Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Yet Another Common Core Musing: Josh Verges Must Read This Blog Only Once A Week Edition

Josh Verges takes issue with the following statement I made on a May 23, 2013 post:
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.
Apparently that statement is so egregious Verges doesn't care I posted an update shortly after it was written.

Verges stopped by to remind me that South Dakota will not be using Pearson to write Common Core Tests:
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.
Thirty minutes later, I responded with the following comment:
Thanks for the reminder. I had forgotten about Smarter Balanced.
After typing the comment, I also added the following update to the body of the post:
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.**
Pearson did write the Dakota Step tests. They also provide SDDOE technical reports about the Dakota Step

I also maintain my concern that the Core tests will focus on minutia. For example, South Dakota's Core standards demand that basic students be able to "identify active and passive voice." Advanced students are to be able to "creatively apply active and passive voice and justify their choices." I work to get students to use active voice and avoid passive. I have no problem with the standard or testing it. I should proof my own work to write more actively.

The South Dakota Core Standards also ask students to be able to use hyphens properly. Word wrap has made hyphenation far less necessary than it was when I took a high school typing class. (Yes, it was typing not keyboarding.) I worry that the new tests will spend more time testing hyphenation than they will active voice; the former may be easier to test, but the latter is more important.

I also maintain another worry expressed in the May 23rd post: the biggest harm the Core will have is that  English departments will  teach non-fiction at the expense of meaningful fiction. Let me use the following David Mendelsohn paragraph as an example:
It was hard not to think of all this—of the Iliad with its grand funereal finale, of the Odyssey strangely pivoting around so many burials, and of course of “Antigone”—as I followed the story of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s unburied body over the past few weeks. I thought, of course, of canny politicians eyeing the public mood, and of the public to whom those politicians wanted to pander. I thought even more of the protesters who, understandably to be sure, wanted to make clear the distinction between victim and perpetrator, between friend and foe, by threatening to strip from the enemy what they saw as the prerogatives of the friend: humane treatment in death. The protesters who wanted, like Creon, not only to deny those prerogatives to an enemy but to strip them away again should anyone else grant them—to “unbury the body.” I thought of Martha Mullen, a Christian, who insisted that the Muslim Tsarnaev, accused of heinous atrocities against innocent citizens, be buried just as a loved one might deserve to be buried, because she honored the religious precept that demands that we see all humans as “brothers,” whatever the evil they have done.
Mendelsohn assumes readers will be familiar with the literature to which he alludes. More importantly, literature helps one make sense of the world. It is an especially powerful tool in a world with more questions than answers. Core advocates claim the Core will focus on classics like the Iliad and Antigone. I love the classics, so I have no qualm with the Core on that issue. Those same advocates seem willing to sacrifice regional works and 21st Century works such as Gilead, The Road, The Life of Pi, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavilier & Clay. I question the benefits of non-fiction replacing or preventing the adoption of contemporary fiction.

Verges also takes issue with Cory Heidelberger's posts about the Common Core. I will let Cory speak for himself, so that I can mention a couple of other concerns that I have with with Verges's post.

First, he quotes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and refers readers to defenses of the Common Core without adding any balancing commentary or links to Core critics. His post focuses on testing, so he could have linked to some Diane Ravitch commentary about testing. The implication that Cory and I are the only ones concerned about testing is erroneous.

Further, Verges ignores that some Core supporters are beginning to argue that the Core and whatever tests accompany it illustrate "the Common Core needs a common curriculum."

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think the Core is a U.N. conspiracy. South Dakotans do seem fond of local control. A common curriculum would weaken if not eliminate local control.

I erred; I posted an admission of that error. Verges, however, chooses to focus on the original error and ignore the correction. He also ignores any other testing or Core critics.

**Update: Verges does respond to tweets. He has updated his post to reflect the fact that I edited my original post after he commented. (8:53 pm 5/28/2013)

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