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 were never permitted to use words or vocabulary in questions that were too far above the grade level being tested (i.e. – 3rd grade questions were all constructed on grade 3 or 4). Again, the concept was simple- students cannot answer questions that they do not understand. After all, how much comprehension support is there in a test question?
It is clear the Common Core state tests have no regard for the most widely understood testing principle- write questions that are on grade level. Look at these questions from the Common Core NY state third grade ELA tests. They have questions that place 3,4, and 5 grade levels above the year being tested. Imagine giving 3rd graders 6th, 7th, and 8th grade level questions and thinking this is somehow the proper measure of their growth or their teacher’s instruction.
Here are some examples from the actual Common Core NY 3rd grade ELA test:
“Why does the information in paragraph 5 belong under the heading “Suited for the
Sea”? Use two details from the passage to support your response.”
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||7.2|
|Automated Readability Index||6.7|
|Average Grade Level||8.5|
“Why is Thomas “swelling like a blowfish” in paragraph 39? Use two details from the story to support your response.”
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||6|
|Automated Readability Index||4.5|
|Average Grade Level||7.0|
“Thomas’s mood changes from the beginning of the story to the end. How does
Thomas feel at the beginning of the story? How does he feel at the end? Why does his
mood change? Use details from the story to support your response.
In your response, be sure to
• explain how Thomas feels at the beginning of the story
• explain how Thomas feels at the end of the story
• explain why his mood changes
• use details from the story to support your response”
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||7.5|
|Automated Readability Index||6.9|
|Average Grade Level||8.1|
“The author provides many details about how sea turtles are similar to and different
from each other. How is a leatherback sea turtle similar to a green sea turtle? How are
they different from each other? Use details from the passage to support your response.
In your response, be sure to
• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is similar to a green sea turtle
• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is different from a green sea turtle
• use details from the passage to support your response”
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||9|
|Automated Readability Index||8.4|
|Average Grade Level||9.8|
Teachers use tests to assess students and drive instruction all of the time- predicated on the notion that the student understands the questions being asked.
If the problem is with the questions, any data derived from them is not valid.