Our obsession with tests

Just when I thought we were making progress in devising a national core curriculum, everyone is already talking about tests based on the Common Core, which is still in its infancy.?

In New York State, the Regents recently entertained a proposal to replace their Regents Exams with tests developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).? Those are the folks representing 26 states which educate 60 percent of our K--12 students.?

Rick Hess weighed in last week with an essay wondering whether the common core was ?running off the rails already.?? Hess's worries derive from a recent symposium on ?through-course assessment? that was attended by ?a slew of heavy-hitters from the world of assessment and test development,??including PARCC.

What surprised Hess, as he writes, was ?a seeming disregard for the policy or practical impact of this whole enterprise.?? One problem is that there are laws prohibiting?the use of?federal funds to develop curricula.? Then there's the money problem: who's going to pay for the new assessments?? As mentioned before (here), Rick also has questions about how a national curriculum will impact the experimentation values of the charter school movement.

All of this suggests?a larger problem:? while we? inch toward a common curriculum, we are getting bogged down?in a distracting?debate on state autonomy while?the standards and testing industry is zooming ahead, already writing tests based on standards -- and no curriculum. ???????

As Catherine Gewertz at Education Week?noted, "Where's the beef?"? She picked up on the problem?in a report on a meeting with?the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)? committee working on implementation of the common core.?

Writes Gewertz:

The version being articulated here at AFT headquarters on Capitol Hill was a collective concern that common standards and assessments are being developed, like so many slices of bread, without the curriculum or content that's the meat of the sandwich. ?

Apparently, Randi Weingarten gets it.? Gewertz continues,

Weingarten told me afterward that the field needs "common, sequential curriculum" so teachers "are not making it up every day."

[David] Sherman [an assistant to Weingarten] said that part of the committee's job is to grapple with how that curriculum takes shape. It wouldn't be one mandatory curriculum, he said, but should it be one voluntary curriculum? Various curricula or curricular pieces that the union and its members assemble to see what fits, and can be adapted from place to place to meet local needs? Those questions are still being batted about.

But Weingarten was clear: The field needs some kind of curriculum for these new standards. Because "right now," she told me, "we got nothin'."

We have a great opportunity to finally get the curriculum donkey in front of the testing cart; in fact, let's get it in front the standards cart as well.? And let's hope our policy gurus can keep the assessment industry out of the room until we get a good curriculum, not just in math and English, but in science, history, and art and music as well.? Getting rid of the anachronistic prohibition of using federal funds to develop curriculum would sure be a start.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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