Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
District: na
State: MA

Note that only one of the four questions requires reading the passage. Only two of the four have anything to do with reading comprehension, and even one of these is doubtful. A child does not have to know what quiver means to understand the passage.

Lobel’s fables are lovely little pieces. Seemingly simple, they are actually quite sophisticated. This one has the moral It is always difficult to pose as something one is not.

Third graders enjoy talking about this with their teacher. But the testmakers, in their wisdom, avoid any talk about deep significances. They assess children’s understanding and appreciation of this fable by asking them to identify such arbitrary and even artificial language definitions as a noun and a compound word. Ask yourself: When did knowing what a compound word is enhance or illuminate your life? Noun definitions travel on pretty shaky ground too. I venture to assert that an accomplished reader could get through life just fine without being able to identify either nouns or compound words–if only he didn’t have to pass the MCAS.

It just boggles the mind that the MCAS test writers would single out such extraneous items for a child’s focus. Children learn from everything they encounter. Now, third graders across Massachusetts are left with the indelible mark–stamped on them by the state of Massachusetts–that Arnold Lobel cares a whole lot about compound words. Focusing on language elements such as compound words in the presence of fine literature, distorts and diminishes that literature. Fie on these Standardistas! And fie on the publishers who aid and abet them.

The following is a released item from the Spring 2003 Grade 3 MCAS Reading Test.

The child is instructed to read “The Hen and the Apple Tree,” a selection from Arnold Lobel’s acclaimed Fables. Arnold Lobel is dead and cannot protest this desecration of his work. The publisher who allowed this assault on children’s literature is HarperCollins.

39) In this fable, the wolf is sneaky because he

a) goes away hungry.

b) talks to the Hen.

c) slams the window shut.

d) pretends to be a tree.

This item is labeled Reading and Literature Standard 16: Students will identify, analyze, and apply knowledge of the themes, structure, and elements of myths, traditional narratives, and classicial literature and provide evidence from the test to support their understanding.

This is the one reading comprehension question on the test.

40. What is the MAIN reason “The Hen and the Apple Tree” is called a fable?

a) It gives the time and place of the action.

b) It has animals talking to each other, and there is a lesson to learn.

c) It teaches about how trees and animals get along with each other.

d) It tells about something that happened long ago.

This item is labeled Reading and Literature Standard 10: Students will identify, analyze, and apply knowledge of the characteristics of different genres. Clearly, the question has nothing to do with reading comprehension. Either the student has memorized the definition of a fable or he hasn’t.

41. Read the sentence below.

The tree began to quiver and shake. All of its leaves quickly dropped off.

What does quiver mean?

a) to escape

b) to tremble

c) to whisper

d) to sparkle

This item is labeled Language Standard 4: Students will understand and acquire new vocabulary and use it correctly in reading and writing.

42. Read the sentence below:

She saw an apple tree growing in her backyard.

The word backyard is a

a) proper noun.

b) contraction.

c) compound word.

d) verb.

This, too, is labeled Language Standard 4. It has nothing to do with reading comprehension.

None of this discussion gets at a very serious issue that gets almost no attention: the impropriety of mining beloved children’s literature for test items. What Massachusetts third graders will ever approach Lobel’s Fables with joy again?

MCAS, Grade 8

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
District: na
State: MA

Quick! What is the distance between Boston and Harcourt testing headquarters–in meters.

This question has a lot wrong with it.

1) Does ANYBODY except test item writers measure the distance between cities in meters?

2) If one were choosing the correct answer according to scientific notation, there is no right answer. It should be 2.58 x 10 to the 5th power (a 10 with a little raised 5).

3) According to, 280,000 meters = 160.31 miles.

According to, the distance between Pittsfield and Provincetown is 245.49 miles.

So the question is not only nutty, it is careless besides.

But since MCAS authorities insist they are preparing students for the global economy, we would point out that from Boston to Xian, China is 23,013,619.2 meters.

Bon voyage.

(26) Pittsfield and Provincetown are approximately 258,000 meters apart. Which of the following shows this number in scientific notation?

A. 258 x 10 to the third power
B. 258 x 10 to the negative third power
C. 258 x 10 to the fifth power
C. 258 x 10 to the negative fifth power

NOTE: These were written with scientific notation.


Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
Massachusetts and Harcourt
District: na
State: MA

Here’s the sentence that follows the sentence on which students are being interrogated:

The McChoakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.

Now here’s a statement from MassInsight and the Coalitition for higher standards:

Effective use of data and assessment: Creating a culture that relies on data to make key instructional and administrative choices . . . .

How are students who are surrounded by and submerged in data, data, data going to recognize that Dickens’ fact, fact, fact is sardonic and critical? Isn’t their state department of education preaching fact, fact, fact? If you can’t “state it in figures,” then it isn’t worth anything. No anecdotes, please.

Purchaseable in the cheapest market. How can a child of the global economy whose education is keyed to that global economy recognize any irony here?

The Massachusetts Department of Education pronounces that this test question is measuring Language Standard 5. Hold your hats: Here’s Language Standard 5.

General Standard 5: Structure and Origins of Modern English
Students will analyze standard English grammar and usage and recognize how its vocabulary has developed and been influenced by other languages.

5.23 Identify simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

5.24 Identify nominalized, adjectival, and adverbial clauses.

5.25 Recognize the functions of verbals: participles, gerunds, and infinitives.

5.26 Analyze the structure of a sentence (traditional diagram, transformational model).

5.27 Identify rhetorically functional sentence structure (parallelism, properly placed modifiers).

5.28 Identify correct mechanics (semicolons, colons, hyphens), correct usage (tense consistency), and correct sentence structure (parallel structure).

5.29 Describe the origins and meanings of common words and foreign words or phrases used frequently in written English and show their relationship to historical events or developments (glasnost, coup d’etat).

5.30 Identify, describe, and apply all conventions of standard English.

5.31 Describe historical changes in conventions for usage and grammar.

5.32 Explain and evaluate the influence of the English language on world literature and world cultures.

5.33 Analyze and explain how the English language has developed and been influenced by other languages.

Because of copyright restrictions, I’m not going to analyze the other questions. I invite you to take a look at the questions and the standards that drive them. It is all lunacy.

The tests are at:

Remember, these test questions aren’t isolated anomalies. The standards driving these questions are at:


Truth in disclosure: I wouldn’t recognize a nominalized clause if it bit me on the nose.

Test Item

Read the sentence from paragraph 3.

Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial.

14. The author uses repetition and parallellism to

A. emphasize the monotony of Coketown.

B. indicate a change in tone.

C. show respect for the town.

D. suggest that the townspeople admire Coketown.

Terra Nova

Terra Nova, Grade 5
District: na
State: VT

Here is a culturally biased item having little to do with reading comprehension. The young reader must answer that a kelp ball is not a baseball, a beach ball, or a balloon.

from reading passage:

Giant whales have been seen balancing balls of kelp on their heads, then diving to catch them when they fall off.

From what you read, what sort of ball do whales play with?

pictured are a baseball, a beach ball, a balloon, and something that looks like a ball of ribbons.


Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test
Florida Department of Education
District: na
State: FL

This item was offered to a Florida newspaper with this descriptor: This question is similar to those on the 10th-grade reading FCAT. There\’s more than one question. I guess we can assume they are all similar.

Try doing this item–with the thought in mind that your high school diploma depends on it.

A longer version of this passage also pops up in Tucson–as preparation for AIMS, the state test. Among other things, I object to a literary passage employing irony being used as proof of a student\’s reading competence. How many members of Congress can recognize irony?

Read the passage, and then answer the questions below it. 

Juan knows there won’t be a problem with the letter’s contents, that it’s irreproachable, harmless. But what about the rest? He knows that they examine, sniff, feel and read between the lines of each and every letter, and check its tiniest comma and most accidental stain. He knows that all letters pass from hand to hand and go through all sorts of tests in the huge censorship offices and that, in the end, very few continue on their way. Usually it takes months, even years, if there aren’t any snags; all this time the freedom, maybe even the life, of both sender and receiver is in jeopardy. …

Well, you’ve got to beat them to the punch, do what everyone tries to do: sabotage the machinery, throw sand in its gears, get to the bottom of the problem so as to stop it.

This was Juan’s sound plan when he, like many others, applied for a censor’s job  not because he had a calling or needed a job: no, he applied simply to intercept his own letter, a consoling albeit unoriginal idea.

1. Which of the following is a FACT in the passage?

A. Some letters are delivered without being examined.

B. Even if the contents of a letter are acceptable, the censors may still decide not to send it to its recipient.

C. The censors are necessary to protect the country.

D. All letters are delivered within six months.

2. Which of the following is a FACT in the passage?

A. Most letters are eventually delivered to the people to whom they are addressed.

B. No letter has ever reached its destination.

C. Trying to send a letter is too dangerous.

D. Although it may take years, some letters are sent on.

3. Which of the following is a FACT about how letters are handled?

A. Each letter is carefully read by one censor who decides whether it will be sent.

B. After letters are read, they are saved for months or years.

C. Each letter undergoes many different tests at the hands of different people.

D. All of the above.

4. Which of the following statements from the passage reveals an OPINION?

A. “Juan knows there won’t be a problem with the letter’s contents, …”

B. “Well, you’ve got to . . . get to the bottom of the problem so as to stop it.”

C. “Usually it takes months, even years, …”

D. Both A and B

Answers: 1. B; 2. D; 3. C; 4. D


Ohio Graduation Test
District: na
State: OH

Below is the state of Ohio’s question, followed by their critique and explanation. Just think of all the drills on “standard” English this will subject students to. And don’t you wish the Explainer wrote better English?

Sample Writing Test Item
Aligned to Ohio Writing Process Standard

Use the sentence below to answer the following question:

Due to the fact of a broken muffler on his car, my grandfather is canceling his drive across town to the bookstore, postponing his visit at the barber shop, and will reschedule his doctor’s appointment.

As a peer, you’ve been asked to edit a fellow student’s sentence above. Using the writer’s checklist below, give your fellow student feedback by indicating two rules that apply to the errors in the sentence. Then rewrite the sentence correctly.

Writer’s Checklist
Good writing includes the following:
+Standard English
+Complete sentences
+Parallel structure
+Agreement of subject and verb

State of Ohio Explanation

One rule broken relates to standard English. The phrase, Due to the fact, is not standard English. The other rule broken relates to parallel structure. The subject in the sentence, the grandfather, is doing three things: canceling, postponing and rescheduling. Each of these actions should be written in this way so that the present participle is used consistently. The sample above shows that the student broke the consistency or lost parallel structure by writing will reschedule instead of rescheduling. If the sentence is rewritten in standard English and with parallel structure, it would read:
As a result of the broken muffler on his car, my grandfather is canceling his drive across town to the bookstore, postponing his visit to the barber shop and rescheduling his doctors appointment.
As a result of the broken muffler on his car, my grandfather will cancel his trip across town to the bookstore, postpone his visit to the barber shop and reschedule his doctors appointment.


Basic Standards Test
Minnesota Department of Chidlren, Families and Learning
District: na
State: MN

I would suggest that regular is in the eye of the beholder.

A regular can of pop holds about …

a) 1 ounce.

b) 1 pint.

c) 1 quart.

d) 1 gallon.


A seldom reported distractor item on tests is the huge disturbance caused by wildly inappropriate artwork. What was a high schooler hoping to pass the Spring 2001 California High School Exit Exam to make of the illustration stuck below “The Courage That My Mother Had,” a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, showing a stocky, middle-aged African woman? Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, a woman who was arrested marching for Sacco and Vanzetti, a woman whom Thomas Hardy declared one of the two great things in the U. S. (the other being the skyscraper), was described by a student in the audience when she gave a reading at Yale: Her bright hair shining, she stood before us like a daffodil.

Nancy Milford, author of an acclaimed biography, describes that hair as “fire” and her skin as “ale as milk.” Far from stocky, Edna was small in stature, often described as ethereal. Ralph McGill, recalling that “she wore the first shimmering gold-metal cloth dress I’d ever seen,” called Edna “one of the most fey and beautiful persons I’d ever met.”

The illustration accompanying the Millay poem on the tests prepared by ETS is the opposite of fey. It is the portrait of a dark, prim, stolid, middle-aged woman who, frowning in her suit, might be a church deacon, an undertaker, a high school principal facing an inquisition from the board.

As every English teacher knows, poetry is universal and the speaker in a poem is not necessarily the poet herself. The the ETS testocrats forestall this interpretation by inserting this bald statement in the directions for reading Millay’s poem: The following poem is about the poet’s inheritance. What’s the reader to think? That Edna was adopted? Come to think of it, the African-American women in the illustration looks like she could be the head of an orphanage.

Some will say I quibble. After all, probably not one high schooler in ten will know that Millay was a daffodil, not an oak tree. But consider what happend to More Stories Julian Tells when the testocrats got hold of it. Most third graders in the land know that the acclaimed Julian series features an African-American family. So what were seven- and eight-year-olds to make of the Illinois reading test, with its excerpt from More Sotires Julian Tells showing Julian as an Anglo kid?

Which phrase from the poem creates a tone of sadness and regret?

a) “Rock from New England quarried”

b) “Oh, if instead she’d left to me”

c) “The golden brooch my mother wore”

d) “That courage like a rock”


The publisher provides truncated definitions, removing each example, to make the item more difficult. It also presents the definitions in paragraph form. In contrast, here is a genuine dictionary entry for the word cake.


1. A sweet baked food made of flour, liquid, eggs, and other ingredients, such as raising agents and flavorings.

2. A flat rounded mass of dough or batter, such as a pancake that is baked or fried.

3. A flat rounded mass of hashed or chopped food that is baked or fried; a patty.

4. A shaped or molded piece, as of soap or ice.

5. A layer or deposit of compacted matter: a cake of grime in the oven.

If this is a test of children’s real=world skills, then why don’t they supply real-world materials–and use real dictionary entries?

Note that the real dictionary put each definition on a separate line, making things easier to read and sort out.

And now for the test question:

2. Read this sentence from the article.

Along the way, Matthew Henson stepped out on a large cake of ice.

Now study this dictionary entry showing four meanings of the word cake.

cake (kak) n 1. a sweet baked dessert of flour, liquid, eggs, and other ingredients 2.a flat, rounded mass of dough that is baked or fried 3. a flat rounded patty of chopped food that is baked or fried 4. a shaped, solid object.

Which definition BEST explains cake as it is used in the sentence?

__Definition 1
__Definition 2
__Definition 3
__Definition 4


How many adults are capable of writing a short story on any topic, making it interesting and exciting?

How about writing a short story about a work site?

Let’s take this writing prompt to our political leaders and see how they do.

Read the writing prompt below and complete the writing activity.

Is there some particular job or occupation that you think would be an interesting way to make a living? What would your workday be like while working at that job or in that profession?

Write a story about a person doing this kind of work. You may invent a main character or base him or her on someone you know. Create a setting that would suit someone employed in this occupation and include events that would show this character in action. Make your story exciting or interesting to show why you think this kind of work would be a good way to make a living.

Be sure to include

a description of the main character and his or her occupation
the setting in which the story takes place
events to show your character in action
a beginning, a middle, and an end to your story