Common Core tests given failing grades by NY teachers

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This is the season for standardized test-taking in public schools and that has led to a resurgence in the sometimes anguished debate over Common Core education standards for math and English.

Last week in New York state, students took Common Core English-language arts tests developed by Pearson, a U.K.-based textbook publisher, and complaints soon began rolling in. Some said that questions were poorly written, that the reading material was too advanced or that questions didn’t make sense.

In a recent blog post, third-grade teacher Katie Lapham describes some of the problems she has with the tests she gave to her class, while pointing out that she couldn’t reveal much detail under threat of losing her job.

Having said that, however, Lapham lets loose on the business:

“In no way will I refrain from broadcasting to the world how outraged I continue to be – year after year – over New York’s oppressive testing regime,” she wrote. “Since 2013, when Pearson’s Common Core tests were first administered in New York state, I’ve been documenting this nightmare on my blog.”

Lapham outlines what her students had to complete over three consecutive days of testing:

“Day One: 4 reading passages, 24 multiple-choice questions (Students darken the circles on Answer Sheet 1).”

“Day Two: 3 reading passages (same as 2015), 7 multiple-choice questions (Students darken the circles on Answer Sheet 2), 2 short-response questions (Students write answers directly in Book 2.) 1 extended-response question (Students write answer directly in Book 2).”

“Day Three: 3 reading passages (same as 2015), 5 short-response questions (Students write answers directly in Book 3) and 1 extended-response question (Students write answer directly in Book 3).”

“TOTALS: 10 reading passages, 31 multiple-choice questions, 7 short-response questions and 2 extended-response questions.”

Lapham punctuates her litany with this: “The extended-response question requires an essay-like written response: introduction, supporting evidence/details, conclusion. Where is the (New York State Education Department) research that shows that this is an educationally sound testing program for a third grader?”

“Seriously,” she adds, “Does anyone know how the NYSED justifies this? The length alone of these tests warrants our banging of pots and pans in city streets.”

In the reading portion of the test, she says, the content was often beyond what should be expected of a third-grader.

“The questions were confusing,” she says. “They were so sophisticated that it appeared incongruous to me to watch a third grader wiggle her tooth while simultaneously struggle to answer high school-level questions.”

The grade-appropriateness of questions and required understanding has also irked P.S. 321’s principal, Elizabeth Phillips. Lapham pulled this passage from an article Phillips wrote for the New York Times in April 2014, in which the principal spelled out some of her content issues with the mandated Common Core exams:

“In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.”

“Collectively, we must stop this insanity,” Lapham says. “I’ve been sounding the alarm on these tests since 2013, and the vast majority of educators I know agree with me. I’m beyond fed-up that I have to continue to administer these assessments to my students.”

A blog called the999ers shows comments and complaints about the tests collected from around the Internet. One refers to the sixth grade Common Core English exam:

“In 6th grade there was a poem from the 17th century that the teachers in our building read in COLLEGE. 11th grade level.”

Another, about the fourth grade Common Core test, gives an example of one of the poorly written questions:

“4th grade extended response question was inaccurate. Asked how the character’s feelings toward SHEEP changed in the story. Was supposed to ask how their feelings about sheep HERDING changed. Character’s feeling about sheep was that they smelled badly, that feeling NEVER changed. Feelings about the job of sheep herding changed though, which were excited, nervous, etc. Tests were much harder, longer, and not even close to developmentally appropriate. People still making alot of money off them though! Poor kids”

Another teacher said:

“This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 pm. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.”

Like Lapham, others in New York and elsewhere have called on students (and parents) to refuse to take the tests. Long Island’s Newsday newspaper reported that more than half of elementary and middle school students in Suffolk and Nassau counties opted out of taking the English tests last week and tens of thousands are expected to boycott the math exams that began Wednesday.

The Network for Public Education, a New York-based advocacy group, on April 2 urged a nationwide boycott of Common Core testing, citing the “harmful effects” of the tests.

“The alleged purpose of annual testing, federally mandated since NCLB was passed in 2004, is to unveil the achievement gaps within schools, ostensibly to close them,” wrote Carol Burris, a retired educator and the organization’s executive director. “Twelve years later, there is no conclusive evidence that NCLB high-stakes testing has improved the academic performance of any student – particularly those who need the most help.”