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January 16, 2014

Catching up with education

Cooperstown Crier

---- — We read with some interest the recent article in The Daily Star regarding the demise of the GED in NYS. We were some relieved when we discovered, upon reading beyond the headline, that the GED was being replaced with a new high school equivalency test called the Test Assessment Secondary Completion or TASC. 

Now we must admit that we really knew little, if anything, about questions asked for the GED. But now, with all the changes in the focus of education associated with the Common Core curriculum, we were curious about the new testing system. And thus we went online to see what we might discover.

Much to our delight we found, on the TASC website,, sample questions for the testing program. We discovered the test seems to be divided into five sections, mathematics, science, social studies, reading and writing. Since it was listed first, we dove directly into the section on mathematics.

 The first question read: “When a spherical balloon is filled with air, it has a diameter of 6 inches. Which of the following gives the best estimate for the volume of air in the balloon in cubic inches? A. 63.6 B. 108.0 C. 113.1 D. 150.8”

Now we suspect, if one knows the formula for finding the volume of the sphere, this is not a particularly difficult question. We also suspect that at some point in our life, perhaps even in high school, we knew the formula for finding the volume of a sphere. However, since graduating from high school close to 50 years ago, we must confess that we have never encountered the need to compute the volume of a sphere. Of course, we cannot speak for anyone else’s need to calculate the volume of a sphere as our lifetime experience with the problem may be unique. For all we know, others have been figuring the volume of spheres on a regular basis. And since it is the first sample question given we can but conclude it is an important exercise for today’s students.

Another of the math questions read: “Consider the price of a certain sofa, S, is $900 more than the price of a chair, C. The total price for the sofa and the chair is $1,200. Which system of equations can be used to find the price of each piece of furniture? A. C=S-900 S+C=1200 B. C=S+900 S-C=1200 C. C=S+900 C+S=1200 D. C=S+1200 S-C=900”. 

We found this question much easier to answer as we did not need a formula to figure it out. Of course, in our lifetime of furniture shopping we have always found that each piece of furniture we looked at had its very own price tag and thus we did not need to do any calculating whatsoever in order to determine the price of the piece of furniture. And although we have not purchased any furniture in a very long time, we suspect this is still true.

Of course, we fully realize that both of these math questions were really asking for an understanding of the concepts behind the problems and are not really meant to depict life experiences. At least we hope they were not meant to depict life experiences. We also hope that is true of the two science questions we would like to share.

The first one read: “The sun produces tremendous amounts of energy. Some of that energy reaches Earth and affects Earth’s systems. Which statement explains how the sun produces energy? A. The sun produces energy through fusion reactions in its core. B. The sun produces energy through radioactive decays in its core. C. The sun produces energy through convection cells on its surface. D. The sun produces energy through combustion reactions on its surface.” 

Now we must admit that we are not terribly conversant with the workings of the sun. But we were able to answer this question, not because we knew the answer, but because three of the four answers make no sense whatsoever. Thus we concluded that the remaining answer must be the correct one.

The second science question read: “Which explanation is the most likely reason for the appearance of individuals that have white fur? A. The mammals adapted to a change in climate by changing their fur color. B. The mammals chose a different food source that resulted in a new fur color. C. The mutation occurred in an individual’s fur color gene and resulted in a new fur color. D. A new predator moved into the area which caused the individuals to change fur color.”

 Again, while we are not overly conversant with the science of genetics, we were able to determine that three of the four possible answers made little sense, leaving the fourth answer to be the correct one. Thus we tend to think we were able to answer both of these science questions not because we knew the answers but rather were able to identify those choices that could not be the answers. In fact, had these two questions been short answer questions, we suspect we would have been clueless.

We have no idea what our assessment of these questions might mean, or the value thereof, but we did find it most interesting to peruse all the sample questions in the various areas. And having done so, we conclude that this new equivalency test is most definitely on the rigorous side. In fact it makes us quite grateful that we graduated from high school when we did in spite of the fact that we have concluded that we did not undertake in our studies what students today obviously must do. So we suspect we are fortunate that we have managed all these years as well as we have.

That is not to say, however, that we have not encountered over the years, situations with which we feel ill equipped to handle. In fact we had one such situation this past week. 

For whatever reason, our garage door opener went berserk. Much to our horror it took it upon itself to open the garage door with absolutely no help from us. Morning after morning when we opened the curtains in the family room we would discover the garage door to be open. And to add insult to injury, the remote control that we have in the house, would not work to close the offending door. After way too many days of this nonsense, we hit upon the brilliant idea of disengaging the door from the door opener. Of course then our problem was to find that kind person who was going to do that for us as doing it ourselves did not seem, given our current mobility, a viable option. Fortunately, that particular individual materialized to take care of the issue for the time being.

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