If We Ruled the Test

January 13, 2009 at 11:51 pm 1 comment

posted by Ariel Sacks ’06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY

arielYup. It’s the season for ELA testing, and now that I’m back to school, it is crunch time. A teacher at Gotham Schools wrote, “Wouldn’t it be great if the high-stakes tests were in September? Then teachers could have the rest of the year to inspire and transform their students.”

I responded, “Wouldn’t it be great if the tests were designed such that true teaching and authentic learning led to higher test scores? Right now, there is nothing authentic about this ELA test. Students must choose the best of four answers, none of which they created, in response to questions they never asked, relating to passages they would never have read were it not for this test. The same is true for the writing portion. We all know there’s a formula for how to score well on the writing, even though those of us who actually write for a living as adults would never dream of using this formula. So we are stuck teaching skills that are not applicable to the real word of thinking, reading and writing. This is why our students rebel and why teachers feel so conflicted around this time of year. If we could redesign the test to be relevant to the world our students are living in today, 2009, what would it look like?”

I decided to take up my own challenge and create The New ELA test. Here are a few sample questions from the 8th Grade edition.

The New ELA Test Sample Questions [Draft]

  1. Revisions. Steve is writing an essay on the poor quality of school lunches in his building. His classmates read his essay and offer feedback. They say that he makes a strong point, but suggest that his introduction could be more compelling. One student says, “Based on this introduction, most people wouldn’t want to read the rest of the essay, even though they might actually like it if they did.”
  2. Steve currently begins the essay like this: School lunches in my building need to improve for three reasons. First, they are not healthy enough. Second, they don’t taste very good. Third, the cuisine at my school is all from one culture, even though students at my school represent many cultures.

    Write 2 alternate introductions Steve could use to begin his essay.

  3. Essay. Pick one of the three Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales printed in the Literature Packet. Answer the following question in an essay. You must support your answer with evidence from the story.
  4. Would you read this tale to a younger child who asks for a bedtime story?

  5. Fiction Writing. Pick another story from the literature packet. Create a new character to add to this story. Write a new scene in which that character enters the story, or rewrite an existing scene to include the introduction of this character. You must include dialogue in your scene.
  6. Discuss and Evaluate your choices for number 3. Describe the character you added, including basic traits and motivation. Why did you choose to add this character to this scene? What else did you have to change in the scene to accommodate the new character? Overall, how did your addition strengthen or weaken the story?
  7. Classroom Community/Persuasion. Your class is about to begin a new project, which will be conducted in groups. After the last group project, students in the class complained that some members of the class had not contributed significantly to their groups’ projects, but had still received credit for the work.  This seemed unfair to the other members of class who had, in fact, taken on extra work in order for their group to complete the assignment. Your teacher asks for proposals from students for a new policy that would ensure fairness in group work.  Write a proposal that you believe would solve the problem described above. Describe your policy in detail and explain how it solves the problem of inadequate student contributions to group projects. Explain any potential imperfections with your policy and how the class could address them effectively.
  8. Grammar & Mechanics. Fix the following run-on sentence. Use proper punctuation. You may add words if necessary.

    They laid eyes on the center of the city none of them could believe what they saw it wasn’t what anyone had expected or remembered from the books searching for a web portal but all were evidently knocked down by the storm and a tinge of regret in each of them for not taking Grampa’s advice packing more batteries.

Add your own questions to The New ELA Test!

Ariel Sacks teaches eighth grade English and serves as a team leader at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY. She has published articles about her work in Teacher Magazine and the NY Daily News. Ariel writes a blog called On the Shoulders of Giants about her experiences teaching and learning with 8th graders, which is where this posting was originally published.

Entry filed under: assessment, literacy, standardized testing.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Joe Meaney 88 and 96  |  February 5, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I’m cuttin’ and pastin’ and postin’ on the teacher’s B board as we speak.

    Thank you,

    I was thinking the same thing but couldn’t come up with the words.


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