Monday, August 31, 2015

AP Notices Common Core Failure

In the midst of arguing about whose poll data supports which side in the debate about public education, AP writer Christine Amario Saturday noted that "As Common Core results trickle in, initial goals unfulfilled."

What began as an effort to increase transparency and allow parents and school leaders to assess performance nationwide has largely unraveled, chiefly because states are dropping out of the two testing groups and creating their own exams.

Common Core boosters have dealt with this big slice of failure by simply ignoring it and developing selective amnesia about the goal of having every state on the same page. But Amario offers a few reminders.

For instance, she takes us back to 2010 and Arne Duncan's promise that the tests would end the practice of having "fifty goalposts." In fact, back in the Core's infancy, Core pushers were pretty straightforward about how the whole program leaned on the testing component would push schools to adopt matching-- well, they couldn't say the word "curriculum" because a federally-inflicted curriculum would be illegal. But remember-- one advantage would be that a student moving from Idaho to Arkansas would be able to make the transition without missing a beat.

Amario even manages to get someone from Brookings to say something useful.

"The whole idea of Common Core was to bring students and schools under a common definition of what success is," said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "And Common Core is not going to have that. One of its fundamental arguments has been knocked out from under it."

Of course, part of the problem was that Core fans grossly underestimated the reaction to federal overreach. And while some Americans did (and still do) support the ideas behind the Core and Core testing in practice, they found that the reality of both was far less appealing. And so the vision of a country in which every single state gave one of two national Big Standardized Tests began collapsing almost instantly. But the PARCC is down to no more than eleven states, while SBA is down to fifteen. She also notes on the comparability front that PARCC and SBA don't even give the same number of performance levels (five for PARCC, four for SBA).

Amario tries to see if the tests are actually useful, and here her work is less impressive.

Rather than paper-and-pencil multiple choice tests, the new exams are designed to be taken by tablet or computer. Instead of being given a selection of answers to choose, students must show how they got their answer. Answer correctly and get a more difficult question. Answer incorrectly, get an easier one.

Welllllll... instead of being given a selection of answers to bubble in, students must, click, or drag and drop answers. And the record on adaptive testing is mixed at best.

Amario also lets an LAUSD official drop in an unchallenged assertion that the tests are providing "richer" information, which is patently ridiculous. In most states teachers are forbidden to see the questions and get no information about student performance beyond a simple score, which tells nothing about what the students did and did not answer correctly.

She notes that many test results came in low, but she doesn't examine the issue of cut scores and how they are set, a critical point, since the average civilian would find the idea of setting passing levels AFTER you've scored the test kind of dopey and rather the opposite of having standards.

So there's plenty of work still to be done. But still-- the AP just called out the Core for a total failure on one of its original major goals. That's at least one small victory for fans of public education.


  1. Unless you had every single school in the entire country teaching the same lesson the same day, you really wouldn't make much of a dent in the problem of student mobility, because people don't conveniently wait until the school year's over to move.

  2. in keeping lessons on the same track across the nation, you also have the issue of when school districts begin the school year. In MI, for example, the state mandates a start date after Labor Day. In the South, many schools have already put in a month's worth of lessons ...

  3. My favorite line "What began as an effort to increase transparency and allow parents and school leaders to assess performance nationwide has largely unraveled, chiefly because states are dropping out of the two testing groups and creating their own exams."

    Transparency? When PARCC is following students to make sure they do not reveal a question?

  4. Oh, thought you meant the College Board's AP. 😞 I was settling in for some internecine combat, like the GOP.