The Common Core Nightmare That Awaits Us

If students are going to be tested three times a year, then gullible school districts will be shelling out hundreds of thousands for test preparation materials, and before you know it, there will be no time to do anything but teach to the test.
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Common Core Standards are here to stay, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and school administrators have been telling us, but what they have not been telling us is that these nationwide standards are opening the door to more and more standardized testing.

And with standardized testing comes companies that make profits not only with tests, but with materials to prepare for those tests, and with ready-made curriculum based on those tests, just like we saw with all of the school districts in Missouri, including Joplin, that fell hook, line, and sinker for McGraw-Hill's Acuity tests, which were allegedly designed to prepare students for the Missouri standardized tests, which were also made by McGraw-Hill.

It never worked in Joplin, where test scores have decreased ever since administrators bought the Acuity package.

Common Core Standards will be the same thing on steroids.

If students are going to be tested three times a year, then gullible school districts will be shelling out hundreds of thousands for test preparation materials, and before you know it, there will be no time to do anything but teach to the test.

Pearson, one of the companies that has been involved in the creation of Common Core Standards, has been selected by Missouri to create the tests. Pearson, not so coincidentally, is hawking a series of materials to help schools prepare for those tests, out of the goodness of their hearts, I am sure.

Though the teach to the test philosophy and the expense of the test prep materials are a major problem, they are far from the only problem that these tests create. The tests will be given online (you know, the wave of the future) and that creates many more problems.

The Joplin Schools were involved in a pilot test for Pearson last year and it was a nightmare. I administered the test to a class of 28 students. As they logged onto their computers, they were greeted with a series of screens, each containing confusing, poorly-worded instructions -- if they were able to log in.

If somehow they were able to navigate their way successfully through those instructions, they could be well on their way through the test, when they would be thrown off-line and had to start all over again. By the time the hour was over, only four of the 28 students had successfully completed the test.

Since that was a pilot test, I am sure that some of the problems will be worked out by the time all Missouri schools are taking the test to see how students in the Show-Me State compare with those in other states.

However, problems in administering online standardized tests seem to be a common occurrence. The Oklahoma Education Association is asking that McGraw-Hill's 2013 standardized tests be invalidated.

Randy Atkins, a middle school principal in the Western Heights Public School District, offered the following description of what happened in his building:

Western Heights Middle School administered 1904 tests. Thirty-eight exams were invalidated due to computer shutdowns. Eight exams were "restarted" (students who were kicked off after they answered sample questions but before they answered operational questions were allowed to "restart" their exam after the SDE was contacted and given detailed information). The high school had 170 invalidations and 12 "restarts."

The OEA report is filled with similar anecdotes from across the state.

The Indiana State Superintendent of Education is suing McGraw-Hill because of similar problems in the testing.

Missouri students will not be given McGraw-Hill tests after this coming year when the MAP tests are phased out in favor of the new Common Core tests provided by Pearson, but if the tests to come are anything like what I saw during the pilot test in Joplin, we are in for a nightmare. The same problems described in Oklahoma and Indiana are what we experienced.

Diane Ravitch, a former top U. S. Department of Education official during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, wrote about this madness in her blog Saturday:

Remember the days when teachers wrote their own tests, knowing what their students had been taught? Remember when teachers were trusted as professionals? Now, we put our faith in big corporations and their computers. Better to put our faith in well-prepared professionals.

Well written, but not likely to happen unless something happens soon. With the advent of Common Core Standards, we are completing the process of selling our children's future while pouring billions of dollars into the testing and technology companies that are driving education in the United States.

This is not 21st Century learning. If we were still emphasizing the teaching of history in our schools, we might recognize that this is more reminiscent of the 19th Century.

The days of Standard Oil may be long gone, but the robber barons are back in full force and our children are the ones who will pay.

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