By Sally Absher

Or a third grader? Find out by taking the new online Tennessee social studies practice test!

A KCS teacher  emailed us, “In case you haven’t heard, the newest social studies assessment is ready to inflict its terror on students here in Knox County as well as across the state.”

According to the TN Department of Education, the field test for the new TCAP Achievement and End of Course social studies/US History test will be given this spring. This is because new content standards for social studies and US History, which were passed by the State Board of Education in July 2013, went into effect this year.

Our teacher correspondent told The Focus, “I teach at the intermediate level and would expect such tests at the high school or even college level and NOT in elementary school.  I think you’ll be shocked by the length of most questions as well as the use of unfamiliar language and illustrations from times gone by. Finally, the 10,000 character (1,760 words) essay is the icing on the cake.”

This teacher, who has postsecondary experience, took an intermediate grade level test and lamented, “I only scored a 72%! My students will be devastated by this and will likely blame me for not teaching the correct subject matter. Nothing could be further from the truth.” This isn’t a first or second year teacher, but a teacher who knows the subject matter, and how to teach it in an age-appropriate way.

We encourage you to try out the practice test, available here:  Click on “Practice Resources and Training,” and then at the bottom of the page, select any grade 3 through 8, or US History for high school. All the practice assessments contain 60 multiple choice questions and an essay.

We examined the third grade assessment in more detail. Remember, third graders are just 8 years old.

Many of the questions include maps, charts, graphs, and timelines. Knowing geography, including continents, countries, and cities, and reading and interpreting charts, graphs and timelines are valuable skills, and should be a part of every child’s education. But 8 year olds are not just miniature versions of 18 year olds. There is clearly no understanding of early childhood development or education research among the developers of these assessments.

This is one of many questions that seemed beyond the expected comprehension level of a typical 8 year old:

Read the text and answer the question below: The language of the Han people is what we call “Chinese.” It is the most common language in the People’s Republic of China. With one fifth of the population speaking the language, Chinese is now spoken all over the world. Within China, there are 55 other ethnic groups. All of these groups, except the Hui and Manchu, use their own language along with the language we call “Chinese.” Chinese is usually written with logograms instead of letters. This means that, like in Mayan and cuneiform writing, each character or image represents a whole word rather than a sound.

Which conclusion can be drawn from the information in the text? A. The Chinese language came from India, B. The Han people are the largest cultural group in China; C. The Hui people came from another area outside of China, D. The Chinese language uses symbols similar to those from Mesopotamia. The correct answer is B.

With the current emphasis on high-stakes reading, math, and language arts assessments, there is already too little time in elementary school allotted for social studies (or science) – often no more than 20 minutes a day. Central Office suggests that teachers start teaching the social studies reading elements as part of their reading block. One suggested book for fifth grade is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The field test is being given on different dates across the county. Reports so far indicate multiple unforeseen obstacles. Computer issues were numerous – at one school, the server crashed. At another the computers did not have the necessary version of Java software required to run the test.

A teacher giving the test said, “We had nearly 30 students sitting at their computers while we frantically tried to figure out what to do and how to do it. Our group got through the multiple choice in the morning, went to lunch and recess, and came back to do the written part. Students missed an entire day of instruction, and so did the teachers who were giving/proctoring the test. It was ridiculous.” Chalk up another day lost to unnecessary testing, at the expense of real learning.

Parents, the field test of this assessment does not count for a grade. It doesn’t measure what has been taught in the classroom or what the students have mastered. Unfortunately, the KCS Social Studies specialist believes that this is a fair test and that children will do well on it, because it was devised by teachers.  But remember, we were told repeatedly that common core standards were written by teachers, too, and that simply was not true. This is a great opportunity to exercise your right to refuse the test.