Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reactions to sample Common core questions; what do you think?

NYS Education Commissioner John King released sample Common Core questions this week.  Here are some responses from parents and former teachers on the NYC Education list.  Please take a look and add your comments below.
Jeff Nichols: parent of 3rd grader:
Well, I looked at the sample 3rd grade ELA questions. Utterly bizarre. I would never put this material in front of my 8-year- olds (avid, enthusiastic, proficient readers both). The Tolstoy translation is stilted and boring, and full of inappropriate vocabulary (hoarfrost? caftan? threshing-floor?) It's as though the selection were made to project this to the kids: "reading is excruciatingly dull and confusing; maybe you thought you could do it, but I'm here to tell you 8-year-olds are stupid and teachers (and test designers) are smart.
You're going to have to work like a dog and suffer a lot if you want to pass this test." Honestly, I thought the practice tests that came home all year as homework were bad, buy they were just mealy, unreadable trivial passages followed by absurd and confusing questions. This CC sample is worse: it's perverse, overtly hostile to young children.
A former 3rd grade teacher: The 3 grade math tests when published by CTB-McGraw Hill were NEVER EVER challenging or difficult for the students. I just looked at the 3rd grade math assessment and they are asking the children to understand algebra.
Question 4- fraction problem. I had to re-read that question and multiple choice answers a few times in order to get the problem. Third graders were never taught to divide with fractions, let alone with measuring, both difficult concepts to master.  This is a concept which is typically introduced in 5th grade.

Question 5- This multiplication question is usually introduced in 4th grade. In third grade, the multiplication times tables 0-11 are usually introduced - taught with showing different patterns

Question 6- is a hidden 2 part question which a lot of third graders may not get.

Questions 8, 9- and 10 seem fine.

Steve Koss, former middle school teacher:
I took a quick look through the Grade 8 Math sample questions. Nearly all of them are posed at a level consistent with Algebra I, meaning that Grade 8 students are being expected to master work at that level. It's a desirable goal, for sure -- I'm in China right now, and their Grade 8 students are already at or beyond that level. Regardless, the CC sample questions provided are very heavy on analytic geometry (linear relationships, equation of a line, slope, etc.) along with similarity of triangles and the use of exponents and scientific notation. Ten of the eleven sample questions address one of these three topics -- the remaining one involves the first step taken in simplifying an algebraic expression.   
The quality of the questions is generally not bad, although many students will find them quite demanding. I had issues with two of them. One question (#2) is multiple choice, and three of the four choices are too easily determined to be the same, leaving the fourth as the only possible right answer. While reaching that conclusion about the other three requires knowledge of how to combine exponents with like bases, the process of elimination to get the answer means that half the required knowledge (knowing that 1/25 is the same as 5^(-2)) is no longer being tested.  
The other question that concerned me is #3. To begin with, I challenge every reader of this posting to try this problem for yourself: 
A computer can do 1000 operations in 4.5 x 10^(-6) seconds. How many operations can be done by this computer in one hour? Express your answer in scientific notation. 
I suspect you will be scratching your head for a few moments (or minutes?) trying to figure out where to begin. Now imagine the typical Grade 8 student confronting this. 
 It's not a trivial problem, although the math is not overly difficult once you figure out what to do. Interestingly, I believe the correct answer is 7.9 x 10^11, yet the sampler gives the answer simply as 8 x 10^11. Yet it's clear that the question intends for the student to multiple (2.2 x 10^8) by (3.6 x 10^3), resulting in 7.92 x10^11, or 7.9 x 10^11 using significant digits (another piece of knowledge Grade 8 students will need to have that often isn't presented until Grade 10 Chemistry class). 
 It would certainly be a welcome step up to see Grade 8 students routinely mastering Algebra 1, but I suspect the challenges in doing so will unfortunately be rather sizable.


Anonymous said...

3 Grade ELA Samples - all I have to say is 'OY VEY!

Passage 1- The Gray Hare- by Leo Tolstoy
Students in HS and college study and read his works. WTF!?!?!? I do not get this at all.

Some of the vocabulary that I found to be quite difficult and tricky are caftan, scarcely, hoarfrost, kiln (depends on students background), jostled, threshing, granary, wicker, ravine, glimmering, densely, lair.

Question #1- The answer which they are looking for is not mentioned until paragraph 4 but there is a sentence about this in paragraph 3 which could trick the children. This requires more reading and re-reading. They also began the questions with asking the students to comprehend before recalling knowledge which I also take issue with.

Question #2- Slightly ambiguous- The reading passage already has tons of metaphors, not to mention Tolstoy is usually studied with adolescents and college students. However, the wrong multiple choices may make it easier on the kids.

Question #3- Still do not understand this question. I had to re-read this one and it is still too complex. I think Pearson and NYSEd are trying to have students recall information from the story which is not really there (similar to The Pineapple and the Hare fiasco).

Question #4- They would have to know the definition of the word 'glistening' in order to understand the question.

Passage 2
All in all, this was a reasonable passage and have no complaints about it.
#`1- My only critique with this question is that they began with an elimination question right off the bat. They are asking the students to recall information from the text. However, I personally find that asking to eliminate choices which were not mentioned to be tricky.

#2. gritty and silt are vocabulary words that need to be understood in order to answer the question.

#3 and #4 were fine.

Passage 3
The Poplar Tree- It is interesting that they chose this story, since its a myth. Mythology is usually not studied until 6th grade. Second, the students may not truly understand central moral/theme to this story. Third, this passage also reminds me of "The Pineapple and the Hare". You will see why if you read the passage.

Question 1- My critique is that they began with a question which assesses their understanding and not recalling information.

Question 2- It is how they worded they worded the question. 3rd graders could be asking themselves and the teacher, "Huh? Actions? What? Huh?" 8 -9 year olds do not speak this way which is why I find the wording a little ambiguous.

Anonymous said...

Looking at Steve Koss' post, and his complaint about question #3 (where he challenges everyone to attempt the problem), I would consider this a trivial problem in proportions - with some window dressing in the form of scientific notation.

Substitute simpler values into the question to see the structure:

"A computer can do 100 operations in 45 seconds. How many operations can be done by this computer in one hour?"

This breaks down quite readily into:

100/45 = x/(60 sec * 60 min)


(known number of operations) divided by (time) equals (unknown number of operations) divided by (time)

Returning to the original values yields:

(1000) / [4.5 x 10^(-6)] = y / 3600


(1000) / [4.5 x 10^(-6)] = y / (3.6 x 10^3)

Cross-multiplication gives:

[4.5 x 10^(-6)]y = [(3.6 x 10^3)] x 1000


[4.5 x 10^(-6)]y = [(3.6 x 10^3)] x [1.0 x 10^3]


[4.5 x 10^(-6)]y = [(3.6 x 10^6)]

which yields:

y = [(3.6 x 10^6)] / [4.5 x 10^(-6)]


y = .8 x 10^12


y = 8.0 x 10^11

Exactly what the sampler gives as the answer.

This entire process is far, far simpler to work out on paper than it is to type into a comment field. At any rate, the purpose appears to be to combine a basic, fundamental proportions problem with scientific notation.

That being said, I don't know that I'm a fan of CCSS, except insofar as it may help prevent such idiocies that are being perpetrated in the name of creationism, etc.