Com­mon Core’s dou­ble whammy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David V. An­der­son

Some of the most re­li­able yard­sticks in mon­i­tor­ing aca­demic progress in K-12 ed­u­ca­tion are the as­sess­ments known as the Na­tion’s Re­port Card, of­fi­cially the Na­tional As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress (NAEP). The re­sults from its 2015 as­sess­ments are in, and they are not en­cour­ag­ing.

Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing per­for­mance mea­sure re­ported by NAEP is the per­cent­age of stu­dents who have “passed” the cri­te­ria for grade-level per­for­mance. Look­ing at the na­tional test­ing done on eighth grade stu­dents in the sub­jects of math­e­mat­ics and read­ing, we can iden­tify three eras of stu­dent per­for­mance:

1970–1990 brought stag­na­tion in NAEP math and read­ing pro­fi­cien­cies. Some­what less than 30 per­cent of stu­dents were pro­fi­cient in read­ing, and ap­prox­i­mately 20 per­cent were pro­fi­cient in math­e­mat­ics. Per­for­mance lev­els did not im­prove over th­ese two decades.

1990–2013 was a pe­riod of mod­est but sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance im­prove­ments, par­tic­u­larly in math­e­mat­ics. It was also the pe­riod of the school choice re­form move­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion. Dur­ing those years we saw the in­tro­duc­tion of school vouch­ers and pub­lic char­ter schools. By the end of this in­ter­val, NAEP test­ing re­vealed both math­e­mat­ics and read­ing pro­fi­cien­cies had risen to about 35 per­cent. That trend has now abruptly stopped and re­versed.

2013–2015 is ad­mit­tedly a short pe­riod, but NAEP pro­fi­cien­cies in both of th­ese sub­jects have now dropped. Math pro­fi­cien­cies went from 35 per­cent to 33 per­cent, and read­ing pro­fi­cien­cies slid from 35 per­cent to 34 per­cent. This pe­riod of study co­in­cides with the roll­out of Com­mon Core aca­demic stan­dards and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing test­ing pro­grams in many states.

The re­cent de­clines are not just sta­tis­ti­cal fluc­tu­a­tions, as we know from a sta­tis­ti­cal er­ror anal­y­sis I and my col­leagues at Asora Ed­u­ca­tion En­ter­prises per­formed.

The skep­tic might say, “Well, cor­re­la­tion does not prove much. You shouldn’t be so quick to blame Com­mon Core.” That’s cor­rect. We need more ev­i­dence if we are to con­firm our sus­pi­cions.

So we looked at the NAEP re­sults state by state. We grouped states ac­cord­ing to their par­tic­i­pa­tion in Com­mon Core. Did they for­mally adopt the stan­dards with­out re­scind­ing them? Did they par­tic­i­pate in one or the other of­fi­cial Com­mon Core test­ing con­sor­tia? Af­ter group­ing the 50 states and Dis­trict of Columbia ac­cord­ingly, we found this: Ev­ery group­ing showed a drop in pro­fi­cien­cies. In math, th­ese de­clines were 0.5 per­cent worse for the Com­mon Core states.

In read­ing, th­ese de­clines were 1.0 per­cent worse for Com­mon Core states. How can we ex­plain th­ese re­sults? First, we must ac­knowl­edge th­ese num­bers are of the same or­der as the pub­lished sta­tis­ti­cal er­ror rates in­volved. This means we do not yet have firm sta­tis­ti­cal proof of what we are about to say. How­ever, we do have in­di­ca­tions of an ef­fect.

We see two cor­re­la­tions be­tween Com­mon Core and the wit­nessed degra­da­tion in per­for­mance: direct and in­di­rect, a dou­ble whammy.

The direct ef­fect of Com­mon Core is at­trib­uted to ac­tual changes in in­struc­tional prac­tices within those states im­ple­ment­ing some or all of the Com­mon Core stan­dards.

The in­di­rect ef­fect of Com­mon Core is an in­for­mal one within non­par­tic­i­pat­ing states wherein some changes have been made “to­ward” Com­mon Core with­out ac­tual for­mal in­volve­ment.

What, then, can par­ents and other stake­hold­ers of K–12 ed­u­ca­tion con­clude from this?

What’s clear­est is that Com­mon Core has not brought any im­prove­ments in the im­por­tant sub­jects of math­e­mat­ics and read­ing. In fact, the pres­ence of this un­for­tu­nate “ex­per­i­ment” cor­re­lates with per­for­mance degra­da­tion in both sub­jects.

Less clear, but likely, is the fact that states which have for­mally par­tic­i­pated in Com­mon Core have fared worse than those not do­ing so. And it ap­pears the “in­fec­tion” has spread to states not of­fi­cially adopt­ing and us­ing th­ese so-called stan­dards.

Other schol­ars have crit­i­cized Com­mon Core from a num­ber of other per­spec­tives. They note, for ex­am­ple, it vi­o­lates fed­eral law; the stan­dards for math­e­mat­ics are at odds with col­lege expectations of stu­dent skills; the read­ing stan­dards re­duce stu­dent ex­po­sure to lit­er­ary clas­sics; and it re­flects a clear pro­gres­sive (left­ward) per­spec­tive ev­i­dent in the history stan­dards.

Those of us who were skep­ti­cal of Com­mon Core had strong the­o­ret­i­cal ar­gu­ments on which we based our neg­a­tive views. Now we have num­bers in con­fir­ma­tion.

Com­mon Core is not yet dead. But it should be. David An­der­son is a se­nior fel­low for ed­u­ca­tion stud­ies at the Heart­land In­sti­tute.

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