Massachusetts abandons Common Core tests, but impact’s here to stay

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

LLOYD BENTSEN IV: Common Core is just another failed education reform.

The Massachusetts State Board of Education has voted to forego Common Core testing in favor of redesigning its own state exam, an influential move from a national education leader that may hasten the end of a national high-stakes testing era, while challenging education experts to come up with a better alternative. BOSTON — It has been one of the most stubborn problems in education: With 50 states, 50 standards and 50 tests, how could anyone really know what American students were learning, or how well?

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada was confident enough in the partial student results from its Common Core-aligned state test that it released them this week, even though 7 of 10 students weren’t tested because of computer glitches.For the first time in a long time, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is addressing head-on some of the key challenges facing K-12 education in the state. Under intense pressure from both the right and left of the political spectrum, states have been practically tripping over each other to drop the controversial tests: Parents complained they were too hard, conservatives alleged they represented a federal takeover, and teachers’ unions decried test score-based teacher evaluations. At a dinner with colleagues in 2009, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’s commissioner of education, hatched what seemed like an obvious answer — a national test based on the Common Core standards that almost every state had recently adopted. But Massachusetts, the education “miracle state” – whose students have for a decade topped the National Assessment for Educational Progress (audit tests often called “the nation’s report card”) – was considered a crucial supporter for Common Core tests and now, a crucial breakaway.

However, of the states that have adopted and implemented the standards, 14 are downgrading their participation or withdrawing from national tests designed around those standards. It was Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts, who helped develop Common Core aligned tests, according to The New York Times. To Baesler’s credit, she has spoken out repeatedly about the fact that North Dakota’s old statewide testing system delivered misleading and overly upbeat results. As Forum News Service reported last month, “Baesler said an ‘honesty gap’ has existed in the nation ‘and most certainly in our state.’ She pointed out that past North Dakota assessment scores showed students were between 70 and 80 percent proficient, yet 40 percent of them needed remedial courses in college.” Which should have been expected, given that “when those same students took other standardized tests, the results painted a less rosy picture,” as the Bismarck Tribune reported in its own interview with Baesler.

Two multistate testing groups — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — received $360 million in taxpayer funds to create Common Core-compliant tests. A score that counted as “approaching expectations” in one part of the country might be labeled “proficient” somewhere else – the same state-to-state differences Common Core creators had hoped to fix. “It may be a little too premature to declare it a failure,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education James A.

The state’s rejection of that test sounded the bell on common assessments, signaling that the future will now look much like the past — with more tests, but almost no ability to compare the difference between one state and another. “It’s hugely symbolic because Massachusetts is widely seen as kind of the gold standard in successful education reform,” said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, who is leading an evaluation of the national tests. “It opens the door for a lot of other states that are under a lot of pressure to repeal Common Core. Conservative critics have argued that the initiative is another instance of federal overreach, attempting to exert federal control over the public school curriculum.

Getting rid of these tests is a nice bone to throw.” The fight in Massachusetts has been dizzying, with a strange alliance between the teachers’ union and a conservative think tank that years before had been a chief proponent of the state’s earlier drive for standards and high-stakes tests. The fifth-largest school district in the country has already decided it won’t release the individual scores to students and parents as districts typically do. But some educators have urged patience, reminding testing skeptics that even in Massachusetts, educational turnaround has been nearly 20 years in the making. “If we revert back to the old standards, all this work will have been for naught,” Revere. So while parents and students here did not opt out of testing in the waves they did in places like New York and New Jersey, they also did not express much support. “It’s much more about politics than it is about education,” said Tom Scott, the executive director of the state superintendents’ association, which had encouraged the state to keep the multistate test.

People on either side of the debate here still celebrate the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 as “the grand bargain.” Democratic legislators and the Republican governor at the time, William F. Weld, agreed to give schools more money in exchange for ambitious standards defining what students were expected to learn and new tests tied to those standards, including one that, by 2003, students had to pass to graduate from high school. David Flatt, president of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association, said the move will ultimately benefit the smaller districts outside of southern Nevada that didn’t experience technical problems. Sandra Stotsky, senior associate commissioner in Massachusetts from 1999-2003, has emphasized that the state’s improvements stemmed not just from test-based standards and accountability, but an improved teacher licensure system, something the White House has also explored as a path to improving US schools. The backlash against Common Core has grown steadily since states first implemented the initiative, and now even teachers’ unions are withdrawing their support.

Chester and his counterparts in Louisiana and Florida proposed that states also combine resources on a test, not only to compare results but to afford a better test design. In past years Wyoming and Kansas were granted waivers when their testing was so compromised that they didn’t use their scores, even though all students finished the test. He awarded $4 billion in grants to 11 states that demonstrated dedication to education reform, including high-stakes testing and adopting standards such as Common Core.

Students who are fully engaged in difficult subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics have a much better chance to successfully develop skills for today’s workforce. Officials also agreed that it would be unfair for some students to have scores but not others, and irresponsible to offer student results it couldn’t be sure of. “It could possibly hurt the student if they were to be given information that was not valid,” said Denise Kahler, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education. As part of its Race to the Top program, the administration in 2010 awarded about $350 million to design the PARCC and the other national test, known as Smarter Balanced. But in 2014, the membership elected a new president, Barbara Madeloni, who had campaigned against high-stakes tests, period. “It is destructive to our students and our teachers and the very possibility of joyful and meaningful public education,” Madeloni said in an interview.

Supporters of the standards countered that Pioneer’s biggest donors include Koch and the Walton Family Foundation, funders of other conservative causes. Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s executive director, said, “David Koch never talked to me about Common Core.” Supporters of PARCC also accused its opponents of distorting facts.

No matter how well the government makes plans to fund and operate a program properly, it never will meet the standard of success achieved by private, competing enterprises. In fact, Common Core requires students to read more nonfiction, but only because it requires them to do expository reading in all subjects, including science and math. “The opposition was making some wild claims that the proponents answered with factual information, assuming that everyone would take a very rational approach to the facts and reach a valid conclusion,” said Linda M. Bentsen IV is the National Center for Policy Analysis senior research fellow covering a variety of topics that include education reform, school choice, student engagement, energy, environment, natural resources and economics.

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