The long arm of the Common Core

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Adoption of the Common Core standards comes with a slew of benefits for
states—including the high-quality standards themselves, as well as the
economies of scale that might come from collaborating with other states on
tests, curricula, and more. But as the two federally funded assessment
consortia go about their work and flesh out their plans to develop tests
aligned to the Common Core, danger lurks. One big challenge arises from their
enthusiasm for “through-course assessments”—interim tests that students would
take three or four times a year in lieu of a single end-of-year summative
assessment. Frequent testing for “formative” purposes is not a new idea and,
when limited to diagnostic uses, can be a welcome tool in a teachers’ toolbox.
But the intent of the PARCC consortium is for these quarterly tests to count;
the results would roll into a summative judgment of whether students—and their
schools—are on track. That makes some sense from a psychometric perspective—the
assessments can be more closely aligned to what students are actually learning
in the classroom, and won’t be subject to the all-or-nothing measurement errors
that can stem from once-a-year testing. But there’s a huge downside, as Rick Hess
pointed out on his blog last week: It creates powerful incentives for schools
to align their own curricula and “scope and sequence” to the quarterly tests,
severely undermining school-level autonomy. Building the tests this way is a
far more potent “homogenizer” than, say, the kind of “common” curricular
materials that the AFT
and many other educators
are calling for. Such materials would remain
voluntary for districts and schools. But once a state adopts a new testing
regimen that compels instructional uniformity, only private schools will be
able to avoid it. This is particularly problematic for public schools—like
charters—that were designed to be different. We still favor the Common Core
effort and the trade-off of results-based accountability in return for
operational freedom. (We also favor the development of high-quality curricular
materials that help teachers handle the Common Core.) But it’s time to ask
whether the move to high-stakes interim assessments will make that trade-off

Core vs. Charter Schooling?!!
,” by Rick Hess, Straight Up! Blog, February 18, 2011.

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