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Susan Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities: Moratorium Needed From More Tests, Costs, Stress

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Press Release by FairTest 

for further information: 

Dr. Monty Neill (617)477-9792 

Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773 

A new fact sheet shows that the Common Core Assessments, which are being rolled out for widespread implementation in the 2014-2015 school year, are not significantly different from the standardized exams currently administered in many states. At the same time, plans call for more high-stakes tests with even greater costs.

"Despite proponents' claims that the Common Core would lead to a new breed of assessments that focus on higher-order, critical thinking skills, the planned tests are predominantly the same-old multiple-choice questions," explained Dr. Monty Neill, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). 

Dr. Neill continued, "Rather than ending 'No Child Left Behind' testing overkill, the Common Core will flood classrooms with even more standardized exams. Their scores will continue to be misused to make high-stakes educational decisions, including high school graduation. They will also end up costing taxpayers millions more for new tests and the computer systems required to deliver them.”

The FairTest fact sheet also challenges the notion that harder tests are automatically better. It states, "If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a 'world class' jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled 'jump higher,' or if her 'poor' performance is used to punish her coach." Scores recently plummeted in New York State and Kentucky where Common Core tests were initially administered. 

Based on its analysis, FairTest is calling for an indefinite moratorium on the Common Core tests. "As the prestigious Gordon Commission of educational experts recently concluded, these exams are not the better assessments our schools need," Dr. Neill concluded. "Instead, a system of classroom- based performance assessments, evaluations of student work portfolios, and school quality reviews will help improve learning and teaching." 


FairTest Fact Sheet 

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), each state set its own learning standards and developed tests to measure them. But NCLB’s failure to spur overall test score gains or close racial gaps led “reformers” to push for national, or “common,” standards. With millions in federal Race to the Top money and NCLB “waivers” as incentives, all but a few states agreed to adopt Common Core standards. Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15. Here are the realities behind major Common Core myths.

Myth: Common Core tests will be much 
better than current exams, with many items measuring higher-order
Reality: New tests will largely
 consist of the same old, multiple-choice 
Proponents initially hyped new 
assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers 
promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will 
remain predominantly 
multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues 
to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally
 include just one session of short performance tasks per subject.
 Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on 
many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple
 computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word 
problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The 
prominent Gordon
 Commission of measurement and education experts
 concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is 
ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom 
instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).

Myth: Adoption
 of Common Core exams will end NCLB testing 
Reality: Under 
Common Core, there will be many more tests and the same 
misuses. NCLB triggered a testing tsunami
 (Guisbond, et al., 2012); the Common Core will flood classrooms 
with even more tests. Both consortia keep mandatory annual 
English/language arts (ELA) and math testing in grades 3-8 and once 
in high school, as with NCLB. However, the tests will be longer 
than current state exams. PARCC will test 
reading and math in three high school grades instead of 
one; SBAC moves 
reading and math tests from 10th grade to 11th. In PARCC states, 
high schoolers will also take a speaking and listening test. PARCC 
also offers “formative” tests for kindergarten through second
grade. Both consortia produce and encourage additional interim 
testing two to three times a year (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). As 
with NCLB, Common Core tests will be used improperly to make 
high-stakes decisions, including high 
school graduation (Gewertz, 2012), teacher 
evaluation, and school accountability.

Myth: New multi-state assessments will 
save taxpayers money.
Reality: Test costs
 will increase for most states. Schools will spend even more for 
computer infrastructure upgrades. 
 have been a big concern, especially for the five states that 
dropped out of a testing consortium as of August 2013. PARCC
 acknowledges that half its member states will spend more than they
 do for current tests. Georgia pulled out when PARCC announced costs
of new, computer-delivered summative math and ELA tests alone 
totaled $2.5 million more than its existing state assessment 
budget. States 
lack resources to upgrade equipment, bandwidth and 
provide technical support, a cost likely to exceed that of the 
tests themselves (Herbert, 2012). One analysis indicates that Race 
to the Top would provide districts with less than ten cents on the
 dollar to defray these expenses plus mandated
 teacher evaluations (Mitchell, 2012).

Myth: New assessment consortia will
 replace error-prone test manufacturers. 

Reality: The same, incompetent, profit-driven 
companies will make new exams and prep 
The same old firms, including 
Pearson, Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, are 
producing the tests. These firms have long histories of mistakes
 and incompetence. The multi-national Pearson,
for example, has been responsible for poor-quality items, scoring
 errors, computer system crashes and missed deadlines (Strauss,
 2013). Despite these failures, Pearson 
shared $23 million in contracts to design the first 
18,000 PARCC test items (Gewertz, 2012).

Myth: More rigor means more, or
 better, learning.
Reality: Harder tests
 do not make kids smarter. 
In New York,
teachers witnessed students 
brought to tears (Hernandez & Baker, 2013),
f aced with confusing instructions and unfamiliar material on Common
 Core tests. New York tests gave fifth graders questions written at 
an 8th grade level (Ravitch, 2013). New York and Kentucky showed
 dramatic drops in proficiency and wider achievement gaps. Poor 
results hammer students’ self-confidence and disengage them from 
learning. They also bolster misperceptions about public school 
failure, place urban schools in the cross hairs and lend ammunition
 to privatization schemes. If a child struggles to clear the high
 bar at five feet, she will not become a “world class” jumper
 because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled “jump 
higher,” or if her “poor” performance is used to punish her coach.

Myth: Common
 Core assessments are designed to meet the needs of all
Reality: The
 new tests put students with disabilities and English language 
learners at risk. Advocates 
for English 
language learners (Maxwell, 2013) have raised
 concerns about a lack of appropriate accommodations. A U.S.
Education Department’s technical review assessed the consortia’s
 efforts in July 2013 and issued a stern warning, saying that
 attempts to accommodate students with disabilities and 
ELLs need 
more attention (Gewertz, 2013).

Myth: Common 
Core “proficiency” is an objective measure of college- and
Reality: Proficiency 
levels on Common Core tests are subjective, like all performance 
levels. Recent disclosures demonstrate 
that New York State set
 passing scores arbitrarily (Burris, 2013). There is 
no evidence that these standards or tests are linked to the skills
 and knowledge students need for their wide range of college and 
career choices (Ravitch, 2013). In addition, school officials have
 often yielded to the temptation to cheat and manipulate test 
results to bolster the credibility of their favored 
reforms. Examples include 
Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Indiana, Florida, and more
 (FairTest, 2012).

Myth: States
 have to implement the Common Core assessments; they have no other
Reality: Yes
 they do. Activists should call for an indefinite moratorium on
 Common Core tests to allow time for implementation of truly better
 assessments. High-quality assessment 
improves teaching and learning and provides useful information 
about schools. Examples of better assessments include 
well-designed formative 
assessments (FairTest, 2006), performance 
assessments that are part of the curriculum (New
 York Performance Standards Consortium), and portfolios
 or Learning 
Records (FairTest, 2007) of actual student 
work. Schools 
can be evaluated using multiple sources of evidence 
that includes limited, low-stakes testing, school quality reviews,
 and samples of ongoing student work (Neill, 2010). It’s time to 
step back and reconsider what kinds of assessments will help our
 students and teachers succeed in school and life.


Burris, C. 2013. “How come officials could predict test 
score results?” Blog post, Answer

FairTest. 2006. “The Value of Formative

FairTest. 2007. “The Learning Record.”\

FairTest. 2012. Confirmed Cases of Test Cheating

Gewertz, C. 2012. “Questions Dog Design of 
Tests,” Education Week.

Gewertz, C. 2012. “Will the Common Assessments Be Used as 
a Graduation Requirement?” Education

Gewertz, C. 2013. “Ed. Dept. Panel Says Test Consortia 
Need Sharper Focus on Accessibility,” Education

Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in
Education. 2013. “A Public Policy Statement.”…

Guisbond, L., Neill, M., and Schaeffer, R. 2012.
NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What
 Can We Learn from this Policy Failure? Boston:

Herbert, M. 2012, July/August. “Common Core Testing 
Online Without Constant Connectivity?” District

Hernandez, J. and Baker, A. “A Tough New Test Spurs
 Protest and Tears,” New York Times.…

Maxwell, L.A. 2013, August 5. “ELL Advocates Call for
PARCC Tests in Spanish,” Education

Mitchell, Kenneth. 2012. “Federal Mandates on Local
Education: Costs and Consequences – Yes, it’s a Race, but is it in
the Right Direction?” CRREO Discussion Brief #8.

Neill, M. 2010. “A Better Way to Assess Students and
Evaluate Schools,” Education Week.

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and
Careers. Item and Task Prototypes. 2012.

Ravitch, D. 2013. “Punishing kids for adult
failures,” Daily News.…

Ravitch, D. 2013. “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core
Standards: No Evidence.”…

Singer, A. 2013. “What Does a Common Core/Danielson
Lesson Plan Look Like?” Huffington

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. A Summary of Core
Components. 2012.…

Strauss. V. 2013. “A brief history of Pearson’s problems
with testing,” Answer Sheet.…

Ujifusa, A. 2013. “Tests Linked to Common Core in
Critics’ Cross Hairs,” Education

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Susan Ohanian

Susan Ohanian, a long-time public school teacher, is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic, Parents, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Phi Del...