Do You Know Which News Media to Trust? The American Press Institute Teams up With Newsela to Promote News Literacy

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Unreliable. Inaccurate. Biased.

During election season, many people will give these descriptions to news media they disagree with.

Similarly, these flaws are easy to overlook in the sources you like or tend to agree with. What’s worse, however, is not thinking about these issues at all. Whether in election news or any other topic, it’s important to be aware of how the news is produced and how you perceive it.

At the American Press Institute (API), we put energy into helping news readers of any age understand and evaluate the news they encounter. In our work with youth and media, we generally recommend six basic questions that can be asked about the news you encounter:

1. Type: What kind of content is this — news, opinion, advertising or something else?
2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited, and why should I believe them?
3. Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?
4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece backed up by the evidence?
5. Completeness: What’s missing?

6. Knowledge: Is there an issue here that I want to learn more about, and where can I do that?

We are excited to partner with Newsela to offer a way for teachers to begin some of these thoughtful media literacy discussions with their students. Newsela has created an election Text Set that focuses squarely on media literacy. Every article in the set uses some of API’s six questions as Annotations to encourage critical thinking — and teachers can use some, or all, of the six questions to guide classroom discussion.

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In this example, asking about the sourcing can help students think critically about who is conveying the information. It likewise can lead to meaningful classroom conversation on how a source came to his or her conclusions, and what motivations he or she might have that could influence what they say.

Teachers can also access other media literacy tips by viewing Newsela’s media literacy toolkit. We’ll be holding a joint-webinar with Newsela on Tuesday, October 25, at 6 pm EDT, two weeks before the presidential election, to show teachers how to introduce these concepts in the classroom.

In the meantime, these same questions are further explained in an API resource, “Six questions that will tell you what media to trust” — which may be a good printout for your students. The questions are derived from the book “Blur: How To Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload” by API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.

We can’t think of a better time to emphasize media literacy than election season. These resources ensure that any student, no matter his or her reading level, is equipped with the necessary tools to analyze the media and its messages. And once students are better able to evaluate media based on reliability and accuracy, they’ll be able to apply these skills beyond the classroom for years to come.


Katie Kutsko is the American Press Institute’s primary coordinator of youth news literacy programs. She can be reached at katie.kutsko@pressinstitute.org.

7 Strategies to Keep Readers Motivated This Summer

Teachers and parents alike know all about the loss of reading skills and habits that typically occurs over the summer vacation. We have all seen the research, read the blogs, or witnessed it firsthand with our children and students. The key to preventing it is to make sure our readers practice during the summer months. But how do we keep our kids motivated when the schedules are looser, the pool is calling, and the sunshine beckons them outside? Here are seven strategies to keep our readers motivated and reading all summer long.

Set a summer reading goal before summer vacation begins

Teachers can help students make and reach their summer reading goals by helping them set realistic goals. Help students build a summer reading list. Guide students in finding a new book or series, even a blog or comic to get hooked on, to read over the summer. When students select their reading material and read for enjoyment, the outcome is more positive and fulfilling for the student. Summer is the perfect time to catch up on the reading they didn’t have time for during the school year. Get families involved by sending home book recommendations, suggestions for encouraging reading at home as a family, and various reading programs that are available. Encourage parents to create incentives that will motivate their children to read every day

Check out your local library and bookstore

Your local library and bookstores have summer reading programs available free of charge. These programs vary based on the age of your student but almost always include some type of incentive to keep kids reading. In addition to the incentives, many libraries and bookstores offer drop-in programs related to reading. You may find book clubs, reading times, crafts, as well as online adventures. Check out your local library branch or community bookstore to see what they offer. Take advantage of the incentives and accountability they provide.

Keep it light and let them pick

Students may have an assigned book for the summer but otherwise, let them select the book titles. Student choice when reading is key to engagement. If they select their own books (within their appropriate reading range) students are much more likely to want to read. In addition to choice, all reading counts! Summer reading can be “lighter” content; this is the time it is OK to read that Captain Underpants book. The comics online or in the newspaper, magazine articles, recipes, sports commentary, even the back of the cereal box in the morning … it all counts as reading!

Join Camp Newsela

Newsela is offering a unique summer reading club free to all students. Educators at Newsela will be hosting seven different reading clubs that students can join. The clubs are based on high interest topics and will allow kids to read two assigned articles per week. As they read, students will complete the quiz that accompanies the article. There is a little competition involved to keep the kids motivated. The club that has the highest percentage of students who both completed at least 80% of the assigned articles as well as achieved a score of at least 2 out of 4 on the quizzes will have a special opportunity to give back to the educational community. The winning club will be offered the chance to vote on a DonorsChoose.org project for the Newsela team to help fund.

Make it a social media adventure

Kids love selfies and social media. Harness that power and make your summer reading an adventure that you chronicle as a family. Take reading selfies and photos in all the fun spots you read this summer. Choose a form of social media to share them and create a family summer reading hashtag. Make it a goal to take a picture of reading daily. By the end of the summer, you will have an awesome collection of family photos highlighting all of the reading you did together. If you aren’t comfortable with social media, students can collect the photos and make a slideshow using a presentation app they know from school.

Host an online book club

Students are connected to technology every day and love to share their ideas. Why not keep it going in the summer by setting up an online book club? Use sites such as Padlet and Edmodo for students to share what books they are reading over the summer. Students can share their thoughts as they journey through a book, as well as make recommendations to other students. Teachers can keep it simple by creating an open forum where students can share about their individual books or get a little more involved by setting up groups with the same book. Online book clubs can help maintain momentum and provide positive accountability for summer reading. Want to make it even easier to stay connected? Have students share what they are reading by creating a class summer reading hashtag. Students can tweet out what they are reading with a reading selfie.   

Have a summer book swap

What’s a great way for students to try out a new book? Have a book swap before summer begins to get new books into your students’ hands. Whether your class holds a book swap or a school or grade-level book swap is organized, students will begin summer eager to read something new. This is also a good opportunity to get books in the hands of students who may not have many books at home. Be ready with books to give away in case all of your students are not able to bring in books to swap.

Trying any (or all) of these tips to keep your students reading, and engaged, this summer? Let us know: Tweet us at @newsela.

This guest post was written by Victoria Ruane and Christina Barilka, educators in Edison Township schools. 

Choose to go to the moon

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For nearly three years we’ve offered students a staircase to access topics of national and world significance that are otherwise out of reach. It thrills us when we hear from you telling us how your class discussed the refugee crisis in Europe or debated the use of encryption. Knowing that we’re feeding young brains with meaty issues to ponder is what gets us revved for Mondays. But we’re hungry to do more. So we asked ourselves, what other complex nonfiction is out of students’ reach?

We recently leveled biographies of the presidents. In doing so, we came across many famous quotes: “Ask not what your country can do for you…,” “The only thing we have to fear…,” “Four score and seven years ago….” We all know these words, but realized, to our surprise, we couldn’t really recall the full context in which they were uttered. So we went back and read the complete speeches. Goosebumps and watery eyes soon followed. That’s because great speeches don’t just inform and persuade. They evoke a physical reaction from their audience. But struggling or young readers may not be able to experience that sensation, because the writing, often intricate and archaic, is beyond their reading ability.

That students might miss the opportunity to experience the power of these words pained us. One hundred history textbooks combined cannot convey the inhumanity of slavery better than the 1,800 words of fury Frederick Douglass unleashed on an audience in Rochester, New York.

Listen to the address following the Challenger disaster, and you’ll never forget or wonder why Ronald Reagan was dubbed “the Great Communicator.”

That is why we dared to adapt these words, which many would deem sacred. We expect some will charge that we’ve given students an easy out to avoid the hard work of grappling with a complex text. We don’t see it that way. For us, the greater risk is that students never feel the full drama of these important moments in history. We want them to hear the original speeches and to absorb their meaning and appreciate the craft. Our intent is to help them “level up” to the point where they don’t just understand the words, but feel the goosebumps, too.

Some of the speeches in the collection (and those that follow) may seem very complex, and perhaps seem too hard for students to comprehend. Indeed, we had some doubts, but we drew encouragement from the words of President John F. Kennedy:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

So choose to go to the moon. Assign your students something challenging and great. The past is rich in truly stirring words. Let’s make sure all our students know what it sounds like when they hear history in the making.

Jennifer Coogan is Chief Content Officer at Newsela.

Using Newsela’s Text Sets In Your Science Classroom

Teachers across the country are asking, “How can I address the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) when I have a full year worth of science standards to teach?” Some science teachers even feel that including literacy instruction means giving up their science focus. Newsela’s new text sets, which address disciplinary core ideas from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), show that literacy and science instruction do not have to be at odds.

Newsela is a powerful tool for science teachers. Students can choose which articles they want to read from a list of articles covering each science standard. Every article on Newsela also comes with five different reading levels, so struggling and advanced readers can use texts written just for them. To make literacy instruction easy, every article includes a CCLS aligned quiz, which helps teachers track their students’ reading progress and understanding.

One Standard, Many Ways To Teach It

Newsela’s text sets for science come with diverse sets of articles, helping science teachers thoroughly explain each standard and find crosscutting ideas. Take, for example,  ESS3.C Human Impacts On Earth Systems. The standard is simple enough: responsible management of resources or development of new technologies will help sustain the Earth systems and the natural resources key to our survival. The easiest solution might have been for students to look at the problem from just one angle.

For instance, how does drought influence agriculture and what can we do to mitigate the problem? How is air pollution influencing human health and what can we do about it? But what about invasive species, ocean acidification, or the dangers of industrial or chemical runoff? Newsela’s text sets allow teachers to address the many aspects of these topics at once, helping students develop a multidimensional understanding of the standard.

The ESS3.C text set includes more than 50 articles that address the standard in some way. The breadth of topics found offer an opportunity to meet CCLS standards while also teaching science topics that cannot be fully covered in a simple lab or lecture.

Make Science + Literacy = Success In The Classroom

Here are some tips for using text sets for science to address science standards and CCLS information text standards at the same time:

  • Finding Evidence: Ask students to find evidence for a standards aligned statement or question. (e.g. How can human activity influence Earth’s systems?) Students can use Newsela’s annotation system to find the evidence or record it in a document. They can share evidence and use it to write an essay, create a slideshow, or a write a letter to a community or political leader.
  • Summarizing: Ask students to write a short summary (no more than 30 words) of an article in the context of the appropriate science standard.
  • Analyzing connections and interactions: Have students make a diagram, flow chart, or graph showing the interaction between the systems in the article. Have them write a title and caption for their diagram. Use the diagrams for a gallery walk with your students.
  • Get Creative: Have your class create a class book or field guide. Students could also design and perform their own experiments based on articles they read on Newsela. They might also write and perform a skit, song, poem or presentation on one of the science standards or concepts.

Lastly, Newsela’s science articles give students a glimpse into how the lessons they learn in class might apply to the real world. If a student is particularly inspired by an article about NASA being underfunded, or by a piece of misinformation being spread among the science community, ask them to write to their local member of Congress or write an opinion piece of their own.

If you enjoyed this post or use Newsela in your science classroom, you might try making text sets of your own. Let us know how you create a symbiotic relationship between science and literacy by tweeting @Newsela.

Gregry Livingston is an Earth science and computer science teacher.  He is also an education writer and program developer who has designed and implemented innovative programming for Galileo Learning, the New York Expanded Success Initiative, and other education organizations.  Gregry is a regular assessment contributor for Newsela.com.  He has degrees from Columbia University and Brooklyn College.

Encouraging Independent Readers

As an educator, you don’t want your students growing up thinking reading is dull. Rather, you want them to find it pleasurable enough that it earns a spot in their spare-time activities. Getting kids to read independently is the first step toward showing them that reading is a joy, and not a chore.

TeachThought’s “25 ways schools can promote literacy and independent reading” is a great resource for tips. Here’s a quick 4-point summary:

Create a class environment conducive to reading

The proper environment to encourage regular reading is key. First, find at least 15-20 minutes a day for self-selecting, independent reading.

To encourage students to browse for books, put some effort into the classroom library. Display certain books, put a list of your favorites, and keep bookmarks handy. Let kids get creative and make their own bookmarks, or book displays.

A literacy-rich environment should be full of print, word walls, books, and reading materials. Provide a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing with a range of print and digital media.

Take a look at this resource on having students choose and read Newsela articles on their own as part of their independent reading.

Get Interactive

Encourage read alouds, book talks and book clubs to keep it interesting and get students exposed to new vocabulary out loud. Get favorite authors to visit, and encourage students to write to some of their favorites. TeachThought says you can make guest reader appearances fun by announcing them as “mystery readers” and providing clues during the week to create anticipation for the guest reader. Maybe you can convince local actors to come to school and act out scenes from plays.

Add food. “Books and Bagels” morning read-alongs, pizza and p.j.’s read-in parties, or “Book Blast & Bar-B-Que” events can help kids associate reading with fun – or at least food.

Go high-tech. Create a classroom-wide or even schoolwide Twitter hashtag for sharing and reviewing books where teachers, students, and librarians all participate. Have students make video book reviews or video blogs about books.

Access more books

Financially support school libraries and solicit donations from local bookstores. Find ways to share and swap books, and partner with local libraries (even invite local librarians to class) to make sure kids have cards and know how to use them. Find out how your school’s book budget works and consider applying for grants or running book drives. Then use those new books to build up a great in-classroom library.

Find out what books are hot with kids at the moment. Even if they aren’t books you’ll choose to add, it may help you find how to get them interested in similar titles.

Take it outside the classroom

Encourage outside reading, and partner with local libraries, letting parents know about library events. And even though winter is just starting, summer is a great time to encourage lighter outside reading on a wide range of topics. See the last Newsela summer reading challenge – and stay tuned for the next one!

Teaching Tough Topics: War

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At Newsela, we’re committed to making current events accessible to everyone. On occasion, though, the news can be difficult to process — and even more challenging to address in school. In our new Teaching Tough Topics series, we’re curating resources from experts to help you decide how to approach thorny topics in your classroom. 

War is a disturbing, controversial topic that any teacher might want to approach only at a safe distance for fear of upsetting students or parents. Most experts recommend a careful, take-it-slow approach. Here’s a roundup of advice from educators and other experts about how to teach a view of wars that isn’t one-sided, upsetting or sanitized.

Keep it age-appropriate

Reassure younger students that they aren’t in danger. Introduce visuals carefully with them, curate the images and be present when they are viewed. The students may have many questions, so try to think of answers in advance.

Educators find ways to explain the Paris attacks 

It’s also important know your mix of students. Do you have children with deployed military parents, kids with a personal experience of war, or students who have suffered a trauma of some other kind? Consider the debate over “trigger warnings” in higher education. 

Get visual, but not too visual

Wars inevitably involve bewildering geography, ethnic and religious and militant groups with names that many students have never heard of. Use maps, charts, and timelines to situate the major players and events in time. Rethinking Schools has an engaging drag and drop map game for guessing all of the countries in the Middle East. 

Primary sources are powerful tools, but use them judiciously. Showing primary sources could upset students with their disturbing imagery or language. Take a look at this blog from the Library of Congress about how to introduce primary sources into class discussion. 

Make connections

When students get older they may want to understand more of the concepts and links between wars, politics, economics, and history. As awful as wars are, they offer a chance to make these connections and understand more about the world. Connect wars to history, politics, geography, culture, archaeology, religion, language, ethnicity and technology. Destruction of artifacts in Syria can be a more approachable way of talking about the war than just a story about a missile strike. It can give the opportunity to discuss the preservation of culture, and why there are Roman ruins in Syria in the first place.

Search out articles that connect students to children living in war zones:

When to tread lightly

Old wars like the U.S. Civil War or Vietnam War can be just as politically charged as current wars. Some students or parents may bristle at the notion that the U.S. ever engages in wars for the wrong reason. Still, you’ll want to maintain a balanced approach and avoid falling into a good versus evil, Us versus Them perspective that further spreads stereotypes about groups of people, religions or entire countries or areas of the world. Find articles that engender sympathy for all sides.

Teaching Channel on how the Vietnam War is taught in Vietnam

As many experts point out, to not talk about war is to shortchange students. Some younger kids may be spending disproportionate amounts of time playing violent war video games. Older students may face recruiters in high school and consider military careers. And all students, as part of the democratic process, will eventually vote for or against candidates based on their military stances on current or future conflicts. 

In light of all this, try asking open-ended questions: How and why do we get into wars? Is war the right way to resolve our conflicts? What are the alternatives? Linking current wars to past ones can help show the lessons learned — or more often not learned — through war.

We want to hear from you. What advice do you have on teaching difficult issues? Tweet us @Newsela and let us know.

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy with Newsela

In planning lessons, you know what it’s like to hone your lesson objective until it’s clear, rigorous, and achievable. After all, how can your students be successful unless everyone in the room understands the day’s goal?

As you seek to create these learning goals, you may have come across Bloom’s Taxonomy, a method of organizing skills for learning into categories. The most recent version of Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised in 2001) proposes that educational goals can be grouped into six main categories, starting with the most simple and concrete (Remembering)  and moving toward the more complex and abstract (Creating).

Bloom-Taxonomy

Using the Bloom’s Taxonomy categories as you plan your lesson can help you:

  • scaffold learning for your students
  • accurately measure student success
  • ensure your instruction is aligned with your assessment

For example, when teaching the concept of government to fourth-graders, you might want to ease students into the topic by first asking them to find and remember information about the U.S. government. Then, you might request that they apply what they’ve learned to help them understand how governments work in other countries. Finally, you might ask them to construct their own imaginary government based on the information they have gathered and skills they have practiced.

So how do Newsela’s articles and assessment tools align to Bloom’s Taxonomy? Quite nicely, we think. And when you add in your own creativity and teaching expertise, you’ll be able to use the taxonomy to extend learning even further.

Here are some examples of how we’ve categorized recent Newsela quiz questions using Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Level 1: Remember and recall information https://newsela.com/articles/rockmusic-college/id/12652/quiz/questions/41620/

Based on the article, which of the following sentences is true?

Level 2: Understand facts and concepts https://newsela.com/articles/copeland-balletfame/id/12606/quiz/questions/41346/

How is Misty different from other top dancers in her dance group?

Level 3: Apply new information https://newsela.com/articles/colorado-drought/id/11440/quiz/questions/38511/

How might Arizona use the map to renegotiate its water rights?

Level 4: Analyze information and make connections https://newsela.com/articles/samuelclemens-angelscamp/id/9585/quiz/questions/22394/

What is the connection between the introduction and the last two paragraphs in the article?

Level 5: Evaluate a claim or position https://newsela.com/articles/projectsyndicate-africadrones/id/12632/quiz/questions/41491/

Which sentence from the article directly supports the argument above?

Finally, we encourage you to challenge students by designing your own questions that align with Bloom’s Level 6: Create new ideas. To get you started, take a look at our paired-text exercises. Many of these ask students to use Level 6 skills such as considering hypothetical situations or imagining a connection between two individuals or concepts.

Then, use our customizable Write prompt feature to fill in questions of your own. (Here’s our Quick Start Guide to Write prompts.)

For example, you could assign students our recent wildly popular article about monkey selfies, then customize the Write prompt by adding one of these Level 6 extension questions:

  • If PETA wins the lawsuit, how might it affect animal photographers in the future?
  • Do you think that PETA has a strong case? Why or why not?
  • Imagine that you worked for PETA. Write a speech explaining why the monkey should own the rights to the photos.
  • If Slater had pressed the camera button himself, how might this have changed the events that followed?

Tweet us @newsela and let us know how you use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create high-quality learning objectives for your students.

Anatomy of a Quiz Question, Part 3: Why Did So Many Students Choose The Same Wrong Answer?

Need to catch up? Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the Anatomy of a Quiz Question series.

As you may tell your students, understanding why you got a question wrong is critical. When we understand our mistakes, we know how to do better next time. For this reason, it’s often helpful for you as a teacher to look at the most commonly chosen wrong answer for a particular question, and ask yourself why students were fooled by this option. Here’s an example, from the article on the migrant crisis, titled “People run to Europe to escape war, but some are stuck at train station.”

A is the correct answer because it names the central problem of the article. The introduction explains that the Syrians are looking for “a safe place to live,” and the second and third sections focus on why the migrants are “having trouble” by giving details about the difficult and dangerous journey they face.

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So then why did 27% of students choose D? Choice D does partially address the main idea of the article, stating that Syria itself is “dangerous” and Syrians are leaving home. However, all three sections focus not on the danger in Syria, but on the danger Syrians face as they search for safer areas. Because D does not address this dangerous journey, it does not fully capture the main idea.

Here are some potential teaching points for students who chose D:

  • Read the entire article before choosing an answer.
  • Make sure to read all four answer options all the way through.
  • Remember that if only part of an answer seems correct, there is probably a better answer option.
  • Before answering quiz questions, read each section of the article and annotate the text with the main idea of each section.

Finally, here are three more articles you might assign students to help them develop their skills. The quizzes for these articles all include central idea questions, and each also relates to a topic covered in the migrants article above.

  1. Read about the experience of Chinese-American migrant railroad workers and compare the experience of these migrants to that of the Syrian refugees in the present day. (Here’s a Newsela Learning and Support lesson that incorporates this article.)
  2. Read about the sale of Syrian artifacts and gather background information on the civil war in Syria.
  3. Read about U.S. immigration policy and compare it to the policies of European countries regarding the Syrian refugees.

We hope our “Anatomy Of A Quiz Question” series was helpful to you and your students. Tweet us @newsela to let us know your takeaways or suggestions for future topics.

Anatomy of a Quiz Question, Part 2: Why Was That Question So Hard?

As we mentioned in Part 1 of our “Anatomy Of A Quiz Question” series, Newsela quiz questions are meant to be challenging enough to match the items your students may see on Common Core standardized tests. So what makes a question stand out as particularly tough, and how can you help your students perform well on even the trickiest items? Below is an article excerpt along with a question we’ve identified as especially challenging. This question is from an article on the migrant crisis, titled “People run to Europe to escape war, but some are stuck at train station.”

Countries Say They Need More Help

Europe cannot decide what to do. More than 332,000 migrants have entered Europe this year. Greece, Italy and Hungary are seeing the most people coming in. They have asked for more help. Germany has demanded that other countries take in more migrants. Germany expects to let 800,000 migrants stay this year. That is the most in Europe.

The people coming to Europe are desperate. They just want to be safe. They cross the sea in boats that are badly built. Others ride on the tops of trains. Many migrants have died. 

This week, 11 migrants drowned trying to cross the sea to Greece. Also, trains between London and Paris were stopped. Migrants were running on the tracks. They tried to climb on top of the trains.

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Only 37% of students answered this question correctly, compared to the average score of 50% for third grade anchor 2 questions. Those who chose A likely understood the main idea of the section, which is that European countries have asked for support with managing the flood of migrants. Choice A gives a detail about a country that has asked for this support, and explains the exact demand that the country has made.

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This question was challenging because it required several different reading comprehension skills, including the following:

  • Attending to the question wording — it asked about a section, not the whole article.
  • Identifying the main idea of the section, potentially using the section title as a clue.
  • Separating key details from unimportant details.

If your students need support with main idea questions, check out some of the teacher-created lesson plans in Newsela’s Learning and Support section. This lesson teaches students to identify central idea using the 5Ws (who, what, when, where and why) using an article on a young lemonade entrepreneur. Another lesson assesses central idea and understanding of people and events through a text set on Malala Yousafzai.

How do you help students break down tricky questions, and what strategies do you use to teach main idea? Tweet us @newsela and stay tuned for Part 3 of our series.

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:

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Student pass rate: 58%

EngageNY question:

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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.