Common Core and High Stakes Testing

Currently I work for a company that is developing online test-prep courses to prepare elementary and high school students for high stakes testing.  This year, states are preparing to use tests developed by one of two consortiums: SBAC or PARCC. Politicians have been pandering to a plethora of controversy regarding these tests.  Here are a few thoughts.

Tail Wagging the Dog
Tail Wagging the Dog

PARCC and SBAC developed the tests to determine whether the students are attaining a specified standard of learning. Students expect to fail these tests.  Therefore they opt out, or take test-prep courses to prepare for the test.

Educators and politicians developed a standard of learning common for all states named Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, to establish a high standard of achievement for all fifty states.  They expect higher standards will result in teachers teaching more stuff and students learning more stuff.

Reformers have been improving education ever since teachers have been teaching and students have been learning.  Recent reform began in 1957, in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik. Because we feared the smart Soviets would bury the dumb Americans, politicians passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which, among other things, required schools to set standards and means for assessment in order to receive federal funding.

States developed different standards, then later adopted Common Core to standardize the standards and maintain federal funding.  Politicians railed against CCSS as an infringement on states’  rights, without a clue of what’s inside them.  Publishers create resources aligned to  CCSS without a clue whether students will actually read them. They market to school districts, not students.

Teachers teach the fundamental theorem of algebra because it’s one of the standards.  Good students come to class and do their homework to learn fundamental theorem of algebra because it will be on the test.  Bad students, if they come to school, come to make connections with their peers.

A Parable

A farmer had three sons. The good son worked hard every day in the fields.  The slacker son hung out in the barn and smoked weed.  The evil son also smoked weed and tried to entice the good son to plant more weed among the corn stalks.

The farmer wanted all his sons to be good sons, so he said, “I need to establish a standard: All sons must work eight hours in the field each day.” He also declared that sons who did not meet the standard would not receive their pay.

The good son continued to work hard in the fields.  The slacker son got depressed and smoked more weed.  In addition to smoking more weed, the evil son joined a union to rectify the harsh treatment by the farmer.



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Born in Harrisburg, PA. Undergrad at Drexel University. Learned to ride a bike when six years old, riding ever since. Started cooking when I was in college, stopped when I got married, started again in 2006 when my wife was out of town for a few months. Jobs: worked at post office while in college to earn money to buy a stereo. After grad school, worked at a small software company in Redmond, WA for twelve years. Afterwards, went back to school to get a certificate, then started teaching high school. Still doing that off and on, part time as the need arises.

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