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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The 2014 NY Common-Core State Tests Promise to Punch Teachers and Students in the Face and Push Them in the Dirt Again

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The UFT predicted slight increases in the City's abysmal pass rates for both ELA and Math Common-Core aligned state tests.  Compared to 2013 scores, the percent reading at grade level might increase by two percentage points to 28%; the math scores might increase by 3 percentage points to a pass rate of 33%.  If the UFT makes these guesses they must be privy to some insider information.   So, I'd pretty much trust their "estimates."  Sounds like third-through-eighth-grade students in NY state as a whole will probably also take yet another pummeling.  

So much of the Common-Core standards depend upon the difficulty of the tests as well as the determination where to place the cut scores.  When the tests were first administered last year, the reading pass rate dropped twenty points and the math pass rate dropped 30 points, very close to Commissioner King's predictions.  It seems the tests were made to shock most students into a state of guaranteed failure, rather than to meet them where they are and gradually lift them. 

According to the Union, "There should be some improvement over last year in percentages meeting standards on both tests, since teachers and students were more familiar with the types of questions and because curriculum based on the Common Core was in wider circulation."  Punch me in the face and try to knock me down; call me sick and twisted, but this statement saddens me.  We are teaching to a test.  

People will always do better on tests when they study past questions.  It works with the Regents.  It works with the SATs (look at costly prep classes, wildly popular for those with money in their pockets who aspire to college).  It works with any test.  To the extent that questions enter the public domain through official publication or academic espionage, teachers and students will be "gaming the system."

This is not real learning.  "Real learning is asking questions not answering them," says my third grader, sitting by my side and reading this over my shoulder as she chows down her cornbread.  You know what?  I couldn't agree more.  Common Core tests may aim above many students heads, but its test prep will bore to death even more.  

I'm pretty sure students will continue to inch up their test scores in the future, but mostly because of an increased focus upon teaching to the test.  If we create a world without tenure, teaching to tests will become a survival skill.  For all the people who see personal profit in the Core, I wonder if they ever have nightmares about the world they're creating.  We will surely view some of its side effects on the nightly news; other side effects may not make the news, but they will prove equally, if not more, harmful.  To make Mulgrew's words a metaphor, we are being punched in the faces and our children are being shoved into the dirt.   

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