I have just returned from the National School Boards Association Convention. In my last class on tests and assessments, the presenter said something very interesting. The US Department of Education has set aside $330 Million for the creation of assessments for the Common Core Standards. I had heard of the consortia for the assessment piece of the Common Core. However, I had not heard the US Department of Education was involved in any way with them.
Throughout this Common Core discussion, it has been repeated ad infinitum that the Common Core is NOT a national standard. Instead, it is a collection of states coming together, voluntarily, to create a core curriculum. During my initial introduction to the Common Core, a fellow board member was immediately interested in who would be doing the assessments. At the time, she said something like, "We all know that teachers have to teach to the test, so it's important to know who will be creating the tests." The presenter discussed how, when a new test is introduced, the scores drop. As teachers get more information about the test and what's on it, they modify their teaching to help their students have greater achievement on the test. He said, "This isn't cheating." It's just that more information and more data yields better preparation. In short, we teach to the test. The question is whether what we are measuring is the information we want our students to learn.
Alpine School District is required to follow the core curriculum as established by the State Office of Education. The State Office has decided to require the Common Core, and all school districts in Utah will need to implement the Common Core by 2012-2013. The State Office recommended that we start this coming year, but ASD's administration has wisely opted to delay a year to properly train our teachers. And, I would add, to learn from the mistakes of others. My concern with the Common Core is not the standards themselves. My concern is it violates the principle of local control. What our schools and students need should be managed by the people of our area and not dictated from on high. Certainly we can learn from others, but where the rubber meets the road, it is our parents, our teachers, and our principals who can best determine what our students need.
So, following the money, the $330 Million was split between two assessment organizations, Smarter Balance (SBAC) and PARCC. Utah's State Office of Education has elected to be involved with the Smarter Balance Consortium. I am mostly unfamiliar with them, but I was able to attend a conference where the researcher for Smarter Balance, Linda Darling-Hammond, spoke. I attended her lectures for the express purpose of getting more information on her, her perspectives, and the Common Core. (I will post that information in a subsequent blog.) Ms. Darling-Hammond was rumored to be on the short list for US Secretary of Education, but declined due to a new Policy Center opportunity "that will examine a variety of education redesign issues, including standards and assessments". Could she have meant the Common Core? In the meantime, I'd like to issue a call to action for you to find out what you can about these two consortia and their assessment philosophy.
A concern I found on the web states:
Both consortia appear poised to develop subjective assessments rather than objective tests. SBAC plans to assess deep disciplinary understanding and higher-order thinking skills. Will either PARCC or SBAC test student content knowledge and skill?
Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said:
As I travel around the country the number one complaint I hear from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn't measure what really matters... Both of these winning applicants are planning to develop assessments that will move us far beyond this and measure real student knowledge and skills.
The issue isn't the bubble tests, it's what is actually assessed, and what teachers will be teaching their students to help them achieve favorable results on these tests.
Recently, I received some communication from parents who are concerned with the Common Core. The concerns come down to two issues. 1) This is brand new. Textbooks haven't been created. Tests haven't been created. No one has done this before, and yet, we are jumping in with both feet across the nation. 2) The whole idea of local control is gone. These standards were created with no public input. They were adopted by states, without public input. And the local school districts must implement the Common Core, without public input.
These concerns were similarly reflected in the above-referenced article:
The CCSS [Common Core] represents a massive unevaluated experiment with our students for which they and their parents have been ill informed and have had no opportunity for input. The CCSS are untested and unevaluated in the classroom. The proposed CCSS should undergo rigorous testing in a limited number of districts before adoption and implementation statewide or nationwide.
Adopting the CCSS takes control of educational content and standards away from parents, taxpayers, local school districts, and states. The CCSS were produced by a closed group and conditionally approved by many states without public review. The NGA and CCSSO, both non-government groups, own the copyright protected CCSS. Control over changes to the CCSS will lie in the hands of so called “experts” outside local school district, state, and the federal government jurisdiction. [emphasis in the original]
Public education is a state responsibility. It is not the responsibility of the federal government. States should not turn over their rights or responsibilities to the direction and influence of non-government organizations or the federal government. [emphasis mine]
I am not opposed to the Common Core standards, per se. But I am opposed to such a lack of local control. Given the Common Core, it seems unnecessary to have local school boards other than to allocate the funds for a pre-determined project.
However, I can't emphasize the following point enough. I am SO appreciative to our district administration for delaying implementation of the Common Core for a year. I think it is a difficult line they walk when there is a top-down mandate and our kids' education hangs in the balance. I only wish we could delay it further. Unfortunately, that would require a change in standards and implementation goals from the Utah State Office of Education or State School Board policy.
In conclusion, please find out all you can about Smarter Balance and PARCC, and the US Department of Education's investment in the assessment plans. Also, I would welcome any thoughts on how to delay the implementation further than the one year we are allowed by the State Office of Education.