“Then again, this is a dog, so accepting anything is ridiculous.”

So sayeth our trainer as he went over the scoring of question #44, another 2-pointer: Why does the narrator think that Miss Lucy wants to be a gardener? Use two or more details from the story to support your answer.”

Possible exemplary responses: My notes in italics

  • Miss Lucy likes to dig – location doesn’t matter
  • Miss Lucy planted (or buried) a dog biscuit (dog treat and dog bone also acceptable)
  • Other relevant text-based details
    Wants to make a dog treat plant = acceptable
    “She dug stuff” – worth 1 point on its own

This is the scoring guide’s exemplar of a response that would receive full credit:

The narrator thinks that Miss Lucy wants to be a gardener because she really liked to dig, and she dug out all the flowers and put dog biscuits. She thought they would grow.

So now we’re inferring the intentions of a non-human character. I feel really sorry for the kid who tried to make some sense out of the premise and earned a big fat zero:

Because Miss Lucy wants them to be proud of her. She plants flowers.

I kind of love that this kid interpreted the question to mean, “What are the underlying desires behind Miss Lucy’s desire to become a gardener?” I mean, why WOULD a dog want to be a gardener?

Our trainer put it best with his comment that’s the title of this entry, even though I don’t think his intention was to undermine the Almighty Test. If 3rd graders had the tech-savviness of 8th graders, this passage would be right up there with the sleeveless pineapple.

The Smiths feel happy. The Smiths feel sad.

43. How do the Smiths feel about Miss Lucy? Use two or more details from the story to support your answer.

The trainer broke down the scoring of this two-point question into several formulas:

1 feeling + 2 details = 2 points
1 feeling + 1 details = 1 point
1 feeling alone = 1 point
Wrong feeling + correct detail = 0 points

To review, here is the portion of the listening passage pertaining to the Smiths’ feelings about Miss Lucy:

The Smiths were very happy to see her. They like Miss Lucy very much, even though she makes a lot of messes and does a lot of silly things.

The feeling part is straightforward – they are happy to see her, they like her. I think it’s a stretch to say that there are 2 distinct details that support the feelings. One detail is that they are very happy to see her. The other is that….they like her? Well, let’s see how this one plays out in the exemplars.

The exemplary 2-point response reads “The Smiths feel about Miss Lucy that they love her and in the story they said “we love you even if you do silly things and get into trouble.”
Well, they never said that in the story, but the scoring manual explains, “The response is complete and accurate. Details are included and the information given is clearly text-based.” Inaccurate, but text-based.

Here’s the 1-pointer: “She feel happy to see Miss Lucy and not get mad at her”
“This response explains how the Smiths feel about Lucy with no supporting details.” Really? “Not get mad at her” isn’t a supporting detail, considering that the whole story was about the trouble she gets into? I see almost no difference between the 2-point and the 1-point response. And I’m still not sure which 2 details the test-makers are looking for.

Our extremely patient trainer showed us another 2-point response: “Smiths feel about Lucy happy because it doesn’t not matter if she get alot of trouble. But she is stil a good dog and a good pet for Ms. Smiths.”

The student writing “Smiths feel about Lucy happy” earns one point for identifying the correct feeling. Detail #1 is “it doesn’t not matter if she get alot of trouble” and Detail #2 is “she is stil a good dog and a good pet for Ms. Smiths” Wait…what? Where was THAT in the text? Trainer says “It’s a reasonable inference.”

Here’s another 2: “The Smiths family feels good to be Lucy’s oweners. They like lucy very much, even though she makes messes everywhere.”

Feeling: “good” = 1 point. The 2 details, according to the trainer are “they like her” and “she makes messes.” I raised my hand and asked the trainer why we were considering they like her a detail and not a feeling. “In another context, “they like her” can be considered a feeling,” he replied. Wait, WHAT? And, now that I’m really thinking about it, how does “she makes messes” support how they feel about her?

The trainer made sure to drive home the point that the feeling had to be correct in order for the student to receive any credit. The response, “The Smiths feel not happy about Miss Lucy because Miss Lucy got in trouble all the time” earns no credit despite referring to the text. Meanwhile, in the biggest shocker of that day, a student who wrote “The Smiths feel happy. The Smiths feel sad” earned one point, despite the fact that this response demonstrates no understanding of the text.

To recap, here is how you earn full credit:

1)  be redundant  “They like her because they are happy to see her” or “they are happy to see her because they like her” – make sure you say both, or else your DETAIL might be counted as a mere FEELING.
2) mention that Miss Lucy is always making messes, even though that’s not really a detail that supports the idea that they like her. I mean, it demonstrates the degree to which they like her, I suppose, but still, I think it’s a reach.

Here is one way to earn partial credit:

Write random crap that happens to contain one of the “key terms.”

Remind me again how these tests are supposed to measure effective teaching…….?

Question 42: Defining “silly” canine behavior

From the NY State 3rd grade ELA test (see this post for the passage):

42. Miss Lucy does many silly things in the story. Complete the chart with details from the story that show the silly things Miss Lucy does.

Ah, yes, the “graphic organizer” question, in which the state asks a very basic recall question, but trips kids up by presenting the information in a format that nobody in their right mind would ever use. To give an example, think of the story of the three little pigs. The question, “What were the three pigs houses made of?” is much too straightforward. Instead, I have to show a little circle that says “Items the pigs used to construct their houses” with 3 little circles coming out of that. One of the circles is filled with “straw” and you have to fill in the other two. The question of when and why anybody would ever do this is not one that students have to answer.

So here is Miss Lucy’s graphic organizer:

I make these all the time when I read.

In our hyper-alarmist test prep professional development, we had been warned that Common Core Madness meant that answers would have to be not only substantively correct, but also grammatically agreeable to the example answer “in order for students to receive a [top score of] 4.” This would mean that a student who wrote “planting a dog biscuit” would not receive as much credit as one who wrote “plants a dog biscuit” since the example was worded in the present tense. I saw no evidence that this criterion played any role in the scoring, at least on the third grade level.

So what WERE the exemplary responses? So glad you asked!

  • Plants a dog biscuit in a flower pot (our scoring trainer made sure to point out that bone/food/treat would also be acceptable)
  • Digs under the fence (or “a hole”)
  • Crawls through a hole that she digs
  • Goes to the neighbors house [sic]
  • Other relevant text-based details

This question was worth 2 points total, so the directive was that each distinct example would be worth 1 point. The trainer cautioned us that no points should be awarded for answers that were too general: “gets into trouble,” “likes to dig a lot,” and “makes a big mess,” but that two such answers COULD be worth 1 point total. The scoring was mostly straightforward, but one student’s response caused me to raise my hand to ask the trainer’s opinion: “rides a bike basket.”

The trainer, to his credit, seemed to be a very nice fellow who sincerely wanted to do well at his job. He was patient with the scorers throughout the inevitable barrages of questions about hypothetical answers. I transcribed, word for word, our actual conversation.

T: No, Miss Lucy did not ride a bicycle in the story. That answer doesn’t get credit.
L: It doesn’t say she rode the bicycle. It says that she rode in the basket. Which happens in the story right here [points]
T: It’s not one of the responses the state has decided to accept.
L: But it’s silly! It is actually silly that the dog rides in the bike basket. Especially since the narrator lives next door to Miss Lucy’s family. It is EXTREMELY silly that she needed to use a bike to get her home.
T: I agree that it’s silly. But the text doesn’t say that it’s silly.
L: So wait – the text says that a dog who digs is silly, but that’s really not silly at all.  Some dogs are literally BRED to dig. But the text says it’s silly, so we count it as silly?
T: Exactly. We’re looking for kids to answer the questions based on the text.
L: So what the text says is more important than the reality of what is actually silly in the real world?
T: These questions aren’t asking about students’ prior knowledge of dogs. We want to know that they can listen to a text and recall details.
L: …which this kid did! This kid remembered that Miss Lucy rode in a bike basket!
T: The text didn’t say that Miss Lucy was being silly when she did that.

L: *brain explodes*

What’s truly silly is holding kids accountable to memorize the placement of adjectives (based on nonsensical characterizations even!) within a confusingly nonlinear narrative after hearing it only twice. What skill exactly does that measure?

Not done here yet.

Sorry about those weeks of radio silence.

I didn’t want to blog while still hunting for a new job — especially since my search was conducted using that cookie-loving, IP-tracking “Open Market Hiring System” of the NYC department of ed. However pseudonymous I may be,  I’m taking some risks here, violating important testing protocol over the interwebs.  A mere 2 days ago (despite being “hired” by the principal of my new school more than 2 weeks ago) I finally received the caps-locked email declaring “THE OPEN MARKET HIRING SYSTEM HAS OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED YOUR TRANSFER.” So I figure it’s open season again. Just because I’m moving onto greener pastures doesn’t mean I won’t still have beef  (get it? pastures? beef? HA!)

Now where were we….?

Meet Miss Lucy, the gardening dog

Putting ladybugs and crickets aside (maybe Ms. Adventure will examine the “extended response” question in the future), let’s look at a passage that is nearly as ludicrous as the infamous pineapple with sleeves. This passage received some attention, but not nearly enough, possibly because the text of it was never exposed to the public. Until now

Before you read, try to put yourself in the shoes of a 3rd grader. You are 8 years old, and this is your first-ever high-stakes test. This is the part of the test where you do not have the story in front of you, so you know that you have to listen carefully as your teacher reads it aloud twice. You are expecting to hear a story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story with characters, a problem, and a solution. You know to listen for these story elements. Instead, you hear this:

Miss Lucy is a dog that lives in our neighborhood. She is always getting into trouble. 

Yesterday, she dug under the fence that goes around her backyard. She dug and dug. She crawled out through the hole she had made. She came over to our house.

Miss Lucy likes to dig a lot. I think she wants to be a gardener. One day last summer, I was visiting Miss Lucy’s owners. Mrs. Smith had planted some flowers in a big pot that morning. We looked at the big flowerpot. Someone had taken out all the flowers! There was a dog biscuit sticking up in the dirt. I guess Miss Lucy thought it would be a good idea to plant a dog biscuit instead of flowers.

Now Miss Lucy seemed to think it would be a good idea to dig in our flowerpots. I told Miss Lucy I didn’t want any of her funny help. I put her in the basket on my bike and took her for a ride back to her house. The Smiths were very happy to see her. They like Miss Lucy very much, even though she makes a lot of messes and does a lot of silly things.

The passage is not attributed to an author, but a quick Google reveals that it appears on a site called with a copyright date of 2007. Way to earn that $32 Million, Pearson!

Going back to the text itself, the chronology of the story is that we have action taking place YESTERDAY, followed by LAST SUMMER, and ending with NOW. Since I forgot to teach my 3rd graders about in medias res, I can only imagine how confusing that must have been to them. The characters would be the unnamed narrator, Miss Lucy, and the Smiths. The passage contains no details about the narrator. Miss Lucy is described as “silly” even though there are few details in the passage that support this characterization. (Digging is normal dog behavior. Putting the dog biscuit in the flowerpot is a little bit silly but it is a major stretch to assume that Miss Lucy “planted” it there. I think that a dog riding in a bike basket sounds pretty silly – especially if the narrator lives close enough to the Smiths that Miss Lucy was able to dig under a fence into his/her backyard – but we will see later that the test-makers disagree with me.) We know that the Smiths own Miss Lucy and they like her despite her digging habit.

The problem/solution? Well, Miss Lucy digs and “gets into trouble”–except she doesn’t really get into trouble because her owners are happy to see her. Miss Lucy escapes from her yard? Miss Lucy digs up the flowerpots? Miss Lucy tries to grow a biscuit tree by planting a dog biscuit? Miss Lucy has unrealistic career expectations for a dog? I’m not really sure. I wonder if Pearson purposely used really crappy fiction passages in order to strengthen the Common Core mandate to reduce the teaching of literature in favor of more informational texts.

What questions could they possibly ask children about such a ridiculous story? Pearson managed to squeeze out three short-response questions and one extended-response. I’ll leave you to ponder those questions, which Ms. Adventure will examine in detail in the next few posts:

42. Miss Lucy does many silly things in the story. Complete the chart with details from the story that show the silly things Miss Lucy does.
43. How do the Smiths feel about Miss Lucy? Use two or more details from the story to support your answer.
44. Why does the narrator think that Miss Lucy wants to be a gardener? Use two or more details from the story to support your answer.
45. Think about Miss Lucy in the story. What is Miss Lucy doing at the beginning of the story? What is Miss Lucy doing at the end of the story? What will Miss Lucy most likely do in the future? Use details from the story to support your answer. In your response, be sure to include:

  • what Miss Lucy is doing at the beginning of the story
  • what Miss Lucy is doing at the end of the story
  • what Miss Lucy will most likely do in the future
  • details from the story to support your answer

    Remember, students, this is a listening passage, so no looking back at the text to answer the questions!

Education always performs two functions – to select and to educate.

A nation’s education system functions on behalf of society to decide what kind of talents, knowledge, and skills are useful and what kinds are not. It is intended to cultivate the ones that are valuable and suppress the ones that are deemed undesirable. High-stakes testing is one of the most effective ways to convey what a society values and to pressure all involved in education–parents, teachers, and, of course, students–to focus all their efforts on what is tested.” – Yong Zhao, Catching Up or Leading the Way

Crickets aren’t fast, YOU are

“In this question the word details means reasons,” our trainer warned, as we read question 65 on the 4th grade ELA: Explain why it is hard to catch a cricket. Use two or more details from ‘Cricket Songs’ to explain your answer.

His next warning alerted us to an “error” that many students made. The passage says, “You can follow the sound of chirps in order to find crickets. But anyone who wants to catch a cricket has to be very fast because they have good hearing and can tell when someone is trying to sneak up on them. Then they use their powerful back legs to jump away.” If students write “crickets are fast” as one of their details, it is incorrect; the passage does not explicitly say that crickets are fast, just that you have to be fast in order to catch one. Never mind that it is perfectly reasonable to make the inference that if you need to be fast to catch something, the thing you are catching must be fast*. The Test doesn’t want inferences, it wants regurgitation.

Students who copied sentences directly from the passage received full credit as long as they mentioned both crickets’ good hearing and their strong back legs. Actually, they didn’t even need to mention that much as long as the words “hearing” and “jump” appeared someplace in an otherwise jumbled response.  One of the responses that we practiced scoring said “because they move so fast to catch them. they jump out of the cage so fast.” The student received 1 out of the possible 2 points just for using the word “jump,” even though the passage mentioned nothing about crickets jumping out of a cage!

Yet a student who wrote, “It is hard to catch a cricket because they are very fast. It is also hard because they can blend in to grass” received 0 points because the response was “not text-based.” Never mind that this student demonstrates more sophisticated reasoning than the other kid does; the Test penalizes students who draw their own conclusions.

Yes, it is important for kids to understand what they read. Yes, it is important for kids to be able to base their inferences on reality/information/text. But if an assessment that asks children to “turn off the thinking parts of their brains” (as one student put it to me) is the one that matters above all, doesn’t that send the message that thinking is less important than regurgitation?

*It would make a good riddle, no? “Name something that is not fast that you have to be fast to catch.”


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