Last week I wrote an essay that suggested that the entire obsession with test score-based accountability is a scam, aimed at discrediting public education in order to create opportunities in the education market for private ventures. Today, as I read this analysis by New York’s brilliant principal Carol Burris I had a thought about another possible aim that might be at work.
Burris describes in detail the arcane process by which the cut scores for the New York Common Core tests were set. I will not attempt to restate this analysis - please read it for yourself. The bottom line is that the key tool being used to determine the cut score is the SAT, and this test is much more like an IQ test than a criterion referenced test. Which means that coaching does not matter much. TEACHING does not matter so much. Student scores on this test will ALWAYS take the shape of a bell curve, and we have, in essence, placed the cut score for the Common Core test on the right side of that curve, condemning the bottom two thirds of our students as “not college ready.” [UPDATE: Jersey Jazzman has a deeper explanation of how this is in effect, mixing elements of a norm-referenced approach with what is supposed to be a criterion-referenced test.]
As Burris points out, this has very real consequences:
The scores on these tests are used by schools to make decisions about kids--to retain students, as screening devices for middle school and high school entrance, for entry into gifted or accelerated programs, and to decide which kids need remediation. They are part of a great sort and select machine within school systems. We now know that the tests further increased the achievement gap, which will result in the shutting out of more students of color, of poverty and English Language Learners from desired schools and programs and the enrichment opportunities they need.
One of the pieces of relationship wisdom I recall is that when you keep getting treated a certain way, the reasons why do not matter so much. The “story” does not matter. If you are getting disrespected and abused, that is the issue, not the reasons or rationale for the abuse. If our students are being told, with scientific certainty, that they are unworthy of a college education, by people who have the power to control how that determination is made, then that is because of the way the system was designed - whether this intention is conscious or unconscious, and whether it is stated or not. These outcomes are neither a surprise nor an accident. That is why the leaders in New York knew in advance how poor the results would be.
So this brings me to my second epiphany of the week. The first was that test score-based accountability is a scam to increase opportunities for privatization. The second is this: Test-score based accountability is creating a rationale for rejecting two thirds of our students as unworthy of higher education.
The biggest mind blower is that this whole project has been sold with the idea that its proponents are pushing “college for all.” Orwell taught us that in the future, those in power will use “doublespeak” to disguise their intentions. This feels like a classic case of double speak. We have been told a string of falsehoods, leading to a huge lie.
Falsehood number one: Our future economy needs many more college graduates. There is very little evidence to support this and lots to the contrary.
Falsehood number two: Common Core Standards were developed by educators. Demonstrably false. See this post of mine from 2009 describing the process then under way to write the standards.
Falsehood number three: The Common Core tests somehow predict who will succeed in college. See Carol Burris’ analysis of how these tests were written.
Falsehood number four: This high stakes testing machine will somehow decrease inequity and create more opportunities for poor and minority students. In fact the achievement gap on these tests is proving to be even wider, reflecting the powerful influence underlying social conditions have on student performance.
As wealth has become ever more concentrated, and social mobility has declined, it is ever more important to create a social rationale for that inequality. People who are disenfranchised and deprived of meaningful opportunities must somehow be convinced that their second-class status is THEIR FAULT. It is because they have not applied themselves in school, not learned to be “critical thinkers,” that they are stuck in minimum wage jobs. Inequities must be rationalized. The sorting will occur. It must be explained so that it is accepted and not rebelled against.
Writing about the intentions of others is always tricky. Of course many who advocate for tougher standards and the Common Core genuinely want what’s best for children. My point is that these intentions -- and the story that goes along with the Common Core -- do not really matter in the end for our students. What matters is the labels that will be affixed to them, and their teachers and schools. These labels will hurt, not help.
Once again, drawing from our knowledge of human relationships, if someone tells you that you are worthless, get the hell away from that person. They are no good for you!
These tests are designed to produce the outcomes we are seeing. They are not good for children or other living things. Get them away from our children!
What do you think? Have the Common Core tests been engineered to justify inequity rather than fight it? Or am I missing some hidden light at the end of this tunnel?
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