(Guest Post by Sandra Stotsky)
With an additional $30,000,000 to come to Marc Tucker’s NCEE from the USED’s “competition” for assessment consortia grants, his hare-brained scheme for enticing high school sophomores or juniors deemed “college-ready” by the results of the Cambridge University-adapted “Board” exams that he plans to pilot in 10 states (including Massachusetts now) comes closer to reality. The problems are not only with this scheme (and the exams NCEE will use to determine “college-readiness”) but also with the coursework NCEE’s America’s Choice is busy preparing to sell to our high schools to prepare students for these “Board” exams. (Try to find some good examples of the reading and math items and figure out their academic level.)
First, some background. NCEE’s scheme was originally financed by a $1,500,000 pilot grant from the Gates Foundation. It will now benefit from a sweetheart deal of $30,000,000–all taxpayers’ money. Having Gates pay for both NCEE’s start-up and the development of Common Core standards certainly helped America’s Choice to put its key people on Common Core’s ELA and mathematics standards development and draft-writing committees to ensure that they came up with the readiness standards Gates had paid for and wanted NCEE to use. NCEE has a completely free hand to “align” its “Board” exams exactly how it pleases with Common Core’s “college-readiness” level and to set passing scores exactly where it wants, since the passing score must be consistent across piloting states.
The first problem is that the exams NCEE will give are to be aligned to the academic level of Common Core’s mysterious “college-readiness” standards. Their academic level was apparently perceived as such a minor aspect of “rigor” by Fordham’s latest report that it was never mentioned in its evaluation design, rating system, or grades. Even though that academic level (where it was, what it was mathematically or in terms of cultural literacy, and where the research evidence and international benchmarks were to support it) was at the heart of the debate over Common Core’s standards ab initio.
The second problem is that the coursework that NCEE’s America’s Choice is to develop to prepare students for its “Board” exams is not at all clear, although its partner to profit from the development of the coursework now is <
>. NCEE coincidentally announced a partnership with Pearson publishers just after California’s Board of Education on August 2, and Massachusetts’ Board of Education on July 21, voted to dump their superior standards for Common Core’s inferior standards.
The California and Massachusetts votes were clearly helped along by Fordham’s report, as will be the votes in many other states. Although Fordham trumpeted that “nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core,” the implicit message was not that these states should keep their own standards but the opposite. Since the “A” that Fordham had awarded California in math was not that much better than the “A-” it has awarded Common Core in math, and since the “B+” that Fordham had awarded Massachusetts in math was actually below the “A-”it had given Common Core in math, why shouldn’t both states fall in line and adopt Common Core’s math standards, especially if other reports like Achieve’s or WestEd’s made the case that Common Core’s standards were of about equal quality if not better than what these states already had. Similarly, since the “A-” that Fordham had awarded Massachusetts’s ELA standards was “too close to call” in relation to the “B+” that Fordham had awarded Common Core’s ELA standards, there was clearly no reason for Massachusetts to hold out for its own ELA standards, either. Even though, with forked tongue, Fordham also suggested that these states might want to keep their own good standards, it was clear to state board members, newspaper editorial writers, and reporters that these two states did not have much to lose, according to Fordham’s grades. Beautifully orchestrated!
It remains to be seen how close the new coursework that NCEE proposes to develop is to the “intervention” programs America’s Choice imposes on high schools (Ramp Up Literacy and Ramp Up Mathematics) as part of the package when a state agency has forced “underperforming” school districts (according to NCLB’s criteria) to contract with AC as a “turnaround” partner, a model we now know has no research evidence showing its effectiveness
We mention America’s Choice’s programs for high school remediation for several reasons—but mainly as a caveat emptor to piloting states. First, there is no body of research evidence supporting the effectiveness of its programs at the high school level (and there has been research).
Second, the pedagogy used in its intervention programs (with texts judged at the grade 5 or 6 level by teachers using these programs) is imposed on every single English class in a high school (except AP courses, which are mostly safeguarded by teachers’ syllabi, all earlier approved by the College Board). Because so many negative comments were made by high school English teachers in Arkansas under the yoke of America’s Choice to three researchers at the University of Arkansas as part of their research on literary study in the state’s high schools in 2009, their report, completed in March 2010 and posted on the University of Arkansas’ website, provides a brief summary of the research on AC and the teachers’ comments. See pages 38-42 here. Perhaps the coursework NCEE is planning to develop with Pearson will not be like the intervention programs America’s Choice has used in states across the country to little effect. But with such a track record, it is amazing that AC has been given such a free pass by the USED.
Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (2009). A study of instructional improvement. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.
Slavin, R., Cheung, A., Groff, C. & Lake, C. (2008). Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, July-September 43 (3), 290-322.