Tag: PARCC

Is Education Nationalization Falling Apart?

While the fight against nationalizing education has focused primarily on the Common Core, the nationalization offensive seems to be falling apart on the testing front; a classic, it’s-the-one-you-don’t-see-that-gets-you situation. Yes, several states have seen recent, serious resistance to the Core–I just testified about this in Arkansas–but no state that officially adopted the Core has unadopted it.

Then there’s the testing.

Two days ago, Georgia declared that it would be leaving the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers–one of the two testing consortia chosen by the U.S. Secretary of Education to receive big federal grants–and would pursue its own tests. Georgia joins Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma and Utah heading out the exits, with strong rumblings that Indiana and Florida will be joining them. (I wrote about Florida “padding” school assessments yesterday.) Why is this important? Because as Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has written, for standards-based reform to work, there must be a “tripod of standards, testing, and accountability.” And for national standards to work, there must be a national tripod: all schools must use the same standards and tests to compare how all kids are doing, and there must be uniform punishments for schools that do not do well. As Finn is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, if states use their own tests, “We won’t be able to compare their test scores—it’s almost as simple as that.”

This raises the crucial question: who must be in charge of constructing and maintaining the tripod to get everyone uniformly on board? It’s a question nationalizers have been loath to tackle because the answer is obvious (at least if you ignore that no level of centralized government is likely to maintain high standards and accountability): Washington. Only the federal government has the ability, by taking taxpayers’ money then offering it back with rules attached, to coerce all states into doing the same things. See, for instance, drinking ages. Or adopting the Common Core, which Washington got almost all states to do very quickly through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program.

Ironically, it is perhaps because Common Core supporters have devoted huge amounts of their time and resources to denying that Washington had a major role in advancing the Core–a role they quietly called for–that may have caused them to miss the cracking in the tripod’s testing leg. Or perhaps they knew, because most states wouldn’t do so on their own, that they would need Washington to force states to adopt uniform tests, while understanding that openly stating that necessity would prove toxic to their cause. They knew that Americans, largely, do not want overt federal control over what their schools teach and how their kids are tested. So they continued to downplay the need to establish any sort of governing structure to keep their tripod together, lest simple logic make clear to the public that only Washington could accomplish what the standardizers need.

In other words, the need to stay hush-hush about the federal role–in order to protect national standardization–ultimately may be what kills it.

Is Common Core about to Melt Down?

Is the national curriculum standards debate about to go nuclear?

Proponents of national standards, as I’ve pointed out many times, have made a concerted effort to avoid attention as they’ve insidiously—and successfully—pushed the so-called Common Core on states. They’ve insisted the effort is “state led,” even though states didn’t create the standards and Washington coerced adoption through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers. They’ve called adoption “voluntary,” even with the heavy hand of the Feds behind them. And they’ve assiduously avoided what blew up past efforts to impose national standards: concrete content such as required readings or history lessons that were guaranteed to make people angry.

Well, with a recent unveiling of sample items for federally funded tests that go with the standards, all that might be about to change, and the whole thing could become radioactive to the public.

A couple of days ago the HechingerEd blog—from the education-centric Hechinger Report—published a post looking at preliminary testing items from the two consortia hand-picked by the Obama administration to create the national tests. Included in the post were links to sample items. I didn’t hit every one, but those I did check out contained, among other things,  confusing readings, poor questions, and lame functionality (in some cases the reading material on which questions were based didn’t even show up). And here’s one for the grammarians: A video-based item about the effect of weightlessness on astronauts’ bodies asked how weightlessness is like “lying” on a bed. The astronaut being interviewed, however, said it’s like “laying on a bed.” A small matter, perhaps, but one among many matters both small and big.

And here’s a really big one:

Smarter Balanced officials gave an example of a multi-part question in which high school students are asked to imagine they are the chief of staff for a congresswoman. Before they start working on the test, their teacher is supposed to lead a classroom activity about nuclear power. The students are then asked to come up with a list of pros and cons about nuclear power. Finally, they must write up a presentation for the congresswoman to give at a press conference later that day…. Questions like the one about nuclear power are more expensive, because they will likely require a trained evaluator to score them.

So much for avoiding controversy! Not only do we discover that the tests will have students take on hot-button topics like nuclear power, but scores will be meted out by human evaluators.

The fears and problems are clear: What should students be told about nuclear power—or any other contentious issue—that the tests address? Who decides? Will evaluators really just grade students on the structure of their presentations, or whether students write things with which the evaluators agree?  How will scoring be consistent among evaluators? Even if consistent, how will students and parents be assured of that?

This day had to arrive sooner or later. Eventually, something substantive had to come from the Common Core crowd. The question now is whether it will cause the whole, dubious undertaking to suddenly melt down.