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5th grade California Science exam question about gases given off in photosynthesis

So often when we talk about standardized testing in public schools, we end up talking across one another. Us grown-ups remember the tests we took, either with the sensation of quivering goo inside or with cool confidence. Surely the tests of today are much the same. If the kids aren't passing them, then the teachers must suck.

In California, there are sample questions for every grade level available. You can work through these yourself and come to a conclusion about what is expected of kids - possibly your own kid - in California today. Too much? Too little? If you want to truly duplicate the experience, I suggest printing them out and working them. The samples have more questions than a student will experience, but as an adult, perhaps that evens the challenge a bit.

I thought it might be interesting to highlight and discuss some of the questions asked on the 5th grade science exam, in part because it's the first grade level where science is tested by the California STAR regimen, and in part because my own child will be expected to do this exam soon.

So as background, I have a degree in engineering, so I'm quite comfortable with science. I studied genetics as a hobby, I've worked building electronics, and incidentally, have a more than passing familiarity with ceramics, which I consider to be geology on a human scale, with a strong dash of chemistry and materials science.

(Mouse over the images to see my snarky comments!)

All That Time with the Rock Collection Finally Pays Off

California 5th grade science exam question about Mohs values and minerals

Reading through the sample questions, I admit, I'm a bit intimidated. A lot of the questions are covering science I did not learn until high school or even college, and while I'd get a pretty good score, this would not be a walk in the park for me. I'd have to think carefully and extrapolate from first principles. Did you learn about Mohs values, minerals, and geology in your 5th grade?

California 5th grade science test: question about how slate is formed.

I was able to guess the answer because I am good at guessing on multiple choice exams. I was never taught anything about shale or slate in school. If this test is supposed to be measuring my geological and mineralogical knowledge or my school's teaching of geology, my results do not reflect that.


California 5th grade science test: questions about how plants work

I think these are two good questions. They are fairly clear, and they require an understanding of the science to answer. If you know the science, and you understand how to find the "best answer" on a multiple choice exam, you should get them.

(Of course, it all depends on the definition of use, now, doesn't it?)

That said, I learned biology at this level in 7th grade. Elementary school in the '70s had only cursory science in my area. I recall tormenting mealworms with colored squares and a kiddie pool full of crayfish as the extent of our biology.

By contrast, my daughter did real science experiments in kindergarten growing plants with simple variables (water/no water, light/no light, dirt/no dirt), drawing the results in their lab books, and writing simple conclusions.

Say, little girl, have you ever been outside?

California 5th grade science test: why would a tree grow slanty?

City kids will have to reason this one out from first principles, and a plant that leans towards light is pretty plausible. Kids who live on California's north coast and who have been outside will know this one instantly.

Electric Avenue

California 5th grade science test: question about a homemade electronic component

I don't know when I learned about electromagnetism, but it was not in elementary school. Richard Feynman used to give a highly suggestive demonstration of this phenomenon that could generate a current by moving a magnetic core in and out of the cylindrical coils... in, out, in, out, you know, in a good rhythm...

This may explain why, in my day, it was not taught in 5th grade.

California 5th grade science exam question about parallel circuits

You can probably get this one just from knowing what the word "parallel" means, for what it is worth.

But that goes to show just how much of this test, ostensibly about science, tests English fluency. No matter how well your teacher taught science, or how much you understand about how things work, or how easy it would be for you to take a box of gears and junk and build a robot with it, if you are not a fluent English reader, you will not get a good score on this test. These questions require close, careful reading after a couple of hours of close, careful reading and decision-making. It is not an easy task.

Can you determine how this machine works from a simple line drawing?

california 5th grade science test: question about salt water and ice cream makers

Ice cream - all kids love it! You'd think this would be a great kid-friendly science question. But, I think for kids who haven't made ice cream in one of these old fashioned ice cream makers, it will be very hard to understand that the salt water isn't being added to the ice cream ingredients.

For that matter, it's not clear that this is a hand crank device. If you don't know how it works, it's not at all obvious that the solution is used for cooling, and pretty reasonable to think it might be needed to conduct electricity for a motor.

This is a classic trick question - one that will only be answered by kids who read questions very, very closely and who can quickly size up an unfamiliar situation. Or, kids who have moms (or possibly teachers) who buy hand crank ice cream makers and make ice cream at home.  It's not really doing a good job of testing science understanding.

This is too bad, really, because it's a great idea. Perhaps a clearer diagram would have helped. And hey, why not have ice-cream-making as part of the curriculum for every 5th grade class? It's a perfect activity: science you can eat.

Why does Grandma even need Kidneys, Anyway?

California 5th grade science exam question about human organ systems

Straightforward. Probably not something I learned in 5th grade.

I know my daughter's class did this at the beginning of the year, because she made a diorama of organ systems inside a plastic horse for one of her assignments. For that matter, it's also covered by the novice curriculum in 4H. Do your kids know the differences between the digestive systems of a human, a sheep, a cow, and a chicken? Surprisingly, mine does.

Perhaps on the math they should do a companion problem like "Sarah's kidneys are in failure, so she goes to the hospital for dialysis three times a week to have the toxins removed from her blood by machine. If Sarah has $50,000 in savings and each treatment costs $1,500, how many treatments can she afford before her blood fills with toxins and she dies?"

Probably too gritty for them.

Today's Science Lesson is a Trip to the Beach

California 5th grade science exam question about the formation of a rock arch near the beach

Although I know what the BEST answer from their point of view is (D), truly this arch was likely formed by all these processes. The rock itself is the result of plate tectonics and volcanism and deposition. The arch formed because parts were softer than others, eroded away by the incessant pounding of the surf... or maybe part of it fell during an earthquake. Certainly there's not a scrap of land in California not affected by plate tectonics and earthquakes.

By the way, these kinds of rock formations make for some mighty spectacular sections of the coastline. They're well worth seeing in person.

</ ad for California coastal tourism>

(This exam question brought to you by the Mendocino Tourism Board and the Cambria Chamber of Commerce.)

How do YOU Make a Canyon?

California 5th grade science exam question about the formation of the Grand Canyon

It's good to know that there's no equivocation about geological processes in the California curriculum. They take a long time, like water on a rock.

Interestingly, this is not a question you could get unless you know where the Grand Canyon is and how it was formed. You can't derive it by understanding the principles of those processes and looking at this single low-resolution black and white image. This is strictly a memorization issue, and hopes that someone, somewhere mentioned that the Grand Canyon is in Arizona and was formed by the mighty Colorado River.

Weather Permitting

California 5th grade science exam question about weather forecasting

I guessed this one correctly only because I decided that if it was 75° F in California, that it was extremely unlikely to rain (let alone snow or hail) any time soon. If I had recently moved here from Kentucky, I might have gotten this wrong.

Or perhaps it's clear from some part of the science curriculum the 5th graders know. I was never taught anything about weather in school.

California 5th grade science exam question about hurricanes

I learned about hurricane strength from watching too much TV. Eat it, anti-TV granola-mothers!

You're only good for creating raw material for plant photosynthesis

California 5th grade science exam question about biological waste materials

You'd better know your gases. This is a straightforward question with only one correct answer, but I would be surprised if even half of the members of Congress can answer it correctly.

Using the Scientific Method

California 5th grade science exam question about experimental design

I like this one. The correct answer is clearly C, but it's not easy, and it's a very good test of the student's understanding of the scientific method. What is the experimenter testing with this design?

Virtual volume of a virtual object

California 5th grade science exam question about measuring volume of an irregular object using liquid

This is one of those concepts that everyone should know. It is surprisingly useful as a bit of everyday knowledge.

If you believed they put a Man on the Moon...

California 5th grade science exam question about gravity

Another good question, and not easy. You could know a lot about planets and gravity and still pick the wrong answer.

Answers? Why, weren't they all obvious? The kids don't get 'em, but are left to puzzle for the rest of the day whether they chose correctly. Ah well, one of the privileges of age is, in fact, the answer sheet (2.2 MB PDF). Scroll to the end, or you can see the questions I selected with the answers below.

(32: C, 63: D, 61: D, 30: C, 31: C, 73: D, 16: A, 14: C, 13: C, 29: C, 65: D, 64: B, 54: A, 53: C, 24: A, 71: C, 74: A, 59: A )

Yes, it was a long diary. The test is a lot longer. So if you didn't make it to the end...

To quote Ursula the Sea Witch, "Life's full of tough choices, isn't it?"

Originally posted to elfling's Magical Mystery Tour on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, California politics, SciTech, SFKossacks, and Community Spotlight.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Not that tough. (9+ / 0-)

    But I was a life science major.

    5th grade eh....think a few would have been difficult in 5th...

    They had girls in class. I had just started noticing.... :)

    "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..." - Abraham Lincoln

    by Hedwig on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:36:09 AM PDT

  •  Cool! You get to write about something (10+ / 0-)

    other than DK4.

    Great diary ... more more more.

    You've been Republished in:
    J Town Babbling Brook

    Burble Burble

    Much of life is knowing what to Google
    (and blogging at BPI Campus)

    by JanF on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:49:56 AM PDT

    •  Thanks (16+ / 0-)

      I think it's illuminating to look at the Language Arts and Math exams as well - but this is the one with the best pretty pictures. :-)

      I'm not sure most people appreciate how much knowledge we're cramming down into school at younger and younger ages. I am pleased to see the rigor but at the same time I think we as a society need to acknowledge and understand just how much more rigorous it is than the tests we took as kids. And we need to make sure that kids and teachers and parents have the time and resources to meet these standards.

      The 5th grade mathematics exam has simple algebra on it.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:55:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My daughter is a 5th grader and (12+ / 0-)

        I am glad that she has really good teachers because if she depended on me to do the math she would be in trouble.

        I can do math but schools use completely different methods now. Her school uses something called Everyday Math and the way they back into the numbers seems confusing to me but it is only because I learned different techniques to get to the same result.

        I was just mentioning to a friend that we don't give our kids enough free time to just "think". Their days are filled with school and tests and homework and then sports and other activities.

        This column by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek (before it became a rag) about free time and creativity is worth rereading.

        Much of life is knowing what to Google
        (and blogging at BPI Campus)

        by JanF on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:09:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I dislike Everyday Math (4+ / 0-)

          (as a teacher).

          "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

          by lilypew on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:52:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  creativity (10+ / 0-)

          one of my favorite stories/Questions I asked my kids years ago, concerning science:

          "Using this very nice and accurate  Barometer, how would you tell the height of a very tall building?"

          of course in a science class the desired answer is pressure difference and a little math.

          As the story goes, though, other answers as good or better -

          1) climb to the top of the building with a stopwatch, drop the barometer off the side and time how long before it crashes into the street. science and  some simple math.

          2) Find the owner/architect of the building and say "I'll give you this very nice barometer if you tell me the height of your building..." Creativity and some salesmanship.

          and so forth.. so that's why I, as a science person, believe that art and music are just as important as math a biology - it takes creativity to put those tools to use...

          Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

          by blindcynic on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 04:18:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I love those answers (4+ / 0-)

            Very valid solutions!

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 04:40:15 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But two of them would be WRONG (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              on Da Testes, validity notwithstanding.

              Da Testes tell you that all questions have one right answer and three or four wrong ones, and YOU never get to pick what that answer is. You either know it, make a desperate guess, or give up.

              Good training for Bush/Cheney's vision of America, not so much for anything else.

              "We've had the GOP tax cuts, where are the jobs?" -- ahumbleopinion

              by Black Max on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:38:32 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Bingo! (0+ / 0-)

                that's why standardized testing has flaws - because multiple choice questions are designed for ease of scoring by testing companies, not anything else. and most of life is not multiple choice, it's gray and requires critical thinking.

                That's why teaching to the test is insidious - it creates people - students - who think they're good when in fact they are inferior, but the system keeps telling them that they are exceptions.

                And then one day they are tested against - oh, I don't know, Europeans, Asians, Muslims students at Tehran university, American Univerisity of Beriut, Oxford. And in general they always lack.

                I have a daughter who, on her own volition, schooled herself 2 years abroad outside the US university system, came back to graduate with honors and get a grad scholership... and she considered the US public university system as marking time until she could get back to serious scholarship in Europe.  And she went to a very good US  public university. It wasn't bad, It just wasn't what the rest of the world expects of educated people.

                Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

                by blindcynic on Sat Apr 16, 2011 at 08:14:12 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  We have time to cram all this knowledge (7+ / 0-)

        in because schools have lost their fine arts, music and sometimes PE funding. Our elementary schools in this district lost band 4 years ago. Now the Junior high schools don't have band, and we are two years away from the high schools not having band.

        "Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serving public office." Sheriff Dupnik, AZ

        by voracious on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:57:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We have been sneaky (5+ / 0-)

          and kept that as best we can. We do some through the afterschool program and it also helps that the elementary is colocated with a small high school, which allows them to share the art teacher - a really spectacularly good art teacher - there.

          This teacher isn't just someone who knows how to unlock the supply cabinets, but a true working artist, and she's given the kids some very serious lessons in art and technique and understanding. She also just made the effort to get her HS art and drama classes approved for the UC A-G requirements, which is a substantial exercise.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:52:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  algebra & geometry concepts now in 1st grade (8+ / 0-)

        I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that my first grader grandkid had algebra and geometry concepts in his homework, quite early in the school year, too. And he easily understands the concepts, zips through those sections with all correct answers.

        Love the diary!

        •  Yes, that is the new strategy (4+ / 0-)

          with which I in general approve. It spooks the parents but it has some very nice elements in the long run, like getting the kids used to the idea that the answer can go any place in the equation, not just on the right side of the equal sign.

          What I am not sure of, though, is whether it is enough to get all the kids ready for algebra as 8th graders, or whether it will turn out that it is fine now that we are getting kids who have had this curriculum since kindergarten into the 8th grade.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:54:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  great idea re algebra (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SoCalSal, Black Max, JanF, addisnana

          Lots of kids seem to lose their way in math when first introduced to fractions, which they are taught as a complicated bunch of arbitrary rues. Then algebra appears a fancy notation after they're already lost. Algebra can start as extremely easy common sense in plain language, very early. Then once you've got a little algebra, fractions make sense in terms of it. This is a really encouraging development, if done right.

          Michael Weissman UID 197542

          by docmidwest on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:59:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They do simple things (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            SoCalSal, Black Max, docmidwest, JanF

            starting in kindergarten like

            _ = 2 + 3

            and then move on to problems like:

            2 + __ = 5

            so that by 5th grade they can ask:

            2 + a = 5

            What is the value of a?

            My mom used to teach algebra, and it frustrated her that the notation was introduced so late, because when she worked with her older kids, they really struggled with the idea that the answer could be on the left side of the equal sign. It was a simple thing that sometimes completely derailed them from mathematics until she could get them past that block.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 06:10:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Amen, JanF. Awesome diary. n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Black Max, JanF

      We need to teach people that the environment has a direct bearing on our own benefit. Dalai Lama

      by maggiejean on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:41:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think it's a sound-looking test. (5+ / 0-)

    I wouldn't expect everyone to get it all right by any means, but it would tell you how literate your fifth-grader is about various aspects of science.  

    It's better to curse the darkness than light a candle. --Whoever invented blogs, c.1996

    by Rich in PA on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:01:13 AM PDT

    •  Testing "Basic" on these exams (4+ / 0-)

      usually means slightly below grade level.

      "Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serving public office." Sheriff Dupnik, AZ

      by voracious on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:58:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Basic is supposed to be "at grade level" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rich in PA, Black Max

        as it has been described to me.

        Of course, it depends how they choose to norm the scores each year.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 04:02:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  at grade level = "proficient" (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        denise b, elfling, addisnana, voracious

        There are five levels of performance: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and challenge. Schools in CA are judged by the percentage of students who score proficient or challenge; this is how the school's Academic Performance Index (API) is determined.

        Teachers (at least in my district) are told to choose several "focal" students - students who have a good chance of raising their test scores from basic to proficient. The needs of this small handful of students are used to determine instructional focus and strategies for the entire class.

        Why? Because from the district's point of view (although they'd never come out and say it), it's a waste of time to work too much on bringing a student who scores far below basic or below basic up to basic. A student moving from far below basic to basic doesn't "count" towards a school meeting it's yearly goals; only percent proficient is used to determine whether or not the goals have been met.

        When I first heard about this I didn't want to believe it. Now that I've taught for a few years I know it definitely is true - sick, sad, and true.

        •  You're correct of course (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I was misremembering.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:07:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I would put it a little nicer (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          addisnana, voracious

          I don't think anyone at my daughter's school would consider it a waste of time; they know these kids. They know what a difference it makes.

          It's the State that considers it a waste of time.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:08:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  please read my comment again... (0+ / 0-)

            I said "from the district's point of view" - not from a teacher's point of view, or even from a principal's point of view. My comment was in no way a slam on the people who work directly with students. I agree with you wholeheartedly that no one at my school would consider working with the lower-scoring kids a waste of time.

            The directive to choose a few "focal students" and concentrate on improving their test scores comes down to us from the central office; neither teachers nor principals have anything to say about it.

  •  Oh jeez. (6+ / 0-)

    My 5th grader is taking it next week. Thanks for the diary. I am going to have to go through it with him before Monday. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of things on there they haven't done. I know they did photosynthesis a few months ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has forgotten the specific gases, for example. And I'm pretty sure they haven't done much on weather but I hope he has some idea about it already.


  •  Republished to California politics. (6+ / 0-)

    In case Californians with an interest in education would like to take a look.

    •  I reviewed the released questions for (7+ / 0-)

      9th grade language arts. 72 pages of them. My 9th grader who is in "Honors" English this year has written two essays. Just two. Instead they fill their time with vocabulary drills and sometimes reading comprehension. Students in California only take writing tests in 4th and 7th grade. I wonder if that has anything to do with the lack of essay writing in  high school.

      "Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serving public office." Sheriff Dupnik, AZ

      by voracious on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:59:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That, plus likely the time it takes (6+ / 0-)

        to grade the essays, which really wears on a teacher when they have 175 students (5 classes of 35).

        And this is terrible, because writing is something you learn with practice, and it's far more critical than the ability to answer those 'read and answer questions' test elements.

        Even if the essays are not rigorously graded, I think it is really important that the kids do that kind of writing as often as possible.

        BTW, last year they skipped the 4th grade reading exam for budget reasons.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 04:05:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The curriculum at my old highschool (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        maybeeso in michigan, voracious

        had the same problem.  Tons of vocabulary tests (10 to 20 words a week?) and very, very little writing.  Though suppose by that point, my ability to write had already been permanently stunted by the whole "This is exactly how you write a persuasive/comparative/invective paper:  1 paragraph to do x, 3 to do y, 1 to do x.  Each paragraph...yada, yada, yada."

        I have a PhD now (With a couple published papers), and I still can't really write at all.

  •  5th grade is exactly when I learned about rocks (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexMex, AnnieR, voracious, bkamr

    I even got a rock analyzing kit for xmas that year.  My teacher had a rock tumbler in class and we were amazed by the results.

  •  well written with some higher level question (7+ / 0-)

    My poor eighth graders in Buffalo might have had some trouble with them.
    While some of the questions look like straight recall, they have an aspect of analysis. Like the shale question, you were told that shale was metamorphic so pressure would be the answer, regardless.
    Well written with Bloom's taxonomy in mind.


  •  Some questions are 5th grade level (5+ / 0-)

    like the plant questions and Grand Canyon.  The circuit and gravity were learned in junior high and the Mohs was never taught.

    Kids are expected to do to much.  Sometimes I go on Yahoo Answers and help kids with homework mostly in history and English.  Many times the kids copy the prompt or question given to them that are college level questions and I answer as if they were.  Then the next day the kid would post again and ask to have the answer dumbed down because they are in elementry or middle school.  I've learned to keep my answers as simple as possible.

    The last few times a couple of kids posted a paragraph and must explain the meaning.  Mind you, with my graduate degree I have one heck of a time figuring out what the paragraph is talking about and kids are suppose to do it on their own?

    As I said, kids are expected to do to much.

    Got Books? ..... Need Cables?

    by sweettp2063 on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 10:48:32 AM PDT

    •  I teach 6th grade science, and we do a lab with (6+ / 0-)

      Mohs to identify a mystery rock.  

      Many of the things I'm teaching my students, I know I didn't learn until I was in high school or college.  We are indeed pushing content down to lower and lower grades.  

      Plutocracy (noun) Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; 1) government by the wealthy; 2) 21st c. U.S.A.; 3) 22nd c. The World

      by bkamr on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:28:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well-meaning exam but (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bkamr, elfling, hatdog

    there's far too much vocabulary and isolated facts. Most of school "science" teaching is unfortunately like that.

    My reactions are pretty much the same as yours to the individual questions. However, I like the one about hardness precisely because there was really only one way to make sense of it even if you never heard of any of the particulars before. So it acts as a good test of ability to pick up new information. Probably it was meant as a test of particular knowledge.

    BTW, if they understood thermodynamics they would know that on 13 B <-> C, they aren't logically independent.

    Shouldn't this be republished to the Science Education in America group?

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 01:23:29 PM PDT

    •  I could suss out the hardness also (4+ / 0-)

      and, I agree, a good question in that way.

      But, it might take me maybe 2 minutes, and imagine it as question #63 if you're ten years old.

      There's a lot that I like about it, and I like the idea that all these concepts are taught. I think reaching for this goal is worthwhile and beneficial. I am certain that if this exam was not in place that the kids would not have gotten so much science, and rigorous science this year.

      But, it also will not surprise me, even knowing how much effort the 4th and 5th grade teachers put into this, if the students don't all get great scores. There are several whose english fluency will limit them, and others who are just not great at sweating detail, especially not 2 hours in on an exam.

      So as a test - I like it. As a goal - I like it. As a high stakes cudgel - not so much.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:22:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, not so bad (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on re-reading. There's quite a bit of content to most parts.
    I hope that there were a lot of questions like the ball in the graduated cylinder, involving no big words.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 01:28:26 PM PDT

  •  At the High School level, the STAR tests (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Got a Grip

    are pretty closely tailored, including tests for each math level and for individual sciences, like chemistry and physics.

    Our local high school is trying an interesting strategy to make the tests relevant to the kids - students who score poorly get no penalty, of course, but students who score well will have their end of course grade raised by one full letter. A couple of the high school kids told me they were excited about 'kicking ass' on them - which, given the history of these kinds of exams, is actually pretty remarkable.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 02:51:13 PM PDT

  •  Republished to Community Spotlight(Diary Rescue) (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bkamr, elfling, navajo, hatdog, ybruti

    Nice job, BL

    « Lorsque nous révolte, ce n'est pas pour une culture particulière. Nous révolte simplement parce que, pour de nombreuses raisons, nous pouvons respirer n'est plus. »
    -- Frantz Fanon

    by BentLiberal on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:00:28 PM PDT

  •  I note only (9+ / 0-)

    that along with an ability to read and science knowledge, these examples also require a fairly high degree of visual literacy, about how to read charts and visual graphics and the like.

    This kind of decoding information is also culturally-bound and processed.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:02:50 PM PDT

  •  Rock, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    paper, scissors: lamentations on the ties that bind.

    You make being smart look like so much fun :-)

    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace- Hendrix

    by Maori on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:14:03 PM PDT

  •  When did they start teaching science (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in grade school? My first brush with science was  high bschool chemistry.

    Money=speech; every dollar has a right to be heard. The Supremes

    by orson on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:54:47 PM PDT

  •  Hey, I'm as smart as a 5th grader! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, maybeeso in michigan

    Maybe not smarter, but I kicked ass on this test.  My grandchildren will be so proud.

    Oh, and while I gave birth to two children, I can't say that I ever owned either of them.  Lord knows I tried, but I'm pretty sure that in the end they own me.  ;-)

    "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

    by Got a Grip on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 03:56:44 PM PDT

  •  If you really want to scare yourself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maybeeso in michigan

    go to any American city main street and ask these questions of anyone less than 19 years of age, and given my experience with American youth, my fear is that a greater percentage than you'd like, would get less than 60% right.  

  •  What a tragedy this is. (7+ / 0-)
    Although I know what the BEST answer from their point of view is (D), truly this arch was likely formed by all these processes.

    I was teaching in California when we had to start giving this fifth grade test. I remember very well the Mendocino question highlighted above. I also remember being appalled that every answer could be justified by someone who actually knew the science, and I remember thinking that - yes, it's not really meant for science students at all - it's a question for English majors who know how to read and cram, but don't really understand the interplay of scientific principles. (no offense meant to English majors, whose own tests were a great challenge for me, because that wasn't my field or interest)

    I also remember the frustration of having signed (and partially broken) an agreement that I would not even read the test, and therefore I wasn't able to talk about my discoveries about it with anybody but my fellow agreement breakers. Isn't the "top secret" concept wonderful? Keeps the public from discussing the incompetence of those in control, that's for sure.

    And finally, I'm floored by the cheek it must have taken to put this particular question up as a sample question. Mind you, there were many questions on that test with more than one correct answer, but this was one of only a couple where every single answer could be justified in some way.

    The advent of this test marked the beginning of the end for me as a teacher in California.  It was such a letdown from the previous direction the state had been heading. I've since been led into other things and now teach overseas.

    Elementary school in the '70s had only cursory science in my area. I recall tormenting mealworms with colored squares and a kiddie pool full of crayfish as the extent of our biology.

    By contrast, my daughter did real science experiments in kindergarten growing plants with simple variables (water/no water, light/no light, dirt/no dirt), drawing the results in their lab books, and writing simple conclusions.

    I guess this example of yours shows the influence of local control and varying priorities from one locale to another - indeed, from one teacher to another. Where I went to elementary school in the fifties, we did all sorts of science projects all the time, as well as other sorts of projects.

    This emphasis on science projects and experiments carried right through with most of the elementary schools where I taught in the intervening decades.

    Scientific thinking and experiments were promoted even more strongly by the California science education framework of the early nineties (I think it was 1991). Frameworks are sets of goals and expectations published by the state for each subject about every seven years. They describe what's required of California schools. Anyone interested in knowing what's supposed to be happening in the schools should start by reading them.

    Anyway, the science framework of 1991 was truly exemplary, developed from solid pedagogical principles, backed up by an ever-evolving research-based body of theory, such as that developed by Lawrence Lowery at the University of California.

    It was cemented in place by the CAP test - the state's standardized test of those years - where students were actually required to perform an experiment and draw conclusions during the test.

    They were supplied with actual physical materials to do this, which made the testing logistics somewhat complicated, but we figured that the trouble was worth it, since scientific thinking - that is, clear, logical thinking from inference and deduction - was the most important thing one could teach to elementary school students about the scientific process.

    All that came to a screeching halt midway into the decade when Bill Honig, the state superintendent of education at the time, was done in by his political enemies.

    Pete Wilson took the governorship, and the CAP tests were demonized as being not rigorous enough. The science framework was discarded immediately, despite the fact that it was not the normal time to do so (shades of Texas redistricting).

    In its place we were given an "elite" framework developed with the help of "award-winning scientists," who might have been effective researchers, but that's a different skill set than teaching - particularly for teaching kids who are not the elite and accomplished self-motivated learners who generally are found at the universities where these researchers find themselves.  

    Of course, these experts are the ones for whom the old system worked, so given a choice, they'll naturally come up with a system from the "good old days" emphasizing the same rote learning scholastic curriculum that seemed to have gotten them through.

    As a result, the newer frameworks suffer from the most basic educational fallacy of all - that someone who uses scientific vocabulary correctly also understands the concepts and principles which make up the meaning of those words.

    Yeah, I still remember the first time I saw the periodic table being taught in fifth grade. The periodic table! And this to kids who really needed to play with things like the electrolysis of water so they could have some idea of what we're dealing with when we talk about chemical change, anyway, so they could have some idea what the vocabulary they were spouting actually means.  Well, such "play" takes time, doesn't it?

    (And by the way, for most kids, hands-on play is necessary - you cannot simply substitute a video or the teacher demonstrating something at the front of the room)

    So here's the further rub - this crappy testing and misguided educational framework resulted in fewer projects, not more more projects, for our students, because the only way we could get the kids to pass the tests was to take time away from experiments and devote it to reading, and drumming facts into their heads.

    So science loses its grounding in reality and becomes just a matter of faith, like so many other faith systems.

    I mean, at our particular school, the science teacher was formerly one of the kids' favorite teachers, and her class was the most popular place to go, and even hang out after class.  I mean, this was a woman who organized a series of field trips for an entire elementary school (300+ students) to go out to a local nature preserve and catch bugs, and experience the wonder of how those little guys choose where to live, when to move, and how to survive.

    Well, after the big change, she felt obligated to help the kids pass the test, so the grand experiments were curtailed (though not eliminated - she had too much integrity for that).  Even so, in order to "cover the material" that would be on the test, a lot of book time took the place of wonderment time, and you could feel the change in attitude of the students, both towards her and towards science itself. Her classroom was no longer the cool place to hang out, nor was she the favorite teacher for the new students coming up.

    It's sad - more than sad, really.

    None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

    by Toddlerbob on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:05:51 PM PDT

    •  Great comment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      houyhnhnm, addisnana

      Our school is off the beaten path and has an elementary staff that is, I suspect, unusually strong in math and science.

      When I was in elementary school in the 1970's, we had class sizes of 35+ and no real science. But this was in an area where education was tolerated as a place to send the kids during the day and an excuse for a football team.

      Today, when I picked up my daughter, her teacher was resigned to having to remove all the materials off her walls, because it's not allowed to be up during the STAR testing.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:46:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The good news for my daughter's class (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      happymisanthropy, addisnana

      is that in a couple of weeks they are going to a week long outdoor science camp, where they will be invited to kiss a banana slug and learn about rivers and plants and the forest and the bugs and the tidepools and all the wonders of real biology.

      I treasure that they get this experience, and I wish every child could.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:52:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ah memories (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, addisnana

        I used to take my class on such a camp to Point Reyes National Seashore every spring for twenty five years. If that's where you're going, flip a burger on the grill at the ed. center for me, will you?  Give my best to Fiona.

        We'd go as a group with about one parent volunteer for every six kids (they would use up their vacation time in order to accompany us), and I honestly can't say which I enjoyed more - working with the kids or working with the parents. Great times. Really great times.

        None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

        by Toddlerbob on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:33:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  we give kids (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, Black Max, JustDontKnow

    a superficial toolbox of facts and not one genuine enthusiasm or passion for finding meaning in life.  Not that many don't find it on their own, but our teach/test system isn't helpful in the process.  

    Personally, my now-adult kids are eternally grateful for their entirely test-free childhood.

  •  MD test (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, houyhnhnm, hatdog

    here's a link if you want to see sample items from the Maryland State Assessment.

    This is all public release so there's no secret.  I teach in Montgomery Co. MD.  You can click on the tests and then separately on the answers.  The tests, besides having many multiple choice questions (known as Selected Response) also has many Brief Constructed Response (BCR) questions - write a short paragraph.  When you look at the answers you will see they have included both poor answers and good ones as samples.  

    Here are two questions from the 5th grade science test, as a comparison to the test above.  

    A fossilized seashell is found on a mountain.
    This seashell shows that the mountain was once
    A much hotter
    B much colder
    C above sea level
    D covered by water

    The volume of the solid sugar in Beaker W and Beaker X was equal.
    Which statement best explains this equal volume?
    A The same amount of the solid sugar occupies the same amount of
    B Dividing a sample of the solid sugar increases the amount of the
    solid sugar.
    C The amount of matter in the solid sugar stays the same but the
    space the solid sugar occupies changes.
    D The same amount of space may be occupied by different amounts of the same time of solid sugar

    These are two questions from the 5th grade science test.  

    In my school, in 5th grade, every child is taught science for 45 minutes a day one week out of 3.  And that is more than in many schools in the county.  Because if your school doesn't pass the MSA the principal will put a LOT of pressure on you to make sure every child can read and do math.  The reading and math tests "count" but the science  test doesn't.  

  •  Hyperbolic Pants Explosion's project (0+ / 0-)

    The Inoculation Project, highlights a request from science teachers for funding every Friday afternoon. If you're interested in supporting science education, I highly recommend it:!

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 05:40:01 PM PDT

  •  I'm glad they teach science (4+ / 0-)

    at the elementary level in California.  In my school district they're so obsessed with making ayp in comm arts and math, science is getting left out.  Some elementary teachers have told me their principal told them to leave out the science objectives.

    The questions were easy for me (I should hope as I teach high school science) and I thought they were pretty good questions.

    I think it would take a lot of time and effort to get fifth graders to that level, though, and I suspect that it's not happening in very many elementary schools.

    "I wish I loved the human race. I wish I loved its silly face." ~ Sir Walter Raleigh

    by houyhnhnm on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 06:58:10 PM PDT

  •  That was fun. But then I always thought IQ (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, addisnana

    tests were fun.

    I shared this on Facebook and I'm printing it off to send to my 6th grade granddaughter's teacher.


    I remember sooooo proudly learning my first really big word in the 3rd grade.   photosynthesis   That would have been in 1950.

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 07:26:02 PM PDT

  •  Being a smartass (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Black Max, elfling, happymisanthropy

    I'd defend multiple answers in several of the questions.  For instance, in 59 B and D are manifestations of gravity's effects during solar system development.  Planetary rotation rate is especially driven by accretion of planitesimals.  I'd have to think a little harder about tilt and precession, though.

    Distrust of authority should be the first civic duty. - Norman Douglas

    by Fossil on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 07:56:16 PM PDT

    •  There's a lot of that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And it's an interesting choice, is it not, to choose to value close reading of the question and choosing the answer most likely to be the one they wanted on the test, rather than to ask the question with fewer words and less ambiguity.

      Even the tilt of the axis probably involved a collision of planetessimals, and any time you're thinking about collisions and large bodies, in the solar system, gravity is involved.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:14:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, answer "A" would be obvious (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      if you had taught Kepler's Laws but not the origin of the solar system.  Otherwise it's ambiguous.

      •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Science is not just the accumulation of rote factoids, but instead, how to investigate questions and weigh that knowledge.  While a baseline knowledge of concepts is important, there is so much more - the concept of change over time, being much more important than any factoid.

        Distrust of authority should be the first civic duty. - Norman Douglas

        by Fossil on Sat Apr 16, 2011 at 06:56:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  These tests show a number of things: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    1) Our kids are being exposed to far more advanced material that the same kids were even a decade ago, and certainly 20 years earlier. Not more, more advanced. We're pushing them a lot harder, and many of them are learning (some of) it.

    2) The kids are, by and large, learning that the meaning of school is passing Da Testes. Not learning for learning's sake, or for the joy of knowledge, or for expanding one's mind. Even the idea of "getting into college" or "getting a decent job" is merely lip service. Da Testes is it. Hence...

    3) The kids are developing the worst collective set of test anxiety in human history (unless you count the kids of Sparta, perhaps), and...

    4) Learning anything doesn't count unless it has Da Testes label slapped on it, and once Da Testes are over and done with (around mid-May in my neck of the US), it's all playtime and thumb-twiddling until summer release.

    Also add to the list: Da Testes do a piss-poor job of measuring student achievement. More accurately, they accurately assess a very narrow, stratified area of student knowledge, and leave most other areas (critical thinking, aesthetic appreciation, systematic debate and judgment, etc) completely untouched.

    One-word summation: bullshit.

    "We've had the GOP tax cuts, where are the jobs?" -- ahumbleopinion

    by Black Max on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 08:36:11 PM PDT

    •  It's both more and more advanced (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lisa, Black Max

      When I was in school, history ended at 1955. (I was in high school in the 1980's, and the last textbooks were purchased around 1960.)

      Today in American history, there's 50 more years to teach in a 250 year historical span. Plus, schools are expected to teach about more events in more civilizations from more points of view, all in the same time they've always had.

      I went to an Assembly Education Committee hearing in Sacramento a few years ago. It was eye-opening to see how many bills there were on just one random Wednesday, and how little we hear about them in advance.

      One of them was to teach the history of the Hmong people. It was a moving presentation, with many Hmong US Army veterans, and a passionate teenager who was moved to tears about how important this history was to her.

      One of the legislators on the committee said, rather sensibly I thought, "Obviously this is a very moving and important part of our history. But, I'm reluctant to legislate more single elements into the curriculum when people representing other groups will come to this Committee and also want their stories told."

      I thought he was being rhetorical. Then I leafed through the agenda (it was several inches thick) and I realized that there were two more similar bills that were scheduled for the committee that same day.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 09:22:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  fewer school days (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, Black Max

        With the budgets these days, there are furloughs that eat into the number of instructional days. Teachers have mountains of material to -cram in- cover and less and less time to do it in.

        It frustrates me. I wish we could streamline the curriculum so teachers could do more depth and less breadth.

  •  I wonder how the CA (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    test compares to other states' tests. Many people believe "basic" is akin to failure, and only "proficient" means our schools are not failing. The NCLB/RTT requirement that 100% of students be proficient -- actually above grade level -- needs to be explained better!

  •  What's the answer to botany question 30? (0+ / 0-)

    How do plants transport water? A system of tubes or photosynthesis? I would think both answers are right.

  •  Dear God. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My daughter attends a Waldorf school and will be taking this test in a couple of weeks. She has studied science extensively, but in an organic, artistic way. She understands the concepts, and respects the nature involved, but I'm not sure she'll be able to put it in such blunt terms. In general, her school scores at 20% for second graders, 50% for fifth graders, and 80% for eighth graders, but she's used to doing extremely well on anything she tries. This is going to drive her crazy.

    We might spend some of the upcoming vacation talking about scientific terms. Thanks for the warning.

    "We live now in hard times, not end times." Jon Stewart

    by tb92 on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 10:18:17 PM PDT

  •  Lordy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shale is a sedimentary rock that can be metamorphosed into slate by

    There are at least two words in that sentence that I probably couldn't pronounce when I was in fifth grade, and two others that I probably couldn't have defined.

    In other words, if this test had been in front of me, I would have cried.

    You better check yourself chunky.

    by MeMeMeMeMe on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 10:33:04 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this elfling (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, JanF

    It made me think I might be ready for "Are you smarter than a 5th grader."  My grandkids are pre-schoolers and I must say this was totally eye opening for me. I had no idea this was what 5th graders were doing. I'd second giving it to Congress with full transparency on the results.

  •  Those are mostly logic, not science questions /nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  May I republish to SciTech? (0+ / 0-)

    If you are interested I'll invite you to contribute.

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