How School Works (Or Doesn’t): Standardized Testing pt. I

Hello PDX Education Action Network readers!

As a part of our Participating In Community Team Project, my group will be doing weekly blog posts on our individual efforts to learn more about standardized testing in our state. This blog series will come in four parts and will be posted to PDXEAN on Tuesdays. Team members include Megan Coleman, Rebecca Hamilton, Jen Watt, and Rocielle Perez.

Education Forum – Nov. 5, 2013

image_2 On November 5th, I attended a public education forum hosted by Beaverton Community for Education at Mountain View Middle School in Aloha, Oregon. On the panel for this forum were some of Oregon’s top leaders in education: Dr. Nancy Golden, Oregon Chief Education Officer; Rob Saxton, Deputy Superintendent for Public Instruction; Senator Mark Hass (D), Senator from Washington County and Chair of the Senate Committee on Education and General Government; Michael Elliot, Oregon Department of Educations Fiscal Analyst; and Dr. Jeff Rose, Superintendent of the Beaverton School District. Standards were a hot topic for the night, with extensive discussion on the transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the replacement of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Rob Saxton gave a presentation on state standards that was somewhat akin to an advertisement for CCSS; he is a huge advocate of the Common Core. For those of you who may not know much about the Common Core, here’s a basic list of what I learned from Mr. Saxton:

Common Core Facts

  • The Common Core State Standards Initiative was led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009.
  • The standards were developed by teachers, school administrators, and other experts in education. Drafts of the standards were open for public feedback and received nearly 10,000 responses.
  • CCSS was the work of the states; it was not federally mandated. 
  • Through a grant, 26 states put together a test designed to reflect the Common Core. In Oregon, this test will be called the Smarter Balanced assessment.
  • Smarter Balanced will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Now, here are the reasons Rob Saxton presented on why many support and should support CCSS and Smarter Balanced:

The standards have been developed by experts.

The standards were a collaborative effort by the states. The Oregon Department of Education has been involved with the development of the Common Core since its initiation in 2009.

Students need to be college AND career ready.

Saxton expressed concern that the skill set of most graduating seniors are not up to par with what current colleges and employers demand. More and more, successful high school graduates go on to college only to test into rudimentary courses. Saxton claimed that the standards for college-preparedness and career-preparedness are not different; by having better, higher standards, students will be pushed to be ready for both.

Smarter Balanced will give us a better picture of what students know and will lead to better teaching.

The Smarted Balanced assessment, unlike OAKS, includes free-response questions. Since students must write and explain their understanding, teachers and parents will have a better idea of what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are. Supporters of CCSS advocate that students will need a deeper understanding in order to meet the Common Core, promoting student-centered teaching and reflective learning. Regarding teaching to the test, Saxton went on to say, “If it’s a good test, you should teach to it,” taking the position that we need to continue to strive for better tests in order to understand what students really know.

imageHowever, there is still a great deal of concern among the community.

From my experience with parents and teachers at the education forum and with a number of online education advocacy groups, I’ve compiled some of the reoccurring concerns with CCSS.

The Common Core State Standards have not been proven to be more effective than other standards.

Many are concerned that there is no evidence that these standards will do anything to help our students. CCSS were never implemented or tested in any actual schools and so there is no research-based evidence to support CCSS advocates’ positive claims.

The U.S. Federal Government is more involved with the spread of CCSS than advocates say.

Although CCSS was never federally funded or mandated, the U.S. Federal Government does seem to heavily promote the implementation of the Common Core. Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers are often rewarded to those districts that agree to the Common Core.

Smarter Balanced will cost more money.

During the Q&A portion of the forum, one parent asked about the cost of the new Smarter Balanced assessment. Due to the inclusion of free-response questions, Smarter Balanced will cost more to grade. The test will cost Oregon about $3 M more annually and the state is providing $4.6 M.

Fewer students will pass the Smarter Balanced Test and test scores will drop.

In states throughout the nation, test scores are dropping drastically due to the implementation of CCSS. For example, in North Carolina there was a nearly 27% drop in reading and mathematics proficiency among 3rd-8th graders from the 2011-2012 to the 2012-2013 school year. Rob Saxton himself admitted due to the higher standards, fewer students are expected to pass Smarter Balanced.

Is this a reflection of poor learning or a poor test?

Standards are not the answer to our problems.

Ultimately, many are concerned that standards will not fix the issues we have in education. How can teachers be expected to implement pages of new standards without time for preparation/training and with the growing class sizes in our state? It isn’t feasible to simply ask more of our schools without providing any additional resources for success. Additionally, higher standards do not address the needs of those subject to the opportunity gap. Suffering students need access to greater support, not just higher standards.

image_3

At the end of the forum, Dr. Jeff Rose commented on the Common Core. He said that the implementation of Common Core is something that will happen but in the end, standards are just standards. We need to focus less on finding the right standards and more on how we can really help our students. He said, “Standards are not the answer. CCSS will not reduce the achievement gap; that’s up to us. That’s up to parents and teachers and people in the community.”

On many levels, I agree with that statement. Though I feel the government needs to take action and reduce the emphasis of standardized testing in our education system, I realize nothing will happen until they hear the voice of people in the community.

Through this experience, I have been pushed to learn more, to be proactive, and to speak out my concerns and beliefs. I hope that we all, as advocates of our youth, challenge ourselves to be engaged in our communities and to be a part of the change we want to see.

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4 thoughts on “How School Works (Or Doesn’t): Standardized Testing pt. I

  1. The math teacher I talked to said that if the expectations keep getting higher then more and more students will fail. It is nice in theory to set the standards high for our students to try to do better. But what happens to the students who can’ t achieve that? There is tremendous pressure on the teachers to perform. The math teacher wants to make math fun and intereresting, but that may have to be left out in order to quickly address all the math facts for the core testing. She said it is too rushed, and the kids feel that. Also, they are people not robots, she said. There is no room for absorbing the concepts, just keep pushing on through the material. Great teacher, good of her to be in public school.
    -Jen Watt

  2. Rochielle,
    This is such an important topic and i am glad to hear your group is doing some digging to get some answers. The idea of teaching to a test is outrageous, no matter how good the test is. I agree that standards are not the answer, however i do see the importance of having standards of some sort. It frustrates me that the conversation seems to be so focused on standards, yet things are not changing to support the teachers. With so many signs pointing to the fact that the problems with our education system are bigger than standards, why are we still so fixated on them? It makes me wonder how much time and resources we will put into making standards fit before we realize, as a country, that they will not improve the system.
    Alisha

  3. I love what you said here: Through this experience, I have been pushed to learn more, to be proactive, and to speak out my concerns and beliefs. I hope that we all, as advocates of our youth, challenge ourselves to be engaged in our communities and to be a part of the change we want to see.

    And the truth is that we are the people who have the knowledge and the ability to be part of a movement to speak out on these issues…if we don’t, who will?

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