Common Core For College Readiness Persists And Changes

From US News And World Report:

After spending millions of dollars adopting and implementing the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments, states are finally beginning to release preliminary results from the first round of tests administered to students last spring.

But it’s unclear whether the results will have any meaningful impact, as a growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves, a set of rigorous academic benchmarks adopted by 42 states and the District of Columbia,

“One of the selling points of Common Core is that when families saw this new data that was more honest, they could do something about it,” says Chad Aldeman, associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an education policy consulting group. “It’s just not coming to fruition like we would have hoped.”

The 2014-2015 school year was the first in which dozens of states participating with one of the two Common Core testing consortia developing the standards-aligned tests began assessing students on the new measures. Now, as preliminary results come in, it marks a moment that many in the education community have been waiting for since development of the standards began in 2009.

For supporters of the effort, the new, more difficult standards paired with the new, more rigorous tests would usher out an era of pretending students are well-prepared to succeed in college or a career. And they would provide, for the first time, an accurate snapshot of the state of education in schools across the country.

For others, the moment represents some of their worst fears: Without more time for teachers and students to adjust to the new standards and tests, there likely would be a significant drop in scores. And that would be particularly unfair for teachers whose evaluation and pay are tied to those test scores.

As education officials in states using PARCC and Smarter Balanced expected, preliminary results show students’ scores in English/language arts and math plummeted compared with previous years’ assessments, though the results aren’t entirely comparable since they’re aligned to different standards.

But with states flip-flopping on their commitments, the push to create a system that allows parents, teachers and policymakers to compare how students in one state are performing compared to another is in even further jeopardy.

In the last two years, states have passed various pieces of legislation to detach themselves from the two federally funded Common Core testing consortia – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium – either by defunding the tests, issuing a new request for proposal to testing vendors or repealing the relationships outright.

The latest states where Common Core’s become a casualty include Missouri, Maine and Ohio. The PARCC consortium has suffered the most losses, with its membership cut in half from 24 to 12.

“We’re in the middle of an escalating fight about how much educational assessment is driven from the top down based on partisan and ideological agendas,” says Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy organization that opposes high-stakes testing. “There is a rising national movement pushing back against the basic test-and-punish assumption that has driven assessment policy for the last 15 years.”

Schaeffer says Common Core assessments have been a failure largely due to the greater political controversies surrounding the standards themselves. He argues that states have had a good, common metric for decades – the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card, which is statistically balanced for cross-comparisons among states.

But some education policy experts who supported the move to higher standards and aligned assessments say there is still a lot to be gained from the current Common Core landscape.

“You still have over half the states in either Smarter Balanced or PARCC, which is a heck of a lot more commonality than we had last year,” says Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank.

Besides, Petrilli says, ever since the U.S. Department of Education decided there would be two consortia, the commonality was never going to be exact.

“What matters to me,” he says, “is whether the test is well-aligned to the standards and whether they’re set at a tough enough level that we signal to educators, parents and kids whether individual kids are on track for success.”

However, even that notion may be in danger, as many of the 18 states that administered the Smarter Balanced test last school year have been reporting or framing results in their own ways. California, for example, focused on how its scores showed significant achievement gaps between subgroups of students, rather than the test scores themselves.

And last week, when Ohio became the first state to unveil preliminary results from PARCC testing, the state board of education altered the scoring rubric in a way that didn’t align with how the testing company interpreted the results.

For example, students rated as “approaching expectations” by PARCC were rated “proficient” by the state board of education. And students rated as “meeting expectations” by PARCC were rated “accelerated” by the board.

Ohio’s disparate ratings sent the education community into a frenzy. Those who have argued for more accountability at the state level worried the move signaled a return to a system that overstates the proportion of students who are on track for success, calling them proficient when in reality they aren’t being prepared well for college or a career.

“This was always supposed to be a partnership among states, and the fact that they can’t come to an agreement … is a bad signal for this whole undertaking of commonality,” Bellwether’s Aldeman says. “And it shows that even despite all this money, the political problems are just too challenging.”

To be sure, Ohio’s board of education didn’t have a choice. The budget signed into law over the summer by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential hopeful, mandated those ratings. That was also the same piece of legislation that included language to defund PARCC entirely in the state, making Ohio one of the latest states to dump its Common Core test.

Illinois, meanwhile, which also released preliminary PARRC scores last week, used the ratings designed by the testing consortia. Nine additional states and the District of Columbia used PARCC assessments and plan to release scores in the coming weeks.

But states moving away from common assessments is a trend that experts expect to continue to grow, further fracturing what has been hailed by some as an important push to honestly assess student achievement.

Case in point: As the House and Senate work to conference their respective reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the federal K-12 law also known as No Child Left Behind – both proposals include language that would allow some school districts to opt out of the law’s required state assessments and instead create their own testing systems.

“I will definitely concede that we have lost the commonality of the Common Core, and that is only likely to get worse,” Petrilli says. “But I think the testing ecosystem is going to continue to evolve. Every state will eventually review the Common Core standards, and states will make tweaks and changes. Over time the Common Core will be less common, but I still think there will be a core there that will be recognizable.”