Common Core test questions unveiled, ask students to reason, explain

For anyone who has read excerpts of Jack London’s novel “Call of the Wild,” could you describe how the main characters reacted to key incidents, and write an essay on how their thoughts and actions shed light on their personalities?

Those are the type of questions students — in this case sixth-graders — will grapple with during the first round of Common Core exams, which begin next year.

Sample test questions were unveiled Monday as part of the launch of tougher reading, writing and math standards for the 2014-15 school year.

State Superintendent of Education John White said the tests will ask students to reason and explain their responses rather than the traditional bubble exams.

“The intellectual challenge is better,” White told reporters. “The questions are going to ask kids to do multiple acts of analysis rather than just one simple task.”

Backers say the new academic goals will better prepare students for college and careers.

They have been adopted by 45 states.

Opponents say Common Core was hastily approved and sure to be the subject of controversy during the 2014 legislative session, which begins March 10.

Louisiana is one of 18 states and the District of Columbia that are part of a consortium called the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness.

Students in third through eighth grade will take the tests in spring 2015.

Those in third and fourth grade will use pencil and paper initially, then take the exams online in 2016.

Students in fifth through eighth grade will take the exams online starting next year.

What tests high school students will take has not been decided.

PARCC will replace a wide range of tests, including LEAP, which Louisiana fourth- and eighth-graders have to pass for promotion.

Students are supposed to field-test hundreds of sample questions this year to get used to the content and format. No scores will be kept.

Online tutorials are available at the state Department of Education’s website: www.doe.state.la.us

White said the online tests will give students access to a built-in calculator, line readers that allow them to focus on individual lines and another device that permits them to view one of several possible answers at a time.

White contrasted the Jack London question with one from an old LEAP exam in English.

It said: “What did Wynton Marsalis do to become the successful musician he is today? Think about something you are good at. What did you do to become successful?”

Students were then directed to write a “multiparagraph composition” on what Marsalis did to become successful and what they did to reach a specific goal.

A fourth-grade LEAP question said Terri and Mike each bought 70 donuts and that the total number could be found below.

The options? 72, 104, 140 and 270.

In an example of a Common Core math question, fourth-graders are told this:

Ms. Morales has a bag of beads.

She gives Elena five beads.

She gives Damian eight more beads than Elena.

She gives Trish four times as many beads as Damian.

Ms. Morales then has 10 beads left in her bag.

Students are asked how many beads Damian and Trish each received, and to demonstrate how they got their answers.

Also, how many beads were in Ms. Morales’ bag initially?

For more sample questions, go to www.parcconline.org/samples/item-task-prototypes