There are follow-up questions to be asked, too. For the opponents: what specifically about the changes do they oppose? Is something objectionable happening in Florida classrooms, or is the controversy just about the more abstract idea of federal meddling? And for the proponents, including some educators: every educational modification is touted as bolstering “critical thinking,” but how exactly is instruction now and in the near future better than it was a few years ago? And, importantly: how will we be able to judge whether Common Core is a success?
The details of education policy can admittedly be dry stuff, but the political developments offer a news hook. And the state is about to hold town hall meetings on the Common Core standards, which means there will be a forum to discuss these questions.
Is there time for new tests?
Florida was supposed to begin using new tests designed to assess the Common Core standards during the 2014-2015 school year. The state will now need to find a vendor to supply those tests by March so they can be rolled out in time, which state officials says is doable.
But it’s worth noting that the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the 19-state consortium Scott pulled out of, has been working on this project for three years.
PARCC notified a sampling of school districts in each of the 19 states back in early September that they had been chosen to field test the new assessments this spring. The field test was designed to make sure the assessments go as planned, and to give school districts an opportunity to have some input into what works, and potentially, what doesn’t.
Under the new direction, will any school in Florida have an opportunity to field test a vendor-provided assessment? And if not, hasn’t Scott’s decision given Florida teachers, students and parents less input into the new assessment than they would have had?
The danger of rushing the development of new tests is real. Across the state line in Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September published a multi-part investigation into problems with the high-stakes tests that have proliferated since passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Reporter Heather Vogell turned up test questions to which there was no right answer, or multiple right answers; errors in scoring the tests; technical glitches that left students unable to complete tests, or in the worst cases wrongly prevented them from graduating; and a general lack of accountability for the testing companies. (Vogell did most of the reporting while on a Spencer Education Fellowship at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.)
The contractors who create the tests and score them told the AJC that rushed deadlines were often to blame for the problems.
Even as testing companies received public floggings for errors, lawmakers and education officials failed to address why the tests were derailing or how government contributed to breakdowns.
Some industry executives acknowledge their immense challenges, which include an unprecedented volume of test-takers and demanding federal and state timelines for reporting scores.
Those deadlines have sometimes left testing contractors without enough time to figure out why something didn’t look right, said Stuart Kahl, co-founder of testing company Measured Progress.
“So we had to go for it,” he said. “That’s not a situation you want to be in.”
At the same time, cash-strapped states have struggled to hire and retain staff to provide oversight. Too often, they leave contractors to police themselves, some experts say.
Vogell found little reason for confidence that the new Common Core tests would be any better. Importantly, she notes that states that have left the two consortia of states developing Common Core tests, also face challenges:
States that have bowed out of the common tests, including Georgia and Indiana, will face similar issues, whether they create new tests alone or partner with smaller groups of states. Some will work with a smaller budget than the states that belong to consortia.
The Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner ran condensed version of the AJC investigation on their front pages this past weekend.