After earning a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in education, a school board member took Florida’s 10th-grade exam, earning a D in reading and an F in math. The test doesn’t measure essential skills, he told his friend, Marion Brady, who wrote about it in Answer Sheet. The school board member wrote in an e-mail:
“The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.
He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.
“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.
His friends told him the math on the exam isn’t necessary in their professions. “A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life,” he writes.
“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.
“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning.
Brady agrees with his friend that the exam writers are unaccountable idiots.
Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.
After Brady’s column ran, Rick Roach, a retired teacher, counselor and coach and a school board member in Orange County, Florida, courageously identified himself. While I admire his candor, I have to wonder about his reading and math skills.
Here’s a “low” question from the 2006 10th-grade math exam, which was answered correctly by 89 percent of students:
In 1995, there was a total of 7.2 million acres of pine forests in Florida. All of the forests were either natural or planted by people. Given that 4.4 million acres of these pine forests were planted by people, how many millions of acres of these pine forests were natural?
A “moderate” question, answered correctly by 72 percent of students, provides the equation:
An artist sells earrings from a booth at a fair. Rent for the booth is $250. The artist makes $6 from each pair of earrings sold. The profit in dollars, P, can be found using the following equation, where n is the number of pairs of earrings sold.
P = 6n – 250
How many pairs of earrings must the artist sell to earn a profit of $500?
Roach says he couldn’t answer a single math question.
This reading question from 2005 is considered “moderate” in difficulty:
High peaks are especially prone to glacial erosion, because they tend to catch clouds that might otherwise drop snow onto lower mountains nearby.
What does prone to mean?
11% A. altered by
61% B. inclined to
11% C. resistant to
17% D. weakened by
Sixty-one percent of students got it right.
Brady says Roach is a success in life:
His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities.
If Roach could achieve all that — frequent flyer miles too — then D reading skills and F math skills must be OK for Florida 10th graders. But they’ll all have to go into professions that don’t require reading and math — like education.