Teachers: New tests are ‘soul crushing’

Teachers say New York’s new Common Core English exams are “stressful,” “exhausting,” “confusing” and “soul crushing,” reports Chalkbeat. Teachers posted their reviews on an online forum, Testing Talk.

With questions calling for “close reading,” students ran out of time, many teachers complained.

“When I announced there was only ten minutes remaining, more than half my class had not even started the extended response!” one teacher commented

“We have spent the year teaching students to be careful, thoughtful, deep thinkers,” a fourth-grade teacher lamented. “Today the objective was speed.”

The eighth-grade test featured a Shakespearean poem that was “extremely difficult,” one teacher said.

Third graders faced “obscure vocabulary and unapproachable plot line” in a reading passage drawn from a 1950s book, another teacher wrote.

In affluent Park Slope, known for excellent public schools, a principal e-mailed parents to complain about the “terrible test,” reports New York Magazine.

“There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages,” wrote (Elizabeth) Phillips. “Our teachers and administrators feel that this test is an insult to the profession of teaching and that students’ scores on it will not correlate with their reading ability.”

“I have never felt more devalued and outraged about a statewide test,” a Brooklyn teacher told parents in a separate recruiting email. “I really need you to help make a vocal stand against these high stakes tests.”

About Joanne


  1. I guess this means those teachers were unable to teach to the test? The test actually expected students to think about something that hadn’t been crammed down their throats? Is that it?

    • If that was the goal, to see the students think, then the game-show method of timed testing was the wrong way to evaluate.

  2. I understand what you mean, Joanne. With No Child Left Behind, the emphasis on teachers’ success had to do with their students and their ability to pass statewide exams. In this case, Common Core is minimizing the ability to “teach to the test”, and instead relying on students inherent ability to think critically. We also want them to do it quickly. Perhaps in today’s society, thinking quickly on your feet has value for some industries. How can we give our students the tools to be able to analyze language without taking an eternity just to read the passage in the test? Can we help them by getting their reading level up? Can we give them more practice in other subjects that might affect their critical thinking skills?

    • One of the big problems with Common Core is that our students do not have the background knowledge to make the connections and perform the analysis we expect of them.

    • Or you might stop with the teacher-centric passive lecture method of teaching, which inhibits the inherent critical thinking, and also, abandon the “test of lower order thinking for the lower orders”, i.e., multiple choice-timed testing.

      “The way pupils study, depends on what is emphasized. … The reason that mechanical memorizing is the main part of study in the elementary school, high school and university, is that reproduction is the primary thing required. If boys and girls find that the teachers’ questions ask for a reproduction of the text, they will memorize before thinking and without thinking. If, however, there is a thought question, it will cause them to organize and analyze the subject matter of the book, and then mechanical memorizing can not occupy such a prominent part.”

    • Children should read for enjoyment. This Common Core emphasis on “close reading” and “quick thinking” sounds like utter garbage.

  3. Bostonian says:

    A test where the average score is 50% +/- 20% will be more informative than one where the average score is 90% +/- 10%.We should give tests that discriminate (not always a dirty word!) well.

    • A fine sentiment, but damaging to those subjected to it when they must compete on numbers with those in the Lake Wobegon system of testing.

      It is well known that the “excellence” creep makes evaluations meaningless, but the machines like numbers and if your numbers are more “informative” than the person who rates their people higher, your people will suffer in the competition for promotion, selection, etc.

  4. Could it possibly be that the kids can’t read fluently enough, and have enough background knowledge, to be able to read with speed and comprehension?

    • PhillipMarlowe says:

      The point to Common Core is that the students don’t use background. No less than David Coleman has said so.

      The issue/concern here is more related to the fact that they kids are being asked to do something that unto last September, they were not doing. The CC standards are built upon previous years. So, the sixth grader this year will be at a severe disadvantage compared to the sixth grader 5 years from now who will have been taught with the strategies since Kindergarten.

      • Oh, if only the mighty paladins of education, who created Common Core, had thought of that problem those kids might not have found themselves at a “severe disadvantage”.

        Of course, why should they have bothered to accommodate those kids? It’s not like the kids, or their parents, have any choice. Whatever they get is what they’ll have to live with since the people who created Common Core would recoil with horror from the notion that they might suffer any consequences for not having the presence of mind, or the human decency, to do a better job.

    • Quite likely. My district didnt include poetry in LA until 7th, and then only for honors students. Same for Shakespeare. Sounds like other districts are also shorting their students. Its known that there arent enough seats in honors due to the disparate impact concerns.

  5. cranberry says:

    Could teaching students to be “careful, thoughtful, deep thinkers” be translated into teaching students to be “slow?”

    From reading the comments, there are comments from Lucy Calkins (sp?) So I’m wondering if this is a sign of a true misalignment between the Writer’s/Reader’s Workshop approach to education, and the approach the Common Core expects.

    It could be that the Leveled Literacy approach to student reading (i.e., not allowing a student to read more challenging material, but restricting access to a teacher-determined “just right” level for that child,) does not serve to build a student’s knowledge of the world as quickly as it should.

    I admit I’m not unbiased on this point, having spent time trying to convince my children’s teachers to allow them to read books at the level of the books they were enjoying at home. Thank heavens they read independently, because the “just right” books allowed in the Readers’ Workshop classroom were thin gruel indeed.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      I have a granddaughter in kindergarten. The class has a subject called “popcorn words”. I’m not sure what the homework is. But my DiL cut up paper into pieces larger than a business card–there were two hundred of them–and my granddaughter lettered in each word. So maybe this is part of the plan.
      Last time I visited, DiL had laid out the cards like a giant game of solitaire and she and granddaughter were arranging them and matching them according to some plan they had.
      Turns out granddaughter got the entire thing right at school. No “butter” (a word missed is marked in yellow, hence the “butter” on the popcorn).
      They will do various drills of one kind or another just for a few moments, so it doesn’t get negative.
      The kid’s bright as a new penny. But the advantage is with the home.
      I explained to her that when bad guys attacked another country, Greatgrandpa and his friends went to fight them and the people of the country were so grateful that in three towns they named streets after the guys. “Timberwolfstraat”. That required a map, and such.
      Some kids get more of this and some less and I have no idea what the schools are going to do about it.