Teachers, parents and students at more than 35 schools in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn mounted early-morning protests on April 11, incensed by what they said were confusing, developmentally inappropriate or needlessly long questions on this year’s English language arts exams.
In a blog post at Slate that originally appeared on Testing Talk — a forum for sharing observations about standardized tests — an anonymous New York State public school teacher who worked hard to develop her students’ love of reading writes about how the tests “are sucking the life and love out of students’ literary lives.”
“During the test, my readers, who months ago couldn’t get their noses out of books, complained of stomachaches as they persevered and tried to read texts that were over their heads and had no relevance to their lives, age, or backgrounds,” writes the 3rd-grade teacher.
The teacher, who supports the Common Core Learning Standards, observes that the ELA’s “complex and nonsensical” questions bore little resemblance to the kind that should encourage critical thinking.
Instead of a question like: “What caused the character to (insert action here) in the middle of the story?” (which, mind you, is hard enough for an 8-year-old to identify as it is), there were questions like: “In Line 8 of Paragraph 4, the character says … and in Line 17 of Paragraph 5, the character does … Which of the following lines from Paragraph 7 best supports the character’s actions?” This, followed by four choices of lines from Paragraph 7 that could all, arguably, show motivation for the character’s actions in the preceding paragraphs.
Many across the city agreed. Twenty-five principals in Manhattan’s District 2 wrote a letter to families saying they were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests.
The anonymous teacher concludes, “It is not my job to take children who are developing, who are trying to make sense of the world and the books around them, and turn them into test-taking drones who read and write with the intention of dissection and choosing the best answer out of four complex answer choices that all say little to nothing about what the text actually meant.”