New Assessment Results Prove Our Schools Need to Change, So What's Next?

Like the boy in the Hans Christian Anderson’s tale called "The Emperor's New Clothes," we’re all agape as results on new benchmarked  assessments  roll in and nakedly prove that that our public schools are not preparing our kids for colleges and careers.

As Laura Moser reports in Slate, “these tests were designed to judge college- and career-readiness, and U.S. students don’t seem to be up to the task just yet, even if they’re graduating on time in droves.”

In New York, which Education Next describes as “ the top-rated state for setting a proficiency bar that is roughly comparable and sometimes tougher to that set by NAEP,” only one in three students demonstrated proficiency in math and language arts; for black students it was closer to one in five.

In New Jersey, which released its first PARCC results this week, “only about a third of New Jersey high school students taking the state’s new language arts and math exams met any one of the PARCC’s proficiency levels, according to results announced by state education officials this week.”

These results only confirm what we knew already, even before states' implementation of higher-level standards and assessments: the Emperor has no clothes. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that average SAT scores for black and Hispanic students continue to miss the cut-off (1550 average) for college and career-readiness. The  Pew Charitable Trust explains that 60% of two-year college student and 20% of four-year college students must enroll in remedial courses (at an annual cost to families of $7 billion per year). NCES calculates that only 34% of students at 4-year institutions with open admissions policies complete a bachelor's degree within 6 years.

The reaction to this grim news about public education effectiveness hasn't been that helpful, and it's gotten worse since the advent of new standards and assessments. We're not uniting around a common cause to improve educational outcomes; instead, we've become more polarized. For example, the charter school "wars" have become more heated (although see this from Peter Cunningham for some refreshing nuance), with some demanding wholesale conversion (see Andy Smarick) and others depicting expansion of school choice as some sort of maniacal conspiracy among evil hedge-fund manager.

We shoot the messenger. We ignore the message.

Thus,  Diane Ravitch claims that unsatisfactory results on assessments are because Common Core-aligned tests set “wildly unrealistic expectations.”

And Peter Greene (in a letter to NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia demanding that the union not endorse Hillary Clinton) writes, “the assault on public education-- the push to close public schools and replace them with money-making charters, the various "reform" actions to redirect public tax dollars to private corporate coffers, the use of Big Standardized Tests to foster a narrative of failure, the constant attempts through all political avenues to break down the teaching profession so that an experienced well-paid unionized workforce can be replaced with a cheaper, inexperienced, short-term more easily controlled pool of pseudo-teachers-- all of these are part of a larger assault.”

The urge to shoot the messenger -- this insistence, all evidence to the contrary, that unsatisfactory student outcomes are  a result of a "narrative of failure" pressed by profiteers -- is powerful and compelling. After all, if we remain blind to reality then we don't have to change.

I don't know anyone who is claiming that the  Common Core State Standards (or whatever states want to call them) are perfect. I don't know anyone who is claiming that PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments (or whatever states want to call them) don't need to be tweaked.. But are we really prepared to put our blinders back on and insist, contrary to college remediation and completion rates, that the old system (especially for children of color and those trapped in chronically-failing schools) was just fine?

We can’t. No thinking American could. So, what’s next?

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