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Regents Recap — January 2015: Questions with No Correct Answer

Here is another installment in my series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics.

This is question 14 from the Common Core Algebra exam.

January 2015 CC A 14Setting aside the excessive, and questionable, setup (do people really think about minimizing the interquartile range of daily temperatures when choosing vacation spots?), there is a serious issue with this question:  it has no correct answer.

The student is asked to identify the data set that satisfies the following two conditions:  median temperature over 80 and smallest interquartile range.  No data set satisfies both these conditions.  According to the diagram, the data associated with “Serene Shores” has the smallest interquartile range (represented by the width of the “box” in the box-and-whisker plot), but its median temperature (the vertical line segment in the box) is below 80.

The answer key says that (4) is the correct answer, but that data does not have the smallest interquartile range shown.  Presumably, the intent was for students to evaluate a conditional statement, like, “Among those that satisfy condition A, which satisfies condition B?”  But as written, the question asks, “which satisfies both condition A and condition B?”  No set of data satisfies both.

Some may consider this nitpicking, but precision in language is an important part of doing mathematics.  I focus on it in my classroom, and it is frustrating to see my work undermined by the very tests that are now being used to evaluate my job performance.

Moreover, this is by no means the only error present in these exams, nor is it the first example of errors in stating and evaluating compound sentences.  If these exams don’t model exemplary mathematical practice, their credibility in evaluating the mathematical practice of students and teachers must be questioned.

Building the Profession of Math Teachers

msri national math festivalThis past week I traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak at a policy briefing sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.  The briefing was part of a policy day held in advance of MSRI’s first ever National Math Festival.

The theme of the briefing was “Building the Profession of Math Teachers in America”.  I was invited to give a teacher’s perspective on professional development, and to talk about what successful programs look like to teachers and the impact they have on classrooms and schools.

I spoke about the influence that programs like Math for America and PCMI have had on me, my colleagues and, in turn, our school.  These programs inspire and empower teachers, and help create an environment where teachers are more willing and able to take on the challenges that schools and districts face.

Here’s an excerpt from the closing of my speech.

I’ve been teaching for a long time.  I’ve seen new curricula, new standards, and new tests come, go, and come again.  And I know that the reality of policy-making is inextricably tied to these things.

But these things don’t really lead to the kind of authentic, sustainable change that comes from empowering teachers.  I have experienced this personally, I am witnessing it right now in my school, and through digital communities, I see it happening all over the country.

I was honored to represent teachers and talk about the positive impact these programs have had on me and my school.  But I was definitely nervous following speakers like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Al Franken, and many other politicians and policy makers!  Hopefully, my message resonated with those in attendance, and I’m thankful to the MSRI for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

Math Photo: Bond Angles

Bond Angles

I love the way the struts of this structure come together and align with the geometry of the city.


Find the Best Deal

Sometimes grocery stores make comparison shopping very easy.

Find the Best Deal

3D Printed Surfaces

I’ve been enjoying getting familiar with our new 3D printer.  I’m not sure these parametric surfaces were the best pieces to start out with, but I have learned a lot!

3d Surface Collage

From left to right, we have a figure eight torus, a Fresnel surface, and a cyclide.  Not pictured:  the many, many failures.