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New State ELA Exam Tests Students' Speed in Reading, Writing, and Thinking

Any classroom teacher could have looked at Day 2 of the NY State ELA Exam that was administered last week on Wednesday and known that it was too much for students to do in the alotted 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it looks like neither Pearson nor the NY State Department of Education saw fit to consult (or listen to) teachers on this.  The result was a test that many students did not finish, which will yield data that does not tell us much about what students can really do, when it comes to the new Common Core standards.  (See this NY Times article for reporting on reactions to this test.)

As I looked through the test booklet to process each question, being a careful and not especially fast reader myself, I knew I would have struggled to finish in time. The test presented students with the following tasks to complete in 90 minutes:

  • 3 lengthy passages, of 2-3 pages, with plenty of unfamiliar vocabulary for students to probem-solve and complex sentences for students to read and reread for understanding
  • 7 complex multiple choice questions on each passage, which required students to look back at the passage and really think about what the question is asking and consider the implications of each answer choice to choose the best one. These were not straightforward, "did you understand what you read?" type questions and answers. There were several questions, for which neither I nor any English teacher on my team, was sure of the correct answer.
  • 5 complex "short response" questions which require textual evidence in paragraph form.
  • an extended response to one passage (an essay)

A sixth grade teacher I know--who finds the new CC standards a natural fit to her teaching--said, "If critical thinking is what we're really emphasizing with the Common Core standards, why was there no time given for that on the test?"  Exactly.

The Common Core Language Standards say nothing about students needing to be able to read or write at a certain speed.  My fast readers (students who read significantly faster than I do) had no problem with the time, but even very high performing students who read at a more regular speed or who think a lot about each sentence they write had trouble finishing. A good number did not complete the test.  Many of my English Language Learners did not have enough time, which seemed especially unfair. 

My students were not the only ones who struggled with the ill-paced exam. An elementary school teacher I know reported that just over half of their students completed the test. One of my students with friends at NEST, a high performing, gifted and talented NYC school, told me her friends said only one person in their class finished the test.

The most unfortunate part of this is that we'll have no real way of knowing how our students would have done, had they finished the test.  The data won't tell us much about our students' performance on the new types of tasks included on the test.  I don't personally need such data to tell me what my students can and cannot do--but I know this data will be used to evaluate what my students' skills, as well as the impact of my teaching.  

Though I have many criticisms about the use of standardized testing to measure teaching and learning, today I simply draw the line at a test that was impossible for many skilled readers and writers to finish. All they had to do was show some teachers that test... gross negligence, willful ignorance, or just mean? Any which way, students and teachers should not be guinea pigs for high stakes experiments.  

[image credit:]


1 Comment

CCSSIMath commented on April 23, 2013 at 3:01pm:

math assessments

Let others know what you think of the math assessments, but if you're a teacher or administrator, be mindful of NYSED's prohibitions:

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