Students all over the United States have complained about the level of rigor in Common Core-styled questions. Some parents have questioned what school administrators and educational authorities would score on the test if they took it. WPIX in New York took this process one step further and had a Yale graduate attempt the 8th grade version of the Common Core exam in What happens when a Yale grad takes the 8th grade Common Core exam?
To begin with, finding the sample exam was no easy task. Advocates of Common Core standards point out that the New York State Department of Education has posted at least as much or more of past exams online than any other state. However, because there’s such a wide variety of Common Core material posted on the department’s website, it took us about 20 minutes to find sample tests, which are called “sample questions” on the state website. For readers’ convenience, this is a direct link to the sample questions.
Those questions include the correct answers, of course, to the sample tests, but they also include helpful accompanying commentary that explains why answers are correct or incorrect.
I ended up checking those answers in a personal way. On deadline, I completed about half of the 103-page file of sample questions and accompanying answers and explanations for the 8th grade English Language Arts exam.
As I’ve disclosed in the past, I have a bachelor’s degree from Yale, and a master’s degree from Columbia. Those diplomas only mean that I’m smart enough to know how much I don’t know, and it’s a lot. The Common Core sample test stood a chance of being a further reminder.
“Students and teachers feel the same way you do,” psychologist Jeffrey Gardere, PhD, told me after the examination. “You’re a little bit nervous because you’re doing a story. You’re a reporter. [Students and teachers] are even more nervous than you because they’re doing this as part of their lives.”
Dr. Gardere called test anxiety normal, but said it’s even more intense with Common Core. “They’re feeling, ‘I’ve got to get this right, because it says to everyone in the world if I’m prepared for high school, for college, and for life.’”
Gardere also addressed the fact that teacher evaluations are based in part on Common Core results. He said it raises the level of anxiety on both the part of the test giver and the test taker.
“Teachers and students interacting, and both sets are nervous,” Dr. Gardere said. “Then you add that together and this is a case where one plus one makes three.”
While that comment resembled an incorrect math Common Core test answer, it was actually meant to show just how intense the pressure and anxiety can be during testing. As for the actual exam, this test-taking reporter was surprised by a few things.
On more than one occasion, on the multiple choice questions, two answers seemed to apply. I found myself trying to figure out what the writers of the test had in mind as I attempted to choose between one of two potentially correct responses.
It was not all multiple choice, however. More than half of the sample exam had essay questions listed after the fiction and non-fiction passages that make up the content of the test . I was pleased with the specificity of the essay question instructions. As opposed to the multiple choice responses, the essays allowed for detailed and specific answers.
As many students have noted, multiple choice questions in the Common Core exam often have a significant degree of ambiguity. If a graduate of two Ivy League institutions had difficulty discerning the correct answer between two choices, what can we expect from our 8th grade students?
In the hour and three minutes I had available to take the test, I scored 22 points out of 25, or 88 percent. And that was the score of a grownup who reads for a living. Compare that to a child knowing that a lot is riding on the exam, and it becomes clear why some students react the way Nadia Hardison, a Staten Island fifth grader, did.
“Me and Niko actually came home crying one day,” she told PIX11 News about her and her brother’s reaction to having to do Common Core classwork, “because it was really just annoying.”
Nadia and Niko’s mom opted them out of taking Common Core exams, but that decision can provoke emotions, as well.
“It’s kind of awkward,” said Nadia, about the first time she’d opted out, two years ago, “because I had to move to another class, and everybody stared at me when I left.”
Dr. Gardere, the psychologist, acknowledged that opting out can have its own emotional effect, especially when the student involved is one of few choosing to sit the test out.
“If your child is going to take the road less traveled by not taking Common Core,” said Gardere, “that may have some unintended consequences.”
He said that whether a child takes the test or not, the decision has an effect. So he offers this advice to the parents of test takers.
“Help them deal with the stress as best as possible. The best way to do that is help them prepare as much as possible.”
If someone with his level of academic achievement scores an 88 on the exam, I think it’s safe to say that millions of parents will be irate about the results of this year’s Common Core exams across the country.
In Nevada, lawmakers have approved a bill to abolish the Common Core, and both sides are getting testy. Calls for stopping “experiments on children” were stemmed by proponents of the Core who raised the issue of the millions of dollars it would cost to return to the former standards. Let’s take a look at Assembly hearing on Common Core ban gets heated:
Nevada’s public school students probably don’t know it, but they’re caught in the middle of a tug-of-war that’s coming to a head, as made evident in the heated back-and-forth over Common Core state standards in Carson City on Wednesday.
“We need to do what’s proven to work and not experiments on our children,” said Assemblyman Brent Jones, R-Clark, the main sponsor of a bill to abolish Common Core in Nevada, in his testimony before the Assembly Committee on Education on Wednesday.
The largely Republican-backed bill, AB303, comes from state lawmakers six years after the state Legislature nearly unanimously adopted the Common Core academic standards for all Nevada public schools — like 42 other states — and put them in place.
Since adopting Common Core, Nevada students have been told their learning benchmarks in math and English language arts are being raised under a gradual phase-in of the standards to be fully implemented this year, with four new exit exams required to graduate high school.
However, lawmakers are now considering a bill that would reverse all those costly changes and revert the state — known for a K-12 educational system ranked among the worst in the nation — back to its former academic standards. And education officials estimate a cost of $110 million to merely go back to pre-Common Core.
“I am asking that together we examine the reality of Common Core,” said Jones.
The reality is, millions of voters have turned against the federal mandates. Parents will not forget where their representatives stand. Lawmakers will follow their wishes, or they will be voted out of office.