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October 23, 2014

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Sharp Sun reader discovers errors on practice science test

Sun Reader Jon Shapiro

Sun reader Jon Shapiro found five errors in the practice science proficiency test we posted online with an earlier story. Photographed in his Summerlin home Wednesday, June 9, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Jon Shapiro, an electrical engineer, couldn’t help himself when he saw an Internet link in the Sun to a practice high school science exam. He knew he was smart. So how would he measure up on the test?

He found the questions challenging and relevant, covering a complex range of the subject matter, including biology, chemistry and physics, as well as earth and space sciences.

“Nevada has high standards,” said Shapiro, 51. “We need more kids who have an understanding of the subject matter of these tests.”

But he was a bit floored when the answer key suggested he missed five of the 60 multiple-choice questions. I don’t think so, he said. The answer key to the practice test must be wrong.

Indeed it was.

The test, to help students and teachers prepare for the science proficiency exam that students must pass before graduating from high school, was prepared by the Regional Professional Development Center. And its executive director, Bill Hanlon, confirmed Shapiro’s hunch: The answer key for five of the questions was wrong.

For example, on question No. 59, students were asked: “Which organelles are most directly involved in transporting materials out of the cell?” The answer key had A. as the correct choice: “Nucleus and ribosomes.” But Shapiro knew it was really D: “Golgi apparatus and cell membrane.” (Not so easy, is it?)

Because the test was used just for practice — and not to actually measure students’ proficiency — there’s little fallout from the error, other than some embarrassment at the regional development center, Hanlon said.

The test questions were recently updated for the website, but the new answer key wasn’t posted at the same time, Hanlon said. He said the incorrect key was in place for only a few weeks.

Richard Vineyard, assistant director of assessments for the Education Department, said he took the practice science test when it was put out by the test center, but was looking only at whether each question was factual and the choice of answers contained one that was correct. He didn’t look at the answer key.

Shapiro deserves high marks not only for knowing the correct answers to the test, but for pointing out the error, Vineyard said.

“I think it’s great that readers are interested enough in science to take the test,” Vineyard said. “That’s the real challenge — getting people to think about science, and talk about science literacy in the wider population.”

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