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Common Core, PARCC and Public Education: More Light, Less Heat

by Winston Churchill (Principles: Limited government, freedom is G-d's gift to us) - 3 year ago

Everyone has a complaint with Common Core and PARCC. But since everyone is partly right, a common solution exists.

Few issues generate more vitriol in the 2016 campaign than Common Core. Controversy over national educational standards was easy to anticipate, for, as the old joke goes, conservatives oppose anything national while liberals oppose anything with standards. The issue plagues the public education bureaucracy, impacts what is taught and how it is taught, inflames parents and teachers, and pointlessly raises our children’s angst.


Common Core sets benchmarks for what k-12 students should know by age, although it is not a national curriculum and doesn’t mandate how or what to teach. Common Core advocates cite our unusually high mobility rate relative to other countries – in any given year, almost 1 in 5 U.S. households physically relocates, obliging students to change school districts – thereby necessitating uniform, national performance standards. To test whether students meet these educational benchmarks, districts have adopted the controversial PARCC testing. Theoretically, these uniform standards and tests enable parents, education boards and politicians to assess how their children’s schools perform relative to others. However, the process sparks parents’ concerns about undue pressure on their children and teachers’ concerns that PARCC forces teachers to teach to the test, not to the students’ educational growth. As such, these issues challenge Common Core’s relevance, achievability and benefits.


From my experience as a parent, taxpayer and substitute teacher, both sides of the debate are partly right. Therefore the challenge is to synthesize a rational standards and testing policy.


On one hand, parents have the right to know how their children are doing and whether the school prepares them to succeed in a competitive global marketplace. Taxpayers who finance our public education system have the right to know whether their hard earned tax dollars are well spent. As such, both rightly demand accountability from teachers and administrators. If we agree that an insurance company can audit doctors’ use of medical procedures and Rx medications to ensure they are used appropriately in patients who could benefit from them -- to improve health outcomes and hold down wasteful health care costs -- so too we insist on the right to test students to ensure that schools that use taxpayer money are producing acceptable educational outcomes. Therefore, teachers and staff who chafe at testing in principle have no grounds to avoid accountability.


But the teachers are right, too: the PARCC testing process is so problematic that we need a workable alternative. The testing process entails research to develop the tests; training the entire school’s staff to administer the test; review sessions and practice tests for the kids, thereby amping up everyone’s anxiety levels; ensuring the physical security of the test materials; taking the tests; scoring them; validating the results; interpreting them – and then, since we need a few years “baseline” -- not counting them. Worse, PARCC is often poorly matched to the grade levels of the kids being tested – for example, I taught a PARCC Language Arts review for 6th graders in which they read and evaluated a text whose questions were geared for at least 10th graders. As a result, PARCC imposes such a huge tax on the 180 days available for instruction during a school year that it’s effectively unaffordable. Moreover, inappropriately matched levels of test questions result in wrong or unactionable answers to basic stakeholder questions such as, How well are kids doing, How well is the teacher doing, How well is the school district doing, and What do we do about outcomes shortfalls. Finally, the huge time and resources commitment that schools have been forced to invest in preparing students for and administering PARCC tests effectively coerces teachers to teach to the test.


Yet a solution exists: In place of PARCC, measure academic achievement via the classroom and curriculum progress checks such as chapter tests or assigned essays that teachers already routinely use by to grade students. These chapter tests already exist and have been written to accompany textbooks that conform to Common Core standards. They can be standardized across districts and states, thereby achieving the performance standards goal of Common Core. In short, test, and measure student performance in a Common Core national framework so that we have accountability. But use existing tests and evaluation criteria that our teachers already use, so that we avoid reinventing the wheel and can thereby eliminate PARCC’s huge and costly burden.

Comments and Responses (2)

Reasoning used for ARGUMENTS presented
By  David Teitelbaum - 3 year ago
I'm with you on the problem but your solution relies on the integrity of the teachers and schools. Since the teachers will know the questions ahead of time, what's to stop them from making sure that the students know the answers to the specific questions in the chapter tests. If a teacher's job depends upon the student performing well on that test, wouldn't there be a very signficant temptation for the teacher to "cheat?"
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General Comments
By  David Teitelbaum - 3 year ago
Your second from last paragraph has many very long sentences. There must be a better way to break them up. Also you capitalize "What" in the next to last sentence. It should either not be capitalized or it should have quotes.
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