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    Grade 8 Common Core ELA Sample Questions

    Important Curriculum Warning

    Common Core lesson products used in excessive doses, either alone or in combination with other standardized curriculum depressants, may cause hallucinations, anxiety, aggression, and/or depression.

    Proceed with caution.

    by Susan Ohanian

    The New York State Testing Program, produced by the New York State Department of Education, has a website with sample passages and questions designed to align with the Common Core.

    The sample for 8th grade is a passage from Little Women.

    I yowled when Little Women first appeared on the Common Core list of exemplary texts for 8th graders. And I'm still yowling. The point is not whether you or I loved this book eons ago. The point is whether it is appropriate for today's 8th graders.

    The point is also whether any book should be required reading for all students.

    Has anyone on the committee that selected Little Women as an appropriate text for 8th graders ever taught an 8th grader? Or been a parent to an 8th grader within the last two decades?

    Take a poll of your neighbors, relatives, and people in the grocery line: At what age did they read Little Women? Dollars to donuts, it wasn't age 13. If someone polled 500,000 8th grade teachers, asking them for book recommendations, what are the chances that Little Women would appear on anyone's list?

    Fifth graders get Heidi. Seventh graders get Jack London's Martin Eden.

    Another upsetting aspect of this whole process is that the texts are taken from free, public domain materials. Thus it becomes more and more likely that real books will become foreign objects. Children will read material online or from piles of worksheets containing reproduced texts and interrogations.

    Another clue to the student that this isn't real reading is the fact that the paragraphs are numbered. Well, something is numbered. I couldn't quite figure out what. Not paragraphs and not quite sentences either. I figure lots of readers, like me, will waste time trying to figure out the numbering scheme. You can go to the New York State site and try to for yourself.

    Words that can be defined for students are in bold. Interesting that the old standby question from every reading test in the universe is here: define this word. I regard this question as the last refuge of the test compiler who's run out of ideas.

    And won't this part throw the students off: During one of the brief calls he made. . .
    How many readers will realize that "call" means "to make a short visit" in this context?

    But that's the least of the problems with this oh-so precious passage.

    Go to the website and you will find another passage for 8th graders, an excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave along with accompanying open-ended writing prompts.

    Little Women
    by Louisa May Alcott
    Beth, Meg, and Jo March are the daughters of Mrs. March. Their next-door neighbor is an elderly, rich man named Mr. Laurence, who is raising his grandson, Laurie. Beth is very shy and perceives Mr. Laurence to be a grumpy man.

    Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful

    But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the 'Mansion of Bliss,' as Meg called it. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said "Hey!" so loud, that he frightened her so much her 'feet chattered on the floor,' she never told her mother, and she ran away, declaring she would never go there any more, not even for the dear piano.

    No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr. Laurence's ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters. During one of the brief calls he made, he artfully led the conversation to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stay in her distant corner, but crept nearer and nearer, as if fascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks red with excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no more notice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked on about Laurie's lessons and teachers. And presently, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs. March:

    "The boy neglects his music now, and I'm glad of it, for he was getting too fond of it. But the piano suffers for want of use. Wouldn't some of your girls like to run over, and practice on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know, ma'am?"

    Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightly together to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and the thought of practicing on that splendid instrument quite took her breath away. Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile. "They needn't see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time. For I'm shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie is out a great deal, and the servants are never near the drawing room after nine o'clock."

    Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that last arrangement left nothing to be desired. "Please, tell the young ladies what I say, and if they don't care to come, why, never mind." Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way.

    "Oh sir, they do care, very very much!"

    "Are you the musical girl?" he asked, without any startling "Hey!" as he looked down at her very kindly.

    "I'm Beth. I love it dearly, and I'll come, if you are quite sure nobody will hear me, and be disturbed," she added, fearing to be rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.
    "Not a soul, my dear. The house is empty half the day, so come and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you."

    "How kind you are, sir!"


    Grade 8 ELA 4 Common Core Sample Questions

    1. Which statement best summarizes the central idea of the passage?

    A Beth is not able to learn the piano without assistance.

    B Beth wants to practice her music in front of her neighbors.

    C Beth wants to try new things to please her family.

    D Beth is able to overcome her fear to pursue something she loves.
    Key: D

    Aligned CCLS: RL.8.2.
    Commentary: This item aligns to CCLS RL.8.2 because it asks students to summarize the central idea of the passage using details from the text. While not fully capturing the standard, the item addresses the interplay of characters within the developing plot.
    Rationale: Option D is correct. In the passage, the reader learns that Beth overcomes her initial shyness and volunteers to come and practice on the old manâs piano.

    2. Closely reread this sentence from lines 1â2 of the passage:
    "But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the 'Mansion of Bliss,' as Meg called it."

    In this sentence, "yearning" most clearly means

    A reaching

    B desiring

    C pushing

    D worrying

    Key: B
    Aligned CCLS: RL.8.4
    Commentary: This item aligns to CCLS RL.8.4 because it asks students to understand the meaning of a word in the context of the larger passage. Even if a student cannot glean meaning from the context immediately surrounding the word, the meaning should be apparent after a close reading of the entire passage.
    Rationale: Option B is correct; it is closest in meaning to "yearning."

    3. Closely reread this sentence from lines 7â8 of the passage:
    "No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr. Laurence's ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters."

    What effect does this sentence provide the reader as the story develops?

    A The reader believes that what is happening at the house is mysterious.

    B The reader remains unaware that Mr. Laurence typically helps his neighbors.

    C The reader thinks that Mr. Laurence will not succeed even though he tries.

    D The reader understands Mr. Laurence's intentions even though Beth does not.
    Key: D

    Aligned CCLS: RL.8.6
    Commentary: This item aligns to CCLS RL.8.6 because it asks students to analyze how differences in the reader's and Beth's perspectives create a dramatic effect.
    Rationale: Option D is correct. This line informs the reader that Mr. Laurence is aware of Beth's passion for music and her shyness. With this information the reader understands Mr. Laurence better than Beth does.

    And so New York State functionaries have come out with a formula for grinding out Common Core test items. It is interesting to note that the Commentary and Rationale sounds just like the insipid NAEP "justifications." Once you drink a little Kool-Aid, it all tastes the same.

    In all fairness I should point out that New York is hardly alone in jumping on the Little Women bandwagon. Take a look at what Georgia calls Teacher Guidance:
    Sample Task for Integrating state standards with the Common Core
    . Teachers,relax. All you need is plenty of butcher paper.

    Identifying the theme or main idea of a literary text can sometimes be challenging, but identifying the development of that theme or idea through literary elements is even more difficult. Upon completion of a literary text under consideration by the class, use the reverse side of a roll of wrapping paper or some butcher paper to create a long plot line on the wall of the classroom (the line might go all the way around all four sides!). Using markers and with the text at hand, students will cite text evidence along the timeline that creates a visual representation of the development of the theme or central idea of the text. For example, students reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, may identify the theme of "the importance of family" or "duty and responsibility in life," etc. After agreeing upon a theme, students will cite text evidence along the timeline that identifies dialogue, action, events, images, etc. that support their assertions about the overarching theme.

    The timeline should provide a strong picture of the ways in which the author slowly but surely crafted and supported her theme and message.
    Recommended Vocabulary for Teaching and Learning: Characterization Static Dynamic Protagonist

    I'd bet my last dollar that other states have similar material on Little Women. But I refuse to look.

    Entrepreneurial sites supplying lessons on Little Women abound. Something that I find fascinating is that none of these guides indicate the book as appropriate for 8th graders.

    I list these in no order of preference--except I think the first one may be the penultimate misuse of the book:

  • Grammardog Guide to Little Women Exercise 1 includes 25 multiple choice questions on parts of speech, Exercise 4, 26 question on simple, compound, complex sentences. Exercise 5 has 25 multiple choice questions on direct objects, predicate nominatives, predicate adjectives, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions. And so on and so on. We learn that "Grammardog Guides help students recognize the connection between language and meaning. By learning how to analyze grammar and style, students discover they can decode the meaning of literature on their own.

    All exercises use sentences from the novel.

  • Web English Teacher contains a hotlink to this lesson for fifth graders, along with a recommendation: "It is suggested that this unit be taught at the same time as the Civil War unit in Social Studies that is a part of the Core Knowledge Sequence for fifth grade."

    (The guide indicates that the background knowledge needed for students in Grade 2 Civil War, which rather boggles the mind. But that's another story.)

  • The guide from Lesson Planet indicates they have 189 lesson plans geared to Grades 4-6.

  • A guide presented at the Core Knowledge Conference indicates Grade 5, "Marching into the Civil War Times Little Women- Past and Present."

  • Novel Units by ECS Learning Systems in Bulverde, Texas, indicates Grades 7-8. Their separate Student Packet for Little Women is for Grade 7 and "provides robust, multiple-level reproducibles that present solutions based on the latest reading strategies. The packet includes content-rich activity sheets, quizzes, and a final exam for direct student use." One can buy 30 student packets for $189.

    Click on Christianbook.com and this same guide pops up. Christianbook.com has other offerings, including Syllabus for Little Women: The New England Mind and Character by FACE (Foundation for Christian Education), part of the NOAH Plan Curriculum. This guide indicates that one basic theme in this book is "Christian History Principle Exemplified." Click to see the back of the book and you get this message: Noah Plan is an ark in which the American Christian spirit can ride the tide of rising anti-Christian waters which threaten to inundate the nation. They offer a road map for each grade level, K-12.

  • Or how about skipping the book and going for the movie? The TeachWithMovies.com Learning Guide to Little Women does not provide movies but does provide movie guides to "inspire students, drive assignments, and meet curriculum goals."

  • Teachers Pay Teachers offers a free word search for Little Women.

  • Little Women Lesson Plans [NOOK Book] by BookRags at Barnes and Noble contains "30 Daily Lessons, 20 Fun Activities, 180 Multiple Choice Questions, 60 Short Essay Questions, 20 Essay Questions, Quizzes/Homework Assignments, Tests, and more."

  • There's lots lots more, but I've reached my limit. I'll just add that the Amazon page for Common Core Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts: Grades 6-8 (Common Core Series) contains a "sponsored link" from "the Official PBS Store" to Little Women. with the admonition, "Shop Now!"

    Truth in Disclosure: I received Little Women for Christmas when I was in first grade. My father and I decided we'd both read it. I finished it in fast order. His bookmark remained at page 17. Looking at it now, I'm guessing I just skipped all the hard words, not letting them spoil my pleasure in the book. I loved that book so much my grandmother made me a wardrobe of wonderful clothes to go with my Little Women doll, a wardrobe that helped me recover from the fact that my mother had bought the wrong doll. I mean, I was stunned. Beth?!!!!! Who would want the insipid Beth? I was outraged and tried to pretend it was Jo.
    When I was in high school I participated in a TV quiz show featuring area high schools. I only remember one question: "Who was the youngest of the famous March sisters?"

    Yes, dear reader, I buzzed in first--and I got it right.

    — Susan Ohanian
    Grade 8 Common Core ELA Sample Questions
    August 11, 2012

    Index of Common Core [sic] Standards

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