Basic skills includes computation

Zounds! Minnesota students will have to do a few basic calculations without a calculator on the state’s basic skills test. Here’s a sample no-calculator question.

1. Elise bought 8½ yards of material. She used 3¼ yards for pants. How many yards does she have left?

A. 4¼ yards
B. 5 1/8 yards
C. 5 1/6 yards
D. 5¼ yards

Students first take the test in eighth grade and have several chances to pass to qualify for graduation. They must get 75 percent of questions right.

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  1. Michelle Dulak says:

    Bear in mind that most kids who couldn’t answer this question instantly also wouldn’t know how to put “eight and a half” or “three and a quarter” into a calculator in the first place.

  2. D. Cooper says:

    If you’re referring to the inability to express the fractions as decimals, you’re probably right … however (I won’t) say unfortunately) many calculators can manipulate fractions as well. Basic calculations are an important foundation for number sense. Calculators have become poor substitutes for developing that foundation. Calculators have their place, but when you need to divide 50 by 2 on a calculator, something’s missing !! Worse yet, when you get .04 for the answer … even more is missing !!

  3. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Not to be assertive or anything, but calculators should not be seen in any elementary school. That’s where you’re supposed to learn to do the elementary stuff like + – x /, and more importantly, what exactly it is that you’re doing with the numbers. The calculator obliterates thinking about what you’re doing with the numbers.

  4. Michelle Dulak says:

    D. Cooper: I haven’t seen the most recent generation of calculators — the last one I bought was an HP scientific model when I was an undergraduate, and it sort of assumed that you knew that “one half” was .50. How do the new ones handle fractions? I assume the child would have to enter 8 + 1/2 – 3 – 1/4. Frankly, it ought to be faster to do that in your head than to type it.

    I.S.: Right on. Calculators should be introduced only where manual calculation becomes too time-consuming (in a science class where ratios of two many-digit numbers have to be computed to get the results of an experiment, for example).

  5. If students can’t figure out the answers to questions which are of this nature, then they don’t deserve to graduate with a diploma from high school. At least the passing bar is set at 75% for this exam, in Nevada it’s is currently 58% on a 500 point exam (i.e. need 290 or better).

    The real question is will they hold the line on the 75%, or will it get lowered in response to whiney assed parents and students as it did here in Nevada (I suspect it will).

  6. Mike Daley says:

    This is really a joke, right?
    And all the commenters to date are just going along with it, right?
    G-d, I hope so.

  7. Independant George says:

    I always did better without a calculator than with one. If I write line-by-line, I can tell where I screwed up; if I’m typing, and I get an answer that’s way off the mark, I have to start over from the beginning rather than focus on my error. Plus, it’s really to screw up the distributive law when entering functions in a calculator.

    My main problem with calculators is that they tend to encourage uniformity of thought, and dissuade creativity. When you can do a brute-force calculation in a second, you forget things like factoring out extra variables, or why the natural log is so damned useful. One of the most common calculator errors is to get an ‘undefined’ result to an equation when you had to factor out a zero in the denominator.

  8. I don’t think the question is valid. I didn’t the answer listed. There should be a ‘none of the above’ choice.

    Just kidding.

  9. OK guys: (used in a non-sexist manner)How many of you remember how to use a slide rule? “I do!”
    The increasing use of technology is inescapable.

  10. Michelle Dulak: D. Cooper: I haven’t seen the most recent generation of calculators — the last one I bought was an HP scientific model when I was an undergraduate, and it sort of assumed that you knew that “one half” was .50. How do the new ones handle fractions? I assume the child would have to enter 8 + 1/2 – 3 – 1/4. Frankly, it ought to be faster to do that in your head than to type it.

    Ah, I’ll field this one: you’d be amazed at the number of kids who don’t know that one half (represented as a one directly above a horizontal bar, with a two underneath) is the same as one half (represented as a one, followed by a division sign (the little bar with a dot on top and a dot underneath), or even the same as one half (represented as 1/2). There are new calculators that write fractions with a number on top, then a horizontal bar, and a number on the bottom, so that kids don’t even have to know that fractions are about division. And many, too many, don’t.

  11. PJ/Maryland says:

    Fersboo is right, none of these answers is correct. Elise, being clueless, cut the 3.25 yards she needed from the middle of her bolt, so she actually has three (or maybe more) pieces of cloth. One of the pieces is 2 square yards, but the others aren’t square at all.

    Don’t you just hate these trick questions?

  12. Ah! The question is actually: “What is the most nearly correct answer?”

  13. dave'swife says:

    I went into the livingroom, put the PS2 on pause and read the problem to my boys. Of course the 8th and 6th graders got it. The 4th grader got it. The 3rd grader had snuck around me and turned the game back on. Oh well, 3 outta 4 ain’t bad.
    Bring on the rest of the test!!

  14. I’ve used a slide rule, and I still have it. Of course, it was the slide rule my father used before I was born. I used it only because my sisters kep stealing my calculators.

    And calculators can handle mixed numbers nowadays. As well as can take symbolic derivatives and integrals.

  15. Sheese, that question shouldn’t even require paper and pencil, let alone a calculator.

  16. Here is a calculator that does fractions for you. There is a video demonstration that shows how it works.

  17. John from OK says:

    “They must get 75 percent of questions right.” That’s 3/4, correct?

    I have a better question. If OSU loses in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, Then Tulsa U. loses in the H-Bowl on Saturday, and then Oklahoma loses in the Sugar Bowl on Sunday, what does the rest of calendar year 2004 look like? Sheesh.

  18. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    John’s question will be a snap for the calculator generation to answer, even if they’re wholly ignorant of subtraction and simple fractions.

  19. Calculators are a tool to be used after the student has mastered the concepts involved. I was not allowed to use a calculator until reaching algebra in my math education, nor was one needed until then.

    It isn’t meant to be a crutch. It’s supposed to just be a faster and less error-prone method of making calculations that are a pain in the ass to do by hand (or sliderule).

  20. D. Cooper says:

    There was no mention regarding the width of the piece of cloth that was being used. Therefore, we’re dealing only with a linear measurement here … and whether the piece cut out of the middle or not does not affect the total lenght of the piece or pieces remaining. Do we want to get into how the cuts were made ? … perpendicular to the edges etc. nah … and, depending on the width of the material, there may or may not be any square pieces remaining !!!

    Brenda … I taught high school math for 35 years … nothing amazes me !!!

    And IS whom I have referred to as SI in another go around, I actually agree with here … students cannot develop ‘number sense’ through the use of a calculator. Calculators have their place as do slide rulers .. slide rulers belong on every desk … as paper weights.

    And I. George … > I always did better without a calculator than with one. > that’s just so much malarkey… after grunting out a few complicated calculations by hand and brain power … and knowing that I can … give me a calculator … I’ll spend the time saved straightening my sock drawer !!!

  21. …The answer is D, right? I never could tell if I didn’t have my calculator handy.

  22. ***Julie*** says:

    Well, I hate to tell ya all, but our kids would raise their hands and ask for help punching the right buttons on the calculator — forget what the rules say — they break them all anyway!

    but seriously… I agree 100%, calculators should not be allowed in any elementary school. As for the rest of the grades, heck our text books come with problems that have a calculator picture next to them to prompt the student to use the calculator. (And if that isn’t bad enough, it gives them the steps in order with a picture of the key on the calculator to punch) sigh… and some kids still get it wrong =[

  23. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Partial credit for neatness?

  24. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Partial credit for neatness?

  25. Basic skills includes?

  26. A couple of observations here:
    1) I am a first line supervisor at a MAJOR defenese contractor – I work with other engineers, of varying ages, all of whom have at least a BS. I give the following verbal problem: If, “A pint is a pound, the world around” – what is the weight of water in a ten gallon fish tank full of water? Really educational how many students, employees, associates, etc can’t figure that one out – either (preferably) in their heads, or with paper and pencil!
    2) Having spent countless hours with a slide ruel grinding out complex variable matricies that one now solves quicky by calculator or computer – I am not gonna continue to do it the “old fashioned way” ! Calculators and computers have a place – but you HAVE to know what, how, and why you are doing something before you blindly punch away at a bunch of numbers!

  27. I work at a major chemical company, and I can tell you why a lot of engineers couldn’t solve that problem. They don’t know that 4 pints = 1 gallon; they were raised on metric units (the U.S. is the only remaining country in the world that does not officially use the metric system – even Britain does now). So were we chemists, and I’m only comfortable with British units because my hobby is cooking. But I still need that little scale on the side of the butter wrapper to remember how many tablespoons are in a stick of butter…

    By the way, it wasn’t that long ago that a grocer in England was fined for having a vegetable scale for customers to use that wasn’t metric…

  28. “They don’t know that 4 pints = 1 gallon” ???? ummmm …. I think the number is 8……

  29. Anonymous says:

    In my chemistry class, I was taught a lessib how much students using their calculators as a crutch and not thinking about the problem presented, so I developed a problem with all the numbers etc, but the correct answer is no reaction is possible. (You had to pay attention to the type of reaction presented). Almost every single student tried to calculate the answer! Ahh!
    I get tired of getting the answer in my head before the student can even turn on their calculator.
    But a physics prof really impressed me by doing a complicated probem involving fractions completely in his head. He just wrote the equations on the board and then said, see isn’t it so obvious? (I thought not, we had to do it again).
    But, when crunching long lists of data points from an experiment, I’ll do the computations on a calculator or computer spread sheet.

  30. Walter – no extra credit allowed for double-posting.

    Bill is right – it’s 8 pints to a gallon.

    Michelle’s first comment is largely correct, even if the calculator will do the fractions for you. I suspect that some number of kids with calculators that don’t do fractions for you would enter 8 + 1 / 2 – 3 + 1 / 4 and not understand why that got the wrong answer.