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April 29, 2013

Keep working on common core test

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The Daily Star

---- — You know Mrs. Field, that was the worst essay I have ever written in my life, and it was supposed to be my best.”

That’s what one of Sharon Springs English teacher Jennifer Field’s students told her after the second day of the new common-core English Language Arts testing earlier this month. 

And to Field, that’s not OK. She was so upset by how rushed her students seemed to be to complete the exams, which stress reading comprehension, that she fired off an angry letter that has made the rounds online and found its way to the state Education Department. 

Field isn’t the only one complaining. Other educators, as well as some parents and students, have said the tests don’t seem to give students enough time to produce the type of responses that would really demonstrate their understanding. 

“We want to test student knowledge, not their stamina,” Sidney Superintendent Bill Christensen said.

Reading Field’s letter (which you can find on the New York State United Teachers’ Facebook page), one gets the sense that she is a passionate and dedicated teacher who wants the best for her students. 

“Is the state test going to tell you that my own daughter has written many books? Is the state test going to tell you that another little girl’s father just died? Is the state test going to tell you that another young boy’s father was just diagnosed with cancer? Where is that in your statistics?,” Field wrote. 

The stated aims of the common core are to identify individual students who may need extra help, and to give schools a big-picture look at where their curricula may need work. These are worthwhile goals, and ones that no parent, teacher or administrator is likely to shy away from. 

But we hope the state Education Department is listening to all the folks saying there isn’t enough time for students to do what’s being asked of them. It’s reasonable to think that a new test might yet have a few bugs to be worked out. 

Field wrote that her students were made to feel “worthless” by the test, because it seemed to be much too difficult. On the other hand, a test that is so easy that everyone aces it is not of much value as a diagnostic tool. 

Rather, a valuable test is one that hits that Goldilocks note of “just right” - hard enough to challenge and push students, but not so hard that they become frustrated, give up or feel defeated by the experience. 

The current test, it would seem, is not quite there yet. We hope officials keep trying until it is.