I am writing this letter to voice concerns about the growing discontent with the statewide implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the accompanying Smarter Balance Achievement Consortium (SBAC).
Many people are not aware that the CCSS were created to be a package deal that would dovetail with new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing and austerity measures, including mass school closings, particularly in urban areas. The CCSS were built on the foundation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which has been a complete failure in many ways. NCLB was a 10-year experiment that used federal standards and certain tests. It failed to either raise academic performances or narrow the achievement gap in opportunity and outcome. What NCLB did was create and promulgate the myth of failure, with attempts then made to fix so-called failing schools, either by closing them or making them into charter schools with an eventual takeover for privatization efforts.
As the noted education historian Diane Ravitch has stated, the CCSS “were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.”
If the Gates Foundation had not provided more than $160 million in funding, CCSS would not exist today. The standards were created behind closed doors, with many of the so-called experts having ties to large testing companies such as Pearson, the College Board and Achieve.
CCSS is potentially big money for corporate America, but the standards that have been created have proven to be inappropriate for many reasons and logistically challenging to administer. Testing administration takes an inordinate amount of time away from teachers’ contact hours with our students and instead of genuine learning, our students ‘study’ for the SBAC test.
A more insidious trend is now ensuing in that starting next year, certain states will use the CCSS and the SBAC to label students as early as the 3rd grade as to whether they are ‘on track’ or failures. This premature tracking of students at such a young age penalizes different kinds of learners and those students with varying cognitive and age appropriate developmental abilities and is therefore absurd and detrimental.
The high stakes SBAC's non-stop testing is creating a greater void with the already too short period of contact hours that our teachers have to interact with their students during the academic year. Due to the non-stop testing requirements, the SBAC has multiple pieces to be implemented throughout the year, and all of these separate testing sessions must be given on computers. Many schools do not have adequate computers to accommodate all of the required testing, and other schools may incur unnecessary and enormous expenses trying to meet this mandate.
The current system of accountability under the CCSS and SBAC is designed as a top down-driven assessment approach and one that is dominated by standardized summative testing instead of a more holistic approach to student evaluation. More importantly, this type of assessment system does not address the unique challenges certain populations will face, such as English language learners, students with special needs and our growing population of students in Connecticut who are living in unacceptable and increasing poverty. As an alternative means of assessment we need to move back to a series of formative assessments that are created by teachers and not outside corporations with their own interests. There are sound and proven assessment strategies other than the CCSS and SBAC that are readily available and have been used with much success. These include a balanced assessment portfolio that can provide an accurate picture of the student’s learning and achievement, and authentic performance-based projects.
In closing I would like to pose this thought: One of the real issues we must wrestle with is who will control our children’s education. Will it be Bill Gates and corporate America or will our students’ education be controlled at the local or state levels, where it should be?
Middlebury resident Valerie Lofland is a certified Connecticut high school teacher. She is currently a candidate for the MS in TESOL Program at CCSU.