Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”

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  1. Since only 25% of Americans have a Bachelor’s degree or higher – a statistic which has held steady for several decades, and will hold steady for decades to come – there will definintely be millions of failures on those college ready high school exit exams if they truly ARE college ready – like a 75% failure rate. The question is, how do we tell the truth to the kids and their parents in the 75%? They have to know SOME time that they (or their kid) will most likely never, ever make it through college. Also, there are lots of non-college options which make really good money, so those kids can start focusing on jobs like that (most of which will later tell you that they preferred those kinds of jobs anyway, and only were trying to get into college because parents, counselors, etc. were pressuring them to).

    And before you think I’m putting the 75% down or saying that their jobs are only ‘dreg’ jobs – I use my plumber as Exhibit A. He makes three times what I make per year, and he has just a high school diploma and certification; I’ve got a Bachelor’s and Master’s and are almost done with a PhD. I also have a ton of student loans; he has none.

  2. The anecdote about the “Commissioned” vocabulary test question is pretty thinly sourced. Color me skeptical. This seems like a story that is “too good to check.”

  3. When I attended public school, there were vocational options available to students who were not going to college (either had no interest or were not academically capable, yes, there were students like this and no P.C. baloney to contend with).

    I graduated in 1981, where a high school dropout could earn a decent wage in unskilled/semi-skilled/skilled labor given that most dropouts were proficient in math and reading.

    Leap forward 3 decades and we’ve eliminated most of our vocational training from our high schools and middle schools (it’s been moved to junior and community colleges, which are usually limited entry programs), and the pool of jobs for high school dropouts have pretty much been eliminated.

    The sad reality is that students starting high school and their parental units are going to be brainwashed into trying to fit their offspring into college, even if they don’t have the academic background to handle it (sad, but true). Given that 30-40% of all incoming freshmen directly from high school need one or more remedial courses (figure jumps to almost 80% in community colleges), I don’t believe that core standards are going to be tough enough.

    Perhaps it’s time that school counselors, teachers, and politicos stop lying to students and their parents about being college ready or prepared for college (naww, this will never happen folks).


  4. lightly seasoned says:

    That looks like a very typical question, actually. It was most likely pulled from a short passage about Mozart and it would be testing understanding new vocabulary in context. I’m not sure about commissioned as a 2nd grade vocabulary word, however. (Pearson, which provides a lot of these state tests, uses Marzano to determine grade-level vocabulary, so it is an easy check for anyone who really cared.)

    FWIW, this is testing the sort of skills-based reading instruction that was so recently derided under another post.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    As long as we tell kids that it is 1) a fact of life, and 2) morally proper, that only people with college degrees get good jobs, it will be impossible to change this.

    Which means it won’t happen any time soon, because most people (especially people with degrees) believe it.

  6. People should stop advocating for vo-tech–it is a waste of their time. Unless disparate impact law is changed, there is absolutely no chance that vo tech will be back, because it will be racist and sexist. Given the current federal administration is applying disparate impact law to more, not less, of education outcomes in high school, any alternative path that separates college-ready from not ready is going to be outlawed.

  7. GED:

    1) They do not say the new test (2014) will be “aligned” with CCSS, but it is based on elements of and the authors of CCSS worked with GEDTS on the early stages.

    2) GEDTS does NOT say it will be a higher bar than the old GED, but they don’t totally deny it. They say that it will be a “different” set of skills.

    3) PARCC and SBAC are saying to expect less than 20% pass rates, at the beginning. If GEDTS set the same bar, what would the GED pass rate be? Do NOT expect the GED passing bar to be ANYWHERE near the CCSS exam consorita tests. Not even vaguely. I think they will be higher than the old passing bars, but not up to CCSS levels.

    4) The GED test has social studies and science components, but CCSS does not. In fact, the lead author of CCSS does not believe that social studies offers vitial college or career readiness skills. Therefore, it is quite difficult to compare.


    I don’t think SBAC and PARCC’s exams will be at CCSS levels, either. Don’t take for granted that their exams will be true to the standards, as written. We still don’t know how to write assessments for all of that.

    For example, read the CCSS Math Practices. Do you reall expect the consortia exams will test those? Do you even imagine that they’ve figured out how to do that?