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NCLB Outrages

Sample Questions

Ohanian Comment: This news article gives me one more name to add to my list of infamy: popular authors who allow their work to be debased by use on high stakes standardized tests. Gary Soto. Shame on him.

Ask yourself how interrogating kids on poetry proves they are proficienct readers, able citizens of a democracy, and ready for the revolution. I mean, the ability to spell Tuesday and February might well be useful skills. Poetry, I think, has no use.

I say that having just today bought a hardbound volume of poems by Julia Alvarez. I value poetry. I actually read it. And I stand firm in declaring a kid should not have to decipher it to get a high school diploma. Poetry is special. It should remain outside the standardisto canon. Of course, these days, if you don't measure it, it doesn't exist. Nonetheless, I'd rather take that risk than interrogate kids about a poem.

I hope you will send in more testing examples of literature used on state tests. One of these days I'll launch a campaign to ask these authors to cease and desist.

See my article on this subject in the December Substance, arriving in your mailbox in a couple of days. It has already shipped out from Chicago.

by Staff

The following questions are similar to those asked last spring on the standardized tests that Kansas and Missouri used to determine academic progress required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.




Pupils are asked to read a selection called, “Popcorn. The Breakfast of Champions,” and then answer questions about the article.

Which of the following are past or present uses of popcorn?

a. Decorations for the Alaskan natives.

b. Puffed breakfast cereal for English colonists.

c. Snack food made in microwave ovens.

d. Moneymaking crop for Kansas farmers.


a. No





Students are asked to read “On Your Own: A Guide to Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities as an Adult” and then answer multiple-choice questions about the article.

Which of the following are Federal Trade Commission protections for consumers with regard to delivery time and refunds?

a. When a company does not specify a delivery date, it must ship it within 15 days after the order is received.

b. If a company doesn’t ship goods within the required time, it must notify you and remind you that you may cancel your order and get your money back.

c. If you decide to cancel after a shipping delay, the company must refund your money within 30 days.

d. Consumer complaints when companies do not abide by the law are taken by the Federal Trade Commission.


a. No


c. No


â–  11TH GRADE

Students are asked to read a portion of the Kansas Bill of Rights, and then determine if the situations described are legal in Kansas.

a. A group has gathered at a state university to protest peacefully a proposed tuition increase.

b. There is unmistakable proof that a person has committed a capital offense. The person is granted bail.

c. A person’s home is seized after she has been convicted of grand theft.

d. Someone has been convicted of treason after it was proven he aided an enemy of the state.


a. Yes

b. No

c. No

d. Yes



Look at the set of five numbers:

2 5 15 65 395

Which two numbers can be used to make a fraction that is about equal to one-half?

a. 5 and 15

b. 2 and 5

c. 15 and 65

d. 2 and 395


b. 2 and 5


Alex went shopping and bought 3 3/4 pounds of ground beef at $1.79 per pound, including tax. He gave the clerk $10. How much change should Alex receive?

a. $3.29

b. $4.02

c. $5.98

d. $6.71


a. $3.29


Communication arts


Pupils were asked to read “This Big Cat” and answer questions.

Answer: Example of a top-score response: Circles are filled with “big,” “fat” and “old.” Other acceptable responses may include “big paws,” “too big for the shoebox” or “cat doesn’t think he’s changed.”


Students were asked to read the article “Yellow Man by Moonlight” about a visit to an ancient rock-art site then answer questions.

How do the descriptions of Canyonlands National Park and Yellow Man contribute to the mysterious feeling of the article? Use details and/or examples from the article to support your answer.

Answer: Example of a top-score response: Includes any two of the following details: Narrator alone in large park/remote/far from the visitor center, twisted trails/easy to get lost, moonlight shines/full moon, maze of Red Rock Country/maze, ravines, canyons, rocky place (dangerous terrain), grotesque description of Yellow Man (blood, human hair), hummingbird seems to be guiding narrator, Yellow Man dancing on a stone wall, Yellow Man was off limits/closed area/vandalism, dark, ruins of homes/sleep where ancient people slept, 1,000 year old painting/Yellow Man there a long time, what grows comes straight from the rocks/stunted trees.

Two points for including a complete and reasonable text-based explanation using two details and/or examples from the article as support.

One point for including an explanation using only one detail or example as support.

Zero points for other responses.

â–  11TH GRADE

Students are asked to read the poem “A Red Palm”[see below] about the responsibility a father experiences to support his family then answer questions.

How does the poet use the image of a fish in the poem? Use details and/or examples from the poem to support your explanation.

Example of a top-score response: The poet’s use of the fish image helps me to understand how the father measures the work he does each day: one row hoed equals one fish to eat. The poet also describes the father’s work-tired hands as a twitching fish on a pier or on the bottom of a boat, which might suggest that the man feels caught or trapped like a fish in this life of hard work and toil.

Two points for including a complete and reasonable explanation of how the image of a fish is used in the poem, using details and/or examples from the poem as support.

One point for including an explanation that is essentially correct and text-based but support is overly general or simplistic or uses only one detail or example from the poem as support.

Zero points for other responses.



Use the information shown below to find the number of red cards and blue cards Carl has in his stack of cards.

Carl has four yellow cards. He has five more red cards than yellow cards. He has 12 more blue cards than red cards.

How many red cards and blue cards does Carl have?

Answer: Nine red cards and 21 blue cards.

Two points for a correct answer.

One point for only one component correct.

Zero points for other responses.

â–  10TH GRADE

Answer: Example of a top-scored response includes the correct answer — 301 toothpicks — and a valid equation, such as:

3(100) + 1 = 301; 3 toothpicks per square + 1 toothpick; y = 3x + 1 or t = 3(s) + 1; y = 3(x - 1) + 4 or t = 3(x - 1) + 4 or another valid process.

Two points for an exemplary response.

One point for providing correct justification but an error in computation or for providing the correct answer only.

Zero points for other responses.

A Red Palm

--by Gary Soto

You're in this dream of cotton plants.
You raise a hoe, swing, and the first weeds
Fall with a sigh. You take another step,
Chop, and the sigh comes again,
Until you yourself are breathing that way
With each step, a sigh that will follow you into town.

That's hours later. The sun is a red blister
Coming up in your palm. Your back is strong,
Young, not yet the broken chair
In an abandoned school of dry spiders.
Dust settles on your forehead, dirt
Smiles under each fingernail.
You chop, step, and by the end of the first row,
You can buy one splendid fish for wife
And three sons. Another row, another fish,
Until you have enough and move on to milk,
Bread, meat. Ten hours and the cupboards creak.
You can rest in the back yard under a tree.
Your hands twitch on your lap,
Not unlike the fish on a pier or the bottom
Of a boat. You drink iced tea. The minutes jerk
Like flies.

It's dusk, now night,
And the lights in your home are on.
That costs money, yellow light
In the kitchen. That's thirty steps,
You say to your hands,
Now shaped into binoculars.
You could raise them to your eyes:
You were a fool in school, now look at you.
You're a giant among cotton plants.
Now you see your oldest boy, also running.
Papa, he says, it's time to come in.
You pull him into your lap
And ask, What's forty times nine?
He knows as well as you, and you smile.
The wind makes peace with the trees,
The stars strike themselves in the dark.
You get up and walk with the sigh of cotton plants.
You go to sleep with a red sun on your palm,
The sore light you see when you first stir in bed.

— Staff
Kansas City Star


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