On Monday, my first outing since I was hospitalized, I went to a meeting of superintendents and school board members on Long Island to discuss the Common Core.
I explained why I was uneasy about the hasty implementation of the Common Core in New York, especially the inappropriate rush to test the Common Core standards before teachers had a chance to learn about them, before resources were available to teach them, and before students had had a chance to learn them.
I warned that the Common Core testing was designed to fail 70% of the students. New York Commissioner of Education John King predicted with uncanny accuracy before the tests were given that only 30% or so would pass. He knew this because he wrongly chose the NAEP “proficient” level as a pass-fail mark. On NAEP, 30% of New York students are at the “proficient” level, he figured, so that is what the state tests should show. But NAEP proficient was not designed to be a pass-fail mark; it represents “solid academic performance.” I was a board member of the National Assessment Governing Board for seven years. I know the achievement levels and the kind of student work they represent. On NAEP, “advanced” is extraordinary achievement (sort of like an A+). The next level, NAEP “proficient” is equivalent to an A or at least a strong B+ (the NAEP guidelines don’t say so), but it is certainly an indication of high academic achievement, not a pass-fail mark. There is only one state in the nation–Massachusetts–where 50% of the students have reached proficient.
The “cut score” (or passing mark) was set so high that only 31% of New York students passed (including only 3% of English learners, only 5% of students with disabilities, only 15-18% of black and Hispanic students). Consequently, the New York State Education Department ignited a firestorm of outrage from parents. Arne Duncan said this indicated the disappointment of “white suburban moms,” but the New York Regents have yet to hold a hearing in New York City or any other urban district. I expect the Regents will get an earful from moms and dads of all races, not because they consider their child to be “brilliant,” but because they don’t consider them to be failures.
I asked the leaders on Long Island: What will happen if 50-60-or 70% of students can’t pass the Common Core tests and can’t get a diploma? Has anyone thought about them? Will they be able to get any kind of job without a high school diploma? What exactly is the point of making the tests so hard that 70% will fail?
This was not entirely correct.
What I said to the leaders was: Boycott the tests, and let your teachers revise the Common Core standards. The K-2 standards are developmentally inappropriate. K-2 teachers should revise them so that children of that tender age have plenty of time to learn through play, imaginative activities, and social interaction. The standards for 3-12 should be reviewed and revised by teachers to make sure that they are cognitively appropriate.
I said that if one district boycotted the tests, it might be subject to sanctions. But if many districts boycotted the tests, the State Education Department would back down. This is a democracy. A state agency cannot impose its will on the public, without regard to the consequences.
Teachers should write their own tests so they get instant feedback and give each students the help he or she needs.
The goal of the Common Core standards is to teach students to think critically, to act deliberately, and to reason through their decisions.
Our leaders should model those behaviors. The implementation of Common Core in New York has been a disaster. Parents know it, but our state leaders have thus far refused to concede that they were hasty and reckless in their rush to test. It is time for the Board of Regents and Commissioner King to step back, demonstrate critical thinking, and reassess their plans for the rollout.
It appears that legislators are hearing the parents, even if the Regents are not. If the Regents and Commissioner King continue to be intransigent, they may find their powers curtailed by the Legislature. This is still a democracy, and the legislators understand that government requires the consent of the governed.