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by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
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Tweaks won't satisfy Common Core foes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not the type to admit to making a mistake.
But contained within the state budget for 2014-2015 is a quiet acknowledgement that the rollout of the controversial Common Core learning standards left much to be desired.
If approved, the budget’s education bill would apply some minor tweaks to the standardized tests linked to the Common Core.
According to news reports, it would ban the testing of young children and keep test scores off the transcripts of students in third through eighth grades through 2018. Districts would also be prohibited from using test scores as a major factor in whether to pass a student to the next grade.
That sounds fine to me.
Children as young as 4 or 5 should not be taking standardized tests, and I see no good reason to make standardized test scores part of a student’s permanent record. When I was 5, I could barely tie my shoes or remember my phone number. Should the process of labeling and judging kids based on how well they do on standardized tests really begin in elementary school? Perhaps there are other, better ways to determine how elementary school kids are faring and what they’re capable of academically.
But will the changes in the budget be enough to placate the Common Core’s many opponents, who span the political spectrum?
Will they be enough to mollify the group of parents in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District who have banded together to oppose Common Core? Will they be enough to derail the growing number of parents who are seeking to opt their children out of standardized tests?
These people don’t want to reform Common Core and improve the testing regimen associated with it. They want to get rid of Common Core and drastically overhaul the way standardized testing is conducted in New York. They’re not going to be happy with delaying the reporting of standardized test scores on student transcripts. They want to do away with the practice forever.
This week, students in grades three to eight are taking Common Core-based tests. Administrators have already warned that this year’s scores are likely to be just as bad as last year’s.
Last year, only about 30 percent of New York’s third- through eighth-graders passed the tougher state English and math exams. Even schools that have traditionally performed well on such tests saw their scores plunge.
I’ve been encouraged by the opposition to Common Core and the willingness of parents to stand up and ask questions about it.
Too often, these parents have been met with condescension, as when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attributed the opposition to “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”
Personally, I think it’s more likely that parents are
reacting to the fact that Common Core has been imposed on local districts with little public input or discussion.
A 2013 op-ed in the New York Times, written by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, professors with expertise in education, described Common Core as “essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its website lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number.” One of the big backers of Common Core was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided more than $150 million to develop the standards.
Some of the most vocal opponents of Common Core are conservatives, who believe the new standards represent an unconscionable overreach of federal power.
My concern is a little different: I see Common Core as the latest educational fad, an attempt to improve student outcomes by raising standards while failing to address the underlying social problems that lead to subpar student achievement. If I had to make a prediction, I’d predict that students who do poorly on standardized tests will continue to do poorly, and that our elected officials will use these poor test results as a pretext for bashing public schools and teachers.
My guess is that the Common Core reforms contained in the budget will do little to satisfy skeptical parents and educators.
And they shouldn’t.

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April 2, 2014
8:01 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

The reason for making standardized tests part of a student's record is to track their progress. If they are going to be assessed later according to these scores, it makes sense to begin the testing early due to the importance of the performance in grades K-4. 30% of kids in one census track in the city begin Kindergarten at below normal standards. Once a child falls behind it is a challenge to get them where they need to be. And, testing and tracking performance can tell us what educational interventions are effective. But that does not mean we should place too much emphasis on testing.

I do not think Common Core is fad, as much as it is a reasonable strategy poorly implemented. One of the reasons precipitating CC is the fact that many students were arriving at college, some thriving while other are woefully underprepared. Shouldn't a high school diploma be indicative of a certain level of academic competence? The problem with relying solely on local control entirely is the wide discrepancy in academic performance among states. Mississippi and Louisiana always the lowest rated states. I doubt conservatives are happy with those results. And, to some degree, there should be a national standard of sorts - students leaving high school should be able to read at a certain level and be able to understand a reasonable level of math and science information. But national standards cannot be implemented without local input and control. I think the Secretary of Education has erred in thinking that all of this can be managed by the federal government dispensing or withholding incentives.

RE: addressing the underlying social problems - I agree, but you cannot wait to implement educational reforms until those problems are addressed because the problems are extremely difficult if not impossible to address. Educational performance will have to addressed in spite of some of those issues.

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