The Already Existing Chaos in Student Testing


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Matt complains about “coming chaos in student testing” because opponents of Common Core don’t agree on what should replace it. As I’ve been arguing in the comment thread, the American political system is designed to allow messy, chaotic coalitions to form quickly among people who don’t agree about much but want to oppose something that they all dislike, even if they don’t agree about why they dislike it or what should replace it.

You want to know why that’s happening in the case of Common Core testing? Stuff like this:

I’d like to tell you what was wrong with the tests my students took last week, but I can’t. Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

Imagine how that sounds to parents. Jim Geraghty comments in his email blast:

We live in a world where Ed Snowden’s revealed all of our biggest national-security secrets, but parents in New York State can’t know what’s on the tests the kids are taking. What, are they trying to design a system with as little accountability as possible?

Yes, they are.

You would not have this huge anti-CC coalition drawing together people who agree about nothing else if CC were not being done in such a way as to generate huge opposition from a very diverse set of constituencies. And the CC coalition has proven that it is not willing to bend even an inch to accommodate those concerns.

As long as the CC coalition behaves the way it does, no one has any right to complain about the coalition that has formed against it. They are right to work together to oppose CC without waiting for consensus to emerge on an alternative.

I will keep on saying it and saying it: The core issue is trust. Nothing else matters. The system has lost the trust of parents, not because the parents are paranoid but because the system actually does not deserve their trust. Nothing else is going to go right until the system earns back the parents’ trust.

And the only plausible path to restoring trust is school choice without a common standard.

Update: More analysis of testing concerns from Rick Hess: “Four years after these testing consortia launched, I still can’t get answers to practical questions about whether the results will provide the kind of valid, reliable data needed to support transparency, accountability, and informed competition.”

18 Responses to The Already Existing Chaos in Student Testing

  1. matthewladner says:

    I think it is clear at this point that a number of states are going to abandon CC. If I am following you correctly, everyone, whether an elected office holder or not, should actively avoid giving any thought to what their testing system will look like post-CC. They should simply ditch CC as fast as they can and point fingers at the other side when easily foreseen and preventable problems arise.

    As much as the Republicans hate Obamacare, you may notice that their battle cry has shifted from “repeal” to “repeal and replace.”

    • Greg Forster says:

      Since that’s the opposite of what I’ve explicitly said several times, both here and in the comment thread of your post, I’ll refrain from taking the bait. It is hereby not taken.

      • matthewladner says:

        I’ve never asked anyone to wait by the way. I’ve simply noted that state policymakers and more responsible elements of CC opponents should feel an obligation to think through a replacement system in addition to their opposition.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Does anyone disagree with that? My concern is that it’s not clear to me what would qualify as evidence that they have, in fact, thought about it, other than their all settling on a single answer (which, I’ve been arguing, it would be very unreasonable to expect or demand).

        What evidence would be sufficient to satisfy you that they had thought about it?

      • matthewladner says:

        It seems to me that a responsible Superintendent of Public Instruction would go about replacing CC by building a consensus on their State Board of Education to adopt a new set of standards and tests that comply with federal requirements for academic transparency and have a plausible chance to improve instruction in the state. You don’t need a nearly impossible consensus among the anti-CC crowd to do this, just a consensus among the people elected or appointed to carry out this responsibility.

      • Greg Forster says:

        But it’s the legislatures, not the superintendents, who are generally leading the withdrawal from CC, yes? And aren’t they directing their superintendents to develop replacement standards? Who works for whom here, does the legislature work for the school system or is it the other way round?

      • matthewladner says:

        I believe that states have typically delegated their decisions over standards to a Board of Education. Unless this delegation of authority is set down in the state constitution itself, the legislature can override. Voters either directly elect boards or else the people who appoint them.

      • Greg Forster says:

        My impression is the movement to drop out of CC is in legislatures, and that they’re making provision for replacement standards.

      • matthewladner says:

        What is going on in Arizona and Indiana is a far cry from a reasoned process of “repeal and replace.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        What would constitute a “reasoned process”?

      • matthewladner says:

        When I was an undergraduate, a wily veteran told me that you never drop a class until you add a class.

  2. Mark Dynarski says:

    States are contributing to the erosion of trust by first embracing the Common Core then backing away, for reasons that are at best vague. I’ve written about the confusion here:

    Pushing standards up means the average student now is performing lower against the new higher standard. Of course coalitions will form to oppose this. Lake Wobegon lives.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Your argument assumes that 1) the new standards are in fact superior, 2) the schools have successfully adapted their curricula to the new standards, and 3) the new tests accurately measure achievement against the new curricula. Parents obviously don’t believe this is the case, and the CC coalition obviously isn’t interested in showing any respect for their concerns. Hence your effort is doomed to fail even if all three of your presuppositions are correct.

      • matthewladner says:

        How is it obvious that parents have been spending their time thinking about three step validity tests for state testing systems at all?

      • Greg Forster says:

        So you’re taking back everything you’ve written about how parents are rebelling against the tests because they refuse to believe a test that gives their kids a lower score could be valid? We differ over the validity of their concerns, but in terms of empirical observations of parents I’m just saying the same thing you’ve been saying.

      • matthewladner says:

        Nope- I just question the degree to which these activists represent parents at large.

  3. Ayn says:

    True. The core issue is trust, and that trust is regularly betrayed by those in positions of power, often for their own benefit with respect to greater control and monetary gain.

    Is it reasonable to trust those pushing CC’s one-size-fits-all apporach to education that destroys choice? Do many of that persuasion stand to stand to gain at taxpayer’s, student’s, and parent’s expense?

    We are told that these entities (individuals and favored constituents) know what is best for all of us. They don’t.

  4. What’s the alternative to Obamacare and Common Core? Suppose you see someone walking through the park, hitting kids with a stick. You go up to him and say “Stop hitting kids with a stick” and he asks “What’s the alternative?” How do you respond?

    The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). A law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone, under some specified circumstances.
    Between “forbidden” and “compulsory” there’s room for “We don’t think it’s a good idea but we won’t stop you”, “we don’t care one way or another if you do”, and “We highly recommend it but we won’t make you”. A society is free in proportion to the space between “forbidden” and “compulsory”.

    Neither the health care industry, the insurance industry, nor the education industry are, in abstract, likely candidates for State (i.e., government, generally) operation. “There oughtta be a law” implies that society would benefit from the introduction of organized violence into some situation. In a free society, the burden of proof falls on advocates for violence, seems tome.

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