Obamacare Troubles Used To Ring Ominous Bells for Common-Core Tests

By Catherine Gewertz — November 15, 2013 2 min read
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As long as I’ve been writing about the forthcoming common assessments, there has been concern about states’ and districts’ technological capacity to manage large-scale online testing. Those conversations have largely taken a concerned but measured tone as administrators and policymakers weigh PARCC and Smarter Balanced technology guidelines and figure out what they need to do to close the gap.

But lately a doomsday tone has crept into those conversations. It’s seeped in from Page 1 headlines about the rocky debut of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care initiative. Oh my God, some folks seem to be saying now, what if the first operational tests in 2015 turn out like that?

Obamacare: a massive undertaking that depends heavily on technology for health-insurance enrollment. Common-core assessments: a massive undertaking that depends almost exclusively on technology for student testing. Comparisons are inevitable.

It’s not hard to imagine common-core opponents making hay of such comparisons. But they’re coming from its backers, as well. A couple of weeks ago, one urban school district source—and a big common-standards supporter—wrote this to me in an email about the 2015 testing horizon: “Frankly, there are going to be logistical problems ... Think of the health-care roll-out and you should have some idea of what this will look like.”

At a meeting of the Education Writers Association last week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten made a similar link:

“You think Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of common core is worse,” she said.

To be fair, and clear, Weingarten wasn’t taking aim specifically at the potential technological meltdown that PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests could face in 2015; she was alluding to the union’s call for a halt to consequences of common-core assessments (think teacher evaluation, student promotion, etc.). But her comments have the effect of building on a growing base of comparisons: Obamacare, common-core tests. Obamacare, common-core tests.

And there is hay to be made off of such comparisons. I offer you this as a handy example, harvested fresh from my inbox this morning. It’s the top chunk of a press release from the American Enterprise Institute. Note the subject line: Can K-12 Schools Avoid An Obamacare-like Catastrophe?

In a bid to solicit press attention for the common-core reflections of two of its resident scholars, the think tank capitalizes on the comparison as well.

Now there is a certain amount of smooshing going on here; the technology issues hanging over the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests are being smooshed together with the challenges—and inevitable bungles—of day-to-day standards implementation in the schools, and both of those are being smooshed together with the question of whether it’s right to tie accountability decisions to the results of the tests.

It’s easy to do all that smooshing and slap a big worry label on it and compare it to Obamacare. Much harder? Reasoned conversations that make appropriate distinctions among these things and explore each in turn.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.