At a recent hearing on using high school assessment tests to gauge a student's readiness for graduation, I testified that I strongly advocate good state tests; I would support tolerable state tests. But, the Maryland pretend algebra test is so terrible that I strongly oppose it.
This test is counterproductive in many ways.
For students going on to college, the two main likely consequences of Maryland's pretend algebra test will be:
* An increase in the already high numbers of students needing to take remedial math (algebra) in college. Students will be able to score 100 percent on this pretend algebra test and still be placed in a real Algebra 1 course in college.
* Students wishing to pursue courses in science and engineering will arrive in college with even weaker backgrounds in algebra and trig. At the University of Maryland, College Park, this is already sabotaging many a student's efforts to learn calculus, the gateway to engineering. It is getting out of hand. It will become even worse.
Even one of the people responsible for the test, (now) Acting Assistant State Superintendent Gary Heath, said, "We would be the first to tell you it doesn't have a lot of algebra, nor was it intended to."(The Washington Post, Aug.16, 2002).
These are the purposes for the Maryland pretend algebra test:
* A new high school graduation requirement
* An end-of-year algebra test.
It need not be both; originally it wasn't. "Each local system should use the [state test] to guide the development of their local mathematics curricula." (From the Maryland State Department of Education Web site).
The Montgomery County math curriculum is currently being dumbed down, in order to align it with the very low state standards designed for all (that is the weakest) students. Absurd!
The Maryland algebra test will replace the Maryland Functional Math Test, which tests basic arithmetic calculations. Can the student multiply 23x37 by hand? The suggested replacement, the Maryland pretend algebra test tests whether the student can correctly punch 23x37 into a hand calculator. Being able to multiply 23x37 by hand will no longer be a requirement for high school graduation.
This weak grade 6 test is slated to be used as an admission criteria for Maryland public universities. Absurd! As Donald N. Langenberg wrote in the Baltimore Sun, Oct. 8, 2002, he and the presidents of all Maryland public universities signed a statement that "committed ourselves to align higher education admission requirements with the assessment standards and to incorporate the program goals into our preparation of the next generation of elementary and secondary teachers." He went on to write about the test: "There is precious little algebra in it, and the level is too low." Langenberg is chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, regents' professor of education K-12 and professor of physics and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The title is misleading -- a cover-up for the algebra the students are not learning. We need a truth-in-labeling law for state tests.
Otherwise, parents will be misled into believing that their children have learned algebra after passing this pretend algebra test. Maybe, this is one of its purposes, albeit unstated.
It is crucial that this proposed end-of-year pretend algebra test be separated from the graduation requirements. The political reality is that graduation requirements must be low enough so that they do not prevent sizable numbers of students from graduating. A separate end-of-year algebra test would not have this restriction, hence it would not have to exclude real algebra.
For the sake of the math education of the children in Maryland, this test must be stopped.
Jerome Dancis is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, College Park. His Web site is www.math.umd.edu/~jnd.