Posts Tagged ‘common core state standards’

Better tests? Better get some better answers first. Part 1

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Here’s part 1 of my follow up to last week’s post about common core state standards and the developing related national assessments.

This week has seen a major flap over the Obama administration’s plans for testing under a new ESEA. The brouhaha started with remarks by President Obama at a student forum on March 28. In answer to a student’s question about whether there could be less testing, the President went on a riff against standardized tests and over-testing which brought back some fond memories of 2008 candidate Obama.

He railed that we’ve “piled on” too many standardized tests. He asserted that such tests should be given only “occasionally” as is the practice at his daughters’ private school, and even then shouldn’t have high-stakes attached. “Too often,” he said, “what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.”

Well, a few people found it remarkable to hear this strong anti-test rhetoric from a president whose Department of Education is prepared to expand standardized testing to unprecedented levels in its proposal for reauthorizing federal education laws.

Most notable was what teacher Anthony Cody wrote about Obama’s response on his Education Week blog, Living in Dialogue, where he concluded that, “Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.”

Almost immediately, someone from the Dept. of Education contacted Cody, asking him to post a “correction” to his “misinterpretation” of the President’s remarks.

Cody, who is a co-organizer of this summer’s Save our Schools March, came back with four questions for clarification, which the USDE’s press person eventually answered. You really need to read the whole exercise in bureaucratic doublespeak here.

But the upshot of the USDE’s argument is that we will have better tests. More formative assessments as opposed to one-shot tests. Tests of critical thinking as opposed to bubble tests. Growth measures as opposed to year-to-year apples and oranges comparisons. A “new generation of tests.” Tests scored by computers! Better tests.

At best, our children’s futures depend on that promise being real and realizable.

OK. So what are the odds that we will really have better, more accurate and helpful tests?

Here’s just one description of these “better tests” by a report by the International Center for Leadership in Education:

A new, next generation assessment program will accompany the Common Core State Standards. These assessments range far beyond the usual multiple-choice and short-answer questions. Instead, students will have to apply their knowledge to real-world situations through performance events…. Some performance events will take weeks to complete. These performance events will move instruction and assessment from Quadrants A (Acquisition) and B (application) to Quadrant D (Adaptation).

So, the odds are not too good. More in Part 2.

Common core standards: “A fundamental shift in the education marketplace”

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

The recently-completed common core state standards (CCSS) define what K-12 students need to know in order to be prepared for college and career. The process is being completed with work on related assessments.

“This is a fundamental shift in the education marketplace,” writes Pascal D. Forgione, the executive director of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), in an introductory letter to a guide to the new assessments, a collection of essays on the ongoing efforts to develop these new tests.

Marketplace is the definitely the key word for test publishers.

Common core state standards (CCSS) have already been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. According to Mr. Forgione, this means that “more than 80 percent of our nation’s public school students and teachers will be focused on the same content standards for their students.”

Some of what the guide says about the CCSS sounds good. About the new mathematics standards — “Because sufficient time is allocated and important ideas are developed over many years, there will be less need to teachers to repeat the same content year after year” (p. 3). The new English language arts standards will “discard the five-paragraph straightjacket” (p. 4).

You’ll have to check out the CCSS web site and read the guide to the assessments yourself to decide whether you believe common national standards can improve public education in the US, and only time will tell if they do. Either way, most of us are stuck with them.

But, red flags definitely begin to wave as the talk turns to standardized national assessments to support the CCSS.

For example, “The introductions to grades K – 8 identify two to four critical areas for each grade level, setting priorities for teachers, professional developers, and assessment writers…Faithful assessments will focus most of their time on these critical areas…” (p. 4).

In the past, PURE has raised concerns about the way Illinois identified certain of its state standards as “suitable for testing,” and developed a state assessment framework around those items. They urged districts not to use that framework as the curriculum, but really – teaching to the test was never made so easy. (See this fact sheet, “What’s testable?“)

What the Guide suggests to me is that there are far more questions than answers about the new national assessments. Will they be the “better tests” that President Obama and Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan say we need, and suggest that we’ll get? More on that here.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.