DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Lots more words, lots of written assignments and new standardized tests - all big changes coming with the Common Core. Let's talk about the exams. Many states next year will be using new tests aligned with the Common Core standards. State associations are developing these exams, and there are now practice versions available; which gave Cory Turner, of NPR's education team, a chance to try an exam that one consortium came up with.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: The consortium is called PARCC, P-A-R-C-C. I'm not going to tell you what it stands for. You won't be tested on it. This practice test is on the computer at PARCC's website. Anybody can take it, and since we just heard Charlotte's story out of Vermont, I thought I'd use the one for eighth-graders. Here's a quick, impressionistic view of the hour I spent on it.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPS)
TURNER: What is the meaning of the word sarcasm? Which quotation from the passage best shows additional evidence of the attitude in Part A? OK. I need to read that again. How do the phrases stormed off, float far and invisible nothing...selecting from paragraphs 32 to 39...oh, we're in a new novel here. And it has 47 paragraphs.
I have to use the bathroom. But this is a test. Oh, this is kind of cool. I answer the question by double-clicking on the paragraph that I think answers...no, hold on. No, I don't want that one. I want that one. I am sure an eighth-grader will be better at this than I am. Uh-oh, essay time.
That was only about a third of a test. I won't bore you with my score. What's important is what's different between these Common Core-aligned tests and the state tests they'll replace. Wendi Anderson, of PARCC, says before, some states would ask kids to write an essay like this:
WENDI ANDERSON: Imagine you're the principal for the day. What would you do and why?
TURNER: I, for one, would mandate marshmallows for every meal, and require science classes be taught with kickballs. And that's the problem, says Nancy Doorey. She's director of programs for the K-12 Center at the Educational Testing Service, or ETS.
NANCY DOOREY: The accuracy of what students wrote made no difference at all. I mean they could literally, just make up anything in the world and put it in, and it made no difference.
TURNER: The old tests measured some composition basics, like sentence structure and the use of transitions. These new tests work a lot like those exercises we just heard about in Vermont. They ask kids to write about what they've read, using evidence. Wendi Anderson helped edit the practice test I took.
ANDERSON: But I had to go back into the text, as I was going through and creating the answer document, because it really does require that close reading. You can't just read it once and you have it down.
TURNER: Here's another difference: The passages for many kids will be harder to understand.
ANDERSON: I just don't like the word harder. (Laughter)
TURNER: OK. Let's says the passages will, in many cases, be more complex than kids are used to. Nancy Doorey, of ETS, says that's because in the past, some states intentionally used easier passages to make sure most kids could get through them. But that, she says, just postponed a hard truth.
DOOREY: Kids were graduating from high school, going into community college or the university, and finding that college-level texts are way too difficult.
TURNER: Even I had a hard time with one section of this practice test. It was actually a group of three passages: one from a real scientific study about elephants cooperating, one from an article about the study, and the third was a video clip of the study in action.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: On this video, impatient Elephant Shree Siam fails to wait for his partner. By the time the second elephant gets there, the rope is out of reach and no one gets the reward.
TURNER: The test then wanted me to write an essay comparing the information in that video to what's in the article and in the study. I didn't write it. I was busy writing this essay, comparing information presented in the test itself to everything that came before. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.