Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Few Musings About Common Core Failures

Josh Verges reports that Rick Melmer, late of the University of South Dakota and a former South Dakota Secretary of Education, will began working for the Common Core. I have little hope that Melmer will do anything to fix any of the Core's problems. I do hope he takes note of some of the Core's detrimental effects of education.

Valerie Strauss uses this Answer Sheet post to reprint a letter from New York City principals discussing flaws with Common Core tests. The letter identifies Pearson "a company with a history of mistakes" as part of the problem. The principals seem more positive about the Core than I am, but they point out a key problem that arises when the Core is tied to a standardized test:
In both their technical and task design, these tests do not fully align with the Common Core. If one was to look closely at the Common Core Learning Standards ( and compare them to the tests, it is evident that the ELA tests focused mostly on analyzing specific lines, words and structures of information text and their significance rather than the wide array of standards.
As a result, many students spent much of their time reading, rereading and interpreting difficult and confusing questions about authors’ choices around structure and craft in informational texts, a Common Core skill that is valuable, but far from worthy of the time and effort given by the test. Spending so much time on these questions was at the expense of many of the other deep and rich common core skills and literacy shifts that the state and city emphasized. The Common Core emphasizes reading across different texts, both fiction and non-fiction, in order to determine and differentiate between central themes—an authentic college practice. Answering granular questions about unrelated topics is not. Because schools have not had a lot of time to unpack Common Core, we fear that too many educators will use these high stakes tests to guide their curricula, rather than the more meaningful Common Core Standards themselves. And because the tests are missing Common Core’s essential values, we fear that students will experience curriculum that misses the point as well. [emphasis mine]
South Dakota uses Pearson to write its tests. The tests I have seen when I have been asked to administer them in the past ignore many skills that aren't easy to test in favor of those that are easy to fit in a multiple guess format.

I still believe the biggest harm the Core will is having English departments teach non-fiction at the expense of meaningful fiction. The fact that the tests that Pearson produces will cause schools to narrow their curricula further exacerbates that problem.

Update: In the comments Josh Verges stops by to remind me that Pearson will not be doing the tests South Dakota uses. I stand by my comments about their past work.


@ua14 said...

Pearson won't be writing the CCS-aligned tests. That task falls to two consortia (S.D. joined Smarter Balanced) that got huge federal grants.
The ACT folks also are writing tests in hopes states will pick them, as Alabama already has.
Anyway, the new tests will be online and go far beyond multiple choice.
As for fiction, the ratios in the CCS book represent all of what students learn in a given grade. English classes will remain heavy on non-fiction.

Kal Lis said...

Thanks for the reminder. I had forgotten about Smarter Balanced.

The ratios do represent a problem. I believe the situation will be worse than those ratios because science and social science still are not tested.