Are Georgia School Superintendent Candidates Willing to Oppose the Common Core & High-Stakes Tests?

Creative Commons School of Neon Fusiller School" by Malcoml Browne is licensed  under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Creative Commons School of Neon Fusiller” by Malcolm Browne is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dear Candidates for Georgia School Superintendent,

Today, I want to challenge you to not only oppose Georgia’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but also the use of high-stakes tests such as the CRCT. In this post, I’ll offer some facts you can use to discuss why to oppose the CCSS.  In the next post, we’ll give reasons why high-stakes tests need to abolished.

For nearly two decades, Standards and high-stakes testing have dominated teaching and learning in every Georgia public school.  I’ve shown in earlier posts, that standards are barriers to student learning, and if teachers are not given autonomy over the use of standards, then they tend to impede innovation, creativity, and teaching that focuses on the needs of children and youth.  Communication skills, problem solving, team work, and innovation are the kinds of experiences that are important to students now, and will be in the future.  The standards in the context of high-stakes tests impedes these goals.

Common Core State Standards

It’s time, however, to break these connections, at least for standards and high-stakes, and look for different ways to help students learn.

Making a one-size fits all curriculum for every student in Georgia makes little sense. We know that the “real” curriculum for our students is what happens in their classrooms with their peers and teachers. The curriculum should not be determined by non-educators from a highly financed organization (as was the Common Core State Standards), but should be an effort carried out by teachers and educators–Georgia has a top-notch teaching force, and some of the countries major universities.

Figure 1 shows the mathematics achievement level of Georgia students compared to students across the nation using National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests. Note that we have an upward trend in mathematics achievement in Georgia as well as the nation.   Figure 2 is a table showing the percentage of 8th grade students meeting or exceeding state standards on CRCT tests in math.  From the data presented in Figures 1 and 2, the trend in 8th grade mathematics achievement, as measured by the NAEP tests, and the state of Georgia CRCT, is positive, showing steady improvement.  If we look at results in math at other grade levels, as well as reading and science scores, the trends are similar.

Figure 1. NAEP 8th Grade Math Achievement At or Above Basic for Georgia compared to the United States 2000 - 2013. Source: Kids Count data center, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Figure 1. NAEP 8th Grade Math Achievement At or Above Basic for Georgia compared to the United States 2000 – 2013. Source: Kids Count data center, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Figure 2. Georgia 8th Grade Students Meeting or Exceeding State Standards on CRCT Tests in Math, 2006 - 2012

Figure 2. Georgia 8th Grade Students Meeting or Exceeding State Standards on CRCT Tests in Math, 2006 – 2012.  Source: Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation

Georgia’s state standards did not result in a tailspin of student achievement.  The Common Core State Standards, which were implemented a year ago, have not resulted in any major variation in testing.  In fact, the variation in test scores that we see not only in Georgia, but nearly all states (Massachusetts is an exception) is within the limits of what we would expect.  Figure 3 compares the average scores in 8th grade math achievement based on NAEP tests between seven states, including Georgia.

Using the control chart approach of W. Edwards Deming and Donald Wheeler and David Chambers (which I learned from Ed Johnson), we see in Figure 3 that for over a decade the achievement scores in most of these states and District of Columbia fall within expected limits.  In fact for most of these Any variation for these states, except for Massachusetts, is NOT due to any special cause (new curriculum, new standards, using high-stakes tests), but are simply what we expect in a system that is operating as it should.  In general we can conclude that education in these states is not a failure, but schools are doing what we expect them to do.  The continuous improvement that we see in the scores is not due to any innovation or special cause, but is simply the result of the way the education system works.  And it doesn’t matter whether we look at scores from suburban communities, and compare them to urban environments.

As a candidate, you will hear the oft mentioned phrase, that “America’s schools are failing and they need to be reformed.”  In fact, this phrase has been repeated so often, that in a recent survey over 70% of parents agree that schools were failing.  But over 80% said that the school their children attended was doing very well.

You need to use facts to show that our schools are not failing, and help your potential constituents realize that they’ve been sold down the river that America’s schools are failing.  They are not.

 

Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits.  Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes.  Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org

Figure 3. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits. Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes. Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org

Schools, They Aren’t Failing

You might ask, what about urban schools.  Are our urban schools failing?  The fact is, there are lots of people who will tell you that schools in urban environments are failing, and what they need is help from charter management companies, and temp teacher preparation organizations such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project.

They need none of this.

Take a look at Figure 4.  It’s an analysis done by Ed Johnson using data over the past decade comparing 21 city school districts, with the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and the Austin Independent School District (AISD) highlighted in green and red, respectively.   As you can see in the graph, there is variation in math NAEP test scores over the ten-year period.  The variation we see is consistent.  There are not wide swings in the data.  Indeed, all the points of measurement fall within statistical control limits.

 

Figure 2.  Systemic Story of NAEP 8th Grade Math Scores on the TUDA Assessment for 21 Districts, including Atlanta and Austin.  This graph shows 8th grade math as a system.

Figure 4. Systemic Story of NAEP 8th Grade Math Scores on the TUDA Assessment for 21 Districts, including Atlanta and Austin. This graph shows 8th grade math as a system.

 

If there is any truth to this kind of data, there is no need to radically change the system.  But, as Deming and others have found, there is always the need for continuous improvement of the system.  If we want to improve schooling, say in Atlanta, we need to improve the system, not “turn it around.”

But the mantra you will hear is that we need to close schools, or turn the school around by firing the school principal and most of the staff, and then replace them with a new principal, and new teachers who are inexperienced, uncertified, and will only stay there for 2 years.  If you are elected State School Superintendent, you will find that there are questionable relationships among the Georgia Department of Education, Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, and charter management companies.

Don’t fall into the “our schools are failing” trap.

Improving Schools

As a candidate for the top job in education, you surely want to figure ways to help Georgia school districts improve their schools.  Adopting the Common Core State Standards will not improve our schools.

We want, what Ed Johnson explains, continuation improvement.

How do we do this?  First, we need to act on the idea that education is a human system.  It’s about people.  It’s about parents sending their students to schools enjoy learning, and not to be there to serve the state by simply being a number, and someone who is required to take tests throughout their school days.  If you ask parents what they like about their children’s school, they always talk about how their children are treated and accepted, and helped to learn.  They talk about the kind of communication among their children’s peers and teachers.

Improving schools means we need to think differently and bring to the front what we know about successful organizations.  In a recent post, I discussed some steps that we should take that have a greater likelihood of establishing an environment that will result in continuous improvement.

  1. Put high confidence in teachers and principals and learning.  The focus on meaningful learning must be at the school level.  Superintendents need to get out-of-the-way, stop micro-managing, and entrust education to well prepared teaching staff.
  2. Create a systemic environment which encourages teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches.  Encourage principals to work with teachers to push for curiosity, imagination and creativity in the classroom, and make that the focus of learning.
  3. Fill classrooms with well experienced and well-educated teachers who are not only knowledgeable in the content, but more importantly understand how to teach and how to experiment with different pedagogies.
  4. Empower principals to be the leaders of change, not superintendents.  Superintendents are too far away from the day-to-day life of students to encourage the kind of creative teaching that can be supported by principals.
  5. Teachers should have masters degrees in education and be knowledgeable in their field of teaching.  Reliance on uncertified and inexperienced teachers will in the long run lead to failure.

In the next post, I will provide evidence to support the second thing that I would like you to oppose, and that is the use of high-stakes tests.  High-stakes tests are the biggest impediment to real improvement of schooling for students.  I hope you’ll check out the next post.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.

…and I’M STILL FOR HER.

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