole pitfall here, and why preschool kids succeed where we fail: We abstract. We see a 3 as a representation for something that is "three". For a child it is simply two half loops stacked on top of each other. An 8? Two small loops on top of each other. They have no abstract meaning, they are taken at face value.

    That's also the reason why they fail at this test.

  • by unrtst (777550) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:05PM (#45312849)

    Question 5 was my favorite WTF.
    5. Find the missing part.
          Write the numbers.
        o o o o [ ]

                ___ ___
        part I know missing part

    (the o's are pennies, and the [ ] is a box)
    (slashdot is messing up the formatting, or I'm not doing it right)
    The student filled in:
    _9_ _5_ ...and got it wrong.
    Yeah, they *wanted* a different answer, but he's still right.
    What part does he know? The big "9" in the box.
    What part was missing? The 5, which he got right.

    If this were for an older student, and if the style of questions was explained and examples provided, then I'd understand that they should listen and comprehend what is expected with certain types of questions, but this is a first grader. The expectations should be very obvious.

    Before you write that off as something the student should have understood, take question 6, which is right next to it:

    Complete the picture.
    Write a subtraction sentence.
    6. Jennifer has 6 guitar picks.
          She gives 4 guitar picks to
          her students. How many
          guitar picks are left?
          | o | |
          | o | |
          | o | |
          | o | |

                __ - __ = __

    The student got this one right:
    _6_ - _4_ = _2_ ... but the "6" is right under the part of the picture that has 4 dots in it (and yes, they're black circles, not triangles as a guitar pick would be... that's just one more stupid little detail that doesn't matter much, but shows the poor quality of the test).

    So what is it? Do they write the number that represents the whole first, or the number that represents the dots above the answer line?

    There's so much wrong with this test. Even the way it was marked by the teacher is, IMO, in bad form. Incorrect answers have their question number circled, and correct ones have a check mark in the middle of the question space. To see why that's wrong, just look at the students answer in question 8. It's a multiple choice question. He put an "X" through the three he thought were wrong, and circled the one he thought was right. "Circle" means right; "X" means wrong". They expect the child to circle correct answers, but they circle incorrect questions.

    BTW, anyone know when they started referring to math problems as "number sentences" and "subtraction stories"? Mixing reading comprehension and math seems like another unnecessary complication for a first grade test.

  • by anagama (611277) <> on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:43PM (#45313069) Homepage

    I was in 1st grade 39 years ago so my memory is a little fuzzy to say the least. I do remember being the fasted reader in the class and just burned through all the materials (I think it was SRA readers). Even so, I doubt I would get the word "guitar" -- that word is an import from Spanish and just doesn't lend itself to being sounded out using English sound characteristics. Why didn't they just use "balls" or "hats" or something about which there can be little confusion? It's a math test -- not a reading test.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @06:18PM (#45314123) Homepage Journal

    With common core, we see the progressive's failed attempt to educate children. With "No Cretin Left Behind", or NCLB, we saw the conservative's failed attempt. (apologies to anyone born and raised on Crete) Both parties like to jack their jaws about the importance of education, but both parties have their part in the "dumbing down of America". And, THAT is why local governments should be tasked with educating children, and the federal government should maintain a hands off stance toward education.

    That might not help much, either. An anecdote from my personal educational history: As a freshman in high school, I decided that math was interesting, and read the math text entirely in a few weeks. After briefly showing the teacher that I did understand it all, he handed me another textbook. Then, a month later, another. But after a few months, he apparently ran out of texts, because his reaction to my request for calculus texts was "You're not ready for that." I asked around a bit, and found to my dismay that the rest of the teachers seemed to agree with him. So this part of the "educational system" was now a brick wall that blocked my further learning.

    However, I did talk to the school principal (who was to become a friend) about it; he quietly asked around, and referred me to some students at a nearby college who were willing to find books and loan them to me. His attitude seemed to be that this was part of "the system" that he couldn't fight, but the rest of the teachers and administrators didn't have to know what I was reading in my spare time. He eventually helped me get some good college scholarships.

    A fun part of this was that my main source of math texts was a couple of young women at the college, who were working on degrees in math and science education. One of the first texts they loaned me was "Calculus for the Practical Man" (which is still in print). I looked at the title, and said something like "So they don't allow you to read it, either?" They grinned, and said I shouldn't tell anyone.

    Anyway, note that the high school's blocking of my further education was very much a "local" action. It was carrying out local (county, state) policies, and this had little to do with "liberal" vs. "conservative" doctrines. If anything, the district had a "conservative" population. But what was more at work, with both me and my college-level female friends, was that we were challenging the school's control over our educations, and control is what most administration is all about. This has little if anything to do with political factionalism.

  • Tip of the iceberg (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @09:14PM (#45315109)

    Unfortunately, this is the tip of the iceberg and I've had a front row seat to this as a parent with a child in 1st grade and one in 5th grade in New York State public schools.

    The first step were the high stakes tests that our kids had to take last year. Tests which showed only 30% of New York State kids passing. This helped reinforce the message that politicians have been spouting that our public school system is broken and needs to be fixed. (Where "be fixed" means by them and by big businesses like Pearson.) Of course, nobody was allowed to see these tests so we could see if they were developmentally appropriate or if they were scored right. Pearson made the tests, graded them, and then they were destroyed. They don't help the teachers improve lessons (unlike normal tests which can show that Johnny is weak in some areas and might need extra help) and they just stress out the kids.

    These tests, by the way, are tied to the teachers' jobs. A teacher whose kids do poorly (like, say, one with special education students) can find themselves out of a job. So teachers have a strong incentive to make sure their kids do well on the tests. Any time teaching ANYTHING not on the test is time wasted. So whole subjects get nixed in favor of test preparation. MONTHS are spent taking practice tests (bought from Pearson) and rehearsing items that might come up on the tests. Our kids are getting very good at answering A, B, C, or D, but not much else.

    The next step, in New York State at least, is that EngageNY was forced into the classrooms. Remember every good teacher you ever had. What did those teachers do? They probably made learning fun, right? Make it interesting in their own unique way. Don't you with every teacher was that good? Well, too bad. EngageNY is a series of scripts that tells teachers what to say and when and even HOW to say it. It dictates how long each section of each lesson should take and how students should respond. Teachers are NOT to go off script no matter what... even if they themselves don't understand just what the script is trying to tell them to teach.

    Call me crazy, but making every teacher teach the same lesson in the same manner to every kid doesn't seem like it will help children. Last I checked, every child is different. Some may learn well one way but not another way. It's a teacher's job to find the best way to reach his/her students and teach them the material. The whole point of Common Core is to make kids ready for college, but by the time they get to college, they're going to look upon school and learning as a boring activity and won't want to proceed.

    So why Common Core? Because some big businesses looked at education and said "that's an untapped market." Why have these public schools when the businesses can turn a profit off kids? Why have teachers write lesson plans when a business can make a profit selling lesson plans?

    In fact, Pearson and other businesses have more to gain if kids fail. They can sell books to help the kids, lessons to make the teachers "teach better", sessions for administrators on how to better push more Pearson products into schools. If the kid passes, all those potential sales go away.

    This isn't even getting into the mess that is InBloom - putting tons of confidential student information online without the consent of parents. I'm sure the security will be totally uncrackable, right? I mean kids social security numbers, dates of birth, medical conditions, home addresses, etc. all online. Totally safe.

    Parents are beginning to understand just what is happening and they're fighting back. In New York State, Commissioner John King cancelled a series of forums on Common Core when he said "special interest groups" co-opted the forums. Video of the forum got out, though and it turned out that those "special interest groups" were upset parents. When backlash over the cancelled forums got too big, he reinstated them - making them at the exact time that school let out to keep parents and teach

  • by anubi (640541) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:15AM (#45315943) Journal
    This reminds me of a question I got in high school physics... Consider how much insight my teacher had. I still remember his lesson.

    You have a fine barometer. Very accurate. We need to ascertain the height of this building. How should we proceed?

    The first answer of course had to do with barometric pressure and elevation - and was dismissed as we studied inaccuracies of measurement.

    Maybe measure the height of the barometer, hold it outside and see how long of shadow it cast, then measure the shadow of the building.... kid got a round of applause.

    Another kid: call up the guy who built the building and tell him he can have a fine barometer if he will tell us how high the building is...

    Another kid: Toss the barometer off the top of the building and time it until it crashes to the ground, then using the formulas for gravitation and velocity, calculate the distance...

    All in all there must have been a unique way every student in that class came up with to somehow measure the height of the building with the barometer.

    Only one of them had to do with the proper use of the barometer.

    The rest of it had to do with THINKING.

    I will always remember Dr. Horn for that.

    It was teachers like Dr. Horn that got me ready for what I would see in the real world.

Some programming languages manage to absorb change, but withstand progress. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982