I wanted to continue posting on some of the implementation issues posed by the Common Core. My subject for today is assessment, or rather more accurately, lack thereof.
Returning to the Education Week article that I cited in my last post.
One of the biggest questions hanging over common-standards implementation is what will be on the tests designed for them. Some educators have reported reluctance to move ahead with curriculum because they don’t yet know what the assessments, scheduled to be fully operational in 2014-15, will look like. Others feel confident enough to move ahead based on what they can glean from the standards themselves.
Educators’ judgments about whether the tests truly reflect the standards will be crucial to sustaining the standards over the long term, said Mr. Jennings of the Center on Education Policy.
“The biggest potential obstacle is the tests,” he said. “Because of their experience with NCLB, teachers want to know, what are the tests going to require? Will the tests back up what they are supposed to do with the new standards? If they don’t, then the entire effort is lost.”
Even though we haven’t seen the assessments yet, they feature in some discussions of the common core as a kind of magic bullet. THESE assessments will test higher-order learning skills. THESE assessments won’t provoke the same “teaching to the test” debate among teachers and parents.
Well, maybe. But I have considerable sympathy with teachers who worry about being held accountable for teaching to the standards without knowing just what form this accountability will take.
I also worry, as I’ve mentioned before, that states will back away from (the admittedly mostly inadequate and undemanding) tests they had adopted in response to NCLB, without replacing these tests with any other meaningful assessment.
But let’s assume that these new tests beat the odds and genuinely capture how well students understand complex texts, or can apply mathematical concepts to a wide range of problems. My guess is that even then we won’t be altogether happy with the results.
I was thinking about this as I read the Associated Press article on the Advanced Placement tests that ran in The Deseret News on Sunday.
As the article points out,
Last year, 18 percent of U.S. high school graduates passed at least one AP exam (by scoring 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5), up from 11 percent a decade ago.
But there are also many more students falling short — way short — on the exams.
The proportion of all tests taken last year earning the minimal score of 1 increased over that time, from 13 percent to 21 percent. At many schools, virtually no students pass.
For instance, in Indiana — among the states pushing AP most aggressively, and with results close to the national average — there were still 21 school districts last year where graduates took AP exams but none passed.
I’m actually an advocate of expanding the AP program to include more students, if only because AP classes, if taught rigorously (the only way they CAN be taught if students are going to succeed) opens students’ eyes to how much they are expected to know, and how analytically they are expected to apply that knowledge, in a demanding college-level class.
But the disappointing AP test results do suggest that entering an AP class alone does not work magic on a student’s brain. Meanwhile, of course, parents, students and schools are shelling out significant dollars for these tests. I’ve never minded asking my students and their parents to pay this fee (and yes, my school does offer assistance for students who cannot afford the test.) And I don’t expect every student who takes one of these tests to pass. A 100% pass rate would probably mean that I’d been too restrictive in admitting students to the class.
Still, we need to be wary of setting up teachers and students for failure. Unfortunately, we also need to be wary that low test scores will serve as a weapon against the test, rather than a warning sign that we need to do better.
At any rate, I would feel a lot more comfortable about the common standards if we moved forward with full-fledged implementation AFTER we’d had a glimpse at these tests. From what I’m reading on the blog, many of you out there agree.