ELA Common Core Test Horror Stories

Stories from the ELA Common Core State Tests from the mouths of teachers across the state who have been administering them for the last three days: be warned you may need a box of kleenex or a punching bag.

From an anonymous teacher - Today my 3rd grade students completed Book 3 of the NYS ELA test. The very first question had 4 of my students literally holding back tears. The frustration in the room was evident. These children were getting so upset and I myself wanted to cry watching them. (And just to understand the demographics of my students. I actually have a very academically capable group of students in an affluent district. None of my students have IEPs or 504 plans.) I had to go around and simply pat them on the backs and tell them it was ok…I know how hard this is…everyone is feeling the same thing. One of my students did break down and cry. He had scribbled all over the question out of anger and frustration. Thankfully, I was able to get him to calm down and move on. Based on the difficulty of the words in the very first question, my students really shut down on the rest of the test. By the time they came to the essay, they had nothing left to give. Students who were filling up a page and a half on our practice tests, only wrote 3 sentences today. I am so deeply troubled by what I saw today. I shared this same information with my students’ parents via email this afternoon. We need parents to know what is happening. Parents never actually see the test. Though we can’t discuss test specifics, we can tell them what affect the test had on their children. We need to get parents to speak up on behalf of their children. This is all such a waste. And today it was simply cruel and unusual punishment.

From an anonymous Administrator, somewhere in NY - Day 3, Grades 3-5.

Author: Anonymous, Administrator, Other | State: NY | Test: State test: Pearson | Date: April 3 at 11:53 am ET
An administrator of a suburban public school, I take seriously my responsibility to students and teachers. I try to greet each person that I encounter each morning with a smile, and a genuine curiosity about how they are doing. Today, though, it’s just too hard.

As I write this, third, fourth and fifth graders throughout the school and across the state are confronting an unfair ELA assessment. I just walked our hallways and peered into testing areas that are filled with row after row of eight, nine, ten, and a few eleven-year-olds flipping pages back and forth, annotating text, and building essays out of bullet points. More than a few are crying.

I’ve read the feedback that teachers across New York have offered these past two days of the Common Core aligned ELA exam. I have the same sympathy for them, and their students, as I do for our school’s own. Their experiences, combined with today’s mistreatment of students that children are suffering at the hands of misguided test makers, have moved me to speak out. I would be negligent if I didn’t.

Imagine a Little League coach putting a team of third-graders in a game against the local Varsity team. Surely, someone would take issue with that. How, then, can I not take issue with third-graders being tasked to read and respond to text about technical instruments with which most adults are unfamiliar?

Imagine asking a toddler to identify their motivation for, say, grabbing a fistful of cookie and crumbling it onto the floor. Surely, someone would take issue with that. How, then, can I not take issue with fifth-graders being tasked to read and respond to text about the cost-benefit analysis of tangible and intangible things as it relates to human behavior?

Day 3 of the Common Core NYS ELA is absurd. The third grade test includes an excerpt from a book that, according to Scholastic, is written at a Grade Level Equivalent of 5.2. Its Lexile Measure is 650L, and it’s categorized as a Level X Guided Reading selection. Yet, it appears on a test that has been written for third grade students.

Day 3 of the Common Core NYS ELA is incongruous with Common Core Learning Standards. The same third grade test asks students to identify how specific paragraphs support the organizational structure of a selected piece of literature. The Reading Standards for Literature in Grade 3, with respect to Craft and Structure, state that Grade 3 students should be able to: Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections. It is not until Grade 5, according to The Reading Standards for Literature, that students should be able to: Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.

Day 3 of the Common Core NYS ELA is ill-conceived. A short- answer question that appears on the Grade 4 exam calls upon students to explain why a specific piece of text is effectively written. Regardless of what the Reading Standards say, or don’t, about evaluating text, how in the world can a test be created around such an entirely subjective question?

An administrator of a suburban public school, I take seriously my responsibility to students and teachers. It seems to me that the most responsible thing that I could have done this morning would have been to excuse teachers and students from being bullied by an absurd, incongruous and ill-conceived test.

From an anonymous teacher Today, three of my fifth grade students were unable to finish day 3 of the ELA test. Two went home crying and one simply froze up and was unable to write. When I dropped them off with their parents, I saw a younger child in the hall with tears streaming down his face, being comforted by the principal. I’m really angry. I care for my students very deeply, and it is breaking my heart to see what they are being subjected to.

From a Brooklyn, NY Teacher - Today I administered DAY TWO of the 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time (time and a half) on state tests. Like yesterday, they sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes).

Today’s ELA booklet (there are 3 in total) was comprised of three unrelated reading passages, seven multiple choice questions, three short response questions and one extended response question. As is the nature of these standardized tests, the students were not necessarily emotionally invested in the subject matter of the reading passages. The students may or may not have had prior knowledge of the topics, and there may not have been opportunities for them to make text-to-self connections. This is NOT the style in which I teach. My teacher-created assessments relate directly to the teacher/student-selected material and topics covered in class, which students find more engaging and inspiring than scripted test-driven curriculum.

Here are some student and teacher reactions to the DAY TWO ELA test:

1.) The constant rustling of test booklet pages was a distraction. For nearly every multiple choice question, students were instructed to refer back to specific paragraphs of the text in order to answer text-based and inference questions. This technique is called close reading, a hallmark of the Common Core. It can be a tedious exercise, especially for test prep and standardized test-taking purposes. The Common Core calls this “critical thinking.” I find it formulaic and lacking in creativity and big-picture, open-ended thinking.

2.) Some 5th graders found one passage in particular to be confusing. They struggled to write the extended response because they felt they did not have a good understanding of the story.

3.) The vocabulary was not grade appropriate. Some words were archaic and stumped students; this tactic felt deliberate on the part of the test makers, as if they were purposely trying to select the most challenging passage(s) they could get away with.

4.) The special education students particularly struggled despite being entitled to double time (three hours for a 5th grader). Students fell asleep, cried and shut down. One girl – a strong reader – was immobilized by the exam, refusing to proceed after getting stuck. Another student had an emotional breakdown and refused to take the test.

5.) Students appear to be more emotional and angry this week.

As I was leaving school today, a 5th grader told me that he’s going to toss the DAY 3 exam into the garbage tomorrow.


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