Don’t Expect the Latest State Test Results to Validate or Debunk Common Core

Posted By Derek Johnson on October 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm
Don’t Expect the Latest State Test Results to Validate or Debunk Common Core

After years of debate around the Common Core, states are finally starting to release their first-year results from a series of tests based on the new educational standards. The exams (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) were administered in schools across the nation this past spring and are designed to assess whether K-12 students are now better prepared for the kind of critical thinking skills and analysis required for college. With the first round of results trickling in over the next few months, advocates and opponents are rushing to interpret the early findings and deploy them in arguments that support or disprove the effectiveness of the Common Core approach.

However, experts warn that the first-year data will not provide definitive answers to the debate, and the public shouldn’t treat them like a report card just yet. With most participating states in their first year of implementing the new standards, it will likely take another year or two of testing before policy experts will be able to draw any substantive conclusions.

“Anytime you change standards or change your test, you will have a new baseline year where you cannot compare results to a previous year,” said Melissa McGrath, communications director for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

That’s not to say that the first-year results are meaningless, though. In addition to providing valuable feedback to instructors on the exam process and subject matter, they can also help states re-evaluate teaching strategies and dispel myths or confusion about the college readiness of their own students.

“Many states chose to make the move because they realized the state tests and academic standards they had in place weren’t giving them an honest picture of whether their students were ready for a college career,” McGrath said.

McGrath said previous measures used by states to determine college readiness were often overly optimistic, leading to higher than expected numbers of incoming college freshman taking remedial courses. The Collaborative for Student Success created a website specifically dedicated to highlight the differences between how states self-report the proficiency and college readiness of their students, and their score given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered a gold standard by experts. Blair Mann, press secretary for the collaborative, said this honesty gap has prevented states from acknowledging the full scope of the problem when it comes to preparing students for post-secondary education.

“Many students often need a number of remedial courses before they can take credit-bearing work. At a time when student loans are out of control, this only adds to [the problem] ,because students are taking classes to learn things they should have learned in high school,” said Mann.

Early test results using Common Core standards indicate that less than half of graduating students meet the new definition of college-ready in many states. This supports what we already know about remediation rates. According to The Wall Street Journal, approximately 2.7 million students took at least one remedial college course in 2011-12, up from just over 1 million students in 1999-2000. And even as remedial courses mean a more expensive college education, researchers are divided on whether remedial courses help or hinder students when it comes to degree completion.

While it’s too early to say whether the new standards will be successful in combating this problem, some believe the information and data gleaned from this first round of test results will continue the bridge-building between the K-12 and higher education communities. During an online forum on the early test results hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, Loretta Holloway, interim vice president for the division of enrollment and student development at Framingham State University, said it is critical that states and the higher education community continue to work hand in hand as we enter the second year of testing and beyond.

“I think that many in higher education are excited but cautious about the new assessments,” said Holloway. “We have a discussion – always – about helping students become college- and career-ready, but if there is no discussion between [K-12] instructors and instructors in higher ed, [what ends up happening] is a lot of guesswork.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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