Commentary

Common Core, 'the Many-Tentacled Octopus,' is Strangling Education in Over 45 States

Sandra Stotsky
By Sandra Stotsky | October 2, 2014 | 4:58 PM EDT

One of the most puzzling features of the many-tentacled octopus known as Common Core, now strangling public education in over 45 states, is the policy established by the U.S. Department of Education that all K-12 teachers should be held accountable for student scores on tests they had nothing to do with. Even if the standards these tests were based on were rigorous and internationally benchmarked (they are not), and even if all the Common Core-based tests now on the market have been vetted by mathematicians, scientists, and literary scholars (they have not), it is still unfair to hold K-12 teachers accountable for student scores on tests that these teachers have not helped to prepare or review (as they did for the pre-2009 MCAS tests).

This is only one of the many ways the designers of the Common Core initiative have done things backwards.  It’s one thing to hold schools or school districts accountable, as No Child Left Behind did, after many teachers in the state had an opportunity to participate in shaping or reviewing test items for a state test based on state-developed standards.  It is quite another to hold teachers accountable for the results of tests they have had no voice in shaping or reviewing at the state level, and then for federal bureaucrats to require states to “redistribute” the teachers as a Value-Added Methodology deems “effective.”

And what an interesting dilemma this policy sets up for teachers.  If the teacher is judged to be ineffective, she gets penalized—maybe dismissed.  If she is judged to be effective, she gets moved—somewhere.  That seems to be the reward for “effective” teachers.

In the Age of Common Core, teachers will spend a lot of instructional time teaching to tests made by faraway psycho-metricians and unknown consultants—paid well, we can be sure—to keep their jobs.  One solution to this waste of precious instructional time is to give teachers back their professional dignity and provide them with more instructional time. Remember that teachers don’t spend instructional time teaching to their own tests.

State legislators need to eliminate all state and national tests (whether based on Common Core’s standards or not), and insist that student learning be assessed by tests teachers themselves have made based on what they have taught their own students.  Whether in grade 3, grade 8 or grade 11.

To allay the fears of those who don’t trust teachers to develop good tests, state legislators also need to require that teachers make their tests available for parents to see and require local school boards to hold teachers accountable for coming up with good tests that assess what they have taught as part of the curriculum approved by the local school board.  That is the way it was once supposed to work, anyway.

And how, some might ask, can teachers learn how to come up with tests for their own subjects and courses?   They can do so in the same way they now (in theory) learn how to teach their courses—in their preparation programs.  The construction of classroom tests was once part of a course taught in education schools.

And how, some might also ask, are colleges and universities to know if the high school students applying to them are prepared for college-level coursework?  They can develop, in each state, a matriculation exam for all the state’s higher education (or post-secondary) institutions.  That is what is done in many countries today. There are many ways to slip out of this octopus’s tentacles.