School board member flunks standardized test, speaks out against "no accountability" examinations

Rick Roach, a highly educated, multi-term member of Florida's District 3 school board, took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (a mandatory standarized test that largely determines a student's final educational certifications) and failed miserably. He's gone public with his conclusion that the test "has no accountability."

I'm sympathetic to his arguments on the reading sections -- students are questioned on an unfamiliar passage and are asked to pick the most correct answer from several largely correct answers, and receive no points for a partially correct response -- but less sympathetic to his reaction to the mathematics section. He argues that higher mathematics aren't "what kids need" in the "real world" and should not be on the test. I'd be happy to abolish the test altogether, but not higher mathematics instruction.

I struggled with higher math (flunked calculus twice before passing) but I'm glad it was part of my education. Mathematical literacy is critical to participating in a society where complex policy decisions from the "War on Terror" to questions of public health (such as vaccination) and other critical issues that directly effect the day-to-day lives of average people, and these policy decisions are often contested on the basis of warring mathematical conclusions.

“I won’t beat around the bush. 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.

“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....

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Revealed: School board member who took standardized test (via Uncertain Principles)


  1. If this was like most standardized tests, that 62% is not a grade, like A-F, but a percentile score, and indicates he did better than 62% of the people taking the test.  Hardly a miserable fail.

  2. Those standardized math tests do assume a familiarity with the vocabulary of high-school math instruction. One can have a good grasp of the concepts but be unfamiliar with the words, and do poorly on such a test.

    Which means that it’s unfair to give such a test to someone who hasn’t been in a classroom for 40 years, no matter what their actual practical math skills may be.

    1. He documented his extensive classroom time since his days in high school. I hope you can agree that reading comprehension would seem to be the real issue? He is a legislator, and you are a citizen.

    2. Oh come on: he couldn’t even answer ONE question correctly! Is it too much to ask that he has the brains necessary to figure out ONE question, vocabulary familiarity notwithstanding?

  3. No Child Left Behind – yet another failed Bush policy.  He is probably the worst president ever.  “More tests will make kids smarter!”  Really?

    1. Not smarter, better worker bees. The tests are more about observing ones ability to sit down, shut up and take orders then it is about using ones brains. This because the former abilities are more valued in a authoritarian system then the latter.

  4. Trigonometry and Calculus are not like riding a bike.  If you haven’t recently studied it or frequently used it in your daily life (job), then you aren’t going to be able to dive right in and do it.

    1. I really doubt that there is any calculus on this exam. Remember that calculus is not required for high school graduation. (At least not in any state I know of.)

    2. AP Calculus BC, then more theoretical calculus in college – and now I can’t perform even the simplest derivative.

      However, I know well the uses for calculus in physics, engineering, etc – and that type of knowledge is still useful, even if I can’t crunch the numbers anymore.

    3. There’s a big difference between being unable to perform the calculations on the fly and being unable to make sense of the problem. He wasn’t particularly clear but I certainly got the sense he suffered from the latter affliction.

    4. Trigonometry and Calculus are not like riding a bike.
      Exactly, and since my day job is now keeping end users happy by keeping the windows servers up and happy I definitely do not remember any of that much less the 300 level linear algebra, number theory, and other such fun subjects.

      1. AHHHH!!!!

        Linear algebra. I still remember the knots that class used to tie in my head into after all these years.

        Until this class I used to “visualize” a lot the math I used. I wasn’t really even conscious of this until the whole n-dimensional matrices stuff blew my little mind.

        1. We must have the same brain. Math was easy when I could see it, and then suddenly it was incomprehensible.

          1. Have to agree with both of you there as well, however I’d argue higher level math can still be “seen” it simply takes longer to develop the ability to do so. It still took a little while to build a model in your mind when learning say Linear algebra, but once that model was built, it became straight forward. The difference is you don’t really “see” it in a way you can describe with language.

  5. It’s kind of hard to judge any of this without knowing what the actual questions are. I did read a fairly damning article earlier this year about the NEAP:
    (One of the problems is that there is no math in the math exam.)

    I doubt that the Florida tests are much better.

  6. “It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long”

    There is a simpler explanation: he’s stupid, or expects too much of himself.

    1. Yeah, that occurred to me as well, especially since “I am the boss of lots of people and money!”=”I am smart and well educated!” does not really follow. Many of the bosses I have had provide directly contradictory evidence. Nonetheless, I think the realization that standardized test performance != general level of talent and competency is a valuable one for policy makers to have (particularly if they are stupid and/or ignorant and equate their level of success in life with native intelligence).

  7. I seriously crave a copy of that test (or at least a practice test). I’m very curious to see what kind of questions are on it.

  8. Hmm. I’d like to see the test, now. I do understand why he’d do poorly on the math section (though he claims a B.S. it probably wasn’t in a hard science, and his master’s degrees and doctorate work most likely did not involve any math or science). 

    I find his wording a little distressing… he says he didn’t know the answer to any of the math questions. Well, you’re not supposed to “know the answers” to math problems, you’re supposed to know how to solve them! I simply can’t believe he couldn’t have solved any of the math problems, if he had actually attempted to (which it doesn’t seem like he did).

    But anyway, the reading section should not have been that difficult. I remember those kinds of reading comprehension tests (though pre-NCLB, not sure if they’ve really changed that much) – it was always obvious to me where they were trying to trick you, and it didn’t take much effort to determine the correct answer.

    If he got through the education he says he did, there’s really no excuse for doing that poorly. Unless of course he’s a typical silver-spoon asshole who didn’t really earn his degrees (ala Bush). 

    But I find it hard to rag on him too hard, because he’s got the right idea in attacking these types of tests!

  9. He makes the unfortunate assumption that multiple education degrees and a publicly elected position imply he’s intelligent.

    1. You’re making the unfortunate assumption that sheer intelligence is helpful on standardized tests. I know a great many people who are incredibly intelligent and simply don’t test well.

      1. You’re making the unfortunate assumption that Batman1234 intended to write something about sheer intelligence being helpful on standardized tests when he might not have.

  10. Calculus was my favorite subject, and I did very well in it, but I have to admit I have never used any aspect of it since highschool, including four years earning a BS in Agriculture with an honors thesis in ecology. I’ve used algebra a lot, and trigonometry a little, but I’ve had reason to apply statistics almost every single day of my life, from simple decision making to interpreting news articles to writing that ecology thesis. Unfortunately statistics was an elective that I did not take in highschool or college, so I have had to teach it to myself. I think statistics and accounting are the post-algebra maths that all citizens should be instructed in.

      1. I don’t suppose you do, but you can become functional in statistics without applying a derivative or integral.

    1. How do you a degree in ecology without encountering population dynamics, with its differential equations?  Or maybe I don’t want to know…

  11. While I found calculus extremely fun and greatly expanded my understanding of the world around me (along with it’s heavily-tied-cousin physics), I’ve found that in “Real Life” algebra and much-hated statistics have been the most useful. Sadly, statistics needs to be taught every bit as much as “here’s how you do it” and “here’s how people will mislead you with it”.

    As for geometric proofs? Never liked them, and never found a use for them. Not even the step-by-step proving methodology, which to my mind would be much better suited to a general logic or even law class.

      1. Oddly, it never worked that way for me. I see writing software as creative problem solving with a multitude of solutions (some better than others), whereas geometric proofs were “figure out the correct sequence of events from a to b” (or to prove a is congruent to b). One challenges you to come up with something new, the other forces you down a fairly predefined path.

        The rest of geometry I loved – especially non-euclidean. But proofs fell into the category of “I understand them, I can do them well, but I don’t enjoy them at all”. Actually, that reminds me a lot of my current career-turned-job.

  12. The “the higher math that is being learned is not practical in the real world” schtick is the same argument that students in math classes make all of the time. 

    “When am I going to use this at Burger King?”  You’re not.  But for those who are going through the school system to become more intelligent beings, and to develop their strengths for future careers, they’re completely relevant. 

    A few years back, when I took the standardized tests in my state, I found that the math standards (and every other standard), were completely within reason, and that the students who failed usually were the ones who didn’t do their homework…

    1. I looked at the grade 8 math part – surely that can’t be the one he “failed” at, can it?

      1. The formula for the area of a triangle is shown below. 
        A  =  1/2bh
        Which of the following is the solution for h in terms of A and b ?

        Forget calculus. 90% of people don’t understand algebra. Perhaps this is the reason for our unending war on Islam?

        1. Al Gebra? Aren’t they one of them thar teroristic groups?

          EDIT: See, Mark knows what I’m talking about. Those mathatishuns are islamists!

    2. I’m no rocket scientist but I was able to answer all fifteen of the sample eighth grade math questions correctly in just about five minutes.

      Perhaps if we shine some light on Mr. Roach he’ll have the decency to scurry away.

      (To be fair, I am a rocket engineer…)

      1. Being brave to put my 35 years post high school out there, I got maybe 7 of the 15 right. Possibly would have gotten a few others if I’d been in real testing mode. But I don’t think this 8th grade test is the one he took, it’s just the highest level one they have posted.

      2. Well, I’ve been drinking and it took me a little longer to get thirteen of ’em right. I’d say we’re even, though, since you screwed up counting to 14.

  13. Possible bias here? Was he against this kind of test before he took one? Would he have done better on a test that would determine if he could get into a good college?  

  14. I can believe the failure on the math part and I was a math major. The only real take home after college I got from it was the logical thinking process needed. I got Bs or better in my 2nd year physics courses without any effort but eff all if I could solve any of the problems in my old electricity and magnetism text looking at it now I just go right I understood this cryptic stuff at one time, dynamics I would probably have a better chance at but not much. Use it or lose it.
    That said a basic understand of higher math beyond algebra is good thing as it will give you some different approaches to problem solving that will come in handy later.

  15. The case isn’t about intelligence, it’s supposed to be about skill.

    The point is that this administrator is using his personal shortcomings to question the role of higher mathematical instruction as well, not just the test itself.

    Yes, your average worker drone may not need real math skills, but any real extension beyond it starts becoming an issue of math literacy. Most of the real jobs that are growing in this country (U.S.) are focused on applications of higher mathematics. If we expect students to get jobs and become successful, we have to give them the skills they need.

    Just because a school administrator w/ two Masters degrees (likely in non-math heavy fields) and a partial doctorate can’t polish up his skills (probably didn’t study) to pass a test doesn’t mean that the test is invalid, it just means that he took the knowledge and requirements for granted.

    P.S. – the standardized tests are still malarkey.

  16.  He argues that higher mathematics aren’t “what kids need” in the “real world” …

    If “real world” equals a school board, then he’s obviously correct.

  17. I’m willing (as a middle aged person myself) to grant him the benefit of the doubt with regard to forgetting a lot of specialized terms since high school, but the conclusion I come to is that he is not as well educated as his degrees would suggest.  Had to guess to get any math question correct?  62% on reading comprehension?  It’s an indictment against his college and graduate schools as well as his high school that he has graduated so many times.

    The only way he can justify being on a school board at all is by fighting this fight (albeit for the wrong reasons: this isn’t a practical life lessons test, it’s an academic test)  and WINNING.

    1. The article notes his degrees, all of which are pretty soft (BS in Education, Masters in Education, Masters in Education Psychology), especially for math. 

  18. I’m pretty sure I would not be happy that a school board member is unable to perform the kind of critical reading skills that allow people to distinguish why, for example, “Intelligent Design” is not science, and I’m absolutely certain that I’d be unhappy with a school board member who failed to understand that you’re supposed to perform calculations to answer math questions rather than take guesses.

    Investigate that man’s credentials and professional decisions immediately.

    1. Well, the problem I see is that some of them are in that new metric system.  How is a guy supposed to take a test when he’s thinking about how many hogsheads fit into a centimeter?

      I think there’s more actual real-world questions in here than when I took a similar test in the 10th grade.  That moving truck volume one is a great example.

      1. I took the MCAS (Massachusetts) in 8th grade before moving to FL that summer and then taking the FCAT in 9th grade. The MCAS was harder than the FCAT. I’m not exaggerating. And I saw a lot of problems framed in real world examples on the FCAT – much more than I saw on the MCAS.

        Mind you, I also suck at math – and still scored in the 98th percentile on the math section of the FCAT.

    2. I think he was trying to make a point by not even trying on the test at all.  It is Florida however, and maybe the guy just has no math skill whatsoever.  One wonders how a person like that would make it through life, does his wife do all of the finances? 

  19. Simply speaking, knowledge is good, it doesn’t need any more qualifiers or reasons beyond that.  Anyone who is truly knowledgable and who recognizes the clear benefits to their lives that that knowledge brings understands that fact and values knowledge accordingly.  This schoolboard doofus does not obviously value knowledge or he wouldn’t be making excuses for why he failed a test that high schoolers pass regularly.  

    It’s always good to know as much about as many subjects as possible, and it’s quite possible to have a very deep knowledge about everything presented in high school, many people do it all the time.  As a teacher I’ve known VERY few who are incapable of excelling greatly in school, but I’ve met many who BELIEVE they are incapable, or who just don’t care to learn.  But, those are different issues than this guy’s prideful ignorance.  Let’s hope he doesn’t let that ignorance cause more harm to an education system already in dire trouble.

  20. Not sure. I can, in some respects, see his point: people are unlikely to need calculus in their daily lives.  Knowing how to figure out what the APR on a credit card or loan means in terms of money is much more useful. 

    On the other hand… I had to learn it so I don’t see what the little buggers should get it easy.

    1. I was going to post the same thing.  I have an engineering degree, so I had to suffer through countless hours of calculus and linear algebra.  But like you said, if you don’t work around it you don’t really need it.  What everyone does need is understanding of how to use the math they will encounter everyday.  Mortgage/interest rates, credit card APR, tax with holdings, sales tax, statistical relevance, ect..

      I’m all for bringing back home economics and remaking it into a class that teaches kids how to live in the real world.  Budgeting, credit cards, bills, nutrition, health, ect.. 

      1. Strongly agree.  We need a “life skills” course.  Is there any sign that high school curricula are moving in that direction?

  21. the guy is a poser… there’s no such thing as “15 hours of credit toward a doctorate.” first off, completing a PhD takes between 4 and 6 years, and you spend pretty much every work hour of your life working on the PhD. 15 hours is probably like about 0.1% of the time required. furthermore, there’s no hour-based requirement, and the classes you are required to take are requirements for the Masters’ degree that precedes the PhD.

    or maybe there are shake-and-bake PhD mills out there.

    1. Horsepucky. Ph.D.s require classes, and classes are measured in credit hours. 15 credit hours is 5 classes, or a bit less than two full semesters.

      The programs I’m familiar with require between 48 and 56 hours, plus exams and dissertation. 15 hours is a good start.

  22. People don’t need higher math to be informed citizens. Sorry, but it’s true. People need basic algebra and Darrell Huff’s How To Lie With Statistics and beyond that- they can learn what they need on their own time. Forcing higher math on everyone serves no purpose but to penalize lack of interest (people are still allowed to not like math on my planet) in a subject that fundamentally requires you to be impeccably precise and error-free in your calculations more than it fundamentally requires you to learn logic and test new theories (Last I checked, that’s still the way we teach math).

    I’ve forgotten more math than I’ve used in my life- being able to know what to relearn when I need it is much more useful to me than having a mastery carried over from high school.

    When will people learn that the only skills students will definitively carry with them from high school are the ones that they will use regularly? Everything else they’re destined to forget. I’m more interested in seeing students survey a wide array of subject matter and understand where that information will be useful than force them to master things only temporarily. I’m sorry, but I learned more about algebra from actually using it to accomplish things that I ever did by sitting out a pointless word problem at a desk. 

    Instead it seems we’re responding to the bizarre paranoia that if we don’t cram this stuff into the heads of our youth, then a nuclear war might happen and suddenly all written knowledge of Reimann sums will disappear. Or something.

    1. A lot of people are saying similar things in this thread, but take a look at the sample papers that people have posted. If they’re representative of the test this guy took, calling it “higher” math is a massive overstatement.
      It’s mostly simple stuff. The one I looked at had no more “special terms” than “median” for statistics – and that’s a classic example of something that everyone *should* know in the real world (especially someone like a governor who is making decisions that will affect a lot of people).
      And for the guy to say he had to *guess* most of the answers (couldn’t even attempt a calculation) – that’s not a failure in the test, that’s a failure of his basic numeracy.

  23. I took a look at those Florida test materials and some of them are hilarious. For example, in the Grade 10 FCAT Mathematics Sample Questions, if you fail to spot the instruction to “Use 3.14 or 22/7 for π” and instead use the true value of π, you’ll get question 4 wrong. (True answer to one decimal place: 628.3; acceptable “correct” answers: 628, 628.6, or 629.)

    1. Not only that, but to the astute reader, there are actually two correct answers to question 12 of that exam. I’m sure the student only gets credit for picking the more obviously correct one.

    2. Wow.  Just wow.  Did you notice that sample question 10 has no correct answer?  The triangles as diagrammed cannot be congruent; I suspect that ‘similar’ was intended in place of ‘congruent’, and would have answered accordingly when faced with the test. 

      1. I have no love for these tests, but you’ve misread it, I think — the test claims the *angles* ACB and AED are congruent, not the actual triangles. This at least is my understanding of the little angle symbol preceding the notations — but it’s a good example of how you need to be versed in “test vocabulary” to catch stuff like that.

  24. Surely the purpose of primary and secondary education is to expose us to all of the things that are out there (so that we can then identify the things we find the most interesting), and to teach us how to learn? Then in undergrad we mostly learn how to question (and what has been questioned before), while in grad school (or directly on the job) we use all of that to learn what we need or our immediate functions/interests.

    All of this is to say that what is being measured in high school exit exams is not being measured directly, and could be measured in other ways for non-high school students, and it is also to be expected that we forget most of the specifics of most of the subjects we studied.

    That Mr Roach does not seem to understand this is much more damning than his failure on the test.

  25. “People don’t need higher math to be informed citizens. Sorry, but it’s true. People need basic algebra…” You are absolutely correct, yet, still, your comment made me laugh out loud. The truth is The Fanfare for the Common Man is only suitable for whistling in the dark.

  26. While I broadly agree that swamping children and adolescents in standardised tests isn’t helping them (or their teachers) perform the unspeakably difficult task of learning, I find it troubling that just because he and his sample size of what N=20? 30? 100? don’t ‘need’ high school math  in their daily lives (and yes, they are specific techiques that can be learnt and lost and distinct from mathematical literacy) he deduces learning it has no function. Surely the function of secondary education is to prepare young adults as best as it can for the wide spectrum of jobs and lives they may lead afterward. This is true for everything from reading comprehension (vital!) to the nitrogen cycle.

    For instance, I am doing a PhD in English Lit. I don’t ‘need’ the school qualifications I have in Physics or Maths, but I’m glad I had to do the work required to get them. I probably couldn’t tell you how to do calculus, but I’m glad I had to learn it once. At one point in my teens it was equally probable that I was going to be a lawyer, a computer programmer, a physicist, a literary critic or a rockstar (bright and middle-class but angry!) and I’m really bloody glad my school did its best to prepare me as well as it could for a future in any one of those fields or in any of the plethora of fields I couldn’t have conceived of at the time and still may not know I am going to enter.

    1. Being glad you learned something is not sufficient reason to mandate we teach it to everyone else. I think there is a real point to be made that k-12 schooling has become more about tracking and college-prep than about making for well rounded and educated citizens who have learned things immediately useful to their daily lives. Calculus isn’t as useful as learning to cook, vote, perform basic auto repair, or even program a computer. Not for most people. I think it’s time we took a long hard look at why we have universal k-12 education in the first place. Then maybe we’ll realize why standardized testing is so stupid. Here’s a big hint:

      Most jobs that “require” college these days- don’t actually.

        1. Does anyone? It’s not a very testable problem without data I don’t have access to, but the vast array of institutional and industry-specific certifications are big hint that college doesn’t even teach you how to perform a job. Which is fine- because that’s not what colleges were historically created to do. There’s also no logical reason why the current college system is necessary to perform plenty of jobs. The most I can be challenged on is use of the word “most”. 

          People with history degrees don’t need them to work in a financial office setting. What you want is some proficiency with numbers and some language skills that should be the focus of schooling. I’m not one of those blithering idiots on the Internet who sneers at “useless” degrees. I sneer at the employers who are driving up degree inflation to the point that PhDs are increasingly becoming a way for people to stay competitive for jobs that didn’t require more than a bachelor’s thirty years ago- and who favor a person with a Master’s to someone with five years experience for the same position. Because… why exactly?

          1. So what you mean is that most jobs that require a college degree don’t actually make people use the skills and knowledge acquired in college?

            Because they do require a degree.  Whether you think that’s important or not doesn’t matter much to me – just what you said.  The quotes didn’t make it at all clear what you meant.  I thought you meant that jobs that said they required degrees didn’t; people with no college education were just as able to get hired.  And that’s very much not true.

      1. But that’s what I mean: school can’t teach you ‘how’ to vote, but it can try to give you as good a grounding in politics, history, economics, etc. so that when the time comes you have the grounding to do so effectively. Same with cookery (requires maths, chemistry, physics) same with programming, plumbing, fixing a car, same with anything. Sometimes these are skills needed for a ‘career’, sometimes they are part of being generally educated and able to function to one’s own best advantage in contemporary society.

        That’s what I mean about being ‘glad I learnt’ something. And it has nothing to do with the grades achieved; it is back to front to say that standardised testing is misguided therefore the *content* of the tests is irrelevent.

          1. Maybe the way you cook it doesn’t?  **grin**  Because it does really.  The way I cook, at least.  :)

    2. I am also completing a PhD in English Lit. I found that the four years of remedial math classes in high school had no other effect than to lower my self esteem and, generally, waste my time. Nor did the two years of remedial math courses in community college, a consequence of failing the math-based portions of my entrance exams, do me much good. I would have benefited much more from a home economics course in high school than Geometry for Dummies and Kids With Bad Attitudes. Frankly, I am of the impression that I succeeded in spite of my education at that level.

      But we are all different, of course.

  27. boinbboing is quite a wonderful place! 

    Yesterday we had a bunch of self-annointed film industry experts explaining how stupid Kodak management and how they would have fixed all of Kodak’s problems been they in charge. 

    Today we have a host of self-annointed education experts who know exactly what the problem is not with a test they haven’t seen, speaking badly of a person they don’t know, who has seen it.

    Psychics? Self-important morons? You decide!

    1. See, this comment demonstrates exactly the lack of critical reading and critical thinking skills that the subject of the article demonstrates. One need not be an expert in education to understand that those whose profession it is to educate our children had damn well better be capable of using skills taught to twelve-year-olds, skills that aren’t “specialised” skills — but which are the underpinning of every skilled technical profession on the face of the earth, and especially in a profession that specialises in making decisions on what to teach our children and how to do so.

      I don’t have to be a genius to know I don’t want a charming sociopath in charge of my tax money or my children.

      1. Hint: ad hominem is a fallacy, sir.

        Why do you think he made the comment? Have you read the rest of the thread?

  28. Well,  I bet he has an Education degree.  Those degrees are useless!  The most ignorant people I have ever known have had a PhD in Education.

      1. But his point re: folks with an Ed.D is, generally speaking, accurate. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. ;)

        1. Minor in education here. The education classes I took were full of woo and wishful thinking. I feel that Education is the degree you take when you’ve given up on other degrees. I nearly did.

    1. An idiot overseeing a $3 billion educational budget in Florida questioning what is wrong with the school system.  

      The total lack of self-awareness is astounding.

      (I took a quick look at the test materials.  There’s no excuse for an adult professional to not be able to answer a *single* one of these questions correctly — regardless of your line of work, particularly if you’re an educator.)

  29. Mathematical literacy is critical to participating in a society where complex policy decisions from the “War on Terror” to questions of public health (such as vaccination) and other critical issues that directly effect the day-to-day lives of average people, and these policy decisions are often contested on the basis of warring mathematical conclusions.

    Funny, I suck at math, but somehow my puny powers of reasoning have allowed me to determine that 1) the War on Terror is a sham and 2) vaccinations are necessary for public health.

    Can you show me what equations will lead you to the fact that bombing and torturing innocent civilians is wrong? (Or right, for that matter?)

  30. Ignore his score on the math portion, I call BS on his excuses about reading comprehension. Simply sounds like someone who is not very intelligent and/or qualified for their job making excuses.

  31. 10/60 on math? You should be able to guess and get better than that. I think he failed statistics too.

  32. I am confused. He has a BSc and had to guess on the math section? A math section that is based on Grade school equivalency. 
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but a BSc includes many math courses which are above and beyond simple grade school calculus.

  33. A kid who grows up to be a writer or a politician probably doesn’t need the higher math that the test values so much.  But you can’t write it off as useless either.  Plenty of kids will grow up to be engineers and scientists where they actually do need to know that stuff, and they will use it regularly.  But that’s the key problem with all standardized tests.  Students are not standardized.  Their future jobs are not standardized.  Putting such narrow limits and definitions on what a kid needs to learn is never going to work in the long run.

  34. I took Calc in high school, but went for a BFA and so I totally slacked off for my math credits in college.

    I am embarrassingly bad at math now. I just never us it. If it’s any greater than simple algebra, I just glaze over and start to drool, mumbling something about cheese.

    I guess I would have to see the questions to see if they are too “hard”, but my guess is they are not if you are currently taking math courses and/or have study for the test.

    ETA – the real problem is too many schools are “teaching the test” and not insuring they fully comprehend their answers.

  35. Maths isn’t important for jobs that can be done by anyone, no; but they’re quite important for most professional positions.

    I hate it when people say maths isn’t important in the ‘real world’.  That’s only because to these people the ‘real world’ is Facebook and using the cash register at McDonalds.

  36. Well, I’m pretty well educated and have published a few things that use some high-ish level statistical analysis over the years (while bitching mightily), but I was utterly hopeless at high school math. 

    I don’t have a problem with tests.  I do have a problem with tests being used to penalize schools whose students do poorly, as if all the other factors are irrelevant (such as what neighbourhood the school is in).

    Any statistician worth his salt and a decent consulting fee or government salary could develop a model for testing accountability that controls for all those external factors.  Of course, that would be too logical and complex (like reality) for the simplistic thinkers who brought in things like NCLB.

    And the idea of penalizing a poor school for poor results is moronic – as if it will do better with less resources.  That is a real class war with the serial numbers filed off.

  37. After looking at esme’s link and this comment:

    “I won’t beat around the bush. 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% .”

    Is he attempting to take the test or attempting to make a point?  Either case he’s screwing it up.  

    The formulas are given, and it even has a whole page in instructions on how to use a “4-function calculator”.  With the assumption he’s at least done average in American schools from Grade 1 to 10, I expect alot more then 10 correct responses in the math section.

    If he’s trying to make a point, sorry, I don’t see it.  I don’t see him attempting to do the test at all, thus I don’t see any validity to his argument.

  38. “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…”

    This guy just sounds like a good student.  A large part of being a good student is being a hard worker.  Show up on time, display your effort and conviction in your writing, show the instructor that you are trying your best.  None of which has anything to do with the fundamental understanding of the course material.

    I slept through high school.  Coasted on a solid D-, a straight-up late 80’s slacker.  I got a 1380 on my SAT and an invite to the White House (  Should I be outraged my school for giving me crappy grades when I was obviously a genius? 

    I’ve had this conversation with other people regarding standardized testing, that being a good student does not mean you’re “intelligent” or will do well on a test (and visa/versa). I find that people who are good students consistently feel more upset and more cheated when they do poorly on tests. 

  39. To me, this just proves the old adage: The “A” students work for the “B” students, and the “C” students run the company.

    That said, I also suck at math. And I firmly believe that standardized tests are an inherently flawed way to measure either the quality of education, or the progress of individual students.

  40. I find it disturbing, that in a country that currently needs more math and science majors, we have educators that speak to the current inapplicability  of the math portion of the test. It points to two things for me.  First that the educator has no use for it within his daily life, which I do not disagree with for the most part, and second the complete lack of respect for the discipline. It is with this that I have a problem… The majority of people may have no need for higher math in their life today, but we still need to encourage it if we are to stress innovation in the future, and competence (if not excellence) in a variety of fields that affect our current standards of living. We need more hard sciences and engineering, and less management service economy types.

  41. He is right. We could stop at basic Algebra and be perfectly fine. As others have said, have a class in statistics and some sort of Personal Finance class that would be mandatory (like basic Civics is).

    Calc and Trig are not needed. They can still be offered as electives, of course.

    My father was an Engineer and he never used most of the stuff the math they teach. Granted he is also smart and able to read a math book and understand it quickly on his own. A skill I lack. That shit may as well be written in another language.

  42. More here if anybody’s interested.


    Ok! I took the science, math, reading, econ, and geography tests for as the highest available grades. There were only 4 or so questions in each section and I got them all right. And I was kind of appalled at how easy they were. Determining which of several bikes is “in between” two houses on a diagram? Completing a sequence that goes +5 -2 +5 -2…? I’m not a parent. But if any non-developmentally handicapped child of mine found these tests even remotely difficult they wouldn’t leave the house for anything other than school until they turned 30.

    I didn’t grow up in the US but gave the civics and US history sections a try. 0 for 8 on those ones. So clearly the questions are testing some things which, variously, I either learned or didn’t learn. But they assume so little about the kids taking them, and they’re so appallingly remedial … and every state struggles to keep weighted averages in the 60s.

    It kind of terrifies me that people actually complain about teachers’ salaries. I say we bust up every teachers’ union in the country, triple every teachers’ salary and throw in healthy bonuses for real accomplishments. And burn these goddamn tests. Jesus. I need a drink.

  43. Mathematics is about stoking the mental process, it’s not about numbers. Most people don’t practice the mathematical equations  they’ve  learned. I’m one of them.

    I’ve received noting less than a 2.0 in any school level math course. But after living many years and working many jobs, I returned to college and received nothing lower than a 3.8 in any math subject.

    My synapses had connected through life experiences. I could look at  an entire home full of stuff that needs to be moved . I can pick out the right sized moving truck. I can also pick out the correct number of boxes, boxes that will stack without wasted room. I can pack a box so every inch is filled. I can pack in multiple dimensions and layers too. I  put stuff inside stuff, using clothing and towels as packaging.  I can think in multiple steps with one goal in mind; touch an item only once. It doesn’t stop there. I pack the moving truck so the last items in are the first unloaded and  moved into the farthest room in the new location, that’s a safety issue. I move the items into the most space saving spots the floor-plan has to offer.  MATHEMATICS TEACHES SPATIAL AWARENESS. 

    No one has to remember mathematical equations to be really good at Cargo Bridge. 

    It’s called know-how, and sometimes we don’t remember how we came to know something or the path we took to get there. 

    So I disagree Cory. Math needs to be tested differently. If physics games and the like were allowed, many students would pass. But right now, it’s GAME OVER for many intelligent students while the “smart” ones move on.

  44. Perhaps the results of this test is more of an indication of the inadequacy of the institutions of higher education that granted him two masters degrees…  

    Education isn’t (entirely) about necessity; attempting intellectually rigorous subjects are worthwhile in their own right.  Failing difficult classes and tests should be perfectly normal experiences for students..  But tests and grades dont tell us everything.

  45. Education is not vocational prep. I have to wonder what field his degrees are actually in and where they are from.

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