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Math Education United States

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

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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  • *scratches head* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @11:52AM (#45311401) Homepage

    Yeah, why pennies, and why a cup? I'm guessing the answer is D, 1, based on the number on the side of the cup, but that's a guess.

    And what about #12? What the heck is a "subtraction sentence"? Why are there no subtractions in the answers?

  • 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?
  • by the_scoots ( 1595597 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @11:58AM (#45311459)
    I don't see the Common Core standards as the problem, this is just a poorly written test made by people who were not the authors of Common Core. Unless I misunderstand, Common Core simply defines what skills a student should be proficient at by the end of school years. It doesn't define these test questions, Pearson Education did.
    • by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:43PM (#45312299)

      You are correct, and the original article is incredibly misleading.

      The Common Core State Standards are, dontchya know, standards. They do not define tests. The states who participate in them can test to the standards. How they choose to do that is not a reflection on the standards themselves.

      If anyone cares to learn more about what the standards are, a web search turns up the actual standards pretty easily: []

      Here's the sort of language about testing that actually appears [] on that site:

      "The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe ways in which developing student practitioners of the discipline of mathematics increasingly ought to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise throughout the elementary, middle and high school years. Designers of curricula, assessments, and professional development should all attend to the need to connect the mathematical practices to mathematical content in mathematics instruction."

    • by noobermin ( 1950642 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:02PM (#45312815) Journal

      I'm agreeing with Toe, The. (That's an awkward name to type out). This is like putting down the singleton code pattern because there is one bad implementation of it that you've come across. The Common Core are standards which, actually, give a lot of freedom to the individual states (once again following the Federalist pattern).

      Digging a little deeper, we have this [] tid-bit about what 1st graders should learn about addition and subtraction:

      Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.

      Nothing about making drawings that put pennies into cups. May be it should say "using objects in familiar and sensible fucking ways"? But what can you expect. It's a standard, not a rule for writing, you'd expect more intelligence from the people actually writing the tests.

      If anything, this could give air to the argument that the Common Core is too vague, which is what the point of it was. Apparently, it was drafted in such a way to give freedom to the states and local educators to decide the best way to teach 1st graders how to add and subtract within 20. If anything, that says DOE should have more say in what and how states teach their kids to avoid them fucking up like this.

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:46PM (#45313095)

      Common Core doesn't specify questions or tests - this is just a shitty test, that happens to meet (maybe?) Common Core.

      There's a lot of misunderstanding (and hence vitriol) about CC out there; Common Core says your students need to have certain skills. How you develop them is up to you. []

  • 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 kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:52PM (#45311913) Homepage
      Interestingly enough I was alive at the time of the events of 9/11/2001. And I remember that 17 of the 19 hijackers weren't Afghanis but Saudi Arabian. A full 89% were from our friend and ally in the middle east, Saudi Arabia.
    • by devent ( 1627873 )

      Omitted in this “scientific text” is the existence of other scientific data and theories, for example, the cyclical nature of the planet’s climate and the impact of solar activity on Earth’s temperatures. Nor does it mention the fact that the concept of man-made global warming is most actively promoted by those politicians who have a vested interest in imposing government regulations, which would allow them a greater control over the economy and people’s lives.

      That's why I don't read such sites that have an obvious agenda to push, like "The People's Cube: We cure weak liberalism with strong communism". Man-made global warming is "promoted" by scientists with hard evidence that already took the "cyclical nature" and the "solar activity" in consideration. If The People's Cube don't agree then they could publish scientific article in Nature how stupid 99% of all climatologists are.

  • 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.
  • The question is unclear and ambiguous, but the smarter test takers will figure out what they are probably asking. Somehow I don't think that was the original intent of the funders of this project.
  • I took the whole test she posted and got a perfect score :-D yay! I sort of see where question #1 makes no sense but I get what they were trying to get at. A 6 cent cup of coffee perhaps? I dunno. Anyway, I'm a former math and programming tutor at my college and am now CIO and head software engineer at my company. That may have skewed the results a bit, lol.
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:14PM (#45311599) Journal

    It's not quite as bizarre as Q1, but the rest of the test isn't so great. Still looks like the kid failed legitimately, the test only contributed.

    Question 2 asks about jars and shows a picture depicting cubes, which seems odd, but Q3 implies they've been taught some technique involving cubes, so that might be OK.

    Assuming the cube thing has been taught Q3 is fine (although "number sentence" is odd; I imagine parents would absolutely freak if someone tried to teach little Greta and Johnny the word "equation")

    Q4 is fine; sorry kid, you got that wrong legitimately

    Q5 demonstrates the problem of trying to teach with simplified terminology. The kid was given that the total was 9 and a picture of 4 pennies. When asked for "part I know" the kid gave 9, which is literally true in one sense, but not what they're looking for.

    Q6 and Q7 are fine. (but why are they using circular counters instead of cubes as they did before?)

    Q8 and Q9 are fine.

    Q10 and 11 are fine, but why are they under the topic of "Additions"? It's subtraction.

    Q12 is broken. Elsewhere in the test they imply that a "subtraction sentence" is an equation with a subtraction operator. Searching the web confirms this. There's no subtraction operator there. Kudos to the kid for figuring out what they meant.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:14PM (#45311603) Journal

    Someone at Pearson came up with a bad question.
    They meant for that question to coincide with the standards which say subtraction should be taught. How the heck do you leap from "Pearson has some bad questions" to "curriculum standards are bad"? Common Core may be bad, it may be good, TFA gives no reason to believe either. They only show that Pearson's implementation has some errors.

    We teach firefighting, construction safety, and other topics that have specific codes and standards students need to learn. When we realize we have a bad question we don't say "construction codes are bad and students shouldn't be expected to learn them", we say "this question is bad and we should rewrite it so it better gauges the student's understanding".

    There are a couple of statistical calculations test makers can use to find and fix bad questions. It doesn't appear that Pearson used those (yet). If they run the calculation, they'll see which questions are bad and can fix or remove them.

    Obviously if fewer than half of students get a question correct, it's probably a bad question. There are other calculations which are similar but more advanced. Look at a properly designed quiz covering the same subject, one with well vetted questions, and I bet it looks a lot better. Questions like "Imagine you had four cookies and gave one to your sister. How many would you have left?" also meet the common core standards, and that's probably a good question for a certain grade level.


  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:21PM (#45311661)

    I've worked on programming games of chance for various states and governments, and learned that's there's a lot of problems communicating odds/ratios/differences in the ways this test is laying things out, especially for wide audiences that will validly complain about the terms used.

    While they're not always fully ambiguous, you're just going to get a large percentage of test-takers answering incorrectly for things they legitimately know, just because they were thinking 'wrong' about how the information was present at that moment. Now, while this does a good job of showing where real-life problems can mislead people - it does a poor job of testing the actual skills being taught, as it's testing too many distinct things in each question to be meaningful in measuring math alone.

    In order to have these kinds of questions be meaningful, you'd have to ask several variants over 100's of questions to filter understanding of each aspect of the questions - and you couldn't do that in one sitting either - which is why these are bad questions for a test of math.

    If you wanted to test understanding of language context, use a question just for that - a 'what is the best sentence to describe..', then you don't have to have it as part of every question, and can even use previous questions to establish a context.

    What this seems designed to do, is provide poor test results for people who haven't been given special training about 'math sentences' (which don't correspond to much), so that they can inflate their "improvement" when people improve in their tests, which are mostly just about 'math sentences'.

    That doesn't sound like a math class - that sounds like a product training class.

    Richard Feynman would rant much about this.

    Ryan Fenton

  • Pearson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by C3ntaur ( 642283 ) <> 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 hduff ( 570443 ) <> on Saturday November 02, 2013 @12:57PM (#45311965) Homepage Journal

    The missing part is clearly several dollars if that's Starbucks coffee in the cup.

  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:29PM (#45312205) Homepage
    What strikes me about this test is the utter alienness of its language and symbology.

    Okay, it's been half a century since I took a test intended for children entering elementary school. I recognize a few of the sentence forms. Somebody has a certain number of guitar picks and gives some away, no problem. But the bizarre pennies to coffee cup equivalence, what the fuck is up with that? Who thought it was a good idea to assume that young children would know that the sentence in "number sentence" means what the rest of the world generally calls an "equation", or that a "subtraction story" conversely means a word problem? What is a "related subtraction sentence" and how does it differ from an ordinary subtraction sentence? Why are you using passive voice to ask questions of a five-year-old? Why do you think we need cubes to solve a linear equation?

    What's meant by the fragmentary term "part I know"? Dude, I have no idea what you know. Try speaking in full sentences, like we're taught in school. Oh, right.

    In short, this seems substantially to be a test of cultural indoctrination whose arithmetic pales in comparison to the challenge of getting inside the parochial mind of whoever developed the test. I'd be proud if my child failed this test. It's beyond absurd; I find it positively bigoted. These people need to get out and see more of the world.
    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      The issue here is that 'experts' in education really are not experts at all. Child education and the related child psychology are self selecting career paths that end up as an echo chamber of bad ideas. One of the outcomes of them having no more idea on how to teach than any other reasonably intelligent adult, they take the route of changing things to achieve the goal of appearing like they are improving the situation.

      "Number Sentence" is a perfect example of this.
  • by dudeX ( 78272 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @01:43PM (#45312309)

    While Bill Gates and others may talk about the declining state of education, there is a real movement by conservatives to use public money that funds education to enrich those who teach, by privatizing schools.

    The Common Core is a strategy to standardize the curriculum across all the 50 states (which isn't a bad idea) but the people who write the standards and create the tests don't have our best interests at heart. By creating ludicrous tests, they are going to "prove" that the US students are failing terribly, especially those in public schools. Then there will be demands of reform, where they will promote pseudo public schools that use public funds ran in a for profit manner.

    Once that happens, education which should not be a for profit enterprise, would be transformed into private enterprises that uses public funds to enrich companies like Pearson, Amplify, Thompson, etc.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:46PM (#45313089) Journal

    You keep expecting a math test to have answers that are "right" and "wrong". That's just a liberal plot.

    Here in Missouri, we require our math tests to present a more balanced view of math and science questions that includes a traditional, faith-centric approach.

    "If Jesus is speaking to thirty-thousand people, and he wants to feed them all but he only has two loaves and three fishes, how many pieces will he have to divide them into?

    A) 30,000
    B) N/A. He just kept producing magical loaves and fishes because he's divine.
    C) None. Jesus told them to get a damn job so they can feed themselves and stop being takers.

  • by almechist ( 1366403 ) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @03:51PM (#45313137)

    OK, this is ridiculous. I’ve read the linked articles and many of the comments here and elsewhere, and while there is a lot to say about the Common Core in general, I will limit myself simply to question 1 of the test. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is an atrocious test question, an abomination that should never appear on any math test, let alone a 1st grader‘s! Think that’s too strong? Well tell me, then, why is the coffee cup marked with a 6 and labeled below as “whole“ even there? Can anyone at all explain to me why 5 pennies (or what appear to be 5 pennies) have anything at all to do with a friggin’ coffee cup? Is this to do with the price of a cup of coffee? Clearly not, but the thought must occur even to 5th graders, since there are coins involved... And thus confusion creeps in right from the start, merely from looking at the pictures. One immediately wonders, are we measuring price or quantity? The possibility that it might be price-related serves only to confuse, and has no business on a test of basic math skills. I should say right here that besides pennies it also occurred to me that the disks might represent volume, 3D slices of an idealized cylindrical “cup” of liquid, and it’s not impossible that a bright 1st grader with good visual thinking skills might think the same thing, only... The cup in the picture isn’t cylindrical. So then, more entirely unnecessary potential for confusion, this time seemingly aimed directly at the gifted student. I can’t tell you how many times I messed up on tests when I was a kid because I assumed extra complexity existed on what were in actuality very simple problems. The stating of what is required on a test question should be clear and unambiguous. This example here is riddled with ambiguity, and that’s just looking at the drawing!

    So then, it appears there’s no real relation between the pennies and the coffee cup, they’re just arbitrarily chosen icons used to test the understanding that a numeral (the 6 on the cup) can represent quantities of an item (the coins), and that one can do subtraction by converting the 5 coins to a number 5, which subtracted from the whole of 6 is the answer 1. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but nothing is gained from using coins and a cup, in fact it seems deliberately confusing! I’ve no background in education, but I’m pretty damn sure that trick questions should not be appearing on a 1st grade test of basic math skills, except possibly as a bonus for extra credit. So why not use units and pictures that make sense? A pie and individual slices comes to mind.

    Then there’s the wording. What exactly is meant by “part I know”? Talk about ambiguity! Why not say “the part you know about”, or even better, “the portion of the whole you know about”? The wording on these kinds of problems really matters, kids shouldn’t have to guess at the meaning! By keeping the caption short and vague you add unnecessary ambiguity. This does make the answer harder to arrive at, but it does so in a way that cannot possibly be beneficial to the teacher or student. Even the title reading "find the missing part" is ambiguous... The missing part of what? Surely there are better ways to specify exactly what's being asked of the test-taker in this question. Ambiguity in all its forms should always be avoided, because by its very nature it can’t be used to test for comprehension of specific concepts, and testing the understanding of very specific concepts is the stated goal of this particular test!

    Look, this is ridiculous. I know nothing at all about writing tests, or about education in general, yet I can easily and quickly pick apart the many problems with this one question. You’re telling me professionals who study this stuff for a living can’t do any better than this? There is simply no excuse for questions like this appearing on an important stand

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

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

    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

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