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?