The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

It’s Muddy in the PARCC

on May 19, 2016

Yesterday, a friend sent me a copy of an essay that appeared in another blog recently. It was written by a teacher who wished to remain anonymous. She(?) wrote about the 4th grade PARCC test that her students had taken, citing specific items she considered inappropriate for that grade level. I will not quote those items here because I understand that they are under copyright. But I will describe what they expect from 9 year olds and give my own opinions about their appropriateness for this grade level.

The first prompt cited by the teacher presents passages from an article and a poem on the same topic. Students are asked to write an essay that explains the differences between the structural elements in the article and the poem, including specific examples from both texts. The task is intended to test students on the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

Not only am I certain that I never had to analyze and compare structural elements of prose and poetry in 4th grade, I think that the idea of writing an essay on this topic is way out of line. It might have been more reasonable to ask students to name the differences between prose and poetry or even to ask, “How can you tell whether you are reading a poem or a piece of prose?”

The second prompt presents prose passages about sharks from two different documents and asks students to write an essay that includes details from both. On the surface this seems to be a reasonable task for 4th graders, but in this case the teacher claims that both passages are written at a middle school level, which would make the task developmentally inappropriate. If that is accurate, I totally agree.

The third prompt offers a story about a young girl and her family and then asks students to write a new story using details from the first one. Again, I think this is a reasonable expectation for 4th graders, except that the question includes a requirement that the new story be about the girl trying out for the junior high track team. Both the teacher and I think it is unreasonable to include this specification when fourth graders are not yet familiar with middle school and its activities.

In all three cases the teacher also refers to specific standards from the CCSS that appear to be the ones tested by the tasks prescribed and finds faults therein. I didn’t pay much attention to her arguments because for me the entire CCSS is a dead issue. Unquestionably, the standards were structured from the top down, resulting in many developmentally inappropriate expectations for the elementary grades. Moreover, the standards were conceived by non-teachers who were strangers to the realities of childhood and, I believe, the different routes students take to success in college or the workplace.










One response to “It’s Muddy in the PARCC

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    “Explain major differences between poems, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.” The directions are flawed; the list of terms provided as examples all pertain to plays, not poems.
    I was taught that kids read about characters two to three grades ahead of them. I remember that I did.
    Helping fix the CCSS so that they do what we need them to do seems more constructive than demonizing it for political reasons.


I am writing here because I cannot find any other way to contact you. I am having problems with posting and I can't correct them. I wanted to add my essay sent to the news paper,and tried to mark it as a separate piece, but instead it got wiped out altogether. Please make it possible for writers use italics and, or correct their errors before sending their writing out to readers. JoanneYatvin

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