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Teachers analyze the pilot for Common Core testing

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While the final product of the Common Core assessment test has yet to be tested and analyzed, pilot tests have been administered and test questions themselves have some individuals scratching their heads in bewilderment.

The Common Core aligned pilot assessment that will be examined is created by Smarter Balanced, one of the two testing consortia formed to create the assessments. 

While the assessments claim to test standards that ensure students are college-and career-ready, those who have read the pilot test aren't so sure.

The following is taken from an 11th-grade English Language Arts exam.

As Terrence Moore, a history teacher at Hillsdale College in Michigan, puts it, "that is the class that used to be called simply ‘English' or ‘literature.'"

The readings for the exam consist of two three-page selections followed by several questions. The first passage deals with the "science of meditation." 

The text reads as follows:

"Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by people from a wide variety of cultures. Though traditionally a spiritual practice, meditation has more recently been identified by medical professionals as a uniquely effective way to improve mental and physical health... .

"... Here is one of the most commonly taught ways to meditate: start by sitting on the floor or in a chair in a comfortable and relaxed position. Once you are comfortable, concentrate your awareness on your breathing. … As you focus on your breathing, notice how your mind tends to wander to other things. ... When you notice your attention wandering, simply acknowledge this new thought, watch it go by, and then return your awareness to your breathing. Don't try to fight against these wandering thoughts ...

"People who meditate regularly report numerous benefits. They feel calmer and more relaxed, and more prepared and clear-headed when responding to the challenges and frustrations of everyday life. These reported benefits have been supported by scientific research on meditation ..."

While some scientific research supports that claim, the passage fails to point out that there also has been scientific research in the reverse, due to lack of control groups, lack of an effective placebo condition, poorly chosen outcome variables and lack of consensus definitions of meditation, according to forensic psychologist and psychotherapist Delany Dean.

And what about the questions asked about the passage for the 11th-grade level?

One question is "How does meditation work, and what does science have to say about its effect on practitioners?"

Another question is "What is the meaning of practitioners in the text?"

a) A person engaged in the practice of a profession such as law or medicine

b) A person who does something repeatedly in order to improve

c) A person authorized to apply healing techniques to others

d) A person who engages in something specified

Critics who have read the passage and the questions walk away with two questions: Has the classroom been reshaped into a yoga lesson? How is this making 11th-graders college- and career-ready?

Another passage is called "Sustainable Fashion." The text is as follows:

"‘Sustainability' is a popular buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ‘sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony ... [and] that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.' As the idea of living a sustainable lifestyle has become more widespread in recent years, consumers have begun to demand that the products they buy are produced in sustainable ways. It's a trend that has made a new type of clothing, dubbed ‘eco-fashion,' very fashionable indeed.

"Why has clothing become such a concern for those who want to live more sustainably? Consider that Americans threw away an estimated 13.1 million pounds of clothing and textiles in 2010, or 5.3 percent of solid wastes that made it into U. S. landfills that year (according to the EPA)... .

"But the environmental impact of clothing involves more than just where our used clothes end up. To calculate the true impact of, say, a cotton T-shirt, we must go back to the beginning: to the farm where the cotton was grown. Cotton is a very water-intensive crop that is typically grown with heavy application of insecticides ... Cotton that is grown in the U.S. is often shipped off to other countries ... where it is processed with chemicals and dyes ... The completed product is then shipped back to America ... While all that shipping uses up a lot of energy, shipping actually accounts for less than half of the energy that will eventually be used on that T-shirt over its lifetime. According to the Audubon Society, about 60 percent of the energy cost of a T-shirt comes from washing and drying it—and washing adds a water cost as well."

For those who assert that the Common Core curricula and tests blatantly push political biases, having the Environmental Protection Agency pushed onto students via a test solidifies that assertion. 

A sample question for that passage includes "The clothing industry has not been operating in an ecologically sustainable way. … Click on all the details that support this conclusion.

a) Growing cotton uses a lot of water.

b) Cotton growers use a lot of insecticides."

According to Moore, there are plenty more "rigorous reading selections that lead to college- and career-readiness in a 21st century global economy."