What We Know (and Ignore) about Standards, Achievement, and Equity

Calling for, establishing, and implementing high (or higher) standards has been a part of U.S. public education at least since the 1890s when the Committee of Ten called for higher standards for high schools to prepare students for college.

The more recent accountability era built on standards (and multiple versions of revised standards) and high-stakes tests (and multiple versions of those tests) began in the 1980s.

Common Core as a reform initiative is a federalization, then, of that state-based accountability paradigm; there is noting in the Common Core initiative that distinguishes it from the state-based approach except for unsubstantiated and untested claims that the standards and tests are superior to the state versions.

Since we have had a standards-based accountability system for three decades, we have ample evidence of the relationship between the presence and quality of standards and their impact on achievement and equity.

In Research-based options for education policymaking, Mathis (2012) highlights what we know about standards, achievement, and equity.

First, Mathis notes the larger context of Common Core and their potential for reform:

The actual effect of the CCSS, however, will depend much less on the standards themselves than on how they are used. Two factors are particularly crucial. The first is whether states invest in the necessary curricular and instructional resources and supports, and the second concerns the nature and use of CCSS assessments developed by the two national testing consortia. (1 of 5)

Key here are several important points: (1) Common Core standards are not and cannot be separated from implementation or the related high-stakes tests, and (2) nothing in the Common Core initiate guarantees that implementation and testing will be any different than what has occurred over the previous thirty years of state-based accountability.

Currently, we already know some things about implementation and testing related to Common Core:

  • Every state adopting Common Core is also using high-stakes tests, committing to either of two companies charged with creating those tests. There is no mechanism in the Common Core initiative to insure that the standards will not become “what is tested is what is taught”—which is exactly what did happen to all standards at the state levels, which is what must happen when any set of standards are linked to high-stakes tests and punitive consequences for that data.
  • Despite calls for a need to have a common set of standards for the entire nation (a call that has never been verified by evidence), the Common Core is being implemented in a wide variety of ways across the states. If “common” is really our goal (and I suspect it isn’t a worthy goal), it is not happening—even with the tests since they come from two different companies.
  • Common Core implementation is costing states millions and even billions of dollars—with no evidence of their quality, no vetting by educators, no guarantee that this version of standards and tests will be any less a failure than the ones that have come before.

So what do we know about standards and achievement?:

There is, for example, no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the rigor of their state standards. [4] Similarly, international test data show no pronounced tests core advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards. [5] Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the “dumbing down” and narrowing of the curriculum. [6]

It bears emphasizing that there is no correlation between the presence or quality of standards and student achievement, and that high-stakes testing has created a dynamic in which we ask less of students not more.

At the very least, Common Core implementation should not move forward until clear mechanisms are in place to insure that this round of standards and testing does not replicate the history of standards and testing so far.

As of now, no such guarantees exist. None.

So what do we know about standards and equity?:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself. [13]

As I have noted above about no safeguards that Common Core and the related tests will impact achievement any differently than all the other standards and tests before, there is absolutely nothing in the Common Core initiative that addresses equity—which remains the greatest problem facing education, school, and teacher impact on student achievement.

With Common Core, African American, Latino/a, and impoverished students will continue to be disproportionately funneled into test-prep courses with high student-teacher ratios and inexperienced as well as un-/under-certified teachers

With Common Core, African American and Latino boys will continue to be disproportionately suspended and expelled.

With Common Core, African American, Latino/a, and impoverished students will continue to be disproportionately blocked from advanced courses.

Standards-based reform has never and will never address equity. Common Core is no different.

Since Common Core as a reform initiative in no way offers solutions to identifiable problems with student achievement and equity, we must stop that train, get off, and try something new.

Some are calling for a pause button. I urge delete.

Notes (retaining original report numbering)

[4] Whitehurst, G, (2009, October 14). Don’t forget curriculum. Brown Center Letters on Education, #3, 6. Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/1014_curriculum_whitehurst.aspx/

Bandeira de Mello, V. D., Blankenship, C., & McLaughlin D. (2009, October). Mapping state proficiencies onto NAEP scales: 2005-2007. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2010456.asp/

[5] Kohn, A. (2010, January 14). Debunking the case for national standards: one size fits all mandates and their dangers. Retrieved January 13, 2010, from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/national.htm/

McCluskey, N. (2010, February 17). Behind the curtain: Assessing the case for national curriculum standards, Policy analysis 66. Washington: CATO Institute. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11217/

[6] Robelen, E. (December 8, 2011) Most teachers see the curriculum narrowing, survey finds (blog post). EdWeekOnline. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/12/most_teachers_see_the_curricul.html/

Wisconsin Center for Educational Research. (1999, Fall). Are state-level standards and assessments aligned? WCER Highlights, 1–3. Madison, WI: Author.

Amrein, A. & Berliner, D. (2002). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved October 4, 2012, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18

Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4–14.

Phillip Harris, Bruce M. Smith,B. M. & Harris, J. (2011) The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do. Rowman and Littlefield, 100-109.

[13] Whitehurst, 2009 (see note 4); McCluskey, 2010 (see note 5);

Mathis, W. J. (July, 2010). The “Common Core” Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform tool? Retrieved October 2, 2012, from nepc.colorado.edu/files/PB-NatStans-Mathis.pdf

4 comments

  1. Pingback: What We Know (and Ignore) about Standards, Achievement, and Equity – @ THE CHALK FACE
  2. Pingback: South Carolina and Common Core: A Next Step? | the becoming radical
  3. Pingback: American Hustle: Ignoring Poverty in U.S. Needs More than 50-Year Anniversary | the becoming radical
  4. Pingback: Standards May Achieve Equality, But Not Equity | the becoming radical

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