Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Can I Pass These Tests?

I am not, at this time, likely to be hired to teach elementary school in Texas. An exam that the Texas State Board of Education requires all teaching applicants to pass is included in Can You Pass These Tests?, a collection of “The Toughest Tests You’ll Never Have to Take, But Always Wanted to Try.” I suppose if I studied or simply took my time, which I’d be more likely to do if I was taking the test for real, I could do better, but right now I’d probably manage a D at best, assuming, as I wouldn’t, that I correctly calculated the percentage for a test with 32 questions. I got a third of them wrong. My skill in Math is such that I wouldn’t even use the word “skill” to describe my ability, but I missed one question requiring mathematical ability because I misread it. I knew Marcy “runs a quarter-mile track,” but neglected to notice that she does so “two and one-half times.” So, how many miles does she run in five days? I said one and one-fourth miles. Nope. The correct answer is three and one-eighth miles. Other questions I missed include the most important indicator of a child’s readiness for reading. “Maturational age” is the key, not “Chronological age” as I would have thought. Math was also my undoing in a question concerning the lines of symmetry in an “equilateral” triangle. The clue must be in the word “equilateral” which means “having all sides equal.” I should have figured out that such a triangle has three lines of symmetry, but the image of a triangle that I had in my mind had a shorter base with only the sides being equal. I’m a victim of preconceived ideas. Hmm.

I felt no embarrassment at not knowing that when a cold air mass is replaced by a mass of warm air, the result is a “Cirrus” and not a “Cumulus.” I’m not a graduate of a school for meteorologists, and who else would be expected to know such a thing? However, I blush a bit about my answer to a question about the most relevant information to include in a report citing “specific” examples of extreme weather conditions in the United States. Asshole that I am, the word I thought most important was “extreme,” hence my rapid selection of the multiple choice answer mentioning a “hurricane.” The word that should have grabbed my attention was “specific.” The correct answer was specific, referring to rainfall of 1.23 inches that fell in Unionville, Maryland.

I really should know that the Monroe Doctrine was intended to “prevent European expansion in Latin America,” but my faulty guess was that it was to “open the southwestern United States to settlement.” As for the activity that would be most helpful to develop a sixth grader’s individual response to art, I chose “Matching artists to their works,” when the Texas State Board of Education says it’s “Participating in a critique of various artworks.” Again, it’s the language in the question that will guide you to the correct answer. The word that gives away the answer is “individual.” Tricky stuff.

These questions were part of the “Elementary Comprehensive” section of the test. I did better on “Professional Development,” missing only three questions out of fourteen. Tying shoelaces is more likely to develop fine-motor skills than throwing a ball; educationally disadvantaged students lack “exposure to positive, varied experiences,” and are not encountering problems that are a function of “traumatic childhood incidents.”

Of course, the people who compiled the questions and approved the test are more likely bureaucrats with no classroom experience. Even if the test was created by teachers, that wouldn’t make it infallible. The answer to one question seems all wrong to me. The question concerns a school district whose students scored below average in mathematics than other school districts that took a standardized test. Which is the most appropriate short-term goal for the district?

Remember, it’s mathematics, not reading, in which the students fell short, but the correct answer, the “most appropriate short-term goal” for the district, is – according to the Texas State School Board – “Assess students’ strengths and weaknesses in reading.” George W. Bush, the 43rd president who famously asked, “Is our children learning?” was once governor of Texas, although that was long before W’s influence could be felt. Maybe the book in which the test is reproduced has a typo because in the answer section, their explanation makes no sense: “Since scores for reading skills were below average, assessing students’ strengths and weaknesses in reading is the most appropriate short-term goal. Weaknesses that are identified could then be addressed.” There was no mention of the students’ reading skills in the question, so from where are we to learn that their reading skills are below average as they claim? And if the students scored below average in Math, why doesn’t their mathematical abilities, or lack thereof, earn even a mention in the explanation of the answer?

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