“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”

— Mark Twain

In last night’s post about a school board member failing 10th grade standardized tests, I may have unfairly slighted our students. In response to a comment in which Rick Roach, the school board member who couldn’t pass 10th grade math, implied that nothing on the test would be of any practical use, I wrote:

As someone who quite regularly has to teach introductory physics to students who struggle with it because they have a shaky grasp of tenth-grade math, I’m really not any happier with the notion of arranging graduation standards around what Mr. Roach thinks of as practical life requirements than I am with the idea of high-stakes standardized testing under the current regime.

In comments, MRW pointed to a public release of the test in question, and having looked at the tenth grade math items, I think what I said was unfair. While we have our share of students who struggle with basic algebra, I’m pretty confident that they would pass this test.

Just for fun, here’s a selection of a few of the problems from the 2006 math test given to tenth graders, the one where Mr. Roach didn’t know how to answer any of them, and “Not a single one of [his friends] said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.” See if you’re smarter than a Florida school board member:

i-b9928101a13e92878b829884de1ce264-grade10_math1.png

i-871ea130a41e2eb43973278348075744-grade10_math2.png

i-fe290eac77fc4dd44f7e83ab2d34e2f7-grade10_math3.png

i-7d63632b1111743fefe5d2df26b04de3-grade10_math4.png

i-2f643877212d0780faecd53d069f92e3-grade10_math5.png

i-462a93b4a62c5fe25b2b0dbf976ac47f-grade10_math6.png

So, apparently, his circle of friends doesn’t include anyone who knows how to work with percentages, statistics, or the sort of rudimentary algebra used in spreadsheets. I’m not sure what professions these people are in, but this doesn’t speak well for Mr. Roach’s social circle.

Now, of course, I’ve cherry-picked these questions, to enable maximum snark, but you can look at the test for yourself at the link above, and see for yourself that the math involved is not terribly difficult. And, in fact, the test writers have done a pretty good job of putting the math into a useful (if occasionally a bit contrived) context, to demonstrate what it’s all for. Maybe whoever selected the questions for him to take pulled out only the most abstract and difficult questions from several years’ worth of tests, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely.

This is yet another demonstration of a problem I’ve been banging on about for years: the innumeracy of intellectuals. Mr. Roach holds three college degrees, and clearly considers himself an educated person, but even a lack of practice at taking tests can’t really explain this level of failure.

The problem is, having horribly flubbed a really basic math test doesn’t shake Mr. Roach’s self-image as an educated person, because it is socially acceptable for an “educated person” to know next to nothing about math. Where in a sane world, complaining that this sort of math is hopelessly impractical and not the sort of thing we should be testing would lead educated people to point at Mr. Roach and laugh (as I’m doing above), In this world, alas, it gets him the central role in sympathetic blog articles hosted by one of the nation’s premier newspapers.

That’s just not right. The problems above are the sort of thing that ought to be a minimum requirement for someone to claim to be educated. Let alone to be making budget and policy decisions for an entire school district. If you’re going to vote in an election, you ought to be able to handle all of the above problems, because those are the sort of basic mathematical operations needed to do a minimal evaluation of any candidate’s economic proposals.

Mr. Roach’s failure to score at a reasonable level on this test is something that ought to embarrass him, not the educational establishment. As much as I have problems with the notion of high-stakes testing, I have an even bigger problem with people who believe– and teach our kids– that basic mathematical competence is not a necessary component of education.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephen
    December 7, 2011

    I think you missed a close tag there…

  2. #2 John Novak
    December 7, 2011

    It doesn’t speak well for Mr. Roach’s PhD program, either– recall, the guy has two masters (if I remember correctly) and is some 15 credits into a PhD program.

    I don’t think this guy is qualified to calculate letter grades based on test percentages.

  3. #3 John Novak
    December 7, 2011

    OH MY GOD.

    The instructions for the 10th grade exam have pictures and instructions for a standard calculator. The implication being that they provide you with a standard calculator.

    Did this guy not know how to get answers to those questions even with a calculator?!

  4. #4 Counterfly
    December 7, 2011

    One possibility- Mr Roach is dyslexic or otherwise learning-disabled at the neurological level and is merely “covering” for this with the statements in the article.

  5. #5 Dave X
    December 7, 2011

    Although it isn’t quite “necessary”, I’d think that being able to add up your campaign contributions and divide them by the number of days until your election would be a valuable skill for good politicians.

    What sort of math does he think is necessary?

    1) If you standard grift is 1% and your constituent wants a favor on a $1000 application, how much would you require for your support?

    A) $1000

    B) $100

    C) $10

    D) $1

  6. #6 Mark
    December 7, 2011

    I think you botched the formatting here, Dr. Orzel. Was the whole thing supposed to be in italics?

  7. #7 Jim
    December 7, 2011

    Speaking from my own experience, this guy is lucky he isn’t in business or the law. I’m a patent lawyer (with B.S. in EE), and anyone in my field who couldn’t handle these questions would be considered incompetent at the job. But, even most non-patent lawyers should be able to handle many/most of these questions because they test skills you’d need to understand basic business and accounting questions. The same should be true for people in business for the same reasons – if you don’t understand this, you’re inevitably going to be a victim of someone who does.

  8. #8 Tony P
    December 7, 2011

    2) 86%
    6) 24 feet
    9) $18 and $17.10 – simple percentage calculations there.
    38) $105
    43) 130
    49) B

    Those were sort of easy. And I hate to say it most people can’t do that. I’m one that reads shelf labels in supermarkets and does the calculation in my head of what the better deal is.

    And yes, on my SAT’s I pretty much nailed the math section.

    But that’s because the schools I went to were college preparatory with a heavy focus on math and sciences.

  9. #9 Kate Nepveu
    December 7, 2011

    Italics should be fixed now. (The Pip needed attention as Chad was finishing up and I was trying to get some food.)

  10. #10 Sherri
    December 7, 2011

    That this gets him sympathetic blog articles in one of the nation’s premier newspapers says something about the innumeracy of journalists, too, I’d say.

  11. #11 Kenneth Cavness
    December 7, 2011

    I’m somewhat relieved that I was able to correctly determine the answer to all those items that you listed above. A couple of the spatial ones would have gotten to me, because I’m…er…”challenged” that way.

  12. #12 Vicki
    December 7, 2011

    Nobody in his circle of friends does anything where it is relevant to figure out salaries, changes in stock market prices, or bowling averages? And he can’t figure out that the bowling average stuff is relevant to averaging any number of other things, including stuff that ought to be relevant to his work on the school board, like grades, absentee rates, and how many students in different schools are graduating on time? (Maybe he doesn’t care what the markup on something he buys is; a reasonable person could argue that what matters is how much the bike store wants from me, not how much they paid their wholesaler, which might not be the same as what another bike store paid for the same bikes at wholesale.)

  13. #13 P
    December 7, 2011

    Forgive me, but is #38 $112 or $105? A 25% markup on $112 is $140, but $105 is 25% of $140…

  14. #14 Trent
    December 7, 2011

    I agree with you that it’s appalling that putatively “educated” people can get away with not knowing how to do those problems. I’m a (non-patent) attorney, and I do that level difficulty (i.e. not very difficult) back-of-the envelope calculations in mediations, settlement talks, and client discussions regularly.

    Not to mention, I use basic algebra and geometry in various DIY carpentry and sewing projects all the damn time. How can people say it’s not a basic tool for daily life? Unbelievable.

  15. #15 Jeff G
    December 7, 2011

    Tony P (8), check your work on #38.
    P (13), 105 is 75% of 140, not 25%.
    I know, my OCD is showing…

  16. #16 dean
    December 7, 2011

    He seems unashamed that he failed the test,and justifies it by saying none of his friends knew how to do the problems? I wonder if he would be as cavalier about failing a standardized test on writing and grammar.

    Wait, I don’t wonder – communication is important. Math isn’t (in his mind).

    What a maroon.

  17. #17 Chad Orzel
    December 7, 2011

    He seems unashamed that he failed the test,and justifies it by saying none of his friends knew how to do the problems? I wonder if he would be as cavalier about failing a standardized test on writing and grammar.

    He got a D on the reading test he took, so it’s not like he wasn’t deficient there, either. I didn’t quote his justifications there, but he’s got some excuse for that, too, in he original article.

  18. #18 rork
    December 7, 2011

    I call all those problems arithmetic. I think some stupid is required on top of uneducated.
    I am a missionary about these things cause I think without enough math, we the people can not run the government properly and will be sending trillions of dollars down black holes – we can be fooled on a more than daily basis, about important things like tax policy, our household economies, and recognizing charlatans (e.g. medical quackery). I hear from students, and parents, and even teachers that “I don’t need to know that”, and even more often “I don’t need to know why that is true”. Even if you won’t need it directly – and that is only a prediction about the future – that part of your brain needs exercise. And prediction is perilous. Businesses that used to just have people scratch their chins to make decisions have serious debates about the design and analysis of experiments now-a-days. The new dictum is that anything import is worth doing analytically.
    In education I fear faith-based math. The best fitting line comes from a machine – not a single child asks what is best about it (least squares), and teacher and book do not even admit that this critical point is missing. Pi or square root of two is irrational – nobody asks how teacher knows that. Volume of sphere is something you are supposed to memorize, rather than learn to see as obvious. Linear objective function with linear constraint maximizes at vertices – not proven and our kids don’t even want to know why it’s true (knowing why does not improve your test score, today). We are creating zombies, without curiosity.
    I work with doctors. They make life and death decisions. Their ability to critically read science papers is compromised by their lack of statistics or just bad critical thinking about data – their brains weren’t exercised. They sometimes do not know that there is a statistical decision theory, and few have been exposed to it. They will often argue they don’t need to know that. Post-docs in science are uncomfortable with logs, and design experiments like my ass chews gum. Should I counter with an argument that I don’t need to know about vaccination, or that reading Shakespeare is useless unless you teach English?

  19. #19 RyanG
    December 7, 2011

    I took the 2006 test just to see what would happen. There was a relentless time pressure, which surprised me. I used to finish math tests quickly, and lag on writing tests. On this test I still had a couple questions left at the end.

    Oddly, I didn’t miss the hard questions, I missed the low and moderate questions.

  20. #20 Waterdog
    December 7, 2011

    These questions were actually taken from the 2005 test, not the 2006, as Chad mistakenly wrote. In case anyone else went to the link and was confused by the different questions.

    I do think it’s a lot to do in 20 minutes, but the difficulty is not high. Even the algebra questions are formulated in a way that guess-and-check can easily be used.

  21. #21 cb
    December 7, 2011

    P is correct. The answer to 38 is $112.

    The questions says the markup is 25% over the cost of the bike, not 25% of the retail price. Retail at $140 vs. cost of $112, gives a markup of $28, 25% of cost.

  22. #22 Mike Olson
    December 7, 2011

    Just read, “Lockheart’s Lament.” A 25 page argument as to how math is taught in the U.S.. I agree with the general concern of Lockheart, but would disagree that calling math an art is helpful. Art is, in my mind portrayal of a vision. Math like other sciences is about discovery. In this country we are not feeding and inspiring greater curiousity on the part of students…instead math is used to teach memorization and following directions. Which is really horrible. Frankly, I’m not surprised that a school board member and PhD hopeful could fail the math section of a standardized test. Memorization fails if the process is not used for years. On the other hand learning by testing, by problem solving lasts a lot longer…

  23. #23 Michael H.
    December 7, 2011

    Wow. Just … wow.

    I took the story at face value, as it sounded plausible, and I know full well that I’ve forgotten most of the math that I once knew, because I don’t use it on a daily basis.

    But, these questions don’t rise to that level of specialization. This isn’t calculus, or linear algebra. These questions are basic algebra, of the sort that you want to be able to use when you’re out grocery shopping, or doing home repairs. Or gardening. The questions quoted in this post here are relevant to basic life skills. Yikes.

  24. #24 Jeff
    December 7, 2011

    I was so riled up over the obstinate innumeracy that I had trouble even engaging in the point of the article regarding high stakes testing.

    My favorite question, in the 2006 version, there’s basically a question that is a long-winded and not particularly disguised version of “What’s 7.2 – 4.6?”

  25. #25 dean
    December 7, 2011

    He got a D on the reading test he took, so it’s not like he wasn’t deficient there, either. I didn’t quote his justifications there, but he’s got some excuse for that, too, in he original article.

    Went back and read your original post and the article. Just missed that comment before, so apparently I’m not one to talk (much). Still, I’m a little surprised he’d admit his performances.

  26. #26 CherryBombSim
    December 7, 2011

    Since he got six answers right (presumably the multiple choice ones), he must have completed the test to get that many right by chance. So it’s pretty clear that he didn’t even TRY to actually solve any of the problems. That is the really scary part. I can sympathize with someone who has problems with math, but anyone with common sense and a desire to find the right answer could at least get SOME question right.

  27. #27 Mary
    December 8, 2011

    What is truly disturbing is that Mr. Roach is not just a school board member in some tiny backwater, meaning that his misguided notions would only influence the education of a few kids.

    No, it turns out that the Orange County Public School district (FL) is the tenth biggest school district in the entire country, with over 176,000 students enrolled! He is one of eight folks on the board, is a multi-term incumbent, and doesn’t face another election until 2014.

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ocps.net%2Fsb%2FDocuments%2FSupt%2520Search%2FSupt%2520Search%2520Committee_11.16.pdf

  28. #28 Buzz Coastin
    December 8, 2011

    A guy notarizes a document with an two X’s.
    The notary says,
    “I’ve never seen someone sign with two X’s before.”
    The guy says,
    “Oh, one is for my name and the other is for my PhD.”

  29. #29 Dr. Decay
    December 8, 2011

    I think y’all are being a little hard on (or naive about?) Mr. Roach. He “didn’t know how to do ANY” of the questions. Yet he got 60 per cent right. Hmmm…. He’s not as dumb people are making him out to be.

  30. #30 Derek in DC
    December 8, 2011

    Even though Rick Roach makes me feel very smart indeed, I remain an unabashed enemy of “fashionable innumeracy.”

    http://tinyurl.com/7vk29ay

  31. #31 e
    December 8, 2011

    I am, unfortunately, not surprised. I have worked in public education and as an engineer since the 1980’s, and have had many years of amazement that many of the educators can find their way to the school. I teach math and physics, and find myself correcting the grammar of the english teachers routinely (and it should be obvious that my grammar is not picture perfect), as well as assisting them in calculating grades.

    My disgust began when I was attending a prestigious `school of education’ for a teaching certificate… the outright rejection of knowledge was astounding. It still is. Yes, there are`different ways of learning’ (or whatever the current buzz-phrase is), but some things are just plain wrong. The Earth is not flat. The sun does not need oxygen to continue burning, and humans did not coexist with dinosaurs (all things that came up in a class for future science teachers I was subjected to, and all claims defended by the professor as being as valid as the counterclaims)

    Amazingly enough, the system still works pretty well in most cases. The youth seem to be smarter than they are given credit for…

  32. #32 Chad Orzel
    December 8, 2011

    I think y’all are being a little hard on (or naive about?) Mr. Roach. He “didn’t know how to do ANY” of the questions. Yet he got 60 per cent right. Hmmm…. He’s not as dumb people are making him out to be.

    He got 60 percent on the reading test. He says he got 10/60 right on the math test, which is close to what you would expect from blind guessing (assuming they gave him all multiple choice).

  33. #33 Liam Carton
    December 8, 2011

    Sorry, but am I the only person who found the explanation for how to full in the bubble widgets for fractions and or decimals utterly incomprehensible? Why in all that is good could they not give some examples at least!

    I completed all the answers (just) within the 20 minutes, but before that I spent a good five minutes just trying to work out what the devil I was supposed to do with those moronic “Response Grid” boxes. If the 20 minutes included the time required to read that rubbish then I can see most students speeding 10 desperate minutes reading that cr*p and then giving up in disgust!

    Sorry, but epic FAIL on whomever came up with those little gems!

    Not to say that that excuses Mr Roach appalling performance.

    By the way (Dr. Decay) he did not get 60% correct. He got 10 out of 60 correct by guessing, so for Mr Roach and other mathematically challenged people that is 16.667% which in my book is also an epic fail!

    Liam Carton

  34. #34 rocky
    December 8, 2011

    Archimedes did not consider the volume of a sphere to be obvious. He thought it was the most beautiful discovery of his life.

  35. #35 Chad Orzel
    December 8, 2011

    Archimedes did not consider the volume of a sphere to be obvious. He thought it was the most beautiful discovery of his life.

    Archimedes didn’t have the formula for the volume of a sphere provided on a handy reference list at the beginning of his test papyrus.

  36. #36 haiku
    December 8, 2011

    When I learnt ‘arithmetic’ these were 6th grade questions …

  37. #37 MRW
    December 8, 2011

    Dr. Decay,

    His score on the math portion was 17%, not 60%, and the guessing isn’t conjecture, it’s based on Roach writing, “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.”

  38. #38 Tom Singer
    December 8, 2011

    Since the Washington Post came up, there was a pretty good education blog there where a reporter sat in on a high school algebra course for a year. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/x-equals-why/archives.htm

    It was interesting to see a non-mathematically inclined adult’s perspective. At the end of it, some of her regular readers encouraged her to get through calc, but I don’t think it ever went anywhere. Maybe I’ll email her and see…

    Also, I’m a soon to be Orange County, FL parent, and this is embarrassing. I don’t live in Roach’s district, but I’d love to see something like this as a qualifying exam for school board members.

  39. #39 rork
    December 8, 2011

    Sorry to nitpick with the esteemed host, but I would have said it wasn’t the formula, but the proof, that makes it obvious what the volume of a sphere must be. Both now, and and for Archimedes.

    For the forgetful, or our kids that have never heard of it, the slices through an hour-glass shaped volume that is a pair of cones each of height 1 (and base of radius 1), and a sphere of radius 1, have areas that summed have the same area as a circle of radius 1, so their volumes together are the same as the volume of a cylinder of height 2, radius 1. Oh, and the volumes of the cylinder and cones have to have been made obvious to you previously. A good picture helps. Once you have that picture firmly in your mind, it is hopefully impossible to forget.

    If you try to explain this to the average high-schooler in my area, you may not finish the proof. They will have cut you off to start a debate about how they don’t need to know it, which is easier than concentrating for another minute. The internet will remember if they forget. Winning that argument is actually tricky.

    I return to: knowing a formula may be trivia, but the instinct to want to know why or if a thing is true is not, and should be nurtured, rather than made to seem irrelevant by a faith-based royal-road math education. In my work (cancer research) and many other places, we need thinking humans with beautiful minds, not simulations of them.

  40. #40 quasihumanist
    December 8, 2011

    Our education is designed to train privates for the army. They need to be smart enough to follow orders, but dumb enough to not question them.

    (No I don’t actually believe this, but it does explain a lot.)

  41. #41 Glen
    December 8, 2011

    Naive? This is what Mr. Roach said about his math performance:

    ‘“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.’

    Ten guessed correctly out of 60 is not 60% correct, nor is it all that impressive on a multiple choice test unless, perhaps, you have multiple graduate degrees in education, and it puts you ahead of your peers.

    My complaint isn’t about any particular guy’s performance on a test. It’s that this guy’s performance is held up by so many “trained education professionals” (himself, his peers, the “curriculum specialist” guest blogger, the WaPo ed page editor) in this story as evidence that, if a highly-credentialed guy like this couldn’t answer EVEN ONE of the questions on the test, the test was bogus.

    I say it proves that educational credentials are bogus, and when these people tell the rest of us to stay off their turf and leave educational policy to the “trained professionals”, we should be aware of what level of expertise that training implies.

  42. #42 rork
    December 8, 2011

    Derek in DC:
    thanks for that pointer to a nice article. I guess you are the author, so my further thanks. The figures were great!

  43. #43 GM
    December 8, 2011

    I don’t want to sound condescending or anything, but is this seriously what a 10th grade math test in the US is about? (I am not from the US myself). There isn’t any real math there, just extremely simple back-of-the envelope calculations of the kind that kids in other countries do around 5th-6th grade. When is actual math being taught? And on top of how easy the questions are, they put the formulas in the beginning of the test book; aren’t you suppose to learn them???

  44. #44 Karen
    December 8, 2011

    I recall 10th grade math (well, actually I took first year algebra in 9th grade) to be much harder than those questions selected for the blog post. I agree with another commenter, those questions are really arithmetic, the useful sort that comes in handy on a frequent basis. It worries me when adults can’t do that kind of math. It worries me a lot when educators, or people who have to make budget decisions, can’t do that kind of math.

    As for training in education… I’m about to graduate with an MS in geology. Two of my (tenured) professors are part-time members of my department, and part-time members of the College of Science teaching faculty. As College of Science teachers, they teach mostly education majors, and are greatly distressed by the ignorance of those majors on almost any subject. Even their Education grad students struggle. These are our future K-12 teachers. It’s scary.

  45. #45 Jim Thomerson
    December 8, 2011

    Interesting. My father had a 5th grade education and would have had made 100% on the test working the problems in his head, while carrying on an unrelated conversation. At one time he was president of our local school board. All the other members had college degrees. Tenth grade was Algebra II back in my day.

  46. #46 DuaneBidoux
    December 8, 2011

    To “e”:

    Yes my friend, I know what you mean. I started teaching high school French but finally had to quit because the ignorance of my fellow teachers was driving me crazy.

    The second week in school I sat silently stunned in a teacher’s lounge as I heard two science teachers debate whether a blue shift in a star meant it was moving toward us or away from us.

    Just as I was about to take away their doubt the subject changed to global warming and the certainty among the two science teachers that there was nothing in the current science indicating that warming was actually occurring–and mind you, these were science teachers and here I am a French teacher for God’s sake!

    I put up with this kind of crap week after week–listening to a level of ignorance that left me feeling battered and feeling, quite frankly, that if this were all it took to get the job I must be pretty pathetic.

    I sought therapy and he convinced me that I was okay but that I would need to quit to prove it.

  47. #47 David
    December 9, 2011

    Obviously this school board member has an agenda.

    On the math test he guessed 10/60 correct — that’s worse than random chance. There are 4 answers to each question, so he should have been able to guess ~15 out of 60. And he should have been able to rule out some of the answers because in most cases at least one of them is obviously wrong.

    For example, in question 2 it says, “She was unable to complete the training ride. Approximately what percent did she complete?” You can probably rule out answer “D” right there if you have a clue about the meaning of percentages.

    So realistically he should have scored 20 out of 60, even if he were completely dense.

    And the fact that he can’t solve this problem with a calculator means he can’t do basic addition?

    Like I said, he clearly has an agenda.

  48. #48 Rick Pikul
    December 9, 2011

    On the math test he guessed 10/60 correct — that’s worse than random chance. There are 4 answers to each question, so he should have been able to guess ~15 out of 60.

    Not all of the questions were multiple choice.

  49. #49 CCPhysicist
    December 9, 2011

    While we are posting links, here is the info about passing scores on some of the tests in question:
    http://www.fldoe.org/faq/default.asp?Dept=202&ID=661

    @17 and @32: He passed the reading test and was scary close to passing the math part.

    @43: This is not a test of 10th grade math, it is an example of a mandatory “No child left behind” high-stakes test given in the 10th grade (and repeated in the 11th and 12th grade, if needed) in US schools to decide if a student can graduate from high school. We require a modest proficiency in middle school math to play major college football. These results should put in perspective why so many high school graduates end up in remedial math classes in community colleges.

    @44: Look into the minimum math requirements for those ed degrees at your university, particularly for K-8 teaching.

  50. #50 Li
    December 10, 2011

    I don’t know much about the geography of America (I am from Germany), but if I cycle with my bike I also need to ride back home. So, the tour is twice the distance. And there is no way to answer this this problem correctly.

  51. #51 Brett Y
    December 10, 2011

    All of you missed the point of Rick Roach:
    What we learn in school really has no meaning in every day life.
    These test don’t mean a thing.
    And here is the big memo: Most people stop learning the day they leave school.
    They lack curiosity about the world. They see education as something that is forced upon them. Most people only read if its a homework assignment.

  52. #52 Tom Singer
    December 11, 2011

    I wrote Mr. Roach a letter. I’ll be sure to get back to you if he responds.

    Mr. Roach,

    I read with great disappointment the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blogs which covered your recent experience taking the FCAT, which I found linked to from one of the blogs I read regularly, Uncertain Principles. http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2011/12/the_innumeracy_of_educators_or.php

    Now, I don’t know what specific test you took, but there are sample FCATs from previous years available at http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcatrelease.asp, so I feel like I have some idea of the difficulty of the questions you were given. I am astounded that any adult, particularly a school board member, would not know the answer to a single one of 60 FCAT 10th grade math questions. The math being tested goes all the way back to the basic arithmetic that should be learned as an elementary school student. For example, problem 5 from the 2006 test:

    “In 1995, there was a total of 7.2 million acres of pine forests in Florida. All of the forests were either natural or planted by people. Given that 4.4 million acres of these pine forests were planted by people, how many millions of acres of these pine forests were natural?”

    This is a subtraction problem. The state of Florida expects its 10th graders to be able to subtract, and I certainly expect that a school board member, responsible for budgeting, would be able to solve this problem correctly.

    I can draw only a very limited number of conclusions from this. Either you are so bad at math as to be incapable of performing your job, or you have deliberately sandbagged the test to fit in with an anti-testing agenda.

    Given that you have also said that none of the members of your “wide circle of friends in various professions” use such math skills as subtraction in their professions. I suppose it’s possible that you simply fail to understand the mathematics so completely that you are incapable of communicating them to others, but I’m leaning towards the latter. And in that case, I question the rationale that results in you announcing that you scored 60% on the reading test, but did not know the answer to a single math question. That tells me that you hold math in awfully low regard.

    So, Mr. Roach, which is it? If the answer is that you really are that bad at math, I strongly urge you to improve your skills. You’re on the school board. Find an elementary math textbook, read it, and work the problems. Get a tutor. I’d be happy to help you, in fact – I’d welcome the opportunity to sit down for a few beers and some math education once a week. There is no reason that you can’t learn the skills, and I hope you would be eager to demonstrate competency.

    If the answer is that you deliberately failed the test to further an agenda – and I agree that our current standardized testing system is flawed – then you need to find another, less deceitful way to make your point.

    As an Orange County resident with my first child due in July, I hope I can count on you to set a positive example for our students. I look forward to your response.

    Sincerely,
    Tom Singer

  53. #53 MRW
    December 11, 2011

    David,
    “On the math test he guessed 10/60 correct — that’s worse than random chance. ”
    1) Random chance doesn’t mean that you’ll get a 15 by guessing on a multiple choice test. It means that the average score of a large number of people will be 15. There’s nothing inconsistent about guessing and getting a 10.
    2) The random chance score is more like an 8 if the test he took was similar to the 2005 and 2006 test. They were only about 1/2 multiple choice.

  54. #54 Tom Singer
    December 12, 2011

    As much as I hate to defend a guy who didn’t answer a single math question correctly, he deserves this much: I don’t think he took the “10th grade FCAT”. I wrote him a letter, and he said the questions on his test were algebra, geometry, and some calculus. No basic arithmetic.

    It seems likely that he took some version of the End of Course assessments for Algebra 1 and Geometry, and students must pass these to receive course credit. Note that Florida requires students to take both Algebra 1 and Geometry (and will soon require Algebra 2).

    This is a new policy, with the EOCs replacing the math section of the FCAT. A passing score for the EOC exams has not yet been set. It sounds like they will basically be graded on a curve, similar to the way the previous FCATs have been graded.

    If anyone is curious, http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150523101243455 and http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150526423558455 are the emails.

  55. #55 Jim H
    December 12, 2011

    I REALLY want to know what test he took. Because if it was the 10th grade FCAT, then he’s completely quantitatively illiterate.

    Of course, we remember being in college and making fun of business majors for taking the WEAKEST math classes in the world….

    is there any way we can find out what test he took?

  56. #56 Tom Singer
    December 13, 2011

    I’ve asked him and Marion Brady, who wrote the original post on the Answer Sheet blog, to clarify. I’ll report back if they do. As I said, I suspect it was a blend of the End of Course assessments for Algebra 1 and Geometry. Unfortunately, past EOC tests are not available; Florida’s Dept of Education website has a FAQ that says the test items get reused from year to year, and they aren’t published because that would mean they couldn’t be reused.

    (I find this rationale ridiculous, specifically when applied to a discipline where it is so easy to change a problem. I suppose you might argue that the students could then just study how to solve specific classes of problem rather than memorize answers. But isn’t that the point?)

  57. #57 Andrew
    December 13, 2011

    Wow. That’s crazy to think that a teacher that’s teaching the future is unable to pass a test of what he’s teaching. That shows that something must be really wrong with this education system.

  58. #58 Tom Singer
    January 5, 2012

    I’ve been talking with Roach, and trying to get a face to face meeting with him, but haven’t been successful yet. He doesn’t have evenings available, and I work probably an hour away from wherever he’d be during the day, so it might be a bust.

    I did a little more digging, and saw this, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-an-anti-testing-post-went-viral/2011/12/18/gIQA8ZGH3O_blog.html

    “Roach had asked to take the FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but was told he could not, so he was given a different set of questions that were supposed to be of the same difficulty that Florida students might expect on the FCAT.”

    I don’t know why he wouldn’t have been able to take the FCAT. Maybe not the current one, but certainly one of the publicly available released tests. It doesn’t necessarily preclude it, but I no longer think that he was given a hybrid of the EOC tests for Algebra 1 and Geometry. I would like to know who put the tests together for him, and what criteria they used. I’d love to see the tests themselves, as well.

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