March 20th, 2013 by Dan Meyer
Tom Hoffman‘s perspective on Rhode Island’s summative graduation exam is worth your time:
Another question I thought was typical showed two spinners that would give you random numbers from 1 to four. It wanted to know the probability that the sum of the two would be a prime number. I drew a complete blank, until I realized I could easily write out all 16 combinations and just circle the ones that resulted in a prime number. That more clearly took mathematical reasoning, problem solving and content knowledge.
I like the question, and I like the direction it should push math curriculum. But I’m also aware that if even if kids have been taught probability, if they haven’t been taught it in a way that encourages flexible and resourceful problem solving — rather than pulling numbers out of stereotypical word problems and following procedures — they will be completely screwed.
I’m glad parents, policymakers, and stakeholders are taking these exams (or shortened versions of them) and reflecting on their results. But again we should be careful not to write expansive prescriptions for what we teach kids based on the test results of grownups. The proposition, “A middle-aged bureaucrat hasn’t used algebraic expressions in three decades and turned out fine therefore we shouldn’t teach algebraic expressions to fourteen year-olds” has yet to be nailed down for me.