Today I administered DAY THREE of the 2014 NYS Common Core English-language arts (ELA) assessment to fifth grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time on state assessments. For the third day in a row, my kids sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes). This week, my group of 10-year-olds tested in ELA for a total of six hours and 45 minutes.
Today’s 5th grade test was comprised of three reading passages, five short response questions and one extended response question. The questions were tricky and confusing, and the vocabulary and content were far from being grade-appropriate. As the educators at P.S. 321* noted in their 4/3/14 condemnation of the 2014 ELA test, “…we have never seen an ELA exam that does a worse job of testing reading comprehension. There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages.” The kids I tested stared into space while struggling to make sense of the questions. They also had less stamina today. Many needed to take a break after answering the first two short response questions. The students were fidgety and less focused, and many asked to go to the bathroom. Two kids complained of stomach pain. A few kids met my gaze throughout the test, pleading with their eyes for me to rescue them. It broke my heart. With more than a hour left in the test, one boy, slumped over in his chair, summoned me over to his seat and said, “I don’t want to do this.”
The behavior I witnessed today was not due to lack of “grit” on the part of my students. They tried their best and didn’t give up. Whenever I proctor these exams, I’m always amazed by my students’ resilience. They make me proud, but it’s disheartening to see them suffer on a test that they don’t realize is completely meaningless and, in no way, reflects the beautiful classwork they’ve done this year.
Here are some NYC elementary student and teacher reactions to the DAY THREE test
1.) The veteran teacher I most admire, a compassionate, energetic and intelligent woman, called the 3rd grade test, “so over the top…the questions were unlike anything we’ve seen.” Furious at having to administer this exam she decried, “You are asking me to be complicit in abusing kids. I abused kids today and my penalty is a rating.”
2.) Third grade students called the tests “horrible,” “too hard” and “boring.” They complained of being sleepy and felt worried and frustrated. One student said, “I thought my brain was going to shut down.”
3.) Many students were scared that they would be “left back” if they didn’t finish the test.
4.) One fifth grader said the test was “exhausting”; another remarked, “my head hurts.”
5.) A fifth grade class reported that the questions were unfair. One question, they said, “has to be thrown out.”
6.) Kids cried at drop off today. Some cried during the test and a few vomited. One general education student had a nervous breakdown and had to take the test in a separate location. This student’s anxiety was so intense that the teacher thought the child would run away.
7.) There were numerous reports of students answering the questions by simply copying random sentences from the reading passages.
7.) A very hard-working and capable third grader didn’t finish the test and asked her teacher, “Does this mean I’m going to fail?”
What is wrong with the NYSED? Do they realize that so-called college readiness DOES NOT mean college-level work in elementary school? Are they punishing our students, educators and parents because of the growing test resistance in New York State? The Board of Regents and John King must be held accountable for their gross mismanagement of our public schools which has, among other disasters, resulted in the unnecessary suffering of our students.
*P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn will be protesting this year’s ELA exam tomorrow (4/4/14) from 8:15 – 8:35 am. It will take place outside the school.