New York State education officials are qualifying the newly released results of students’ Common Core-aligned test scores with statements such as “We’re in a period of transition,” and “We’ve invested millions of dollars in training to support educators to better prepare students.” In short, however, while students’ test scores showed slight improvement from last year’s results, most students still scored below the proficiency level in both math and English.
Last year, parents, teachers, and students saw scores plummet on the Common Core tests. In 2013, 31 percent of New York State students passed the new tests in both reading and math, compared with 55 percent in reading and 65 percent in math in 2012, prior to the use of the Common Core-aligned assessments.
Today, the Common Core is not only on the public radar, but the focus of a growing nationwide resistance from an unusual coalition of right-wingers, liberals, teachers, and parents, for a variety of very different reasons. The Tea Party, dubbing the standards as “Obamacore,” paints them as an intolerable intrusion of the federal government into local control of schools. Parents sick of the testing culture are drawing a line with the new Core assessments, and some states are balking at the increased time and costs of these tests.
The fact that the achievement gap remains significant in the Common Core-aligned test results is critical since Bill Gates, whose foundation is the standards’ main source of private funding, a source recently said in an interview that a primary goal of the nationalized standards is to address the “huge problem that low-income kids get less good education than suburban kids get…”
“The test scores show that students from all economic, race, ethnicity and geographic backgrounds can and are making progress,” Tisch said. “This is still a transition period. It will take time before the changes taking place in our classrooms are fully reflected in the test scores.”
“New York has completed the fourth year of a 12-year Common Core phase-in. Like more than 40 other states, we’re in a period of transition; for us, that transition began with the adoption of higher standards in 2010,” King said in the same release. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in training to support educators to better prepare students for college and career success, and we will invest millions more in the years ahead.”
“These assessment results, along with our college- and career-ready high school graduation rate and NAEP scores, show we have a lot of important work ahead of us to ensure the success of all our students,” King added.
New York is a governing member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two federally funded Common Core test consortia.
Parents were largely disappointed once again with the results of the student assessments.
“This year’s scores supposedly show a slight gain, yet what we don’t see are the actual tests. Were the students helped?” Catholic-school parent Amber Papadopoulos of Queens. “Children were prepped all year long for these tests, and all other subjects were neglected. The test scores show a slight improvement, but 10 percent opted out statewide, so the data should be nullified. Those numbers would surely impact the test results.”
“The Common Core is absolutely maddening,” Papadopoulos continued. “The methodology used in the math books is fast becoming the laughingstock of most New York parents.”
“The test results in Catholic schools, which my children attend, are even more appalling,” she added. “Catholic school scores were lower than their public school counterparts. Why? We adopted a program that totally goes against the traditional approach that has always been employed by Catholic schools.”
Tricia Farmer of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school district in Saratoga County said she finds statements by Common Core proponents, citing the standards’ rigor as the reason why test scores are so low, “ridiculous.”
“The standards are no higher than what previous standards were in New York,” Farmer said. “Check the experts. Dr. Milgram, the main content expert on the Common Core math validation committee, actually states that Common Core standards are not as high as what New York’s previously were.”
“It is laughable that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner John King believe that New York has made significant progress in math,” she asserted. “In fact, Schenectady City school district has performed worse. Could Common Core actually be widening the achievement gap?”
“I don’t believe the current round of test results have any real meaning,” parent Mitchell Rubinstein of the Roslyn, New York, school district said. “The state education department freely admits manipulating the scoring and cut scores from one year to the next. They are just making it up as they go along, and our children are bearing the brunt of it.”
Rubinstein said he was told by several teachers that some of the brightest, most talented students in his school district failed to finish the exams because of their length.
How can those test scores be meaningful?
Observing the copious amount of testing required of children, Rubinstein said, “College students applying to medical school take the MCAT. It lasts around 4½ hours. The Common Core exams are given to our kids for six days, one to two hours per day or more, every year, starting in third grade.”
“No other high-achieving nation tests their children in this relentless, harmful way,” Rubinstein said. “We shouldn’t either.”
Yolanda Thompson of the Riverhead Central school district opted both her children out of the most recent round of assessments.
“We are a district with a 51 percent poverty rate. We have five elementary buildings which showed different scores and a correlation between poverty and the disparity in the scores,” Thompson said. “The wealthier schools had slightly higher scores, which leaves me asking as a parent how are higher, misaligned standards going to help this particular subset of students go on to college and career?”
“How can the Commissioner continue to tout the Common Core standards as the cure-all fix-all when our scores for 8th grade math and ELA were abominable?” she asked. “Our children do not have an infinite amount of time to gain back what they are losing – which is authentic learning and vital life skills – as opposed to learning to take tests and learning to solve problems in unnecessary, time-consuming, confusing steps.”
“Parents are not being told the truth,” Thompson asserted. “We need to know exactly where our children stand, what they are learning and what they are not learning.”
Let’s look at the Common Core Algebra Regents which was given primarily to 8th or 9th graders in early June. Passing the test is a graduation requirement for these students. In concepts tested, the exam was similar to the old Algebra Regents, with some traditional Algebra 2 topics making their way onto the exam. But in order to make the test ‘Common Core’, the questions became wordy and confusing. You can find the entire test here.
Here is one example. Question 12 asks students to identify an equation, written as a function, given two roots. In the past, the question would have been phrased: “Given the roots -6 and 5, which of the following would be the correct equation?” Students are then given four choices.
Here is the Common Core phrasing: “Keith determines the zeros of the function f(x) to be -6 and 5. What could be Keith’s function?”
This is but one example of a question that was made unnecessarily complicated and wordy in order to give the illusion of a ‘real world’ problem that requires deep thinking. And then there are the questions designed to give a window into the student’s problem solving skills, such as question 34, which includes, “Describe how your equation models the situation.” The “situation” refers to dimensions of a garden. How does an English language learner, with good math skills, begin to understand what that question is asking? (see more test examples below)
You can learn all about the New York State cut-score setting process for the Common Core high school exams here. The first 51 PowerPoint slides are designed to convince the audience of the compelling need to jump off the cliff and the statistical method by which this can be accomplished.