Saturday, May 14, 2016

Read the blog post that PARCC doesn't want you to see -- and then share it on your blogs!



Here is the critique of the 4th grade PARCC exam  by an anonymous teacher, as it originally appeared on Celia Oyler's blog before she was threatened by PARCC and deleted key sections.  See also my post about my tweet that was deleted  after PARCC absurdly complained to Twitter that it infringed on their copyright!

As an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy, I urge all other fellow bloggers to paste the below critique and copy it into their blogs as well.

As the teacher points out below, "we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States. "

No high-stakes test that is used to judge students, teachers and schools should be allowed to be kept secret to escape accountability for the test-makers -- especially ones as flawed as these!  

If you do repost this, please let me know by emailing me at leoniehaimson@gmail.com thanks!
The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.

73 comments:

Jordana Ari said...

Is it okay if I post to my Facebook account too? It will be interesting to see if I would be thrown in the infamous "Facebook jail".

Leonie Haimson said...

Please do!

Bill said...

I'm baking a cake with a file, Jordana.

Michael Goldenberg said...

These questions are ridiculous for students in 4th grade, and any "standards" that would expect 4th graders to be able to meaningfully respond to these prompts or similar ones are inappropriate and, frankly, designed to elicit failure.

I wish folks would get off the "New Criticism" issue. This isn't about New Criticism. It's about pushing young children into absurd tasks with the express purpose of "proving" that public schools are "failing" our children. That's the relevant point. Arguing about New Criticism is a mistake.

Anonymous said...

I am a college educated adult and I think I would have trouble compiling some of these essays in a test setting. The one conversation that I keep having with my now adult children is that school is so bent on teaching literacy and testing they drown the love of reading, and learning, in students. My son, who has always been an avid reader, is "sick" of reading and will not pick up a book recommended by an adult because he doesn't want someone else to decide what he should be learning from a piece of literature.

Ginny said...

Having a college degree does not guarantee the ability to solve problems through the use of critical thinking skills. Beyond the ability of students to learn to understand and learn from what they read, I think the point of this teacher's decision to reveal this information is to impress the fact that these students are not being taught to think critically.

Anonymous said...

Agree somewhat with anonymous above; my daughter (now in 7th grade) used to love reading . . With pushing books above their comprehension level (her frustration boils) for the sake of testing has taken her love for reading away.

Anonymous said...

My heart sank as I read the prompts, thinking about how my 3rd grader (like so many with moderate ADD) may react to questions like these. He would likely be overwhelmed and shut down, deepening his negative self esteem. Standardizing is the opposite of what we should be doing today. We should be supporting and promoting personalized learning, which is very doable in today's tech world. We should be setting our kids up for success, not failure.

Anonymous said...

I too have a question. Has any fourth grade child ever passed these tests?

Anonymous said...

I have a masters degree and I find myself struggling with how I would respond to these questions. How do they expect little people who learned to read and write within the past three years to figure this out?

Anonymous said...

Wow, wow, WOW!! I'm a seasoned middle school math teacher (all three grades), and last year, as I was reviewing the ONLINE "practice" PARCC questions with each class and asking my students what was good, bad, confusing, ridiculous about each question, I got myself in hot water for daring to make a snide comment on facebook as an inside joke between my husband and me. WELL!...I was called into a meeting with both vice-principals, and then the next day they followed up with a meeting with my principal AND math supervisor. When they realized that I had merely been goofing on the unnecessary complexity of one math problem I encountered (oh, and I posted a picture of the ridiculous multi-stepped question on facebook WITH the URL clearly stating it was the PRACTICE PARCC test), my supervisor was angry with me, but even more pissed at the other administrators for wasting his time (the meeting took all of about 6 minutes). The kick-in-the-butt is that one of my own colleagues turned me in within 15 minutes of my posting my comment, but instead of calling me to say it wasn't a good idea to do what I did, they decided to call the administration. LAME!

Anyhoo--I'm sorry if this is a bit rambling. My blood is boiling right now, and your points are RIGHT ON!

I do my best to get my students ready and encourage them to do their very best. What else can we do?

PS--I've been teaching for 22 years. I hope this money-making scheme is short-lived. Our students don't deserve this type of emotional abuse.

David Ecale said...

In 4th Grade, we were reading short stories by O'Henry! The stuff here is total nonsense!

PS. By 7th Grade, we were reading "White Fang" & "The Call of the Wild"!


Disclaimer: Not a NYC resident. Never have been & never will be! (Maybe someday, I'll visit the AMNH. Other then that, no desire to be there.)

Anonymous said...

With regard to “Sadako’s Secret,” I wonder how many fourth graders even know what "junior high" is. In many areas, the term and organization, "middle school," has been used since before these children were born.

Tin said...

Hard for me to get too upset about a bunch of leaked English questions. Much of that winds up being subject to interpretation anyway.

Leak the math questions and complain about them, then you might have a cogent argument.

Pewboy said...

Amen to this critique of such ridiculous testing. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions of those who wanted nationwide levels of credibility in public education and some assurance that all students' needs were addressed, the opposite hss been the outcome. The current testing mania (which began even before common core in many states) has led to a nationwide resistance to addressing the needs of individual students. "Teaching to the test" leaves little or no time to devote to slower students, or to those ready for more rapid advancement. Fortunately, it easier for the latter to advance their own education through reading, for instance. Slower students, many already facing numerous socioeconomic disadvantages, are far less likely to do so.
Bless you for taking the risk of publishing this critique.

Anonymous said...

Don't tweet or FB but will forward to those who do. Thank you.

Allison Costa said...

I honestly don't understand why everybody is getting all hot and bothered about these questions - particularly when it comes to whether a fourth grader should be writing essays.

According to my dictionary, an essay is "a short piece of writing on a particular subject." Anything beyond a sentence or two is an essay, with that definition! Of course what the children write should be called an "essay"!

Comparing and contrasting - that is all these children are being asked to do, in these test questions. That is not difficult. That is something I started being asked to do in first grade, at the very latest - and that was back in the early 90s.

The questions are clear and concise, asking for definitions and imagination. I personally think that they are on-point for a fourth grader.

Richard Zuendr said...

Posted to my FB page.

Anonymous said...

Posting to FB page

Anonymous said...

OMG! How long do students have to complete these assignments?
One Week?
Three Days?!

Oh heck no! I'm opting my children out of this madness immediately!!!

Anonymous said...

It's all about money, we all know that yet we don't do anything about it.
Allison C., don't be so smug. These questions are difficult. I have an MBA, am trained to decipher business correspondence, and still had trouble reading through the prompt in one swoop. Mind you, I am not sitting in a classroom, being timed, and completely stressed out of my mind.

Anonymous said...

There's no way I could pass that test and I have a Masters's Degree, IN SCIENCE! Maybe that's why I chose private school for my son. So sad for our future.

Anonymous said...

I think we do children a disservice by making assumptions regarding what they are and are not capable of doing, so I have no problem with challenging them beyond the accepted norm (think "Stand and Deliver"). On the other hand, children have to be provided with the necessary learning tools to tackle difficult assignments. The problem with the leaked questions is not their difficulty per se, but rather, if the commentary is accurate, that 4th grade students have not been taught the analytical tools necessary for crafting meaningful answers.

Anonymous said...

As a college teacher, I'm glad to see fourth-grade students being asked to do these sorts of tasks. If there's a disjunction between what's being taught and what's on tests, that's certainly a problem. And assigned texts should be age appropriate. But increased early focus on rigorous, independent thought and analysis is a good idea. I get too many 18-year-old students who can't accomplish the kinds of work demanded by the questions cited here. It seems never to have been asked of them. Instead they've been steeped in rote formulas like the 5-paragraph essay -- mental straitjackets. It shouldn't be that way.

Empr said...

Shared on my fb page, & my kids (unofficial) school page

Empr said...

Shared on my fb page, & my kids (unofficial) school page

Anonymous said...

My experience with 4th grade was that the reading was so dumbed down that it was boring. Your argument is that these questions are too hard? You believe that questions that are hard are not appropriate on a test? You believe that the American education systems needs to be easier? I disagree with you on all of these issues. We need to challenge our children more not less. Your priviliged attitude will serve to put American children more behind vs other countries than they already are.

Ted Dintersmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Stop being internet trolls by pouncing on one particular word and running with it.
It sounds like most agree that the questions are confusing therefore difficult.
Of course it is good to challenge our students, nobody in their right mind would think otherwise, especially parents.
The disadvantage comes when students are asked questions that are not age appropriate.
It would be like me asking the average adult: Suppose g is a continuous real-valued function such that 3x5th + 96 = x/c g(t) dt for each x -=R, where c is a constant. What is the value of c?
If the adult can answer this without preparation then the presumption that we should be doing the same to fourth graders is valid.

Anonymous said...

My 17 years old just graduated. Fortunately after two years of highschool he entered a Middle College program.Fortunately he is Gifted and Talented. Their designation.Fortunately his father and I gave him reading,math,science,cultural awareness. Unfortunately after Sixth grade he figured out that the testing left not only him but his friends and classmates spending time on this Holy Grail of idiocy. For him he felt his work was not rewarded with more challenging tasks. Became BORED. You lose more challenged kids that way .Why do that to the kids who want more.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I got opinions.

I understand that you are a "Unique Partnership of Educators and States".

By what law and by what vote have you obtained the right to sell inappropriate tests to
states, counties, schools, etc?

Apparently you chose the "partnership concept" which includes "States" (i.e. governmental entities)
to make sure that no one person in particular is responsible for the inappropriate tests you
spit out. The majority of your members seemingly do not know the meaning of words. You suffer from a strange combination of "groupthink" and "inability to use common sense".

Specifically, you have "zero understanding" of the meaning of "age appropriate".

All the people and companies that reviewed and signed off on your tests were either paid off to do so, or are dumber than a bag of hammers. If there was a way to legally hold anyone of the "States" and "Educators"
running your scheme responsible, I'd be the first one to sue and remove any and all responsible
parties from this "theatre of the absurd partnership". Of course, you are just another symptom
of the decline of education in the USA. Overall, you are part of a system that rips off the whole educational
system and makes it difficult for the greatest number of students to learn and achieve according to
their individual abilities.

What you stand for is: One single, harsh and unforgiving standard for all, that can be passed only by the "best and brightest" and all but ensures that most students will fail. At least someone will get rich off your scheme, but the rest of us are poorer for it. The fact that "PARCC, INC." is a non-profit is meaningless, because it is always the "management company" that pulls the money out, one way or another.

True enough, the US system of law has made the education system what it is now, with "discrimination" being
detected in everything, such that it became unlawful to have "different schools or different standards for people of different abilities". Everybody must be the same, be treated the same, even though they are not. And that leads to standards that will necessarily be considered too high or too low. The same law for lamb and oxen is oppression, said someone way back. American schools have become a zoo in which crocodiles
are in the same cage as deer and leopards, rabbits share quarters with birds of prey, snakes are in the monkey house, and, of course, everyone is the same, and yes, we are having an anti-bullying policy, so your
child is safe.

So, please don't get me started.

Ted Dintersmith said...

I think almost anyone reading this (even fourth graders) will recognize that this test is poorly designed, and hardly right for fourth grades. And most will appreciate that many, many students, and their teachers, will score poorly on these botched exams. I also hope people will realize that poor scores will be taken by many students as a sign that they somehow have fallen short -- not that the test designers are clueless. And many teachers will look bad, through no fault of their own. Also, a point not yet addressed is who these test companies pull in to grade the exams. As inept as the test designers are, things get even worse when you understand how unqualified most of the graders are. The upside here is that the country is beginning to come to its senses, and push for education priorities that focus on engaging and inspiring our students and teachers, not testing and measuring them. Thanks to the courageous teacher who posted this!

Leonie Haimson said...

Actually Ted worse than untrained human scorers is that machines will be scoring 2/3 of the writing in the PARCC exams- which have been shown to be unable to distinguish sense from nonsense,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/05/should-you-trust-a-computer-to-grade-your-childs-writing-on-common-core-tests/

Anonymous said...

I have written professional assessment tests for grades 2 through 12, and I agree that these questions are inappropriate for 4th grade students. But whatever its faults, the idea of a Common Core is hugely relevant. From working in educational publishing, I see first-hand how some states handicap their students by teaching few skills, by not demanding enough of their students and their teachers, and by placating everyone. All students in the U.S. should be receiving a high-quality education that teaches both facts and analytical skills; humanities, art, and writing as well as math and science; history, geography, and civics, as well as daily living skills and healthy behaviors. Too many districts fall short on those requirements.
Assessments can be very useful tools for clarifying whether a child has learned the skills taught in the classroom. If a child doesn't do well on a test, then it should mean that for whatever reason, the lesson didn't take hold (and I'm excluding all the other reasons from illness to "having a bad day," etc.] Tests shouldn't be used to grade teachers or to label students, but they should be used as one of many tools used to diagnose learning.
My first suggestion regarding the specific questions put on this website is that the questions should be expressed more clearly. The vocabulary/reading level for the questions should be grade-level or even lower. They should be easy to understand, even if they intend to elicit a complex or analytical response. The child shouldn't be wasting time trying to disentangle a convoluted or abstract question. It is in the answer that the child has the opportunity to show analytical and age- or individual-appropriate complexity.
Some examples: (!) The poet makes a comparison in this poem. What is being compared? What do you think the image in line 5 describes? (2) Reread the paragraph. In your own words, describe in 2 or 3 sentences what the small fish do to hide from the sharks.

While the passages should be age-appropriate, it is harder to address that issue without seeing all of the passages chosen for the tests. But also, realize that in many school districts today, children in 4th grade could be the same age as 5th or even 6th graders were 30 years ago. In addition, fo some districts, a middle school begins with 5th grade. Likewise, whether they are called "middle school" or "junior high" still varies across the country. So that seems like a minor quibble to me; however, there is a tendency in some educational circles to push inappropriate content on young students (note: I don't mean challenging material, which should be encouraged; I do mean age-appropriate subject matter).

Sue from Ohio said...

As a grandmother with my 9 yo granddaughter living with me, I can attest to the horror and failure of Common Core and tests such as these. The kids are no longer learning the basics but rather obscure and challenging concepts way beyond their intellectual level. Try asking a child how many cents are in a quarter, and watch him or her struggle. No, instead the schools are asking 3rd graders to divide into the 900s before they have even learned that 8 times 3 equals 24. I fear that we have lost an entire generation who will suffer for the rest of their lives for what they have not learned.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of whiners, and you wonder how a know nothing like Trump has such a following. Sad, just sad.

Anonymous said...

The blog post author makes a very appropriate criticism of the material: these questions don't effectively test, at an appropriate grade level, what they intend to test, and THAT'S the problem. The Common Core standards in and of themselves aren't the problem - the problem is finding an effective way to evaluate them.

While it's expecting a lot to ask a 4th grader to understand what verse, rhythm, and meter are (the standard), it's not out the realm of reality. However to expect them to demonstrate that knowledge by writing an essay that compares "structural elements" in a prose piece vs. a poem (the question) is beyond absurd.

Anonymous said...

Children need comprehensible input, in other words, the reading must make sense to a 4th grader in interest level as well as level of difficulty. Children are capable of thoughtful writing when they understand the text.
The teacher's critique of the test is that the test is flawed.
I can write a thoughtful essay but don't ask me to analyze texts in a language other than
English. Provide texts that children can understand!

Vega said...

To Allison Costa, I say right on! Fourth graders aren't being asked anything other than a compare and contrast question or to describe something. This isn't hard. To the "BA/BS" and "MBA" holders who think this is hard, I'm sorry. You are dumb. Then again, our education system is broken and no child getting left behind has simply let stupid people pass classes to prevent said person from feeling inferior. Now, I have actually seen the Common Core math teaching methods and ardently disagree with its approach. That and it just doesn't seem to teach math. Still, the Common Core reading standards seem worthwhile. Lastly, children are far more nimble mentally and can learn things faster and better than adults due to something called neural plasticity. Kids should use it to their advantage with the guidance of strict adults and useful educational activities such as those mentioned in this post.

Anonymous said...

The ramifications of this are far worse than mere contextual inappropriateness. The purblind idiocy of this "standard" is fomenting a parental movement to home school, which is leading to an even less common core than existed before the term.

Anonymous said...

Critical thinking, analyze, compare genre, these are all very good skills. Is there a "test" for basic paragraph, and sentence structure? I was taught structure of sentences and paragraphs along with correct punctuation way back in fourth grade. If writing an essay can't be read easily and understood by the reader, than what's the point? Reading slightly above one's level is good, I'm just not sure if that's good for fourth graders. I agree that kids reading above their level of ability will deter them from reading. This same logic can be made in sports. Putting a first year player against a player that has been in a league for several years and expecting them to make a play, just isn't reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Many 4th graders are above average (exactly half), and it is appropriate that some of the questions are aimed at the more advanced kids. My second grader isn't far from being able to answer questions like this, and she is no prodigy.

edozp said...

These questions are easier than they appear.
They look hard because the prompt could be a college level prompt as much as any other education level.
If you put yourself in the shoes of a fourth grader, you have to remember that the expectations are not the same as if that question was being asked to you.

Anonymous said...

I am a classroom teacher who administered this year's tests. I watched 4th graders working on these questions leaked in this post. They started at 9 and did not complete the test until 11:30 - 12. The tests were grueling. I saw many grim faces and knitted brows as students tried to make sense of obtuse questions, like the ones in this post. They were being tested for mastery on concepts that had just been introduced. Not fair even if the reading texts had been appropriate - which they were not. But there is another element that most people do not realize. Many schools had to buy computers, lots of them, to enable these tests to be done. Many, many bought inexpensive Chrome Books with screens the size of the average tablet, downsized keyboards and touch pads. The test type was in 12 point print on most screens during the test. The students had to scroll back and forth, up and down constantly to be able to read the complete text of a piece of literature. The questions and the texts never appeared side by side on the screens unless the students left the view setting on the smallest text size. If they tried to enlarge the print the scrolling became overwhelming. They were humpbacked scrunched over the small keyboards, squinting at tiny, complex text and trying to type essays into boxes. They are asked to reference texts to support answers, but they have to scroll to find the text, remember it, scroll again to find the essay box and try to type in the reference. I do not think students had copy and paste tools to use. The tool bars were unfamiliar. They held impossible body positions and squinted eyes for hours at a time. They could pause the tests for about 15 minutes to take a break, but if the break was too long, they would be logged out and they would be unable to go back and reread any answers they had written. Eight year olds were being asked to read texts that were several text pages long and then asked to type essays using keyboard skills and tools on complex questions when instructionally they had just begun to master paragraph structure written with pencils on primary lined paper. Most students felt defeated by the tests. They were quiet, even on their breaks and exhausted. I saw only a few tears, but many, many grim stoic faces of kids who tried their very best to do the impossible. They had four such tests to complete. Each day, they had to face it again, and again. This is child abuse in my mind. It was awful to watch. This whole process is wrong on so many levels. It is abusive of both students and teachers. Why are we doing this?

Anonymous said...

This is another example of a teacher attempting to dumb down the curriculum, so that he or she cannot be held accountable. There is no hope for public school education when teachers wish to provide pabulum to students instead of real education.
Additionally he or she has violated the responsibility of her office by releasing this information. The whole attempt here is to build a case that the results were invalid because the information was released previous to the test’s conclusion. If it was genuine concern she and her conspiring college professor would have waited until after the test was completed.
It is no wonder our society is as sick as it is with these type of personalities establishing poor examples of society’s mores. This behavior coupled with Melissa Click, who taught in the Department of Communication, calling for "muscle" to help her eject a student journalist from a protest site on campus last November demonstrates the modeling our students are receiving from public education.

Anonymous said...

I have a 4th grade daughter who took NY state tests. She gets straight4s in school and a 4 on the 3rd grade ELA. She came home so tired from the test...totally worn our and said it was really hard. I am sure she did her best and even went overtime as she diligently worked her way through the questions. I have not actually been against testing (my son was in 3rd grade first year of NY tests)... But watching how she was wiped out and now looking at the questions I think they went too far... And I would classify my daughter as a top student in a G and T class.

Anonymous said...

Mother of a NY 4th grade here... As an aside, I have seen how common core has impacted the cirriculum. For a kid who likes school it is a gift. The classroom work is much deeper. More projects, more writing, more analysis (and this is comparing the same teacher as she adopted the new standards). I think we need to embrace the standards but question the direction of the testing and its goals. I have not seen the same change in sons middle school ... A lot of multiple choice homework and tests.

Anonymous said...

I am not a teacher but I have volunteered in elementary school classrooms. I have been appalled at the amount of testing (practice testing, pretesting, and then days of testing) that goes on in the classroom. It has nothing to do with teaching. I don't know how much money is involved or who is profiting from this but I would expect it to be a huge sum!! And our STUDENTS and TEACHERS are paying the price. Teachers that were enthusiastic and students that wanted to learn are now few and far between. Who wants to spend all their time getting ready for tests? Not me. I did some fill-in with reading and basic math but it is hard when you don't have the classroom skills and the teacher has been sidelined by ridiculousness. I will continue to do my bit but I hope that someone gets their head out of their and makes some changes before we loose the whole generation.

DeVo said...

The issue I see and felt as a k_12 classroom teacher for 28 years is that testing industries have taken over school accountability and curriculum development; industries that do not have the same training as teachers in the classroom. The standards are not the problem; the testing companies that generate tests for profit and the politicians they purchase are the problem. Throw out the tests as ESSA 2015 allows; let teachers develop tests appropriate for their students; let teachers develop or at least select the curriculum of their choice; let students learn not for a test but for their own sake, their future, and really, just let teachers teach!

Anonymous said...

Why was my post deleted? It adds to the discussion!

May 24, 2016 at 7:22 PM
Anonymous said...
I have written professional assessment tests for grades 2 through 12, and I agree that these questions are inappropriate for 4th grade students. But whatever its faults, the idea of a Common Core is hugely relevant. From working in educational publishing, I see first-hand how some states handicap their students by teaching few skills, by not demanding enough of their students and their teachers, and by placating everyone. All students in the U.S. should be receiving a high-quality education that teaches both facts and analytical skills; humanities, art, and writing as well as math and science; history, geography, and civics, as well as daily living skills and healthy behaviors. Too many districts fall short on those requirements.
Assessments can be very useful tools for clarifying whether a child has learned the skills taught in the classroom. If a child doesn't do well on a test, then it should mean that for whatever reason, the lesson didn't take hold (and I'm excluding all the other reasons from illness to "having a bad day," etc.] Tests shouldn't be used to grade teachers or to label students, but they should be used as one of many tools used to diagnose learning.
My first suggestion regarding the specific questions put on this website is that the questions should be expressed more clearly. The vocabulary/reading level for the questions should be grade-level or even lower. They should be easy to understand, even if they intend to elicit a complex or analytical response. The child shouldn't be wasting time trying to disentangle a convoluted or abstract question. It is in the answer that the child has the opportunity to show analytical and age- or individual-appropriate complexity.
Some examples: (!) The poet makes a comparison in this poem. What is being compared? What do you think the image in line 5 describes? (2) Reread the paragraph. In your own words, describe in 2 or 3 sentences what the small fish do to hide from the sharks.

While the passages should be age-appropriate, it is harder to address that issue without seeing all of the passages chosen for the tests. But also, realize that in many school districts today, children in 4th grade could be the same age as 5th or even 6th graders were 30 years ago. In addition, fo some districts, a middle school begins with 5th grade. Likewise, whether they are called "middle school" or "junior high" still varies across the country. So that seems like a minor quibble to me; however, there is a tendency in some educational circles to push inappropriate content on young students (note: I don't mean challenging material, which should be encouraged; I do mean age-appropriate subject matter).
May 24, 2016 at 8:10 PM

Maud Maron said...

It is deeply unfair to our children that they have to spend so many hours preparing for this developmentally inappropriate test. It horrifies and offends me and makes me sad and angry on behalf of my kids. My 4th grader loves to read (as do I) DESPITE what he has to do in school, not because of it. He hates and dreads the ELA prep and test and comes home to read books he enjoys--and can meaningfully discuss. This is for-profit corporate intrusion in to schools in the worst way. The NYC DOE has more than enough outstanding teachers on staff who can develop appropriate grade-level relevant tests. Why do we need to send millions of tax payer dollars to a private company to develop this piece of garbage test?

Anonymous said...

I suppose that the posted test questions are representative of the whole test. If this is so it becomes obvious that the writers of the questions have zero understanding of human nature let alone, child psychology. To assume that all 4th graders "should" be able to respond to these practically unintelligible questions in a predetermined way to prove that they are worthy of being at an arbitrarily designated non-existent in reality, "level of intelligence" is simply a revelation of ignorance concerning anything about being a human being. Every child is born with a DNA pattern that has enormous effect on how he or she will evolve or unfold. Every child is born into a set of circumstances which have an enormous effect on how she or he will evolve or unfold. No two children are exactly the same. Each of us is born uniquely different. There is no way to tell how or why or when a child will "turn on" so to speak.

Teachers, real Teachers, know this instinctively. They love every child and encourage every child to grow and manifest the inborn capacities which are unique to each child. I taught groups of the "brightest and best" in a high school that "tracked" children in four groups based on score from "IQ" tests. I also taught what were termed 4's, the dullest and worst.

I used basically the same lesson plans for both groups. The young men and women who were stigmatized by the tests as 4's were illiterate, that is they had trouble reading and writing. However, they could talk pretty good if they felt safe from ridicule. So I read to them. I read the same stuff to them that the 1's were studying: Faulkner, Ellison, Amy Tan, Virginia Wolfe, Harper Lee, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Shelly, Keats and Shakespeare. The "4" students understood the novels and poetry. They understood the "themes" of this literature. the got racism and courage and valor, and love and fear and kindness. The could talk about it, give examples of the challenges from their own lives. They understood the difference between BS and truth and could sense it in a hot minuet.

These folks would fail the present tests instantly. But most of them demonstrated a kind of intelligence that enabled them to survive in conditions that were way below what we would call average.

Point. The overwhelming focus on how smart some really ignorant test indicates one is has generated a class of arrogant ignoramuses who have been not so much educated as vocated.

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! WW 1802


It is these folks who, I assume, are responsible for the disaster these tests are fostering.

Anonymous said...

AC is right on! It is past time for the whiners and naysayers to come forward with exactly what test for accountability they are willing to endorse. It is too easy to criticize the work of others.

Or what about this heretical idea: let every teacher, class, school, county and state teach whatever they wish at any time and in any manner of their choosing with no accountability of any kind. Let the marketplace of employment sort this out as it surely would. I would predict rioting in the streets. Perhaps a baseline test such as the Armed Forces Qualification Test would be appropriate?

delphipsmith said...

What utter nonsense. Makes me think of the infamous question about the rabbit and I think a pineapple, that made no sense at all but was on tests for years.

rilea2005 said...

The only books my son will willingly read from any school list come from the banned book list. He had been an avid reader since pre-k, until the school's insistence that he analytically dissect every paragraph he read. Seriously, does anyone take pleasure reading like that?

rilea2005 said...

I genuinely applaud you as an instructor. How badly have we messed up our educational system when we consider prepping children to pass a test to be the same as igniting passion in a subject and inspiring them to learn? The latter is usually why people become teachers. It certainly isn't for the money.

Alan Singer said...

PARCC Gets Parked: What Testing Companies Don’t Want Parents to Know – Alan Singer’s Latest Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/parcc-gets-parked-what-te_b_10140282.html

Hockey mom said...

I'm not surprised at the absurdity of the test questions or the CCSS. CCSS and the testing consortium are designed to create failure. On first analysis of this whole boondoggle, money seems to be the primary motivator with some allusions to altruistic goals. But I believe that if you look deeper it is not a stretch to see that this is a well orchestrated 'planned failure' and collapse of the entire public education system. Be prepared to hear this soon: "Clearly, if the system is miserably failing at educating our children then the only solution is for the Federal government to step in and seize control of the entire system. Local control and even privatization of education are incapable of getting the job done. Education is too vital to our national security to allow it to flounder any longer. We need to create national databases to track students progress and predict requirements. etc....". This whole thing is just another piece being put into place in our steady march toward the disaster that is Socialism. Homeschool, co-op, private... are the only options for people who want to raise successful children.

Lana said...

I'm not a teacher, but a grandmother who helps her two grandchildren with their homework. One is in 9th grade; the other in 6th grade. I did okay in school, so it's not like I'm "stupid," but while trying to help them, I feel stupid! It's impossible for me to help the 6th grader with her math. Why are there four steps to a simple addition or subtraction? Her science class is unbearable for both her and me. They might as well be speaking Greek! As far as the 9th grader is concerned, it makes me wonder if I ever went to high school. (I did!)

Something needs to be done about this Common Core business. It is ruining children's school days which should be the best times of their lives.

Anonymous said...

I have had a Doctorate and actively working in my field for the past 45 years. It would take me a considerable amount of time to answer these questions while having to 'guess' at what the expected correct answer would be. This is not just way above the 4th grade level, it is fully a structured elimination process of the presentation of the correct level, content, usefulness, and appropriateness, of the necessary preparation of these students to move forward in a productive education and life. The results is a lack of proper orientation and preparedness for these students in making informed choices for their adult life, as they are being steered into a programmed Socialistic type system.

AutumnL said...

Something similar happened to me and I am a parent, not a teacher although I was at the school last year. My daughter came home bawling because her teacher was stressed out about testing and laid into all of them, telling them that when they all fail the test, they will be able to tell their friends why they're in fourth grade again next year. I complained on Facebook, not naming the teacher but saying that I wasn't happy about it, and I was called in by Administration and was admonished and told not to post things. A teacher that I used to work with had begun to spread rumors about what I said and it got around. I was not rude or vulgar, I simply said that I felt bad for my daughter who had been crying about it. I had thought the meeting was in regards to something else, and then Administration totally caught me off guard.

MamaKat said...

I homeschool, & after reading this article, I will place no importance on my 4th grader's test scores. (Thank you!) She is an excellent reader, but the questions for writing are beyond an average 4th grader's ability I believe. So we will just continue to homeschool using our Classical Education method, & keep learning Latin, Saxon Math, History (no Social Studies here!), Science, lots of grammar, & lots of reading!

Anonymous said...

I am an adjunct, college English instructor and a home-schooling mom, among the many other fabulous adventures I've been on! The real question for me is "What do we want our children (citizens) to learn?" I can tell you, literary criticism is a merry-go-round I don't want my kids on! These questions pull in a lot of high-falutin' nonsense. I want my children to think clearly, reason well, read and decipher language and argument well, and, most importantly, to be able to cut through the surface of what's presented and recognize the core or underlying meaning/agenda. Let's get to meaning, to human values and folly, to the fundamental questions of human life and experience; that's what gets kids (and adults) thinking and talking and growing. Yes, compare stories and themes. Yes, understand structure and how it can super-charge or deaden a story or composition. Yes, be able to compare and contrast themes and ideas and stories, but the test questions presented here have underpinnings in literary theory; there's no place for that stuff in 4th grade. Reading, understanding, reiterating, and thinking past the surface is what they need, not academic self-gratification. Conversations about meaning, the give and take of ideas and opinions, and grappling with the big questions of meaning and purpose - that's what our citizens need, and that is sorely lacking.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why we chose to leave public school three years ago to homeschool instead. My children are able to enjoy a rich classical education without jumping through testing hoops from the Federal Government, and without allowing them to collect personal information for their workforce database. If you can homeschool, do it!!

Ms. Vachris said...

I agree with Alison Costa.

Anonymous said...

I think anyone who is defending these "questions" as developmentally appropriate and reasonable assessment tools must not have any background at all in elementary education -- or is a moronic drone of the system (I have sadly encountered too many of these in education). Having worked with fourth-graders in a school where most students come from firmly middle class and above families, most of them with two parents, I think that even with those advantages most of the students there would have a stressful experience trying to perform these ridiculous tasks. Hopefully, the opt-out movement will gain enough momentum that it will render these tests invalid. Too bad it will harm so many kids meanwhile.

Tom Vivian said...

Thank you so much for carrying this message forward and exposing the lies that the modern educational system is based on. My own children have provided me almost daily examples in their homework of the stupidity of the "Common Core" system and its means of education. The principal of our local grade school explained that common core was meant to have students learn things "more deeply". Unfortunately, it is sheer folly to have your child jump off the high-diving board before they have learned to wade. Even more foolish is one who would jump off a high-dive into a 3-foot deep pool. The new educational testing standards make these mistakes.



I had a doctor once who told me "When nothing else makes sense, look at the dollar signs". We must remember that education is an industry.

Those who work in the industry, especially those who design curriculum, do so to reap profits. They must continually re-invent curriculum in order to keep selling more. They also bribe local, state and federal officials to adopt their curriculums as the law of the land. It is a very corrupt system. Your local school teachers generally DO NOT participate in this system, nor profit from curriculum changes. They may or may not drink the Kool-Aid served up by school administrators as to why change is good. At the end of the day, the schools are "public" because they are controlled by the public through the elections process. We need to exercise our clout as parents by voting out board members who tolerate "experimental" means of teaching, and elect board members who promote time-proven methods of instruction. Our children are not guinea pigs!

Anonymous said...

Homeschooling is the way to go! I had the assistant superintendent call me in a room to try and talk me out of homeschooling back when I first started 7 years ago. He was starting to give me a line about how my child would get behind, etc. I stopped him and said that I knew he was just trying to stop me because he was going to lose $13,000 for my child not attending school and no matter what he said, I was still going to homeschool. He said "Well, I think you are going to do great, have a nice day." That was the end of that! It was all about the money - they don't care that your kids will get behind (homeschoolers outperform public and private students all the time!)... they just care about the money they don't get when your child isn't enrolled! So many kids are behind in public school, so where do they send them?? It isn't about that and they know it. $$ speaks - so glad that I saved property tax payers $13K yearly by homeschooling my kid.

Tom Vivian said...

I agree that homeschooling is a great option for those who can do it. I actually have six kids. We homeschooled them all, my oldest three homeschooled all the way through high school, and they did very well in college and after. We homeschooled my youngest three until my wife left me, then we had to put them in public school. My fourth son did very well in high school and I actually love the school and the teachers. But the schools are largely bound by district and state politics which are the result of the educational money and power politics game. Now as far as the "money per student", it may be true that one child leaving the school costs them a few thousand dollars per year. But if ALL the kids in the district who chose private education options had to go to the public school, it would actually cost them a lot more money because they would need more classrooms, teachers etc. I can assure you that most states would not be able to find room in their budgets to fund all those extra kids, so they would also have to cut the "per capita" funding ratios.
Ultimately, when parents take responsibility for educating their own children, it SAVES the state a lot of money!

Anonymous said...

I was surprised by how many commentators said they had college degrees but even so, they'd have a hard time answering some of the questions.

RE: ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1 question 7 "Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.” Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

A passage is going to have sentences organized in paragraphs; a poem is going to have lines, and possibly rhyme and meter. Those are the two main points that the grading rubric will be looking for, and you don't even have to read the passage and poem to figure that part out. Now, using the term "structural elements" in a 4th grade level test is weird because it is not grade-level appropriate, but I would fault the test for another reason: The question identifies which one is the passage and which one is the poem!!!! If you REALLY wanted children to prove they knew which was which, then you don't give it away in the question. It needs to be asked in a way that the testee has to figure it out.

eg. Which one of the samples below is a poem and what differences led you to figure it out?

Anonymous said...

"will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media."

This statement, in a nut shell, explains the overall goal of common core. Add math and science. A future society of illiterates is a society easily manipulated.

Ann said...

Wasn't sure if I even wanted in on this conversation. We are home educators. We are glad to see this type of forum about this subject. It is interesting to find out what those in the public arena are saying about the public standards.

We wish the tax payers had a say in what works and what doesn't when it comes to individual students' learning styles. Teaching to the student vs. teaching to the test. I can say that each of our children is a different type of learner. We (parents) can adjust to that and help each one learn what they need to learn at a specific grade level. The set standard for 4th grade (above) seems to be a blanket standard for students who may or may not have been taught or even exposed to the concepts in their classroom. Isn't this the concern?

We somehow need to get on the same page when it comes to helping our students love learning. Critical thinking will come, in time, from reasoning and be added to in the logic stage of learning.

I cannot say I or my husband are avid internet surfers or blog-readers. This was so compelling I just had to stop by. Good and informative comments people.

p.s. Not to bash anyone, because I make mistakes all the time, but for being "educated" ourselves and reading and writing comments on this blog, there certainly a lot of grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes! LOL... As I said, I'm notorious for it as well. :P

Anonymous said...

instead of taking the time to answer those prompts to satisfy the adults in their lives, our children could've climbed a tree, read a book that interests them and that they like, observed the pattern of ripples on a river, investigated a spider, made up a jump rope rhyme, or a million other things that are also learning

take your children out of school and let them live

for their sake