## Monday, April 20, 2009

### The Terra Nova Test: marginalizing the standard algorithms

Children around Philadelphia are currently in the midst of their annual Terra Nova tests. So concerned are some teachers about their students' performance on these national measures of academic achievement that they sent them home with practice tests to take during Spring Break (that week off that, somehow, always immediately precedes the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox--but that's another story).

This gave me my first close look at what the 2nd Grade Terra Nova tests cover, and I was, of course, particularly struck by the math section.

True to current trends in academics that so favor the visual over the analytical, there turn out to be far fewer problems involving numerical calculation than those involving "geometry". Of the 40 problems in the practice math booklet, just 8 require calculation, while 12 ask students to identify or define particular types of shapes, observe whether pairs or shapes are "similar" or "congruent," say whether a shape is symmetrical, or say what it looks like when flipped, rotated, viewed from a different perspective, or combined with another shape.

Another 7 problems involve charts and graphs.

Then there were the ones that ask students to reflect on best strategies, which presumably aim to measure "higher level thinking", and which also manage to further marginalize calculation. Consider, for example:

Morgan has 29 jelly beans, Paige has 52 jelly beans, Greg has 34 jelly beans and Melissa has 18 jelly beans. Which of the following would be the fastest way to find out how many jelly beans they have altogether?

a. count all the jelly beans