The L.A. Math Test

Teachers get into trouble over using 'The L.A. Math Test,' a piece of online humor, in the classroom.


The Internet humor piece variously entitled "The L.A. Math Proficiency Test" or "The City of Los Angeles High School Math Proficiency Exam" has been part of online lore since at least 1993, and some of our readers recall having seen photocopied versions of it as far back as the mid-1980s.

Over time it has gone through some changes, notably the inclusion of questions 9 and 10 (which were not part of the earlier versions). Its humor is obvious: it simultaneously deplores the state of education in large urban centers and furthers the myth that teens from such regions are thoroughly steeped in a drugs, guns, gangs, and promiscuity culture by asserting that even the math questions directed towards them have to be framed in that context to be relevant to their lives. None of the Norman Rockwellian "Johnny has three apples; if he sells two to Ben, then Becky gives him five, how many does he now have?" innocence appears here — even the test's header furthers the jape by asking for the student's name and gang affiliation, presenting the casual presumption that all the high schoolers being given the test are gang members.

Obvious humor or not, the "test" has landed a number of educators into trouble over the years. The Canadian National Post reported that a teacher at the Juniper School in Thompson, Manitoba, was suspended from her duties in June 2002 for distributing this test to students:

A Manitoba school district has barred a Grade 8 instructor from classroom teaching for a year after she distributed a math quiz that used pimps and cocaine trafficking to illustrate questions of arithmetic.

The 10-question quiz asked how much Willie would make for stealing a number of luxury cars, the distance a thief could travel on a stolen skateboard before he gets "whacked," and how many "tricks" a day three prostitutes must turn to support their pimp Rufus's cocaine habit.

The School District of Mystery Lake in Thompson, Man., suspended the veteran Juniper School teacher on June 5, two days after irate parents brought the "joke" test to the district's attention. This week the district disciplined her further by assigning her to non-classroom teaching until June, 2003. The teacher has not been identified.

"I don't know where she got the idea to give this to kids. We were outraged," one student's father, who asked not to be identified, told The Winnipeg Sun. The father saw the "Juniper School Math Proficiency Exam" after his young son brought his copy home from school.

(Diana Hiscock, general manager of the Thompson Citizen, said that the controversial quiz wasn't given out as an official school assignment or test: "The teacher gave it to a few of her grade 8 students to read as a fun thing. They took it home, and one of the parents saw it and complained to the school board.")

In 2007, Will Klundt, a teacher at Moriarty High School in Moriarty, New Mexico, incorporated the following question into the final exam he administered to his fall semester algebra freshman class:

Smoky J. sells meth. Smoky's source says he has to sell a G's worth of meth by the end of the month. If Smoky sold $240 the first week and $532 the second week, how much money must Smoky make if he wants to avoid the beat down from his connection?

Wayne Marshall, the school's principal, declined to discuss whether any disciplinary action would be taken against the teacher.

In 2008, a Barrie, Ontario, police officer was suspended from duty for forwarding a version of the "L.A. Math Test" to other officers via e-mail:

A Barrie police inspector in charge of professional standards has been relieved of his duties after sending an e-mail containing racially inappropriate material to fellow officers.
James Farrell, a 30-year police veteran, admitted to forwarding the inappropriate message to officers under his command.

The offensive e-mail with the subject line "Afrocentric MATH for Toronto's new black only school" was initially addressed to three officers and the entire street crime unit. It was then forwarded and passed along within the organization eventually coming to light when an officer contacted The Toronto Star.

The message resembles a school math test with 10 "problems" based on firearms use, drug deals, pimping, theft and other criminal offences.

In 2016, an Alabama teacher on the verge of retirement was put on leave after she reportedly gave the test to a middle school math class:

On the eve of retiring from her long career as an educator at Burns Middle School in Mobile, Ala., a teacher gave a math test that students and parents say had racist overtones and references to inappropriate subject matter.

Questions included:
Tyrone knocked up 4 girls in the gang. There are 20 girls in his gang. What is the exact percentage of girls Tyrone knocked up?

Those named in these later examples are far from the first persons to have been disciplined for distributing the "L.A. Math Test." In 1997, six teachers at the Elsie Robertson High School in Lancaster, Texas, and another at the Norte Vista High School in Riverside, California, were suspended for doing the same thing. Likewise, in 1994, a Chicago elementary school teacher who gave a similar test was suspended for thirty days without pay and then resigned. Also in 1994, an Indiana high school teacher who gave the test apologized but was suspended anyway. And in 1993, a similar test was printed on phony school letterhead and passed around at workplaces in Redwood City, California.

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