Which are the Elephants in the Room?


I read ‘The Man Behind Common Core Math‘ twice.  It is personal, candid, and gives a different perspective  of Common Core (CC).  Part of CCs development  was a happy accident.  Other parts had  unhappy consequences that must be addressed.  Motives and methods of for-profit testing companies are questioned.

Which are the elephants in the room, the Standards;  the Tests;  the power brokers’ funding, or the passing rates?  Let’s consider which of these babies we should throw out with the bath water.  You will find some useful sources and some interesting ideas.


Common Core Standards (CCS)

Critics argue that the CCS are developmentally inappropriate for very young children. The English Language Arts standards may be too narrowly defined and limit the exploration of literature.  Math may be too abstract and needs more emphasis on computation.  See Diane Ravitch’s blog for a whole list of posts on these issues.  This CC elephant needs to be cleaned up, but it could be done.  Input from teachers and data from pilot testing are needed.  The lack of a controlled roll out of the CC Standards, given the magnitude of the curriculum changes, is an astounding lapse that could be rectified.

Common Core Testing

Testing for the standards, however, is the real elephant, according to this article (and many others).  Tests questions are poorly constructed, it is said.  Perhaps this is due to the cost of developing new items to measure critical thinking and problem solving.  These are infinitely more difficult and expensive than those for basic skills.  (I used to do this sort of thing, and it really is difficult to do well.)   Of course, the testing companies have received contracts worth millions.

Excessive Testing

The quality of the tests may be an issue; the quantity of tests is a catastrophe.  A summary of testing concerns in Florida is in How Many Tests are Too Many?  Take a look at all the tests!  It is no wonder that anti testing advocacy movements are everywhere.  Some of the strongest groups are Fair Test and Opt Out .  An October 30th Washington Post article ‘The Rise of the Anti Standardized Testing Movement’ gives an overview of what is happening. 

According to This Week in Education, 41 states have fully implemented CC standards, but not the tests.  Testing for CC using PARCC is down from 24 to 10 states plus D.C. The computer adaptive version called Smarter Balance tests will be administered in 17 states.  Smarter Balance tests require less time than the PARCC tests.

Passing Standards

The passing standards for Common Core tests are expected to be unrealistically high.  Education Week reports that 41% of students are not expected to score as proficient.  Since Common Core standards are linked to National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) proficiency levels, this is no surprise.

Current state assessments are already linked to NAEP standards but at lower levels.  State assessment standards vary widely.  Sixteen states have passing level below the ‘NAEP Basic’ level of proficiency.  Having a common, national set of standards with comparable levels of proficiency would put states on notice when they are substandard.

Why are we doing more testing to tell us what we already know from the NAEP tests?  Achievement scores are mostly flat and always have been.  A good explanation of these results was done by G.F. Brandenburg.  Granted NAEP is not administered every year in every school.

Do we really have to have annual tests? If so, why…to grade teachers?….grade schools?…drive changes in the curriculum?  Can’t we do that in a more cost efficient and valid way?  If parents want an indicator of their children’s achievement levels from time to time, shouldn’t it be a nationally normed score, not one manipulated by individual states?  If 5% of the nation’s schools are failing, can’t we put all that testing money where it can do some good?  We know which schools these are.

Corporate Interests

Criticism about the sources of money behind Common Core point to the profit motive in having a national market.  A Flow Chart Exposes Common Core’s Myriad Corporate Connections details the interrelationships between foundation funding from the Gates and Broad Foundations and the private for-profit companies who develop the tests and educational materials. There is no question that private foundations and many companies strongly support Common Core.  Their involvement was encouraged and, according to the lead article in this post, was solicited by the U.S. DOE. Perhaps their money could go toward building better instructional tools rather than unnecessary tests.

Testing Bills to Watch

Some action in Congress is predicted.  Two bills to watch which call for reduction in testing are:

H.R. 5612 Steve Israel, D-NY introduced the Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing Act in September 2014.

H.R. 4172 Christopher Gibson, R-NY introduced Student Testing Improvement Accountability Act in March 2014

Politico has published a summary of state and federal actions to reduce testing called Testing Under Fire.  The article states that President Obama and Secretary Duncan support reduced state testing, but they continue to support the annual testing required by No Child Left Behind.   Senators Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and John Kline from Minnesota plan to over haul No Child Left Behind and drastically reduce testing.  A Schools Matters article cautions against optimism.  The author suggests that Senator Alexander will attempt to kill Title I and give its money for schools with children from low-income families to charters in exchange for reduced testing.  This would be a huge blow to public schools.

Posted in Curriculum, Legislation, Testing.

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