Friday, December 17, 2010 Guest Post - Is Detroit The Dumbest City In America?!?

[Editor's Note: I'm busy digging myself out of DC's winter tundra working today, Shady Grady has the reigns. Witness the latest in hijinx from the Motor City.]

Are you an intelligent person? Well chances are if you're reading this you're at least somewhat intellectually curious and probably smarter than average. But how sharp are you really? Are you smarter than a fifth grader? I would think so. Are you as smart as a Wayne State University (WSU) graduating senior? Well that remains to be seen.

Some of you may remember the sordid tale of Otis Mathis, the former head of the Detroit Public School Board who became something of a local and national laughing stock and embarrassment when it was revealed that reading and writing were not exactly his strong points. Mathis resigned shortly afterwards because of a sexual harassment charge but that's not important right now. =)

The relevance is that Mr. Mathis was a graduate of WSU. Mathis took a long time to graduate because he could not pass an English Language proficiency exam. He sued and lost. The school dropped the requirement. Mathis got his degree and the rest as they say, is history.

Now WSU is back in the news again for a similar requirement only this one involves a Math proficiency exam. In order to pass this exam all you have to do is get 56% of the answers correct. Unfortunately a rather sizable number of would be graduates did not pass this test and they are somewhat …peeved.
Two years after Mishelle Kennedy finished her classes at Wayne State University, she still can't get her degree.

The Royal Oak Township resident is being held up because she can't pass a math test — a requirement that administrators say is at the level of high school math. While 1,970 students graduated last weekend from WSU, an estimated 1,500 others couldn't because they are in the same bind as Kennedy.

The situation is the result of math placement policies that changed five years ago, but are still impacting students today as WSU works to help these students graduate.
For Kennedy, 43, the lack of a degree means she can't further her career as a state social worker and possibly earn up to $10,000 more annually to support her four children.

"I can count my money; I can take 33 percent off of a dress on sale at Macy's. Why do I need algebra?" said Kennedy, who is taking the test again in January.
"Give me math that I would use as a social worker. It is so unfair."

Some students have wondered if WSU dropped the English proficiency test because of a growing number of foreign students who struggled with it. But Shapiro called that theory "nonsense."

It is unclear how many students cannot graduate because they must pass the math test. That is a closely guarded number, said Frank Koscielski, a WSU academic adviser and recruiter. Shapiro was unaware of the exact figure but said "it could be" 1,500. He expected the backlog to be cleared up within a year or two.

The test, which is offered regularly at WSU, includes 25 questions. Students must get 14 correct to pass, Shapiro said. An online practice test included math problems using basic skills in percentages, algebra and trigonometry.

Before a recent test, many students expressed anxiety because they had taken the test before. Kaitlyn Kowalewski, a photography major, was taking the test for the third time. "I tried to go to tutoring and one kid that helped me had to look up things online," said Kowalewski, 21, of Mount Clemens. "I want to be done. I am on track to graduate."

This test is one of the biggest frustrations for nontraditional students who have been out of school for years, said Beverly Hand, 49, who was taking the test for the fourth time. She has written to the president, Board of Governors and other university officials.
Now although WSU is smack dab in the middle of Detroit it is not a Black majority school. Black enrollment is just under 1/3. Caucasians make up around 50% of the student body. The news article features a picture of a Black woman but the other names and home cities of aggrieved students are most definitely stereotypically non-Black. I have no idea (yet) what the racial make up is of the people who failed the test. That might raise other questions. But to me it’s not a race question.

Here are some sample questions and a link to a sample test.
Carlos made $162 this week for 12 hours of work. How much did Carlos make per hour?

A piece of elastic is 28.5 inches long. It is stretched until it is 39 inches long. How many inches did the elastic stretch?

Mike bought a shirt and a package of socks. The shirt cost $17.50 more than the socks. Mike paid $30 total.
How much did each cost?

Solve: 3(2 − y) − 4 = 4 − 5(y + 1)

The area of a certain shape is given by the formula A = 4lw + w2 . Find the area when l = 3 and w = 2 .
This is not exactly calculus or university level physics. I can see that this might on some level be intimidating to an older non- traditional student but then again if they've made it this far, what's a little math test? And to younger students (20-24) this should be easy because it's really 8th- 9th -10th grade level algebra/trig/geometry. It shouldn't be that far in their past.

Some people may not, as the article states, make much day to day use of mathematics in their chosen career path. But if this test prevents a BIG DUMMY like Otis Mathis from escaping into society I'm all for heading them off at the pass. I mean if someone can't figure out percentages, even if they wish to be a social worker do we really need them working in that position?

Question: So, what do you think? Would YOU pass this sort of test with flying colors? Would you at least pass? Do the people complaining have a point or should they just shut their mouth and study harder? Is WSU just trying to make some extra money off of the backs of students? If you have some form of work related certification (Legal, Real estate license, PmP, Six Sigma Black Belt, Financial Advisor, etc) would you find this test laughably simplistic? Would you change your mind if you found out that the students failing the test were disproportionately of a single race?

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