Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Standardized Testing

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’s all a matter of perspective. 


  1. I remember loving state standardized tests, too--no homework, they were actually almost fun in spots. And--on the off years--those of us NOT taking tests got half days. Which is how I was home on Sept 11. I'll always associate that event with standardized state tests.

  2. I'm getting used to having my kids do these tests. I'm always paranoid they don't get enough sleep that week!

  3. Oh tests. I turned into a test-taking monster during high school, but that's mostly the result of going to cram school.

    I totally know what you mean about convoluted math problems though. The math on standardized tests is actually not that hard, but then they go and confuse the heck out of you with their wording and phrasing. I still suck at doing word problems. Bleck.

    Good luck to your son. I sympathize!

  4. I always liked tests, too, and considered them a challenge. That probably arose from the same competitive streak than still makes me love to play challenging games.

    It's a shame the U.S. doesn't produce math books that effectively teach and challenge our young people. And from I've read about history textbooks, they aren't much better.

  5. I had a problem during the ACT that was almost a mere addition problem, but because it was worded so incredibly weirdly, I couldn't figure out which numbers I was adding and which I wasn't, and what they even wanted me to do..!!

  6. Hmm... I hated English word sums specifically for that reason. The test writers seem to want to go out of their way to show just how ambiguous English can be...