More hearings today on Common Core, the controversial set of education standards that Arkansas (like most states) has adopted. Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin chairs the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, which is composed of parents, educators, students and others from around the state.
I’m not sure how long it will be going on, but here’s the livestream. I believe the video will be archived for later viewing.
Today’s hearing — which started this morning and is now continuing into the afternoon — is focused on standardized testing, not the standards themselves. Although Arkansas has been using Common Core for several years in early grades (with a gradual phase-in of the standards in higher grades), this is the first year that the state has switched to a Common Core-based test, rather than the old Benchmark exam.
The assessment the state used this school year was developed by the testing company Pearson for a consortium of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. The test itself is widely referred to as “PARCC” as well.
To clarify once again: Common Core is a set of standards that guides curriculum at each grade level in math and literacy. PARCC is a test that assesses student knowledge of the standards. One can have Common Core without using PARCC — in fact, a different consortium of states uses a different exam, with the unfortunate name of Smarter Balanced. I’m of the opinion that Common Core provides a good set of standards, and that its goal of providing a common yardstick for the states is a necessary one for advancing education. I’m not so sure about the worthiness of PARCC. The two are not synonymous. (Many folks, primarily but not exclusively on the rightward end of the political spectrum, want to see Arkansas abandon Common Core altogether.)
PARCC is not doing so well at the moment. A number of states have withdrawn from the consortium, and Arkansas has indicated it may do so as well in the near future. Anecdotally, most of the teachers I’ve spoken to range from neutral to glowingly positive in their reviews of Common Core itself, but feel PARCC is flawed.
One big complaint is the online delivery system. Even the most sympathetic and tech-savvy educators have said the user interface for PARCC ended up being confusing to kids and teachers, both of whom enter testing season with a huge level of stress in the first place; if the test is frustrating right out of the gate, that’s a huge problem. Some districts around the state obtained waivers from the Arkansas Department of Education to provide paper versions of PARCC this year.
Luke Van De Walle, an administrator at the KIPP charter network in the Delta, made an apt analogy in this morning’s discussion: If you have a restaurant with a star chef who serves great food, but hire a waitstaff that deliver terrible service and long delays, the place is still going to get bad reviews.
The conversation today is a long and meandering one. Representatives from testing providers are speaking to the group about PARCC and other options; I don’t doubt that they’re credible experts, but they’re also hawking their products. Hard to sort out what the arguments even are in this context.
Still, the discussion of testing is indeed important for the future of public education in the state. Arkansas needs to reach a decision soon about how it’s going to proceed with assessment in the coming school year. And as tempting as the prospect sounds to entirely abandon the standardized testing regime — and the ancillary industry of for-profit providers that’s perversely evolved alongside it — that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.