When I was young, I had to take Iowa Basic exams once a year. Personally, I liked them. No homework that week. And I thought the exams were fun, a game where I competed against everyone else. (Highly competitive person that I am.)
But now I give the exams. (Though this is the last year. Yee Haw.) Yesterday Matt had a question on the spelling section. “What is this word, candel, (which he pronounced can-dell) supposed to be?” Me: “Uh, candle.” Matt: “Oh, right.” Of course, he knew whatever the word was, it wasn’t spelled correctly. But he’s still obsessed with knowing what the words are supposed to be. He pointed to another word. “And this one?” I squinted at the jumble of consonant and vowels. “I have no idea, Matt.”
The spelling section and the language section (why can’t they call it grammar?) are the easiest for Matt. Then we hit the math section. This section I always brace myself for. Permit me a digression—our math text is from Singapore. I chose this textbook because students from Singapore have the highest math scores in the world—clearly they are doing something much better than Americans who are in the toilet in terms of math. However, Singapore math is a disadvantage for Iowa Basics.
Singapore math is about math, they don’t try to obscure the math with weird language, including adverbs. (Why would anyone use more than one adverb in a word problem?) In the math concepts test yesterday, Matthew raised his hand so I came over to read the question. It was the most convoluted, overly verbose math tripe. I read it again. And still couldn’t figure out what they wanted. I read it a third and fourth time and finally understood it. It was a simple math problem that I knew Matt could do without any problem. But I was stymied. I’m not allowed to tell him, “All they want you to do is...” So all I can do is smile sympathetically and consider forcing all American math test instructors to take writing classes. Of course, by the time he finished the test, Matt was ready to throw his pencils.
Today we’ll finish the math section. But I reminded Matt that this was the last Iowa Basic that he had to take. Next year he gets to take the PSAT and the math sections are much clearer. Three cheers for the PSAT—I bet that’s the first time that you’ve ever cheered for that exam...it’s all a matter of perspective.