Education in America

Can You Pass Eleventh Grade?

This past week, education news outlets and blogs were abuzz when a school board member with impressive credentials took and could not pass the state standardized tests for students in his district. Rick Roach is a success by many definitions. From Marion Brady’s original piece (the first link): 

His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

Yet, when faced with the 10th grade questions in reading comprehension and Algebra on the FCAT, Florida’s statewide standardized test, he could only correctly answer 10 of 60 math questions and scored a meager 62% on reading comprehension.

The story got quite a bit of attention, it was picked up by HuffPo’s cesspool of an education page, where the lively commentators quickly devolved into a chorus of anti-public school talking points, mixed with a steaming glass of piss.

For skittles and giggles, I thought it might be fun to put together a set of example questions high school-aged kids are taking in our schools. I found several states with example questions available online, but I’m not going to reveal which states I picked. The list covers several geographic areas of the U.S., and represents states with both great and poor educational outcomes.  We’ll go over the answers together in the comments once a few of you have had a chance to try the test.  Roach took the 10th grade test, but because we’re bookish and clever, I’ve chosen most of the questions below from 11th grade exams.

Algebra I

1. Which equation is equivalent to





2. In order to test the effectiveness of a new drug designed to lower blood pressure, a medical researcher creates two testing groups. The dose group will receive the new drug while the other group will be the control group. The control group will receive a placebo, a pill that looks like the real drug but contains no medication at all. Participants will not know whether they are taking the drug or the placebo until after the experiment ends.
What is the role of the control group in this experiment?

A. to assure that everyone in the dose group takes the drug

B. to verify that the placebo has no effect on experiment participants

C. to assure that the people with the highest blood pressure get to take the drug

D. to verify that any effects seen in the dose group are actually related to the drug

3. Tonja and Edward are participating in a jog-a-thon to raise money for charity. Tonja will raise $20, plus $2 for each lap she jogs. Edward will raise $30, plus $1.50 for each lap he jogs. The total amount of money each will raise can be calculated using the following expressions where n represents the number of laps run:

Tonja: 20 + 2n

Edward: 30 + 1.50n

After how many laps will Tonja and Edward have raised the same amount of money?

A. 3

B. 6.5

C. 14.5

D. 20

4. If x2 is added to x, the sum is 42. Which of the following could be the value of x?

A   ““7

B   ““6

C   14

D   42

Use the table below to answer the question.

5. Which equation defines the linear line of best fit for the data in the table?

A. y = -0.35x + 19.5

B. y = 0.35x – 19.5

C. y = 19.5x – 0.35

D. y = -19.5x + 0.35

6.  A restaurant sold a total of 418 large and small hamburgers during one day. Total hamburger sales were $1077. Large hamburgers sold for $3, and small hamburgers sold for $1.50. Which system of linear equations can be used to find l, the number of large hamburgers sold, and s, the number of small hamburgers sold?

A. l + s = 1077
3l + 1.50s = 418

B. l + s = 418
3l + 1.50s = 1077

C. 1.50l + 3s = 418
l + s = 1077

D. l + s = 418
1.50l + 3s = 1077

English/Language Arts

1. The relationship between whisper and scream is the same as the relationship between:

A   thunder and lightning.

B   breeze and tornado.

C   light and dark.

D   sweet and candy.

Read the following passage and answer the question.

adapted from Young Goodman Brown
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

1 Young Goodman1 Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons on her cap while she called to Goodman Brown.

2 “Dearest heart,” whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, “prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.”

3  “My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ’twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?”

4  “Then God bless you!” said Faith, with the pink ribbons; “and may you find all well when you come back.”

5 “Amen!” cried Goodman Brown. “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.”

6  So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.

7 “Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night. But no, no; ’twould kill her to think it. Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”

8 With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

9 “There may be an Indian behind every tree,” said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”

10 His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown’s approach and walked onward side by side with him.

11 “You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”

12 “Faith kept me back a while,” replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.

[Public Domain]

1Goodman: Title of respect for farmer or householder.

2. This excerpt suggests that all people must, at some time, choose between good and evil. All of the following contribute to the reader’s perception that Goodman Brown knows that he is about to embrace evil except:

A. paragraph 3, Goodman Brown says, “”¦of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee.”

B. paragraph 7, Goodman Brown thinks, “”¦[it was] as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night.”

C. paragraph 8, “”¦Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose.”

D. paragraph 1, “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village”¦”

DIRECTIONS: Read the introduction and the passage that follows. Then read each question and fill in the correct answer on page 2 of your answer document.

Lydia has written this report for her U.S. history class. As part of a peer conference, you have been asked to read the report and think about what suggestions you would make. When you finish reading the report, answer the questions that follow.

The American Red Cross
(1) The American Red Cross is an organization that aids people all around
the world. (2) It started as a result of the efforts of a dedicated woman. (3) That
woman was named Clara Barton. (4) It was during the Civil War that Barton
began the work that lead to the establishment of the American Red Cross.
(5) She assisted on the battlefield by nursing injured soldiers and helping
transport supplies. (6) Eventually the Government of the United States selected
her to serve as superintendent of nurses for the army.

3. What is the most effective way to combinesentences 2 and 3?

A. It started as a result of the efforts of a dedicated woman, that woman was named Clara Barton.

B. It started as a result of the efforts of a woman who was dedicated and named Clara Barton.

C. It started as a result of the efforts of a dedicated woman named Clara Barton.

D. It started as a result of the efforts of a dedicated woman she was named Clara

4. What change, if any, should be made in sentence 4?

A. Change was to is.

B. Insert a comma after Civil War.

C. Change lead to led.

D. Make no change.

5. What change, if any, should be made in sentence 6?

A. Change Government to government.

B. Change selected to sellected.

C. Change her to herself.

D. Make no change.


1. Which sentence best states the importance of using control groups?

A. Control groups eliminate the need for large sample sizes, reducing the number of measurements needed.

B. Control groups provide a method by which statistical variability
can be reduced.

C. Control groups allow comparison between subjects receiving a treatment and those receiving no treatment.

D. Control groups eliminate the need for statistical tests and simplify calculations.

2.  Which molecule in plant cells first captures the radiant energy from sunlight?

A.  glucose

B. carbon dioxide

C. chlorophyll

D. adenosine triphosphate

3. In carrier pigeons there is a rare inherited condition that causes the death of the chicks before hatching. In order for this disease to be passed from generation to generation there must be parent birds that:

A. are heterozygous for the disease.

B. have the disease themselves.

C. produce new mutations for this disease.

D. are closely interbred.

4. Francesco Redi performed an experiment in 1668. In the experiment, he placed rotting meat in two jars. The first jar was left open. After a few days, fly larvae were found on the decaying meat inside. The mouth of the second jar was covered with gauze. After a few days, the decaying meat inside was free of fly larvae, but larvae were found on the gauze. This experiment supports the hypothesis that:

A. Fly larvae prefer fresh meat

B. Decaying meat produces fly larvae

C. Fly larvae only come from adult flies

D. Adult flies are not attracted to decaying meat

5. Earth has undergone some catastrophic changes from time to time. Which of these most likely explains why life on Earth continued following these catastrophes?

A. Dominant species had a slow mutation rate.

B. Many species filled the same niche.

C. A strong species had many different characteristics.

D. A wide diversity of species existed.

U.S. History

Why did industrialists oppose the increased coinage of silver during the nineteenth century?

A. It would have led to greater political power for southern states.

B. It would have caused economic inflation.

C. It would have made it more difficult to secure business loans.

D.   It would have limited the amount of money in circulation.

Earth Science

Which of the following is an example of chemical weathering?

A. The dissolving of limestone by acid rain.

B. A rock broken into chunks after being carried by rapidly flowing water

C. Splits in a rock due to tree roots

D. Pulverized rock resulting from a landslide

Social Studies

During the American Revolution, George Washington:

A. led the Sons of Liberty

B. organized Committees of Correspondence

C. commanded the Continental army

D. trained the minutemen

World History

Economically, what enabled Japan to become a
colonial power after 1894?

A. Agricultural advances increased the population and forced Japan to look for new land.

B. Japanese trade wars against the United States removed regional competition for colonies.

C. Industrialization allowed Japan to expend resources on military and colonial expansion.

D. The Japanese were forced to acquire colonies in Asia when European trade was banned.

*********Pencils Down!*********

Good luck!

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

31 replies on “Can You Pass Eleventh Grade?”

Okay! Senior in high school, just finished my Biology AP final exam today and I came home and proved that I am a total nerd – found this article and had to do the work. So, I passed my state (Texas) standardized tests last year, receiving commended on all of them – Reading, Math, Social Studies and Science. Math was always the hard one for me, so getting a commended was nice. For the record, I’m in Calculus AB/AP, English IV GT/AP, received a five on both my AP U.S. History AP exam and English III AP exam last year, took World History AP sophomore year (hated it though and only got a three on the AP exam) and I am taking Biology AP this year, after freshmen year Biology Pre-AP. For the record, the Biology question 2, I would not have known if I had not been studying for my Biology exam for the past three days. That question was on my test today! Also, I am a very good writer and reader, so English has always been my strong point, math a weakness. So…here’s hoping after all this boasting, I do well. For the record – barely got a B in Algebra 1 in the eighth grade. Juuuust saying. And I hate standardized testing.

Algebra 1:

1. A

2. D

3. D

4. A

5. B

6. B


1. C

2. D

3. C

4. C

5. A


1. C

2. A

3. A

4. C

5. D


1. D


1. C


1. C


1. A

I preface my answers with the confession that I am a dropout and didn’t make it to 11th grade – but I was curious to see how I’d do, having no real algebra training, as well as spotty world history.

M: 1a, 2d, 3d, 4a, 5b, 6b

ELA: 1b, 2d, 3c, 4c, 5a

B: 1c, 2c, 3a, 4c, 5d

AH: b;  ES: a;  SS: c;  WH: c

Can’t wait to see how I did!

Are you a psychomotrist? (is that the right term?) I think the Roach made, or illustrated, rather, some valid points about concerns with the testing system as a whole. The quality of the questions in all but one of the tests shocked me. I’ve taken my fair share, I think I was in third grade (1981) when the trend started with IOWA and CAT tests here in IN. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an awesome standardized test, but it’s (apparently) pretty hard to measure higher level thinking skills, adaptability, creativity or problem solving skills, so we focus on whether or not a kid can follow directions, solve a two variable equation or pick up on Hawthorn’s sledgehammer subtext.

I’m not a psychometrician (that’s a way more important job than I have), but I’ve spent enough time with several kinds of tests that I know some of their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the national tests for school-admission and college-credit purposes are pretty good, but of course there’s a reason they are only *one* factor of many considered. The local K-12 tests are…pretty messy. Often times you spend so much time trying to figure out what the items are asking that you panic and do poorly on the whole thing. Like #2: The scenario is wayyyy too long for that type of question, and you make the poor kid waste time reading instead of analyzing, recalling actual information, or otherwise proving s/he knows something. Anyway, it comes down to this: In a perfect world we would have infinite resources to see what each individual kid’s talents and abilities are, but we don’t, so some standardized tests are necessary as long as we’re aware of their flaws. Also, the SAT got rid of analogies a while ago, because they are stupid. Hawthorne is also stupid. That is all.

Most of it, some of them are from end of course exams, which would be given whenever the student happened to take that class. Algebra I is the bare minimum requirement for a HS diploma in most states, so there will be a pretty large group of US students who would take a higher level math exam in 11th grade. Depending on the district, the sciences in HS aren’t grade level dependent, so you could have a range of ages in a biology, chemistry or earth science class. It also depends on the state, some states only test once in the typical (10-12th grade) HS years, some do end-of-course exams, some do yearly subject based exams.

That’s what I was thinking! I wish I’d been doing algebra like that when I was 16/17 (like an idiot, I took Honours Maths… C3, baby, and proud of it!).

The relative lack of essays as part of the exam format always strikes me as one of the critical differences between our system and the American one. At one point in my life, I could scribble out a five-page essay about Khrushchev or Macbeth in exactly 40 minutes with time left over to check my work…. I’ve long since lost that skill!

The example tests all called for personal essays, like “describe a time when you were brave,” instead of meatier academic stuff. As I understand the scoring, essays are sent to a team of graders in a separate state from where the test was given, and each essay is graded by two individuals on a scale of 0-5, with a rubric. If the reviewers’ scores are similar enough, they’re averaged. If there’s a big discrepancy, a supervisor will also grade the essay. I’ve read a few articles from former scorers on the web, and have some friends who graded tests, and each of them say that the scores given were often based on how much the scorer liked the essay, rather than on skill or knowledge shown. One of my friends relayed that he read a perfectly constructed essay about pretty frank drug use, and the supervisor gave it a 0, because “students shouldn’t write about those things.” There are no guidelines given to students about what is and isn’t acceptable to write about, however.
Interestingly enough, our students are showing a big increase in writing skills, even as math and language arts skills stagnate. Thanks, internet!

What I was told, way back when, is that the essay was scored based on structure, grammar skills and the ability to sound coherent. They were not looking to test critical thinking skills, just whether or not you could string sentences together in a coherent manner.


Right, the point is that even though the scorers are supposed to stick to grammar, spelling and construction, they don’t always. With breathing, feeling, opinionated, bias-posessing people (often making around $10/hr) in the mix, it’s impossible to standardize a personal essay. Even if only 10% of the scorers let their personal opinions cloud their assessment of what they’re reading, even using an objective rubric, that taints the data collected.

I <3 tests! No, I really do. I think Cousin Ann in Understood Betsy (anyone?) put it best when she said that examinations were like dares: “Someone stumps you to jump off the hitching post and you do it just to show them.” So!

Math: 1) A  2) D  3) D  4) A  5) B  6) B

English: 1) B  2) A  3) C  4) C  5) A

Biology: 1) C  2) C  3) A  4) C  5) D

History: B

Earth Science: A

Social Studies: C

World History: C

(I hate reading comprehension questions and have always been rubbish at them even though I read voraciously. That being my excuse for English question 2.)

Math: 1) A  2) D  3) D  4) A  5) B  6) B

English: 1) B  2) D  3) C  4) C  5) A

Biology: 1) C  2)  C  3)  A  4) C  5) D

History: C

Earth Science: A

Social Studies: C

World History: C

I will admit, I guessed on the World History question.

See, as an English dork, I think the English Q4 is the stupidest.

‘It was during the Civil War that Barton began the work that lead to the establishment of the American Red Cross.’

Are they really asking about the spelling error in ‘lead’, rather than the incredibly poor construction of that dire sentence?

I looked at that first math question and I literally said, “ugh, fuck this.” And I was really good at math when I was that age! But the last time I had to find an X that wasn’t a percentage problem (for my students’ grades!) was… probably 11th grade. So. And then I felt demoralized and I stopped taking the test. I’m a failure. :(

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