Common Core is NOT a Test

One thing that has made me crazy(er) in all of the media frenzy around Common Core is when media outlets refer to “Common Core Tests.” This is fundamental misdirection.

The Common Core State Standards are standards. Standards are guidelines that most districts and states develop to guide teachers and administrators in what should be taught during the school year. Standards focus on skills and content and are usually divided by grade levels. In other words, they list out what skills and content each child in that grade should be able to “show mastery of” by the end of that academic year.

Standards are listed by grade, and then they are often listed within disciplinary level. So, for example, in most states you could find list of grade level standards for math, English language arts (ELA), science and social studies. Less frequently you can also find grade level standards for language, art, music and other “extra curriculars.”

What media outlets have taken to refer to in shorthand as “the Common Core Tests” are a series of standardized assessments, often created by for-profit companies (others include Pearson and ETS) to assess, score, test or evaluate how well schools are meeting the Common Core State Standards. These tests are the subject of significant controversy across the nation. Two of the biggest standardized tests meant to evaluate whether the Common Core State Standards are being met are called PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

Now, to be clear, many folks have taken some issue with the Common Core State Standards. However, it’s the Common Core-based tests, like Smarter Balanced and PARCC, which are being piloted and administered in schools throughout the nation in Spring 2015 that are causing the biggest stir.

Parents complain that their kids should not be sent to school to take hours and hours of tests. Their children are stressed out. The tests are hard. The teachers and building principals are putting massive emphasis on the tests and often setting aside huge chunks of time to administer them. The results will take several weeks to compile and release and then it is unclear what actions the outcomes the results will bring. In other words, parents are worried that the test results will show their child is “behind.” School leaders might worry that test results will show their whole school is “behind.”

What no one seems to be worried about is why we’re so worried when it’s unclear if there will be any “real” repercussion in terms of funding loss for schools (there won’t be), or long term repercussions for students (there could be).

The point here is that when discussing whether you support or oppose these new Common Core State Standards, it’s worth separating the standards from the tests that are meant to assess whether the standards are being met.

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