By Travis Manning
We have reached a testing crisis in Idaho and Common Core hasn’t helped. As a current high school English teacher, I know. We are over-testing children, including the new 8-hour Common Core test: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
In high school alone we give students the PSAT, SAT, IELA, PLAN, ACT, pre- and post-tests, end-of-semester exams, ASVAB, Science ISAT, AP tests, SBAC, PLATO, benchmarks, Career Information System (CIS) and sometimes the NAEP. Not all students take every test every year, but the testing process disrupts the entire school calendar, regardless. Testing burns weeks of instructional time, clogs up school computer labs, and costs millions. Special education students are given even more tests, often with accommodations to take as much time as they need, soaking up weeks more in a teacher’s curriculum calendar.
I support the Common Core standards generally, but I do not support the high-stakes test, the SBAC. Last year I wrote an op-ed in support of Common Core, but there are some ongoing concerns since then that haven’t been addressed by policymakers: fiscal strain, increased class sizes, cutting necessary programs and courses, teacher and student privacy issues, and tying teacher merit pay to SBAC.
The proposed teacher career ladder is coming down the pike, but details are sketchy. Idaho legislators want to tie as much as 50 percent of SBAC scores to teacher pay. “Our students are the most over-tested in the world,” writes education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch in a January 11, 2014 speech. “No other nation—at least no high-performing nation—judges the quality of teachers by the test scores of their students. Most researchers agree that this methodology is fundamentally flawed, that it is inaccurate, unreliable, and unstable, that the highest ratings will go to teachers with the most affluent students and the lowest ratings will go to teachers of English learners, teachers of students with disabilities, and teachers in high-poverty schools.”
We have become a nation infatuated with standardized testing and, in the process, have given private testing companies the onus for unnecessarily labeling schools, children and teachers. Groups like the Albertson Foundation and their Don’t Fail Idaho campaign continue to beat public schools about the head with statistics. Their campaign is meant to inform – but also to demoralize public schools – in order to privatize them, convert them into for-profit charters.
Ravitch notes that U.S. Department of Education website data reveals that recent U.S. test scores were “the highest they had ever been in our history for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians; that graduation rates for all groups were the highest in our history; and that the dropout rate was the lowest ever in our history.” Unabashedly, privateers like Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna choose to ignore these facts.
New York state gave Common Core tests last spring and only 30 percent of students passed, including less than 20 percent of Hispanic students, 5 percent of students with disabilities, and 3 percent of English language learners. Could New York teachers use Common Core test results for item analysis and re-teaching? Nope. Results were reported in August. SBAC passing marks, called “cut scores,” are aligned with the federal test called NAEP, and the bar is set so high only 40 percent of students, at best, reach proficiency.
In Idaho, we are setting up 60 percent of our children to fail. My young children will not be taking the SBAC, especially in their elementary years, when their love of learning is paramount.
Travis Manning is executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.