Reading level for questions may be too high
A concerned Missouri Mom who also happens to be a teacher decided to check out the reading difficulty level for Common Core tests her sixth grader is starting to take. What she found is disturbing.
A few key points in this Mom/teacher’s recent blog:
• “I have heard many stories of teachers logging in to take the practice test and not being able to pass. They have reported reading passages that are not on grade level and in fact extremely challenging for the average student.”
• “As a reading teacher who is accustomed to judging reading passages for text complexity and difficulty, I immediately noticed that the test I was looking at was not on level.”
This Missouri teacher then used an online reading difficulty calculator to determine the reading difficulty level of some of the sample sixth grade Common-Core-aligned Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test questions Missouri is using. This tool presents reading difficulty in a grade-equivalent format.
The Missouri reading teacher typed passages from test questions directly into the calculator and then checked the resulting reading grade levels computed by the online tool. Here is one typical finding:
• “As I typed, I was stunned at the level being calculated. The grade levels started registering at the 8th, 9th, and 11th grade equivalencies!”
That got my attention. Kentucky isn’t using SBAC, of course, but I was curious about the reading level of KPREP items that have been used in Kentucky’s Common Core assessments. My interest was increased because Kentucky contracts with the Pearson publishers to create and score the KPREP tests used in Kentucky, and Pearson reportedly has links to the SBAC, as well.
So, I went to the Kentucky Department of Education’s listing of “K-PREP Sample Items” to see what the readability scores for Kentucky’s test items might look like (Note, the Kentucky Department of Education once used the term “K-PREP.” They have since dropped the dash and now list this as a straight-forward acronym, “KPREP”).
I pulled a KPREP Grade 6 writing prompt for my first examination. Here is a screen shot of how this writing prompt was scored by the readability-score.com web tool (with my additional notes in the red-bordered balloon items):
Notice that the web tool actually offers five different readability calculations. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level calculation listed first shows the writing question prompt has a computed reading grade level expected from students who are five months into their eighth grade school year. The Gunning-Fog Score is even more amazing, showing a reading level expected from 11th grade students who are five months into the school term.
Only the SMOG Index shows about the right reading difficulty for this sixth grade writing test item. However, results from the five indexes average out to a reading skill requirement at the ninth grade level. Just reading and understanding this question requires a reading proficiency grade level that is three years more advanced than the average reading ability of sixth grade students.
Things got more interesting when I looked at Question 4 from the KPREP fourth grade math released items.
Click the “Read more” link to find out how interesting.