Test: Which cell plan is best?

PBS NewsHour looks at an international exam that asks students to apply their reading, math and science skills to real-life situations, reports John Merrow. “For example, they may be asked to analyze different cell phone plans to figure out which is the best deal.”

How many adults could do that?

1. Barry Garelick says:

The cell plan questions are nothing new and are in many algebra books, as are problems about health club memberships, kennels, etc. They are all structured pretty much the same way: membership fee is a constant one-time fee that is represented as the y intercept, and the rate (hourly, weekly, monthly, etc) is the slope. The cost of x months of a cell phone plan can be represented by y = mx + b where b is the y intercept and m is the rate (or slope).

In real life, however, cell phone plans have many more variables than this (many of them hidden), so they aren’t quite as straightforward.

2. SteveH says:

“How many adults could do that?”

The goal of education is not about improving a statistical average of what adults should be able to do on an international test. The goal of education is to provide the best individual educational opportunities. PISA is not a tool for doing that. Teachers in almost all schools test students and spend a lot of time reviewing and grading the tests. That should give them proper feedback for making changes. If you have to wait until even state test results come in to give you feedback, then something is seriously wrong and no analysis of those test results will separate and fix the problems. Our K-6 schools got poor results on our state test in the area of problem solving on year. The school’s solution was to … wait for it … spend more time on problem solving.

Teachers know the students. They know that it’s a problem if bright little Suzie doesn’t know the times table by fifth grade. They could ask Suzie’s previous teacher why this never happened. They don’t. Detailed and longitudinal systemic self-analysis never happens because schools adopt curricula that “trust the spiral”. By the time they get to state tests or PISA, it’s too late and the feedback is almost meaningless for use as a correctional tool. It’s also too vague to inform public policy. A state or national score on vague problem solving is supposed to correct a problem that was missed or overlooked when the teacher tested a student’s ability to solve specific DRT, work, and mixture problems?

NCLB, CC, PISA, etal. are only low cutoff statistical tools, not feedback tools for quality individual education. Quality K-12 education is only driven top-down by AP and IB courses, and testing organizations like ACT and the College Board are having a difficult time reconciling the gap between the two. Just ask the many parents who had to shepherd their kids across that gap at home or with tutors. Even in K-8, those tests are meaningless if the goal is anything more than a community college goal.