HomeblogherTen Years of Fifth Grade Tests
Yep, that’s about right.
by Ribzy Tron, [CC BA-SA 2.0] via flickr

Today’s prompt from BlogHer is to post ten pictures of myself from over the decade. While I’m sure I could probably find that many pictures, I’d rather not. Instead, I’m addressing something that causes all kinds of stress to all students, but especially to kids dealing with LD.

Standardized tests.

While I don’t believe they’re terrible in and of themselves, I do believe the modern school system depends on them way too heavily. If a child with some form of LD isn’t diagnosed, they’re almost impossible to do. Even if a child has a diagnosis, if the accommodations aren’t sufficient, they still have a much harder time than their neurotypical peers.

I decided to find archived tests and check out some of the questions. I won’t copy questions to this entry, but I will provide links to them before voicing a few thoughts about them. In the interest of consistency, I chose grade 5 level tests to work with. Most tests came from New York, because their web page was the easiest to use, and when it comes to standardized testing, New York seems to rely upon them the most.

New York test for Social Studies, Book One. Scoring key here.

This is the kind of testing I dreaded, since so much of it involved relying on memorized facts. Hello, LD! This one incorporated that skill along with map/chart reading. I think a lot of this comes down to how these facts and stories are taught during the school year, since different techniques work for different kids.

Outside of some cynicism I’ve picked up over the years in regards to governance, the answers seemed to be pretty straight froward on the multiple choice questions. There were quite a few questions which involved writing in the answers, which may or may not be a bad way of testing knowledge, depending on grading procedures.

New York test for Social Studies, Book Two. Scoring key.

This part of the 2005 social studies test relied on reading retention, visual information processing and writing. Again, the questions were relatively clear on what they wanted, and the answers were within the information given. A lot of the test’s usefulness still depends on the grading procedures put in place and environmental conditions under which the test is administered.

New York test for English Language Arts, Book One. Here’s the scoring key.

I only read the first story and set of questions for this one. The story revolves around a boy who loves sports but hates reading being trapped in a library after hours. There were six questions asked about it, and most of the answers were pretty straight forward.

However, questions three and five, have two answers which could be correct, depending on the reader’s take away and various uses of language. Since they’re multiple choice questions, only one answer is the correct one.

New York test for English Language arts, Book One. Here’s the scoring key for this one.

Again, I just stuck with the first story and set of questions. This one was a mystery story about why a man’s tires became flat for no reason. His nephew hid outside to see if he could catch the culprit, and discovered a crow was letting the air out to cool down.

After the crows stole our kindling during last week’s camping trip, I find that story pretty believable. Anyway.

Again, assuming the child’s comprehension and ability to take the information in correctly, most of the questions weren’t bad. There was one with a bit of wiggle room, but it was generally a better question than the ones from 2006.


New York test for English Language Arts, Book Two. Scoring Key.

Look at me mixing things up with the books, though I stuck with the first story and set of questions. The first question is actually about an article being read to the students, you can find it here.

This is the kind of thing I’m terrible with, due to my poor short term memory and auditory processing issues. My primary accommodation was extra time on tests, which wouldn’t have helped with these types of questions. At that age, I would have failed that section. I don’t recall being taught how to take notes, either. I picked it up with time of course, but it wasn’t an explicitly taught skill. Maybe that’s changed over time.

As for the questions themselves, they fall in line with the previous two years. There was one where the child to write in their own answer, but I couldn’t find the criteria on how that question would be graded, outside of the instructions on the test itself.

New York test for English Language Arts, Book One. Scoring Key.

I decided to give the second story in book one a go for this one. This article was all about little penguins. Once again, the nature of the questions haven’t changed much from those of years past. I notice that there are always at least one or two questions that could have more than one correct answer.

New York test for English Language Arts, Book One. Scoring Key.

I went for the third story on this one. It seems as if they’re getting progressively longer as the years past. This may be because of the change in layout, but it is an interesting thing to note. I remember blocks of text being very intimidating when I was that age, and they still sometimes are today, but the column layout wasn’t much better. The psychological effects of these layouts might be interesting to study up on.

The questions for this one weren’t too bad. The answers were all in the text, or were relatively simple for a proficient reader to determine from the story’s content.

For some reason, I couldn’t find any released tests or sample tests for 2011 or 2012 on the New York web page, but after a bit of searching, I found the 2011 grade 5 reading test for Virginia. You can view the PDF here.

After reading through the New York tests, this one seems much simpler in comparison. The questions seem to be better worded and a bit less complicated than the ones from New York. I realized each state has different ways of doing things, but it’s illustrated beautifully when you look at this test versus the previous ones.

I ended up hopping to Massachusetts for 2012. This is the English Language Arts test for grade 5.

Like the New York tests, I just read through the first story and questions. The test writers help the students pinpoint where to find information by giving them the paragraph number in which the answer lies, which does make it a bit easier on the student, especially if they have problems keeping their place. I don’t know how good or bad that may be.

The only question in the first group that encourages analysis or any form of independent thought is the open response question, which asks how the author made the piece both informative and entertaining. That does prompt a pretty sudden change in thinking, which may throw some students off.

Back to New York and the beginning of Common Core. I found a bunch of English Language Arts sample tests here. There are math tests, too. I just looked at the fifth grade ELA sample test.

Based on the questions alone, and the annotations given, I actually like this test a bit more than the others. While the others seem to concentrate heavily on picking facts out, this one does a better job of measuring how well students interpret facts and think about the information given. However, conditions in school, grading procedures and the testing conditions themselves always come into play.

Common Core as a principle and structure of teaching has a lot of fantastic aspects, but the way it’s been implemented has been disastrous in many, many schools. That implementation, along with politics and a whole slew of other things tends to make test taking far harder than it should be.

While searching for test archives, I discovered that New York state is implementing some sort of alternate test schedule for kids with disabilities, starting next year. You can read more about that here.

In New York, at least, I could see the trend of tests getting harder. On one hand, that’s not a bad thing, as it encourages students to use their brain more effectively. On the other, it’s not a good thing, either, because they’re already so heavily tested and stressed due to poorly implemented changes.

Once again, it comes down to teaching methods, school structure and individual student conditions. I don’t believe kids should be reduced into states of panic over testing, but I do believe they should be given the opportunity to reach their highest potential.

Personal opinions aside, it is still interesting to see how testing has changed over the years.

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