Monday, March 29, 2004

6th-grade proficiency test too tough?

Take it and find out

Click here to e-mail Denise Smith Amos
Last week I took parts of the sixth-grade and fourth-grade Ohio Proficiency Tests on a dare.

Several educators - a couple of principals, a teacher and a guidance counselor - told me that Ohio's proficiency tests include questions that are too tough for kids, and sometimes they cover items not yet taught.

Their dare was a mild-mannered protest against the strictures of federal No Child Left Behind mandates, which require states to set educational standards and then to test students on them.

Ohio Department of Education officials say the tests are fair and appropriate for their grades.

"Before a student ever sees a particular test, it has gone through extensive field testing, as well as fairness and content review committees that include grade-level teachers," said Tammy Ridout, a department spokeswoman.

To see for myself, I took last year's sixth-grade math test, a sixth-grade citizenship test, and fourth-grade citizenship test. (They're available online at

I passed them all - but a few questions stumped me.

"What is the surface area of a pyramid?"

The pyramid pictured had a square base that measured 6 centimeters on each side and 8 centimeters in height.

The problem includes this helpful formula: the area of a triangle is one half the product of its base times its height.

But test takers need to know a few more things:

• They need to know how to calculate the area of a square, by multiplying its length by its width. In this case, the square's area is 36 cm squared.

• Then they must know that they can't just calculate the area of one triangle, because a pyramid has four triangles on its surface. Hence, the area of a triangle - one-half of the product of 8 cm times 6 cm - must be multiplied by 4, for a total 96 cm squared, to equal the surface area of the pyramid's sides.

But the test taker can't stop there.

• They must remember that the surface area of a pyramid is the areas of its sides and its base. In other words, they must add the 96 cm squared to the 36 cm squared, to arrive 132 cm squared - the correct answer.

Imagine sixth-graders answering that question, and 50 more, in the 21/2 hours given to take the test.

Only 52 percent of Ohio's sixth-graders passed the math portion of the proficiency test.

Schools' performances varied. Eighty percent of Indian Hill's and 72 percent of Lakota's sixth-graders passed it, while 26 percent of Cincinnati's and 44 percent of Middletown's students passed.

The state's charter schools did worse: only 11 percent passed.

Kentucky Department of Education lists similar test results at



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