Monday, August 25, 2014

The Common Core


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

August 25, 2014


                Forty-five states in the US have adopted one of two versions of testing for the Common Core of competence in English and math arts language and concepts.  Here in Ohio, repeal of the CC is pending in the House, but even when repealed, to obtain “race to the top” federal funds, they must substitute another standardized test of mastery of content.

                Today I ran a search for validation of test scores.  The closest I came to finding validation data was a state study using the Delphi method—consulting “experts” to see whether they ranked questions in order of complexity as testmakers had done, citing another expert theorist on hierarchy of cognitive complexity.  I presume the validation data the two private enterprises constructing the CC tests are proprietary.

                Apparently, the tests are scored by how well students conform to what adults presume children born knowing nothing have come to know the world in the same order and configuration the testmakers exalt in themselves.  It assumes adults already need to know what every child needs to know when s/he has finished a certain grade, beginning the third grade.  It assumes a lock-step order of learning.  Perhaps because I went to an ungraded high school, I never felt comfortable grading in 39 years of full-time teaching.  Increasingly, educators are recognizing that conceptual learning takes fastest when students are allowed to fail and create their own ways out.  I am supposing that what goes for my learning, including the three R’s, goes for all of us to some degree: Learning what I think I know of statistics and writing has been a unique journey of “aha” moments, from when I first learned to spell and count.  The order in which my abilities to read, write and count evolved, the ways in which I have developed an appreciation of the organic unity of the home in which I live, has recently added new dimensions to my understanding of geometry.  I see it too in my grandchildren, ages 6 and 4.

                Experts and paradigms of education come and go.  The world changes.  From birth, each of us learns on unique paths.  Species that accommodate environment change from generation to generation adapt more readily, survive longer, than species that all behave or “know” the same things about their environment.  By CC standards, diversity of learning sequences is error.

                The other fallacy of CC standards is that a nation of child learning grows the higher students rise relative to others.  By definition, standardization assumes that below a certain confidence level, there’s a statistically small chance that any child in that group scores above average, somewhere between just below average and lower down.  As policy, far enough below average for all test-takers to be “left behind,” and so to be held back a year as early as the third grade.  Grading by standard score may show that some schools and school systems score better over time, and as in the US economy, inequality of relative child, school, teacher success and failure provides the ammunition for privatized elimination of neighborhood schools and privatization of public education.  In Garrison Keillor’s terms, the promise that all our children can be above average is methodologically ludicrous, and distracts our children from learning change.  Love and peace, hal

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