Like most parents, I attempt to tune out white noise about high stakes testing when it comes to my own little chicks. Test scores provide an informative glimpse into a school’s performance, but what do they mean for my two flesh and blood daughters? I want them to be great students, sure, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to reduce their intelligence, passion and promise to a number.
But if their state test scores suddenly plummeted?
Oy. I wouldn’t make any bets about keeping my blood pressure in range.
This was the experience of a lot of New York parents last week when news hit that the most recent state test scores for grades 3 through 8, redesigned and scored according to the tougher standards known as the Common Core State Standards, suddenly designated far fewer students proficient. Under the new tests taken in the spring of 2013, the proportion of students “proficient” in English language arts was 31.1 percent, compared to 55.1 percent in the previous year. In math, the proficiency rate dropped from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.
For a lot of parents, it can’t have been a happy experience. You thought Joey was doing fine — the teacher said so! Heck, even his test scores said as much. But now this piece of paper suggested that he wasn’t even close to hitting the benchmark to be “college and career ready.”
Now that parents in the Big Apple are getting a taste of Common Core realities, it’s worthwhile for every parent to prepare for a similarly bittersweet fix. In the next couple of years as some 40-odd states adopt Common Core Standards, many parents will no doubt appreciate the high standards that require kids learn both conceptual and procedural skills, writing as well as reading, critical thinking as well as fact-based mastery. But as the states change their assessments, proficiency rates are expected to drop, which means that a lot of parents who have been told their children are doing well will get official looking papers in the mail festooned with edu-babble, percentiles, graphs, and charts explaining precisely the opposite.
And chances are, this will be an equal opportunity ordeal: many parents of kids who have been told their darlings are “advanced” will learn they are barely proficient. Some kids who were just reaching proficiency will suddenly be told they are far from hitting the mark.
So what’s a parent supposed to do about these new test scores? Should we embrace their tough love truths, realizing as New York state education Commissioner John B. King contended that the government isn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending children are faring well in school when they are not? Should we ignore the bad news and decide the new standards are unrealistically high, as outspoken ed reform critic Dianne Ravitch argues?
Each parent – based on their child and their own educational philosophy – will have to make their own decision. But here are some facts no one should dispute:
- No matter how you feel about these test results, getting kids anxious about their state test results will not help them learn. Widespread research has shown anxiety— especially the kind that students cannot act upon — impairs learning. So keep your panic flashes to yourself.
- Though it may feel like your child’s or your child’s school’s test scores have “fallen,” since these are new tests based on new standards, it’s not right to compare these test scores to last year’s. The new tests are just harder, period. No well-informed person assumed the proficiency rates would remain the same.
- Good news: since these tests are not fill-in-the-bubble style, and require far more problem-solving, writing, and answering open-field questions, these tests are harder to game without truly knowing the material. This means that some teachers who have been spending valuable time drilling your child on the nuances of guessing on multiple choice tests, will need to refocus on teaching them actual material.
- Adapting to the new standards will take time and as teachers come up to speed, there’s every reason to assume kids’ test scores will trend upward. It may not be the sort of stratospheric gains some schools managed during the bubble testing of No Child Left Behind, but at least it will be a more realistic reflection of what kids are learning.
Finally, don’t miss an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. It may be disheartening to hear your child isn’t where you thought she was academically, but there’s never been a better time to become a squeaky wheel. Parents who worry their children are not fulfilling their potential, but have been dismissed with blithe assurances their child is “doing fine” will now suddenly have the power of data behind them. Armed with a piece of paper, showing that their child is not meeting the school system’s own expectations, parents can fight for the one (and only) thing that really matters when it comes to education: children’s learning.