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.