A tour of first-grade classrooms in Syracuse, N.Y., in which teachers are working hard and bored

In March 2018, some 5,000 first-graders in Syracuse, N.Y., were bused together to see what would happen when they began to play the first test of a new Common Core standardized state exam. The…

A tour of first-grade classrooms in Syracuse, N.Y., in which teachers are working hard and bored

In March 2018, some 5,000 first-graders in Syracuse, N.Y., were bused together to see what would happen when they began to play the first test of a new Common Core standardized state exam. The school’s 1,700 teachers waited around the gymnasium as their class’s head count began.

“The [new] test has a lot of differences from the old exam,” said Tamara Jones, a first-grade teacher at the public school. The old test, she said, focused on things like spelling and grammar. “The new test is all about math and reading.”

The new national test, which the state was testing and then moving away from before the new year, is testing those subjects simultaneously. Students’ scores are currently sent to school districts to determine if they need remedial help.

Mrs. Jones was in a class of 44 first-graders, divided into three age groups. The first group had a few minutes to read the first paragraph of a book about a cat in a mouse suit. Their next class, composed of 32 students, sat patiently in a large circle as a new string was pulled. In the second group, their name was called, and they all shuffled into the same position. Their next assignment, however, was different, and they finished their second paragraph sitting and staring at one another, clearly bored.

A tired second-grader who had spent the afternoon playing a quiz game with his friends was not all that impressed with his task.

“Well, it’s really hard,” he said. “It’s really hard.”

A second-grader in the third group was not feeling the same. He held up two fingers, and quickly pulled a random one.

“I’m a really terrible person,” he said. “I can’t read.”

The fifth-grade teacher nodded. She had given a long class presentation on Common Core-related issues, but she just couldn’t look at this student. When she explained that reading comprehension was supposed to be part of the test, that idea took on a new meaning.

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