Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Howard's School Scores Slip

When Superintendent Renee Foose wrote an editorial last week warning that Maryland School Assessment test results would send a "ripple of shock to parents across the state", we all knew there was trouble on the horizon.  Superintendent Foose noted that teachers were transitioning into Common Core curricula while state testing would still be using "old tests", describing this as "teaching to the future, but testing to the past."

Foreshadowing these results even further, Foose said the problem was greatest when it came to math.   Common Core, to be addressed in a moment, limits the subjects taught, providing more in-depth instruction for each "core" discipline.  Ignoring this change, the "old tests" evaluated students on subjects they were never taught.  Imagine what it was like to be these kids.  All of us, no matter our aptitude, want to do well when tested.  We've all had the dream of showing up for that class you didn't know you had on the day final exams were administered.  These kids were done wrong.

So what is Common Core?  Here's a video advocating for the program:

Explained in plain language - Common Core narrows the focus of education amongst Language Arts and Mathematics, sets uniform levels of expected achievement between the states, and creates concrete requirements for graduation from high school.  As noted above, it limits the breadth of subjects taught, but significant increases the depth.  I had this described to me yesterday by someone who works in education.  They noted that in some schools in Japan, the students will have a year of Physics that only focuses on two problems - the swing of a pendulum and the collision of two balls.  Students are taught the most simple equations for those two problems first, but then the problem evolves in complexity, teaching further elements of physics premised on the foundation of the previous lessons.

Back to Howard County, Sara Toth with the Flier notes that our middle school students' math scores dropped five points to 84.2% proficiency, while elementary school scores dropped from 93.8% to 92%.  Reading scores improved (middle) and stayed the same (elementary).

For students being tested on things they weren't taught, this is not a horrible result.  What is more concerning is how this testing, and the entire mess that resulted in these unfair tests, will effect teacher morale.  On top of the stresses of implementing a new teaching method and being tested on old material, teachers are left mostly in the dark on how they will be evaluated by way of these results.  There has been little to no opportunity to develop teaching strategies on how to implement Common Core, but even if there had been, teachers are at the other end of unfair test results that are sure to fuel community concerns about what is going on in our schools.  How do we respond?

This is a mess.  Someone in the Maryland  Department of Education thought these tests should be released, so there is sure to be a defense of the results.  Marylanders, for the most part, are just starting to learn about Common Core, which will likely be viewed through the lens of these results.  "Common Core caused our students to do poorly.  Get rid of it!"  We should only hope that cooler heads prevail.

Meanwhile, Jimmy and Sally sat down for a test they did not study for...and it will be replaying in their dreams for the rest of their lives.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.