The Absurd Defense of National Standards Post-Common Core


Common Core hasn’t done much for student achievement, but it has spawned a plethora of well-funded groups to push the national standards come hell or high water. One of these groups is the Collaborative for Student Success. The Collaborative is in a spitting contest with Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute in Kentucky, and it’s losing.

The Collaborative is funded by all the usual suspects who’ve poured money into the Common Core scheme from the beginning: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, ExxonMobil, etc. In the early days of Common Core, the Collaborative just spouted evidence-free claims about how wonderful the national standards would be for students. Now that test results are coming in, though, and are showing that every day in every way, things are getting worse and worse, the Collaborative has pivoted to explaining why there’s nothing to see here and we should all move along.

The Collaborative’s latest sally was in response to Innes’s post about the disappearance of several ACT tests that had long been used in Kentucky to assess college-readiness. As Innes pointed out, the discontinuance of those tests severed a number of trend lines that would provide valuable information about Common Core’s effect on college-readiness.

The Collaborative would have none of it. They shot back that Kentucky is doing very well with Common Core, thank you, and the data from the non-ACT tests show it. They even had a graph! But Innes quickly pointed out that the graph was misleading at best, reversing two of the data bars so that the casual reader would think Kentucky test scores have gone up when in fact they’ve gone down. As Innes observed, the decline in scores “isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Common Core.” He continued, “I don’t know and won’t speculate about whether this was a conscious attempt to mislead, but it certainly isn’t good data presentation.”

The misleading graph also showed something that, as Innes suggests, the Collaborative probably doesn’t want to highlight: Kentucky’s state test scores “do look inflated compared to the [National Assessment of Educational Progress – the “nation’s report card”]. That doesn’t agree with the Collaborative’s closing comment that: “States like Kentucky are headed in the right direction by setting expectations high and evaluating progress toward those goals.”

Innes noted other problems with the Collaborative’s analysis, including its mistaken claim that Kentucky had replaced PARCC with the Kentucky state test (in fact, Kentucky dropped out of PARCC before the test was developed) and the claim that states could avoid disruption and turmoil by sticking with PARCC or SBAC (the two federally funded tests, both of which are themselves in turmoil).

Former U.S. Department of Education official and Common Core critic Ze’ev Wurman responded to another claim made by the Collaborative in its response to Innes:

[The Collaborative said, “This year, most states administered tests aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year. Overwhelmingly, student proficiency in math and reading increased.”

Perhaps, but rather unlikely. The much more likely reason is the well-known “test familiarity” effect, where teachers and students get to know the test over time and also frequently adjust their test-taking skills. The fact that there was a very sharp drop in the NAEP scores across the nation in 2015, first time in over a decade, suggests that students’ achievement has not increased but just the opposite – that achievement dropped with the introduction of Common Core.

The exchange has been entertaining. It also shows that asking the Collaborative to assess Common Core is rather like asking John Podesta to assess Hillary Clinton. It’s good to have honest brokers such as Dick Innes and Ze’ev Wurman in the conversation.

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