Would your first grader pass this weird Common Core math test?

Robby Soave Reporter
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What is a “related subtraction sentence?” If you don’t know, you may not be able to pass a mathematics exam designed for first graders under the Common Core curriculum guidelines.

Carol Burris, an acclaimed New York high school principal who writes a blog about education issues, recently posted a first grade math test that one of her employee’s daughters had failed. The test–which caught the eye of The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss–features several questions with awkward wording that could trip up adults, to say nothing of six-year-olds.

Students are instructed to “find the missing part.” Question 1 shows five coins above the phrase “part I know,” and a cup with a ‘6’ on it that is marked as “whole.”

Though the answer must logically be ‘1,’ the question isn’t clear at all, wrote Burris.

“My assistant principal for mathematics was not sure what the question was asking,” wrote Burris. “How could pennies be a part of a cup?”

Several questions give a number, and then depict a box cut in half with some number of dots on one side and the rest of them–or nothing–on the other side. The question related to the boxes changes after each problem, and one asks students to choose the true statement that represents the box–out of 4 possible answers.

The most difficult question, Number 12, shows 4 black squares connected to 3 white ones, and asks, “Which is a related subtraction sentence?” Each of the answers are addition problems.

“My nephew’s wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one,” wrote Burris. “Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question…?”

Burris said it was ridiculous to give first graders percentage grades on multiple choice tests in the first place.

“The problem (no pun intended) is at the core,” she wrote.

The math test was designed by Pearson Education, the corporation contracted by the state of New York to design its Common Core-aligned standardized tests. Pearson’s exams are designed to measure whether students at each grade level have mastered the set of skills dictated by the new national curriculum standards. The question about the pennies and the cup is worded in a manner so that it evaluates kids’ ability to “understand subtraction as an unknown-addend problem,” which is what Common Core requires.

The problem is that the standards were speedily approved, and are now being implemented around the country. Administrators don’t actually know whether the designated standards are reasonable approximations of what students should be expected to know.

“Many New York children are simply not developmentally ready to do the work,” wrote Burris. “Much of the work is confusing. When you add the pressure under which teachers find themselves to quickly implement the standards and prepare students for standardized testing, it becomes clear why New York parents are expressing outrage at forums across the state.” (RELATED: Obama math: under new Common Core, 3 x 4 = 11 [VIDEO])

Pearson has also been criticized for designing worksheets with politically leading questions. A section on possessive nouns contains statements such as, “The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all,” and “An individual’s wants are less important than the nation’s well-being.”

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