OK, let's move on to the second question in the 9th grade PARCC ELA/Literacy practice test:
Part A: In paragraph 1, how does Oppenheimer structure the opening of his speech to advance his argument?
- A. He praises the accomplishments of the members of the audience in order to deflect their potential dismissal of the subject of his speech.
- B. He positions himself as a colleague of the members of the audience in order to increase a feeling of fellowship and community.
- C. He criticizes some unpopular authority figures in order to gain the sympathy of the members of the audience.
- D. He sets forth his credentials as an expert on the subject of his speech in order to gain the respect of the members of the audience.
Here's the paragraph in question.
I am grateful to the Executive Committee for this chance to talk to you. I should like to talk tonight -- if some of you have long memories perhaps you will regard it as justified -- as a fellow scientist, and at least as a fellow worrier about the fix we are in. I do not have anything very radical to say, or anything that will strike most of you with a great flash of enlightenment. I don't have anything to say that will be of an immense encouragement. In some ways I would have liked to talk to you at an earlier date -- but I couldn't talk to you as a Director. I could not talk, and will not tonight talk, too much about the practical political problems which are involved. There is one good reason for that -- I don't know very much about practical politics. And there is another reason, which has to some extent restrained me in the past. As you know, some of us have been asked to be technical advisors to the Secretary of War, and through him to the President. In the course of this we have naturally discussed things that were on our minds and have been made, often very willingly, the recipient of confidences; it is not possible to speak in detail about what Mr. A thinks and Mr. B doesn't think, or what is going to happen next week, without violating these confidences. I don't think that's important. I think there are issues which are quite simple and quite deep, and which involve us as a group of scientists -- involve us more, perhaps than any other group in the world. I think that it can only help to look a little at what our situation is -- at what has happened to us -- and that this must give us some honesty, some insight, which will be a source of strength in what may be the not-too-easy days ahead. I would like to take it as deep and serious as I know how, and then perhaps come to more immediate questions in the course of the discussion later. I want anyone who feels like it to ask me a question and if I can't answer it, as will often be the case, I will just have to say so.
The answer is clearly B. For the follow up in Part B, you just have to pick "...which involve us as a group of scientists..." from four brief supporting excerpts. I don't love the questions, but whatever.
I do have a problem with Part A's supposed alignment with the Common Core standards. This is meant to be aligned with RH.5, specifically (I guess):
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.5 Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
I'm not buying that. Oppenheimer's text is neither "using structure" or "emphasizing key points," nor "advancing an explanation or analysis" at that point.
The closest relevant standard would be:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
You'd have to re-phrase the question slightly, but then it would align perfectly well to standard 6.
This is the point in the writing process when I leave my computer and rant bug-eyed in front of my patiently bemused spouse. "Does anybody actually read this stuff? Anyone? How does this even happen?"
If you believe at all in "data driven instruction" based on standards, you have to be mortified by this kind of thing. If PARCC is essentially mis-coding questions, it's going to screw up any attempt to do anything innovative or subtle with these test results.
I'm also disturbed by PARCC's mixing of "informational text" standards and "history and social studies texts" standards in this sequence. Question 1 is "informational" and two and three are "history." The entire premise of disciplinary literacy is that a reader must change the way he or she reads based on the academic context in which he or she is working in at the time. You read a text differently in history class than English class. This was considered such an important aspect of the standards that they essentially discarded their original goals of "fewer, clearer" standards in favor of an explosion of overlapping, redundant disciplinary literacy standards.
If PARCC really believes in disciplinary literacy standards, they should give some cue to the reader whether they should be approaching the text from and English or History/Social Studies context (or science, etc.), or at least they should approach each text consistently. Flip flopping back and forth just makes a mockery of the entire concept.