Sunday, September 10, 2000

Too hard? Too easy? Just right?


Inside Ohio's fourth-grade proficiency tests

By Linda Cagnetti
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From schoolhouse to statehouse, Ohio's fourth-grade proficiency tests are causing a ruckus. Educators, politicians, business people, advocacy groups, parents and test “experts” are all joining the debate with different opinions.

        Among the protests: The test is too difficult or unfair. It doesn't measure the right stuff or does it the wrong way. It's too long, too vague or too concrete. It's too much pressure on kids, and on teachers, etc.

        Criticism skyrocketed after the General Assembly raised the stakes with a new “reading guarantee.” Beginning in the 2001-2002 school year, all fourth-graders must pass the reading part of the five-section proficiency test before they're promoted to fifth grade.

        Last year, more than 40 percent of Ohio's fourth-graders failed the reading test.

        Schools are scrambling to fine-tune curriculum, adding tutors, summer classes, extra training and more to help students and teachers.

        Groups are pressuring the governor, legislators and other state officials to dump or change the test. They want Ohio to outlaw or soften the “high-stakes” rule. Gov. Bob Taft has a commission to study all Ohio proficiency tests and other possibilities. Meanwhile, the fight over tests of all kinds is an escalating national one.

        So what's on this much-talked-about test? Is it too hard, too easy or just right for fourth-graders?

        Judge for yourself. We've compiled a sampler of questions from all parts of the fourth-grade test — reading, writing, math, science and citizenship. (Remember, the reading test is the only must-pass one for grade promotion.)

        Thanks to the Ohio Supreme Court, the complete past-year tests, scoring guides and more information about all proficiency tests are now open to the public at the Ohio Department of Education Website..

       



Sample fourth-grade test questions:

Read the selection and answer the questions.

        Where Are You Now?
       (By Mary Britton Miller)
       

       When the night begins to fall
       And the sky begins to glow
       You look up and see the tall
       City of light begin to grow—
       In rows and little golden squares
       The lights come out. First here, then there
       Behind the windowpanes as though
       A million billion bees had built
       Their golden hives and honeycombs
       Above you in the air.
map

1. Which sentence best tells about this poem?
       A. Bees are building hives that look like city buildings.
       B. The lights are coming on in city buildings.
       C. City buildings can be seen from far away.

       What time of the day is the poet talking about? How do you know?
       What is the speaker of this poem doing?
       A. Standing on the ground looking up at the buildings
       B. Standing inside a building looking down at the sidewalk
       C. Sitting in an airplane as it lands near a big city.
       
       What are the “rows and little golden squares” talked about in the poem?
        A.
Lines of yellow honeycombs
       B. Lines of lighted windows
       C. Rows of streetlights
       
map

2. (Writing). Look at this basket. There is something in the basket, but it is covered up. Think for a moment what might be in the basket. Imagine what you would most like to see if you lifted the cover. Take time to read and answer the questions about the basket. This pre-writing activity will help you get ideas for the story you will make up (and write in the next question). This pre-writing work will not be scored.
       (1) What is in the basket? Write as many things as you can think of that could be in the basket. Then put a check next to the thing you want in the basket in your story.
        (2) Who put it in the basket? Think about who might have put this thing into the basket. Write as many ideas as you can think of. Then put a check by the person you choose for your story.
       (3). Why is it in the basket? Why did the person put this thing into the basket? Write as many reasons as you can. Then put a check next to the reason you like best.
       Students are then asked to write (1) a fictional narrative or “make up a story about what is in the basket, etc. and (2) write a letter to a friend about something you would put in a basket of your own. (Students are provided several blank pages on which to write and a checklist of what the “best paper must have” i.e. names of main characters, punctuation, etc.

3. Which number is equal to four hundreds and nine tens?
       A. 49
       B. 409
       C. 490
       
4. Subtract. 50.0 — 4.7 =
        A.
0.3
       B. 1.7
       C. 45.3

5. How is Figure A more like Figure B than Figure C?
map
        A.
They have perpendicular sides.
       B. They have four sides the same length.
       C. They do not have right angles.
       
6. A flea can jump 130 times its own height. If you could do the same thing, and your height
is 54 inches, how high could you jump?
       A.
130 x 54
       B. 130 — 54
       C. 130 + 54

7. Which of the following describes a physical change taking place in an apple?
       A. An apple shrivels as it loses water.
       B. A sour, vinegary smell comes from an apple.
       C. Greenish mold begins growing on an apple skin.

8. Wearing a bicycle helmet is very important because serious head injuries can happen with bicycle accidents. Suppose a bicyclist were riding at a very fast speed, and the bicycle came to a sudden stop because it hit a hole in the road, as shown below.
map
       Tell or show the direction in which the bicyclist would most likely fall. Explain your reasoning. (Students have five line space to write mini-essay.)

9. Which of the following is caused by the movement of the earth's surface (crust)?
       A. an eclipse
       B. an ocean tide
       C. an earthquake

10. Delores has samples of three unknown minerals. She wants to find out which of the three minerals is the hardest. How should she compare the hardness of the mineral samples?
       A.
Scratch each sample with a steel file, then order the samples according to the size of the scratches.
       B. Use each sample to scratch the other samples, then compare the marks left to determine the order.
       C. Use an encyclopedia to look up the average hardness of minerals with the same colors as the samples.

11. Chemicals made to kill insects and certain plants are sprayed onto crop fields. A rainstorm washes much of the chemical into nearby streams and ponds. Tell one likely effect these chemicals will have on the number of fishes, frogs, or birds that live in and around the streams and ponds. Give two reasons why the chemicals could have this effect. (Six lines given to write mini-essay.)

12. Which of the following is a need of all living things?
        A.
They need a source of energy.
       B. They must not go without sleep for more than 4 days.
       C. They need to receive direct sunlight in order to survive.

13. On a bright, cloudless day, what are three things that can help you tell directions?
        A.
watch, compass and sun
       B. wind movement, shadow length and sun
       C. shadow length, measuring tape and wind movement

14. In these pictures, iodine crystals in a corked test tube are being changed to iodine gas by heat. Tell two ways that the iodine gas is different from the iodine crystals.
map

15. In 1870 Benjamin Goodrich started a rubber company in Akron, Ohio. His skills stand for which factor of production?
        A.
Labor
       B. Capital
       C. Entrepreneurship
       

16. Many Polish and Italian Americans live in Ohio. What is their background?
        A.
European
       B.
African
       C. Asian

17. Which of the following people is consuming something?
        A.
Carmen is walking her dog.
       B. Jaleel is buying a new shirt.
       C. Dale is sorting baseball cards.

18. Which branch of Ohio's state government makes laws?
        A.
Judicial
       B. Executive
       C. Legislative

19. Facts and opinions are different. A fact is something that a person can prove. An opinion is something that a person believes but cannot prove. “Best,” “worst,” “should,” “should not,” and “think” are some words that show opinions. Look at the following statements:
       (a) Ohio has the country's best airports.
       (b) Cleveland has Ohio's busiest airport.
       (c) No more freeways should be built in Ohio.
       (d) Ohio has more than 100,000 miles of roads.
       Which statements show an OPINION? What word or words show that the statement is an opinion?
       

20. Local governments spend money to help keep people healthy and safe. Name two examples of what a local government does for people's health and safety.

       



Answers:

        1. (poem) B; dusk or nightfall; the poem says “when night begins to fall” and it describes how lights are coming on; A, B.

        2. Writing is graded on points for development of ideas, punctuation, clarity, etc.

        3. C.

        4. 45.3

        5. C

        6. A

        7. A

        8. Student must demonstrate through drawing or writing that the rider would continue moving along original direction, plus an understanding of the rider traveling at same speed as the bike.

        9. C

        10. B

        11. Acceptable answers: Fishes, frogs or birds “will decrease. The chemicals will likely kill some animals directly, but more will be killed by eating contaminated insects, fishes, worms and/or plants. If most of the insect population is killed by the chemicals, there may not be enough insects to support the bird and/or frog population, so the birds may fly away. Also, eating those chemicals or having them in their bodies can cause mutations and/or make the animals less able to reproduce successfully; having chemicals in streams could damage eggs in water, etc.” Scorers looking for understanding of these concepts: direct or indirect poisoning, elimination of food supply and inability to reproduce successfully.

        12. A

        13. A

        14. Preferred answers include two of following: molecules in gas are farther apart than in crystals; gas has no particular shape or takes shape of container, crystals have definite shape; gas has more energy than crystals (molecules move faster, etc.); they are different state of matter (gas as opposed to solid or liquid). Students get half credit for one correct response.

        15. C

        16. A

        17. B

        18. C

        19. a & c; “best” & “should”

        20. Any two, such as providing police officers, firefighters, clean water, building and fixing sewers, collecting garbage, enforcing building codes, making road repairs, running jails or inspecting food stores and restaurants.


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