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The Common Core Tests - Is Pearson Engaged In PSYOPS?


Just two of the Common Core English Language Arts questions from 2014. As a lifelong writer, I do not feel that any of the sentences in Part B support Part A with any great degree of logic.

There is a growing and well justified rebellion around the nation at the oh so mellifluously named Common Core standardized tests inflicted on children either last week or this.

The Washington Post just ran an excellent article by Valerie Strauss, titled Educators alarmed by some questions on N.Y. Common Core tests.

It details, quite eloquently, the despair - I think that is the appropriate word - of many educators tasked with preparing children for the tests, and just as importantly, consoling them afterwards - not because of the results necessarily, but simply the vastly unpleasant, confusing, often age-inappropriate and ridiculously epic nature of the tests themselves.

Valerie quotes the principal of "a well regarded elementary school in an affluent 'gold-coast' district" as writing, with regard to the tests:


 "These three days of ELA [English Language Arts] have been torture – I had only 23 students opt out and I had at least 3 times that number in tears. If we were permitted to talk about the content, it would be over so fast. Folks would be horrified at the vocabulary, the reading levels and the ambiguity of the questions. I was unable to answer at least 25 percent of them."

Valerie goes on to quote Jessica Whalen, of the Hewitt School, as saying, after her students completed two days of English Language Arts testing:


"And all year they’ve [her students] been so proud of their academic growth, I’ve been congratulating them so much as of lately…they’ve blown me away. Now, they were in tears…and I heard… 'I thought I was smart, I guess not'  'I’m stupid I can’t even take a test.' And more."

In the same article, Valerie reports that Loy Gross, a parent of two children in Batavia, New York, who homeschools her children because of her dislike of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is currently reporting 177,249 test refusals (by parents) across the state, with data in from only 64 percent of all districts. 

This is not a problem unique to New York.

Here in California, I have been working with our ten year old son in preparation for the Common Core tests - which my wife and I have just decided that he will not take.

The math tests are not too disturbing in terms of the actual math, but the problems posed - many of which involve long-winded and somewhat muddled propositions from which the questions follow - seem designed more as psychological or linguistic booby-traps designed to confuse or trick the child being tested, rather than straightforward mathematics.

The English Language Arts tests - an area in which I have some experience, as a lifelong novelist, Hollywood screenwriter and former graduate level teacher of screenwriting at the University of Miami - gave me intense headaches, largely because of the ineptitude, in my opinion, of whomever wrote and devised them. 

The tests, by the way, are prepared - in return for considerable monetary gain, no doubt - by Pearson, a long-established (perhaps to the point of suffering dementia?) educational publisher which I would have hoped would know better.

Narrative passages are given, then questions are asked, purportedly to test the student's comprehension of what she or he has read. The passages are very long, to the point of being tedious, and there are too many questions about each, again to the point of tedium.

But what really drove me crazy were the questions that offer multiple choice statements about the foregoing passages, and then proffer usually four lines of dialogue or other text, with one or more of which the student is expected to support their chosen multiple choice answer.

In many cases, none of the dialogue or text had a clearly logical connection to any of the foregoing answers - and I began to doubt, when I looked at the guidelines for grading the tests (these were samples from last year's Common Core tests) that the test's inquisitor (it is hard to think of a more fitting term) had a clear understanding themselves of the key point that the author of the selected narrative passage intended to make.

I could go on, but after spending many hours preparing for tests that our son is now not taking, I have had enough. He was remarkably patient through most of our preparation, although both of us suffered eye-strain and a degree of nausea from staring at a computer screen for so long. 

This is another major complaint I have about the tests: that they are all computerized, that you have to progress through the tests in strict order (no quickly answering the questions you find easiest, to give you confidence, then going back to the questions you find more challenging), and that the degree of attention and focus on the screen required by the tests is far greater than any I have ever experienced while spending whole days and often whole nights, too, writing; or that my son has experienced when coding in Python or Javascript or  C# - which he enjoys doing for hours on end, and which I cannot do (he taught himself by watching YouTube tutorials and through personal experimentation).

So much for the debate on children spending too much time glued to computer screens. The Common Core tests probably do more physiological - and psychological - damage in a week than a year or two of playing any computer game.

Please read Valerie Strauss' Washington Post article in full, and search the internet for other complaints about the Common Core tests. I shall be writing to the relevant authorities to lodge our family's complaints (we homeschool but our children also attend a local charter school, which is encouraged to ask its students to take the tests), but I hope that this post - and Valerie's article - capture some of the pain, unnecessary stress, muddled thinking, and, I suspect, PSYOPS-style warfare training the Common Core tests are designed to inflict.

Perhaps that is the whole point: to train a generation of elementary and middle school children to fight ISIS? A better plan might be to drop the Common Core tests, printed in Arabic, over areas under ISIS control and see what they make of them. Pearson just may be our secret weapon.

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