I have very mixed feelings on the round of Common Core testing that my kids took last week, and will continue to take tomorrow. We came very close to opting out.
But we didn't. A few nights ago there was a segment on the testing on a show called "All In with Chris Hayes." The segment featured Diane Ravitch
(an educator and very well spoken critic of these tests) and Merryl
Tisch (the head of the NYS Board of Regents and I suppose an educator
too). When given the opportunity to speak, Ravitch was basically
shredding the tests, and Tisch was rambling and calling the tests a
"diagnostic tool" comparing them to height and weight percentiles during
a pediatric visit. This defense of the tests makes no sense to me because do you really care
what height and weight percentiles your kid is in? Do you honestly give a shit if
your baby's head circumference is in the 74th or 88th percentile? I just need the
doctor to say, "Everything looks good." Tisch
closed by saying the kids being opted out were caught in a labor
dispute. There's a little truth to that, but does she really think that the head of the teacher's union has enough pull to get this kind of reaction? I don't.
I think most people chose to opt out because they believe it is in the best interest of their kids to skip the test for a variety of reasons. Mainly, a basic disagreement in education philosophy. Ever hear two kids discuss a correct constructed response? No topic, just the proper form of a response. I have, and it's a little disturbing. Add in these tests are unproven to produce meaningful results, the tests appear to be generally flawed, there are many examples of questions not suited for the targeted grade level, unnecessary stress...the list could easily continue before you get down to labor dispute.
One common complaint about these tests is that may questions are not age appropriate. I don't have a background in education, so I'm not a good judge of what words a 5th grader should or shouldn't know. The internet is filled with so much stuff, it's hard to tell what's true. Especially in an issue like this where emotions are running pretty high. I saw a link to a blog highlighting a number of reasons why these tests are useless, all from anonymous sources which is sadly necessary because no one is allowed to talk about the content of the test. This quote is from the middle of the post:
"As far as developmentally inappropriate goes, besides the actual
length of the test, the word "acrid" was in one passage, and one of
the multiple choice questions required students to choose a definition for it.
How many adults know what "acrid" means, even with context clues?"
I asked my 5th grade daughter. This is true. This was on the test. She didn't know what acrid meant. She didn't remember much about the context or which answer she put down. I asked the next two adults I saw if they knew the definition of acrid. They didn't.
So do you know what acrid means?
Would you expect a 10 year old to know?
How about these examples (taken from a Washington Post article)? I don't have 8th or 6th grade kids so I can't confirm them, but I bet they are accurate.
A reading passage from the 8th grade test included this from a New York Times article:
"Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly
harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased
levels of psychopathology."
I hate it when I'm harmed by mostly harmless injuries. My psychopathology levels go through the roof. Paradoxically speaking, of course.
One from the 6th grade test:
As a result, the location of the cloud is an important aspect, as it is
the setting for his creation and part of the artwork. In his favorite
piece, Nimbus D’Aspremont, the architecture of the D’Aspremont-Lynden
Castle in Rekem, Belgium, plays a significant role in the feel of the
picture. “The contrast between the original castle and its former use as
a military hospital and mental institution is still visible,” he
writes. “You could say the spaces function as a plinth for the work.”
No one should have to read that, not even the author's mother. But I suppose all 6th graders would agree that the spaces obviously are quite an excellent plinth, if they had access to a computer and could Google "plinth definition." I just did...but I didn't have to look up acrid. So I can pass 5th grade, but not 6th.
Yes, these may be extreme examples. But someone was supposed to spend a lot of time developing a good test. Not most of the test. All of the test. After seeing these examples, how can I or any other parent have confidence in these test developers? Did any one at the Board of Regents preview this? Were they allowed to see it and comment? Am I an idiot for not knowing what "plinth" means?
Politicians and the Board of Regents are kidding themselves if they
think children don't feel the stress of these Common Core tests. There is definitely
pressure. And that pressure looks to be self imposed to me. Think I'm
full of it? Then I wish you were at our house last Saturday night at bedtime
while my 9 year old 3rd grader was sobbing out of fear that she wasn't
going to do well and her teacher (that she adores) was going to get
fired. I know for a fact she isn't the
only kid with that fear, including kids in other districts.
Here's an actual conversation from a car ride earlier today. I was driving a handful of Girl Scouts to a troop event.
My Wife: How's it going, girls?
5th Grader: Terrible.
My Wife: What's terrible?
5th Grader: The testing starts again tomorrow.
Other 5th Grader: At least it's math. Math will be better than the English.
The only positive takeaway from this is that some 5th grade girls appear to like math - the subject, not the common core test. And I hope the math test is better. I'm not sure it will be. If the English section is a preview, there may be some alternate interior angle geometry questions on the 3rd grade test.
I'm not sure what we will do next year opting out-wise. As a parent of school aged children, I don't approve of the direction the Governor and Board of Regents are going. While I think these Common Core tests actually started with good intentions, I
believe they have devolved into a money grab. I think the State is paying $39 million to Pearson for this round of tests. Next year, give me $20 million, skip the testing completely and I'll supply the Board of Regents with a shit-ton of meaningless numbers. Hell, I'll even throw in a really nice plinth.