One of the benefits of the Common Core, supposedly, is that we can finally compare the performance of schools in different states. Originally the dream was that a majority of states would sign on to use common tests from either the PARCC from Pearson or SBAC from Smarter Balanced.
Michelle Rhee-Johnston became chancellor of Washington DC schools in 2007. As proof that a major problem in education is the absence of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation, Rhee-Johnston frequently said, in speeches, that when she came to DC, only 8% of 8th graders were proficient in math while 97% of teachers were rated as effective.
In a feature on the CNN blog in 2009, it said:
Her plan is ambitious: To completely transform the District’s system within eight years for its 50,000 children. The plan focuses on top-down accountability, quantitative results like standardized test scores and, ultimately, working to close what she describes as “the achievement gap between wealthy white kids and poor minority kids.”
“I think it’s absolutely possible within an eight-year period,” she said.
Reformers are always saying things like “Kids can’t wait. We have to act with urgency.” Ironically, though, they seem to have a near infinite amount of patience while watching the test scores in Washington D.C. stagnate after three years of Rhee-Johnston and then five years with her successor, Kaya Henderson, who generally continued the reform agenda that Rhee-Johnston began.
Reformers, particularly Arne Duncan, insist that the new common core tests will force us to “stop lying to ourselves” about how our students are doing. As students in state after state bomb the common core tests, it serves, for them, as proof that the majority of schools in this country are ‘failing.’
A little over a year ago at a Teach For America event, former TFA Co-CEO Matt Kramer quoted Henderson in a Tweet about how DC was going to do on the new common core tests, “bring on the common core tests. We are going 2 do not as bad as everyone else is going to do. Keepin it real.”
Today the high school results for the most recent DC PARCC tests were released. I should note that it is reformers who pray to the golden calf of standardized test scores, not me. I don’t think the PARCC or SBAC tests are very good. I also think that when tests are administered on a computer, students don’t take the test as seriously as they would if the test were a pencil and paper exam. But since reformers love to shut down schools based on test scores and fire teachers based on test scores, it is important to track how the test scores are in Washington D.C., which is a full scale experiment in what happens when education policy is guided by the Book of Rhee.
In this presentation deck summarizing the results from the tests, I found some interesting data.
The PARCC tests have 5 levels, of which levels 4 is ‘meets expectations’ and level 5 is ‘exceeded expectations.’
On the English II exam, only 25% passed statewide and DCPS outperformed the charter schools, 27% to 23%.
In math, the statewide ‘proficiency’ is very close to the number that Rhee-Johnston used to love to quote so much at 10%. Again, DCPS beat the charter schools with 12% vs just 7% for the charters.
So of course the ‘no excuses’ crowd begins making excuses. But rather than saying that the quality of the PARCC test could be an issue, they instead say things like, “We knew this was going to happen. We just need to adjust to the new more rigorous standards.” This may buy them a few years, but I have to wonder how long supposedly ‘data driven’ reformers can continue to ignore data that refute their agenda.