A Key Part Of Common Core Isn’t Working Out

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A key advantage of Common Core over earlier educational standards has failed to appear, according to a new assessment by The New York Times.

According to backers, Common Core was supposed to make it a lot easier to compare standardized test scores between participating states. Ohio, Illinois, and Massachusetts all administered Common Core tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a testing consortium that produces similar tests all member states.

But despite taking nearly identical tests, each state classified what a “passing” score was differently. So in Ohio, two-thirds of students “passed” despite having real scores that were lower than Massachusetts’, where only half of all students passed. The discrepancy occurred because Ohio bolstered its passing rate by simply declaring that students who scored in the “approached expectations” range were “proficient.”

Fudging is once again becoming a common part of standardized tests, the Times notes. In North Carolina and California (which aren’t PARCC members), officials engaged in some sleight of hand by lumping together students who passed their tests and those who came close to passing, increasing their own passage rates. The intent, it seems, is to avoid creating a public backlash by saying a state’s children aren’t academically up to snuff.

The fudging inclination is worrisome for Common Core’s advocates. Prior to the standards’ creation, every state in the country set its own educational standards, measured by its own state-specific tests. Critics argued that this made it difficult or even impossible to compare school systems across state lines, meaning in turn that it was harder to tell which states were succeeding and which were failing at education. (RELATED: Nearly 1/6 Of New York Students Skip Common Core Tests)

By adopting the shared standards of Common Core, the hope was that expectations would be identical across the country, and that states would in turn use similar standardized tests that could be directly compared to one another. That way, it would take only a quick glance at test scores to determine whether New Jersey or New Mexico were outperforming the other on, say, 5th grade math.

“This was exactly the problem that a lot of policy makers and educators were trying to solve,” Karen Nussle of the pro-Common Core Collaborative for Student Success told the Times. “To get a more honest assessment of where kids are and being transparent about that with parents and educators so that we could do something about it.”

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Initially, almost ever Common Core state signed on to one of two testing consortia, PARCC or Smarter Balanced. While over 40 states still officially use Common Core, more and more states are leaving their consortia and choosing to use their own tests. PARC once had over 20 members, but has shrunk to seven states plus D.C. for the 2015-16 school year, and a few more may yet drop out. And even among states that still are in consortia, they are quickly proving that shared tests are no guarantee that states will interpret scores the same way.

Much of this phenomenon reflects the ongoing backlash against Common Core. In several states, such as Mississippi and Ohio, Common Core has survived a determined repeal push, but membership in testing consortia has been sacrificed in the process. In other states, like New York, tests have gone under the microscope after parents complained they were too hard relative to prior tests. (RELATED: Ohio Dumps Common Core Test, But Keeps Common Core)

This doesn’t necessarily invalidate the whole Common Core enterprise. Advocates can still tout how Common Core makes it easier for students to move to a new state without having their education compromised, and having similar standards means that with some effort experts will be able to more easily compare and contrast education in different states. Still, the widespread abandonment of shared testing standards means that, while Common Core remains in place, some of its biggest supposed benefits are proving elusive.

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