G. F. Brandenburg alerted me to this very troubling analysis by Russ Walsh of the reading levels in the PARCC test.

Brandenburg titled his post:

“Looks like the reading levels of the new PARCC were deliberately set so high that most students will give up.”

Russ Walsh scrutinized reading passages from the PARCC test for grades 3-8 to determine their readability and appropriateness for each grade level. He used five different measures if readability.

He writes:

“Since readability formulas are notably unreliable, I first decided to use several different readability measures to see if I could get a closer approximation of level. The measures I use are all commonly used in assessing readability. All of them use two variables, with slight variations, to determine readability: word length and sentence length. They vary slightly in the weights they give these variables and in how these variables are determined.

The readability formulas I used were the Fry Readability Graph (Fry), the Raygor Readability Graph (RR), the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests(FK), the Flesch Reading Ease test (FRE) and Lexile Framework for Reading.The Fry, Raygor and Flesch-Kincaid formulas yield a grade level readability estimate. The Flesch Reading Ease test provides an estimate of the “ease of reading” of a passage based on a child’s age. Lexile measures are the preferred readability measure of the whole corporate education reform movement behind the Common Core and PA,RCC so it must be included here as well. According to the Lexile Framework website “Lexile measures are the gold standard for college and career readiness.”

After reviewing the outcome of his analysis, Walsh concludes:

“Conclusions: The stated purpose of the Common Core State Standards and the aligned PARCC test was to “raise the bar” based on the notion that in order to be “college and career ready” students needed to be reading more complex text starting in their earliest school years. The PARCC sample tests show that they have certainly raised the bar when it comes to making reading comprehension passages quite difficult at every grade level.

“These results clearly show that even by the altered Lexile level standard the 4th grade passage is much too difficult for 4th grade children. I would hope that the actual PARCC would not include any material remotely like this over-reaching level of challenge for children. I would hope, but the inclusion of this passage in the sample does not give me confidence.

“The other results show that the passages chosen are about two grade levels above the readability of the grade and age of the children by measures other than the Lexile level. The results of testing children on these passages will be quite predictable. Students will score lower on the tests than on previous tests. We have already seen this in New York where test scores plummeted when the new tests were given last year. English Language Learners (ELL) and students with disabilities will be particularly hard hit because these tests will prove extraordinarily difficult to them.

“What happens when students are asked to read very difficult text? For those students who find the text challenging, but doable, they will redouble their efforts to figure it out. For the majority of children, however, who find the text at their frustration level, they may well give up. That is what frustration level in reading means. The ideal reading comprehension assessment passage will be easy for some, just right for most and challenging for some. The PARCC passages are likely to be very, very challenging for most.”

Brandenburg says of Walsh’s findings:

“Many analysts say that mass failure is precisely the goal of the people who designed the Common Core tests: if they define “mastery” as reading and doing math two grades above current grade level, then by definition all but a tiny fraction of students will fail, and these “experts” can proclaim that public education is a failure and must be abolished.

“It’s an evil plan worthy of an evil genius.”