Core of the Matter: Common Core Assessments: Cause for Concern? (#CoreMatters)
July 01, 2014 09:57 am
Four years after they were released, the Common Core State Standards have become one of the hottest political issues in the United States, igniting fierce debates, protest marches, and impassioned (though not always factual) speeches and articles. Three states, Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, have moved to rescind their adoption of the Common Core and replace them with home-grown standards, and other states are poised to join them.
These actions are causes for concern among advocates for educational equity. As Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, has pointed out, the Common Core provides an opportunity to “bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography, or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.”
Yet while pulling out of the Common Core threatens to deny this opportunity for leveling the playing field for low-income students and students of color, there is an even more insidious threat from states that choose to retain the standards yet do little to implement them. In those states, students will ostensibly be expected to learn what the Common Core lays out and graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, but the states will have done little to ensure that teachers are prepared to enable all students to develop those competencies.
One set of clues about states’ intentions are the decisions states are making about the assessments they will use to measure student progress toward the Common Core State Standards. These decisions are critical. If an assessment does not measure the full breadth of what the Standards expect, the information they provide to students, parents, and teachers about the extent to which students have learned what they were expected to learn will be misleading. In addition, research has shown clearly that when standards and tests diverge, teachers (quite understandably) focus on what is tested, rather than what the standards say.
The early indications raise some red flags. Only 42 percent of students live in states that plan to use tests developed by one of two state consortia (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) that are creating assessments specifically designed to measure the Common Core. The other 58 percent live in states that are using other tests or haven’t made up their minds. The situation is even more disturbing at the high school level. Seven states that are using consortia tests in grades three through eight will use a different test in high school.
To be sure, the consortia tests, which were field-tested this spring, might not be perfect, and other tests might measure the breadth of the Standards equally well. But the consortia have been fully transparent in their plans and designs, and those designs suggest that the assessments will measure students’ ability to think critically and solve problems, not just factual recall. Much less is known about the other assessments. Moreover, to the extent states are choosing other assessments to save money, the likelihood is that their tests will not measure all the competencies students are expected to demonstrate. In testing, you get what you pay for.
Advocates for educational equity have been vocal in their continued support for the Common Core State Standards and have provided an important voice in states where the Standards are challenged. Advocates need to be equally vocal in ensuring that states that keep the Standards fulfill their commitment to all students. Testing is a crucial component of that commitment.
Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education and author of Fewer, Clearer, Higher: How the Common Core State Standards Can Change Classroom Practice.