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Take a peek at some of the newly released state reading questions

You’ve taken our Common Core math quiz — now take a look at the reading passages from this year’s state exams.

The state released about half of its Common Core reading and math test questions from 2014 on Wednesday, after pressure from parents and educators to share more of the questions than it did last year.

Below are two reading sections, one from grade 3 and another from grade 8, along with handwritten student responses to questions. We took all of the them from the State Education Department’s set.

We’d love to know what you think of the questions and explanations. Let us know in the comments or @ChalkbeatNY.

Grade 3

Excerpt from David and the Phoenix

by Edward Ormondroyd

All the way there David had saved this moment for himself, struggling not to peek until the proper time came. When the car finally stopped, the rest of them got out stiffly and went into the new house. But David walked slowly into the back yard with his eyes fixed on the ground. For a whole minute he stood there, not daring to look up. Then he took a deep breath, clenched his hands tightly, and lifted his head.

There it was!—as Dad had described it, but infinitely more grand. It swept upward from the valley floor, beautifully shaped and soaring, so tall that its misty blue peak could surely talk face to face with the stars. To David, who had never seen a mountain before, the sight was almost too much to bear. He felt so tight and shivery inside that he didn’t know whether he wanted to laugh, or cry, or both. And the really wonderful thing about the mountain was the way it looked at him. He was certain that it was smiling at him, like an old friend who had been waiting for years to see him again. And when he closed his eyes, he seemed to hear a voice which whispered, “Come along, then, and climb.”

It would be so easy to go! The back yard was hedged in (with part of the hedge growing right across the toes of the mountain), but there was a hole in the privet large enough to crawl through. And just beyond the hedge the mountainside awaited him, going up and up in one smooth sweep until the green and tawny faded into hazy heights of rock. It was waiting for him. “Come and climb,” it whispered, “come and climb.”

But there was a great deal to do first. They were going to move into the new house. The moving van was standing out in front, the car must be unloaded. David would be needed to carry things. Regretfully, he waved his hand at the peak and whispered, “It shouldn’t take long—I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Then he went around to the front door to see what could be done about speeding things up.

Inside, everything was in confusion. Dad was pushing chairs and tables around in an aimless way. Mother was saying, “They’ll all have to go out again; we forgot to put down the rug first.” Aunt Amy was making short dashes between the kitchen and the dining room, muttering to herself. And Beckie was roaring in her crib because it was time for her bottle. David asked, “Can I do anything?”—hoping that the answer would be no.

“C’mere,” Aunt Amy said, grabbing him by the arm. “Help me look for that ironing board.”

When the ironing board was finally located, Mother had something for him to do. And when he was finished with that, Dad called for his help. So the afternoon wore on without letup—and also without any signs of progress in their moving. When David finally got a chance to sneak out for a breathing spell, he felt his heart sink. Somehow, in all the rush and confusion, the afternoon had disappeared. Already the evening sun was throwing shadows across the side of the mountain and touching its peak with a ruddy blaze. It was too late now. He would have to wait until morning before he could climb.

Question: How does David feel when he sees the mountain for the first time? Use two details from the story to support your response.

See responses from students who received a perfect score, partial score, and earned no points on this question, and the scorer’s explanation.

Grade 8

The Inheritance of Tools

by Scott Russell Sanders

The hammer had belonged to him, and to his father before him. The three of us have used it to build houses and barns and chicken coops, to upholster chairs and crack walnuts, to make doll furniture and book shelves and jewelry boxes. The head is scratched and pockmarked, like an old plowshare that has been working rocky fields, and it gives off the sort of dull sheen you see on fast creek water in the shade. It is a finishing hammer, about the weight of a bread loaf, too light, really, for framing walls, too heavy for cabinetwork, with a curved claw for pulling nails, a rounded head for pounding, a fluted neck for looks, and a hickory handle for strength.

The present handle is my third one, bought from a lumberyard in Tennessee down the road from where my brother and I were helping my father build his retirement house. I broke the previous one by trying to pull sixteen-penny nails out of floor joists—a foolish thing to do with a finishing hammer, as my father pointed out. “You ever hear of a crowbar?” he said. No telling how many handles he and my grandfather had gone through before me. My grandfather used to cut down hickory trees on his farm, saw them into slabs, cure the planks in his hayloft, and carve handles with a drawknife. The grain in hickory is crooked and knotty, and therefore rough, hard to split, like the grain in the two men who owned this hammer before me.

After proposing marriage to a neighbor girl, my grandfather used this hammer to build a house for his bride on a stretch of river bottom in northern Mississippi. The lumber for the place, like the hickory for the handle, was cut on his own land. By the day of the wedding he had not quite finished the house, and so right after the ceremony he took his wife home and put her to work. My grandmother had worn her Sunday dress for the wedding, with a fringe of lace tacked on around the hem in honor of the occasion. She removed this lace and folded it away before going out to help my grandfather nail siding on the house. “There she was in her good dress,” he told me some fifty-odd years after that wedding day, “holding up them long pieces of clapboard while I hammered, and together we got the place covered up before dark.” As the family grew to four, six, eight, and eventually thirteen, my grandfather used this hammer to enlarge his house room by room, like a chambered nautilus expanding his shell.

By and by the hammer was passed along to my father. One day he was up on the roof of our pony barn nailing shingles with it, when I stepped out the kitchen door to call him for supper. Before I could yell, something about the sight of him straddling the spine of that roof and swinging the hammer caught my eye and made me hold my tongue. I was five or six years old, and the world’s commonplaces were still news to me. He would pull a nail from the pouch at his waist, bring the hammer down, and a moment later the thunk of the blow would reach my ears. And that is what had stopped me in my tracks and stilled my tongue, that momentary gap between seeing and hearing the blow. Instead of yelling from the kitchen door, I ran to the barn and climbed two rungs up the ladder—as far as I was allowed to go—and spoke quietly to my father. On our walk to the house he explained that sound takes time to make its way through air. Suddenly the world seemed larger, the air more dense, if sound could be held back like any ordinary traveler.

By the time I started using this hammer, at about the age when I discovered the speed of sound, it already contained houses and mysteries for me. The smooth handle was one my grandfather had made. In those days I needed both hands to swing it. My father would start a nail in a scrap of wood, and I would pound away until I bent it over.

“Looks like you got ahold of some of those rubber nails,” he would tell me. “Here, let me see if I can find you some stiff ones.” And he would rummage in a drawer until he came up with a fistful of more cooperative nails. “Look at the head,” he would tell me. “Don’t look at your hands, don’t look at the hammer. Just look at the head of that nail and pretty soon you’ll learn to hit it square.”

Pretty soon I did learn. While he worked in the garage cutting dovetail joints for a drawer or skinning a deer or tuning an engine, I would hammer nails. I made innocent blocks of wood look like porcupines. He did not talk much in the midst of his tools, but he kept up a nearly ceaseless humming, slipping in and out of a dozen tunes in an afternoon, often running back over the same stretch of melody again and again, as if searching for a way out. When the humming did cease, I knew he was faced with a task requiring great delicacy or concentration, and I took care not to distract him.

Question: What character traits of the grandfather are revealed through his use of the hammer? Use two details from the passage to support your response.

See responses from students who received a perfect score, partial score, and earned no points on this question, and the scorer’s explanation.

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