Common Core Changes across Grades
In the last post, three ways to test a standard, we looked at how a standard could look differently on the same grade, and in this post, we are going to look at how a common core standard progresses across three grades.
Common Core Standard 8
This is a unique standard, because it only relates to reading informational text. It has no literature counterpart. It addresses how evidence and reasons synthesize to support the claim of the author.
As students rise through the grades, the standard demands students understand how various parts of the text interact to create complex arguments. They also must determine the strongest parts of an author’s argument.
Increasing Levels of Complexity
On the 2016 NY State ELA tests, this standard proved particularly difficult for students across the state. In the chart below, student proficiency starts low in the third grade with 57% of students answering correctly and then declines through fifth grade with only 37% of students answering correctly.
|Grade 3||Grade 4||Grade 5|
The common core standards provide a very easy to read progression of the standards. Below is an excerpt describing expectations of standard 8 at grades 3, 4, and 5.
In grade 3, students begin to notice connections and logical sequences to an author’s claim. As we will see soon in the assessments, the texts provide linear arguments without veering far from the points referenced. It comes down to actions and the in order in which they happen.
In grade 4, the relationship between reasons and evidence becomes more important. Textual evidence might require deeper inferencing into author’s purpose. There is a deeper understanding of an author’s craft.
In grade 5, the inter-relationships among ideas and evidence becomes very important. Students consider the text as a whole and define how the best evidence supports the claim. Questions require students to reread multiple sections of the text and analyze how each part affects the overall argument.
Grade 3 Question Stem
Free Download of the NY State ELA Question Stems in Elementary
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The only question connected to standard 8 in the 2016 released test questions from grade 3 ELA referenced a specific section of the text. Students needed only to go back and reread four paragraphs to find the answer. No other identifier is in the question other than “connected.” In other words, what is happening in these four paragraphs?
A Linear Passage
This question does not require any knowledge of the rest of the article to answer. It is self-contained. The question only asks that the reader understands how the author supports his/her claim in this section.
To be successful, students must first identify the claim. In this case, the author’s claims cars were too expensive and Henry Ford changed that. What follows is supporting evidence of that claim. All of the evidence details how Henry Ford made cars cheaper.
Subtle Shifts in Language
Common Core assessments notoriously shift language within questions in an attempt to thwart test prep skills. So far, we have broken this question down in a very common test prep manner. First, we read the question. Second, we reread the passage. Finally, we look over our answer choices.
Up until this point we used the terms claim and evidence, but in the answer choices students must use the terms “connected,” “problem,” and “explain.” Over use of the terms “claim” and “evidence” in the classroom limits student exposure to a variety of vocabulary used in text analysis.
The claim that cars were expensive becomes the problem and the connection among the paragraphs describes how Henry Ford solved that problem.
Wrong Answer Choices Provide Insight
The wrong answer can provide insights as to why students answered incorrectly. Two answer choices reference numbers and in the paragraphs, there are multiple numbers. Answer choice B is connected to the idea of the assembly line which is responsible for making cars cheaper to produce, but is not why all four paragraphs are connected.
The correct answer, A, shows an understanding of how all the paragraphs fit together for one purpose. It is as much about textual construction as it is about understanding the author’s purpose and the author’s claim.
Grade 4 Question Stem
Two questions tested student proficiency with standard 8 on the 4th grade released test questions. Students performed poorly overall on both questions in relation to other standards.
This question stem shows some shifts from the third grade assessment of the standard.
- First, the only reference to a part of the passage is “beginning.” There is no end given to where to reread.
- Second, “story about monkeys” is the only clue to the section where students should reread.
- Finally, students must determine the “main reason” the author decided to include this story.
The grade 3 standard did not ask students to understand why an author made choices in what evidence or stories to include. There were specific sections of the text referenced.
Students Find the Best Part of the Passage
Here is a sampling of the text that includes the monkey story.
Students engage in a similar thought process to grade 3 with this question. They must determine the function of this story. What is going on in this section of the text? The context changes a little bit, because the question asks student to figure out why the author includes this story within the article.
Taken out of context this might seem like it is going to be an easy answer, but we have to remember from the student perspective they have little guidance on where to go back into the passage. Some students might think they should reread the entire article.
One Word Changes the Whole Meaning
We must think in terms of how a student would go about answering this question to understand why they might choose certain answers. The title of the article, The Story of Chocolate, tells us author’s purpose in writing the article without having to include it all here.
Right before the part I took out the author describes the forest and describes the cacao trees. That is the lead in to the monkey story. The story continues talking about the beans. If students do not take the article as a whole and understand the progression of ideas then they could choose answer choice B if they do not consider the farmers.
The same goes for answer choice A, because the monkey story does show the monkeys enjoying the pods. We know from the rest of the article that the pods are not chocolate. Students who do not understand the progression of ideas could choose A as well.
Answer choice D could be chosen by students who only consider the wording “eating” and do not realize when they go back to the answer choices that the monkeys never at the beans.
The main reason the author includes the story is to explain why farmers tasted the pods. For a 4th grader, there is a lot going on in this question. They must find the story, and understand how it fits into the progression of the whole article. They then must be very careful when choosing their answers because all three wrong answers share some truth with the article.
Grade 5 Question Stem
Taken out of context, as is, this question stem appears easier than the grade 4 question stem, because it references a specific part of the article AND it uses the words “claim” and “evidence”. Students can get very comfortable seeing this question. All of the vocabulary used in class shows up immediately.
Grade 5 – Just the Claim
Here again, the article section referenced seems straightforward, but a subtle shift of one word changes the way students should reread this paragraph. The question asks students to find the best evidence of the author’s “claims” in paragraph 4. When rereading this paragraph students must keep that in mind so that they identify both the possible academic problems, writing errors, students make when texting AND how texting can hurt relationships.
This distinction is crucial when looking at the answer choices.
Answer Choices Change Everything
If I used the same test taking strategy I did in the last two examples then I would have a lot of rereading to do.
Each answer choice references a different sentence in a different paragraph and they are not all sequential. Furthermore, although I will include each paragraph below, it’s important to state that students need to understand the overall structure of the article to know the function of each of these 4 paragraphs.
In paragraph 9, answer choice A is out of context. As an answer choice, A, appears related to texting hurting relationships. If someone is grumpy, angry, or depressed that could cause them to have poor relationships, but in paragraph 9 the author connects it to lack of sleep.
The sentence from paragraph 16 is also taken out of context, and is primarily connected to the information in paragraph 15. Kenny misses his friends because he does not have his phone. Paragraph 15 tells the reader that Kenny and Franchesca participate in an experiment to go without their phones. That cannot support the claim.
The subtle clues in the question, the claim, and the paragraphs make choosing between answers C and D very difficult for students.
This is about choosing the best evidence to support the author’s claims, plural.
Answer choice D does support some of the author’s claims, because Franchesa does improve her relationships with her friends. She is more active with her friends and she feels great. The evidence from Kenny however, hits all claims made by the author. He is working on improving his academics, which the author stated that texting could hurt AND he is improving his relationship with his mother BY talking to her.
Although, Franchesa improves her relationships with her friends, which is positive, the evidence is that it is through physical activities. The evidence for Kenny shows him talking to improve his relationship and improving his academics.
How to Include in the Classroom
This type of assessment analysis unlocks what the expectations of students at each grade level. We do not need to replicate testing conditions and we do not need to purchase a bunch of test prep books for passages and questions. We need to think in terms of Depth of Knowledge and think of what our in class questions require of students.
- Do my assessments require the same or more of my students?
- Do I provide them time to practice text analysis independently and in groups during class?
- Have I considered the complexity of analysis required in my assessments?
- How much of the text do my questions require students to understand?
We should consider these questions for all assessments. If we expose our students to the grade appropriate level of rigor when reading a variety of texts then they will perform just fine on standardized assessments.
Replicate the thinking required and not the exam.