Friday, April 8, 2016
A Teacher Weighs in on the 8th Grade ELA Test in New York State
This week I administered the 8th grade ELA assessment. The test, on the whole, was an abomination. It was so developmentally inappropriate that the state should be brought up on child abuse charges. As I looked out at my hard working students, my heart sank. It sank because I know that they are being set up to fail this exam, but they do not know that this is the motive of the state. They are in their seats, plugging along, trying their best and working as hard as they can. I'd like to share some examples of how developmentally inappropriate this test is. One reading passage in Book 2 was so difficult that between the first and second paragraphs the state itself had to footnote 6 words. The passage went on using so many other words, that were not footnoted, that simply are not in our common vernacular. For example, what are "fastnesses"? This is a word that was used to describe the setting of the story, which became very important to understand as it relates to the questions that were asked on the following pages of the book. Now, I asked 8 of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of the 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capability of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students? ELL students? Special Education students (some of whom are reading on a third grade level)? My heart is bleeding for these kids. Then on day 3 of this marathon came the real whammy. Just trying to navigate the questions in Book 3 was nearly impossible for kids. One of my highest achieving students called me to her desk and pointed at the extended response question and said, "This question is just weird. It doesn't make sense. I don't know what they want us to write. What should I do?" Of course, I reassured her to trust her instincts and try her hardest. She was one of 7 kids in my particular proctoring location that called me to her desk about that very same question. No one understood what was being asked of them. At the end of day 3 one of my special education students lay her head on her desk and tears began to fall. She said, "I'm so tired, I can't do this anymore. I don't know what they are asking, and whatever they are asking I don't know how to answer it because I didn't understand the reading passage." I encouraged her to take a break, get some water and try again. She took my advice to heart and the poor kid sat looking at this one question for another HOUR. In total she had been taking the test for 3 hours and 20 minutes with no lunch. Finally, she called me over, and said, "I just can't do it. I have read the passage a million times and I don't know the answer. " It was at that point that she turned in her test without answering that last question. I told her how proud I was of her. I told her that trying her best is the most important thing that she can do for herself in this world. I am heartbroken for her and for all of the children who were subjected to this horrendous developmentally inappropriate exam.