Rachel Rich is a retired English teacher who has taken a deep interest in standardized testing. She wrote the following review of one of the two federally subsidized tests. Normally, I would tell you which test she has analyzed, but I have recently become acutely aware that the testing corporations hire security agencies to scan the Internet, looking for blogs and tweets that dare to mention their name. If you mention their name, the testing corporation goes to the Internet Service Provider and complains that you violated their copyright. The ISP then deletes your post or tweet. So I won’t tell you which national test she is writing about. I will just give you a hint: it is not the one that is CCRAP spelled backwards. It is the other one. (Let’s see if they miss this one.)

 

Rachel Rich writes:

 

S——r B—–ed Exposed

 

The online Third Grade SB Practice Test is the tip of the testing iceberg, but presumably made of the same basic material as the larger, submerged test. The “real” test is so hidden from view that you, other parents, teachers and even the students themselves are not even allowed to whisper about it, let alone criticize. Given that other standardized tests publish their questions once the test is over, the SB never-ending code of silence is unprecedented, probably to hide flaws. If the public mini-version is any indication, the final is a sloppily written, tricky, grossly unfair mess.

The current level of censorship surrounding SB would make Nixon proud. The test originators, Pearson, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and AIR, unleash internet spies like TRAXX and Caveon who set webcrawlers after key words like test names. Next, human spies dig into the Facebook, Twitter and other accounts of any griping parents, teachers, bloggers and especially children!

 

 

SB even sends out annual flyers to school administrators detailing how to spy on kids’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. Principals are supposed to suspend kids as young as eight simply for telling their parents there was a question about the Wizard of Oz on a Common Core test. Teachers are forced to sign gag orders or face firing for discussing the uber-test even in the most general terms. And right this very minute testing companies are forcing the removal of internet discussions under threat of lawsuits. Censorship is now as common as head lice in kindergarten.

 
Now let’s find out what they’re hiding:

 

The Language Arts Third Grade SB Practice Test is twenty pages long! Since it’s supposed to take an hour, we can easily calculate the length of the final. Officially third graders need at least seven hours to finish the math and English portions combined, meaning the real deal is a grueling 140 pages long!!! Tenth graders are assigned at least 8 1/2 hours, which would mean their tests are about 170 pages long! Endurance is now as key as knowledge. One kid told me afterwards his fingers hurt.

The test opens with a colossal three page reading passage totaling 580 words. That is triple the length of passages in other tests, a length only suitable for in-class discussion, not a cold read. Still the test repeats this flaw with similar, lengthy, redundant passages. Such a quantum leap in expectations renders all comparisons with other tests useless, meaning it can’t be proven to be a legitimate measure.

Previous tests were only 60-120 minutes long, while today’s third graders must sit still for 90 minute intervals totaling a minimum of seven hours for English and math combined. This minimum doesn’t include time needed for individual log-in, bathroom breaks, computer crashes, or SB transmission snafus. Already heaped with challenges, special education students need up to fifteen hours to finish, though knowing in advance they’ll probably fail. Even recent immigrants who can’t read English are required to simply sit and stare at the screen until the clock runs out. Test makers call that rigor, but it’s really just plain mean and stupid.

Sophisticated computer skills are required of kids, even though the makers don’t have their own act together. I had to click back and forth between passage and questions, which sent my answers into a black hole, as does pressing the tab button during typing. Eight-year-olds are also expected to highlight, drag and type fluently, which most cannot. I wanted to throw myself off the front porch as a martyr for the millions biting their nails and pulling out their eyebrows in sheer frustration.

Question 1: “Click the two details that best support this conclusion.” Kids are faced with choices twenty words long, although adult tests typically warm up with soft pitches, like choosing from short phrases.

 

SB, way to destroy kids’ confidence right out of the gate!

Questions 2, 11, 13, 27 have a Part A/Part B format. Question 2: “This question has two parts. First, answer part A. Then, answer part B.” This format is unfamiliar to adults, let alone eight-year-olds. Since these quirks don’t exist on the ACT, ASVAB, or Meyers-Briggs, etc., they negate the Smarter Balanced claim that they prepare K-12 students for future tests. Equally befuddling, the fifth choice for Question 2 Part B is on the next page and since you can only open one page at a time, even I, an adult, overlooked it.

 
So why such trickiness? Teacher, teacher, I know! The more students SB fails, the more test prep they sell! As soon as last year’s testing month was over, SB solicited teachers through our district email to purchase out of their own pockets tutorials for improving student scores. In some districts they even use school contact lists to advertise directly to parents! These profits from the private sector are on top of their profits from federal and state funds. In 2012 alone, a year of limited pilot testing, the industry pocketed a cool $8.1 billion. No one is saying what today’s total is, probably for fear of alerting the public to this gigantic waste of tax dollars.

 
Question 3: “Arrange the events from the passage in the order in which they happen. Click on the sentences to drag them into the correct locations.” Many eight-year-olds don’t have the experience, let alone the dexterity to do this. Consequently they fail not from lack of knowledge, but from a lack of intelligent tests.

 
Question 5: “What inference can be made about the author’s message about animals? Include information from the passage to support your answer.” Also, Question 12: “What inference can be made about why the author includes the backpack in the passage?” Where do I begin? Little children’s brains can’t “infer” anything, because they still think only literally. It’s developmentally impossible for them to read between the lines or think figuratively. To say, “The girl has a chip on her shoulder” merely signals them to look for something on her shoulder, not that she’s angry. Teaching inference at this age is as unrealistic as trying to potty train every single one-year-old. Sure, a few precocious babies might succeed, but the rest will be driven batty.

 
These little kids are even required to type their answers! You have to be living in la-la land to expect fluent keyboarding at the age of eight. According to the US Census, a whopping 16% of students lack the home computers or hand-held devices necessary for practice, and most schools don’t have enough computers for all. Ironically, exploding testing expenditures have also forced most districts to drop keyboarding courses.

 
This boondoggle isn’t age appropriate precisely because zero elementary specialists were allowed to help with its design. Instead, reps from the College Board, ACT and Aspire idiotically “backward mapped” expectations for each age starting with college entrance exams and assuming every child should attend college. No Child Left Behind agreed, but who do you think set that agenda for US Department of Education?

 
No joke, SB requires a B to pass!!! That’s to align with a B requirement for college entrance. But as kids didn’t we all need only a C to pass? Even reading levels are now one full year higher by graduation. No wonder only about a third pass. Meanwhile, doesn’t requiring all students be college eligible mean they all must be above average? Hard to believe intelligent adults fall for this. It’s oxymoronic!

 
Question 10: “The author uses a word that means placed one on top of another.”

 

Punctuation rules require quotation marks around “placed one on top of another”. Rushing to publication in just nine months, test makers clearly ignored the thousands of pleas for corrections, proving once again that they’re not about quality, but about profits. Investment sites squealed with delight over the chance to stuff $2.2 trillion dollars in public education funds into their private pockets.

 
Question 16 has a typographical error: “Move the groups of sentences so that the group that makes the bestbeginning (sic) comes first.” Even English majors don’t agree on the correct sequence for this story, but they do agree SB should have hired a copy editor. I actually heard one test designer complain that since corrections impact multiple contractors, from software to print, they’re just too expensive to make. That’s because they’re beholden to shareholders, not students.

 
Question 21’s phrasing is light years above grade level: “Which of the following sentences has an error in grammar usage?” Seriously? Why not, “Which sentence uses incorrect grammar?” Strangely, teachers aren’t even allowed to help kids understand these obtuse questions, but instead must parrot “Do your best.” Kids get so stressed out not knowing what they’re supposed to do that SB manuals actually detail how to handle crying, vomiting and peeing pants. You wouldn’t believe how many parents and teachers tell me this is actually happening to their own students! It’s epidemic.

 
Question 23: Who in their right mind gives a listening test about The International Space Station to third graders? On what planet do little ones have either the background or the interest? It’s also grossly unfair because they don’t study this until the fourth grade. Besides, not everyone is a white, suburban, middle-class kid whose school and parents can afford trips to the planetarium.

 
No surprise, SB has never passed any validity studies that compare it with other measures such as the NAEP, PISA, SAT, ACT, high school or college graduation rates. In fact, they’ve quietly issued disclaimers. If the test did have validity, they’d be crowing it from the rooftops. But why should they bother when they’ve already pocketed the cash?

 
Now would someone please blow the lid off the real test, preferably before quitting or retiring?!

 
Rachel Rich