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.
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?
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.