When an Equity-Minded Mathematics Teacher Educator Took the Wonderlic Test…

For those who don’t know: I am a part of a fantasy football team, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (We’ll talk more about how there are now three women in the league but the name hasn’t changed so that might be a later post).

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Yes, the trophy is explicitly positioned next to the catnip. My cats need to know that they are winners too…

My dear friend Suzie won two years ago and my husband was the winner from last year. Very proud of both of them. Each winner gets to decide how the league sets the draft order. Can be as simple as order of birthdays or answering a trivia question. My husband, Scab (his call sign from when he flew in the Navy and AF), decided to have everyone take the Wonderlic test. You have 12 minutes to complete 50 questions that span mathematical reasoning, the four operations, ratios/proportions, geometry, combinatorics and language arts like analogies or just noticing differences between two sentences that seem similar. The Wonderlic test is typically/more commonly used to ascertain football players’ aptitude for learning, making decisions, and being cool under pressure. The higher a Wonderlic score, typically the “smarter” a player is. Obviously the Combine and other performance markers can inform how successful a draft pick or rookie may be as a football player (some high scoring players have been busts while other low-scoring players have been Hall of Famers), but the Wonderlic is the typical measure. According to multiple  websites about this test:

The Wonderlic test is an intelligence test consisting of 50 questions, and test-takers are granted only 12 minutes to complete the test. The final score of the test depends on how many questions were answered correctly in the allotted amount of time.Originally, the test was designed to predict the future achievement and success of any person in a given field of work, which is why the test’s original name was the “Wonderlic Personnel Test.” (https://samplewonderlictest.com/what-is-the-wonderlic-test)

Before we decide to take this test, I had reservations. Why? Because I knew me and I knew my teaching philosophy. I knew how my prior experiences as a math student would creep in and could affect the playfulness of the whole reason why we were taking this test.

With everyone else, I sat down and took the test and a wash of anxiety came over me. What if I do terrible compared to everyone else? Will they think I am am really a fraud? What if I do well and others don’t? Will they think that I just got lucky or now have higher status than them? At the end of the day, I honestly didn’t want to know either way. Why? Because I knew that we in America have been conditioned to take tests a certain way and to make dubious claims about the results from these tests that extend well-beyond the test and what it assesses. But I played along.

As I completed the test, I thought “I am not doing too bad. With the exception of one or two questions, I think I got every single one of these right.” I answered almost 28 of the 50 questions, which I thought was pretty good if you make the assumption the test is about accuracy than speed?  But just like with any other test, I’ve walked out confident and then completely failed the test (pretty much all of sophomore year of math).  I clicked on my score and was confused. What does this number mean? What is it out of? 50? 100? What is the scale of these scores? What the hell is this test actually assessing? I don’t want to be a football player so this low score should be good… right? As the other scores came in from the league, I kept telling myself “You’re not going to get mad because this is just a stupid test to determine a draft order. Grow up, Crystal.”

But I couldn’t help it. I slipped right back into my childhood experiences as a math student: speed was key, avoiding mistakes was imperative, and if you earned higher grades then you had higher status in class. Better, bigger, faster, stronger…

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Craig on the inside at that moment.

I was confused about what these numbers meant. What have others gotten on this score? Maybe that would help me. A quick search online said that median score of teachers is 28 and janitors is 14. What in the world does that tell you about anything? That teachers are better than janitors? (No). That if a teacher earns a 14, then she shouldn’t be a teacher? (No). But if the Wonderlic claims that “The score is calculated as the number of correct answers given in the allotted time. A score of 20 is intended to indicate average intelligence (corresponding to an intelligence quotient of 100). Wonderlic, Inc. claims a score of at least 10 points suggests a person is literate.” Well, anything less than 20 means what? Well… if you ask Craig, NOTHING. Jack squat. That score means NOTHING. It means you got a 14 on a test of 50 questions over 12 minutes. That’s it. You got a 14. But because we’ve been drinking from the traditional, deficit-thinking models of teaching and learning “kool-aid jug” for years, we can’t help but make some judgment or claim from these scores. 28 IS better than 14 right?

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Not sure if Craig is asking a rhetorical question? (imgflip.com)

For the past 16 years as a middle school, high school, and university teacher, I have worked with students who would have had a similar reaction to the test as I would have. Many times, I hear my students say “I never felt smart in math. I never completed the questions quick enough or made a few mistakes along the way.” And each semester, I encourage my students to work with me to unpack these ideas as a means of collectively understanding where these emotions, beliefs, and norms come from, why we have them,  and how they can inform our practice as teachers. If Craig is going to KeepIt100, then we need to get honest with ourselves. We aren’t born to bubble in a scantron with precision or to compare scores on a test. We were trained to do that. We weren’t born to think that being smart is a zero sum game where if I were to be seen as smarter, then someone else has to be less smart. We were trained to do that. As a society, we can do better. We should do better.

The same goes for our teachers. Our teachers weren’t born to make “data charts” with children’s names in red, yellow, and green colors that show the child’s progress towards a particular learning goal. Our teachers weren’t born to have students call out their answers in public so that whole class can hear. Our teachers weren’t born to tell our students “Well maybe math isn’t for you.” [I am cringing as I write this.] Similarly, our teachers were not born to measure their progress based on a single score from a ‘standardized’ teacher evaluation rubric (yes, teachers have to take tests too…)  No, they’ve been (explicitly or implicitly, intentionally or unintentionally) trained to do or engage in these practices.

As someone who has the incredible responsibility of preparing new math teachers, teacher educators can do better. We SHOULD do better by helping more teachers promote equity and positive mathematical learning identities (Aguirre, Mayfield-Ingram, & Martin, 2013) with their kids. And as Deborah Ball (1988) says, we need to unlearn how we teach math based on how we learned math as kids.

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I learned a lot more about myself in taking this test than what position I ended up drafting (My 8th place on the Wonderlic gave me a 6th draft place). It reminded me of my mission as a teacher educator. It reminded me about how my experiences as a math student temporarily overwhelmed my equity-minded stance that we are truly smarter together and told me false narratives about myself that. I. simply. knew. weren’t. true. What is it like for our students who are constantly told these narratives? That they are bossy? Or defiant? Or that they need to learn English first before they can learn math?

It reminded me as to what it is like for my new teachers when they encounter a tough problem (#TheShoeProblem #MyCatLikesToHideInBoxes #GranolaBarTask) and they tell me that they are afraid to tell me their answer because they think they aren’t “doing it correctly.” It also reminded me about moments when my practicing teachers grapple with ways to adopt more equity-based practices that begin with their students already know…even though they are confined within a system that encourages deficit models and emphasize what kids don’t know.

It reminded me that it is ok for me to feel frustrated with the experience of taking that test (or any test that isn’t clear about what it is measuring and what claims we should make based on the score). I am good now….although I am sure my reaction to the test made it seem to everyone else like I was a sore loser, that’s just Craig’s “Deep in thought” face. It looks like I am throwing shade but #CantHelpIt #CognitiveDemandWasHigh.

At the end of the day, I am glad I took it. It made me even more passionate about my teaching philosophy and has inspired me to find more ways to support my new teachers as they learn to adopt equity-minded practices and as we collectively work to rehumanize how we learn, know, and do math.

References

Aguirre, J., Mayfield-Ingram, K., & Martin, D. (2013). The impact of identity in K-8 mathematics: Rethinking equity-based practices. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

 

Ball, D. L. (1988). Unlearning to teach mathematics. For the learning of mathematics, 8(1), 40-48.