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Diane Ravitch and CCSS

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Diane Ravitch, an education researcher (and if, as a teacher, you’re unfamiliar with her work, you should get familiar, because like her or not, she’s one of the more “visible” education advocates at the moment), made a speech to the Modern Language Association on Jan. 11th. The jist of it is the recent history of national-level legislation (i.e., NCLB, RTTT, and CCSS) and its detrimental effects on public education.

While I think a lot of what she says is absolutely true (that testing is hurting our kids, that NCLB and RTTT had some good intentions but aren’t actually increasing learning, that CCSS were started by corporations and non-classroom-based individuals, that teachers aren’t respected in this country), I’m a little saddened by the lack of suggestions as to what to do for politicians and for teachers (very different talks).

Yes, after the first round of tests under CCSS, test scores plummeted. Standards were raised, so how could that not be expected? (Wait, it was expected, so perhaps the media are in large part to blame the big negative hype.) But as an educational historian, Ravitch shouldn’t have jumped on that bandwagon, and instead amplified the real story. It makes sense that standardized test scores drop when new tests are introduced: teachers don’t know what’s on the new ones, and can’t teach to it the first year, which means kids also don’t know what to expect. I also agree with Ravitch (getting into mild conspiracy theory territory here) that this drop in test scores will be used against the public education system and that teachers will be blamed, letting politicians declare a need for allowing for more outsider-influences in the public school systems.

CCSS is supposed to be aligned with the whole “college and career ready” idea, but I have yet to see anyone actually define that. Besides, I think the college-ready and the career-ready paths are very different, and nobody seems to acknowledge that.

No, there’s no plans for kids who don’t pass CCSS standardized tests. But there’s also no plans now for kids who drop out. Some states already have (or have had for years) high-stakes exit exams to graduate, and have missing kids.

Ravitch should be more vocal about testing in general, rather than railing about CCSS. I actually don’t have much of a problems with having CCSS (or NGSS), but do have a problem with testing, especially on nebulous standards. It’s okay to have a nebulous standard (maybe something like, Students will read 4 American novels and write essays contrasting them with each other and their historical significance), but then the state test shouldn’t be about particular novels: it’s so limiting when the standard was so loose. And that type of standard I made up is about understanding the material and discussion with others and ideas, and a standardized test (especially a multiple-choice and/or computer-graded one) is about particulars within a book. It’s so limiting to be told what to teach and how, particularly when the standards are billed as flexible.

Besides, screaming about Common Core (or NCLB or RTTT) isn’t going to change the fact that it’s the new thing for most of the states. CCSS is coming (and/or is here), and it’s not going to be the problem: it’s what we as educators choose to do about it that could make or break our kids. We need to prove to politicians (that’s really who’s controlling the types of standards we have) that testing doesn’t increase what our kids learn, and that instead, teachers need to be trusted as the trained professionals we are.


Edit, Jan. 21, 2014: I was pointed to this article on aligning CCSS with “college and career ready” in Oregon, by EPIC.

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