Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Iowa Pesticide Exams: I'm Not Feeling Any Safer

Road trip!1

I spent about half of my day yesterday taking the Iowa pesticide exams so I could be certified to be the guy who sets up the pesticide sprayer in the greenhouse, which is not a huge job necessarily but it's one that is supposed to be mine, and which I haven't been doing since I started, since I don't have the license to do it.

In Iowa, the tests are set up such that you have to take a core test of 50 questions (40 to pass), and then you have to take separate 35-question tests (28 to pass) to certify you for specific types of spraying.

I did just fine on the core test (46/50), and then missed the greenhouse test by four questions, one of which doesn't count, a lot of which had nothing to do with whether I knew the material or not and everything to do with the tests being written really sloppily. E.g., one of the questions I missed was asking about bugs that were resistant to pesticides, but they phrased it in such a way that it was really ambiguous whether they were asking, "Which of these pests is resistant to pesticides in general?" or "Which of these pests quickly becomes resistant to certain classes of pesticide?" The choices were like, mealybugs, spider mites, thrips, and fungus. The booklet one is supposed to study for the test had made a point of mentioning that mealybugs are resistant in general, because of the water-repellent waxy coating (which we've talked about before), but it had also emphasized that spider mites were difficult to get rid of completely because they quickly developed resistance to new pesticides. I went with the mealybugs, then considered changing it to spider mites, but talked myself out of it (everybody knows you're not supposed to second-guess yourself on standardized tests like this), and they wanted spider mites. So I get the question "wrong" not because I don't know the answer, but because they can't write the question specifically enough for me to determine which question they're even asking. This is frustrating.

There was another question like that, that was ambiguous between two answers, and I had the right one and then switched to the wrong one at the last minute. Don't remember what that one was about, though.

There was also one question where all of the answer options were wrong. And I don't mean just a little wrong, I mean, really wrong. It was something like, "Which of the following statements is ACCURATE about the greenhouse whitefly?" and then the choices were:

a. something really dumb that I don't remember
b. has black, sticky droppings
c. feeds between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf
d. produces honeydew

Leaving aside my pedantic irritation that none of those are statements, they're sentence fragments, there's also not a true one among the bunch. For B, they're clearly hoping you'll get whitefly confused with caterpillars, for C, they're hoping you'll be confused with leafminers, for D, they're hoping you'll be confusing whitefly with scale, aphids, or mealybugs. But they neglected to put a right answer in. I went with B, figuring, well, I never really paid all that much attention to whitefly droppings before, so maybe they could be black and sticky, who knows, and the answer they wanted was D, produces honeydew. And I'm like, come on, State of Iowa, you're killing me here. So I went and talked to the guy administering the test, and he agreed with me that no, that was wrong, they don't produce honeydew, and none of those answers were correct, and so if I took the test from him again (which it looks like I'm likely to: I think the state only has just so many people doing this at any given time), he'd just give me that one, if it was the difference between passing and failing.

And it's not that terrible of a thing; there's no fee for the test (surprisingly) and the waiting period after you fail is apparently about 18 hours: I could go to Donnellson today and take the test again, but Donnellson is more than halfway across the state and anyway they need me to work 'cause it's Valentine's Week and there are rose bouquets to be assembled. Realistically, my next shot is next Monday, in West Branch.

But -- this doesn't make me feel safe at all. If you can just take the test over and over until you pass, it means you don't have to even read the book. You don't have to know anything: just show up and take the test as often as you can until you happen on a winning combination. And, hell, they let you see which ones you got wrong, and what the right answers were, right after you take it, so sooner or later, you'd see all the test questions anyway.

(public domain)

I dunno. For some reason, I was expecting that there'd be bigger obstacles than this. I mean, this is poison we're talking about: I don't really want it in the hands of any yahoo who was just stubborn enough to show up and take the test until they passed.

So I wind up disappointed twice: I'm disappointed because it's too hard, and disappointed because it's too easy. Also I'd like to take this opportunity to offer my services to the State of Iowa as a test-question writer: I could write questions that weren't ambiguous, where "statements" were actually statements and "questions" were actually questions and where one and only one of the choices for each question was actually correct. Just in case anybody's interested.

Not that I expect Mississippi is going to be mocking our pesticide-exam syntax or anything. But still. I give it two and a half stars. Missable.


1Iowa isn't all as flat as it looks in this picture, despite what you may have heard.

1 comment:

Mr. Green Genes said...

Too bad, Mr. S... I can imagine the disappointment, and I perfectly understand the rest... scary... maybe a sociological explanation is this one: the big producers of pesticides, fertilizers, etc. do not really care about who handles the stuff, as long as it gets sold. And as Dewey said "Government is the shadow cast by big business on society", which reflects on silly laws mis-applied, etc. Or maybe I am a paranoid and the explanation is the usual bureaucratic inertia. Whatever. Best of luck!