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Common Core State [sic] Standards


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    College Board Out to Lunch
    by Susan Ohanian

    An article in the New York Times, Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT, asserts:

    As for content, the revamped test draws heavily from the Common Core -- math and reading benchmarks adopted by most states. Those standards emphasize evidence-based interpretations of texts, vocabulary used in college and careers....

    Here is the single nod to fiction in the sample passages.

    This passage is adapted from Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, originally published in 1911. Mattie Silver is Ethan's household employee.

    Mattie Silver had lived under Ethan's roof for a year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep time with his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm. He had taken to the girl from the first day, when he had driven over to the Flats to meet her, and she had smiled and waved to him from the train, crying out, "You must be Ethan!" as she jumped down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking over her slight person: "She don't look much on housework, but she ain't a fretter, anyhow." But it was not only that the coming to his house of a bit of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth. The girl was more than the bright serviceable creature he had thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will.

    It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion. He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had trembled with the same touch of wonder: that at his side, living under his roof and eating his bread, was a creature to whom he could say: "That's Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones--like bees swarming--they're the Pleiades..." or whom he could hold entranced before a ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled the huge panorama of the ice age, and the long dim stretches of succeeding time. The fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie's wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure. And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. When she said to him once: "It looks just as if it was painted!" it seemed to Ethan that the art of definition could go no farther, and that words had at last been found to utter his secret soul....

    As he stood in the darkness outside the church these memories came back with the poignancy of vanished things. Watching Mattie whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wondered how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her. To him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset. He even noticed two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: a way of throwing her head back when she was amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it out, and a trick of sinking her lids slowly when anything charmed or moved her.

    This is wildly inappropriate text to present to young readers without some context, never mind for testing college readiness.

  • the girl as "bright serviceable creature"????

  • What's a test taker to make of Ethan's grammar?

  • What's the reader not conversant in astronomy to make of Orion, Aldebaran, and the Pleiades, particularly when Orion is referred to as "the big fellow?"

  • Now face the interrogation:

    Select an Answer

    Over the course of the passage, the main focus of the narrative shifts from the

    A) reservations a character has about a person he has just met to a growing appreciation that character has of the person's worth.
    B) ambivalence a character feels about his sensitive nature to the character's recognition of the advantages of having profound emotions.

    C) intensity of feeling a character has for another person to the character's concern that that intensity is not reciprocated.

    D) value a character attaches to the wonders of the natural world to a rejection of that sort of beauty in favor of human artistry.

    View Correct Answer

    Choice C is the best answer. The first paragraph traces the inception of Ethan's feelings for Mattie: Ethan "had taken to the girl from the first day" (line 5) and saw her as "like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth" (line 12). The second paragraph (lines 17–41) focuses on "their night walks back to the farm' and Ethan's elation in perceiving that "one other spirit . . . trembled with the same touch of wonder" that characterized his own (line 26). In other words, the main focus of the first two paragraphs is the intensity of feeling one character, Ethan, has for another, Mattie. The last paragraph shifts the focus of the passage to Ethan's change in perception; he sees Mattie in a social setting interacting with other men, wonders "how he could have ever thought that his dull talk interested her" (line 44), interprets her seeming happiness as "plain proof of indifference" toward him (line 46), and sees betrayal in the “two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him" (line 49).

    Choice A is not the best answer because while Ethan acknowledges that Mattie "don't look much on housework" (line 9), the first paragraph also notes that Ethan "had taken to the girl from the first day" (line 5), and there is thus no support for the notion that Ethan's "reservations" about Mattie lasted for any length of time or ever constitute the main focus of the narrative.

    Choice B is not the best answer because while Ethan does exhibit ambivalence about his sensitive nature, seeing it as a "mournful privilege" (line 25), the main focus of the narrative does not shift to his recognition of the advantages of having profound emotions. Indeed, in the last paragraph Ethan's profound emotions give him only grief, as he sees Mattie seemingly rejecting him.

    Choice D is not the best answer because while the second paragraph (lines 17–41) does discuss in depth the value Ethan attaches to natural beauty, nothing in the passage signifies that he has rejected natural beauty in favor of human artistry. The closest the passage comes to this is in lines 39–41, in which Mattie is said to have likened a natural scene to a painting.

    Question Difficulty: medium
    Passage Complexity: higher
    Objective: Students must describe the overall structure of a text.

    And so on. For those with the stomach to examine more passages and interrogation, go here.

    You can torture yourself with options on rewriting passages here

    Here is the essay prompt, along with student samples and an explanation of how they are graded.

    I'd like to see the New York Times editorial board and the op ed columnists who opine so freely about Common Core take this sample test--and post the results.

    It seems noteworthy--and thoroughly abominable--that the only "testing experts" interviewed for the New York Times article on this new SAT are the founder and education director of PrepMatters, founder of Compass Education Group, and executive director of Princeton Review Foundation, all test prep outfits.

    Have we ever known the New York Times to be informed by educators?

    — Susan Ohanian
    College Board sample question
    October 29, 2015

    Index of Common Core [sic] Standards

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