Rick Roach is the long-time Orange County School Board member who took the 10th grade FCAT – reading and math – and got only 10 right answers on the 60 math questions. This result is equivalent to randomly answering the questions on the test. He told his story in a post on the Washington Post blog Answer Sheet.
What lesson did Mr. Roach draw from his experience with the test?
“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….
“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”
That is, it’s a bad test.
When I asked the students in my introductory level physics class – almost all biology and exercise science majors – what they thought of Mr. Roach’s performance and comments, they seemed totally unimpressed. Nearly all of these students took the 10th grade FCAT and none said they found it challenging. All realized that they needed math skills in their intended careers.
Of course, my students had Math SAT scores ranging from average to high, so perhaps they aren’t the group to ask for sympathy.
But the New York Times reported in 2009 that assembly line jobs were going begging because available workers didn’t have the math skills necessary to do them. Significant math skills are necessary even for those jobs. It doesn’t make sense to award high school diplomas to students who cannot meet the requirements for assembly line positions.
As for Mr. Roach’s graduate work: His bachelor’s degree is in education and his masters’ degrees are in education and educational psychology. I happen to know that people in these fields need math skills so that they can do the statistical analyses that research in those fields requires. I have no idea how Mr. Roach got to the point where his score on the FCAT math test is statistically equivalent to random answers. But I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be bragging about it.