Correcting the Record: Common Core State Standards Aren’t Tests

A local ABC News story, “Parents Take the Common Core,” conflates Common Core State Standards with annual student assessments, a mischaracterization frequently made in the media. In fact, parents can’t “take the Common Core,” as the headline suggests, because the standards are learning goals—guidelines for the skills students should master at each grade level that are used in curriculum development—not tests.

Testing policy is set at the state and local level. If parents have frustrations or concerns with the assessments their children take, they can address those issues with their local school boards and teachers. Similarly, curricula and classroom materials are selected by teachers, so if parents have concerns about those they only need to turn to their schools.

“I was a little surprised to discover that if a student gets the right answer but doesn’t show all their work gets a zero,” one father says during the interview. Those kinds of decisions are made by the test developer. The Common Core does emphasize critical thinking and encourage students to demonstrate their understanding of an issue, but the standards do not require students to receive a wrong answer for not showing their work.

At The Atlantic‘s Education Summit this week, Washington DC math teacher Liana Ponce shared that her students “get excited about defending and showing their work,” which is a principle encouraged within Common Core. She added that “I’ve seen growth in my students that I’ve never seen before – and such a passion.”

Officials in New York chose not to use PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments, the exams used by many states and designed to most closely measure the content of the Common Core State Standards. That fact makes the headline even more misleading.

It shouldn’t be surprising parents years removed from classroom instruction were unfamiliar with student assessments. But that doesn’t mean the tests don’t do a good job of measuring student learning. In fact, evidence overwhelmingly suggests high-quality assessments do a better job of reflecting the skills students need to master to become college and career ready.

At one point in the clip, one father says, “They were testing your ability to take a test. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of real-world application.” But in fact high-quality assessments most states are using measure whether students have a firm grasp of a subject and aren’t able to game the exams, unlike old “bubble tests.”

Since implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments, most states have begun to provide parents and teachers with better information. An analysis by Achieve found 26 states significantly closed their “Honesty Gaps”. A Harvard University study similarly concludes, “The Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

The reality is high-quality assessments are providing families with more accurate information about their children’s progress towards college and career readiness. As Mike Petrilli wrote in USA Today last fall, “Parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core and the associated tests.”