Here is part of the passage given to kids: (and PARRC indicates the readability is 4.5 which is odd since kids are supposed to be reading ON level and not below level, but hey, who am I to judge?)
Life in the Limbs by Heather Kaufman-Peters
1 Imagine stepping out your front door to find yourself 40 feet above the ground overlooking a dense forest and a winding stream. Instead of hopping on your bike, you grab the handles of your very own zipline and fly 1000 yards over a pond, landing safely on the far bank.
2 Sound crazy? Not to Jonathan Fairoaks, who lives in a four-story tree house that he designed and built! In fact, as a tree house architect, Jonathan has built more than 380 custom tree houses across the United States.
Here are the corresponding questions for this portion of the passage:
Question: Choose the two main ideas and drag them to the empty box labeled “Main Ideas.” Then choose one detail that best supports each main idea. Drag each detail into the empty box labeled “Supporting Details.”
What I want to know first is this: how is asking kids to indicate the main idea and supporting details for their answers any different from what we have done for decades? As for alignment, I do not see kids having to provide the main idea and or supporting details. Instead, they are pulling sentences from the text. This is hardly higher order thinking. Why not ask kids to put main idea and supporting details IN THEIR OWN WORDS? I can tell you why: a machine cannot score that type of assessment.
Here are tests that are costing millions (if not more) to produce and costing districts money per child to administer (not counting the investment in bandwidth and technology requirements) that are no better than the tests I administered as a classroom teacher more than 25 years ago; they are just much more costly. Something is definitely wobbly here, something is pulling us to one side--away from what is important (building lifelong learners) to something that reduces reading to the trivial (so why not just use the dreadful AR tests instead?).
This morning I woke early. College Girl had her wisdom teeth extracted yesterday and I wanted to check to see how she was doing (she is staying with us during her recovery). I sat down with coffee, cracked open A.S. King's REALITY BOY (order your copy NOW). I read it from cover to cover pausing occasionally to get some yogurt or pudding or applesauce for CG. King's novel to me is all about seeing beyond the veneer, the surface--seeing the person behind the façade. I wonder if that is possible for those caught up in CCSS and alignment and assessments and benchmarks. As the kids return to classes, I would rather their teachers have read REALITY BOY or David Levithan's TWO BOYS KISSING than the stuff I am reading from CCSS and PARRC and the others riding the standards gravy train. They know what is important: the kids before them right now.