Standardized testing is a charged topic. People as high-ranking as the Department of Education’s (DoE) assistant undersecretary to the undersecretary’s assistant (AUUA) regularly examine topics such as: do standardized tests cost too much? Are they truly standardized? Do they cover proper material? Do they make me look fat? Is their sodium content too high? Are the Russians using them to corrupt our youth? Are our youth already corrupted beyond hope? If so, are the standardized tests corrupt enough for our youth?
As you probably know, I wake up every day thinking about things not even closely related to the important questions I just mentioned. Thus, I am quite qualified to weigh in on these contentious concepts, as illustrated by the fact that I just used some spiffy and awesome alliteration. (Frankly, if you can alliterate or, better yet, are an alliteration, you are instantly seen as a leader. For example: Ronald Reagan, Woodrow Wilson, Peter Piper (the pickled peppers picker), Winston Wchurchill, Steve Sjobs, John Jf Jkennedy, etc.).
But since the standardized test debate encompasses a plethora (hey, SAT word) of topics, and we could analyze each topic for many blog posts worth of time, let’s take just one of these ideas: Do they cover proper material? More specifically, do standardized test questions actually cover stuff (another SAT word) that might come up in the real world?
Maybe some questions do. I’m sure a strong argument can be made for knowing things like the x-y formula for a circle. (The strong counter argument is, of course, Google). But sometimes test question writers get a little carried away, because they know you have to take the test regardless of whether the passage’s main character’s name is Mary Ann or Djickovanitchstrewloquesky. And when they get ahead of themselves, you end up with questions like these.
George, the Media Intern
The question is:
14. George works as a media intern and receives a monthly paycheck. He spends 25% of his paycheck on rent and deposits the remainder into a savings account. If his deposit is $3,750, how much does he receive as his monthly pay?
Let’s take this step-by-step. First of all, George is a media intern. Interns don’t get paid, according to “that’s how real life works.” Interns are just below the water cooler on the office totem pole. If one of them failed to show up for the day, the cooler would be missed much more. In other words, until the water cooler gets an employer-provided health insurance package and monthly stipend, the intern isn’t getting paid either.
But let’s assume, for a second, that interns do get paid. Perhaps they do, in some places; maybe Luxembourg, the richest country (per capita, which means not as rich overall as the US of A!) pays the five media interns that essentially run the single national news organization for the 500,000-person company. They probably don’t even have a news station, just a stock ticker, but, if they did, they could afford to pay the interns (the national motto is: Luxembourg: even the name sounds luxurious). Would an intern really spend 25% of their paycheck on rent, and then put the rest into a savings account?
In case you have any doubts as to where that rhetorical question is going, the answer is NO. No, because most media interns are not yet old enough to realize the benefits of saving 75% of their paycheck. No, because interns have other expenses than rent—they probably need food, transportation, and, depending on how they’re treated at the office, therapy. No, because interns will invariably have trillions (per capita) in student debt to pay off.
Now, I connect to the writer of this question. I know what he meant to ask: 75% of what number is $3,750?
But did they really need to make up a whole story about a fictional place with a fictional intern who gets a fictional paycheck to pay his fictional rent? All that does is distract me from the math and cause me to ponder just how removed from reality test-question-writers are. This is a ridiculous question.
Andrea, the Graphing Freak
Here’s a math question more off-the-charts than Anthony Wiener:
38. Andrea decides to graph her office and the nearest coffee shop in the standard (x,y) plane. If her office is at point (-1,-5) and the coffee shop is at point (3,3), what are the coordinates of the point exactly halfway between those of her office and the shop? (You may assume Andrea is able to walk a straight line between.)
Andrea—I don’t even know where to begin. This question has major believability issues.
To start with, “Andrea decides to graph her office and the nearest coffee shop in the standard (x,y) plane.” What kind of job does Andrea have that graphing her office and nearby café sounds appealing? The only job I can come up with is that of media intern, in which case, Andrea doesn’t have any money for coffee, since she either doesn’t get paid or saved all of her paycheck (she doesn’t even need to pay rent, she just rooms with George). Actually, ignore the job; what kind of person—a coffee-deprived one, no less—gets directions by using coordinate graphs? That’s so 16th century!
And where is Andrea’s boss? I mean, wouldn’t he/she notice if Andrea suddenly stopped answering the customer service phones and pulled out a ruler and graph paper? Am I supposed to believe the boss encourages this sort of thing as stress relief or a team-building activity?
Getting past the fact that Andrea is graphing her office and the nearest coffee shop, why doesn’t Andrea make her life easier by putting either the coffee shop or her office at (0,0)? I mean, I’m not the type of person to plot the location of my house and my school, but if I was, I like to think that I’d make it as easy as possible to do by putting one of the points at the origin. What is up with Andrea? The only thing I can think of is that her office address is literally the corner of -1 Street and -5 Avenue.
Finally (ignoring the fact that Andrea, for some inexplicable reason, wants to know how far the halfway point is), I “may assume Andrea is able to walk a straight line between”? I don’t think so; no, I don’t think I can assume that. So, Andrea can just walk through walls. What kind of “skill” am I really learning by taking this test—the fact that I shouldn’t bother to cross streets at the cross walk, but just walk a straight line between?
Please, test writers, I beg of you: don’t do this. Just ask “what is the midpoint of the segment from (-1,-5) to (3,3)?” Sure, your added explanation may be hilarious in retrospect, but during the test we’re just going to be stressed and annoyed. This question is ludicrous.
The Unethical Senator
Speaking of Anthony Wiener:
3. Although the senator has been involved in unethical behavior, her constituents continue to show strong support for her.
A) has been involved
C) being as involved
D) has yet to be involved
E) is involving
Hopefully, you’ve figured out what’s wrong with this one: the “unethical” senator is a woman. According to the Wikipedia list of political scandals in the US (which is, by no means, the most reliable source, but—let’s face it—the only source any of us would take the time to quickly scan for the sake of a humor blog post) the last “sort-of” political scandal that befell a female was Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage, back in 1998. Putting that in perspective, that’s about 1 female scandal for every 5,000 male scandals (I didn’t even need to go to Wikipedia to make that up, I just pulled that number from George’s salary). And—it gets better—it wasn’t even really a scandal: she just admitted that she’d had an affair before running for Congress.
Therefore, while the correct answer might be “A,” the best answer is “D.” Sure, technically the “although” wouldn’t make any sense, but what’s more important: getting the facts right or lying with proper grammar?
Winning the Race
26. Regardless of which person wins the race, they will have earned the victory. No Error
I think we’ve just discovered why doping is so prevalent in sports. Most college-recruited athletes have to take the SAT or ACT. So, is it really their fault that they don’t know any better than to fill their muscles full of unnaturally occurring chemicals*?
*That probably come with warning labels such as: “WARNING: Do not swallow. This compound is illegal in 49 states and unlawful to possess in the remaining 1. If you were to use this, it might allow you to beat all the competition, but you shouldn’t use this for some reason. Okay, the FDA has stopped reading by now—go ahead, take twice a day with food.”
According to this question, as long as they win, they will have earned that win, gosh darn it. No wonder Lance Armstrong was so indignant when his scandal broke—he should have just entered this as evidence in his hearing and he would have gone from intentionally doping to the much less evil charge of easy to influence.
If we’re going to make kids take these tests, let’s at least make the error the part about “earning” the victory. We should scrap most the second part of the sentence and make it, “Regardless of which person wins the race, he will have won.” I think that’s obvious enough for your stereotypical jock. Sure, they’ll still use steroids, but at least they won’t be so indignant about the consequences, since they’ll know they didn’t earn those titles.
Laura and Ben
We’ll end it with an easy one:
15. Laura wanted to go out to the movies that night, and so her friend Ben wanted to stay home and study. No Error
I’m sure that by now you’ve already figured out the numerous errors. First of all, when a girl asks you to go to the movies, you don’t say, “Nahh, I’d rather stay home and study.”
If you do that, you will probably never get asked to the movies for the rest of your high school life. And, if she tweets about it, you can prepare to remain a bachelor for at least ten years past the date of your death. The only time you’re allowed to reply this way is if the girl has been involved in unethical behavior, uses steroids, or wants to plot the coordinates of the location of your seats in regards to the movie screen.
Secondly, nobody wants to just “study.” Yes, the pursuit of knowledge is noble, but the writer doesn’t elaborate. Ben isn’t studying something he’s incredibly interested in or motivated to teach himself, nor does Ben have a big test tomorrow. Thus, although there are exceptions when one should study rather than go to the movies, this doesn’t appear to be one of them.
The third issue here is the sentence is in past tense. Somehow, in some fictitious world, even after Ben turned down Laura so he could study, they are still friends. To correct this, the writer should have written “ex-friend,” “used-to-be friend,” or “…her friend Ben, who’s now at the bottom of the lake (weighed down by the biology textbook tied to his feet), wanted…”
Standardized tests are an unavoidable part of high school, but that doesn’t mean the questions need to be based in worlds more fictitious than Miley Cyrus’ good judgment. For some reason, I just don’t think most people go into the testing rooms relaxed and ready to be entertained. Besides, if you do laugh while the test is being administered, that’s punishable by a $5,000 fine, a felony charge, and being forced to eat your #2 pencils.
But if you’re more worried about buying #2 pencils than eating them, you may want to check out, “3 Reasons Back to School Shopping is Not Your Friend,”published this time last year. Even if you don’t care about shopping, the image on that post is worth checking out.