Grade Inflation: That’s A Fourth Grade Question?

Did anyone else watch Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? last night? I could say pure inertia made me watch it because it was on after American Idol (my guilty pleasure), but I’d be lying. My curiosity for a game show that sounds so simple – yet isn’t – forced me to watch. I generally rate my appreciation for game shows based on if I think I could do well on the show. Deal or No Deal? I could easily do that show. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I could do that, too, as long as Meredith let me ask her if she drinks around her kids. Jeopardy? OK, I’m not as good at that show, but I do feel proud when I can finish out an entire category.

My first reaction was one of smug superiority: with the questions they gave, I could clean up in this game. The first contestant couldn’t answer a single question without help! I found myself chanting the answers at the screen while he floundered for each question. The area of a triangle: 1/2 base times height…1/2 base times height…1/2 base times height! The second contestant was doing a little better, but still took a lot of time trying to find the right answers. The ship the pilgrims sailed on: the Mayflower! How hard is that?

OK, so the questions were easy for me. Yes, I’m a nerd who clearly paid attention in school, and has a ridiculous memory for useless information. And I’m not afraid to say I know the answers, which is probably why no one liked me in school. However, it was only the first episode, so I’m sure they will get to (many) questions I don’t know.

But here’s what I don’t get: these questions are supposed to match what the average fifth grader knows. I don’t know what freaky, gifted advanced-placement kids they hired for this show, but I doubt that the average fifth grader can tell you who was the first president to be impeached. (Andrew Johnson, by the way.) And the question about the area of a triangle seemed above an elementary school level. Are fifth graders really learning Geometry now? We didn’t cover that in school until eighth grade, and that was still ahead of many because I was in the accelerated math program.

I will watch the show again tonight. Partially because it once again follows Idol, and partially to see if the questions get any harder. I simply can’t believe that those questions are common knowledge for a fifth grade student. I also wonder what the qualifications are to be on the show? Do you think they let elementary school teachers play?

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  1. I made my husband watch it with me and we laughed a lot during it. I found the questions easy, although being Canadian made the American questions a little harder, but not too bad. (I didn’t get the Andrew Johnson one…..) I think that we’ll keep watching it too.
    Also American Idol? It’s my guilty pleasure too, although I love America’s Next Top Model more and it’s on tonight too….

  2. I watched it, and blogged about it, too.

    Although, I only knew a very few answers, and felt *thissmall* because I stunk.

    You’ll have that, though.

  3. Actually, area of a triangle is introduced in the fourth grade. Yes, read it again, from someone who has taught fourth grade, area of a triangle is introduced in the fourth grade.

    Of course it is also covered in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade because the kids cannot get it so young. I have taught grades 1,2,4,6,7,8. It always amazed me when my sixth graders acted like they had never seen the area for formula before or had never simplified a fraction when I KNEW this stuff was taught in BOTH fourth and fifth grades. But this is the consequence of trying to push information on children before they are ready. Instead of teaching them concepts they could learn really well we throw concepts beyond the ability most of them are ready for at them and wonder why they don’t retain anything.

    And you know why? Because the US thinks it is so smug when it says, “well, we teach our fifth graders this, this, and this…” The reality is we are not “teaching” them because they don’t “understand” all the information. I don’t know what you call it but it is not “teaching.”

  4. Okay, that should have been formula for area, not area for formula. Boy, one glass of wine will do ya. I guess this is proof I am not capable of looking after my children for the rest of the night. Oh hoooney!

  5. I have a head full of useless information like this but I can’t remember which side the filler cap is on my car.

  6. Wisconsin Mommy says:

    I am a former 5th grade teacher and I did look up a few of the questions to see if they were part of the required curriculum. Guess what – they were! Not that I’m saying that most 5th graders will know much of it after the test, but they ARE supposed to.

  7. I also watch because it’s right after American Idol. I guess the Andrew Jackson thing was one of those stupid details we learned and quickly forgot? I dunno. My guess was Nixon lol.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    We recorded it and have watched a couple of episodes.

    What we were stunned by was the contestant and kid who was stunned by the question of what was the closest star to Earth. I think the fact that BOTH of them had to think about the question (I can’t remember if they got it right or not, baby duty) speaks VOLUMES about how we drill facts into kids heads instead of teaching them or providing them opportunities to really think.

    *sigh* Here’s to hoping I can bridge that gap at home.

  9. You know, I felt the same way when I saw that show that night, particularly about the area of the triangle question. As a previous middle school teacher, I can tell you for certain that average fifth graders are not doing problems like that.

    I couldn’t watch the show anymore when we realized it took them the whole show to ask 6 questions. Oh well, it was fascinating while it lasted.

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