The Testing Bubble Getting Artistic with Standardized-Test Answer Sheets

Increasingly, multiple-choice tests are how schools measure what students have learned. But where does that leave creativity? We sent answer sheets to five artists to find out.

The seventh-century Chinese emperor Yangdi is usually remembered as a megalomaniac who led his newly united nation into a series of debilitating wars. But Yangdi’s real legacy is his development of the world’s first standardized testing system. The idea was to locate China’s most talented rural scholars and bring them into the nascent empire’s civil service.

The history of education is filled with such earnest, progressive hopes for stan- dardized testing; Napoleon built the French bureaucracy in much the same way, and the SAT, for all its flaws, played an important role in opening up the Ivy League to Jews, Catholics, and public-school students.

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How Tall Is Jake Gyllenhaal?

And other pressing questions that should have matter-of-fact answers but do not

When I feel overwhelmed by the world, I take comfort in the knowledge that, for just about any controversial topic, there is a fact of the matter. As I’m buffeted by opposing op-eds, rival theories, and barroom debates, the fact of the matter waits patiently, biding its time beneath tectonic layers of invective and argument and confusion. Unfortunately, discovering the fact of the matter can drive one to the limits of sanity, as I learned when I tried to glean some vital information about the actor Jake Gyllenhaal.

I recently watched Gyllenhaal in the transdimensional, train-based thriller Source Code. The movie left me in a state of befuddlement. I wasn’t confused about how a Marine could be forcibly transposed into a dead man’s body to defuse a bomb that had already exploded—any fool could figure that out, especially with Vera Farmiga calmly explaining it 100 times. No, I was confused about how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is.

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Something Doesn’t Add Up The Maddening Math of Crime Shows

Crunching the numbers on a crime show that’s supposed to be about math

The former CBS show Numb3rs, otherwise known as CSI-Math or “the show with the number three in its title,” is one of those series that seems like it was never actually on, that it came into this world already in syndication. You can usually find a rerun on at around 3 in the morning. I turn to it at the end of the night, when all is dark and the demands of the day have been silenced. I find the show both unwatchable and mesmerizing. No matter how much I tell myself not to look at it, there will be those moments of intractable curiosity when I’ll glance.

Numb3rs is about a crack FBI agent named Don Eppes and his young, math superstar/professor brother, Charlie. It’s a crime drama, but it’s not one of those blunt-hammer crime dramas where they rely on played-out police techniques like interrogation, blood samples, and wiretapping. No, these guys use math. Why math? Because math explains everything, even the allure of a show about math.

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Self-Storage How Data Sharing Is Driving Medical Care

Data sharing is driving medical care, and we should all opt in.

One of the greatest undertakings in modern medicine didn’t begin in a lab or a doctor’s office, but on the streets of a small town 20 miles southwest of Boston. In 1948, the U.S. Public Health Service chose Framingham, Massachusetts, as ground zero for a long-term study on heart disease. In their book, A Change of Heart, Daniel Levy and Susan Brink describe how a team of local volunteers went door to door, spoke at PTA meetings, and made countless phone calls to sign up their neighbors.

The Framingham Heart Study was unprecedented in scale and size. Researchers examined 5,209 adults, measuring each by 80 variables including cholesterol, weight, blood pressure, and lung capacity. The plan: Re-examine those same patients every two years, write down everything on paper, and file it away. The idea: Look for patterns in the data over time. As Levy and Brink put it, “Science is a collaboration, not an isolated effort. It is like a relay race toward answers.”

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No Safety in Numbers A New Way to Treat Sex Offenders

Are registries the worst way to manage convicted sex offenders?

It’s a Monday evening in February, and four people sit around a conference table at a United Church of Christ in Fresno, California. The fluorescent lighting makes the room feel cold. But the people here have a warm demeanor and a seriousness of purpose. They’re part of a group called Circle of Support and Accountability (COSA), and they help manage recently released sex offenders.

The focus of the group’s work is “Jim,” a convicted offender in his 40s who’s near the end of his parole. Each member says a few words about how their week has been. Jim’s hasn’t gone so well—he’s felt lonely. He has a temp job and a 7 p.m. curfew, so after work every day, he goes home, eats dinner, and goes to bed. Even his brother doesn’t always want to talk to him. Warning flags go up for Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, the program’s 63-year-old director, as Jim talks about how cut off he feels. “Do you think you’re going to do things that you know you shouldn’t do?” she asks.

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