The two previous blogs in this series, comparing education in the late 1800s with current teaching standards, have shared the tests for spoken and written language. Neither test evidenced an obvious distinction between a test intended for urban students versus rural students. However, the 8th grade math final exam from 1895 given in Salina, Kansas does reveal an agricultural connection. Although Salina was an urban community, the population of the state was primarily engaged in farming related activities, and the test questions reveal that agricultural influence.
Arithmetic: (Time in which to complete this examination is 1 hours, 15 minutes.)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cents a bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. of coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7%.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 feet long at $20 per metre?
8. Find the bank discount of $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
I confess. There would probably be no gold star on my exam paper had I taken that math test. However, rather than my math skills, what I found intriguing was how closely the drafting of the questions related to the issues students of that time would have faced in their daily lives. Remember, 8th grade would have been the final year of their formal educations for many of those students. The futures of those making their homes in Kansas would likely have had a farming connection, as that was the primary occupation for men, and women were important partners. If they did not farm, they would probably have been employed in some farm-related business.
Having spent so much time researching Kansas during the late 1800s, I related the questions to Isaac and his community. By 1895 the hardest times were lessening for farmers, but much of Isaac's journal relates to taking crops to town in his wagon for sale, paying taxes and school levies, buying lumber for building sheds and fencing, borrowing money, and renewing notes. Those are precisely among the subjects utilized by the teacher drafting the 1895 arithmetic questions. Isaac burned corn stalks and cobs in his stove, and he regarded the burning of coal as a luxury beyond his means; however, children in Salina might not have had corn stalks and cobs from their own fields to burn and coal may have been their families' best option. It is apparent that the person who drafted the math test was aware of the future practical applications for which the students' knowledge of math would be needed.
Could an 8th grader today pass this math test, particularly converting rods to acres (after recovering from the shock of imagining farm land selling for $15 an acre?) A look at the Common Core Standards for Mathematics helps answer that question.
The initiative for creating Common Core State Standards was begun in the 1990s and focused on two subjects--English Language Arts and Mathematics. The Common Core Mathematics "Domains" begin in Kindergarten, with the focus on "Counting and Cardinality," which continues in grades 1-5, together with Algebraic thinking, Base 10, Measurement & Data, and Geometry. At Grade 3-5 Fractions are added. Grades 6-8 add Ratios & Proportional Relationships, the Number System, Expressions & Equations, and Statistics and Probability. Grade 8 adds Functions.
The Mathematics "Domains" summarized above continue from Grade One, but add new standards with each advancing grade. This building upon what is included within the standards continues in Grades 9-12. Common Core does not specify content in grades 9-12, nor whether particular instruction in such courses as algebra and geometry should be year-long courses. More flexibility for organizing content is left to the school, but math classes continue.
Comparing the 1895 Arithmetic examination prepared for Kansas 8th graders with the Common Core Mathematics Standards adopted for present-day Kansas public schools, it might be assumed that today's students just might find a gold star on their exam papers if they took the 1895 test.