Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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The Common Core And Failing Schools

Posted by  on September 23, 2014

In observing all the recent controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I have noticed that one of the frequent criticisms from one of the anti-CCSS camps, particularly since the first rounds of results from CCSS-aligned tests have started to be released, is that the standards are going to be used to label more schools as “failing,” and thus ramp up the test-based accountability regime in U.S. public education.
As someone who is very receptive to a sensible, well-designed dose of test-based accountability, but sees so little of it in current policy, I am more than sympathetic to concerns about the proliferation and misuse of high-stakes testing. On the other hand, anti-CCSS arguments that focus on testing or testing results are not really arguments against the standards per se. They also strike me as ironic, as they are based on the same flawed assumptions that critics of high-stakes testing should be opposing.
Standards themselves are about students. They dictate what students should know at different points in their progression through the K-12 system. Testing whether students meet those standards makes sense, but how we use those test results is not dictated by the standards. Nor do standards require us to set bars for “proficient,” “advanced,” etc., using the tests.
That said, it is true that the new CCSS-aligned tests will, in most states, result in lower proficiency rates than did the old tests, and I have no doubt that many (but not all) policymakers and advocates will use those lower rates to ratchet up their “failing schools” rhetoric.
But that only means that they are misinterpreting the results by conflating student and school performance – that is, operating under the mistaken assumption that how highly students score on tests, and/or whether they meet cut scores that determine their “proficiency,” is entirely (or even mostly) a function of school effectiveness.
When they argue that the Common Core will result in more “failing schools,” opponents of high-stakes testing are, rather ironically, co-opting this flawed assumption when they should be opposing it, regardless of which standards are in place. They seem to be taking for granted the existence of a problem, instead of confronting its cause – the fact that this is a misinterpretation of the data, one which has plagued U.S. public education for a long time. In fact, to whatever degree testing data can be used to gauge schools’ actual effectiveness, proficiency cut scores need not (I would argue should not) play any role in those measures.
Based on my prior experience, I would anticipate the following reaction to these points: Matt, you’re being naïve if you believe that there’s any hope policymakers will use the standards correctly and interpret the data appropriately. They have shown time and time again that they are unwilling or unable to do so.
That may very well be true, but, again, it doesn’t change a simple fact: This misinterpretation is already causing harm under the old/existing standards. Anyone who opposes education policies simply because some people misinterpret testing data surrounding those policies will have trouble finding anything to support.
Now, to be clear: If your argument is that the Common Core is poorly-designed vis-a-vis existing systems, or that Shanker Blog » The Common Core And Failing Schools: