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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Common Core is not just stupid, but harmful

Mark Naison the Notorious Ph.d posted on Facebook A rap for the Common Core on Janaury 31, 2014:

My Core's not common,
Neither's my brain,
These tests they're giving
Drive me insane
My parents hate them,
My teachers too,
Someone was looking
For students to screw
To make them helpless
To make them fail
To get them ready
For Walmart or jail
But I'm not ready
To give up this soon
My parents taught me
To shoot for the moon
So I won't settle
For second best
It's time to remove
All Common Core tests

Mark and I are good friends who have been rooted in the struggle for school equity for decades. I love Mark's raps, his inspiring talks, the man is a legend and a hero to parents, teachers, and students. Not being able to rap in any way, I decided to honor my dear friend by putting a best practice and research base to the thinking behind his rap.
The Word on the Core from the Walking Man
The truth is NCLB/RTTT, and Common Core reformer concepts of accountability are not rooted in best practice, or research. It is exactly what all those nations who out score us on international comparisons have left behind. The most important data is the kind of data collected by teachers observing children dealing with the normal expectations of learning in the classroom. It always was, and still is the most informative data we have on any child. Research refers to this data as formative assessment. Formative Assessment is the data that teachers gather every single moment of their teaching day. It includes observations, authentic evaluations of how a child performs while meeting the expectations of being in the classroom. Teachers have quizzes, daily writing examples, daily oral language, all types of questions, projects, they collect data on how your child works alone, one to one, in pairs, in small groups, and within large groups, they see work as it develops all the way to completion. Any assessment framework that does not deeply value the data teachers collect is an unhealthy one for children. This is the a major problem with the Common Core it attempts mechanized what teachers and learners do naturally. 

Other informative data is diagnostic data, This data is used when a child is struggling to meet the daily expectations of learning in the classroom. It is done by professionals who specialized in formal testing. This type of assessment is done one to one, the purpose is not to compare you child to others, but to find a base line where your child is at, and to develop a carefully thought out plan to move a child towards meeting the daily expectations of learning in the classroom. For children who are struggling, this is some of the most important data collected, but it is useless if it does not come in the form of a collaboration between specialized professionals, parents, students, and teachers. This data is crucial to helping our children who fall outside the box of normal learning. At it's best it has the potential to transform lives. It offers the most hope to children who struggle with learning. This is the data my expertise and my work is rooted in as the clinical director of our Central Connecticut State University Literacy Center. It is also the data that helps improve learning by helping researchers, educators, and others multiple pathways to learning. Just because traditional ways of measuring can't see it, does not mean learning is not happening. Diagnostic assessment had the potential to transform both the learner and the professional. Those deeply rooted in this work understand children are our greatest teachers.   

The least informative data are norm-reference tests, these are the out of context multiple choice assessments that No Child Left Behind is deeply rooted in. They are not developed with school personnel and teachers. They can not inform parents of what a child is capable of achieving, but makes broad generalizations. They rate your child by comparing them to national norms that do not account for special needs, language issues, or poverty. They are outsourced, and often untimely as well. This means they often takes weeks or months to get the information back, and by time it arrives it is too late to adjust instruction. Policy makers and politicians love this data, because they use it to strike fear into the public. It can be useful for telling how a school compares to others, but making it punitive makes it just stupid!

Criteria reference assessments, formal testing that claims to represent authentic learning, but these days has turned into poorly-based assessments link to standards not vetted by parents, teachers, and educators. They are rooted in mastery testing, that is they set a proficiency standard as their bench mark. I like standards, but standards not vetted by teachers, educators, parents, and properly field-tested are just stupid. These can be useful, but not when they are created by outside entities, and rooted in for profit ventures. Most importantly they take so much time to evaluated that they are really useless to improving the individual learning of a child. These are the assessments that reduce our children to proficiency levels. Use them as the sole criteria for retention, and they become lethal to learning. 

Now back to the problem with the Common Core. It claims to be formative in nature, but as soon as you measure formative learning in controlled contexts you are no longer measuring actual learning in the classroom. As soon as you take the grading out of the hand of teachers, and give it to some outside entity you corrupted it.  Common Core SBAC and PARCC assessment consortia(s) are rooted not in best practice, the research, but in outdated concepts of assessment. This is why they have not been properly field tested, and why even after getting nearly a billion dollars of Federal and State monies they are still in limbo.

OK Dr. Turner, what kind of assessment is rooted in best practice?
A "balanced assessment framework" views academic achievement as a photo album of performance over time. This framework is rooted in a performance based portfolio assessment. Just like the family photo album, the balanced assessment framework includes many photos of the child’s progress in school.  The voices of children, parents, and teachers are highly valued within this type of album.  Children, parents, and teachers must have a say in what goes into the photo album of performance.  I am not opposed to using standardized tests. They are included, but they weigh equally with other inputs.  Simply stated, a balanced assessment framework is rooted in a genuine performance based portfolio; one which is driven by assessments that respect children, parents, teachers, local schools, and diverse communities.  (2013 Turner, J. & Foshay, J.).

On Common Core standards again, they came from policy makers, private entities, political consultants not researchers, cognitive experts, developmental psychologists, or the professional organization of academic teaching organizations. This alone makes them highly suspicious. Standards are good, but not when they are designed by those who do not work closely with learners, teachers, specialized experts in child development, and actual learners. Unlike the "Ten Commandments" that Moses brought down to the Hebrew people from God, standards in a democracy need to come from the people. Best Practice in developing standards depends on them being inclusive creations developed in a democratic process that include all stake holders. These Common Core Standards are not based in any democratic process, and they certainly did not come down from God, or the people. The only mountain they came down from was "hey we can make billions off our public schools" groups. Michele Moinar in Education Week last April gave us an example of how much money can be made in

So to keep it simple, the Core is not balanced, not rooted in best practice, the research, or in any sense of the way in a balance assessment framework. It's not just stupid it's harmful to children, teachers, and our public schools. 
Let me end with a line from Mark's rap and a new verse of my own.
"It's time to remove
All Common Core tests"

My brain's to big to fit inside your your bubble
Stop the Core it's killing my brain
Damn, don't you know I'm more than a test score
Dr. Jesse Patrick Turner AKA The Walking Man

If you want to know what the Walking Man is listening to today it's Barry Lane and Amy Ludwig's "More Than A Number"...


  1. Did you mean commandments and moses? Am I missing something?

    1. Yes, commandments and Moses(-: Thank you for pointing those out.