Behind the Numbers: What the ELA Results Mean for Teachers

This past week the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) Exam results were published. This past year the New York State Education Department redesigned the English Language Arts Exam to align with the Common Core Learning Standards.  Thus, much of the buzz in the media focused on the drop in students test scores.

Whereas, many bloggers and educational critics are focusing on the discrepancy with the test scores and lack of professional development for teachers, the test results and released questions have given me some insight how I can better support my students to achieve Common Core Standards and succeed on the NYS ELA Exam.  At my school, all the 8th grade English teachers have decided to give four common written assessments. We will mirror the language and questioning styles found in state test.

Below are a few of the key shifts that we will emphasize in our testing discourse based on our understanding and analysis of this past April’s ELA Exam.

Analysis & Inference – Many of the questions in both the multiple choice section and written responses ask inferential questions. These questions ask students to make inferences (a claim, position, or conclusion) based on his or her analysis of the passage.  The inferential questions focus on both vocabulary and author’s purpose. Students need to be able to consider how word choice and diction affects an author’s message.

Example Questions:

Based on the entire passage, what is the meaning of the word “momentous” in line 18?

Why does the author alternate between sharing information from the newspaper and showing Jason’s response?

Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of the passage?

Textual Evidence – Both short and extended responses expect students to use textual evidence to support their answers. Students must support a claim with two or more textual details. The CCLS require that students cite textual evidence to support an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Sample Questions:

Explain how crows and ravens use their intelligence to help them find, capture, and eat food in the article “Brain Birds: Amazing Crows and Ravens.”

According to the author, the fact that crows live in cities or towns is an example of their intelligence. Explain the author’s reasoning and tell whether or not it is sound.

Are the authors’ attitudes towards crows and ravens positive or negative? How do the author’s convey their views?

Sound Reasoning – You might notice in the written response questions that there is no one “correct” response. Characteristics of responses that receive full credit are ones that students can cite relevant and specific textual details or evidence to support a conclusion. Students must also show analytical understanding in their essay.

Rigorous Texts – The complexity of texts have shifted dramatically with the CCLS.  Students in grade 8 are asked to read and understand Fredrick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass an American Slave and Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain!”  There is a mix of informational text and literature.  Many of the text exemplars are humanities based. I pair many core literature texts in my classroom with non-fiction or informational texts so that students are familiar of the text features of literature and non-fiction.

For more information, check out the following:

Released Questions from the NYS Testing Program August 2013

Common Core Sample Questions & Exemplars

Text Exemplars

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