“If they write what they think…they will fail the test”

Someone forwarded me this stunning story about an Arizona teacher who “participated” in the creation of Common Core tests.


Here’s a snippet:

“A year ago (3/2013), the AZ Dept of Ed asked me to go to Chicago for a week to work on evaluating the writing/reading rubrics for the Common Core/PARCC test. I didn’t have an opinion on Common Core either way. I was curious and I wanted to see what the standards would look like in test form and how that might inform my classroom teaching, so I went. Most teachers were waiting for the Common Core test to come out for the same reason.

Teachers in AZ have a great deal of input into the state test. Teachers create the test and we had the ability to change or tweak test questions if we detected a bias or if we thought the questions or reading passages weren’t truly assessing our students’ learning.

Working on the CCore test was a very different experience and had 50 more shades of bureaucracy. My Common Core handlers weren’t interested in my questions about where the standards came from, who wrote them, who wrote the test questions, etc. If they did attempt an answer they usually parroted the phrase “Teachers were involved.” Something didn’t feel right.

My turning point came when in answer to questions I had about a student writing sample, my Common Core handler blurted out, “We don’t ever care what the kids’ opinions are. If they write what they think or put forth their opinion then they will fail the test.”

I have always taught my students to think for themselves. They are to study multiple views on a given topic, then take their own position and support it with evidence. “That is the old way of writing,” my Common Core handler sighed. “We want students to repeat the opinions of the ‘experts’ that we expose them to on the test. This is the ‘new’ way of writing with the Common Core.”

I discovered later that this was not just some irritated, rogue Common Core handler, rather this was a philosophy I heard repeated again and again. I pointed out that this was not the way that teachers teach in the classroom. She retorted that, “We expect that when the test comes out the teachers in the classroom will imitate the skills emphasized on the test (teach to the test) and employ this new way of writing and thinking.” This was a complete kick in the stomach moment for me.

After that I started to do research on the Common Core and read everything I could get my hands on for the year or so. The more I read the more disgusted I became about the Common Core and the governors who brought it into our lives.

I went back to Chicago again in November 2013 to review reading/writing questions for the Common Core/PARCC test. Again, I wanted to see the test questions and I also wanted to experience the Common Core with all the new knowledge I’d gained. After a week of work I was convinced of the correctness of my feelings and my research about the Common Core. During this visit I worked with Pearson and ETS on the questions they created for the test. Again we were just window dressing so that they could check the box that “teachers were involved.”

3 thoughts on ““If they write what they think…they will fail the test””

  1. Thank you for this informative report. As a former English teacher, I agree with your analysis of the writing tests.

  2. I taught at three universities in China. While there I judged many English speech contests for students from the equivalent of grades 6-16. Invariably, I would hear, word for word, the same speech from several students, even down to the same physical gestures at particular points in the speech. If a student forgot one word, they invariably could not continue without reference to notes. It was also obvious that most participants had little idea of the meaning of what they were saying, but were merely repeating the sounds they had been taught. My students at universities told me that the least favorite part of their education was the Listen and Repeat form of teaching: No original ideas, no opinions, only memorize and regurgitate what the teacher or the textbook said. To China’s credit, they are making an effort at many levels to move away from this form of teaching.

  3. As a student who took the common core or “SAGE” English test, let me expound on the “expert” opinions given on the test. It took no real thinking to write these so called essays. The sources they provided were very poorly written, (I thought it was hilarious that I could write better than they could) but the facts weren’t even there. In one essay where we had to chose a product for investing in, one product was expounded upon in great detail, and not a single fault or weakness of the product was found. The other was explained so only the basic idea was understood and then they had several paragraphs of criticism.
    The Science test was even worse. The first question I was given wrote the Scientific Notation WRONG. This is the first thing that one reviews in Physics, one of the BASIC PRINCIPLES of Chemistry, and they had it wrong.
    15.0 x 10^-9.
    The rest of the test was a joke as well, but if the people who write these tests can’t even get Scientific Notation right, how much faith are you going to put into them. Eh??

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