A ton of pencils

Sample questions on the CBEST Practice Test, which would-be teachers must pass in California, set a low bar:

Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil?


A Bay Area mother gave the math test to her son, who just started fourth grade. He completed the first half in 45 minutes; prospective teachers have up to two hours. Although he didn’t prepare and hasn’t studied percentages yet, he did well enough to pass.

Do college graduates fail CBEST? Yes indeed.

About Joanne


  1. Compounding the easiness of the test, which I took 9 years ago this month, is the fact that prospective teachers can take it as many times as they need to in order to pass. I’ve said for quite a while that if you fail any portion of that test, you should not be allowed to retake it for a year–and that you should retake the entire test, not just the sections (reading, writing, math) you failed last time.

  2. as a scientist, I’d argue that the most correct unit (grams) is not on there.

    when I have students who still insist on taking measurements in inches or whatever, instead of the SI units used in science, I make them do the conversions by hand.

  3. Maybe they should rename it “CWORST” or “CBELOWAVERAGE”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Wayne Martin says:

    Some years back a number of black college graduates failed the CBEST test and sued the state, claiming racial bias on the test. One of the local papers ran a copy of the test in question. There were no questions on it that could remotely suggest racial bias, other than a couple of question on opera.

    I can’t remember if the case went to trial, or was dismissed, but the suing test takers did not prevail. Since then, there haven’t been any more suits against CBEST. Whether the test has been “dumbed” down since then is an open question.

  5. Mr. Davis says:

    A 0.125 kilogrammer with cheese doesn’t inspire the same level of interest for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a scientist. But I suspect I’m not alone.

  6. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:


    as a scientist, I’d argue that the most correct unit (grams) is not on there.

    Um, but a gram is not a unit of “weight”; it’s a unit of mass ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Does anyone use metric measures of weight? I doubt it.)

  7. I might have gotten the question before the pencil one incorrect, if they’d given the right incorrect answer, because I possess contextual knowlege.

    The question is one of scaling. It’s a picture of a suspension bridge, said to be 4200 feet long. The Golden Gate Bridge is 4200 feet *between towers*. There are three scale units between the two towers (and 5 from end to end). If 1400 was a possible choice, I’d have answered that and moved on.

    Good test design is hard.