Kids have been field-testing new Common Core exams — and parents have been trying practice tests posted online. The verdict: The new tests are much harder — partly because of poorly worded questions.
Carol Lloyd, executive editor at GreatSchools, is a fan of the new standards, but worried about the test. She went online to try practice questions for both major common-core assessment consortia—Smarter Balanced and PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)—for her daughter’s grade.
Many of the questions were difficult but wonderful. Others were in need of a good editor.
A few, however, were flat-out wrong. One Smarter Balanced question asked students to finish an essay that began with a boy waking up and going down the hall to talk to his mother. Then, in the next paragraph, he’s suddenly jumping out of bed.
A PARCC reading-comprehension question asked students to pick a synonym for “constantly” out of five possible sentence options. I reread the sentences 10 times before I realized that no words or phrases in those sentences really meant “constantly,” but that the test-writer had confused “constantly” with “repeatedly.” Any student who really understood the language would be as confused as I was.
If these are the test questions they’re sharing with the public, “what are they doing in the privacy of my daughter’s test?” asks Lloyd.
Natalie Wexler, a writing tutor at a high-poverty D.C. high school, took the PARCC English Language Arts practice test for 10th-graders. A number of questions were confusing, unrealistically difficult, or just plain wrong,” she writes.
Question 1 starts with a brief passage:
I was going to tell you that I thought I heard some cranes early this morning, before the sun came up. I tried to find them, but I wasn’t sure where their calls were coming from. They’re so loud and resonant, so it’s sometimes hard to tell.
Part A asked for the meaning of “resonant” as used in this passage:
A. intense B. distant C. familiar D. annoying
Another passage described fireflies as “sketching their uncertain lines of light down close to the surface of the water.” What was implied by the phrase “uncertain lines of light.”
She chose: “The lines made by the fireflies are difficult to trace.” The correct answer? “The lines made by the fireflies are a trick played upon the eye.”
Wexler did better on a section where all the questions were based on excerpts from a majority and a dissenting opinion in a Supreme Court case about the First Amendment. “But then again, I have a law degree, and, having spent a year as a law clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, I have a lot of experience interpreting Supreme Court opinions,” she writes.
The average D.C. 10th grader won’t be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills, Wexler fears.
. . . if a test-taker confronts a lot of unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary words, she’s unlikely to understand the text well enough to make any inferences. In just the first few paragraphs of the majority opinion, she’ll confront the words “nascent,” “undifferentiated,” and “apprehension.”
Most D.C. students “will either guess at the answers or just give up,” Wexler predicts.