The Common Core Shift: Testing Errors and Parent Guide by Jesse Bluma

The Common Core Shift:  Page 5/5

Pencils down.  Test scores is one of those sometimes flashy, sometimes hidden topics.  Politicians, superintendents, and edu-corporations love to take credit and get in from of news cameras when the scores are good.  Teachers get the spotlight when the scores are low.  We do not hear politicians and others blaming those big evangelical churches, those mega church pastors, for the sins of congregations.

Yet, politicians and radio show hosts blame teachers.  Somehow the state of education is not the fault of principals, school boards, superintendents, administrators, society, or parents.  The next time you hear a politician, TV host, or radio personality blame the state of education on too many bad teachers, ask them for their statistics, their proof, the numbers.  Despite all the good intentions, campaign promises, political gamesmanship, and strident school revivals, we have yet to have a Great Awakening in American education.  Instead, we have hedged our bets on the Jesusification of the American teacher and Common Core.

State test scores must be put into the context of a school’s neighborhood, state, and country.  Various cultural, linguistic, political, and social factors contribute to student learning.  Despite chapter tests, spelling tests, quizzes, essays, homework, classwork, and projects, education reform movements since the 1990s have called for state and federal testing of students.  Under Common Core the testing window is a twelve week timeline at the end of the school year.  That is twelve weeks to schedule and juggle classes of students in and out of computer labs to take the online test.  A significant improvement to testing of students is computer adaptive technology.

As as a students takes the online test the program will adjust the questions to meet the level of the student.  It is laudable for the authors of Common Core and edu-corporations to make their curriculum based in real life situations and relatable to students.  It is troublesome to have product placement in the Common Core test in New York State.  One reading passage on the test included a reference to Mug Root Beer, a product of Pepsi.  Also mentioned in other passages were IBM and Lego.  Are these advertisements?  Oversights?  An attempt to meet the Common Core requirement of emphasizing non-fiction and authentic materials?  No test is perfect, yet it is disconcerting when Pearson (the major company responsible for Common Core) does not consider product placement a conflict of interest.

The test for seventh grade is complex, is heavy reading, and requires sophisticated reading skills to answer follow-up questions.  There was alsoan error on the practice test, Question #9 Grade 7 ELA Practice Test.   

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(Image credit:  Pearson/Next Generation Assessments)

"A student is writing a report for science class.  This paragraph from the report contains language that is not appropriate for the audience or the task.  Read the paragraph.  Then, click on three words or groups of words that are too vague or informal for a science report.

There are loads of reasons to eat organic food.  The term 'organic' indicates that the food has been grown without pesticides or other chemicals.  A consumer who chooses to eat organic food does not consume any of this bad stuff.  Crops that are grown organically are nice for the land because farmers do not have to add chemicals to the soil.  Growing organic food also improves the lives of farm workers because they can avoid working with poisons.  In sum, everyone benefits from the farming of organic food."

This passage from the practice test teaches students a falsehood about organics.  There are many home cooks, bakers, and consumers that are fans of organics, look for products and food grown organically, and use organic ingredients.  Yet, “‘organic’ does not automatically mean ‘pesticide-free’ or ‘chemical-free’.  In fact, under the laws of most states, organic farmers are allowed to use a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders on their crops.  So what does organic mean?  It means that these pesticides, if used, must be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured.” 

After careful study we see Common Core not as a “shift”, not as a messiah, and not as a total solution.  David Coleman and other authors of Common Core are mistaken in their premise and call for American teachers to shift their teaching practices.  This false premise stems from faulty studies, genuine desire to provide students good educational opportunities, and opportunist motives to make money through educational reforms.  The creation and implementation of the Common Core standards will cost a tremendous amount of money, have benefits, bring more uncertainties, and challenges.  Despite the words and actions of politicians, edu-corporations, and reformers, parents and teachers must always do what is best for students and their children.

If the elites in politics, business, and education have it wrong, then we must see to it that our interests prevail.  Teachers must adhere to Common Core; however, for most educators their basic pedagogy will not be a shift from the great teaching they are currently doing in their classrooms.  Students must read and test according to the Common Core standards.  However; this will not be a huge shift from the previous state standards of California.  The heavy emphasis on reading may and will be a challenge for students, some boys that prefer hands-on learning, and English Language Learners.  Despite this challenge, these students, their parents, and teachers will support them.  It is key for these stakeholders to not be exploited by emotional and false claims and promises by experts, politicians, and the newest shiny objects in education reform.  It is also key to take personal responsibility for your own learning and the learning of your child.


The Common Core standards were developed in 2009.  The promises were big.  The sales pitch was something rarely seen outside the small town of Passamaquoddy, ala Pete's Dragon.  Note:  despite the ongoing expense of billions of dollars a year, ongoing teacher training in the standards, and a robust public relations campaign to defend the CC standards and curriculum, we continue to have students that read, write, speak, think, and do mathematics at various levels, and to varying degrees.

As with the salesmen, politicians, administrators, and edu-corporations behind Whole Language, Project Self-Esteem, Multiculturalism, Professional Learning Communities, Data Teams, Clickers, A.V.I.D., Group Work, Devices, Merit Pay, and President Obama’s Race to the Top, the originators of CC were wrong.

Buzzwords and initiatives implemented by greedy and/or ill-informed individuals never work in the long run.  What does work.  What does support learning, increase student curiosity, and increase test scores.  What does something none of these other programs has been able to do.  What does cost a lot less money.  Family.  Parental aspirations for their children has a larger impact on student learning than feedback from teachers, study skills, homework, testing, and teacher education.

That is not to say some principals do not need fire one or two teachers, early on in a teacher's career, at their school sites.  Or that teachers must not continually self-asses and adjust their lessons.  Or that parents and students should not go directly to teachers to discuss the standards, lessons, or grading, rather than taking to social media to bash teachers.  What this does mean is that each student is an individual, begins each school year with various strengths and weaknesses, and that federalized, corporatized, politicized initiatives are not our messiah.

We must be prepared, ready with the statistics and communications abilities, and votes to prevent the next fad, the next person that demonizes educators, and the next ill-conceived, elitist program pushed onto our communities.

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