The next big common core fight

While most states are still gearing up to implement the common core math and language arts standards,

“Kentucky is the first state to tie its tests to the new national Common Core standards in English and math.”

And the result?

In Kentucky this year, the percentage of elementary and middle-school students who rated “proficient” or better on statewide math and reading tests declined by about a third.

Kentucky high schoolers also experienced a double-digit percentage point decline in both subjects.

State officials have been quick to explain that the new tests reflect more demanding standards and in particular ask students to demonstrate higher-order critical thinking skills. That may well be true, but the news from Kentucky reinforces a point I’ve made before. If the education establishment really gets the kind of tests education policy experts and many teachers claim to want – tests that go beyond basic skills – they should brace themselves for the results. Better tests (and I don’t know that these tests are in fact better) will almost surely deliver more bad news than good.

The Utah legislature, which is rapidly rethinking the state’s commitment to the common core, has chosen to back out of the multi-state testing consortium. As the same article reports:

Two groups of states are working to develop competing sets of tests based on the Common Core standards. Ritz says she’d like to reconsider Indiana’s participation in one of those groups and the terms under which it was issued a waiver for No Child Left Behind.

Political pressure already has led another state to pull out of one of the testing groups: In August Utah announced that it would no longer be participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Several months before Utah pulled out, its state Senate passed a resolution urging the State Board of Education to reconsider its adoption of the Common Core.

“My initial concern with the Common Core was the level of influence and control that would eventually come from the federal government,” says state Senator Aaron Osmond, who introduced the resolution. “Utah is a very conservative state, we’re very concerned about what is taught in our schools.”

Osmond has since revised his view somewhat, and says he sees value in making it easier for states to compare academic performance and for students to move between states without falling behind.

However, he still believes Utah was right to leave the testing consortium, because now that it’s less invested in developing one of the tests, it can be freer in deciding which of several Common Core tests to adopt. And while his position on the standards has softened, Osmond anticipates that there will still be several bills introduced in the state’s next legislative session objecting to implementation of the Common Core.

I wish I felt confident that opposition to the common core standards – which I view with some sympathy – will translate into a commitment to better standards and tests. . . and not just complacency with the status quo.

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