My personal axe to grind is that number theory and basic finance, rather than calculus, should be taught to teenagers.
And in my own US public schooling, I found the teachers completely unable to provide any intuition whatsoever behind calculus. It wasn't until two decades later, when I was studying computational finance for fun, that I actually really understood integration as something other than symbol manipulation. Seriously, this whole "teach to the test" mentality may get kids to answer correctly by rote over the short term, but doesn't help them to learn much in the long run -- at least if they're intuitive learners.
I agree with you fully, kids need to be taught based on what they want to do. I've wanted to be an entrepreneur for a while now and the only class that interests me in school is journalism (I enjoy writing). The math class is a joke, English is boring, and the rest of the classes are boring.
Virgina releases their tests every year (most states don't; it's expensive), and since this is the WaPo, it could be a VA test. Here's a link to their 2010 exam: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/released_tests/2010/...
edit: It's unlikely he's from VA, though, because VA doesn't do a standardized 10th grade math test. They give End-of-Course tests instead; statewide finals, essentially.
How old would most 8th Grade students be? And how long would they have to complete the test?
Multiple choice questions are not widely used within the exam system in the UK. There are 'Skills for Life' qualifications aimed at adults who missed out at school in Literacy and Numeracy that are MCQ based. The link below will take you to some practice tests (both pdf paper based and tests designed to be completed on screen). What do you think of those?
I don't teach in VA, but according to the implementer's guide, it's un-timed. From my experience, I'd say probably 2 or 3 hours for the 50 math questions, depending on the student's skill.
I haven't worked enough (at all) in adult ed to comment in depth on these, but they look like they'd cover a lot of the important stuff for a basic job and your general day-to-day numeracy and literacy.