Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Economist Questions The Wisdom Of Common Core Tests Before Common Core Curriculum

Here's a piece today from one writer at The Economist with a daughter taking the new Common Core tests who questions the wisdom in pushing through the changes so rapidly:

EVERY child in the third through eighth grade in New York’s public schools will be asked to sit this week for three days of testing in the English Language Arts, to be followed by another three days of mathematics assessment next week. This has been the ritual in New York for some time, a sign of spring as sure as the first daffodils. But this year promises greater anxiety than usual: students will encounter much more challenging questions when they open up their test booklets, and some of the items will include material their teachers haven’t covered in class.

New York is one of the first states to revamp its annual exams to match up with the new Common Core Standards, a comprehensive set of academic expectations designed with the goal of better preparing American children for “college and careers”.


The overhauled assessments are designed as a “wake-up call” that American children are “scoring far below other countries on international assessments.” It’s all shock and awe. Officials are promising that the plummeting test scores will not translate into a surge of summer-school assignments or increases in other remedial coursework. As the deputy New York City schools chancellor, Shael Polakow-Suransky was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “everyone is in the same boat”. A low score is not the end of the world:

Statistically speaking, city officials said, people should not worry too much about falling marks because everyone is taking the same new tests. Schools, students and teachers will be judged against one another.

There’s a smidgen of comfort. But it’s not terribly reassuring to hear you are all in the same boat if that vessel is the Titanic. So much for the entire concept of a standards-based test, which means assessing all students based on a single, immovable rubric and letting the chips fall where they may. To temper the anticipated blow of the results, New York is effectively grading on a curve.

Which raises the question: why now? Why has New York decided to subject students to these exams well before the standards have been fully implemented in the classrooms? (Most states are holding off until 2015.) My daughter is a strong math student, and loves taking tests, but when she was given a practice test over the winter holiday that contained high-level work with fractions, division with three-digit numbers and even a dab of algebra, her eyes grew wide. Nothing like this had ever appeared in a lesson in her third-grade classroom. Her teacher has been scrambling to teach these concepts over the past few weeks to get the 8-year-olds ready, but it’s bound to be too little, too late. The teachers are not at fault: much of the content on the practice exams was a surprise to them as well. With school ratings and teacher evaluations hinging on the results, everyone has an investment in this perverse and premature exercise.

On the eve of the testing yesterday, my daughter’s teacher invited the students to draw themselves pictures of “test monsters” they could rip up when they were feeling anxious. She sent home a flyer asking parents to write their children “a short message of support and encouragement” that they can read before cracking the test booklets. Here is the note my wife and I tucked into our daughter’s backpack: “We hope you enjoy the exam, sweetheart. We know you’ll do well and we're very proud of you. Keep calm and carry on."

The writer asks a good question: "Why has New York decided to subject students to these exams well before the standards have been fully implemented in the classrooms?"

The answer is quite simple - the powers that be have a political agenda that they want to push through all at once that has nothing to do with helping students or teachers

They want, as Rick Hess noted here, to show suburban parents that their public schools are failing as much as they say urban schools are.

They want to convince the public that this is the fault of "bad teachers" and "failing schools" and fire the former while closing the latter.

They are using the new Common Core tests with the ramped-up difficulty and the new teacher evaluation system known as APPR that ties evals to test scores as their weapons against schools and teachers.

They claim these radical changes are actually to help students and teachers, but if they really thought that, they would have piloted these changes in slowly over time in a couple of places before thrusting the new Common Core tests and the new APPR system onto the entire state all at once.

But they don't actually care about either students or teachers so they didn't pilot any of these changes at all. 

In fact, the APPR evaluation system remains half-baked at best, as Bruce Baker shows here and here and Carol Burris shows here, and will almost certainly be the target of lawsuits the way the half-baked value-added evaluation system in Florida now is. 

And the Common Core tests themselves are half-baked as well, as Carol Burris shows here and Fred Smith shows here.

But the education corporatists in charge in this state don't care about any of that because they have a goal in mind that has nothing to do with improving teaching and learning.

The ultimate goal here is to convince the public that only radical privatization to the system - in short, school choice  - will make things better.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, with connections to a shyster online for profit education operator, and NYSED Commissioner John King, with connections to the charter industry, do not like public schools or unionized public school teachers.

Nor do the hedge fund managers, Wall Street bankers and other corporate people who put them into power.

Their war against public schools is playing out all this week and next with these Common Core tests.

When the results come in, you can bet Tisch and King are going to have to hide their smiles as they blame the poor scores on "bad teachers" and "failing schools."

As I've said again and again, the game here is rigged.

Giving Common Core tests before the Common Core standards have been fully implemented into classrooms and before the Common Core curriculum is fully developed is just a very blatant example of that.


  1. The Economist is owned atleast half if not more, by none other than Pearson. I guess they don't want the bad press about the exam to ruin their future marketing schemes.

    1. Thanks for that - I knew the FT was owned by Pearson, but I didn't realize The Economist was as well.

      Maybe one member of the braintrust, with her/his own daughter suffering under the Common Core regime, has seen the light. But the education reform-friendly Economist will, I am sure, always remain education reform-friendly.