It’s my nephew’s turn to take standardized 4th Grade exams in English and Math that are longer than the SAT, GRE, MCATS, LSATs, SAT II, AP Exams, and other standardized tests taken by professionals, college bound students, and civil service employees.
To that end, it’s test preparation time in his elementary school. Any type of learning is displaced by the phenomena caused by No Child Left Behind (2001) and Race to the Top (2009), which is called “teaching to the test.” Michael, my nephew, was assigned to complete material from a review book that would help prepare him for the exam. One passage compares the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. After reading the historical coincidences between the two presidents and the assassinations, Michael is asked to answer the following multiple-choice question:
The stories of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald are different because:
A) Booth shot a president on a Friday, but Oswald did not.
B) Booth ran to a warehouse, but Oswald did not.
C) Oswald shot a president from behind, but Booth did not.
D) Oswald did not mean to shoot the president, but Booth did.
The very next passage is a diary entry from a boy (June 8, 1847). The end of the passage reads as follows:
“Then, at the same moment, we all stood up and fired our rifles. Three buffaloes near us fell down. The others stampeded in the opposite direction. Then came the hard work of skinning the buffaloes and cutting up the meat. The reward came tonight when we cooked some of the tasty buffalo steaks over the campfire and everyone had a good meal. The best part of being a hunter is that now I don’t have to do chores with the little kids. Their job is to gather the smelly dried buffalo droppings that we burn for fuel out here where there are no trees. Now my job is hunting.”
After reading the passages about assassination and hunting, Michael did not want to answer the questions and read any more passages. There were more passages in the review book that included guns. Besides the low-level questions and rudimentary skills associated in answering these multiple choice questions, the educational content and context of the passages is pedagogically unsound. It would have been different if there was a lesson about presidential assassinations and their effect on the nation or why boys needed to hunt to survive in the Wild West. However, without the appropriate historical and social context, students are understandably turned off and alarmed after reading about a buffalo being skinned.
The review book is published by Curriculum Associates, which is associated with the new common core state standards. New York State is one of the many states that has decided to adopt the Common Core. David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core State Standards, and currently the President of the College Board made a controversial statement:
“Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem…with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s*** about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you feel or think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ That is rare.”
David Coleman’s sole teaching credential is tutoring while being an undergraduate at Yale. It is obvious he has not stepped into a U.S. public school in decades. Nevertheless, the author of the Common Core State Standards is emphasizing informational text for “real world” learning and de-emphasizing fiction. It is no wonder then that under this current “reform” shift, 3rd graders are expected to read Leo Tolstoy. A draft of the 3rd Grade ELA exam can be found here. The Tolstoy passage appears on the second page.
I guess I’ll tell my nephew that no one cares about how he feels or thinks, should stop his whining, and answer the questions in the review book.