With New York state ready to hand out the Common Core exam this spring, how tough is the test?
See how your English skills stack up by reading the passage below and taking the following sample questions from the Grade 8 ELA 2014 State Test Questions, from EngageNY.org.
Note: Some questions have been slightly edited for space.
By Mark David Whitehead
I stood in the restaurant kitchen, my eyes wide, arms hanging awkwardly, ready to work but unsure of what to do. I had the feeling that a bright neon sign on my forehead was flashing the message ?New Employee.? The scent of warm rising dough, fresh tomato sauce, and melted cheese clashed with the odor of dish soap and disinfectant as Aaron, my manager, guided me to the dishwashers? domain.
?Jim will train you,? Aaron said simply and walked away.
A first-year college student smiled, tossed me a dish brush, and said, ?Let?s get started.?
Jim showed me the basics of washing pizza dishes?not that washing dishes is extremely technical, until you come to that annoying melted cheese stuck on the plates.
?If you want to get past just washing dishes, you?ve gotta let the bosses know,? Jim told me as he sprayed a stray leaf of iceberg lettuce off a plate. ?Work hard and show results.?
Friday night, three weekends later, Aaron stepped quickly into the kitchen, carrying two menus. ?Who just bused the back right table?? he shouted.
I fumbled the salad bowl I was washing in the lukewarm water. I knew I was guilty, but Aaron?s cold stare didn?t promise a happy reward for the guy who confessed. A mix of fear and my own conscience pushed the response out of my mouth.
?I did, Aaron.?
He whipped around to face me. ?What were you thinking? Get back out here and look at what you missed!?
Grabbing a bus tub and rag, I followed Aaron out to table twenty-two. As we made our way through the restaurant, Aaron said something about rags, but I didn?t hear over the din of seventeen other conversations going on around us.
We arrived at table twenty-two. It was still clean. Completely.
?Look,? Aaron said, pointing.
Look. That one syllable crushed whatever confidence I had as I saw and understood. Sure, the table was clean; it was the lake beneath that was the problem. A nearly full cup of Mug Root Beer® had tipped over on the brick floor. Aaron stood at my shoulder, apologizing to the elderly couple waiting for their table. Another wave of guilt?bigger than the first?slammed into me. I had so messed up.
?I?ll take care of it,? I muttered. ?Yes, you will,? he agreed.
With that motivating statement, Aaron turned, apologized once more to the couple, and stormed off to the front of the restaurant. Avoiding the older couple?s gaze, I dropped down to clean up the root beer.
That?s when another problem presented itself. I had brought only one rag. One already damp rag. The lake of root beer mocked me as I leaned over and attempted to wipe up the mess. My wet rag did nothing but smear the puddle and increase its size.
Increase. Increase the number of rags, I thought.
I apologized to the couple, who were proving patient, and rushed off to find some dry rags. As I hurried to the kitchen, I hoped Aaron wouldn?t notice my absence for a few seconds.
Frantically, I scanned the kitchen shelves for the stack of rags I had seen days before. Another busboy was leaning against the sink, arms folded.
?Whatcha lookin? for?? he asked.
?Rags. Where are they??
?To your left, bottom shelf.?
I saw a stack of white cotton rags with a green stripe through the middle. Grabbing five, I rushed out of the kitchen to conquer the lake of soda.
I was just passing the oven as Aaron came around the corner of the salad bar. With two deliberate steps, he blocked my way and stood still. Despite the heat pouring from the oven, I froze.
?What are you doing here?? Aaron growled.
Fear washed over me. There was no way he would understand. I just needed to get the job done, the job he asked me to do, without interference. Did he think I was trying to slack off?
I attempted, ?I needed dry rags . . . to . . . clean . . .?
?What?? Aaron seemed ready to rip out tufts of his goatee?an unsanitary practice, at least in a restaurant. ?Those customers are waiting right now! I told you to grab four dry rags as you came out! Didn?t you hear me??
Dinner conversations faded around us. Some teenagers on a double date turned from their pepperoni pizza, nudging each other and pointing. Coworkers glanced at one another, smirking. I could feel the blood rushing to my face, my ears catching on fire.
I mumbled, ?I thought. . .?
?No, you didn?t. Just go. Get that cleaned up.?
Nostrils flaring, he rushed away. I could almost see drops of irritation flying off him. (Did he want me to clean those up, too?) Avoiding the gaze of coworkers and customers, I walked to table twenty-two and knelt down again on the brick floor. Distracted only by the sound of other dinner conversations and the restaurant radio?playing ?Carry On Wayward Son? by Kansas?I introduced the root beer lake to my new rags, cleaning up the mess in a matter of seconds.
I stood, looked at the waiting couple, and said simply, ?There you go. I?m sorry about that.? The man, his eyes almost laughing behind his bifocals, stated that he didn?t mind the wait. He guided his wife to her seat and sat down beside her. I wadded up the rags and walked back toward the kitchen, angry with myself, with Aaron, with the maker of Mug Root Beer.
Aaron glanced at me from across the restaurant, as if checking to see whether I had finished the job. Of course I did, I thought, I know how to work. I knew what needed to be done to take care of that mess, once I saw it. I?m sorry I didn?t see it at first. But it?s not going to ever happen again. You can trust me.
I joined the rest of the busboys in the kitchen, washing the Melmac® dishes, replacing them throughout the restaurant as they dried, and busing tables (very carefully) as groups left. Water saturated my shirt as I plowed through the continuous stacks of dishes.
Holding the brush with a vise grip, I scrubbed the plates, maintaining a determined look on my face anytime Aaron was near. I wanted to prove to him, to myself, that my mistake was simply that?a one-time mistake. I clung to the hope that Aaron would notice my effort, understand, and be willing to forgive my blunder.
The lake of root beer weighed on my mind as I rinsed a final stack of bowls. Only as I placed the last bowl on the plastic rack to dry did I realize that my mistake was exactly that?my own. It was my own to dwell on, or my own to let go. Sure, I would still think about it. Who doesn?t remember moments of failure? But remembrance brings a choice: motivation or misery.
Months have passed since that Friday night, and the determined look still comes to my face when I pick up a plastic bus tub. A pang of guilt tries to worm its way into me every time I wring out a fresh rag. But I smile as I glance underneath every table I clean.
Mug Root Beer® is the registered trademark of New Century Beverage Company.
Melmac® is the registered trademark of American Cyanamid Company.