Stories from the Front Line of Testing

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On the third and last day of the English Language Arts test for third through eighth graders, a few themes emerged from SchoolBook readers. Here's a sample of what you've shared about the tests, the first to be aligned with the new Common Core learning standards.

But first, a question came to us from a parent of an eighth grader at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn who reported "blatant product placement" in her test's reading passages.

"The passage was about a boy who worked in a restaurant and spilled something. She said the passage included a reference to 'Mugs TM root beer,' with a footnote explaining that 'Mugs root beer is the leading brand of rootbeer,' or something along those lines. She said the same passage had a similar reference for a certain brand of dishwasher."

We asked the New York State Department of Education about commercial products named in the tests.

"This is the first time we have had 100 percent authentic texts on the assessments," said spokesman Tom Dunn. "They were selected as appropriate to measure the ELA standards. Any brand names that occurred in them were incidental and were cited according to publishing conventions. No one was paid for product placements."

Now, on to comments about the test.

Jody Drezner Alper said she helped her son's third-grade class at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn compose a song about the tests. The idea started with the teacher who wanted the kids to have a song they could sing to feel better about the tests.

"We asked them what they felt about the tests, what types of things they'd rather do in school than test prep, what they'd like to spend time on outside of school," Alper said. "The kids came up with amazing ideas and we took them to work them in to a song."

One line of the lyrics says: "You've heard of sticks and stones, well tests can't break your bones." You can hear most of the song here:

"Keep Calm and Carry On" Class 3-410 with Jody Drezner Alper and Vicky Finney Crouch

"When my son came home after the first test he said it was boring and easy," said Eric Kamander of Rye, New York. He added it helped that his fourth-grade teacher put a silver lining on the tests. "She suggested that they be happy that they're not going to have any homework during test weeks."

Nicole Dixon, a seventh-grade English teacher said the first day of tests on Tuesday left her "seething with unexpected frustration after months of trying to ignore all the reservations I have about these assessments."

She got her classes ready with lots of writing assignments and drills. But all the prep didn't give the students what they really needed: more time.

"Although my students worked their heart out today, as the end of the test drew near, they simply ran out of time. And now, some of my smartest, most amazing readers and writers hadn't even gotten a chance to read the last few passages and corresponding questions in the book."

She attributed this to the inclusion of field test questions. "Students have significantly less time per question than they had on the test last year," she said.

Nicole Hunn @GFShoestring wrote on Twitter: "I think that, with every passing year, I care less about how my children fare on the ELA test. And I care a LOT about school."

And @c_pichardo wrote" "We're trying to keep our daughter's spirits high... Needless, to say, she's discouraged. Day #1 knocked her."