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In response to The Indignant Teacher on Common Core Standards

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September 6, 2013

On Sept. 6, The Indignant Teacher gave the public a lesson on why the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are bad Indignant Lesson #13: Why High-Stakes Tests are Bad.  The lesson was adapted from Christel Swasey, a Utah mother/former teacher/blogger. The blog listed why parents should fight against the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes tests.  I would like to add my interpretation of the facts to continue the discussion with parents and the public about education policy and to continue the discussion on the pros and cons of high-stakes tests and the Common Core State Standards.

First, I will list the Indignant Teacher’s lesson, and then comment immediately afterwards.

1. The Common Core State tests, which test math and English, are nontransparent and secretive.

The Common Core State tests are being developed.  It takes time to create valid and reliable tests.  The time taken to create the tests is intended to increase fairness, not diminish it.  The practice test for NC is available here, over a year before the high-stakes test  http://www.smarterbalanced.org/pilot-test/ 

2. I don’t believe in the Common Core standards upon which these tests are based. They are experimental. They snub classic literature. They dilute classical math. They were developed and copyrighted by two D.C. private clubs who have no accountability to me as a teacher or as a voter– (the NGA and CCSSO). They give power to a centralized system that is contrary to the constitutional concept of separating powers and empowering local control.

The standards are a document compiled by research of best practices.  The document is a good document in my estimation.  It is not what is in the document that is problematic, it is what is left out of the document, such as multicultural perspectives and creativity. How would we evaluate multiple perspectives and creativity? This  question begs for experimentation.  The standards are new, if that is what the Indignant Teacher means by “experimental.”  Polls indicate that teachers are in support of the CCSS.  According to an EdWeek.org survey:

  • An overwhelming majority of teachers feel that the CCSS quality is at least on par with their states’ prior standards. 
  • On the whole, teachers also agree that implementing the common standards will help them to improve their own teaching

The NGA stands for National Governor’s Association and CCSSO stands for Council of Chief State School Officers, so voters do have control. I do agree that the power is given to a centralized system.  The federal government is offering incentives for states to adopt the CCSS. See http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2013/oct/24/sondy-pope/how-much-federal-government-involved-common-core-s/ for more on this discussion point.

3. The tests feed the national data collection beast via the 50 nationally interoperable State Longitudinal Database Systems (SLDS), feed the P-20 child tracking/surveillance program, and will gather nonacademic, private information on students, including “behavioral indicators”.

This opinion is a political position not a policy issue specific to the Common Core State Standards.  

4. It’s nobody’s business, how my individual child does in math and English –except the teacher’s business, and mine. My child’s not to be counted as the government’s “human capital” and the government’s not an invited “stakeholder” in my child’s education, career, or life. Remember this: business leaders, governments and legislatures don’t have authority to use tests and data collection to snoop on any child (or adult) for “collective economic prosperity” or for any other reason.

As a citizen of this country, you and everyone else in the country does count as human capital. (you move to another country, you count as human capital in that country. Hence, the generous packages for Western teachers that you discovered.) Countries invest in education because this investment has shown to increase GDP.  Poverty is a predictor of student achievement and a root cause of the achievement gap.  If we can increase GDP, we can reduce poverty.  In addition, public education is public.  It is not just the responsibility of the parent and teacher of a students.  As Diane Ravitch has stated, it is the responsibility of every citizen to educate our children. If it is every person’s responsibility, the schools are accountable to more than just the child, parent, and teacher. Whether you believe in localized or centralized control of schools is a political position.

5. Overemphasis on high-stakes testing hurts kids and wastes instructional time.

6. Overemphasis on high-stakes testing hurts teachers. They will be controlled by how students do on the tests; this limits teachers’ autonomy in the classroom and is an insult to teachers’ professional judgment.

This was true before the Common Core State Standards and is tied to the testing-culture not the document adopted by the states.  I agree that overemphasis of standardized high-stakes tests have caused unintended consequences to students and teachers.  Au (2007/2013) conducted a qualitative metasynthesis of 49 studies about high-stakes testing.  The study found that high-stakes tests led to a narrowed the curriculum, fragmented knowledge, and teacher-centered pedagogy.  Au states, “As teachers negotiate high-stakes testing educational environments, the tests have the predominant effect of narrowing curricular content to those subjects included in the tests, resulting in the increased fragmentation of knowledge forms into bits and pieces learned for the sake of the tests themselves, and compelling teachers to use more lecture-based, teacher-centered pedagogies” (2007/2013, p. 246).  Sleeter and Stillman (2005/2013) also found a narrowed curriculum from outside the classroom power and fragmented knowledge.  The findings concerned Sleeter and Stillman because multicultural pedagogical practices call for integrated curriculum and student and teacher shared power over curriculum content. Siskin (2003/2013) shows an interesting example of how a curriculum changes once tested.  Music, once an example of high standards, authentic performance-based assessments, and accountability to the community, became a paper and pencil test of disjointed factoids. 

Further controversy surrounds the rewards and the sanctions for teachers and schools as a result of standardized high-stakes test scores.  Eisner (2001/2013) points to the extrinsic motivation such an emphasis on high-stakes testing promotes.  Even in the best case scenario, students become “reward junkies.”  The culture is one of learning for the test and not learning for learning sake.  As an educator, my hope for students is for them to have an intrinsic motivation not extrinsic motivation for learning, so that they will be life-long learners.  In addition to rewards, sanctions affect students and teachers also.  Sanctions can induce stress for teachers (Ravitch, 2010) and students.  As stated earlier, poverty is a predictor of academic achievement. Those who need the resources are punished by not getting resources while those who do not need resources are rewarded with more resources.  This creates a Matthew Effect, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  

The CCSS have more pros and cons than discussed here.  To read more about this issue, please read a great blog on Ed Week http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/11/common_core_standards_ten_colo.html?intc=mvs and the response from educators http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/11/two_responses_to_ten_colossal_.html.  I invite you to comment so that we can continue the conversation.

 

References

Au, W. (2007/2013). High-stakes testing and curriculum control: A qualitative metasynthesis. In D. J. Flinders & S, J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader, (pp.235-251).

 

Eisner, E. W. (2001/2013). What does it mean to say a school is doing well? In D. J. Flinders & S, J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader, (pp.279-287).

 

Harris, D. N., & Herrington, C. D. (2006).  Accountability, standards, and the growing achievement gap: Lessons from the past half-century.  American Journal of Education, 112(2),  209-238. 

 

Heyneman, S. P. (1987).  Uses of examinations in developing countries: Selection,research and education sector management.  International Journal of Education Development, 7(4), 251-263. Retrieved from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/peabody/heyneman/PUBLICATIONS/198702.pdf

 

Heyneman, S. P. (2004).  Education and Corruption.  International Journal of Educational Development, 24(6), 637-648. Retrieved from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/peabody/heyneman/PUBLICATIONS/Education%20%26%20Corruption.pdf.

 

Lexington.  (2005).  In praise of aptitude test.  The Economist.  Retrieved from www.economist.com/node/3739498‎.

 

Ravitch, D. (2010, Oct. 6). Retrieved from http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/diane-ravitch/ravitch-why-teachers-should-ne.html.  

 

Rohlen, Thomas P.  (1997).  Differences that make a difference.  In Cummings, W.K. & Altbach P. G. (Eds.), The challenge of eastern Asian education (pp. 223-248). Albany, NY: SUNY. 

 

Siskin, L. (2003/2013). Outside the core: Accountability in tested and untested subjects. In D. J. Flinders & S, J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader, (pp. 269-278).

 

Sleeter, C. & Stillman, J. (2005/2013). Standardizing knowledge in a multicultural society. In D. J. Flinders & S, J. Thornton (Eds.), The curriculum studies reader, (pp. 252-268).

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Author: 4 the World

4 the World identifies and collaborates with communities across the globe to empower them to identify and solve the most pressing needs of their communities within the areas of health and education. By partnering with the communities in these areas, we provide critical support and capacity-building initiatives to ensure these communities are capable of continuing to grow and thrive in the future.

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