Peter DeWitt wrote a response spun from Marc Tucker's most excellent posting about testing culture and its effects on American education. Tucker's piece scathingly but accurately marks the harmful effects of test-driven education without actually attacking CCSS at all. In his response, DeWitt writes, "It makes me question whether the Common Core is guilty by association, or just plain guilty."
It's one of the most thoughtful versions I've read of the question, "Can CCSS be decoupled from testing? And once decoupled, could CCSS actually turn out to be a force for good?"
Even as recently as a year ago, we might have only guessed what the answer to that question might be. Today, we have a pretty good idea.
With the more widescale implementation of CCSS, we see the same scene repeated in classroom after classroom. A teacher (maybe elementary math, maybe high school reading, maybe some other affected teacher) contemplates a lesson from their CCSS-aligned Pearson-produced materials. "This lesson is terrible. Terribly paced and inappropriate for my students, and the explanation will not make any sense to them," the teacher says, or thinks. "But I have to do this material anyway because it's on the test."
"Because it's on the test" has increasingly become the leading pedagogical rationale since the advent of NCLB. The story of NCLB and RTTT has been the story of crafting an answer to the follow-up question-- "So what if it's on the test?" That answer is, of course, "If you fail the test, we will punish the students, the teachers, the administration, the school, and the taxpayers." And so educational value, pedagogical soundness, time-tested effectiveness, student need-- all of those old ways of planning instruction take a back seat to "because it's on the test."
So "Because it's on the test" is answer enough.
We teach writing badly because that style of writing is on the test. We teach mathematical concepts too early because they are on the early test. We teach a warped version of a single literary analysis technique because that's what's on the test.
Teachers commit any number of acts of educational malpractice in a week because they're on the test. It is literally the ONLY reason that we are doing some of the things we do in the classroom.
The decoupling question is really asking this: What would teachers do if "because it's on the test" were no longer a reason to teach anything?
We already have a hint.
We already do it because of the test. The CCSS has some lovely language about cooperative learning. Nobody's teaching that because it's not on the test. There some nice lip service to questions with multiple correct responses. Also sitting gathering dust, because that's not on the test.
Take away the test, and teachers would rewrite the standards on the ground. Teachers would use their experience and training and professional judgment to adjust the standards to suit the students in their classroom. They would add (without regard for 15%) the standards that are missing. They would adjust the pace and depth of their instruction to match the needs of the students in their classrooms. They would replace "because it is on the test" with "because it best serves the needs of my students."
The coupling of testing and CCSS is, in its own way, the ultimate proof of CCSS's suckiness. Because if the CCSS were good, really good, you know what would happen if we decoupled?
Nothing. Teachers would say, "Thank you for these most excellent standards! I will take them back to my classroom and use them happily! They're so great; I'm not going to change a thing."
But CCSS are a straightjacket, and "because it's on the test" is the padlock that keeps it tight. Like a terrible performer, CCSS can only command a captive audience, and the chains on the door are "because it's on the test."
DeWitt wonders if CCSS is guilty by association, and it's true. Sometimes a nice guy looks like a criminal because he's hanging out with the wrong crowd, and test-driven accountability, as Tucker rightly argues, is one of the ugliest crowds around. But sometimes a guy is hanging out with a bunch of bad guys because he is, himself, a bad guy. With CCSS and test-driven accountability, I don't think it's so much a matter of "guilt by association" as "birds of a feather."