Cliffs ahead: Test scores and the Common Core
New York made education headlines last week, as its public schools reported substantially lower test scores than in previous years. The cause of the drop? This was the first year that New York administered exams aligned to the Common Core—though these were not the “official” Common Core-aligned exams (PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments). According to Education Week, proficiency rates for English language arts sunk by 24 percentage points, and, for math, proficiency declined by a staggering 34 percentage points. New York’s Commissioner of Education, John King, attempting to reassure the public, remarked that “the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less.”
In contrast to New York—and earlier, Kentucky—the Buckeye State has not taken the interim step of ratcheting up the rigor of its assessments to prepare its students, educators, and public for the exams aligned to the Common Core. (Ohio is a member of the PARCC consortium of states, which is one of the two organizations that are developing Common Core exams.) And, if the results from New York and Kentucky are a predictor, Ohio should brace itself for a shock, come 2014-15, when the PARCC exams arrive. Similar to the Empire and Bluegrass states, Ohioans should expect sizeable drops in proficiency rates in their local schools and districts, as we forecast in a report last fall.
Ohio’s implementation of the Common Core in math and English raise the academic expectations for all Ohio students, whether inner-city, rural, small town, or suburban. However, Ohioans will experience pain related to switching to these new, higher standards—as New Yorkers are currently experiencing. One such shock will be the fall in test scores and proficiency rates. But, as Commissioner King rightly observes, the proficiency rate drop doesn’t mean that youngsters have become less smart overnight. Rather, the Common Core suddenly raises the academic expectations for many of our students, after years of mediocre standards. Due to this change, Ohioans should expect—and embrace—a more honest view of how many students actually “pass a test.”