Teaching Profession

Weird, Racist Math Test Has Been Surfacing in Classrooms for 20 Years

By Madeline Will — June 01, 2016 3 min read
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A middle school teacher in Mobile, Ala., has been placed on administrative leave after school officials found out about the use of a math assignment full of racist stereotypes.

The Burns Middle School teacher, who has not been identified, gave a 10-question math quiz—including questions about drugs, prostitution, and drive-by shootings—to her 8th grade students. When the students took it as a joke, the teacher said they had to complete it and turn it in, according to Fox10 News of Mobile. One of the students showed his parents the assignment, and they reported it to the school’s principal, who immediately suspended the teacher.

The questions are, clearly, inappropriate and offensive. For example: “Tyrone knocked up 4 girls in the gang. There are 20 girls in his gang. What is the exact percentage of girls Tyrone knocked up?” Or: “Dwayne pimps 3 ho’s [sic]. If the price is $85 per trick, how many tricks per day must each ho turn to support Dwayne’s $800 per day crack habit?”

Yikes. But the scarier thing is that this apparently wasn’t just an ill-advised move by a single teacher. Fox10 News found out that similar versions of this quiz have been turning up in classrooms across the country since the 1990s. Unsuprisingly, the teachers have, for the most part, been punished for giving these tests.

Apparently, this “assignment” is a joke called the L.A. Math Proficiency Test. In each iteration, the questions vary slightly, but the basic premise of using illegal, offensive scenarios to illustrate math problems is always the same. According to internet fact-checker Snopes, this test is real and has been online since at least 1993, with possible hard copies turning up as far back as the mid-1980s.

Snopes described the test’s “humor” by saying, “it simultaneously deplores the state of education in large urban centers and furthers the myth that teens from such regions are thoroughly steeped in a drugs, guns, gangs, and promiscuity culture by asserting that even the math questions directed towards them have to be framed in that context to be relevant to their lives.”

Even worse, the test’s header asks for the student’s name and gang affiliation. As most teachers know, the best way to relate to your students is probably not by assuming (or joking) that they’re in gangs.

It’s not clear if teachers are giving this assignment as a joke or if they really think students will respond well to the problems or if there’s another reason. Either way, the test has gone viral and has garnered a lot of outrage online.

It seems like a good time to bring up some of our coverage of teaching in diverse classrooms:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.