Friday, April 04, 2014

Is Pearson Sabotaging the Common Core?

After a quick perusal of Testing Talk (kudos to the remarkably broad range of backers), the little feedback there is about the PARCC and Smarter, Balanced tests is relatively restrained and technology focused, compared to the response to Pearson's New York state test.

e.g., Lucy Caulkins:

Last year, the NYS ELA–a test that was described as bran new and aligned to the CCSS–was bad. We complained, we gave feedback, we worked to improve things–and I think many of us actually believed that the State would try to make a better test this year. But from what we are hearing, this year’s test was worse. The finest principals in the State are all saying that the best thing they could have done was to tell teachers and children to go home. The people I am hearing from are all agreeing the tests will tell nothing of value–that they were not testing anything close to what kids should be able to do in language arts.

I did not see the tests–I am not allowed to do so–therefore I rely on reports, as do all the parents across the State. I’m sympathizing with those parents, wondering what they have heard. What I have heard includes stories about some of the very strongest, most resolute third graders coming up to their teachers with tears welling, saying, “I can’t write anything here. I don’t understand what it is asking.” There are stories of brilliant teachers and principals trying to take the test themselves and finding that too many questions were obscure and confusing, too many had many possible answers. Teachers who are my heroes report their hearts were breaking, they do not know if they can continue to teach. Passages for third grades (on their first standardized test ever) at level X, three-part questions requiring a whole sequence of abstract steps, passages in archaic old English… And always, the kids are being asked to look between paragraphs, back and forth, back and forth, noting structures of paragraphs and intuiting author’s purposes…The work that people describe as being required on the Ela seems to me to be utterly unlike what reading and writing should be like for youngsters.

On the other hand, here's some detailed PARCC observations from RI.

I'm not saying PARCC and Smarter Balanced are fine, I have no idea, really. But as someone who has spent plenty of time talking to teachers and administrators about the problems of garden-variety US standardized testing, the response to the NY Pearson tests was quantitatively and qualitatively off the charts. There was never any reason for Common Core aligned tests to be that different than what preceded them -- and in turn no real reason to think the forthcoming consortium tests would be that much different from the status quo, for better or worse, either.

You have to ask yourself exactly how Pearson screwed up such a pivotal contract so badly. You can see CC as an opportunity to lock up the whole country, but you can also see it as an opportunity for new players to get into the game and grow much more quickly. Either could happen. Pearson has done fine with a fragmented and turbulent state-based system, and the entire Common Core syndicate is so tightly interwoven, interlocking, and justifiably worried about the whole edifice collapsing that it is difficult for anyone to pointedly and publicly critique anyone else.

Consider, for example, the damage to one of College Board's biggest competitors that David Coleman could have done with a few offhand public comments (or some extended formal ones) about the problems with Pearson's NY tests last year. One suspects that the fear of turning the Common Core coalition into a circular firing squad keeps any of them from critiquing the rest, publicly at least.

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