The Common Core Standards’ Role in Standardized Testing

By Catherine Gewertz — April 30, 2014 2 min read
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In the various streams of argument that have been mounted against the Common Core State Standards, an increasingly common theme is that the common core is what’s driving the standardized testing that many find objectionable.

Most recent Exhibit A? A big blast from comedian Louis C.K., who’s ranting on Twitter and in the New York Daily News and other news outlets about the state’s tests, which begin this week.

C.K., whose daughters attend New York City schools, hit a nerve with testing opponents on Monday with this one:

And this one:

After posting photos of test questions that made him cringe, he wraps up:

The common core has indeed sparked—in some places, anyway—a new wave of opposition to standardized tests, their effect on day-to-day education, and how they’re used to make decisions about students, teachers and schools.

But the argument that common core is responsible for testing, no matter how deeply reviled, is going curiously unchallenged. A dozen years ago—and eight years before the common standards were unveiled—the No Child Left Behind Act required all schools to test children in math and English/language arts in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and to make those results public. That law has been widely credited with shining a light on how poorly our public schools are serving our neediest children. Yet it’s also been widely bashed for creating a testing culture in schools, for narrowing the curriculum, and for setting schools up to fail with its punitive approach to school-improvement levers.

It’s true that the common-core standards arrive in schools with a set of federally funded assessments, designed by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing consortia. Nearly every state signed on to use to those tests initially, but more and more are breaking away to do their own thing. That said, all but five states have adopted the standards, so they need tests that reflect those new expectations. Whether they use PARCC, Smarter Balanced or some other test is their call. But they’re bound by No Child Left Behind—or agreements they made with the U.S. Department of Education to get waivers from key provisions of that law—to assess their students to see how they’re progressing.

Whether the common-core assessments, of any stripe, represent more or less testing depends on where you live and on what test your state uses. But the new standards, unveiled in 2010 and adopted by most states in 2010 and 2011, did not mandate standardized testing in the schools. Credit for that sea change goes to No Child Left Behind, approved with bipartisan support and inked with Republican President George W. Bush’s signature, in January 2002.

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