Diane Ravitch's Blog: Common Core Tests in NY Widen Achievement Gaps
I first learned about the Common Core standards while attending a briefing for Congressional staff at a conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute in 2009. it was held at Wye Plantation, a lovely and isolated conference center in Maryland. Dane Linn of the National Governors Association described the development work. I was invited to talk about the history of standards in the U.S.
In the discussion following Linn’s presentation, I recommended field testing. In my experience in working on state standards in California, the standards needed to be vetted by experienced teachers. There needed to be a feedback process in which teachers used the standards and had the chance to tell someone in charge what worked and what didn’t, what was placed in the wrong grade (too hard or too easy), and which expectations were unrealistic.
In 2010, I was invited to the White House to meet with three top officials–Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, and Roberto Rodriguez, the President’s education advisor. We talked for an hour (Emanuel got bored and left early). They asked many questions, like what do you think of merit pay? i told them it had been tried repeatedly and failed every time. they responded that the Obama administration was putting $1 billion into merit pay.
Another of their questions was: “What do you think of the Common Core standards?” My answer: “They should have a trial in a few states for a few years before they are made national standards. You need to find out what needs fixing. They might be so rigorous that they increase achievement gaps and hurt the kids who are not doing well now, especially poor kids and kids of color.” I had a suggestion: “Why don’t you try the standards out in three to five states, offer grants to those that want to do it, and see how they work and what consequences they have?” They were not interested. I left the meeting at the White House feeling that I had just spent an hour talking to people who heard nothing that I said. They told me what they planned to do, but they never engaged in dialogue about whether it was a good idea. Oh, and before Rahm Emanuel abruptly left the meeting to do more important things, his first question was “What can we learn from Catholic schools?”
For four years, I sat on the fence, waiting for evidence one way or the other about the Common Core standards. It really bothered me that no one cared to find out how they worked in real classrooms before imposing them. Then, earlier this year, I wrote a post explaining that the way the standards were imposed, with no trial, no feedback, no way to update them, made it impossible for me to support them. Critics responded that standards need no evidence, but I don’t believe it. No big corporation would roll out a big product without field testing. Why should an entire nation accept education standards without finding out how they work?
Now we do have evidence. This is what we know: the Common Core tests cause a huge decline in test scores. Passing rates fell 30% in Kentucky and about the same in New York.
What is worse is that the achievement gaps grew larger. As Carol Burris recently wrote, the test results were especially devastating for black and Latino children. “The results expanded the black/white achievement gap. In 2012, there was a 12-point black/white achievement gap between average third grade English Language Arts scores, and a 14-point gap in eighth grade ELA scores. This year, the respective gaps grew to 19 and 25 points. In 2012, there was an 8-point gap between black/white third-grade math scores and a 13-point gap between eighth-grade math scores. The respective gaps are now 14 and 18 points. The gap expansion extended to other groups as well. The achievement gap between White and Latino students in eighth-grade ELA grew from 3 points to 22 points. Students who already believe they are not as academically successful as their more affluent peers, will further internalize defeat. “The percentage of black students who scored “below basic” in third-grade English Language Arts rose from 15.5 percent to 50 percent. In seventh-grade math, black students labeled “below basic” jumped from 16.5 percent to a staggering 70 percent. Nearly one-third of all New York children scored “below basic” across the grade level tests. Students often score “below basic” because they guess or give up. Principals and teachers cannot get accurate feedback on student learning. Although Ms. Tisch [chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents] may say that “this does not mean there’s no learning going on,” what will parents think? Students will now need to be placed in remediation, or Academic Intervention Services. Schools that serve a predominately minority, poor student body will be fiscally overwhelmed as they try to meet the needs of so many children. Those who truly need the additional support will find that support is watered-down.”
Maybe the standards are okay, but the tests are not.
Who is in charge? By law, the U.S. Department of Education is not allowed to interfere with curriculum or instruction. Who can find out what went wrong? Or will we feel okay about imposing reforms that widen the gaps? In New York, the charter schools did no better than the public schools. Where are we heading? It won’t do to keep saying, as Secretary Duncan likes to, that only extremists oppose the standards. Reasonable people question them as well. To whom should we turn for a careful, thoughtful analysis of what is going terribly wrong?
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