Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Test Match

with 4 comments

This morning, after I was finished with actual work (and mailed that work to myself  in case the entire computer went kablooey), I came across this:


This is an article about the first test results using the new Common Core, which is a curriculum promulgated by  the Department of Education that can be, but does not  have to be, adopted by state and local school districts.

Let me start by saying that I know nothing about the specifics of this curriculum.  I am neither in favor nor opposed to it.

My first instinct is to be generally skeptical of it, because part of me can’t believe it isn’t going to be yet another exercise in gender-race-and-class indoctrination.

For the moment,  however, that’s less important to me that some of the other things in this article.

The first of  these is a statement, about halfway to two thirds of the way down the article, that says it’s not fair to set the standards of the qualifying test so that a “pass” is equivalent to a “proficient” rating on the NAEP exams–a “proficient on those exams, the article says, is the equivalent to an A on schoolwork, and if we think we can bring all students up to an A, we’re crazy.

But here’s the thing–the rating of “proficient” is  not an A on the NAEP tests.  That takes a rating of “advanced.”  “Proficient” simply means that you can actually do more or less average work.  You read at grade level and don’t just stumble through it, but get the point.  You can add, subtract, multiple and divide and know why you’re doing that.

Okay, it’s different for different grade levels, but you see what I mean.

“Proficient” is a C on the NAEP ratings, with “Basic” being the category for everybody who does less, which means most people in most schools.

My first reaction to this statement–that “proficient on the NAEP would constitute an A in most American schools–was that there was serious grade inflation going on and we ought to stop it.

Certainly “actually knows the material” ought to be the baseline for a C in any school.

The second thing was the statement that one of the reasons why students were failing these tests in droves (the common core tests) was that teachers weren’t prepared to teach the curriculum, they didn’t have the resources or the training to do it.

I may be vastly misunderstanding what a “common core” is, but if it’s anything in the neighborhood of what it sounds like, then it should be comprised of the general knowledge every educated person should know, with an emphasis on the skills (literacy, numeracy) that make it possible for us to know it.

No person who has graduated from a university–even in a teacher training course–should lack a basic knowledge of an such material.  How we elect the president.  When the Civil War  happened and where and why.  How to get the sum of a column of three digit figures. 

Okay, I could go on all day and not get it all in, but you see what I mean.  Assuming this is what it sounds like,  there shouldn’t be a person teaching in any classroom in the country who doesn’t already know the material.   And if there is, that person ought to be promptly fired.

There is also the matter of “materials,” which is a squishier subject. 

It’s certainly very nice to have lots of spiffy fun materials to work with, and in some subjects (especially on the high school level) some specialized materials are necessary to competently teach a modern course (labs for chemistry and biology, for instance).

But most of the core knowledge we need kids to know has been taught for centuries without anything in the way of materials.  Even textbooks are a relatively new invention.

One of the advantages of a common core ought to be that it would be possible to teach it even if the school lacked much in the way of resources.

Yes, of course, teaching would be better with the materials than without, but I don’t think that being short on resources should derail a common core curriculum that actually is one.

But the big complaint, of course, is that so many students fail, and that the biggest percentages of failures are among African American and Hispanic students.

The writer seems to be completely flummoxed by what is going on here, and what the point of it might be.

If the idea was to make parents feel dissatisfied with their public schools and therefore fuel the growth of the “charter school industry,” it didn’t work, because charter schools did no better than public schools on these tests, and some of the most popular franchise programs (KIPP, for instance) did a lot worse.

What COULD be going on here?

Well,  I don’t actually  know.

But I have my fingers crossed.

Just MAYBE it’s an attempt to get parents to understand that their local school ISN’T giving their kid a good education just because it’s giving him As.

I won’t hold my breath.

But if we reset the standards for high school graduation–and every grade below it–we would also have a situation where most children failed, at least in the beginning.

But we’d at least be getting somewhere.

Written by janeh

August 19th, 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Test Match'

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  1. I could only bear to skim that article. He’s all over the place; not making any coherant argument and moreover not addressing the most basic points – is the material to be tested unreasonbly hard or not taught, and does the test properly represent the material to be taught? Without that, the rest is just waffle and pointing out that most children don’t achieve a certain standard is either right or wrong. No wild plots needed, and nothing useful to say unless you have evidence that the standards are unreasonable or the test flawed.

    I’m not in the least suprised you caught him out on the NAEP score thing. I wondered about that, because it seems odd that ‘Proficient’ means ‘A’ – unless you have rampant grade inflation going on, which maybe you do.

    And I agree entirely that the stuff about ‘untrained’ teachers is a smoke screen. Any trained teacher should be able to take a new curriculum – in an area they’re already teaching in, moreover! – and figure out how to implement it. Unless you’re talking about some radical experiment requiring specific teaching aids or lab setups, you probably don’t need a lot of new equipment, although it makes things easier to have a textbook with all the material in one place.


    19 Aug 13 at 10:25 am

  2. Read the article and the link back to the Ravitch blog. Nothing surprising here. Every time you test students you get the same people telling you that either (a) schools are doing things which cannot be tested–“building character,” say or “raising class/race consciousness” depending on politics–(b) the teachers need more time and training–ideally so much time and training that they will have safely retired before they can be expected to teach or (c) the test isn’t valid. The excuse du jour varies more than the names providing excuses.

    As far as I’m concerned, (a) it’s not a public school’s job to do things which can’t be tested, and (b) as Jane says, if you haven’t mastered 8th Grade material, you shouldn’t be teaching 8th Grade. As far as (c) goes, it’s possible some of the tests really aren’t valid, but given the usual litany of complaints they’re going to have to prove it to me. I think we’ve got a lot more professional excuse-makers in education than we have people who can’t devise math and English tests.

    Two points worth noting:
    I’ve read the English Common Core. It at no time specifies particular reading material. It says something like “here are the reading skills appropriate to this grade level: Book X might be a good test to use to develop these skills.” I’m sure it would be more convenient for the faculty if someone handed them lesson plans keyed to particular books and let them practice for two years, but I am reminded of Churchill telling a general who wanted yet more tanks before his next battle that “generals only get those conditions in Heaven. Generals who insist on them don’t go there.” Surely a competent 8th Grade English teacher, told that this year’s objective it to get the kids to identify major themes and this year’s book is THE GREAT GATSBY can devise a lesson plan without too much further instruction? If not, why not?

    I also note that “poor and minority” students did badly, with the associated “proof” that Asians did better than whites and blacks and Hispanics worse. This says nothing about the relation of test scores to poverty, but it tells me something about the Washington POST which, alas, I already knew.

    Devise tests which properly measure what we want the students to know, and decide the competency level to be expected at a given age. Then test, publish the results and deal with them.


    19 Aug 13 at 3:26 pm

  3. Hijacking the Blog. Observe:


    The ruling class proposes to lower the cost of education by requiring more reports to Federal bureaucrats, because after all the people filling out forms for the Federal government don’t really COST anything, do they? And of course schools with high graduation rates, and whose graduates make serious money–Johns Hopkins? Georgetown? The Ivies?–will qualify for yet more Federal money, while the schools with low graduation rates and poorly-paid graduates will get less. That would be–oh, vocational schools with high minority enrollment, or a school which admitted marginal students without lowering graduation standards, for instance.

    THIS is why the current ruling class will not last another generation. Actual theft people can live with. The “let them eat cake” level of cluelessness only comes just before the end.


    22 Aug 13 at 7:37 pm

  4. Robert, here is another link to the story


    I don’t trust the NY Times all that much but the Yahoo link used terms like “shiny armored bus” which suggests bias to me.

    From the NY Times “The average borrower now graduates with more than $26,000 of debt. Loan default rates are rising, and only about half of those who start college graduate within six years.”

    What is the big fuss? $26,000 doesn’t sound like an unsupportable debt.


    22 Aug 13 at 9:12 pm

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