Howard Schwach taught for more than 25 years, developed
test items for the state, and worked on curriculum development for
special education students. He
recently reviewed sample items from New York’s Common Core tests
and professed astonishmen


He wrote:


From the
first moment that I looked at some practice tests for the English
Language Arts tests that were given recently, I knew that the kids
and their teachers were in trouble.
In his long
experience as a teacher and test writer and curriculum developer,
he said, “there was one guiding principal: never test
students on skills or material that you have not taught and
To do so not only would have been
unfair to the students, but it would have made the tests unreliable
and downright useless at a measure of student ability and
That is why, when I looked at the
practice test, my first thought was that the questions were in the
deep end of the pool when the kids were just learning how to
One that stuck in my mind was a passage
from a 1920’s magazine about aspirin.
the source article was written nearly 100 years ago, it contained
some archaic language and syntax that would have been confusing to
today’s adults, nonetheless eleven-year-olds.

So the kids were at a disadvantage right away, trying to
figure out the words they had never seen before, working them out
through context. Then, the question called for skills that have
never been tested before, nor taught by the teacher who showed me
the sample questions. She admitted that she had been “teaching to
the old test” for the past several years, trying to keep her kid’s
all-important test scores up while trying to keep her
“Education has nothing to do with what we
have been doing for the past couple of years,” the teacher admitted
with a nervous laugh. “It has been all about the


He found questions that had two right answers.
He found questions that would send the kids into tears. And he
wondered, “What in the world was the state thinking?” Indeed, what
were state officials when they tested students on material they had
not been taught, using unfamiliar vocabulary, having ambiguous
answers, with the certainty that most students would fail? Was it
John King’s inexperience that led him to align the state cut scores
with NAEP’s proficiency levels? Did he not understand that NAEP
proficiency is not a “passing” mark but a measure that connotes
“solid academic performance”?


What were they thinking?