Dear Commons Community,
Massachusetts, for years a leader in education reform and the Common Core Curriculum, has opted out of Common Core testing. Originally, Massachusetts’participation was seen as a validation of the Common Core and the multistate test. The state’s rejection of that test sounded the bell on common assessments, signaling that the future will now look much like the past — with more tests, but almost no ability to compare the difference between one state and another. As reported in the New York Times:
“It’s hugely symbolic because Massachusetts is widely seen as kind of the gold standard in successful education reform,” said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, who is leading an evaluation of the national tests. “It opens the door for a lot of other states that are under a lot of pressure to repeal Common Core. Getting rid of these tests is a nice bone to throw.”
The fight in Massachusetts has been dizzying, with a strange alliance between the teachers’ union and a conservative think tank that years before had been a chief proponent of the state’s earlier drive for standards and high-stakes tests. As in other states, conservatives complained of federal overreach into local schooling, while the union objected to tying the tests to teacher evaluations.
Amid the noise, many parents had trouble understanding what the Common Core was, or argued that the nation’s public schoolchildren took too many tests. So while parents and students here did not opt out of testing in the waves they did in places like New York and New Jersey, they also did not express much support…
As states rolled out the new tests over the last two years, parents and teachers pushed back in states from Oregon to Florida. There were technical glitches, as well as complaints that the exams were too hard and too long. When states began reporting poor results, parents and policy makers did not necessarily see the benefit of comparing their schools with others.
But at hearings here this fall, many superintendents and teachers testified that the new test, known as Parcc, for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had improved what was happening in classrooms. Given the choice between the state’s old test and the multistate test this spring, more than half the state’s school districts chose Parcc.
“If we revert back to the old standards, all this work will have been for naught,” said Dianne Kelly, the superintendent in Revere, who credits the standards for tripling the number of students taking algebra in eighth grade and doubling the number taking Advanced Placement courses.
The opposition came from what might have once seemed an unlikely place, the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank that had been a driver behind the higher standards in the 1993 legislation. It had hired Tom Birmingham, who as a Democratic state senator had been a co-author of that legislation. He warned that the state would be pressured to lower standards as other states hid failure by lowering the bar for passing.
“It becomes not a race to the top but a race to the middle,” Mr. Birmingham said in an interview.
The federal government was not involved in writing the Common Core. But Pioneer, like other conservative groups, argued that the Obama administration had forced it on states by granting money to the national tests. As part of its Race to the Top program, the administration in 2010 awarded about $350 million to design the Parcc and the other national test, known as Smarter Balanced.
That argument persuaded even educators who believed the Common Core was improving what happened in the classroom.
“It was almost like extortion — if you want this money, you have to do things the way we want,” said Todd Gazda, the superintendent in Ludlow, near the western Massachusetts city of Springfield.
The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Paul Toner, had supported the Parcc test. But in 2014, the membership elected a new president, Barbara Madeloni, who had campaigned against high-stakes tests, period.
“It is destructive to our students and our teachers and the very possibility of joyful and meaningful public education,” Dr. Madeloni said in an interview.”
The Common Core was a good idea but was poorly implemented and rushed because of pressure by the U.S. Department of Education. Arne Duncan has no one to blame but himself and members of his department for its failure.