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The Folly of ILEARN: 3rd Grade

The following ILEARN questions were taken from the Indiana Department of Education's Repository Site. They are from the 3rd grade English Language Arts evaluation portion of ILEARN. These are questions asked to 8-year-olds & 9-year-olds. To return to the main ILEARN page, click here.

3rd Grade: 2019-2020 - Question 5

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This question suffers from poor wording and also claims something not supported by the accompanying text. Let’s take the four statements individually.

 

…is excited to solve the crime

This is the only part of the question that’s both correctly worded and has a clearly correct answer. They are both excited.

 

…is certain that the butler did it

While I’m sure most students would guess Sal, there’s nothing to indicate that he “is certain that the butler did it.” When I read, “It was… Charles the butler!”, I took the pause to indicate he was guessing because he was put on the spot. The statement in the question could be more accurately phrased as “says the butler did it.”

 

…tells what each piece of the story means

In this case, the sloppy wording results in there being no correct answer. Neither character tells “what each piece of the story means,” as they each talk about separate aspects. Now, it is likely that the state intended the answer to be ‘both’ and that many students could guess ‘both,’ but that does not excuse testing students’ English language skills via a question that is unanswerable in a literal sense. The state could have used the phrasing “explains part of the story” and it would be correct.

 

…thinks he is better at solving crimes than his partner

This portion of the question is the primary reason it’s included in this review. There is nothing to indicate Sal thinks he is better at solving crimes than Iggy. Furthermore, if anything, Iggy appears to think Sal is better at solving crimes, as he is excited to be cracking the case before his “big-brained pal Sal.” He also defers to Sal to name the culprit, a clear indication he thinks Sal is at least on his level. I’ve no idea which answer the state intends to be correct, but all three are incorrect.

3rd Grade: 2019-2020 - Question 6
 

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While students are asked and allowed to select one detail, there are actually two that should be considered correct. Given that the question is evaluating reading comprehension, one would expect students to take context into account. The whole of paragraph five is descriptive of the fact that Jane likes chimpanzees. Both of the details taken from that paragraph (b & c) are correct answers to the question.

3rd Grade: 2021-2022 - Questions 3, 4, 6 & 7

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This question has one obviously correct answer, but it asks for two. While there are some clearly wrong answers, it’s hard to guess what the state intends to be the second correct one.

 

…to make the idea of tasting sap seem fun

This is obviously incorrect.

 

…to provide details about the Iroquois way of life

There are really no details about the Iroquois way of life here. I’m sure there are people who think the mention of a tomahawk qualifies, though I would hope none of them are writing standardized tests for our students.

 

…to explain how people discovered how to make syrup

This could maybe be intended as the second correct answer. I would hope we wouldn’t be teaching students to treat legends as facts, but it’s possible that’s what the test is doing.

 

…to show sap has been used to make syrup for many years

This is obviously correct.

 

…to provide information that shows that sap is a good sweetener for food

This is another maybe. The passage already talks about sap being used to make sweet syrup, but doesn’t explicitly say it’s used with food. It seems odd to rely on a legend to make this point, but again, there’s no obviously correct second answer.

 

…to show how the Iroquois used to make syrup and how syrup is made today

The passage already describes how syrup is made today in more detail, so this seems like an incorrect answer.

For Part A, the third answer is clearly correct, as it’s the only statement directly supported by the text. Part B is trickier, as there are two answers that support the correct choice in Part A. Is the best answer the one that relies on scientific proof or experience?

 

Scientists say that anyone who cuts down a sugar-maple tree in freezing weather can see this is true.

Here we have an offering of scientific proof that sap flows in the spring, when the tree thaws.

 

Every spring, the Colemans tap holes into the sugar-maple trees, then hang a bucket under each hole to catch the sap.

Here we have a family’s long, real-life experience supporting the statement.

 

Reasonable, intelligent adults could disagree as to which of these should be considered correct, so I’m not sure why the question is presented this way on a test intended to measure the reading comprehension of an 8-year-old child.

 

So here’s the problem with the answers to this question. None of the four statements, on their own, establish that the Coleman brothers have any experience making maple syrup. I’m guessing the state considers C to be correct, and it does come the closest, but it only addresses gathering sap, not making syrup. To consider it as support that the Colemans have experience making syrup, context from the rest of the reading has to be taken into account. But that creates the problem that if context from the rest of the reading is considered, B becomes correct, and D arguably does as well.

 

To be clear, I do think many kids would read the question and guess that C is intended to be correct. But that assumes they emphasize ‘have experience’ when reading the question and not ‘with making maple syrup.’ Any child who reads the emphasis on ‘with making maple syrup’ could easily come to either 2 or 3 of the answers in a way that would demonstrate reading comprehension, yet could be penalized with a wrong answer indicating they lack that skill.

A lot of ILEARN questions task kids with identifying a correct answer and then provide a series of answers than merely range from least wrong to most wrong. In this case, C is the least wrong answer, but it is still wrong. Stating that something has been studied for many years is absolutely not the same as stating that it has been understood (aka, is no longer a most mysterious subject). A correct answer might read “…by including a scientific description of sap flow.” 

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