Decades of research and studies have documented the impact of stress on cognitive performance such as critical thinking, judgment, and decision-making skills.
The ability to concentrate, follow directions, process new information, and make good decisions are all greatly diminished and impaired by stress.
The high level of stress induced by the high stakes consequences of standardized tests has in effect “poisoned the assessment well” and directly undermines the reliability and validity of the data that is being collected and shared by the new computer-based Common Core assessments.
The use of test items that are “distractors” on Common Core-aligned standardized tests should also raise concerns and doubts about the efficacy of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments and raise serious questions as to whether numerous items on these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than reading comprehension skills.
Distractors are plausible responses but not the “fully correct” answer. Many of the new Common Core test items also require students to select one or more answers that “best support”, are “most significant” or are “most likely”.
“The questions on the Common Core English Language Arts test are more complex than those found on previous tests that measured previous grade‐level standards.
Correct answers will not “jump out”; rather, students will need to make a thoughtful distinction between the fully‐correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.
These multiple‐choice questions are specifically designed to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the comprehension and analyses specified by the standards.”
Frequently Asked Questions: 3-8 Testing Program (pg 9, #21)
Here is a sample 4th Grade ELA test question from the 2014-15 PARCC assessment…
What is the meaning of the word constantly as the narrator uses it in paragraph 4 of Kira-Kira?
B. all the time
C. once in a while
Is the above question testing whether a student knows the meaning of the word constantly, or if a student can distinguish between the meaning of the words often and the phrase all the time?
Furthermore, if one student reads the passage and believes the characters were together often while another student says all the time how do these slightly different interpretations of a reading passage have anything to do with determining and predicting the college readiness of a 4th grader?
The answer key for the sample question states;
Option B is the correct response; the narrator makes it clear that the girls spent all their time together when Lynn was not in school.
While PARCC may be convinced that there is a distiguishable difference between the words constantly and often, according to Merriam-Webster, the word constantly is a synonym for the word often.
When it comes to cultivating reading comprehension skills shouldn’t we be encouraging young readers to broaden and expand their use of vocabulary rather than teaching them that words can have only one meaning? Is it even appropriate or reasonable to claim that a plausible interpretation or understanding of a reading passage is wrong?
PARCC claims these “new and improved” test questions will determine whether students have proficient reading comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the reading passage just fine, but they may still choose the plausible or partially correct response whether their decision-making skills are impaired by stress or not.
Ironically when it comes to the CCSS math standards a mathematically proficient student is expected to construct viable or feasible arguments and compare the effectiveness of plausible arguments.
In the United States every citizen is entitled to a presumption of innocence and cannot be found guilty in a court of law if there is reasonable doubt yet we deny our students a presumption of proficiency and their teachers a presumption of effectiveness when we presume that students have insufficient reading comprehension skills and their teachers are ineffective because students selected too many plausible responses.