School testing has never been, and never will be, a silver bullet for preventing substandard school performance or an important factor for improving school achievement (Ravitch, 2010). The White House and Congress, however, continue to believe otherwise. Race to the Top represents the current administration’s ill-conceived determination to adopt new academic standards and advance new school tests to prepare each child in this nation “to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.” A brilliant new book by Michael McGill, Race to the Bottom, a must-read for every teacheBalanced Testar, school administrator, and school board member, clearly reveals the real status and mindless direction of our nation’s pubic schools.

Although student scores on standardized tests have remained almost the same for decades (Glenn, 2015), Congress continues to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to create new tests and more tests. For example, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is receiving $176,000,000 to create standardized tests to measure student performance in mathematics and English language arts to assess effects of Common Core State Standards.

Critiquing the new Smarter Mathematics Tests, which will be administered to students in California’s public schools, Steven Rasmussen (2015), mathematician and publisher, characterized them as “fatally flawed,” warning they “should not be used.” Rasmussen (2015) argues the tests “violate the standards they are supposed to assess, cannot be adequately answered by students with the technology they are required to use, use confusing and hard-to-use interface, or are to be graded in such a way that incorrect answers are identified as correct and correct answers as incorrect” (p. 3).

Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Tests are fatally flawed and should not be used.

—Steven Rasmussen

Smarter’s tests for the English language arts present test takers with similar problems and flaws, a conclusion I offer based upon the content of practice stories and test items available online to review. Smarter does not offer a shred of evidence to support its assertions (erroneously labelled claims), that successful scores on its assessments ensure students can—

  • demonstrate progress toward college and career readiness in English language arts and literacy,
  • read closely and analytically to comprehend a range of increasingly complex literary and informational texts,
  • produce effective and well-grounded writing,
  • employ effective speaking and listening skills, and
  • engage in research and inquiry to investigate topics, and to analyze, integrate, and present information.

The following edits and comments (E&C) refer to Smarter’s practice story “Grandma Ruth,” identified for use by students in Grades 3–5. Below, three paragraphs from the original text are followed by E&C.

Paragraph 1: Last night I learned that my grandma was named after Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time. I learned this six hours too late.

E&C: Last night, my mother told me I learned that my grandma was named [highlight]after[/highlight] Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time. I learned [highlight]this[/highlight] six hours [highlight]too late[/highlight].

  1. The comma after night is omitted from the same construction in other Smarter test selections.
  2. Inserting a noun phrase (e.g., my mother) is useful.
  3. Named after Babe Ruth? Was Babe named in 1895, and grandma named in 1898?

This entire sentence lacks clarity: I learned this six hours too late. This? That Babe was the greatest player? That grandma was named in honor of Babe? This needs a referent. Too late? The bus left without you?

Paragraph 2Yesterday I wanted to work on throwing a baseball. I needed a baseball, since my brother wouldn’t let me borrow his. Unfortunately, I knew right where one was.

E&C: Yesterday, I wanted to[highlight] work on[/highlight] throwing a baseball[highlight],[/highlight] I needed a baseball, since because my brother wouldn’t let me borrow his baseball. Unfortunately, I knew right where one was.

  1. Work on means practice (I wanted to practice throwing a baseball).
  2. Comma error after baseball.
  3. Eliminate wordiness.
  4. Usage error: Because not since.
  5. Insert because and baseball.
  6. Awkward construction: My brother wouldn’t let me borrow his.
  7. Another awkwardly stated clause: Unfortunately, I knew right where one was. Better: I remembered a baseball in grandma’s closet.
  8. The structure in this paragraph is not a model of effective writing: I wanted . . . I needed . . . I knew. (See graphic below.)

Paragraph 3I tiptoed into my grandma’s bedroom. Sunlight from the late morning sun filtered in through the leaves of the dogwood tree outside the open window. I moved slowly through my favorite room in the house, which belonged to my favorite person in the world, my grandma.

E&C: I tiptoed into my grandma’s bedroom. Sunlight from the late morning sun filtered in through the leaves of the dogwood tree [highlight]outside[/highlight] the [highlight]open[/highlight] window. I moved slowly through my favorite room in the house, which belonged to my of my favorite person in the world, my grandma.

  1. Yes, the dogwood tree is likely outside. Does it matter whether the window is open? It if were closed, would sunlight still enter the room? Better: Leaves of the dogwood tree filtered the late morning sunlight as it shone through the window.
  2. Too much clutter.

Test makers should use clear, relevant, and well-written text to assess the reading proficiency of young readers. An even more important reason for well-written assessments: The majority of our knowledge about writing is learned through reading. When considering the words, structure, and syntax in this practice story, smart is not a word that came to mind. This carelessly crafted text includes too much clutter and shoddy syntax, and too many omitted referents, punctuation errors, and usage miscues. “Grandma Ruth” reminded me of text in basal readers of long ago:

Dick and Jane