Rebecca Steinitz is a literary consultant, writer, and editor in Massachusetts. She has a Ph. D. In English, coaches in urban districts, and has a daughter in seventh grade.

She wrote a letter to President Obama about the PARCC Tests, which her daughter must take, but the President’s will not.

Her daughter has always done well in school, but the PARCC test was a trial.

Here is a typical question:

“You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.”In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.

“Eva’s comment on this question: “It’s impossible, and there’s like 15 parts.” Just as I feared, she exaggerated. There are only four parts. But take a close look at those parts. Can you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing here, President Obama? And could you have done it in seventh grade?

“I know a lot of seventh graders. They know how to compare and contrast, and they know how to provide evidence, but I’m quite sure that unpacking this prompt, let alone accomplishing it, would feel pretty “impossible” to most of them.”

But that’s not all.

She writes:

“I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve been in college and high school classrooms for over 20 years, and for much of that time I’ve trained and coached high school English teachers. I was shocked that the ninth grade test included an excerpt from Bleak House, a Dickens novel that is usually taught in college. I got seven out of 36 multiple choice questions wrong on the eleventh grade test. And I had no idea what to do with this essay prompt on the third grade test:

“Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.

“Would Sasha have been able to figure this out in third grade? And, more importantly, is there any reason a third grader should have to figure out an essay prompt this broad and abstract?”

If these questions are typical, expect massive failure rates and massive protests. These are not good tests of reading comprehension. They are traps and snares.