Opinion

Bad Apple For Teachers: The Rotten Center Of Common Core Testing

Sarah Perry Common Core Coalition Manager, Family Research Council

The ongoing collapse of Common Core illustrates two very important realities. One is that it’s no longer unusual to oppose it, as increasing numbers of people speak out against its arbitrary guidelines. And two is this: you don’t have to be a conservative to understand that this federal takeover of schools is a bad idea. Just ask Dave Weigel.

Writing at Slate, the left-leaning journalist observed: “In a very short time, opposition to Common Core has evolved from a fringe Republican position that blue-staters laugh at to a position that clearly wins out in blue New York.”

No wonder that states continue to withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the testing consortia that are two of the tentacles of the federal leviathan known as Common Core.

When applying for Race to the Top funding, signatory states had to demonstrate they were joining one of these two syndicates. The federal government awarded $330 million to these testing “enforcers” to develop standardized tests that all must take (for a fee, of course). Pass the test, get the cash.

To date, only 15 of the 25 original states in the PARCC consortium remain, with Tennessee the latest to depart. While the debate over the Common Core State Standards Initiative has been decried as overly politicized and a lightning rod of the lunatic “fringe” (thank you Arne Duncan), two of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions, the National Education Association (NEA), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have their own beef with the Common Core and the tyranny of classroom testing.

The AFT stated that the Common Core exams – which were touted to include more real-world, hands-on problem solving challenges – have proven to be too punitive, difficult, and long.

The NEA recently issued a resolution against “toxic testing,” going so far as to call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation. Departing NEA president Dennis Van Roekel stated, “I really do believe this is about something much bigger than Arne himself,” making clear that “frustration and anger” have escalated at the use of high-stakes tests in teacher evaluations.

New NEA president Lily Eskelsen García, a Core supporter, has stated that testing regimes are corrupting the Common Core – those tests that are a product of people who “don’t have a clue” what they’re doing, and are attempting to test untestable critical thinking skills.

The continuing exodus from PARCC and SBAC illuminates the hoax of privatization and corporate profiteering that’s overtaken the educational climate in America by way of the Core and its extensions. In fact, such a test-heavy approach to education will leave our students un-prepared academically by eliminating essential opportunities for the actual development of the critical skills the Core claims to promote.

This may be why Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president in charge of hiring, told the New York Times, “Test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything,” noting that Google instead looks for “learning ability” when identifying potential candidates.

Higher achieving nations than ours do not use the test-heavy, American approach, but instead, as Linda Darling Hammond notes, rely on “open-ended essays and problems, in addition to research papers and projects that students complete in the classroom to demonstrate their critical reasoning, communication, and ability to apply their knowledge to real-world situations.”

But such methods would be punished in America where teachers are tasked with administering tests conceived to “evaluate” the federally selected skills, facing discipline or lost promotion should the scores be low. No proof exists to show that the assessments are an accurate representation of the instruction provided in the classroom, and by extension, the skills they are designed to test.

Another flaw in the design is its failure to consider the unique make up and circumstances of children.

For children in low-income settings, for children performing outside grade level, for those with disabilities, those with test anxiety, those facing problems at home, days of longer, more expensive computerized evaluations cannot logically represent a true measure of their competence. With additional assessments in Science and Social Studies on the horizon, the situation promises to only get worse.

New York’s Sen. Terry Gipson (D-Rhinebeck) has introduced legislation to end the state’s use of testing giant Pearson, the corporation that has a five-year, $32 million deal with the state to develop Common Core tests.

“It has been brought to our attention by teachers, administrators, school boards, parents and others that the exams Pearson is providing are flawed with mistakes and inappropriate material,” Gipson said. “This is a for-profit corporation funded with taxpayer money, so we have more than enough reason to ask the state education department to cease and desist all relations.”

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once wrote, “To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects … What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?”

It seems a number of states – and their teachers – are offering up a rebuttal to the tyranny of the Core assessments. Teachers realize that education is about more than scores on an exam. To the test-heavy regime, they say, “we object.”

Sarah Perry is a Senior Fellow at Family Research Council.