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OP-ED | Where Does Common Sense Fit Into Common Core?

by | Feb 21, 2014 9:01am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Opinion

As we place more and more emphasis on computerized algorithms and Big Data to help us make Big Decisions, one question lingers: Where does common sense fit in?

The Hartford Courant’s Kathleen Megan recently reported that “new research shows that high school grades — not standardized tests — are a much better predictor of college performance” for current high school juniors.

William C. Hiss, the principal investigator of the study, explains that good grades come from “long-term discipline, attention to detail, and doing your homework” — precisely the qualities needed for success in college.

As one of my colleagues quipped after reading Megan’s article, “I am completely surprised . . . said no teacher, ever.”

Put another way, isn’t this simply old-fashioned common sense?

Maybe so, but the current craving for more standardized testing in public education indicates a definitive lack of common sense.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 initiated this frenzy by requiring annual tests of all students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Individual states were left to choose how to test their students.

By 2010, the future of standardized testing in schools became more complex through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program in concert with the new Common Core State Standards.

“These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the time. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments — the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”

Indeed, these “better, smarter assessments” are not your run-of-the-mill “bubble tests.” Instead, they are “adaptive tests” that automatically change as a test taker provides answers.

“Computer-adaptive assessments,” explains an Education Week article, “rely on complex algorithms to feed students questions targeted to their individual skill levels based on their prior responses. The more questions a student gets right, the harder the subsequent questions will be.”

Scheduled for official implementation by 2015, these adaptive tests sound much more individualized than the traditional standardized assessments. What could be so bad about that?

Ask the folks in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Their initial foray last year into these new tests was hardly reassuring.

“Thousands of students experienced slow loading times of test questions, students were closed out of testing in mid-answer, and some were unable to log in to the tests,” according to another Education Week piece. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of tests may be invalidated.”

Moreover, one school official in Oklahoma termed the testing problems as “absolutely horrible, in terms of kids being anxious. It was heartbreaking to watch them. Some of them were almost in tears.”

Thankfully, states have another year to get the situation straightened out. In Connecticut, students this spring will be taking a field test — a “test of the test” — to help work out the kinks.

“The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system that helps ensure the assessments are valid, reliable, and fair for all students,” according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the organization behind Common Core-aligned tests in 22 states.

“It also gives teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015. Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 — along with a small sample of students in grades 9 and 10 — will participate in the Field Test.”

For my school, that means three weeks of testing this spring — one each for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders — the results of which will be shared with neither the students nor the school. This spring’s test, after all, is testing the test, not the students.

College-bound juniors, no doubt, are thankful that their scores will count when they take the SAT around the same time they serve as guinea pigs for SBAC. You remember the SAT? It’s that other standardized test which research shows is a poor indicator of college performance.

Perhaps by next year, the algorithmically-enriched SBAC test will tell us if kids are — as the Common Core people would say — “college- and career-ready.”

Makes perfect sense to me — just not common sense.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: ocoandasoc | February 21, 2014  11:58am

Ah…wait a minute. If the best predictor of college success is the high school grades the student received, aren’t those grades based on the results of tests they’ve taken? It seems that teachers and education administrators are happy enough with their own tests… they just don’t like anyone else’s. (BTW, if I were seeking examples of “common sense,” our public education system would be about the last place I’d look.

posted by: Bluecoat | February 21, 2014  12:31pm

So if these are adaptive tests, does that mean two kids that are sitting next to each other could conceivably take two different tests and have the same score?
For example:
If little Johnny and little Suzie are taking a ten question CC math quiz, and Johnny gets the first question wrong, the test adapts and gives him an easier question for #2, and so forth. So lets say in the end Johnny gets the first two questions wrong and the aces the last 8 questions for a score of 8 correct out of 10.
Suzie on the other hand gets the first 8 questions correct but the last two she gets wrong. She too scores 8 out of 10 correct.
Does that mean they both have taken the same test? Are they graded base on a formula?
Are the tests adapting according to the personal and private information that will be stored in the State Longitudinal Data Base and the information that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are authorized to collect per the Agreemnet with the Feds?
I mean, will a gay student get differnet questions that a straight student?
How about a child of republican parents? Will this student get the same questions and a child who has progresssive parents?
How about urban kids vs suburban kids? Will there questions be different?

How can we judge kids based on adaptive and ever changing tests?

posted by: Bluecoat | February 21, 2014  12:34pm

My Town has sent a letter out that kids can no lnoger have cameras or cell phones that can take pictures during the testing periods, so as to protect the integrity of the tests.
What are they afraid of?
Having Parents see the stupid and invasive questions that may be asked?

posted by: Castles Burning | February 21, 2014  5:46pm


Thank you for this article and review of how we got to the FRENZY that we are now in.  Frenzy is precisely the best word since, as you indicate, NCLB morphed to RTTT with no real input from educators.

There is no sense in the direction that education is being moved. The quote from Arne Duncan indicates that the approach was all about better tests and not instruction (learning). 

I repeat it here as he gives too much away about his lack of thinking or understanding: “These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the time. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments — the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”

Yes, they have changed the “game” (not the best metaphor for education) but certainly not for the better.  The idiocy just builds on itself in this craze to build a “better” test, which has become a seemingly quest of its own, totally disassociated with anything educational.

Instead, the end result is profits for those making test-taking products.  Educational dollars must now be spent on computers and other “tools” with which to prepare for and implement these tests.

The tests have taken over, becoming an industry unto themselves.

Oh, for an educational policy worthy of our students and our country.  What shame has been brought upon all who truly care and are involved in this frenzied farce.

posted by: Linda12 | February 21, 2014  8:34pm

There is an informational hearing, not a public hearing, Friday 2/28, room 2c on the common core at 10:00 am. It is INVITATION ONLY. Guess who the speakers are, the only speakers: Stefan Pryor and two CCS “experts”?

What is a CCS “expert”? Shouldn’t that be a teacher?  Oh no, not at all.

It’s one rep from the NGA and one from the CCSSO, two trade organizations who accepted the CCS before it was even completed. Somehow, without reading the national standards, governors and commissioners knew it would make kids “college and career” ready.

So the fox is guarding the henhouse during a staged dog and pony “hearing”. 

The Malloy/Fleischman/Pryor farce continues.

What are they so afraid of?

posted by: ASTANVET | February 23, 2014  9:07am

“where does common sense fit into common core” - short answer - NO WHERE!  corporatism is killing education… thanks a bunch CT for signing on for your ‘boatloads’ of federal money for enacting common core.  Have fun with the 30 pieces of silver.

posted by: EDreformCT | February 23, 2014  5:54pm

Thank you Mr. Keck. We must continue to hammer out the TRUTH to all who will listen.

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