Reading & Reacting: Mr. Van Roekel: Common Core Standards Mean Standardization, Not an End to One-Size-Fits-All

By Anthony Cody @ Living Dialogue blog

In a strong indictment of NEA president Dennis Van Roekel’s thinking, Anthony Cody reveals that even in teacher leadership there is a fair amount of doublethink being advanced.

While some might think of standards and tests as being separate, they really do so at their own peril. Van Roekel seems to be in this perilous predicament. Here is the nut of Cody’s commentary.

And here is the most troubling part. Mr. Van Roekel seems to want us to inhabit some alternative universe where teachers can teach according broad guidelines, and high stakes tests are on hold until we somehow have perfected their ability to fully capture student learning. Yet in New York, Common Core tests were given just a short five months ago, and only 30% of the students were rated proficient. Governor Cuomo is calling for the “death penalty” for low scoring schools. Teacher evaluations are required to include test scores. There will be more pressure brought to bear at every level, and once again, schools in African American and Latino communities will be the first closed.

As the tests are brought to bear, we already see ads of companies offering Common Core test preparation materials. Fear of failure will motivate their purchase. There will be beginning of the year tests to find out where students are starting from, and frequent benchmark tests to make sure they (and their teachers) are on track. Teachers are finding the lessons they have designed and used successfully for years jettisoned and replaced with district-mandated Common Core-aligned lessons.

All of this leaves me wondering if Van Roekel’s comments quoted in the piece are a function of legitimate ignorance or some veiled public relations spin, perhaps even both. No doubt there are people that think that the Common Core is a good thing, Van Roekel might even be one of these people. However, anyone who believes that there is some kind of metaphorical firewall between the Common Core and the coming consortium tests is terribly suspicious.

The minute the scores drop, and New York has proven they are going to drop, the pressure to raise them is going to be enormous. After all the death penalty may loom.

On the ground, this means teachers either being reprimanded or released, due to the conflation of tests and teacher evaluations, at worst. At best teachers will be subject to lengthy meetings with administrators, making tests cores a hyper focus. Of course administrators be under equal pressure, if not more so. They will be scrambling to find what they believe to be fastest way to raise scores. Even more likely are the arrival of more top-down, system-wide edicts to attempt to address the escalating hyper-focus on tests scores. Those edicts look a lot like the kind of one-size-fits-all picture Cody suggests.

The pressure will be so great, rare will be that administrator with the courage to resist the test score trap. What’s more, I am building this scenario on the premise that the tests will actually be decent assessments, which is absolutely no given. Something that Van Roekel seems to believe is just in the offing.

If administrators do not do something to “measurably” drive scores higher, they will be out of a job, wreaking even more turnover and instability in school systems than already exists, further undermining the stability necessary to have any chance of getting stronger results. By the way, this also presupposes that stronger results are even a reasonable possibility on these coming tests. Again, New York presents us with a less than appealing early example.

Ironically, this scenario already plays out, particularly in struggling systems. Yet high performing systems are not immune to the havoc caused by drops in test scores or high personnel turnover. No system will be immune to the pressure and its potential fall-out, should this turn ugly.

My fear is that we are all on the precipice of watching this scenario going into hyper-drive. Part of that fear stems from leadership at all levels engaging in what can only be described as groupdoublethink, a new portmanteau courtesy of Irving Janus and George Orwell. Reading Van Roekel’s comments in Cody’s commentary, it is hard to fight the notion that groupdoublethink abounds.

Image: iPad

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