On Tuesday, June 3, 2014, high school students in New York State take the first new series of math and English exams that are supposed to be aligned with the national Common Core standards. Anticipating that students will have difficulty with the new tests, the State Education Department plans to score exams so that approximately the same percentage of students pass who passed similar tests in the past. I hope it is not too late to offer students, teachers, and State Education some help.
I confess. I have a super-power. It is taking tests. I can pass any test on any subject without knowing anything as long as it is written in English. Other languages are my kryptonite. I figured out geometry on the tenth grade standardized final. I passed the AP bio test without doing any work. As with most super powers, taking tests is both a blessing and a curse. I do not get the highest scores and I do not learn very much, but I do pass.
I have been applying my super-power to analyzing the latest wave of Pearson created Common Core aligned high stakes assessments for students and student teachers and I realize they are designed just or me. They are skills based tests that do not require any knowledge. In fact, knowledge interferes with your ability to pass a Pearson test.
The United States is its biggest market and Pearson makes a lot of money selling Common Core aligned tests, curriculum, and test review books and programs. It stands to make even more as it develops, markets, assesses new Common Core PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) content area exams. Sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia, are scheduled to participate in PARCC testing.
As a public service these are my FREE test taking tips that will save parents and school districts a lot of money and students and teachers a lot of anguish.
1. Know the jargon they use in the instructions. For example, "selected-response items" means multiple-choice questions. I do not know why they do not just call them multiple-choice.
2. Do all the steps and read all the passages before looking at the choices. The answer, no matter how inaccurate or ridiculous, is in the reading passage. You are not looking for the best answer. You are looking or their answer.
3. In math, be confident in your answer. If your answer is not among the choices, figure out which of their answers has the same value as yours.
Most of us who followed the Pearson Pineapple controversy thought the reading passage on the 2013 8th grade reading test about the pineapple that challenged a rabbit (hare) to a race and questions about which animal was wisest were absurd. The problem, at least in my case, was that at the time I really did not understand what Pearson and the Common Core were trying to do. Now I think I have it figured out. The passage and questions were absurd on purpose.
Pearson and Common Core are not testing what you know, what you think, or what you can explain. They are testing what you can find in the passage and whether you follow directions. They select reading passages using a mathematical formula or algorithm based on what they call "text complexity" which measures the length of sentences and the use of obscure vocabulary. There is no meaningful content on a Pearson Common Core test, it is all about peeling the pineapple.
Ironically, I found the same approach on Pearson's Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) for teachers. The sample question has an extended reading passage about Gertrude Stein from a book by Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable.
The first question is: "In Paragraph 1, the repetition of the phrase "well-rounded, prosperous" emphasizes . . . " I always think of "well-rounded" and "prosperous" as positive attributes and when I looked at the choices I leaned toward choice A, "the sophistication of Stein's family."
But Pearson says the correct answer is choice B, "the predictability of life Stein rejected." Although well-rounded does not mean predictable, if you look at paragraph 1, "well-rounded" is equated with "stability," boring sameness, qualities that Stein rejected.
In other words, if you know what well-rounded means, you get the answer wrong. Just as with the Pearson pineapple, the test is not about knowing the right answer, it is about finding their answer in the text. I can hardly wait for the new Pearson PARCC tests based on reading skills that I expect will be missing all content.
Actually I should not have been so surprised to discover that Pearson, PARCC, and Common Core ignore knowledge. In a promotional video for the national Common Core standards, David Coleman, who the New York Times described as an "architect of the common core curriculum standards," discussed how James Madison explained the regulation of political factions in Federalist Paper #51. The only problem was that Federalist Paper #10 is about the regulation of political factions. Federalist Paper #51 is about check and balances and the structure of the national government. But he was only off by forty-one essays.
I am a little concerned that it took me so long to figure out the problem with these Pearson tests. I just worry my super-power may be slipping.