Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities: Moratorium Needed

The website has released some Myth/Reality facts related to Common Core assessments. Utah withdrew from SBAC in 2012, only to have the USOE (Utah State Office of Education) contract with AIR, SBAC’s official assessment partner, in January 2013 for $39 million. This webpage lists all the Myth/Reality facts with details below them. I’ve put a couple below, but please visit their site for the rest of the details.

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), each state set its own learning standards and developed tests to measure them. But NCLB’s failure to spur overall test score gains or close racial gaps led “reformers” to push for national, or “common,” standards. With millions in federal Race to the Top money and NCLB “waivers” as incentives, all but a few states agreed to adopt Common Core standards. Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15. Here are the realities behind major Common Core myths.  

Myth: Common Core tests will be much better than current exams, with many items measuring higher-order skills.
Reality: New tests will largely consist of the same old, multiple-choice questions.

Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).

Myth: Adoption of Common Core exams will end NCLB testing overkill.
Reality: Under Common Core, there will be many more tests and the same misuses.
NCLB triggered a testing tsunami (Guisbond, et al., 2012); the Common Core will flood classrooms with even more tests. Both consortia keep mandatory annual English/language arts (ELA) and math testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as with NCLB. However, the tests will be longer than current state exams. PARCC will test reading and math in three high school grades instead of one; SBAC moves reading and math tests from 10th grade to 11th. In PARCC states, high schoolers will also take a speaking and listening test. PARCC also offers “formative” tests for kindergarten through second grade. Both consortia produce and encourage additional interim testing two to three times a year (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). As with NCLB, Common Core tests will be used improperly to make high-stakes decisions, including high school graduation (Gewertz, 2012), teacher evaluation, and school accountability.

Myth: New multi-state assessments will save taxpayers money.
Reality: Test costs will increase for most states. Schools will spend even more for computer infrastructure upgrades.

Myth: New assessment consortia will replace error-prone test manufacturers.
Reality: The same, incompetent, profit-driven companies will make new exams and prep materials.

Myth: More rigor means more, or better, learning.
Reality: Harder tests do not make kids smarter.

In New York, teachers witnessed students brought to tears (Hernandez & Baker, 2013), faced with confusing instructions and unfamiliar material on Common Core tests. New York tests gave fifth graders questions written at an 8th grade level (Ravitch, 2013). New York and Kentucky showed dramatic drops in proficiency and wider achievement gaps. Poor results hammer students’ self-confidence and disengage them from learning. They also bolster misperceptions about public school failure, place urban schools in the cross hairs and lend ammunition to privatization schemes. If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a “world class” jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled “jump higher,” or if her “poor” performance is used to punish her coach.

Myth: Common Core assessments are designed to meet the needs of all students.
Reality: The new tests put students with disabilities and English language learners at risk.

Myth: Common Core “proficiency” is an objective measure of college- and career-readiness.
Reality: Proficiency levels on Common Core tests are subjective, like all performance levels.

Myth: States have to implement the Common Core assessments; they have no other choice.
Reality: Yes they do. Activists should call for an indefinite moratorium on Common Core tests to allow time for implementation of truly better assessments.

One thought on “Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities: Moratorium Needed”

  1. My daughter just took a math test in the Canyons district in SLC. Her teacher told her no one aced the test. I haven’t seen the test, but the study guide we used had exactly what was described above. Multiple choice with 2 obviously wrong answers giving everyone at least a 50-50 chance of success. My daughter admittedly struggles with math and did poorly on this test, but it sounds like it was discouraging for all. Most of the study questions were confusingly worded. I found two of them challenging for me. And I graduated from college. I think we discourage children like my daughter with this kind of test. And the “a” student is discouraged as well because they can’t get a perfect score. I was one of those kind of students in middle and high school and I was motivated by the possibility of achieving a perfect score.

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