the meat

What N.Y. students actually had to do to pass the math tests

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 4.33.27 PM
Fourth graders in New York State answered this question about multiply whole numbers on their math exams this spring.

Along with this year’s test scores — lower than in the past, if you haven’t heard — the State Education Department also released test questions today.

The items posted on the department’s educator resource website, EngageNY, represent a quarter of the questions that students faced when they sat down to take Common Core-aligned exams this spring. Usually the state keeps test questions under wraps, but this year it decided to publish some of them because of the new, tougher standards.

Critics of the state’s testing practices say transparency can’t be achieved if the entire test isn’t released, and we don’t know how well students did on each of the questions that have been released. Still, they offer a view into the skills and practices that students were asked to demonstrate, and a discussion of test scores without a discussion of what counted is thin indeed.

That’s why we’ve collected a sample of the questions asked at each grade level on the state’s math exams. (EngageNY has more questions, in-depth explanations about how to solve and teach each problem, and, for questions that asked students to show their work, examples of student responses.) We’re hoping to spur a conversation about the questions that’s even better than the one that already happened on Twitter today.

Check out the test questions below, then let us know in the comments what your favorite and least favorite is and why. We’ll be highlighting insightful responses on Thursday.

In third grade, 33.1 percent of city students tested proficient in math.

This problem is about representing fractions on a number line:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.34.07 AM

This is a two-step word problem using addition and subtraction:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.35.33 AM

This problem is about whole-number quotients.

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.34.56 AM


In fourth grade, 35.2 percent of city students met the state’s proficiency standard in math.

This is an equivalent fraction problem using visual models.

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.49.23 AM

This problem asks students to compare fractions:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.51.22 AM

This problem asks students to multiply two-digit whole numbers:
Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 11.53.36 AMIn fifth grade, 29.6 percent of city students met the state’s math proficiency standard.

This problem is about adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators.

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.08.51 PM

This problem is about understanding multi-digit numbers:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.18.27 PM

 This problem is about expanding a base-ten numeral:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.26.34 PM


In sixth grade, 28.8 percent of city students hit the state’s proficiency standard.

This problem is about equivalent ratios:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.40.24 PM

 This problem is about inequalities represented on a number line:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.40.35 PM

 This problem is about equivalent expressions:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.43.08 PM

This problem is about absolute value and coordinates:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.43.48 PM

 This is a word problem that involves dividing fractions:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.49.05 PM

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.49.26 PM


In seventh grade, 25.7 percent of city students were proficient in math.

This is a problem about probability:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.52.13 PM

This is a word problem that uses equations:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.52.54 PM

This is a word problem involving unit rates:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 12.59.33 PM

This is a problem involving proportional relationships:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.07.51 PM

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.13.30 PM


In eighth grade, 29.6 percent of students were proficient in math.

This is a linear equation problem:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 2.09.43 PM

This a problem that involves understanding how to graph the function of x:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.15.42 PM

This is a problem about integer exponents:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.16.22 PM

 This word problem involves measuring the volume of a cylinder:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.17.13 PM

This problem is about finding relative frequencies using data:

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 1.17.55 PM

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.