Friday, May 9, 2014

Moving and Confusing The Goalposts

Some of you may have noticed that I've been unusually quiet for the past month, missing my first board meeting since becoming a member, and (for the first time in years) not actively participating during an election cycle. This is because I had surgery a couple of weeks ago: nothing life-threatening, just a UPPP for sleep apnea, and then during my recovery, tripped and broke a foot, taking me out for another 2 weeks. Ugh.

Anyway, as I caught up on various school-related stuff during my recovery, I noticed that there have been some interesting developments in Common Core (CC) over the past month. If you have been following the many CC debates online, you're probably aware that objections are arriving from a number of different directions to elements of the program.  One aspect that really troubles me is the new "Smarter Balanced" tests.  These have been getting a lot of media attention lately.    There are several potential problems I see with these tests:
  • Due diligence:  While I'm generally in favor of some level of standardized testing, it sounds like these new tests were accepted to be deployed nationally before being fully piloted, understood, or even fully defined.
  • Unfunded Mandates:  They are also creating massive expense for states and local districts, due to being computer-based and requiring new technology purchases for implementation.
  • Confusing Results:  Their rapid deployment, testing cohorts of students who have mostly been taught old standard vs the new standards, will inevitably create (bogus) labels of failure for schools and students.
  • Moving the Goalposts: If the new CC standards are truly "more rigorous", shouldn't we be able to test with the old tests for another 5 years or so, and see improving test scores validate the advocates' claims about CC? If we change both the curriculum and tests at the same time, that kills our ability to truly measure what has changed.

  • Steve Buel of the Portland Public Schools board (separate district from Hillsboro, about 2.5x our size) introduced a proposed resolution at their 4/16 meeting listing a large number of objections to CC, and proposing numerous solutions. You can find the full text at his Facebook page. I think the resoluton suffers a little from the kitchen-sink effect, trying to list everything about CC that has raised objections from someone and propose every possible solution, and I would be surprised if it ends up passing.   It also looks to me like Steve included a bit too much anti-corporate populism ("corporate interests to advocate for and develop CCSS for the benefit of corporations"), which might sell well in Portland, but is this really that different from other types of curriculum materials sold to the district by education companies?   Perhaps if they draft some smaller resolutions based on specific areas, like the concerns with the new testing, they might have a better chance of converging on some good policy reforms. I'll be following what happens there, and watching for possible relevance to our distict as well.

    The Oregon Education Association has also just passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the new Smarter Balanced tests. They don't get into too many specifics in their resolution, but it looks like the new and unproven nature is their biggest concern, as discussed in my first point above. I can see why they are concerned, of course-- our hardworking teachers deserve better than to be labeled and judged based on a new and unproven set of tests.

    Anyway, it seems like concern about Common Core is going more and more mainstream these days. I'll continue to try to keep abreast of these concerns as a school board member-- but remember that our local hands are largely tied, with CC being enforced by state law. So in addition to talking to your school board members, be sure to write to your local legislators and share your concerns directly!

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