This just in: if you want to do well on ANY test you need to prepare for it!
The NYTimes today has an article by Javier Hernandez on a series of “field tests” being administered to students in New York City, and article that implicitly questions the need for such testing and unquestioningly assumes that the testing protocol used this year in NYC was valid. The fact is that New York should have conducted a series of small scale field tests before it administered this year’s round of high stakes tests, much in the same way New Hampshire and many other states are unrolling the test. NY, though was evidently eager to show the public that teachers and students would fall far short of the mark on a test that both groups were unprepared for…. or to put a better spin on it, maybe NY and the other states who are jumping the gun on administering their tests without doing a field test are intentionally setting a low baseline so that they can show improvement in the coming year.
Over the past several months many inches of blog posts by the likes of Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss have been dedicated to the ongoing debate on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The basic premise of the Common Core is difficult to refute: all children in the United States should be expected to learn specific fundamental facts and master specific fundamental skills. Three major questions emerge from this premise and the answer to those questions create controversy:
- WHAT belongs in the Common Core? Some states would not support instruction on evolution, which is undisputedly true among scientists. Others would not want any mention of global warming even though well over 95% of the scientific community concurs that the earth is warming and man plays a role.
- WHY are students attending school? Is the primary purpose of school to prepare students for the workplace? For higher education? To function in a democracy? To be self actualized learners in the future? The content of the Common Core will be different depending on the response to this question. If schools are intended to prepare ALL students for college the scope of the Common Core will be much different than if schools are intended to prepare students for the workplace.
- HOW will the attainment of Common Core knowledge and skills be measured? There are two parts to this question: not only HOW will the assessments take place, but WHEN will they take place. The current answer to this two part question is: ALL students will be assessed in accordance with a pre-determined time frame defined by the Common Core. As formatted now, the Common Core expects students to learn certain facts and master certain skills in a time frame based on age-linked grade levels. Thus, tests administered one-to-three times per year are used to determine if groups of students are progressing through the Common Core in keeping with their age… and not just their age in years but their age in months.
Like many of my colleagues in public education, I do not oppose the Common Core per se. But I have major concerns over the way the Common Core is formatted. Because it is linked to age-based grade levels it reinforces the factory model and fails to acknowledge the differing rates of intellectual development among children.
I also find the testing regimen associated with the Common Core abhorrent. The tests are hastily developed and being used by privatizing “school reformers” to determine which public schools should be closed and turned over to for-profit charters. The use of these assessments to close schools is especially abhorrent because teachers have not had time to absorb the Common Core, develop lessons that match it, and use those new lessons to prepare their students for the tests. By administering these “new improved” assessments to groups of unprepared students “reformers” anticipate wholesale failure which will open the door for the expansion of privatization.
The “rigorous” Common Core, then, is the linchpin of the privatization movement. Without the Common Core there could not be “new improved” tests and without those tests there would be no rationale for privatization on a mass scale… and only a reactionary would oppose the need for all children to learn the facts and skills they need to succeed in the competitive global economy.
But here’s the ultimate irony: by advocating for the Common Core testing regimen, the “reformers” are reinforcing the one-size fits all factory model for schooling in an era when customization trumps standardization in the marketplace.
For the past several months Seattle teachers have been waiting to hear how the district administration was going to handle their boycott against the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which is administered three times a year to students.
An article in Common Dreams reports the verdict: going forward the MAP will be optional for HS students because a review panel “determined it was not “effective for high school-age students” but will continue to be mandatory for grades K-8 even though those teachers cannot make use of the data that comes from the test.
In reading through the comments and reading the previous articles about the MAP test it is not clear whether it was part of the VAM algorithm or a formative assessment like NWEA that Seattle schools chose for themselves. Either way, teachers and parents who despair at the overuse of standardized tests will be heartened to see that a group of teachers were able to change the minds of one school district relative to the testing regimen.