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A Reporter Takes the TAKS

Posted: 2003-06-15

John Kelso, columnist at the Statesman, is unique. Read his column and you'll see why.

Here's his address if you want to write him:



Trying the TAKS is an eye-opener

It's looking like I'm going to get sent back to eighth grade.

I just took the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills math test for ninth-graders ? and flunked. If I'd answered a measly two more questions correctly, I would have passed.

But 23 right out of 52 ain't bad. OK, so it's not playing in Albert Einstein territory. To pass, I would have needed to nail 25. To get a commended or an outstanding performance rating, I would have needed to get at least 45 right.

To get 45 right, I would have had to cheat and bribe the principal.

You've seen these annoying bumper stickers around town that say stuff like, "My son is an honor student at Porter Middle School." I'm thinking of putting a bumper sticker on my car that says, "I'm too dumb to get into Porter Middle School."

I got the idea for taking this test the other day when I read in this newspaper that 43 percent of Central Texas high school sophomores are in danger of failing the TAKS, the state achievement test required to graduate. Among 35 Central Texas school districts, nearly 6,500 of about 15,200 sophomores flunked at least one section of the test.

Adults read about these results, and they think, "Boy, children these days are a bunch of dim bulbs." And that's not necessarily the case, because some of these questions are tough.

I'll wager most of y'all couldn't pass this test with a tutor.

OK, Mister Smarty Pants, answer me this one: In the graph of the function y equals x squared plus 5, which describes the shift in the vertex of the parabola if, in the function, 5 is changed to minus 2?

The correct answer is D, seven units down. The answer I wanted to give was, "What the heck's a parabola?" For all I know, a parabola is a Japanese car. So I got that one wrong.

See, in some ways our kids are smarter than we are, because they're still learning skills we can't remember how to spell. The problem I had with this test is that it leaned heavily on algebra and geometry. What most people two years out of high school could remember about algebra and geometry they could store in a thimble.

You think I'm kidding? Then figure out this one, which is question number 25 on the TAKS ninth-grade math test.

Which is always a correct conclusion about the quantities in the function y equals x plus 4? The correct answer is, the variable y is always greater than x. Duh. How did I miss that one?

Is this the sort of math question we really want to be asking our youth? Shouldn't we be posing more practical questions they can use later in life?

Such as, if Texas is a four-point dog to Oklahoma and Johnny bets $1,000 on Texas and Oklahoma beats Texas by five and Johnny makes $12.50 an hour changing oil, how many 40-hour weeks will Johnny have to work to pay back his Sooner buddy?

That one wasn't on the test, but the answer is two.

Anyway, next time I take this test I'm going to set my sights lower and start in fifth grade.

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