This is a must-read article.

One of the best education writers in New York State is Gary Stern of lohud.com, which covers the Lower Hudson region. This article shows how the passing marks (“cut scores”) were set for the state’s Common Core tests. It is a story that should have appeared in the New York Times. The State Education Department likes to boast that the cut scores are set by teachers. This is supposed to make them legitimate, on the assumption that the teachers have reasonable expectations and know the students’ capacity. All 95 teachers who participated in the process of setting cut scores were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, but Gary Stern persisted and found 18 who were willing to talk about the process without violating the agreement.

What Gary Stern found was that Pearson called the shots, not the teachers.

Here are some quotes.

“How does the state determine the crucial break between a 2, which means that a student is not quite proficient in, say, fifth-grade math, and a 3, which signifies that he or she is on track for college?

“These scoring scales were set last summer by a group of 95 educators that the state gathered at a hotel in Troy for several days. Teachers, administrators and college professors from across New York signed confidentiality agreements and were given the task of setting the cuts between 1 and 2, 2 and 3, and 3 and 4 for the new tests. But the scores would be widely questioned and even ridiculed after one-third of New York students were deemed to be on pace……”

“To most parents, passing a test means earning 65 out of 100 points. Cut and dried.

“The process of setting a scoring “scale” and cut scores for an annual test, based on all-important, predetermined goals, is an entirely different animal that is not easily described. In fact, the panelists met to set the 1-4 cut scores after students took the first new tests in spring 2013 and the raw data was in.

“It’s like you’re jumping over a hurdle that’s 2 feet high, but after you jump they say it was 3 feet and you missed,” said Cary Grimm, another panelist who is math chairman for the Longwood school district on Long Island.

“In brief, panelists were assigned to small groups that looked at several grades’ exams in math or English language arts. They were given detailed descriptions of what students should know in each grade — prepared by state officials and experts from Pearson Inc., the mega-corporation signed to create New York’s tests…..”

“Panelists were told whether various cut scores would jibe with research on what it supposedly takes to succeed in college.

“Jane Arnold, an English professor at SUNY Adirondack, said the Pearson people provided confusing data that didn’t seem to apply to grades 3-5, her group’s focus.

“Then they gave us a chance to change our minds,” she wrote in a statement. “In other words, we all knew that most of the student scores would be substandard…..”

“Maria Baldassarre Hopkins, assistant professor of education at Nazareth College in Rochester, said the process was driven by the introduction of outside research about student success.

“I question how much flexibility and freedom the committee really had,” she said. “The process was based solely on empirical data, on numbers. … There are ways to make the numbers do what you want them to do.”

“Tina Good, coordinator of the Writing Center at Suffolk County Community College, said her group produced the best possible cut scores for ELA tests in grades 3 to 6 — playing by the rules they were given.

“We worked within the paradigm Pearson gave us,” she said. “It’s not like we could go, ‘This is what we think third-graders should know,’ or, ‘This will completely stress out our third-graders.’ Many of us had concerns about the pedagogy behind all of this, but we did reach a consensus about the cut scores.”

“Eva Demyen, superintendent of the Deer Park district on Long Island, said she still doesn’t grasp how the state determined that two-thirds of students were not proficient in English and math.

“How they got the 33 percent (passing) was beyond us,” she wrote. “It just seemed very strange to me … and I’m a mathematician!….”

“Another panelist, Karen DeMoss, a professor of education at Wagner College on Staten Island, said she is increasingly convinced that standardized testing is “scarring” students and not promoting achievement.

“Our process was perfectly fine, and the Common Core standards may be the best thing the country has ever had in education,” DeMoss said. “The problem is the underlying assumption that these tests are helping us. They’re not. Pearson’s tests were unbelievably bad, the worst I’ve seen, and the reality of using tests designed to rank students is something we haven’t gotten our heads around.”

There are at least three lessons are to be learned from this fiasco: one, it was Pearson, not the educators, that decided what students should know; two, Pearson’s standards will cause massive failure wherever they are used; three, as many panelists noted, teachers did not have the training to teach the standards.

And there is one more lesson: if the standards themselves are developmentally inappropriate–if the tests expect fifth-graders to learn material that is appropriate for seventh graders, failure is inevitable. Unless, that is, Pearson and the State Education Department decide to lower the cut scores to give the illusion of progress.

As Gary Stern wrote: “A 2006 primer on cut scores prepared by the Educational Testing Service found that cut scores can be reliable, but are based on a group’s opinions.

“It is impossible to prove that a cut score is correct,” the report said.

Remember that the cut score is NOT an objective measure. It is a judgment call, a matter of group opinion, shaped by assumptions, and it can be manipulated to make scores appear higher or lower, depending on what the state wants. If New York’s scores go up, it means that the State Education Department decided to reduce parent anger by lowering the failure rate.

This is what happened in New York. It is wrong, it is cynical, it is misguided. Thousands of children were falsely labeled as failures. This is not good education. This is not about the needs of children. This is institutional incompetence.

If your state plans to use Pearson and PARCC for Common Core testing, consider this a cautionary tale. As Peter Greene writes in his blog,

“In fact, among the CCSS supporters who spoke (and really– did you think NYS would fill this committee with people who didn’t love the Core), there was a recognition that the implementation is a hash and the tests are a bogus joke. Yes, they haven’t figured out that what we’ve got is exactly what the Core were designed to give us, but at least they recognize some of the suckage, and not simply from a practical political calculus angle (and remember– everyone must take calculus now). This is undoubtedly part of the reason that CCSS enjoys the kind of support in NYS usually reserved for politicians who cannot keep their private parts off the internet.

“It’s an illuminating batch of reportage, well worth your time to read. Because you may not live in New York, but wherever you are in America, you’re still living in the United States of Pearson.”

Cut scores = smut scores = slut scores = butt scores = . . .

It’s all a hoax, a farce, a Pearson money making scheme, snake oil or in more mundane term, bullshit-parcc spelled backward-ccrap.

Unfortunately many harms are caused to many students, and by extension teachers schools, districts etc. . . .

Señor Swacker: But next thing we know you’ll declare the scores generated by this process “vain” and “illusory” and then you’ll question whether CCSS and its conjoined twin, high-stakes standardized testing, should even exist…

😱

Quite rightly!

😏

Making what someone said in the above posting quite apt: “Many of us had concerns about the pedagogy behind all of this.”

But isn’t CCSS and standardized testing all about world-class this and 21st century that and readiness for College-and-Career EduExcellence?

Evidently not. From the belly of the “education reform” beast, Dr. Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute:

[start quote]

In truth, the idea that the Common Core might be a “game-changer” has little to do with the Common Core standards themselves, and everything to do with stuff attached to them, especially the adoption of common tests that make it possible to readily compare schools, programs, districts, and states (of course, the announcement that one state after another is opting out of the two testing consortia is hollowing out this promise).

But the Common Core will only make a dramatic difference if those test results are used to evaluate schools or hire, pay, or fire teachers; or if the effort serves to alter teacher preparation, revamp instructional materials, or compel teachers to change what students read and do. And, of course, advocates have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind. When they refer to the “Common Core,” they don’t just mean the words on paper–what they really have in mind is this whole complex of changes.

[end quote]

Link: http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/the-american-enterprise-institute-common-core-and-good-cop/

Ah, now there’s a way to label, sort, rank and punish[many]/reward[few] that any free market fundamentalist can get behind!

Just make sure you say teachers wrote and approved it and that it’s all about the kids. Then you can pass off a business plan for $tudent $ucce$$ as a selfless education model. Charters and vouchers and privatization here we come, ready or not!

Rheeally!

But not really.

Keep writin’. I’ll keep readin’.

😎

In terms of the Common Core Regents in NY state, the data is also extremely interesting. Here is a link to the ELA Raw Score vs. Scaled Score document for this year’s exam: http://www.nysedregents.org/hsela/614/hsela62014-cc.pdf

Here’s the Algebra link: http://www.nysedregents.org/algebraone/614/algone62014-cc.pdf

Note the level of proficiency where a student would score a “3.” In ELA, a student could answer 29/56 questions correctly and score proficient, though the raw score conversion puts the student at 51.7%, a disparity of 13.3 points that represents a zone of “okay for now” according to the new 5 point scale. (http://www.nyssba.org/news/2014/06/06/on-board-online-june-9-2014/regents-scores-now-on-a-5-level-scale/)

In Math, that “okay for now” level is 30/86, with a raw score conversion of 34.8%, converted is placed at 65% for a level “3.” The disparity here is 30.2 points.

For those that are interested, analyze the documents a little closer to see how the spread narrows as the raw score goes up.

I find this fascinating and magical. It’s too bad the same magic doesn’t apply to teacher evaluation scores. If 30 out of 86 students passed muster, then the teacher is 65% effective? Let’s scale that score too!

The human-hours lost to this garbage are crushing so many people.

Andrew, You are so right. I cannot wait to retire from my profession of testing, I mean teaching…but we all know it has been changed to the profession of testing. The human-hours that have been lost to the common core and the new teacher evaluation system has burned me out to the point that I am so tired . . .and I do not want to go back to that horrible feeling at the end of August. The sad thing is that I love and adore my students, and I love to teach. I just can’t play by their ridiculous and toxic rules anymore. They can have my profession…It’s not a profession anymore. I don’t know what it is. Thank you, Andrew….What would we do without Diane’s blog?

In terms of the Common Core Regents in NY state, the data is also extremely interesting. Here is a link to the ELA Raw Score vs. Scaled Score document for this year’s exam: http://www.nysedregents.org/hsela/614/hsela62014-cc.pdf

Here’s the Algebra link: http://www.nysedregents.org/algebraone/614/algone62014-cc.pdf

Note the level of proficiency where a student would score a “3.” In ELA, a student could answer 29/56 questions correctly and score proficient, though the raw score conversion puts the student at 51.7%, a disparity of 13.3 points that represents a zone of “okay for now” according to the new 5 point scale. (http://www.nyssba.org/news/2014/06/06/on-board-online-june-9-2014/regents-scores-now-on-a-5-level-scale/)

In Math, that “okay for now” level is 30/86, with a raw score conversion of 34.8%, converted is placed at 65% for a level “3.” The disparity here is 30.2 points.

For those that are interested, analyze the documents a little closer to see how the spread narrows as the raw score goes up.

I find this fascinating and magical. It’s too bad the same magic doesn’t apply to teacher evaluation scores. If 30 out of 86 students passed muster, then the teacher is 65% effective? Let’s scale that score too!

Determining whether 3-5th graders are on track for college seems like a huge leap and a major distraction from what they need to know now. How different would it be if we we’re looking at whether we thought they would be ready for the next step, which even for fifth graders would be middle school? Maybe this is why teachers, especially at the elementary level, are being excluded from these decisions.

It will be interesting in MA this year. We have a split between towns who have adopted PARCC and those staying with MCAS. Though in general I do not support high stakes testing, I think it will be eye opening if towns that previously scored high on MCAS such as Lynnfield, MA which is staying with MCAS will see a drop in MCAS scores now that curriculum has been Common Core aligned for about one year. (They claim four years Common Core aligned, but teachers say it is actually only one) If we do see a drop we will need to ask what does that mean? A neighboring town, North Reading also scored high on MCAS and is going with PARCC. If North Reading’s proficient rates drops what

does that mean? What if both of these suburban towns’ proficiency rates stay the same? What does that mean? Just thinking.

” If we do see a drop we will need to ask what does that mean?”

It will mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as the results from an INVALID PROCESS means that any conclusions are INVALID or as Wilson puts it “VAIN AND ILLUSORY”.

To understand why, read and comprehend what Wilson is telling us in his never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577/700

Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine. (updated 6/24/13 per Wilson email)

1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.

2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.

5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren’t]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.

6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

In other words it attempts to measure “’something’ and we can specify some of the ‘errors’ in that ‘something’ but still don’t know [precisely] what the ‘something’ is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?

My answer is NO!!!!!

One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

“So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

That was my point. And we should exploit that revelation.

Janine, can you give me some more information so I can follow MA and this issue you mentioned about the two districts? I’m in another state, and working on educating my legislators on CC. Thank you.

I’ve been thinking about what I can tell parents at back-to-school night. I plan to reproduce the chart on the change in Lexile scores that appears in Appendix A. Before anyone starts lecturing me about how Lexile scores are a highly imperfect measure of reading difficulty, I know – but the chart illustrates how the difficulty has been increased without any thought about the developmental appropriateness of that. I can also direct them to the Smarter Balanced website and the practice tests. But then we’re in the odd position of not getting any data back this year – at least that is my understanding.

A lot of our parents do not show up for back-to-school-night.

True. Less than 10% show up to Back to School nights at my school.

And here is another wild thought: how will we possibly start the school year off without looking at data? My poor new principal will have to think of something. Maybe we will look at old data.

Never have started a school year off with “looking at the data”. Now the administration has bloviated crap about the data but I just let it go and go about teaching how I know how to teach. Data means nothing to me except proving the lying liars are lying.

Maybe the New York Times refuses to treat this absurd topic because the Wall Street Journal did take a stab at it on July 11, 2014.

I posted this link shortly after commenting on the absurdity of the process on this blog http://online.wsj.com/articles/test-scores-are-no-sure-guide-to-what-students-know-1405122823?tesla=y

This update with the views of insiders is a great addition. You can bet that Chetty, Kane, and the other economist/statisticians who rely on test scores are clueless about the human judgments that get distorted by the reductive thinking in setting cut scores.

The education deformers are boldly pimping education via Pearson. We teachers in Texas have been pointing out the crappy abusive Pearson designed STAAR test for a long time , but our ignorant politicians are too self absorbed with greed and power to notice. They are part of the problem.

As a history teacher, I explain to my students each year that we cannot judge past civilizations. We cannot look at a situation with bias. There are many things that disturb me about the standardized testing including the money behind it, the seemingly random scoring, and who decides what a child “should” know at any given grade level. In all that I have been reading, no where do I see actual front lines educators being asked to participate in setting the knowledge standards at grade levels. In my own state curriculum for 7th grade, I found inaccuracies in standards that had been revised, yet when pointed out to the state, they admitted they had “misworded” but did not correct. I for one, will not teach an inaccurate fact to my students. If you have never been in a classroom setting, actually teaching students, how can you know about what kids at any age know or are capable of learning? What happened to the cognitive/abstract/concrete abilities at each age I learned about so many years ago in my education courses? I am disgusted by the attempted privatization of public schools and cannot believe all of this is not somehow unconstitutional.

History Teacher in Ohio

Anne,

If I may correct your thought: “We cannot NOT look at a situation WITHOUT bias.”

In Utah, the cut scores are being set right now. I have a friend who is on the committee (she’s deluded, but whatever). When the scores come out this fall, I’m prepared for a heavy backlash, because I expect the scores will be lower than everyone thinks. Kids who have “passed” for years may not be “passing” anymore. And it’s not just the cut scores that are the problem, but the horrible testing length. At ten hours, kids were burning out in a major way.

And Duane, you’re going to flip out when you see this: I am now seeing these standardized test scores used to determine who should get remedial help, and even who should be getting special education services. It’s appalling.

” I am now seeing these standardized test scores used to determine who should get remedial help, and even who should be getting special education services.”

They are shooting themselves in the foot. Since the aim of these tests seems to be to prove how ignorant our students are, few will prove to be proficient. The powers that be certainly do not want 70% of their population eligible for remediation and/or special ed.

To both TOW & 2old: And this is what makes all of this absolutely ludicrous.To use them to determine SpEd services?! And, of course, in other parts of the country, not EVER used in this way–in fact, just the opposite. NOT ONE STATE D.o.Ed. (those–supposedly–in charge–you know, the ones who make the BIG $$ & $pend all of our $$$!) has ANY idea WHY they buy Pear$on te$t$ & material$ and what CCRAP their products are. Oh–unless they’ve been taken on trips–paid for by…Pear$on (NY & ILL-Annoy, that’s you!). Wined & dined w/our tax $$$.

Once again–like Duane w/his wonderful, long-winded, oft (& necessarily!) repeated Wilson diatribe–I say–OPT.OUT.NOW.

STOP THE TESTS, & WE WILL STOP THIS EDUCATIONAL-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Yes, WE can take back our schools…and we WILL!

TOW,

It’s not like we haven’t been forewarned. It’s just that most educators are of the GAGA mode and those of us who have been trying to open minds are considered, well, just a little kooky, actually considered quite abnormal, paranoid and completely bonkers. But that’s okay, I know what I and many others are saying is 100% correct, right, ethical, logical etc. . . and I don’t give a flying f..k what the others think.

Hand in there, TOW, you’ve certainly got it a lot worse than I. My thoughts are with you.

Add Duncan’s new “special ed kids can succeed if we just test them more” theory to the crapfest that is standardized testing.

“Mirror Mirror”

The tests are meant to show

How poorly

weare performingBut actually — what do ya know? —

They prove that about reforming

Keep em comin SDP!

Some DAM Poet and Duane Swacker: let’s not forget one of the most important targets that those test scores are used as ammunition against—

Teachers. Using Value-Addled Modeling.

And just in case y’all figure out where the following “Ode To Doctor Raj” comes from, I tender my profuse apologies to Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”:

VAMania all in my brain

lately reality just don’t seem so sane

makin’ it up but I know why

‘cause hey! me and Michael Jordan can touch the sky

😜

VAM ratings all around

Wildly go up, then wildly down

am I happy or in misery?

what me worry? ego and fame’s got a spell on me

😁

VAMania shining so bright,

keeps me up all day and night,

it’s got me blowing, blowing my mind

is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

😚

¿? Why poetry on a blog that discusses a “better education for all”? Doesn’t anybody besides me care what very old and very dead and very Greek guys said?

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” [Plutarch]

Maybe hard to make out when one is doing CCSS ‘closet’ reading and the lights go out, but if someone insists on doing closed-minded reading then don’t forget to bring extra flashlight batteries…

😎

P.S. Did I get the full spelling of VAM correct? I think my version makes perfect sense of something that makes ₵ent¢ but doesn’t make sense but what do I know?

I’m just your local neighborhood KrazyTA that doesn’t have more than dos centavitos of sense to rub together and I’m not up for any medals or prizes at all…

😉

If you want some deep mathematical analysis of the cut-score process frequently used by New York State and other entities, SUNY@Stony Brook Alan Tucker has two papers (short and long) on this issue based on his service on a committee that looked into results from the NY State Regents Math A exam in 2003, one that had bizarre cut scores arrived at by means that contradicted the State’s own methods.

short version: http://www.ams.sunysb.edu/~tucker/StandardsProb.pdf

longer version: this link is not working correctly and instead takes one to a more recent paper of Prof. Tucker’s that looks interesting but isn’t connected to these issues at all. I have informed him and hope he’ll get that straightened out shortly.

While Alan Tucker is getting the link to the longer version of his paper on the Regents Math A cut score debacle in 2003, I have the paper courtesy of Alan and would happily forward it to anyone who is interested. Just drop me a request: mikegold@umich.edu

BTW–get together a lending library for parents–Todd Farley’s 2009 (all of this has been continuing & worsened for 5 years!!!) book, “Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry.” reading this should convince those undecided to opt out.

FYI. We may not be using Pearson at this time, but we need to watch our process.

Lee Swift, Vice-Chairman Charlotte County School Board District 1 ________________________________

Here is another must-read article

Making Math Education Even Worse; American students are already struggling against the competition. The Common Core won’t help them succeed.

Ratner, MarinaView Profile. Wall Street Journal (Online) [New York, N.Y] 05 Aug 2014: n/a

I first encountered the Common Core State Standards last fall, when my grandson started sixth grade in a public middle school here in Berkeley, Calif. This was the first year that the Berkeley school district began to implement the standards, and I had heard that a considerable amount of money had been given to states for implementing them. As a mathematician I was intrigued, thinking that there must be something really special about the Common Core. Otherwise, why not adopt the curriculum and the excellent textbooks of highly achieving countries in math instead of putting millions of dollars into creating something new?

Reading about the new math standards–outlining what students should be able to learn and understand by each grade–I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation’s best. I learned that at the 2010 annual conference of mathematics societies, Bill McCallum, a leading writer of Common Core math standards, said that the new standards “would not be too high” in comparison with other nations where math education excels. Jason Zimba, another lead writer of the mathematics standards, told the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the new standards wouldn’t prepare students for colleges to which “most parents aspire” to send their children.

I also read that the Common Core offers “fewer standards” but “deeper” and “more rigorous” understanding of math. That there were “fewer standards” became obvious when I saw that they were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics–for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry–were taken out and many were moved to higher grades.

As a result, the Common Core standards were several years behind the old standards, especially in higher grades. It became clear that the new standards represent lower expectations and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.

It remained to be seen whether the Common Core was “deeper” and “more rigorous.” The Berkeley school district’s curriculum for sixth-grade math was an exact copy of the Common Core State Standards for the grade. The teacher in my grandson’s class went through special Common Core training courses.

As his assigned homework and tests indicate, when teaching fractions, the teacher required that students draw pictures of everything: of 6 divided by 8, of 4 divided by 2/7, of 0.8 x 0.4, and so forth. In doing so, the teacher followed the instructions: “Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, create a story context for 2/3 divided by 3/4 and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient . . .”

Who would draw a picture to divide 2/3 by 3/4?

This requirement of visual models and creating stories is all over the Common Core. The students were constantly told to draw models to answer trivial questions, such as finding 20% of 80 or finding the time for a car to drive 10 miles if it drives 4 miles in 10 minutes, or finding the number of benches one can make from 48 feet of wood if each bench requires 6 feet. A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.

Here are some more examples of the Common Core’s convoluted and meaningless manipulations of simple concepts: “draw a series of tape diagrams to represent (12 divided by 3) x 3=12, or: rewrite (30 divided by 5) = 6 as a subtraction expression.”

This model-drawing mania went on in my grandson’s class for the entire year, leaving no time to cover geometry and other important topics. While model drawing might occasionally be useful, mathematics is not about visual models and “real world” stories. It became clear to me that the Common Core’s “deeper” and “more rigorous” standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper–while the actual content taught was primitive.

Yet the most astounding statement I have read is the claim that Common Core standards are “internationally benchmarked.” They are not. The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards. They are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.

For California, the adoption of the Common Core standards represents a huge step backward which puts an end to its hard-won standing as having the top math standards in the nation. The Common Core standards will move the U.S. even closer to the bottom in international ranking.

The teaching of math in many schools needs improvement. Yet the enormous amount of money invested in Common Core–$15.8 billion nationally, according to a 2012 estimate by the Pioneer Institute–could have a better outcome. It could have been used instead to address the real problems in education, such as helping teachers to teach better, raising the performance standards in schools and making learning more challenging.

Ms. Ratner is professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. She was awarded the international Ostrowski Prize in 1993 and received the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences, of which she is a member, in 1994.

Credit: By Marina Ratner

I couldn’t agree with you more. All of those diagrams and drawings are so silly and extremely annoying. I am an Ohio Math teacher, and I dread teaching these new standards. Our old curriculum in Ohio was so much better. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if the deformers wish for our kids to fail and not do well in college. I think they want to “dumb” everything down in the U.S., eliminate the middle class all together, and create a very cheap work force. I know all of that sounds crazy, but it sure makes sense to me. Then, the U.S. would have the very rich and the very poor. The middle class kids are already having difficulty in paying college tuition. The student loan debt is through the roof in the U.S. These kids will have a terrible time setting up a home when they get out of college. It is all disturbing to me. Your blog was extremely informative to me.