Real-World Math

The Texas Education Agency posted “released tests” from last Spring’s STAAR administration this week.  I was surprised by this question from the 6th grade assessment:


Does that diagram really help students better understand the question?  Are 6th graders looking at that picture and thinking, “Ooooh!  I got it!  It’s leaking water!”?  Better yet, we haven’t stored water in barrels like that since the Revolutionary War.  Now everyone associates those barrels with Mila Kunis’ commercials for Jack Daniels.

The 6th-Grade Math TEKS in Texas use the term “real-world” six times. Phrases like, “order a set of rations numbers arising from mathematical and real-world contexts,” or “represent mathematical and real-world problems involving ratios…”  Some of the “real-world” contexts have been a little suspect.  Amounting to little more than, “I measured 5 pieces of fabric, now put those numbers in order.”  This abuse of real-worldiness reached its peak in 2004.  That year’s 8th-grade TAKS test tested the students’ ability to “approximate mentally the value of irrational numbers as they arise from problem situations,” with this question:

Mr. Harrington wrote four irrational numbers on the board and asked Jared to choose the number closest to 3. Which irrational number should Jared choose?

You know when kids ask, “When will I use this?” and some teachers say, “Friday on your test!”  Yeah, that’s what those test writers were doing here.

Check out the released tests on TEA’s website.  In general, I like them a lot.  This helps paint the fuller picture of TEA’s interpretation of recent TEKS changes, so we can learn a lot from checking them out.

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