Common Core and high-stakes tests

I posted this over on my Facebook page, but thought I would do so here as well.  One of the things I would love to do in this campaign (and on the school board) is spark more conversation than I think currently exists in Berkeley about the damaging nature of our high-stakes testing culture. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Common Core, but we need to make sure we don’t become overly obsessed with the new state tests. Charles Blow‘s op-ed (from a couple months ago) nails it: “Because we insist on prioritizing testing over teaching — punishments over preparation — we run the risk of turning Americans off one of the few educational strategies in recent memory that most people say we need.”  The demise of the CST (also called STAR) tests, and the advent of the Common Core, is an opportunity for us, as a District, to re-evaluate how much emphasis we place on the results of the annual state tests.  We can’t ignore them, but I believe we can exercise more discretion in terms of how much weight we ascribe to their results.

Blow’s op-ed has some blind spots (here’s Diane Ravitch’s take on his citation of the Broad Foundation and international test scores, if you’re interested), and his unconditional endorsement of the Common Core standards seems premature to me.  But I like how he captures the effect our high-stakes testing culture has on the ability of teachers to practice their craft: “We have drifted away from the fundamentals of what makes a great teacher: the ability to light a fire in a child, to develop in him or her a level of intellectual curiosity, the grit to persevere and the capacity to expand. Great teachers help to activate a small thing that breeds great minds: thirst.”

It’s important for parents to know that the Common Core does not mean an end to annual high-stakes tests.  More to come on this subject.