Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00
A little less than 40 percent of Long Island school children in grades three to eight met grade-level proficiency on state tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
These standards were created by the National Governors Association with grant money from several corporate foundations. The word “State” was added to so that it wouldn’t seem like a national curriculum, which is prohibited by federal regulation and anathema to many States Rights advocates. So right off the bat, there are elements of politics and misdirection to it.
We have had 10 years of the near-total failure of the federal “No Child Left Behind” policy, based on now-debunked premises that Texas schools under then-Governor Bush were the country’s best, and that testing, testing, testing did it. NCLB was supposed to raise academic performance and reduce gaps in outcomes between communities, creating 100-percent proficiency in math and reading across the country by 2014. It didn’t do any of that, but it did do pretty well for the testing industry. Before NCLB, only 19 states tested every child every year. Now all 50 states and the District of Columbia do. President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program further linked funding with standardized testing, including the use of this Common Core test to evaluate teachers. It will cost the states billions of dollars to fully implement Common Core.
Although we should acknowledge the reasonable insistence of many parents and educators that this huge test was too much for a little kid, that’s really not the biggest problem. Did the Board of Regents set the arbitrary passing point too high? Were the questions too hard or too easy or just right? Reasonable people might disagree. There are probably some Common Core questions that good teachers might use themselves in the classroom to identify strengths and weaknesses among students.
But here is one big heap of Problem: There is no hard evidence at all that this test has any validity for the types of high-stakes purposes for which it’s being used. There was no field testing to figure out if this predicts anything about success in college or in the workforce. Your kid was the field test.
The Regents didn’t deliver promised preparation materials to teachers and students in time for the test, but the very fact that scores on a standardized test may be a function of the amount or quality of preparation should raise all kinds of alarms about what is really being tested.
So what have we gained by frustrating well over 100,000 little Long Islanders? “Test and Punish” may be a logical framework for running an Auto-da-fé, but there’s a growing body of evidence that it doesn’t improve public education in a meaningful way. NCLB already demonstrated that. Thanks to NCLB testing, 1,325 New York State schools in 123 districts were on some kind of watch list or failing schools list in 2011. What this really means is fuzzy and unclear.
Fingers have been pointed at educators in the schools by politicians, state education officials and advocates of corporate “reform” projects, including a now-out-in-the-open advocacy of mass privatization of entire public school systems, and corporate-backed charter schools.
Some people are already using these Common Core test results as another pry bar to split apart the public from its public schools. For some, it’s purely philosophical. For others, it’s an opportunity to monetize a resource. Anything that seems to just be sitting there must be monetized, whether it’s a pole holding a traffic light (cameras) or school buildings. Cities in crisis are the low-hanging fruit. Many suburbs, including Long Island, are already toe-tagged for permanent fiscal stress. Change is coming.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org