Anatomy of a Quiz Question, Part 1: How Do Newsela Questions Compare to Standardized Test Items?

In this three-part series, we’ll break down Newsela quiz questions from several different angles. You’ll learn how Newsela items stack up against Common Core standardized test items. Next, we’ll explain what makes some quiz questions particularly challenging for students. Finally, we’ll shed light on why students get tricked by certain wrong answers. In each post, you’ll get classroom-ready tips on how to best use Newsela quizzes to continue to unlock the written word for your students.

PART 1 How Do Newsela Questions Compare To Standardized Test Items?

Recently, the New York Times invited readers to play the role of a third grader on exam day. The Times published a passage from this year’s third-grade reading standardized test, along with six Common-Core aligned questions that assessed students’ understanding of the short text. Then, readers could answer the questions for themselves and they could even see the percentage of other readers who answered correctly. Here at Newsela, we couldn’t resist the Times’ challenge. We took the quiz and compared our scores. We were inspired to dive deeper into the full set of this year’s test questions released by EngageNY and ask ourselves: How do our questions measure up?

As we looked through the released questions, we immediately realized that these items were tough. Really tough. Some questions had a pass rate as low as 29%, and the average pass rate for released grade five multiple choice questions was just 65%. When New York Times readers tried answering a third-grade main idea question, only 58% responded correctly. Based on these results, many students (and perhaps adults) are not yet prepared to succeed with these items — so as a teacher, you’re being asked to step it up in terms of rigor. That’s where Newsela can help. Check out how a Newsela grade five central idea question stacks up against the same type of question from EngageNY:

Newsela question:


Student pass rate: 58%

EngageNY question:


Student pass rate: 59%

Note that both questions ask students to identify key details from a short section of the text, requiring them to read closely and draw conclusions. The questions also had a near-identical pass rate, suggesting they are similar in difficulty level.

Across the board, our questions mirror the Common Core questions in standard alignment, in text dependency, in student pass rate, and in level of rigor. When we noticed this, we were thrilled. Why? Because our comparison confirmed that Newsela provides assessments that truly help assess student progress — not only toward success on exams, but toward the college and career readiness that the Common Core measures as well.

If your students take just two Newsela quiz weekly between now and springtime exam season, they’ll get valuable exposure to the types of items they’ll see on the big tests. They’ll go into the test confident in their abilities, and so will you. In fact, our data shows that completing two Newsela quizzes per week leads to measurable reading gains.

Do you use Newsela to prepare your students for Common Core standardized tests, or other Common Core aligned assessments? If so, we hope that this comparison gives you extra assurance that you’re doing right by your class. Tweet us @Newsela to let us know how you use Newsela to help your students succeed, and look out for parts 2 and 3 of our series coming up soon.