Reactions to sample Common core questions; what do you think?


NYS Education Commissioner John King released sample Common Core questions this week.  Here are some responses from parents and former teachers on the NYC Education list.  Please take a look and add your comments below.
Jeff Nichols: parent of 3rd grader:
Well, I looked at the sample 3rd grade ELA questions. Utterly bizarre. I would never put this material in front of my 8-year- olds (avid, enthusiastic, proficient readers both). The Tolstoy translation is stilted and boring, and full of inappropriate vocabulary (hoarfrost? caftan? threshing-floor?) It's as though the selection were made to project this to the kids: "reading is excruciatingly dull and confusing; maybe you thought you could do it, but I'm here to tell you 8-year-olds are stupid and teachers (and test designers) are smart.
You're going to have to work like a dog and suffer a lot if you want to pass this test." Honestly, I thought the practice tests that came home all year as homework were bad, buy they were just mealy, unreadable trivial passages followed by absurd and confusing questions. This CC sample is worse: it's perverse, overtly hostile to young children.
A former 3rd grade teacher: The 3 grade math tests when published by CTB-McGraw Hill were NEVER EVER challenging or difficult for the students. I just looked at the 3rd grade math assessment and they are asking the children to understand algebra.
Question 4- fraction problem. I had to re-read that question and multiple choice answers a few times in order to get the problem. Third graders were never taught to divide with fractions, let alone with measuring, both difficult concepts to master.  This is a concept which is typically introduced in 5th grade.

Question 5- This multiplication question is usually introduced in 4th grade. In third grade, the multiplication times tables 0-11 are usually introduced - taught with showing different patterns

Question 6- is a hidden 2 part question which a lot of third graders may not get.

Questions 8, 9- and 10 seem fine.

Steve Koss, former middle school teacher:
I took a quick look through the Grade 8 Math sample questions. Nearly all of them are posed at a level consistent with Algebra I, meaning that Grade 8 students are being expected to master work at that level. It's a desirable goal, for sure -- I'm in China right now, and their Grade 8 students are already at or beyond that level. Regardless, the CC sample questions provided are very heavy on analytic geometry (linear relationships, equation of a line, slope, etc.) along with similarity of triangles and the use of exponents and scientific notation. Ten of the eleven sample questions address one of these three topics -- the remaining one involves the first step taken in simplifying an algebraic expression.   
The quality of the questions is generally not bad, although many students will find them quite demanding. I had issues with two of them. One question (#2) is multiple choice, and three of the four choices are too easily determined to be the same, leaving the fourth as the only possible right answer. While reaching that conclusion about the other three requires knowledge of how to combine exponents with like bases, the process of elimination to get the answer means that half the required knowledge (knowing that 1/25 is the same as 5^(-2)) is no longer being tested.  
The other question that concerned me is #3. To begin with, I challenge every reader of this posting to try this problem for yourself: 
A computer can do 1000 operations in 4.5 x 10^(-6) seconds. How many operations can be done by this computer in one hour? Express your answer in scientific notation. 
I suspect you will be scratching your head for a few moments (or minutes?) trying to figure out where to begin. Now imagine the typical Grade 8 student confronting this. 
 It's not a trivial problem, although the math is not overly difficult once you figure out what to do. Interestingly, I believe the correct answer is 7.9 x 10^11, yet the sampler gives the answer simply as 8 x 10^11. Yet it's clear that the question intends for the student to multiple (2.2 x 10^8) by (3.6 x 10^3), resulting in 7.92 x10^11, or 7.9 x 10^11 using significant digits (another piece of knowledge Grade 8 students will need to have that often isn't presented until Grade 10 Chemistry class). 
 It would certainly be a welcome step up to see Grade 8 students routinely mastering Algebra 1, but I suspect the challenges in doing so will unfortunately be rather sizable.
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