Posted by: laughs4dads | August 13, 2010

It Just Doesn’t Add Up

According to The New York Post, New York State has very liberal standards when it comes to grading fourth grade math tests.

This really raises the ire of The Post, which is owned by the same folks who bring you Fox News, and despises anything referred to as liberal, even Liberal Arts.

Apparently, kids were getting partial credit on questions if they did the problems correctly but got the wrong answer. In other words, on a two point question, if you knew you had to divide to get the answer, but then screwed up the actual division, you got one point.

The Post cites numerous examples, including this one: “A student who figures the number of books in 35 boxes of 10 gets half-credit despite messed-up multiplication that yields the wrong answer, 150 instead of 350.”

According to the article, “The scoring guidelines, called ‘holistic rubrics,’ require that points be given if a kid’s attempt at an answer reflects a ‘partial understanding’ of the math concept, ‘addresses some element of the task correctly,’ or uses the ‘appropriate process’ to arrive at a wrong solution.”

Well, normal people would just know instinctively that anything called “holistic rubrics” is going to be really stupid. I mean, do you think that a Holistic Rubrics Cube would ever have become popular?

This whole thing is the psychobabble equivalent of Woody Allen’s old line, “98% of life is just showing up.” It’s the same demented thinking that’s behind those kids’ “winning-doesn’t-matter” sports leagues.

Look, winning does matter, and so does getting the right answer. The sooner kids know that, the better.

When I was going to school, you’d lose points on a test if you got the right answer using the wrong method. I’m no math genius, but by fourth grade, if I was told that a box contained 10 books and asked how many books were in five boxes, I could do 5 x 10 in my head. So I’d write down 50, but lose points because I didn’t show how I got 50.

Who cares how I got 50? And why is that worth the same as writing down the whole problem and getting 40 as an answer? Is a bank teller who doesn’t bother using a calculator but whose cash drawer checks out at the end of the day doing a worse job than the one who does but ends up $1,000 short?

I remember when my daughter, Casey, was in school and I tried to help her with her math homework and she’d have these “word problems” and I’d explain to her how to figure it out and she’d say “but that’s not how the teacher said to do it,” and she’d try to explain to me how the teacher said to do it which was, in my opinion, a completely ridiculous way to get to the answer but probably demonstrated some arithmetic principle that the state thinks you should know.

And, by the way, this would be the same state that has not been able to make a budget add up correctly in my lifetime.

I understand that knowing how to do something is important, because it will let you solve problems beyond the specific one that’s in front of you right now. But what if the specific one that’s in front of you right now is kind of important, like figuring out the trajectory of a rocket or what the correct dose of a medication is? Wouldn’t you put more value on the answer than the methodology?

And I know every school kid in the history of the world has said this, but, really, what’s up with the trigonometry, calculus and algebra? I was actually good at algebra. I actually liked algebra. But if I was abducted by terrorists tomorrow and told that they would cut off my right hand unless I could solve for y…well you could just start calling me “Lefty.”

Those kind of specialized mathematics can wait until someone decides to go into one of those kinds of specialized fields. In the meantime, how about teaching kids the basics of investing? Or including auto maintenance in the curriculum for everyone instead of just the “shop kids?”

I’ll be waiting for an answer. It better be right.

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