Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The state tests started today; how did it go? Any pineapples on the exams?

Today is the first day of the state ELA exams for grades 3-8.  We have heard that many thousands of students are refusing the tests, especially on Long Island, where there are more than 11,000 reported as opting out so far.

The last two years we have featured reports on our blog from parents and teachers throughout the state, describing egregious errors on the state tests, the distraught responses of stressed-out kids, and if there were large numbers of kids who didn't attend or refused the exams.

Two years ago we broke the story of the absurd Pineapple passage and questions on the 8th grade exam, the account of which quickly went viral and nationwide; by the next day, the Commissioner had pulled the questions off the exam.

Last year, we received accounts about the epic fail of the ELA exams, with parents and teachers reporting ambiguous questions on the exams, repeated at different grade levels, kids not able to finish the tests, crying and throwing up, and distracting commercial logos and product placements in the reading passages.  It got nearly 100 comments, and more than 30,000 page views.

Parents, teachers and students: Please post your reports of what happened in your school below, if your children opted out, how they spent the day.   If not, how they and other students at the school responded.  Also post on this website which is collecting reports of testing nationwide.

Yesterday's press release from NYSAPE is below.  thanks Leonie


Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123; nys.allies@gmail.com
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nys.allies@gmail.com
NYS Allies for Public Education www.nysape.org

State Test Refusals are exploding as Parents Discover Legislature Brings No Relief

Despite the ineffective attempt by the State Legislature and the Governor to defuse parent anger by falsely claiming that the budget bill will cause a “pause” in the implementation of the Common Core, growing numbers of parents throughout the State will have their children refuse the NY State exams, which begin on April 1st.  Thousands have already submitted letters to their principals informing them that their children will not take the tests.  At this point, we have reports from across the state that students are refusing the tests in record numbers. NYSAPE reports that at least 272 districts, (which represent 40% of the state’s districts) will have students refusing the test.  In some of those districts, over one third of the parents have already sent letters informing their principals that their children will opt out.  As more parents report in, we expect that number to grow significantly.
Lori Griffin, Copenhagen public school parent and educator says, “Parents will not be fooled by this mediocre attempt to appease their demands to stop aggressively pushing forward with a flawed program that is harming kids.” 

Danielle Boudet, parent and co-founder of Oneonta Area for Public Education said, “Regardless of whether the budget bill is approved, our children will still be subjected to inappropriate expectations tied to excessive testing with high-stakes consequences.  Until we see happier children coming home, the Pearson worksheets and scripted curricula disappearing, and the test prep going away, we need to make sure our voices are still loud and clear by refusing the Common Core exams due to begin Tuesday, April 1st.”

"Although we were promised a true moratorium on stakes attached to the tests for kids, the legislature did not deliver. Their meaningless recommendations only serve as a distraction from the true matters at hand: excessive high stakes testing, developmentally inappropriate standards that widen the achievement gap, and an invasion of family privacy.  The number of parents refusing tests on behalf of their children has already reached record highs across the state as the public realizes that when it comes to the education of their children, specific action must take place now." said Jessica McNair, New Hartford public school parent.

“The NY State Education Department is moving ahead with the same failed testing program that was so out of touch with curriculum and students last year.  On April 1st, schools are again faced with tests that will be developmentally inappropriate for public school children at their respective grade levels. Many parents are refusing to have their children participate in these assessments. Since one of the goals of the NYSED in harvesting assessment data is to evaluate those in charge of student education, it should be applied (beyond teachers) to those same NYSED officials at the helm of this disastrous initiative,” said Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School.

“In addition to not addressing the problems with the Common Core and testing, the bill did not go far enough in protecting the privacy of students,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “This bill would allow the state to continue invading student privacy by disclosing their most personal information to for-profit vendors.  It is not even clear if its provisions would stop the Commissioner’s plan to share our children’s most private data with inBloom Inc.  The bill also represents a massive giveaway to billionaires and hedge funders, intent on privatizing public schools through the expansion of charter schools.  To serve and protect the interests of public schoolchildren, our legislators should vote no on this bill, and parents should deny the state the data, by having their children say no to the state exams.”


Leonie Haimson said...


Book 1 — NYS Common Core Test — ELA 8

Author: anonymous, Teacher
State: NY
Test: State test: Pearson
Date: April 1 at 4:17 pm ET

NYS Common Core Test — Day 1 — Book 1 — ELA 8 — April 1, 2014 — 42 repetitive multiple-choice questions …
Here’s an example of a typical question:

One question asked, “Which sentence best connects two central ideas of the article?” As adult readers, we do not give texts such scrutiny, especially if we’re reading a non-fictional text. We do not say to ourselves as we are reading: Hey, now there’s a sentence connecting two central ideas! Nor, as writers, do we say to ourselves as we’re writing: I will now use this specific sentence to connect two central ideas. We would never read a text in the ways that these multiple-choice questions are forcing us to read them.

Another questions asked: “What is the most likely reason for including information about the Smithsonian laboratory in Panama?” “To emphasize…,” “to illustrate…,” “to point out…,” “to provide…” I’m thinking does it really matter. A student, in a non-testing context, could easily grasp why the author includes that information. He or she would use the information or simply move on. “Asking test-takers to respond to text passages with multiple-choice questions induces response processes that are strikingly different from those that respondents would draw on when reading in non-testing contexts” (from How assessing reading comprehension with multiple-choice questions shapes the construct: a cognitive processing perspective by Rupp, Ferne & Choi).

Why are the multiple-choice questions more difficult than the actual texts? Most of the texts do not warrant such nitpicky multiple-choice questions. We’re taking relatively easy concepts (main idea, evidence, etc,.) and distorting these concepts through the assessment. It’s detrimental.

Too many of the questions are overly concerned with HOW the Pearson-selected texts are written and structured and not at all concerned with content and comprehension. The argument will be that the questions are assessing close reading skills, but many would argue that this is NOT what they are doing.

Leonie Haimson said...

Part II of the above:
After reading all of the questions and looking at the possible answers, my colleagues and I simply look at each other and say, who really cares. I bet the authors of the texts would even scratch their heads as to why such questions were being posed to an 8th grader (or posed at all for that matter).

In my classroom or out in the real world, we would be reading these texts for information, for understanding, reading to integrate, reading to develop an argument, reading for entertainment, etc,. We wouldn’t necessarily be reading them to discover why the author uses that word “stimulate” in a non-fictional article. In class, if I ask my students what “stimulate” means in the context of the article we are reading, they would nail it, but the testing context is something altogether different and the multiple-choice format is something altogether different.

The same goes for reading to discover “which lines support the author’s claim” or “which lines develop a key concept” — In the real world, in my classroom, these would be straightforward tasks that my students could do with no problem, but the multiple-choice questions on these state exams turn the straightforward into a muddied mess.

Overall: Book 1 is still a slog. Long passages. Many of the multiple choice questions were quite involved, requiring students to flip back and forth a number of times and re-read multiple times. Again, the actual texts do not warrant such scrutiny. Three academically strong students didn’t finish and simply guessed on 10-12 questions.

The bottom line is that these tests are abysmal. For book 1, why don’t they simply include one poem, one fictional text, and one non-fictional text with fifteen multiple-choice questions and be done with it? These multiple-choice assessments do not connect to the real world of reading, thinking, and writing. They’re simply not important.

We need to move away from multiple choice- questions and away from these large test manufacturers and bring on more local and regional assessments that incorporate a variety of assessment strategies: projects, portfolios, open-ended questions, writing, short-answer, artistic expression, etc,.

Anonymous said...

Will one teacher please copy the whole test and post it anonymously on the internet for all to see? We need to dismantle this by the best Edward Snowden means possible.

Mitchell Jerine said...

Why test my kids on things that are not taught? Are the educators so stupid that they don't realize how this makes the kids feel dumb? Not very good for their self-esteem, not to mention their feelings about their ability to perform in school. Also, the pressure on them is enormous. What is the benefit to these tests? Does it override the financial costs and the toll on our children?

Noah said...

I hear that a question on the 7th grade ELA test today was exactly the same one as on a practice test they were given. Assume that means that it was a field test question but not sure? Fred? Am trying to get a hold of the practice test question.

Unitymustgo! said...

Proctored 5th grade ELA. 6 passages. I ditto what the first anonymous teacher wrote. Same stupid senseless questions. Really dumb. What is most interesting is that 2 of the passages where from last years test. To me that means that these two passages were being field tested on last years exam and didn't count towards scoring. I have a real problem with that, since all the students had serious time issues. I don't remember their exact placement in last years test but I'm absolutely certain they weren't the last two. This means the students had to slug through two field test passages wasting time and sucking their energy from the real scored passages. That's messed up.

Anonymous said...

we finally have the standard of bar raised on NYS public schools and I'm disappointed that parents are choosing the opting out option for their kids. We are competing on a global level and need to adopt to changes. Schools, parents, teachers, board of ed are finally paying more attention to our PUBLIC schools and people don't like the change. Of course the tests are going to be harder. If it means the kids have to cut out on some extra curricular activities or parents spend additional time on kids homework or teachers be held to a higher bar, then it's all good in my opinion. More kids are focused on their studies, less time on crime and activities that are really meant for grown ups. Suck it up and adopt the changes. BTY I have 2 boys in the public school system who took the test and told me it was harder than last years. I applaud them for taking the test so I know where they stand and can help better guide, motivate and push themselves to do better than what they did the year before. We need to know where our kids stand and we can't do that if we continue to boycott. Stand by the higher standards given and change yourselves along with the teachers, administration.

John said...

Come on man. "You need to know where the kids stand?" Really, based on THESE tests? It is not even possible. They are a 1, 2, 3, or a 4. You will have no clue as a parent how they did. Nor will their teachers. They are just a score, a data point. Wanna know where your kids stand? Ask their teachers ALL YEAR LONG. End this over use of high stakes testing. It is madness. Understand that this movement is about ALL the kids, not just mine, not just yours. I'm reading hundreds of online comments today by teachers telling of their special needs and ELL students doing miserably today. This is state justified mental abuse. I will fight to end it and bring the public back to public schools.

Anonymous said...


Here's a link to the board of ed site which allows special ed students and IEP students alternative testing or even opt out. This comes straight from the board of ed.
Plus, you'll notice that most of the teachers are complaining because they actually have formal centralized standards to adhere to like most other professions. Many of these teachers genuinely want to teach but there are many who took the teaching profession job to take advantage of the 2 month summer vacations and little / no accountability. yes you are right I can know how the students are doing by asking their teachers. But who is judging the teachers? How are they really doing? what is their standard? These are questions that are finally being addressed. Do you remember it was only a couple of years ago there was much controversy about the teachers in the newspapers and their union , salaries, etc? How do you pay them effectively if you can't evaluate them effectively. Look at the comments.

Link to special ed students being allowed to opt out below.


Judy said...

Anonymous -- Have you read what Leonie Hamson wrote about the actual questions on these tests? Have you looked at the State Ed website where they publish sample questions from last year's exam to help teachers and students prepare? Even a cursory look at the sample questions from last year (try the 3rd and 7th grade ELA questions, for starters) should show you that these tests are measuring the ability to find picayune details and to agree with the test-writer's interpretation of authors' intent and meaning. Yes, I suppose that does help kids get ready for careers where they will have to be compliant and figure out what their boss wants them to do......But I fail to see how these tests -- at least, the parts they allow us to see -- are measuring progress on skills of evaluating information, of finding novel ways to look at a problem, and of a host of other skills our children will need to be not just compliant employees but meaningful contributors to the world.

Math Tutor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patrick J. Sullivan said...

I've posted one experience with the Bigfoot passsage on Monday's ELA here.

Anonymous said...

On the 8th grade ELA, most of the passages were re-used from last year.

MANY teachers took copies of last year's test and used these passages for practice this year. I believe only the poem Edgar, The Falconer's Son was new. (How frustrating was it that they chose that poem? Falconry? really? Am I supposed to cover the use of archaic possessive pronouns like 'Thy'? Is that in the Common Core? )

If passages are re-used and some teachers use them as part of test prep, how is this even remotely accurate in terms of using these tests as part of the value added measure for teacher evaluations?

Further, what are we paying Pearson for if they are simply re-issuing passages year after year?

This is a HUGE issue and must be brought to the forefront in the press.

Anonymous said...

"Which parents wouldn't want to know where the kids stand?" - Yeah, last year my child stood somewhere between 76th and 100th percentile where he "MET THE STANDARD" but did not "EXCELLED". Clearly, I could't figure out "where" my child was last year.

It's a shame that the failed test results will still greatly be accounted for the NYC high school admission, otherwise I'd have my child opt out.

Anonymous said...

For the people who have chosen the opt out decision, I as some questions..

1: Do you remember what the ela tests were like 6 years ago? It was a joke.

2: Do you think those tests measured our students progress and performance? They had nursery rhymes and child folklore tales that were really meant for at home nap time reading.
The quality of the passages were poor.

3: Would you rather prefer the board of ed not do anything about these tests and leave them they way the were as they did for the past 10-12 years??? Or would you rather now have some formalized, centralized standardized process, focus and process around these exams. The new tests may not exactly be what we like them to be but it's going to take some trials and tribulations to get there. Keeping the same tests standards as 10 years ago, and boycotting exams is not the solution unless you like to remain in stagnant waters. allow the changes to happen. The tests are better than what we had for 6 years ago for the past 10 years. No wonder every joe schmo passed and teachers had no accountability for failing highschool students.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Just a quick question for you first...do you believe that science and social studies are important subjects? Due to the preparation for these tests, these subject areas are becoming things of the past to make way for more math and L.A. time. As if an hour and a half (L.A.) and an hour (math) are not enough already. If you think these tests are improving education, you are sorely mistaken! In the twelve years that I have been a teaching assistant, I have seen the children go from being avid and interested learners during my first ten years to seeing glazed eyes staring sightlessly into space during class. How much learning do you really think is happening when children are not engaged in the subject matter?

Anonymous said...

It's hard to construct questions/answers that are 100% unambiguous to all. Moreover, ambiguity is fact of life...we're human and we don't really agree on anything. Figuring out which answer is the "correct" answer intended by the test constructor IS an integral part of any test taking. Seriously, what purpose do you think the three "incorrect" answers in any multiple-choice question really serve?

I have constructed a few practice ELA tests for our 4th grader earlier this year. I have analyzed information that's publicly available on last years ELA grade 4 test and have chosen texts from public sources and written my own questions/answers. I have managed to make about 80% of the questions/answers unambiguous. To be honest, I intended to leave the 20% ambiguous Q/As to train my kid to get used to dealing with them.

On the subject of appropriate choices of texts, it's not easy to pick "authentic material" that's non-controversial...in this day and age of PC and all. That's why I think you tend to end up with idiotic passages about nothing really...or folklore from wherever. On top of that, you have the readability score bands for each grade. It's a miracle that you end up with enough material to construct a test. I must have spent two hundred hours to construct one test (picking texts and writing Q/A for three/four books).

I am not making excuses for anyone or supporting any entity or whatever. If I can do it, they should do better.

Anonymous said...

Today a school had a whole pack of tests that were printed too lightly for them to be read by the students. They called state ed and were told to make photocopies from one of the ones printed correctly. How's that for test security? The test covers all say you CANNOT make copies. What a mess!!

Michael M. said...

Re Anonymous at 10:11 AM:

Your own test-writing, including training on ambiguous questions, is commendable.

But the issue is clear, and should not be obfuscated by polar constructs of "100% unambiguous to all," or "humans don't... agree on anything."

Howzabout tests rife with questions "100% ambigous to MOST," and "many humans AGREEING" that the tests are shockingly shoddy?

Anonymous said...

DAY 2 and DAY 3 were the hardest. 6th grade tests this year were taken from last years 8th grade state exam.

Anonymous said...

My favorite question from Grade 6 day 3 was---Compare the theme of "boring story" to "another crazy story" explain how the settings affect the way the authors develop each theme.........lots of nonfiction this year and "fictionalized" nonfiction. It almost seemed like a DBQ....kids were sick, one student crying, some couldn't finish and they felt bad--- and these were the gifted students.....

Anonymous said...

On the 4th grade exam it asked students to read a nonfiction text and determine what made the introduction effective. Is that really appropriate for children who are nine and ten?

Anonymous said...

I have taught fourth grade for several years and have administered many state exams. This year at least half of my class did not finish the exams! That's crazy and made the students feel anxious and upset. I feel like they shortened the time, but not the amount of responses. This is not fair to the students. What exactly are we trying to prove????

Teacher said...

SOmeone should make Pearson explain why a passage on the 6th grade ELA day 1 is from their Reading Street Reading Program that they sell to schools.

It seems to me to be a conflict of interest. Pearson makes the tests, Pearson makes the reading programs to teach the students. Schools should go out and buy Pearson products so their test scores will go up.


Patrick J. Sullivan said...

So much for high standards. 8th grade ELA day 3: Students asked to compare/contrast what happened in Planet of the Apes to real apes with regard to extinction.