Assessments Aligned to Common Core Became Politically Charged for the Wrong Reasons

An EdSurge article on a recent Education Next report argues: “As support for the Common Core among politicians and educators wanes, the closely aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests have also fallen from favor, and as more states leave, the benefit of interstate comparability decreases.”

Even though polling shows strong support for rigorous, consistent learning goals, it “seems like the ends didn’t justify the means for those teaching,” the article surmises.

However, the EdSurge summary misconstrues the original Education Next report, which indicates that policymakers sacrificed the consortia exams to appease critics, who politicized the issue. The report points to several factors, including frustrations with over-testing and opposition from teachers unions, which opponents conflated with the assessments.

Those states are quickly learning the error of going it alone. “The process of leaving the consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams,” Chalkbeat reported recently.

“Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process,” Jim Cowen explained last month.

Although those states have diminished their ability to measure student progress relative to other states, there is much greater comparability today than only a few years ago. “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline… That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children,” Louisiana State Superintendent John White pointed out last fall.

At the same time, states are holding themselves more accountable, providing parents and teachers with accurate information. An analysis by Achieve this year finds most states significantly closed their “Honesty Gap.” A Harvard University study similarly concludes states have made the most progress to raise proficiency benchmarks over the past two years than in any time over the past several decades.

The evidence offers a full-throated endorsement that states should hold the course with high-quality assessments. As Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, put it, “When we are finally going in the right direction, why would we even consider going back?”