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Uncategorized   |   May 28, 2013

Unreasonable expectations and CCSS assessments

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Unreasonable expectations and CCSS assessments

By Angela Watson

So last month I ranted a little bit about product placement on the new standardized tests in New York (as in, the brand names of cartoons and sneakers and soda being embedded in reading passages.)  Now that “testing season” is officially over in most schools, I’m really eager to hear from more educators who have seen CCSS-aligned assessments in their districts, and find out what’s really happening. I was going to title this post Are the new Common Core-aligned assessments unreasonable? But everything I’ve read and seen points to one unequivocal answer–yes–so let’s just start from there.

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Pushback against the standards seems to be increasing. The RNC wants to shut down the Common Core. Six states are backing out of the Common Core, putting forward legislation to remove their obligations from CCSS implementation. (This article is the best I’ve seen on the topic of why certain groups are for and against the standards, and how support for the standards have shifted over time.)

Personally, I am disheartened by states talking about CCSS withdrawal when most schools still haven’t even figured out how they’re going to implement the standards yet. I like the idea of having a common set of standards taught in all states, and I like the Common Core State Standards themselves for the most part. They’re rigorous, but not impossible, and take a huge step toward eliminating the “mile wide, inch deep” curriculum problems I’ve bemoaned since my days as a student teacher. If we throw out the Common Core, THEN what? Start from scratch, spend billions more, and come up with something that’s pretty similar, anyway? I think we need a few years with these standards to see how they work. It’s way too soon to be giving up.

So my frustration is not with the standards themselves. It’s the assessments I’ve been seeing so far that really trouble me. (I especially dislike the eventual requirement that the assessments be completed online. Most schools are not even close to having the technology infrastructure to support this, and I’m not convinced it’s necessary or even desirable to do all standardized testing on the computer.) I don’t think the general public has any idea how much is being asked of our students, and so many of the expectations are clearly developmentally inappropriate.

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Consider this email I recieved from Learning Girl of The Ways They Learn blog. She’s a fantastic resource room teacher here in New York and not afraid to speak the truth about what happened when students in her school took the new CCSS-aligned state tests. She’s given me permission to share her concerns here:

I proctored 5th grade, which seems to have been the most disastrous as far as I can tell, but I heard they were all pretty rough. I’m not sure which part of the CCSS justifies that test; I was always at the top of my high-performing class and even I don’t think I would have been up to some of that language in 5th grade.

I just don’t understand how the higher standards translate into impossible tests. I do think the standards are ambitious, but they don’t actually say “What used to be considered 11th grade vocabulary is now to be taught at 5th.” I’m all for teaching/encouraging kids to think more deeply about what they read, process meatier content, or whatever it was supposed to be, but in my mind that never meant having 10-year-olds interpret Shakespearean-sounding prose or divine which of four similar-sounding statements the test makers deemed the “best” answer to a vague question.

In addition (or maybe not, maybe just more of the same complaint) I don’t see how preparing kids to be college-ready at 18 becomes synonymous with having them do college-level work at 10. What is wrong with having them progress through developmentally appropriate sequential stages until college-level skills emerge? What support is there for the idea that these skills should look the same at all ages, just at different levels? I don’t expect my 6-month-old to walk like an adult, just slower or shorter. I know that she can crawl at 6 months and toddle at 12 months (approx.) and when her body matures, the skills will come with it. I view academics much the same way, though with more complexity.

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I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing with “Common Core-aligned” assessments in your district. Are they harder than what your students are used to seeing? Are they well-matched with the curriculum? What would you change about the way your students are tested? 

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. I like the ccs. But I’m not a Republican. I have been using them for two years. My kids are emotionally handicapped and the new PARC test and the end of a course on line will be a disaster. They come in 2 or more years below grade level. Algebra 1 for all freshman is not going to cut it. My autistic spectrum kids will run out of the room s reaming and by conduct disorders will say f— this and my career will be over!! Sad way to end a 29 year career. We can retire in Ohio until 67 so I guess I’ll get fired, appeal that get unemployment and get retrained for a new career in my 60’s. Well, to summarize I like core but let me write pre/post tests and throw away PARC

  2. I teach 4th grade in NY. We have been giving the “new” state tests (ELA, Math, and science is still coming). The main thing that bothers me is that the questions are not as deep and though provoking as what we strive for in the curriculum. Two questions were EXACTLY the same on the ELA – what was the setting. Also while scoring (I scored 5th grade as you are not allowed to score your own level) the exemplars were very misleading and inconsistent. As scorers we had to make assumptions if the student “made and inference then supported that inference with 2 specific details (for many questions)” How do we know what the student inferred?! Worded one way a student would earn a 2 or 3 word it another way a 1. I understand and agree there need to be a common “core” in education, but the way it is being rolled out and now assessed is not making it as valuable as it could be. Plus now there will be many MANY gaps in the students’ abilities as we jump into the new standards with both feet next year.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Kim. I’m surprised you found the assessments to be LESS rigorous than your curriculum. I think that says a lot about the level of rigor you’re achieving on a daily basis in your classroom–wonderful! I agree that the exemplars were not consistent. I would imagine it was very hard to score fairly.

  3. As an 8th grade mathematics teacher in California I am concerned that the only Mathematics expert on the CCSS validation committee, Dr. James Milgram, did not sign off on the final document. California’s math Frameworks have received generally favorable marks for their rigor and thoroughness. Even though California has baselined Algebra 1 for 8th grade for over a decade, most students have not been ready academically or in scholastic maturity for Algebra 1 in 8th grade. The 8th grade standards may seem less rigorous, but there’s nothing preventing a teacher from teaching more than what the standards expect.

    If a teacher is comfortable with the CONTENT, adjusting your curriculum and pacing should not be that difficult. Yes, you may have to create units & lessons that you haven’t done before (as I must), but as the late, great Earl Weaver used to say, “I win the Pennant in August with the decisions I make in January (off-season).” So my summer will be busy re-structuring my units; that’s why we’re paid the big bucks, isn’t it?

    1. Peter, I didn’t realize that Dr. Milgram did not sign off. In my work with the math standards, it seems pretty clear that each grade level had a team assigned to it, but there was less effort put into looking at how the standards for each grade level fit together.

      There are so many “missing” standards that are just sort of inferred. For example, division with remainders is not taught in third grade, but in fourth grade, students are supposed to solve division word problems that include remainders. In my opinion, there should be a standard in third or fourth in which students explore “leftovers” in division and what the concept of remainders is all about–it’s very important and not to be glossed over in the rush to get to word problems.

      Another discrepancy is the fact that the term 2D shapes in used throughout the elementary grades, but the third grade standards call them plane shapes. Why would teachers use 2D exclusively in 1st and 2nd grades, switch to plane shapes in 3rd, and then go back to 2D in later grades? To me, this indicates an oversight on the part of the committee.

      The math standards are very good as a whole, but I’d like to see some minor tweaks to address these kinds of issues.

  4. While everything teachers have been learning about CCSS and rigor has clearly explained over and over that rigor does not mean just giving harder and harder work. Rigor is about depth. The sample questions we saw this year, demonstrated that the test developers somehow never got this message.
    Our district, in PA, has spent 2 years preparing to start using CCSS in the fall of 2013 and now, we have just been told that, wait, our governor would like to hold off. Seems a little late to change your mind. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the standards. The problem is with the assessments, and at least in our state, the coinciding rolling out of a new teacher evaluation system which will tie the scores of these unreasonable tests, to our evaluations.
    I loved this line, ” I don’t see how preparing kids to be college-ready at 18 becomes synonymous with having them do college-level work at 10.” My friends, whose 4th grade daughter attends a nearby school district, have been told all year that their daughter is excelling in reading and is reading at a 6th grade level. Now, after the MAP test, the teacher is upset because this girl did not make a years worth of progress in reading (according to this flawed test). Doesn’t any of the teacher’s data from the year count? Even if the test were accurate, why does a 10 year old need to be reading at 7th grade reading level anyway? Just because she’s able to read the words, most of that text is above her maturity level. If a student is already working above grade level, I’m not saying there should be no concern for continued progress, but how about adding some depth, or exploring other areas of academics or even social skills, instead of just climbing up the ladder of Fountas & Pinnell reading levels? This 4th grader never tells me about what books she likes to read, she just tells me what letter she’s on! It breaks my heart.

    1. Oops! I ended up with some incomplete sentences in the beginning of my comment. My apologies…wish I could edit it!

    2. Molly – You hit the nail on the head: “Rigor is about depth.” I think there is way too much emphasis placed on fluency and Lexile scores. Just because a student can read the words fluently does not mean they understand any of them. So many reading tests force students to skim the text for the answer rather than take their time and re-read passages, soaking up the language and pondering the words. Timed testing, in general, will always go against everything we believe in for instilling a love for literature. It takes re-reads and more time to delve deeper into a text. Not harder material that they don’t enjoy reading.

      1. Agree, Molly, you’re right on here. Thanks for sharing that.

        I have to say, thought, that I’m glad your district decided to hold off BEFORE implementing, rather wait until mid-way through the year to rethink things. Some of the biggest problems with CCSS in districts come from the fact that the implementation plan is not feasible. The worst situation is when schools teach CCSS but use assessments that aren’t aligned…no one wins.

      2. This is exactly what we are seeing at the high school level. Students read very fluently, but have huge issues with comprehension. Summarizing and paraphrasing, vocabulary connotation… it’s all on a basic level with little depth or thought behind. Forget analysis.

  5. I, too, do like the freedom that Common Core is allowing me in Literacy. I am able to better meet my students needs. The county has “suggested” unit themes and resources that I sometimes use…no sense in reinventing the wheel. That being said, to expect 5th graders to complete a 75 question science End of Grade test is ridiculous…three hours of no talking, moving, or any other activity until all are done. I had several students take the entire 3 hours. There is not a movie out right now that I would be willing to sit and watch for 3 hours! They took the test on laptops that would randomly reconfigure and they would have to re-enter all their personal data and log back in…luckily at the spot they were at when the computer decided to “play”.
    I am dreading the reading..thankfully it is paper and pencil. Another 3 hour test with dry, uninteresting passages of informational text! If I taught using such texts, I would have a student uprising! I am trying to instill a love of reading in my students and the tests will suck that love right out of their heads!

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