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Bruno: Common Core Assessments Won't Work As Advertised

Holiday_expectations_vs_reality_05I think John is exactly right that Common Core implementation gives us yet another reason to be suspicious of implementing VAM in teacher evaluation in the near future. The CCSS transition is going to involve ironing out a lot of wrinkles, and that's probably going to make VAM unreliable and a distraction.

John's also right that we should be worried about teachers having to reconcile the "critical thinking" requirements of the new standards with the "skin-deep" knowledge requirements of  "bubble-in tests" on the other. I'd frame the problem a little differently, though: the problem isn't bubble-in tests so much as the way we think about critical thinking.

CCSS has been pitched to educators and policy makers as promoting students' critical thinking. Ostensibly the new assessments are going to test for such higher-order skills as well, and my colleagues who support the new standards say that's one of the features they're most excited about. New assessments that can measure students' critical thinking abilities would be the kind of tests many teachers would be - and are - excited about "teaching to".

So I think many teachers are in for a rude awakening when the new tests come out and it turns out that they still primarily measure kids' old-fashioned factual content knowledge. That's the inevitable result, because people usually can't be "good critical thinkers", they can usually only be good critical thinkers about subjects they know a lot about. (If you doubt this, ask any of your struggling students to think critically about something they're really knowledgeable about and prepare to be impressed.)

High-stakes testing during the CCSS transition therefore isn't just a bad idea because, as John points out, teachers are going to need time to adjust their practices. It's also that many of the practices teachers are being told they need to adopt are unlikely to actually improve their students' scores on the new assessments because, contrary to the Common Core sales pitch, content knowledge will still win the day.  It would be pretty unfair to demand that teachers successfully teach a new set of "21st century skills" - or else be fired - when the education community hasn't even really worked out what those skills consist of. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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These conversations wander pretty far from what the Common Core ELA standards actually ask for. It is neither critical thinking, content knowledge, nor 21st century skills. It is analysis of complex texts (close reading) and writing formal arguments based on textual evidence.

These conversations wander pretty far from what the Common Core ELA standards actually ask for. It is neither critical thinking, content knowledge, nor 21st century skills. It is analysis of complex texts (close reading) and writing formal arguments based on textual evidence.

This is not about critical thinking. There's no reason to think the bright and shiny new assessments we're eagerly awaiting will test anything other than what Tom Hoffman says above. See below to further his point;

From EngageNY.org - among the so-called "shifts" instruction must make with Common Core implementation:

Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common text. Teachers insist that classroom experiences stay deeply connected to the text on the page and that students develop habits for making evidentiary arguments both in conversation, as well as in writing to assess comprehension of a text.

I realize there are some differences between the specific skills (or habits, etc.) that the standards require in different subjects, but I think those differences are pretty superficial for the purpose of this discussion.

My point is that while tests may claim - and educators may believe - that they are testing context-independent skills (like "critical thinking", making evidentiary arguments, or close reading), the primary factor determining student performance in most cases is likely to be background knowledge (including things like vocabulary).

In other words, I think that the central argument of this piece is as likely to apply to the new assessments as the old:

http://prospect.org/article/theres-no-such-thing-reading-test/

I agree. Not once, during my career in grade school, and, so far in college, did I find the need to study. This was not because tests were poorly designed but rather because I have a unique ability to memorize basic outlines of information and analyze it. But that’s the point. You can’t have analysis without the framework. You can’t analyze something you know nothing about. There’s no reason to.

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