What do the Common Core Test results Really Tell Us?

When the California Department of Education recently released the results of the 2015 Common Core math and English tests, officials attributed the low student scores to the increased rigor of both the new standards and the new test. However, the real reasons are not so simple, and much more worrying.

Statewide, student performance on the new test, named the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which is aligned with the Common Core national education standards, was abysmal, especially in mathematics.

Overall, only 33 percent of California student test-takers scored at or above the proficient (met standard) level on the new math test. While performance lagged among Latino and African-American students, a majority of white students also failed to score at the proficient level on the math exam.

The English results were only slightly better with just 44 percent of students tested scoring at or above proficiency.

In contrast, results on California’s previous state exams, the STAR tests, were higher. In 2013, the last year the STAR tests were administered, 51 percent of students tested scored at or above proficient in math and 56 percent scored at or above proficiency in English. In response, education officials were ready with their talking points.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that the results are a “window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards.”

Ramon Cortines, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, said, “As we all expected, the overall result of these more rigorous assessments show that we still have more work to do.”

In other words, because Common Core national standards are supposedly tougher than California’s previous state standards, and because the new Common Core-aligned tests are also supposedly tougher as well, student scores are lower. It is a simple, but inaccurate and misleading argument.

First of all, rather than being tougher than California’s previous state subject-matter standards, the Common Core standards have been judged to be weaker, even by Common Core supporters. In a report comparing state standards with Common Core standards, the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute found that California’s previous state math and English standards were stronger than Common Core standards.

Thus, the poor performance of students on the new Common Core-aligned test cannot be attributed to Common Core standards being tougher than California’s previous state standards when the reverse is actually true.

Further, while the new Common Core-aligned tests are different from the previous STAR tests, with students taking the new tests on computers rather than with a pencil and paper, student test-takers may have been confounded not so much by their supposed rigor but by confusing instructions, confusing problems and inherent test flaws.

In his analysis of the new Common Core-aligned math test, math education consultant Steve Rasmussen, who initially had high hopes for the test, found that the test was “a quagmire of poor technological design, poor interaction design, and poor mathematics that hopelessly clouds the insights the test might give us into students’ thinking.” For example, in one sample question involving division of fractions, students who calculate wrong answers can actually receive credit for a correct answer.

Rasmussen concludes that the new high-tech tests are not better or more rigorous than old paper-and-pencil tests, such as the STAR tests. “Not one of the practice and training items is improved through the use of technology,” says Rasmussen, and “The items do not probe deeper than a paper-and-pencil test can.”

In the end, parents, who have had to contend with the anti-common-sensical instructional methodologies of Common Core curricula, may know better why their children are scoring so low on the new Common Core tests.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, parent Risa Morris said: “I don’t understand how the new data compare to old data, when you take into account the shift to Common Core teaching standards. Is it possible that students were really doing better before and the new curriculum is causing students to fall behind?” It is not only possible, it is probable, and that may be the real take-away from the Common Core test results. –

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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