Archive for October, 2015

From K on Up

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The usual uproar has resounded in the media since the latest scores for high-stakes once-a-year testing have been released. Which state has more students at Level 3 (meets the standard)? Which has more at Level 1 (not meeting the standard)? As if, that is all that counts. I hope not.

The first error of media talk is to call the results “Common Core Scores.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of learning standards devised to better organize what students in the United States learn by the time they graduate from high school. CCSS is not a test/assessment/exam. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) states have designed an assessment to see how well students have achieved as they go through twelve years of learning. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) has also developed an assessment that some states use. It is misleading to call them Common Core tests. How about “test questions aligned with CCSS” or “test questions based on standards of CCSS”?

Second, the conflict is over the test that is used, not the standards. And part of the furor is over who takes the test. Should Kindergarteners take the test? No. Should twelfth graders take the exam. No, they are taking SAT, AP exams, ACT. They’ve already learned what they are going to learn. Schools should focus on making sure those kids graduate and maybe go to college.

Third, what do the scores show? In California, overall, students did better on the English Language Arts assessment than the Math in this year’s 2015 test which the state calls the baseline to compare with the old STAR yearly exam, baseline 2003. Have all states released their outcomes? No. They are arguing about them. Instead, the issue should be to analyze how different aggregates of students did and then adjust the school/district/state curriculum to improve.

Next, why are parents and teachers upset? Because states are using the scores to evaluate teachers as well as students and calling them low-performing. I say, you don’t need tests to know how teachers or students are performing. You should use tests only to help teachers understand how to improve the curriculum; to help students get tutoring; to create small classes with more than one teacher to work with them. For example, a representative of the non-profit Californians Together says the tests can identify English Language Learners in order to find effective programs to help increase their English learning.

Last, why are schools/districts/states obsessing over a once-a-year method of assessing students? And throwing it out and starting over in hopes of getting better outcomes? If a better process was set up to train teachers; to oversee schools; to provide help for students in need; to spend time during the school year for teachers to use smaller formative assessment that allows for curriculum adaptation during the year; I feel you would see the opportunity for critical thinking, problem solving, analytical writing — the goals of CCSS.

From Kindergarten on up the gap in students’ knowledge across the country would slowly shrink.