Common Core: Are We In or Out?

common coreCOMMON CORE: Are We IN or OUT?

There is much angst about Common Core Standards (CCS). People disagree about what children should know and be able to do. The new standards focus on learning how to evaluate how well students understand what they read and how well they grasp math concepts.  All students are expected to be college and career ready.  The arguments have a familiar ring. Students differ.  The Florida League of Women Voters asks: Is it fair to have the same high expectations for all students?   Is it fair not to?  Is this even the correct question?

Some say that the standards are not the problem, the amount of testing required to measure the standards.  They argue that testing to evaluate teachers and schools is misguided. How is the Florida legislature responding? Is it possible to find some common ground?

Having the same standards is the ‘common’ part of Common Core. In 2009, 45 state governors agreed that all states should endorse high standards for all students. Only Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia said no to Common Core standards. Minnesota adopted only the math standards. By 2015, Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina had formally joined this opt out group.

If only seven out of 50 states have dropped out, most recognize that America’s students need better critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to compete in a global economy. Even though Florida and some other states did modify and rename their standards, they did not revert to basic skills testing. Florida, for example, now calls its new test the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

The heart of the argument is over testing. The new tests require costly computer bandwidth and labs and take more time to administer. While thirty states are still committed to the two original CC tests: the PARCC and the SBA, the remaining states have developed their own tests. We may have common standards, but we will not have comparable test results.

Parents complain that excessive testing hurts students, schools, and teachers unfairly. Members of the legislature are openly discussing which policies are effective and fair. Should students be held back only on the basis of a test score? Should students, teachers and schools be penalized based on a single test? Should constant preparation for testing crowd out art, music, and physical education?

If we drop annual tests, what do we lose? The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, argues that annual testing keeps the focus on struggling students in low income areas. Without test scores, he says, the public will forget the problem of failing schools. The scores, however, don’t solve the problem. What appears to help, according to reports on the U.S. DOE website, is more time in school and intensive tutoring.

What is happening to address the issues?

  • Some parents are organizing opt out of testing movements across the nation. Florida law, however, mandates that students participate in state assessments, and districts are required to notify parents of consequences if a child does not participate.
  • The Florida PTA has asked for a two year delay in reporting school grades. The Florida Department of Education will report grades in 2015, but they will withhold any rewards or penalties for one year. The Florida Standards Assessment is expected to be more difficult, and passing standards will be set in 2015.   Gains in scores between 2014 and 2015 may be hard to measure given the difference in the FCAT 2.0 and the FSA.  Gauging how much a child learns from one year to the next has its own problems.
  • Prominent statisticians have shown that at most, schools and teachers account for 30% of student test score gains. The remainder is due to influences outside of the school’s control (Haertel, 2014). Even worse, In 2013 Guerino et al stated that “…when teachers are assigned high or low performing students, and measurement error is present, value added models (achievement gain scores) may mischaracterize teachers as high effective or ineffective. Moreover, models may disagree as to who is thus characterized.” Florida has examples of this problem when Teachers of the Year received low ratings.
  • If the Florida Legislature returns to testing for grades 3, 8, and 11 only, Florida could be penalized by the federal government. Yet, federal policy may change. The new leadership in Congress has introduced legislation in both the Senate and the House to do just that.

Public dissension over the amount of testing and the use of test scores to drive achievement has reached a critical level.  Children and districts who opt out of testing face consequences. Shifting instruction from memorizing facts to thinking about using information to solve real world problems, however, is a step forward. Florida is ‘in’ on higher standards. The jury is still ‘out’ on the use of testing to measure them.  Finding reasonable solutions to valid concerns on both sides will require state and national legislatures to use the critical thinking and problem solving skills that the children will encounter.

A version of this post appeared in the Gainesville Sun on February 15th, 2015.

Posted in Achievement, Curriculum, Florida, League Positions, Legislation, Public Education, Testing, US Government.

4 Comments

  1. Perhaps the Common Core encourages higher level thinking in the upper grades, but in the primary grades in Florida, this is a falsehood. Florida had more “rigorous” and more engaging standards before the Common Core was “paid for” by the extortion called Race to the Top. The Race to the Top “grant” requires testing and tying children’s success and teacher evaluations to the standardized testing that is consuming our schools. The lost instructional time, not to mention financial resources, is heartbreaking to teachers and it is crippling learning. The test prep and testing schedule rules every school, so that we can be graded A to F by tests that were never meant to measure school success. The most reliable predictor of these scores is zip code, which is obviously about affluence and poverty. To think Common Core standards are not the problem is to ignore their inextricable tie to all that is wrong with testing and education reform. This is a profit and elitist driven agenda, and I am saddened that the League of Women Voters does not publicly denounce Common Core.

  2. This is not the time to choose the path of least resistance. We have been in a pickle for far too long. This is a time for courage. TRUE accountability demands that we recognize what has not worked and STOP doing it.

    February 19, 2015

    Members of the Florida House and Senate,

    Florida’s assessment statutes remain in a constant state of fluctuation. However, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) foundation, upon which the requirements were built, is straightforward. Among the NCLB requirements of state-mandated tests is that they are to be “valid, reliable and of adequate technical quality,” and that they “objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills” (SAAP, 2007, p. 4). To ensure that states meet these and the other requirements, the United States Department of Education outlines a transparent peer review process for states, citing the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. This process ensures that the state selected assessment is valid, reliable, and technically sound.

    In that the State of Florida has not met the expectation required by NCLB, administering the FSA as a state mandate is both impermissible and unconscionable.

    Consequently, the prudent course of action includes:

    As a way to evaluate the efficacy of the FSA, use collected data from “field tests” in the 2014-15 school year and compare with the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) data which has a demonstrated predictive validity of .80 to .90 (depending on the subgroup). This means that the State must release the FSA and the results to administrators and teachers for evaluation and data disaggregation. For meaningful assessment of the FSA, the test must be made available to subject matter experts to examine content validity. Transparency in the process will also begin to restore lost confidence in the State Department of Education.

    With respect to the contractual obligation between American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Commissioner Stewart: if the exam is one that proves not to meet psychometric norms after evaluation of the field tests, the contract must be taken up in court. A contract with AIR is not a legislative concern, nor is it the concern of the legislature that Commissioner Stewart made a premature decision requiring an enormous financial investment of taxpayer funds. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to use an inadequate assessment that has detrimental consequences because it is the path of least economic resistance.

    NCLB does not call for mandatory retention or remediation. Consequently, we recommend the legislature dismiss all use of mandatory retention and remediation; instead rely on professional educators to make decisions about pupil progression. Teachers are trained in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and differentiating instruction, making them more qualified to make progression decisions than even a valid assessment, which provides only a snapshot of a student’s mastery at a particular point in time.

    Teachers are not proctors: they are professionals capable of making decisions about the best educational interests of children; allow them to use their expertise to do what is best for children.

    Guide your decisions based on conscience and the outcry of the majority of stakeholders, rather than political or economic loyalty. Requiring children of six, seven, and eight years old to sit in silence to complete a 90-120 minute assessment is unconscionable. Robbing adolescents of engaging electives in favor of punitive and unnecessary remediation denies children the joy of education.

    It is easy to manipulate data to support a particular position. However, the absence of data cannot be manipulated. While it may be politically tempting to laud an accountability system that favors a candidate whom you endorse, educators and psychometricians understand that the one consistent and unchanging measurement in American education to measure students and academic achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Longitudinal NAEP data shows statistically insignificant changes since the inception of the test-based accountability reform movement (U.S. Department of Education, 1992-2013).

    It is intellectually dishonest to indicate that Florida students are improving in proficiency based on proficiency metrics that are constantly and arbitrarily redefined. Even as this letter is authored, the proficiency levels (“cut scores”) of the Florida Standards Assessment have yet to be determined; in effect, the yardstick has not been calibrated. There is no psychometric data for the FSA, and the absence of data cannot be manipulated. Returning to the presumption that a test-based accountability system is valid is based on flawed logic that puts the interests of profit-driven reform ahead of student success and a thriving public school system.

    Opt Out Orlando and the 26 Opt Out groups across the state of Florida will continue to push back against punitive testing until the Florida Legislature is willing to put students’ interests first, in the following ways:

    Abandon the use of the invalidated Florida Standards Assessment
    Remove the high stakes of retention, remediation, and graduation associated with all assessments

    Promote the use of a reasonable, authentic, teacher-created portfolio that demonstrates a student’s best work and honors the nature of the classroom teacher to assess student learning

    Promote teacher-created end of year exams that demonstrate content validity

    We look forward to your swift legislative action that preserves the integrity of our public schools, high-quality teaching, and valid assessment of Florida’s children.

    Signed,

    Opt Out Orlando, members and concerned stakeholders

    References
    American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association

    Standards and Assessments Peer Review (SAAP) Guidance : Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (2007, December 21). Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.pdf

    U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1992–2013 Reading Assessments.

    https://optoutorlando.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/open-letter-fl-house-and-senate/

  3. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are inextricably linked to standardized testing. There is no way to separate the two. And the standards are developmentally inappropriate at the primary level. Please read the following:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/

    I actually don’t have an issue with national standards, but they need to be standards that are written by teachers and those who are experts in developmental psychology. There also must be an avenue by which to change them–something which does not currently exist.

    Does anyone really think it’s appropriate for first graders (six years old) to have to understand what a preposition is? How about using the “make a ten” strategy:

    Make a ten to solve:

    17 – 9 =

    17 – (7)= (10)

    (10) – (2) = (8)

    The numbers in parentheses are what the children must figure out on their own.

    I completely disagree with your stance on CCSS. I invite you to come to my first grade classroom and see for yourself what we’re asking of young children. It’s wrong.

    Kim Cook
    First Grade Teacher
    Irby Elementary School

  4. The common core has removed the “fun” from teaching. All teachable moments must be declined. Expectations are needed but you tie teachers to the test because you are measuring their success by student performance. We are stepping backwards in time.

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