Let’s put the Common Core to the test. Specifically, let’s look at a pilot standardized examination created by Smarter Balanced, one of the two testing consortia formed to create exams aligned to the Common Core, the educational regimen that prevails in forty-five states in the nation. We shall leave aside the questions of why everyone has been so quiet about what these tests will look like and whether states outsourcing testing to unaccountable agencies that will in turn dictate the curricula of the schools constitutes a gross violation of the principle of local control. For now we shall simply try to figure out whether these purportedly “rigorous” exams will produce the “college and career readiness” for a “twenty-first-century global economy” that Common Core proponents have so often promised and proclaimed, or whether the Common Core is both utterly superficial and politically biased. What follows is taken from an eleventh-grade English Language Arts exam. That is the class that used to be called simply “English” or “literature.” To shed a little light on what is really transpiring in such a test, we shall add a few of our own questions along the way.
The readings for the exam consist in two-three-page selections followed by several questions. Over the course of two articles, we shall look at excerpts from the first three sections of the exam.
The Science of Meditation
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by people from a wide variety of cultures. Though traditionally a spiritual practice, meditation has more recently been identified by medical professionals as a uniquely effective way to improve mental and physical health. . . .
. . . Here is one of the most commonly taught ways to meditate: start by sitting on the floor or in a chair in a comfortable and relaxed position. Once you are comfortable, concentrate your awareness on your breathing. . . . As you focus on your breathing, notice how your mind tends to wander to other things. . . . When you notice your attention wandering, simply acknowledge this new thought, watch it go by, and then return your awareness to your breathing. Don’t try to fight against these wandering thoughts . . .
People who meditate regularly report numerous benefits. They feel calmer and more relaxed, and more prepared and clear-headed when responding to the challenges and frustrations of everyday life. These reported benefits have been supported by scientific research on meditation . . .
Sample question from the actual exam:
“How does meditation work, and what does science have to say about its effects on practitioners?” [a quotation from the selection]