Nail-biting parents of third graders across the state will learn later this week how their little ones did on New York's notoriously challenging standardized reading and math tests. And, in anticipation of those results, the Department of Education has released a handful of questions that elementary and middle school students slogged through this spring.
Thanks to the NYTimes, you can play "Are You Smarter Than A Third Grader?" with an online version of one reading comprehension section from this year's test. Pertaining to a story about a snake who gives a man the power to hear what animals are saying—and manages to teach him a lesson about the importance of keeping a secret along the way—two of the questions stumped more than half of third graders (at least 70% of them answered the rest correctly).
According to the NYTimes, last year only 31% of third graders passed the reading test. The DOE's Parent Guide for state tests confirms that each student's promotion to the next grade level is "based on multiple measures," including grades, writing samples, and test scores (although scores "may not be the primary or major factor in promotion decisions).
This has not, however, done much to calm the nerves of harried parents and incredulous teachers. A thread on the blog NYC Public School Parents from this April offers a taste of the hysteria, full of anonymous bashing of the test across all grade levels. One commenter recounts what she had heard from teachers administering the 3rd grade test: "One child repeatedly hit the side of his head with the palm of his hand. Others shed tears and some felt ill."
Another proctor of the 3rd grade test wrote, "The real kicker for me, though, was the second passage... It was about the aurora borealis and how the northern lights are formed. Yes. These kids are 8 years old. I asked some of my friends this weekend how much they knew about the Aurora Borealis, and believe me.... you know what happened."
Late last month, the Special Commissioner of Investigation released a memo about the late principal of an early-elementary school in Harlem who jumped onto the subway tracks this spring—the same day that cheating allegations were brought against her. According to the memo, Principal Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, 49, of the Teachers College Community School in Harlem forged "multiple answers on multiple students' answer sheets" after several of her students failed to finish the state's 3rd grade English test on time.
But the DOE doesn't seem interested in letting up the state-test-induced pressure any time soon. In a statement following Worrell-Breeden's death, DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye reiterated that, "Ensuring the integrity of assessments for all New York City students is critical to measuring students’ progress and holding schools accountable."
Last week, the DOE announced the creation of a new task force to identify and punish any administrators or teachers found to be cheating—either by inflating grades, promoting students with poor attendance, or tampering with state tests.