Massachusetts abandons Common Core tests

Massachusetts will redesign its state exam instead of using PARCC’s Common Core tests, the state board of education has decided. The new MCAS will be aligned with Common Core standards, say officials.

“Only 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, are currently scheduled to continue with PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards,” reports Molly Jackson for the Christian Science Monitor.

High-scoring Massachusetts “was considered a crucial supporter for Common Core tests and now, a crucial breakaway,” writes Jackson.

The Common Core was supposed to allow state-to-state comparisons, but states are “tweaking the language used to report results” so that “a score that counted as ‘approaching expectations’ in one part of the country might be labeled ‘proficient‘ somewhere else.”

“It may be a little too premature to declare it a failure,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education James A. Peyser told the New York Times, “but for sure it’s in retreat.”


The search for a ‘fair’ math test

The Quixotic Search for a “Fair” Math Test ends in tests cleansed of “idiosyncrasy and irregularity,” writes Ben Orlin on Math With Bad Drawings.

We want our tests to be objective. So we stop testing fuzzy, hard-to-measure things like creativity, insight, and broader perspective.

We want our tests to be consistent. So we stop asking questions with any degree of novelty or surprise.

We want our tests to be fair. But deep and authentic understanding is hard to measure fairly — much harder than procedural fluency — and so in the end we abandon that, too.

A colleague believes “every math test is, at its heart, a Turing test.”

Is there a thinking intelligence behind those answers? Or are they just the mechanical replies of a robot, blindly executing an algorithm? Can the test-taker really reason about mathematics, or can they merely fill a few pages with the right symbols?

Scottish students protested a question about a crocodile’s best strategy in stalking a zebra was too hard, Orlin writes. At least, they didn’t say they were too upset by the zebra’s fate to do the math.

Accountability worked — for some — in Texas

Texas’ test-based accountability system, introduced in 1993 under Gov. George W. Bush, improved academic performance and earnings (by age 25) for students in schools at risk of a low-performance rating, but hurt students in higher-scoring schools, according to a study reported in Education Next.

. . . pressure on schools to avoid a low performance rating led low-scoring students to score significantly higher on a high-stakes math exam in 10th grade. These students were also more likely to accumulate significantly more math credits and to graduate from high school on time. Later in life, they were more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and they had higher earnings at age 25.

These schools increased math courses for students who’d failed the eighth-grade exam and boosted staffing and instructional time, the analysis found.

However, higher-performing schools seeking a “recognized” rating were likely to more low-scoring students to special education to exempt their scores from lowering the school’s overall rating.  These students were less likely to complete college and earned less at age 25.

“High-stakes testing creates strong incentives to game the system,” conclude the authors.

Core support erodes, right and left

Common Core support is eroding on the left and the right, according to two new polls, writes Rick Hess in National Review.

Depending on how the questions are phrased, “it’s possible to argue that the public supports the Common Core by more than two to one or that it opposes it by more than two to one,” he writes.

“Support on the right melted away between 2012 and 2015, but Democratic support has also steadily softened,” writes Hess. In that period, “the share of Democrats opposed to the Common Core has increased about fivefold — from 5 percent to 25 percent.”

“New York was one of the first major states to implement Common Core state standards,” writes Casey Quinlan on ThinkProgress. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who backed linking test scores to teacher evaluations, has launched a task force to review and revise the standards.

Statewide, 49 percent of New Yorkers do not support the standards, with more downstate suburban voters and Upstate New Yorkers opposing them, according to a Siena Rsearch Institute Survey.

. . . (Cuomo) “refuses to admit he was wrong to demand test-based teacher evaluations during this sensitive time. He is unwilling to level with parents about the need for higher standards and more honest assessments,” Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote in Newsday.

Core-aligned test scores are very low, especially for disadvantaged students. “A growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves,” reports U.S. News.

Learn to teach knowledge

Julius who?

Julius who?

For decades — long before No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing — elementary teachers have focused on reading and math, spending little time science and social studies, writes Natalie Wexler in a New York Times commentary.

That’s because teachers believe their students need reading skills and strategies, such as “finding the main idea,” she writes. They don’t realize that reading comprehension requires a broad base of knowledge about the world.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next, flitting among subjects.

. . . For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

Common Core calls for “building knowledge systematically,” writes Wexler. But the standards “don’t specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they’re designed to be used across the country.” So most educators are still focusing on skills.

In a comment, Emile, a professor at a “mid-tier university” for more than 25 years, calls for K-12 schools to forget “about instilling love of learning.” Instead, schools should “provide the basic scaffolding for knowledge, and let students take it from there.” Professors won’t have to teach about Enlightenment ideals to students who’ve never heard of the Roman empire.

Core support? It depends on the poll

ednext_XVI_1_poll_fig01-smallTwo new polls provide two different views of public opinion on The Common Core, testing, charters and more, reports The Atlantic.

Forty-nine percent of adults back Core standards in the Education Next poll, while only 24 percent are pro-Core and a majority are anti-Core in the PDK/Gallup poll.

Support for letting parents opt their children out of standardized tests was higher on the PDK/Gallup poll than on the Ed Next poll. Among parents, 47 percent favored opt-out rights in the PDK/Gallup poll, only 32 percent in Ed Next.

Sixty-four percent of adults support charters, according to PDK/Gallup, but only 47 percent, according to Ed Next.

Duncan stressed about Ed Secretary exam

“Saying the long nights of cramming from the study guide and the constant drilling from flashcards had really worn on his nerves,” Arne Duncan told The Onion Tuesday that “preparing for the upcoming standardized Secretary of Education Test was completely stressing him out.”

“I know I’ve got the stuff on FSA loans down, but it’s super unrealistic for them to think I’ll memorize every little thing about federal lunch voucher requirements,” said Duncan. “What if I’m wrong, though?”

67% back school testing

Two-thirds of the public — and two-thirds of parents — support federally required testing, concludes the annual Education Next survey. Teachers split evenly on the question, which asked, “Do you support or oppose the federal government continuing to require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school?”

Another question asked:

“Some people say that ALL students should take state tests in math and reading.  Others say that parents should decide whether or not their children take these tests. Do you support or oppose letting parents decide whether to have their children take state math and reading tests?”

Only 25% of the public like the idea, while 59% oppose it, the remainder taking a neutral position.  Among parents themselves, just 32% favored the opt-out approach, while 52% opposed it.  Fifty-seven percent of the teachers also reacted negatively to the idea, with only 32% lending it support.

Asked “what level of government should play the biggest role in deciding whether or not a school is failing?,” 18 percent chose the federal government, 50 percent the state and 32 percent local government.

A school is not a factory

Most Likely to Succeed by filmmaker Greg Whitely asks whether schools can “become less mind-numbing, and more mind-awakening,” writes Sam Chaltain.

Whitely spent a year at High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego that measures  student progress through projects and public exhibitions.

There are no bells, class periods, or subjects. What teachers teach – on one-year contracts – is entirely up to them, and not one minute of class time is spent preparing for standardized state exams.

On the first day of school, incoming ninth graders “look disoriented and sheepish as their teacher asks them to set up the room for Socratic seminar,” writes Chaltain. A girl named Samantha is “hesitant and self-conscious.”

By year’s end, however, Samantha is transformed; she has become the director of her class’s play about the Taliban – a production that is entirely student-run and written. And most importantly, she has become more self-confident and self-aware. “I’m astonished about your voice,” a teacher says to her during her final “test” of the year – a public conversation in which she is asked to make sense of her own growth. “Sometimes at the beginning of the year, it was hard to even hear you. So can you talk about the development of your voice this year?”

It’s about being confident with who you are, Samantha explains to a rapt room of adults and classmates. “And this is one of the absolutely most important things I’ve learned this year. It’s good to make other people smile. It’s good to smile yourself. But it’s also good to have new experiences. It’s good to learn, and to go through struggles so that you come out knowing something new.”

The movie’s executive producer, former venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith, is on a mission to change “19th-century schools,” he tells Hechinger’s Liz Willen.