OK, so here in Massachusetts they've got this much-debated MCAS. It's a standardized test given at three levels - 4th, 8th, and 10th grade. As of 2002, you must pass the 10th grade exam in order to graduate. Now, there's been a big uproar over this -- mostly because a large percentage of students fail the test -- with students staging walkouts and parents protesting in the streets against the test. Most of the protesters feel that the test standardizes schools, taking away creativity and individuality in teaching and learning, forcing them to focus on one, all-encompassing, behemoth of a test.

Personally, I think standardized tests aren't all that great, but I do see the MCAS as a way to, at the very least, keep functionally illiterate people from slipping through the cracks. But, rather than jump on the bandwagon either way, like most folks have, I went to the MCAS website and downloaded the May 1998 test, just to see how "impossible" this test was. This is a test that students say is too hard, educators say is too hard, and parents say is too hard. I have to say I'm underwhelmed by it. Here are some sample questions from the test. I've tried to pick a 'hard' one and a boneheaded one from each section. Here goes...

Mathematics, Grade 10

16. Which of the following could be the next step in solving the equation 3(x + 2) = 3 - (x + 1)?

A. 3x + 6 = 3 - x - 1
B. 3x + 2 = 3 - x - 1
C. 3x + 6 = 3 - x + 1
D. 3x + 5 = 3 - x + 1

31. In Ms. Amud's math class, the final class grades showed the following statistics:

  • mean = 85
  • median = 85
  • range = 20

    If nine students were in the class, list a possible set of scores.

    Science And Technology, Grade 10

    9. Which organism serves as the primary producer in an aquatic food chain?

    A. algae
    B. Daphnia
    C. minnows
    D. bass

    30. Air temperature measured in most urban areas is much warmer that the air temperature measured in rural areas. Explain two scientifically valid reasons for this observation.

    English Language Arts, Grade 10

    clam·or n. 1. A loud outcry; hubbub. 2. A vehement expression of discontent or protest; public outcry: a clamor for pollution control. 3. A loud and sustained noise; din. -v. -ored, -or·ing, -ors. -intr. 1. To make a clamor. 2. To make insistent demands or complaints: clamored for tax reforms. -tr. 1. To exclaim insistently and noisily. 2. To drive or influence by clamor. [ME clamour < OFr. < Lat. clamor, shout < clamare, to cry out.]

    3. According to the dictionary entry above, in which language did the word clamor originate?


    [noder's note: two pages of "The Hunger of Memory" by Richard Rodriguez are presented. For brevity, they are excluded here.]

    15. How has Richard Rodriguez's attitude about reading changed since his youth? What do you think he would do differently now? Use specific information from the excerpt to support your answer.

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