A Closer Read of Common Core State Test Questions

This is a “close” read of some actual 3rd grade Common Core test questions done by individuals that were former test developers. The readability of the questions is appalling! How can we expect kids to appropriately answer questions when they cannot even understand what the questions are asking? Check out the essay question that asks kids to analyze the character’s mood throughout the story and then write an essay about it! Some of my 6th graders would have a difficult time answering this question…how can a struggling 3rd grade reader/writer analyze a character’s mood and then put all of their ideas into a well developed essay? Just think about the fact that many 8 year olds will not even understand what the word “mood” means even though the question refers to it as the character’s feelings.


It goes without saying you would never assess a 3rd grade student or their teacher by using 7th and 8th grade math questions.  I think it is a statement that everyone (reformers included) would agree with.

In English Language Arts tests, the grade level appropriateness of text used is a gray area. Some would argue that it is perfectly fine for third graders to be assessed using texts with readability levels of 5th and 6th graders.  But even the champions of rigor must adhere to the golden rule of testing- the questions MUST be written on the grade level you are attempting to assess.  It only makes sense.  Students can’t answer questions that they do not understand.  These tests are constructed for ALL students in a given grade level and therefore it is imperative that the questions are  grade appropriate.

As a former test developer for Pearson, PARCC, CTB, and NYSED we…

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