Diane Ravitch's Blog: New York: Common Core Produces Massive Failure in Writing

Remember all the bold promises about Common Core? Remember the claims that it would increase achievement for all students and close the achievement gap? That’s what David Coleman (architect of the Common Core and now president of the College Board, maker of the SAT) claimed, along with a plethora of Gates-funded advocates for Common Core. 

Never happened. National NAEP scores flatlined, and scores for the poorest kids dropped.

Here is the latest from New York, which embraced the Common Core wholeheartedly. 

Since the introduction of the Common Core, the proportion of students in New York who scored zero on the state writing tests has doubled. In addition, the achievement gap has grown. 

An alarming number of NYC students have scored three or more “zeroes” for their writing answers on the statewide English exams, a new study reveals.

On the English Language Arts exams between 2013 and 2016, in addition to multiple-choice questions, students had to read nine or 10 short stories or texts, then write responses aimed at showing their ability to think critically and cite evidence to support their answers.

A score of zero (out of 2 to 4 possible points per question) means a student wrote something “totally inaccurate,” “unintelligible,” or “indecipherable.”

“Kids were stupified by these questions,” Fred Smith, a former test analyst for the city Department of Education, told The Post.

Smith and Robin Jacobowitz, the director of educational projects at the Benjamin Center, a research unit of SUNY New Paltz, were forced to use the Freedom of Information Law to obtain the data for their report titled, “Tests are Turning our Children into Zeroes: A Focus on Failing.”

Of about 78,000 NYC third-graders, they found the number who scored zeroes on three or more written answers doubled from 10,696 (14 percent) in 2012 to 21,464 (28 percent) in 2013, when the state tests were redesigned to fit the tougher Common Core standards.

But in the next three years, city third-graders — who were taught nothing but Common Core curriculum since kindergarten — still racked up zeroes at the same high rate, the study found.

The percentage with three or more zeroes on the ELA exam was still 28 percent in 2014, 29 percent in 2015, and 27 percent in 2016, the last year data was available.
That year, the state eliminated time limits, but the effect on zeroes was slight.

“We can’t say this is just kids getting used to the Common Core curriculum. This is all they’ve ever known,” Jacobowitz said. “It did not get better over time.”

What’s worse, the racial achievement gap widened. In 2013, the number of black kids scoring three or more zeroes was 10 percent higher than white kids. In 2016, the gap grew to 18 percent. The white/Hispanic gap grew from 11 percent to 20….

State officials denied the exams — which cost taxpayers $32 million in a five-year contract with testing vendor Pearson — were poorly designed.

“In general, zeroes would not imply a flaw in the test; rather, it would demonstrate students struggled to master the content being assessed,” a spokesperson said.

Another vendor, Questar, produced the exams for 2017 and 2018, given last spring, under a new, five-year $44.7 million contract.

The state has so far withheld data showing how many kids got zeroes on those tests.

Time for New York State to release the data for 2017 and 2018.

Be sure to read the study by Fred Smith and Robin Jacobowitz.

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the New...