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The Folly of ILEARN: 8th Grade

The following ILEARN questions were taken from the Indiana Department of Education's Repository Site. They are from the 8th grade English Language Arts evaluation portion of ILEARN. These are questions asked to 13-year-olds & 14-year-olds. To return to the main ILEARN page, click here.

8th Grade: 2018-2019 - Questions 1 & 2
 

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This is a bad question, but how it’s bad depends on ILEARN’s intent. If it assumes that 13-year-olds in modern American classrooms are universally familiar with the term “broke camp,” then it’s making a fairly bizarre assumption. That said, it’s framed as testing students’ reading comprehension, not their knowledge of camping-related jargon.

 

Let’s look at what the relevant portion of the text tells the reader. The characters camped in an area. When they arose in the morning, there were buffalo all around them.

 

The text does not indicate that the characters left the territory nor ruined the area. It does not state at what time in the morning they woke. It does not hint at them moving on from the site nor destroying their supplies nor evacuating their surroundings.

 

Based strictly on the text, “woke at sunrise” feels like the most intuitive interpretation of the term based on context. Yet that answer obviously stands alone, while three answers pertain in some way to the characters’ movement. But only two of those three answers actually reflect an accurate definition of the term “broke camp,” which means to pack up and move on from a campsite. In other words, it refers to leaving one’s immediate surroundings and in no way indicates “the travelers left the territory.”

 

The irony of all this is that this could be a good standalone question. Let’s say it merely asked, “Which three of these sentences have the most similar meanings?” It would be kind of weird, but at least there would be three answers that meet the condition and are factually accurate. By tying it to a somewhat obscure term and accompanying text, ILEARN turns it into an objectively bad question.

 

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The text supports none of the statements offered as potential answers.

 

Several small families traveled the lengthy Oregon Trail.

The text does not say that any of the characters in the story are related nor does it comment on the size of any of their families.

 

There were numerous small towns along the Oregon Trail.

The text implies that the opposite of this statement is true, though it does not say so explicitly.

 

Many hardships and obstacles were met on the Oregon Trail.

While those familiar with history know this to be true, it is not detailed nor described in the text.

 

Stormy weather often faced the travelers on the Oregon Trail.

The text provides no firm sense of how long of a period it covers. So while it does mention two instances of stormy weather, it provides no sense of whether the characters faced such weather often or infrequently.

 

None of the options in Part B of the question provide insight into what ILEARN wanted students to select in Part A, as none of them support any of the previous statements.

 

8th Grade: 2019-2020 - Question 4
 

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This question is odd from the start, as ILEARN implies that something done as a hobby cannot be an artform, which is a ludicrous proposition. It’s extremely difficult to parse which sentence the test intends to demonstrate that imaginary line being crossed.

 

Certainly, the first two sentences imply a level of care and thoughtfulness that would be associated with consciously creating art. Indeed, within the text, these sentences describe a period after Adams had already endeavored to convince others that photography was an art. I don’t think a reasonable argument could be made that the process these sentences describe falls short of artistic intent.

 

Since the second paragraph quotes Adams referring to an earlier period in his life, perhaps ILEARN intends a portion of that statement to illustrate their claim of a transition from hobby to art. But which would they consider more indicative? Adams himself realizing he’s documenting more than just the subjects of his photographs? Or his photos generating a response from other people? The question is dealing with an abstract concept and arbitrarily applying labels to it in such a way that makes it impossible to say what the test considers to be the correct answer. 

 

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