Feb 14 2012

New York State Tests: 3rd Grade 2010

I don’t know when the first time I took a bubble test was, but I don’t think I was aware of them back when I was in 3rd grade during the 1977-1978 school year.  At the time, though, I was part of another failed reform ‘The Open Classroom’ where about fifty kids were in a room with 2nd and 3rd graders with two teachers and an aide.  As you can see from my class picture, I (front row, 3rd from the left) was already unhappy with poorly conceived school reform.

Nine year olds should not have to take tests that will determine the fate of their schools or their teacher’s jobs.  NCLB mandates that they do, so I decided to take a look at the New York State 3rd grade math test from 2010.

I should admit upfront that I have never taught 3rd grade so I am not an expert on child development for this age group or what they are ready for in math.  Some might accuse me of having low expectations and that ‘our kids’ should be able to answer these ‘easy’ questions.  Part of what has made me a good math teacher, I think, is that even the most basic concepts in math intrigue me.  I don’t think math is easy at all.  I’ve spent more time than I should admit pondering statements like:  “If nine plus two is eleven then eleven minus two must be nine.”

Looking at this 31 question test, some immediate concerns come to mind.

I’m sure I didn’t learn the word ‘congruent’ (same size and shape) until I was in 8th grade.  The answer to this question is ‘A’ and I bet that many adults would get this wrong.

If they want to check that a kid knows that anything multiplied by zero is zero, why not just ask 9*0=?.  “What number belongs on the line below to make the number sentence true?”??  I’ve been doing math for my whole life and I don’t think I’ve ever used the expression ‘number sentence.’  My guess is that this is supposed to be laying the groundwork for Algebra.  I could see a kid not being able to answer this question despite knowing that when you multiply something by zero you get zero.

I just think that this is a confusing question for a 9 year old.  The commutative property of multiplication does say that you can switch the order of a multiplication problem and the answer does not change, but how important is that concept really, at this stage, and does this question, with the garden in there, really serve a big purpose?

None do.

The answer is ‘D’, but ‘A’ and ‘B’ are close.  It is hard for me to put myself into a third grader’s head, but I feel like a kid can fully understand the concept of symmetry yet still get this wrong.

This is a very poorly worded question.  None of the statements, in my opinion, “is an example of the fraction 1/3.”

Just like the earlier question, if they want to check that a kid knows that 10 * 1 = 10, why not just ask 10 * 1 = ?.  I guess they are trying to lay the groundwork for what is known as the multiplicative identity, something used in the theory of algebra.  5x=10, 1/5*5x= 1/5 * 10, 1*x= 2, here it comes … x=2.

 

For the second question, why not just ask ‘How many points would you earn if you read 6 books?’  Wouldn’t that test the same concept?  So a kid is supposed to write, I guess, “Lea would be incorrect.  Six books would earn 30 points, which I got by multiplying 6 by 5.  Lea got 35 which means that she either inadvertently multiplied 7 by 5 or that she multiplied 6 by 5, but forgot her times tables.”

If they want kids to be able to identify a trapezoid, I suppose that it is a fair thing to ask.  But when you have the dog treats and the dotted lines, it seems like a pretty unfair question, particularly for kids who are learning English.

Part of my criticism of this test is really a criticism of the whole school math curriculum.  If this is what 3rd graders are supposed to know, I can see why most people hate math.

13 Responses

  1. Just a teacher

    Why do you not think choice A shows the same pattern that Justin drew, in Q15 ? I’m not a math teacher, but it seems to me that the pattern is
    A-B-B-A-B-B, in both the question and in choice A of the answers.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Oh, I know what the answer is supposed to be. Just being literal since the ‘pattern’ triangle, square, square does not occur in any of the answer choices.

    • Lauren

      While the answer may seem obvious for most of us, the point Gary is trying to make is that kids can understand a concept (especially a mathematical one) and still goof up on the multiple choice question that is supposed to indicate their “mastery” of the concept. For this reason, many teachers have stopped teaching students how to “master” their subjects, because at the end of the year, it’s irrelevant on the state test. Instead, the time is spent teaching children how to understand ambiguous language, how to make the “best guess” (something math teachers probably CRINGE at) and how to avoid falling for the tricks and traps that test takers intentionally include in the test–for example, the question about Meggie’s garden.

      Also, why couldn’t choice B be correct for Q15? If B = 2 squares in the original pattern, then the pattern could be ABAB. Here, we are penalizing students who think outside of the box or consider alternatives–things we are supposed to be rewarding and even TEACHING.

  2. Pat

    For #15 the answer is A. it is an ABB pattern. Your analysis of these tests is right on the money.

  3. Kay

    I’m a math teacher, and I found the tone of this article very snarky and bordering on rude. No wonder people hate math teachers.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Sorry you feel that way. The truth is that I’m very angry about what is going on so my tone comes through. I hope that one day all this nonsense will pass and then I can go back to being the care-free fun-loving little boy that you see in that class photo.

  4. Ben

    I have argued for years that math tests don’t test as much math as they test reading. Unfortunately, our reading and math instruction focus on teaching kids how to answer questions like these.

  5. CT TEACHER

    These questions test not only math but also a student’s ability to reason through problems. There is more critical thinking involved which I think is a good thing. Math students are too used to applying a series of steps over and over again instead of thinking through problems

  6. Stephnie

    And having proctored thesem3rd grade math tests, I know many children Respond to the questions much faster than their reading ability should allow.

    (I.e. they don’t bother to read the questions)

  7. shit face

    u suck

  8. Yartrebo

    Question 29 has two correct answers. A and C are both correct, because the resultant shapes all have four sides and all have at least one pair of opposite parallel sides. Just because answer C happens to be a special trapezoid that we often call a parallelogram doesn’t make it any less a trapezoid.

    It makes me feel pretty bad since I put a fair amount of emphasis on squares being a special type of rectangle (or rhombus), a rectangle being a special parallelogram, etc., and with this in mind, it’s quite likely that answer C would be chosen.

    • Chris

      A trapezoid is a quadrilateral with ONLY two parallel sides. So answer C is incorrect. The two shapes would have both sets of opposite sides parallel.

      • Gary Rubinstein

        I think the other person is more accurate. I believe that in Europe they say it has to have ‘at least’ one pair, while in America they say it has to have ‘exactly’ one pair. No universal agreement.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
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Grade
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Subject
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