Putting Education Reform To The Test

Will New Common Standards Mean Less Teaching To The Test?

Will Common Core mean less teaching to the test?

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Will Common Core mean less teaching to the test?

One of the big questions as Florida and 44 other states transition to new education standards and new tests over the next few years is how much time will teachers have to spend teaching to the test?

Teachers complain that they can only spend classroom time on items which will appear on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. In addition, another complaint is that class time is used to teach kids how to take a test rather than imparting more important knowledge.

Common Core is a set of shared education standards which outlines what students should know in math and English language arts at the end of each grade. Advocates say the standards emphasize critical thinking skills over memorization.

Here’s how Hillsborough County’s elementary math supervisor Lia Crawford explained how “teaching to the test” will change with Common Core during a summer training session:

“If you guys continue to have your students (be) really deep thinkers and problem-solvers, the test won’t be an issue. The problem comes in when our assessment doesn’t match and line up to our instruction. And so that’s what we need to start thinking about.

“Once we know that they’re assessing students on ‘X,’ we as teachers have always known how do we better prepare our students for that. So that’s really critical that we are modeling those types of strategy on selecting effective responses based on the question and not just a number.

“Think about when we teach testing strategies to kids – and Cynthia brought up the multiple-choice. We always teach kids to eliminate wrong answers, correct? I did it.

“Well now they’re changing it. They’re saying there’s multiple correct answers. So if a student gets hung up on ‘there’s always one,’ once they pick the first one what are they going to do? They’re done. They’re going to go to the next question.

“So if you refer that back to your instruction and you start bringing those as part of your regular talking with kids through things, then you’re now starting to put a bug in their ear, saying ‘Wait, yesterday she gave us a problem where we thought there was one answer, but then when we stopped and thought about it we could justify that there was multiple answers.’

“So once kids start thinking that way, it doesn’t matter whether I’m teaching math. It doesn’t matter whether I’m teaching reading, whether I’m teaching science. That strategy applies regardless of the setting you’re in. So that’s really important.”

Some believe Crawford’s description is overly optimistic.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, is a leading critic of the current use of standardized exams. FairTest argues that two new Common Core-tied exams under development will still rely heavily on multiple-choice questions.

One of the tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will be administered during at least two rounds of testing.

The first round will be administered near the end of February. These tests will require students to perform tasks to answer questions in an attempt to measure higher-order thinking and analytical skills.

The second round of testing will be given about 90 percent of the way through the school year. Test designers say this round of exams will be scored by a computer so states will receive results more quickly. Most of the questions will have objective right-or-wrong — multiple-choice — answers.

“Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning,” FairTest said.


  • Pixie Xele

    Multiple right answers in math?. So, uh, 3 + 2 isn’t only 5? This is ridiculous. Critical thinking skills, my butt. Tell that to a builder whose architects’ blueprints aren’t really square when the building falls down, or your broke retiree whose financial planner argued that his faulty calculations were right.

    • Jeanne

      Multiple answers doesn’t mean 3 + 2 equals more than one thing. It might be something like 5=? The answer could be 3 + 2, or 2 + 3, or 1 + 4, or 5 + 0, etc.

      • Pixie Xele

        Gotcha. But you’ve heard of fuzzy math, right?

    • StateImpactJOC

      Your premise starts with a question that has just one answer.

      But what if the question was “which polygons have more than one right angle?” Or “name an equivalent fraction to 3/4?” Or “express 5 as the sum of two numbers?”

      All of those have more than one correct answer. The test designers argue that most real-life situations have more than one correct answer.

  • It’s too bad that we were promised truly innovative assessments that allowed students to show what they know, the connections they can make to other mathematics and other subjects, and that would give teachers meaningful feedback that would ultimately become part of the teaching and learning process, and instead have been given mostly the same old nonsense, with a few wrinkles in the structure of multiple-choice questions. Couple that with the fact that kids given these new tests thus far (e.g., in NY State) have done poorly (what a NON-surprise), and you can predict a number of things for the next 3-4 years:

    1) the results of nationwide Common Core testing in spring 2015 will be horrid;

    2) the media and politicians will be wringing their hands and decrying the failure of our public schools; the usual propagandists will call for more charter schools (even though their scores will mostly be comparable with the neighborhood public schools they supposedly are superior to, and that despite being able to skim the cream, reject special education and difficult-to-manage, challenging students), and for vouchers so that “poor kids have a chance to attend schools of their choice (this is more baloney, in that no such schools except for parochial ones will be anywhere within reasonable commuting distance, and even so, the private schools that have small classes and more individualized instruction will not be eager to accept many inner-city poor children of color, nor will they be obligated to do so. And the vouchers won’t necessarily cover the costs of such schools. The people to benefit most from vouchers will be the wealthy and those middle- and upper-middle class folks whose finances and geographic locations put them within reach of such schools. The rural poor, too, will not benefit);

    3) after a couple of testing cycles, say by 2017, anything innovative on the new tests will be gone or there will be enormous pressure for the items to be returned to more predictable formats.

    Moreover, while this may be called a failure of the Common Core and the concomitant assessments, in fact these outcomes will be precisely what the people behind this initiative expected and planned for. Profits will continue to grow, more public schools will be closed or privatized, and lots of money will be made by those who’ve been looking to take over public education on a for-profit basis since the 1980s, if not longer. In other words, to fail is to win.

    • Pixie Xele

      That’s exactly the score.

    • Tomdog

      Well said. You have hit the nail on the head. Now what to do about it?

    • yeahitzme

      sounds like what’s happening in our county from the “top” down!

  • disappointed

    really? Your only “opposition” is fairtest, a group entirely dedicated to eliminating all testing??Please.

  • Jennifer Kennedy

    Too bad that we are still missing the boat. Rigorous is how teachers have to go on scavenger hunts to find the lessons on websites and we get paid to sit and learn about research that is still being questioned! Then we haven’t created the charts, nor written up our plans because there isn’t enough time. We are expected to have excitement about this Common Core Stuff, yet I am very sad. I think the development of a child was left out We are teaching children to be robots or young adults. SHAME ON US!!!!

  • KPossible

    Lia Crawford’s thinking is just the reason our state is doing so poorly in education. The curriculum is terrible. Too many choices is making it super confusing for children today in the classroom. They give 5 ways to do one problem it is ridiculous. Now you have a kid that is trying to solve a problem remembering a little about each way and now can’t reach the solution. Common Core is horrible and should be scratched!

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