Testing has begun in some states and will continue through April on the Common Core standards. Students in grades 3-8 and 11 will take either the PARCC or the SBA tests. The tests cover a full year of instruction aligned with the standards. But students have not had a full year of instruction in March! There are still another 3-4 months of schooling.


Typically, the testing will consume anywhere from eight to eleven hours. Most students will be tested longer than it takes to sit for the state bar exam. These are not the tests that we (the adults) took when we were in school. For most of us, our teachers tested us, sometimes weekly, sometimes at the end of the semester, but never for more than 45 or 50 minutes.


States can expect a big decline in proficiency rates. This may be due to the fact that the tests are given long before the students have “covered” the standards for the year. It is certainly due to the fact that the tests adopted very high cut scores (passing marks). For whatever reason, the testing consortia decided that their cut scores would be the same as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Thus, “proficiency” would be set as high as NAEP proficiency. Understand that NAEP proficiency is not a pass-fail mark; it represents a high level of achievement. In only one state–Massachusetts–have as many as half the students reached NAEP proficiency. In most states, no more than 30-35% of students attain NAEP proficiency.


What does that mean for the scores? It means that most states can expect a majority of students to “fail” the Common Core tests. These results will be used by “reformers” to trumpet the “failure” of public education. This is ridiculous. If a teacher gave a test, and most of his/her students failed, we would say that the teacher set the passing mark too high or did not teach what she tested.


What should we say about tests that are purposely designed to fail most students? This is a failure, not of the students, but of the test-makers and politicians who commissioned the tests and chose a passing mark that was out of reach.


Even more peculiar is that test results are not returned until August, in some places later. The student has a different teacher. Worse, the teacher can’t see what each student got wrong. She can’t give students instruction tailored to their needs because the tests tell her nothing except a score. The teacher knows how Maria compares to other children in her grade across the state and nation, but she doesn’t have any new information about what Maria knows and doesn’t know. The test has no diagnostic value. If a test has no diagnostic value, it has no value.