The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Pearson Tests

Over the course of three consecutive days last week, students in grades 3-8 took Pearson’s New York State (NYS) Common Core English-language arts (ELA) tests.  As was the case in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the 2016 ELA tests were developmentally inappropriate, confusing and tricky.  Despite the New York State Education Department (NYSED)’s “adjustments” to the 2016 assessments, there was no improvement to the quality of the tests.

While I am barred from disclosing the reading passages and questions that appeared on the tests, in no way will I refrain from broadcasting to the world how outraged I continue to be – year after year – over New York’s oppressive testing regime.  Since 2013, when Pearson’s Common Core tests were first administered in New York state, I’ve been documenting this nightmare on my blog.


On 4/3/16, Lauren Cohen and I demonstrated at NYC councilman Danny Dromm’s rally in Jackson Heights, Queens. Dromm was informing parents of their right to opt-out of the NYS Common Core tests. As a member of the MORE caucus of the UFT, Lauren is running for VP of Elementary Schools in the upcoming UFT election. She truly puts children first.

Here are my thoughts on the 2016 ELA test.  I have focused on third grade because these students – aged eight and nine – are our youngest NYS Common Core test-takers.

1.) The 2016 Common Core ELA test was as absurdly long as it was in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite the fact that it was shortened by just one reading passage and by a handful of multiple choice questions.

2016 Grade 3 Common Core English Language Arts Test

  • Day One: 4 reading passages, 24 multiple-choice questions (Students darken the circles on Answer Sheet 1).
  • Day Two: 3 reading passages (same as 2015), 7 multiple-choice questions (Students darken the circles on Answer Sheet 2), 2 short-response questions (Students write answers directly in Book 2.) 1 extended-response question (Students write answer directly in Book 2).
  • Day Three: 3 reading passages (same as 2015), 5 short-response questions (Students write answers directly in Book 3) and 1 extended-response question (Students write answer directly in Book 3).

TOTALS: 10 reading passages, 31 multiple-choice questions, 7 short-response questions and 2 extended-response questions.

For the short-response questions, students typically write a paragraph-long response that must include at least two details from the passage. The extended-response question requires an essay-like written response: introduction, supporting evidence/details, conclusion. Where is the NYSED’s research that shows that this is an educationally sound testing program for a third grader? Seriously. Does anyone know how the NYSED justifies this? The length alone of these tests warrants our banging of pots and pans in city streets.

2.) Now let’s move on to content.  The reading passages were excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books).  Pearson, the NYSED or Questar did a poor job of selecting and contextualizing the excerpts in the student test booklets.  How many students actually read the one-to-two sentence summaries that appeared at the beginning of the stories? One excerpt in particular contained numerous characters and settings and no clear story focus.  The vocabulary in the non-fiction passages was very technical and specific to topics largely unfamiliar to the average third grader.  In other words, the passages were not meaningful. Many students could not connect the text-to-self nor could they tap into prior knowledge to facilitate comprehension.

3.) The questions were confusing.  They were so sophisticated that it appeared incongruous to me to watch a third grader wiggle her tooth while simultaneously struggle to answer high school-level questions. How does one paragraph relate to another?, for example. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose more.  The multiple-choice answer choices were tricky, too. Students had to figure out the best answer among four answer choices, one of which was perfectly reasonable but not the best answer.  Here’s what P.S. 321’s principal, Elizabeth Phillips, wrote about the 2014 Common Core tests.  Her op-ed We Need to Talk About the Test appeared in The New York Times on April 9, 2014.  These same issues were evident on the third grade 2016 ELA test.

“In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.”

4.) The reading levels of the passages were above “grade” level, whatever “grade” level means these days.  One passage was an article recommended for students in grades 6-8. Has the NYSED done any research on early childhood education? Defending the Early Years cites a Gesell Institute of Child Development report that says,

“…the average age at which children learn to read independently is 6.5 years. Some begin as early as four years and some not until age seven or later – and all of this falls within the normal range.”

Yet for the NYS Common Core ELA test, the NYSED expects all third graders to be able to decode and comprehend texts that are typically used with fourth, fifth and sixth graders?

5.) While in theory I prefer untimed tests to timed tests, the lack of a time limit is of little comfort to students who are subjected to developmentally inappropriate tests.  Read this heartbreaking account by a New York City teacher who blogs at Of a former student, this teacher writes,

“After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, she emerged from the classroom in a daze. I asked her if she was ok, and offered her a hug. She actually fell into my arms and burst into tears. I tried to cheer her up but my heart was breaking. She asked if she could read for a while in my room to calm down and then cried into her book for the next 15 minutes.”

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, noted in a post on her blog NYC Public School Parents that this “…appears to violate the NY law passed in 2014 that limits state testing time to one percent of total instructional time.” Additionally, fellow Change the Stakes member, Rosalie Friend, pointed out that “without a set time limit, the tests no longer are standardized.  Therefore, one cannot draw ANY conclusions from the scores.” So this alone seems to invalidate these $44 million tests.

Collectively, we must stop this insanity.  I’ve been sounding the alarm on these tests since 2013, and the vast majority of educators I know agree with me.  I’m beyond fed-up that I have to continue to administer these assessments to my students.  It is unconscionable to me that Chancellor Fariña, in her 3/15/16 letter to NYC parents, wrote that these tests are “incredibly important” and a “valuable experience for our students.” It’s been nearly a month since I read those words and my jaw is still on the floor.

Parents – if you haven’t already refused the tests, you still have time to opt-out of the Common Core math tests, which will be administered on April 13, 14 and 15 of this week.

Teachers and administrators – the Common Core testing climate in New York state is too dire for you to remain quiet.  Speak up and encourage parents to opt-out.  Boycotting these tests is the only way to change course.

May this video of these principled MORE teachers inspire you.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.16.19 PM

From left to right: NYC teachers Lauren Cohen, Kristin Taylor and Jia Lee spoke critically of the NYS Common Core tests to NBC 4 New York. Screenshot courtesy of NYC teacher and UFT chapter leader Arthur Goldstein who blogs at


For more information, please visit:

NYC Opt Out

NYS Allies for Public Education

Defending the Early Years

Network for Public Education 






51 thoughts on “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Pearson Tests

  1. Great reporting, Katie.

    Also note that one passage and six of the multiple-choice items that appeared on the Grade 3 test were embedded field test material. As you know, these items are being tried out so the supplier (Pearson) can develop next year’s exams. The field test items do not count in determining how students perform on the operational items. In this case, that left only 18 items in Book 1 that counted. (a pitifully small sample to base judgments of student achievement on–even if the items were of high quality). But the six experimental items took time and effort for students to get through. And the beneficiary of this is Pearson, while kids are exploited to perpetuate testing that is detrimental to children, teachers and schools.

    • I don’t think it’s Pearson anymore. I think our new commissioner ended the contract with them and moved on to a different vendor. In reality, I am more afraid of the Department of Education then the testing vendor.

  2. Pearson is the culprit here. Check out YouTube of John Oliver’s segment on standardized testing. Speaks volumes about profit!!!

  3. Get common core out!!! No good. Out to ruin/brainwash our children. I took my daughter out of the public school because of common core. Although it does affect many private schools as well, the schools will not get any help with funding if they do not practice Common Core. I am sending my daughter to a Catholic School where they do not. I work in the public school for 14 years, recently leaving and it is SAD watching these kids struggle like they do.
    This is just my opinion if you do not agree with me that is fine but please do not say bad mean things to me I see that happen a lot on Facebook that is sad


      • Catholic School is like jumping from a frying pan into a burnt one. Take the Bible teach from it, right alone with math, spelling, and so. AT HOME. Drop out of the School System, and see what happen’s to this Pearson, and check out who is behind putting your job’s on the line.

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  8. I helped set the cut scores for the first ELA 3-5 NY common core tests. The whole thing is a farce. Most standardized tests are. I teach in community college, and I am more and more seeing students who are not only incapable of writing more than a five-paragraph essay, they are incapable of understanding that the need to learn new skills in college. We are lowering our standards in college to meet the lowered skills; our English adjuncts are being told not to teach research in freshman composition, just mention the concept.
    This is how we’ll beat China, folks!

  9. New York State at one time had the very best school system in the country….I went to grammar school until 1953 and my 3 children went to grammar school in NYS from 1960-1972 I could read and spell proficiently.
    My children did not fare as well….It was reported my youngest son, then in 8th grade could not read. I asked the teacher ” who is responsible for that?” “He has been in the same school with you for 8 years.”
    Reading, writing and spelling are not considered as important these days.
    I am not familiar with the Pearson test BUT testing should be offered in a way that 3rd through 8th grade can understand.
    We need to find out why children cannot perform these simple accomplishments.

    • I have seen the same thing. And we are about the same age. 4 years ago I found one of these common core tests laying on the ground and looking at it I was astonished. An idiot with a brain tumor should have been able to pass it in the 4th grade and this was a graduation test for high school seniors. “Who was the leader of Germany in WW II”????????????? And the choices? Adolf Hitler, Barrack Obama, William Clinton and J.P. Morgan or something similar. How can you have a multiple choice spelling test? This has been brought to you by the American Teacher’s Union.

    • My daughter was legally blind until the 4th grade when her eyesight finally had developed enough that glasses actually worked. She of course couldn’t read or write. We asked the school if there was a reading program she could get into to catch up. Nope. It was all on us.So my wife and I put her through a year of private school. She not only caught to her class mates but passed them. I think that says it all about our public education system.

      • Chris Rock said it best: “If yo kid can’t read, dat’s Mama’s fault. If yo kid can’t read ’cause there’s no light in the house? Dat’s Daddy’s fault.”

  10. Thank you for speaking out. I have been so frustrated and can’t imagine the additional burden all this profit-making high-stakes testing has placed on teachers. I can see how much the stress is taxing our elementary-school children. What I can’t understand is why parents focused on achievement are supportive of these tests, which only take time and energy away from real learning.

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  12. Even not being able to see any questions and just from the answers I have read this sounds more like a communist set up rather than anything at all needed or wanted for our kids. As far as my child taking this or anything like it I would end up removing my child from any school that goes by this.

  13. Pingback: 3rd Grade Teacher: New York Common Core Test Age-Inappropriate » Today's America

  14. As a non-New Yorker who now lives in Virginia, very good article, thank you. My daughter was victim of Common Core in Illinois and failed 3rd grade math horribly. The REALLY sad part, I, couldn’t help her because I didn’t understand the questions myself. It asked you to “explain” why 45/9=6 (for example). The fact that she is on the autism spectrum only made her that more frustrated. Thankfully, we moved away to a non-Common Core state and she is doing much better.

  15. I am a teacher of 16 years in Pennsylvania and also am doing the ELA tests this week. Each year, at this time, I wonder how on earth I decided to enter a profession that would come to place such an intense level of stress on students and educators to teach to a highly-advanced academic test that is a one-size fits all series of tests that has no relevance to any real-life skill sets. I wrote a poem last year (each passing year adds to the second guessing of my career choice and the frustration of clueless lawmakers in Harrisburg who do not understand the details or impact of Common Core (and now as part of our evaluations), yet impose it on the state education system. I feel utterly disheartened yet again this year when I think of the frustration of my rural, low attending, mostly low-income students who have to pretend to be academics for the next few days and test on difficult content that most politicians and many professors might not even comprehend. Here is the poem I was inspired to write. I am sure any teacher who reads it, will at least relate a bit. “A Teacher’s Lament” (2015) by Melissa –What would Confucius, Gandhi, or Anne Sullivan think anyway?/ Would they be proud of education today?/ We strive to create drones who can think all the same…/ pass high-stakes state tests,/ everyone play the game/ But students have become data, percentages, and stats,/ and teachers each day are “pulling rabbits out of hats.”/ placate and coddle, and faux discipline/ If “Johnny” and “Suzy” don’t pass the tests, then it is “your skin.”/ It makes no sense, if you ask me/ Basic skills are gone/ doesn’t anybody see?/ Humanity has changed, and education also shows/ that instant gratification is all that our society knows./ Therefore, learning is something we are only forcing in our schools. We are becoming robots now, blindly following absurd laws and rules.

  16. The assessments are not designed first and the curriculum subsequently hammered out, as good backward design dictates. Since the curriculum is released before “vendors” are hired to construct the tests, there is a built-in flaw in the assessment. One should first ask what the students should be able to do (that’s the test!) and subsequently design the path to get there (that’s the curriculum!). Unfortunately, the whole design process is flawed. And expensive. And time consuming. And unfair to students and teachers. I teach physics at a private high school, and it pains me to see my colleagues in public settings have to go through this!

  17. I live in Southern California in an area were poverty and and English as a second language is the norm and unfortunately (and sadly) education is not as rigorous as in other parts of the state and teachers really don’t care as much as you do since their only reply to us is “Sorry theres nothing we can do”. I didnt even know one could opt out of this test until I came across an article on When my child was first introduced to Common Core I was shocked to find out her teacher gave her a lot of minuses on her math test because she was answering the questions correctly but NOT the “common core” way. I am not alone on this as I would say about 90% of the parents hate this program or way of teaching and even the teachers do not know it themselves having to recur to books when I have asked a question or straight telling me they do not know HOW to arrive to the answer they just know the answer because its in their books. Now her English teacher is giving her minus points for submitting good reading sumaries. She has requested that my child sticks to 2-3 sentences for a total of 50-60 pages that she reads each day. I cannot imagine how one can do such a thing when this many pages are being read. The times she has written 4-5 sentences I always receive notes from her “reminding” us that she wants a (very) “short” summary. I would love to contact you and start a multi-state petition through to have Common Core removed completely from the educational system and banned forever. If you are interested in this please contact me I know that if we join forces may be, just may be, our voices will be heard.

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  19. Here in Florida my 5th grade students took their state assessment on the computer, consisting of multiple long passages on a split screen. Like you, I can’t talk about the test, but I can tell you that my second language students, even with unlimited time, struggled through the 28 & 32 question sections over two days. My best students couldn’t complete the questions iin the time given & scrambled to answer them all at the end. Of course, this is NOT how we assess these students all year, & even with practice, it is very difficult for them. The split screen (passage on one side, questions on the other) is awful & distracting (I imagine) to many students. I’m disheartened that I am forced to put my students through this testing process & angry that those in power feel that these test results represent the teachers we are in the classroom. I don’t want to do away with all testing, but this is broken and needs to be fixed!

    • The test indeed seemed hard, however I still don’t understand what is wrong with taking states tests.These tests are great for the students to see haw much they have improved or what they nee to work on.

  20. I’m reacting solely to the image at the very top of the article. Regardless of how you feel about this assessment method or the Common Core, there are very good reasons why you are not allowed to talk about the tests. This is assessment 101. If you talk about the test, it is no longer a secure document and it is much easier for people to cheat on it. When people talk about it, Pearson has to revise the test. They aren’t going to revise it any better than it is right now. They have their protocols for it which are unlikely to change. This feeds into the cycle of profit for Pearson because they can use that as an excuse to raise the price. So, don’t talk about individual test items. If you do, it just perpetuates what you were concerned about in the first place. Look, I understand that you are frustrated. But you have to keep your ahead, as an educator, when you fight injustices.

  21. Why be so secretive about previous year’s test questions? Students, if they so wished, could benefit by studying topics and format of questions on their own. The classroom teacher is the person most qualified to to assess the capabilities of a student in her/his classroom, hopefully, in consultation with parents. It worked great with our son who was held back in the third grade ( before the testing craze) , graduated from college and has a responsible position. In my case, I couldn’t speak English until I stared grade school in Detroit. No state testing going thru grade school. Great teachers and immigrant parents who always stressed “get an education.”

  22. Great Article Kate, I love reading about other school districts that feel the same as we do here in West Seneca, NY. We had teacher classrooms with a 100% opt out this year, we have been screaming since 2013 to stop these terribly formatted tests. Our superintendent has been a leader in standing up to the NYSED and getting the word out to the community to opt out. One of our biggest concerns is what are they doing with the information? If you are not sending the information to the parents and the teachers? Data mining is a huge business and this way of assessing our children and educators needs to stop! I work for the school district and I am the SIS Administrator so I see first hand what is going on. I wish I could give more details, but anyone who knows about this common core crap knows I need not say more. I don’t care what the new head A**h*** in charge of education has to say, omission is still lying, if you are not going to be as open and honest you should be then you are a liar. Even though there is a contract with Questar NYSED will still be using Pearson tests for the next two years, so you will not see any tests given by the new vendor until at the very least spring of 2018.

  23. A NYS teacher just posted this about the 2016 Common Core tests.

    “I will NOT be silent any more. I implore all parents who allowed their children to take the NYS assessments, to DEMAND to see the tests that they have taken during the past two weeks. It is criminal. Aside from wasting your taxpayer dollars, and wasting instructional time, your child was put through a test that belonged in middle school. I am done watching students cry. The Commissioner of Education has lied to you. The test was not shorter. It was not easier. You are being played. We need to get louder than ever before!”

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  25. M Didio…I agree 100%! It’s NOT the Common Core Standard and if people think it is then they’re being brain-washed. It’s a standard which should be met. Look at these “for profit” companies that produce this mess, muddy it up and then call it common core. smh

  26. We take the same test here in Colorado. I trash 3rd grade. We did our test online and there not as many reading passages as your are referring to. I am confused on why. We finished math also, cannot wait to see how yours is different. Anyone know why they are different?

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