In two “Dog Bites Man” stories, Valerie Strauss’s July 24 and June 27 describe the flaws inherent in NYS’s Common Core tests— flaws that illustrate the inability of a pencil and paper test to measure the high-minded outcomes expected if the Common Core was implemented.
The July 24 article features a letter from the 3rd and 4th grade teachers at Shaker Road School which is part of the South Colonie School Dstrict, a district that serves relatively affluent parents in the Albany area. The letter describes the flaws in the writing section of the tests administered to grades they teach and notes concerns about “…badly constructed questions and arbitrarily determined cut scores for what constitutes student proficiency on the tests”… flaws that are inherent in ANY standardized test. Indeed, it is the setting of cut scores that determines expectations far more than the standards that serve as the basis for the test questions.
The earlier June 27 post, which can be accessed via a link in the July 24 article, describes the flaws in the Algebra Regents test used to determine if a student can graduate from high school. When the “Regents-For-All” initiative was launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was suspicion that the cut scores might be lowered to guarantee higher pass rates. The advent of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards combined with the Blame Teachers First movement (see yesterday’s post), the cut scores were increased and the failure rate increased… which will add fuel to the fire that “public schools are failing” and need to be replaced by private schools that. presumably and contrary to all evidence, will do a better job.
I am glad that Valerie Strauss continues covering the flaws in standardized testing. I only wish her findings were gaining traction in the mainstream media who appear to believe the “schools-are-failing-and-can-be-fixed-without-money” fantasy spun by the privatizers.
On of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts today includes a link to a post written by Mercedes Schneider that reports on Arne Duncan’s latest effort to punish a state for opting out of the Race To The Top requirement that state’s adopt the Common Core. Diane Ravitch wrote an overview of Duncan’s action:
When Indiana recently threatened to drop the Common Core, the US Department promptly sent out a letter threatening to withdraw the state’s waiver from NCLB, on grounds that Indiana had promised to adhere to high academic standards as a condition of getting the waiver.
The irony here is that Indiana already had superior academic standards prior to adopting the Common Core. Even the conservative policy group, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, rated Indiana’s academic standards as at least equal to, perhaps superior to, the Common Core.
Ah… but Indiana’s academic standards weren’t linked to one of the de facto national assessments that Duncan wants to use to “…measure teacher performance” through VAM… and if he lets ANY State opt out of either the CCSS OR the standardized tests that accompany them he will need to allow ALL of them consider the adoption of different standards. What makes all of this especially problematic for Duncan from Schneider’s perspective is that the USDoE web page offers the following “Fact” in its FAQs:
Fact: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. … State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. …This work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. [Emphasis added.]
This is the “grassroots-led-initiative” meme that the Common Core advocates keep repeating and that even anti-privatization bloggers echo… a meme that is increasingly difficult to prove as Duncan punishes states like WA for abandoning CCSS tests and contemplates punishment in IN for their failure to adopt the Common Core.
As I’ve written in earlier posts, there is a need for nationally determined scope and sequence in academic content areas and there is a means for democratically developing such a scope and sequence through the use of open source software… but instead of using technology to facilitate a national consensus among teachers Duncan and the USDoE decided to accept a Gates Foundation grant and summon a small band of “experts” to write the “Common Core” and get several official sounding state organizations and national teacher organizations to endorse it. Over the past several weeks whenever I read a news article or blog post that describes the Common Core as grassroots I write a comment explaining that it is a de facto mandate, citing the recent decision to withhold $$$ from WA as evidence. I can now add IN to the list….
eClassroom News, an online news source for educators, published a post today describing the “…need to build a National Repository of Educational Materials (NREM), an online library of lessons in a range of subject areas with pre-assessments, instructional content and media, practice tasks, quizzes, and mastery tests.” Building such an open source online library is not a new idea to some national governments… if you click on the link you’ll find that India is doing just that!
Oh… wait a minute… we can’t have the FREE exchange of information and we certainly can’t have the government facilitating it! We need to find a way for textbook manufacturers, software developers, hardware salespersons, and testing companies to make a profit!
From my perspective, this is another case of the USDoE taking the wrong path. Instead of using the billions of dollars of stimulus money to develop something like an NREM, which blogger Carol Lach analogizes to the Genome Project, and/or provide ALL schools with broadband, Arne Duncan used stimulus money to issue a de facto mandate for the Common Core, Value Added high stakes testing, and the promotion of for-profit charter schools. Not only is the another case of taking the wrong path… it is an example of what could have been…