Bizarre, Racist Math Test Resurfaces in Alabama

Courtesy Snopes.com / This bizarre, racist 10-question "L.A. Math Proficiency Test" is something of an urban legend, but has a history of getting real people into real trouble.

Bizarre, Racist Math Test Resurfaces in Alabama

A middle school teacher on the verge of retirement was put on administrative leave last week for giving a word-based math “test” full of racist and sexist stereotypes. Fox10 in Mobile, Alabama reported that the status of the unnamed teacher is pending an internal investigation for administering the weird test that students at Burns Middle School in Mobile initially thought was a joke.

The 10-question test was photographed by one of the students. It was structured around themes, including gangs, drive-by shootings, prostitution, drugs, car theft and promiscuous sex. For instance, Question #1 reads, “Ramón has an AK-47 with a 30-round clip. He usually misses 5 out of every 10 shots and he uses 13 rounds per drive-by shooting. How many drive-by shootings can Ramón attempt before he has to steal enough ammunition and reload?”

Question #3 says, “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?” Other questions about “knocking up” girls, getting bailed out of prison for murder, and stealing cars involve people with names like Pedro, LaShaunda, Raul, and Juan.

The test, known as “The L.A. Math Proficiency Test,” is something of an urban legend that has been passed off as nothing more than Internet humor. But according to the fact-checking site Snopes.com, the document has a history of getting real people into real trouble. In 2002, a teacher in Manitoba, Canada was disciplined for distributing the test as a joke to eighth graders.

This is how Snopes.com describes the L.A. Math Test.

​In 2007, another teacher in New Mexico came under fire for incorporating one of the questions into a freshman final. And in 2008 a policeman in Ontario, Canada was fired for disseminating the test via email to officers under his command. Numerous other examples of disciplinary action against educators in Texas, Indiana, and California are cited, going back as far as 1994.

Snopes says the “test” has undergone several iterations and has been reported on as far back as the 1980s. While some of the names on the document have changed, the themes have remained virtually unchanged.

“It’s the names that imply racism, besides the totally inappropriate nature of content based on drugs, violence, and crime,” said Terri Flowerday, professor of educational psychology at the University of New Mexico.

ICTMN asked Flowerday how it is that any teacher can think this kind of content would be acceptable in any K-12 classroom.

“The vast majority of teachers in this country are not being trained in culturally appropriate ways. New Mexico is one of the few states where students studying to be teachers are required to take classes in ethnic diversity. They have to take classes about Native American children, African American children, bilingualism, etc. Many people believe it’s still not enough, but it’s more than what most other education programs require,” Flowerday said.

A number of similar versions of this test have been floating around for years.

​What’s worse are some very disturbing trends in education over the last several years. “For example, in large areas of the U.S.—the Deep South in particular—teachers aren’t allowed to teach evolution and can only teach creationism,” Flowerday said.

This is reflected in new Texas state standards passed in 2015 that favor conservative political agendas (such as “intelligent design”). Standards for teaching American history were revised in a way that obscures the history of racial segregation. The new guidelines don’t even talk about the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws, according to a Washington Post article and have been widely criticized for whitewashing Civil War history.

Exacerbating the problems associated with the new standards, textbook publisher McGraw-Hill came under fire (and issued an apology) for referring to African slaves as “workers” in a new high school edition of a text called World Geography. The statement appears as a caption in an illustration, which reads: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” and appears in a section on immigration patterns in the U.S.

“There was progress in the way history was being taught, but recently there have been huge steps backwards. I place all the blame on state school boards for the way history is being taught,” lamented Flowerday.

Eugena Stacona, Assistant Director of Education at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, echoed Flowerday’s comments.

“Teachers are not regulated on cultural competency. Legislators at the state level need to regulate teachers to keep their licenses through continuing education,” she told ICTMN.

“Lately, a certain presidential candidate has emboldened racists, legitimizing their actions. I think this ‘test’ is abusive to people of color. It’s a hate crime,” Stacona said.

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