‘Test and punish’ threatens Common Core

“When people talk about Common Core, they often mean the high-stakes tests attached to the standards and not the Common Core itself,” says Linda Darling-Hammond in an American Prospect interview, Pencils Out

The tests are a step in the right direction for most states in that they include more open-ended items. In most cases, they include at least one or two performance tasks, which require the kids to take up a problem, do an analysis, write a response, and sometimes revise that response. There’s real engagement in the work.

Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, is senior research advisor to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing core-aligned tests.

(Under Common Core) students will be asked to collaborate, engage in the use of technologies for multiple purposes, communicate orally and in writing, do extensive research, apply mathematics and English language arts in complex problem-solving situations. The tests are not designed to reach all of those Common Core standards. They tackle the ones that are closest to what traditional sit-down tests can accomplish. Many of the answers will still be close-ended—that is, pick one answer out of five, or drag and drop your answer, or identify it from something that is already provided.

Many high-achieving nations have fewer assessments, says Darling-Hammond. Some use only open-ended questions, such as writing an essay, designing a scientific investigation or inquiring into a social-science problem. 

Only in the U.S. are tests used, without other measures, to decide on promotion, high school graduation and teachers’ pay and employment, says Darling-Hammond.

“To move forward we have to change the accountability paradigm” from “test and punish” to “assess and improve,” she concludes. “If we try to pour the Common Core standards into the old No Child Left Behind accountability framework, it will be like pouring new wine into old bottles.”

Most top-scoring nations give high-stakes “gateway” exams that decide who goes into a college-prep or vocational program and who gets into college, reports NCEE.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “If we try to pour the Common Core standards into the old No Child Left Behind accountability framework, it will be like pouring new wine into old bottles.”

    I think that might be the worst analogy I’ve ever heard.

    • Normally, people say “old wine in new bottles,” but she thinks Common Core standards are “new wine.” And pouring them into old bottles shouldn’t degrade the quality. So, you’re right. It’s not a good analogy.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    “Only in the U.S. are tests used, without other measures, to decide on … teachers’ pay and employment.”

    I know of absolutely no jurisdiction in which that is true. The opposite is much closer to the truth.

    For a high-paid expert to say such a thing is breathtaking.

  3. Ann in L.A. says:

    That also overlooks how the US came to be this way–there is one overriding, good reason.

    Unlike many of the countries that don’t rely heavily on testing, we live in a heterogeneous society with a long history of discrimination. Part of the point of objective testing is to eliminate, as much as possible, racial bias. If a kid can get on the honors track by tests alone, their race isn’t necessarily a factor. If the test is subjective, teachers and schools can be influenced by racial or group preferences. This in turn leaves school districts open to disparate impact lawsuits. Some of those lawsuits are entirely justified and the schools in need of reform. Others less so.

    Just to point out that such things can happen anywhere, it’s instructive to look at what happened to the science-fiction author Susan Hoyt’s kids. She is from Portugal, which seems to have gotten her kids labeled as “Hispanic” and slow-tracked. This wasn’t in some stereotypical southern backwater, but liberal part of Colorado.


    From her blog post:

    >>Here we break to explain that Title One is – afaik – a Colorado program for children with learning disabilities. To my knowledge, neither of the kids had been in it.

    >>However, as I’ve learned over the years, my knowledge is often far from complete, and what happens OFFICIALLY is also not what happens in truth….<>… I think the other day I said it was in third grade that the school gave us trouble over Robert. I was wrong, it was actually in first grade. I sent them a kid who could read, write and was working on fractions. Imagine our shock when in our first first grade conference, the teacher informed us that Robert was learning disabled and would probably never learn to read and write. This was particularly surprising since one of her pieces of evidence was a worksheet that consisted of 1+0, 2+0 etc. across the top of which Robert had written in properly spelled words “this is stupid and boring. A number plus zero always equals the number.”<>… the most important – the teacher, who btw, we later found out did this every year to a kid she perceived as ‘minority’ (this, btw, in a town that is one of the most liberal areas in CO. I told this story to a leftist friend who absolutely refused to believe it. And yet it happened.)<<