PARCC & Common Core1
Randy L. Hoover, PhD
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) the are two sides of the same coin. The coin is the nationalization of academic standards. CCSS is the academic content, and PARRC is the vast standardized testing regimen that goes with it. Someone asked on the FAQ page if PARCC and CCSS would be like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on steroids. It's a pretty good question, and the answer is pretty much a "yes," but the reason for the answer is a little more complicated because of the nature of PARCC and CCSS.
The Common Core has been the subject of contentious debate across a variety of interests. In order to cut through the tsunami of claims and counter claims in order to better understand the ramifications for teacher advocacy, we need to understand that there are two primary areas of focus in the debate. One is a focus on the standards themselves, and the other is on the ramifications beyond the standards.
From the point of view of teacher advocacy and the Common Core standards, the virtual absence of classroom teacher participation in the group developing the standards or in the group providing feedback on the standards speaks volumes about how teachers have been completely marginalized in the Common Core process. While it is good to have psychometricians, college professors, and others of professions related to schooling helping to develop standards, experienced classroom teachers know best what learners can do and learn. Yet the vast majority of the CCSS developers and reviewers were from the testing industry and special-interest groups. I could not find one classroom teacher in the approximately 30 members listed in the Common Core development group and could find only 1 classroom teacher listed in the feedback group. This Common Core reality is patently contrary to the principles of teacher advocacy. This absence of experienced classroom practitioners greatly diminishes the credibility of the final product.
It is impossible to imagine this kind of (non) representation occurring in other professions such as law, engineering, or medicine. The marginalization begs the question of why NEA and AFT did not appear to make loud and public complaint about this absurd situation. Unfortunately for teacher advocacy, NEA had again sided with the test-driven reform interests that dominated the development of CCSS. A quick visit to the NEA website reveals the union has been a strong and consistent supporter of the Common Core since its conception. The only negative aspect of NEA's rhetoric was NEA President Van Roekel's speech in February 2014 arguing that the problem with CCSS is that the implementation has been botched.
Another aspect of the Common Core standards themselves concerns the appropriateness of the standards in terms of their expectations for the students and the level of difficulty expected from PARCC. It is critical for teacher advocates to realize that "high expectations" has been a slogan of reformists since before NCLB. High expectations are not necessarily the same as reasonable expectations. The pedagogical issue seemingly excluded from CCSS is whether the standards are developmentally appropriate for the children at each grade level and subject area, not to mention children with special needs. Ironically, "high expectations" was the slogan companion to NCLB's 100 percent proficiency by 2013.
There are two primary motives behind the "high expectations" slogan. One is the set up that if higher expectations are not realized on the standardized test results, then it is the fault of inferior teachers. The other comes from the reality that the more students who fail, the greater the size the pool of cheap labor is available for corporate profits. Together, PARCC and CCSS are likely the highest pinnacle of sorting students for labor needs yet seen in America. The seeming paradox of wanting graduates who can fill the high-paying technical job needs of business and industry on one hand and wanting a cheap labor source for the lesser jobs on the other is very real. The PARCC-CCSS combination will most likely produce exactly those results, thus producing exactly what corporate America desires. Because PARCC will be no different from any other achievement test in terms of its actually measuring the socio-economic lived experience of those taking the test, the results are as predictable as they are inevitable. Tests like PARCC simply do not assess academic achievement, and therefore fail the psychometric conditions for test validity. (See paper on Research Insights about the Validity of Standardized Tests in Ohio.)
This kind of public school exploitation is clearly at odds with the ideals of democratic public schooling just as it is at odds with ideals of teacher advocacy. The prime directive of teachers is always to do right by their students, empowering them to make their own choices in lifestyle and occupation. The corporate mentality that the purpose of public schools and their educators is to produce employees for the benefit of business profit has replaced the once-fundamental idea that schooling is to serve the students above all else. Instead of reaffirming the centrality of public schools in serving our democracy through enlightened and empowered citizens, the Common Core and all that comes with it reduce our children to mere chattel for servicing the economic desires of corporate America. In doing so, it also reduces the once-noble role of the teacher to that of deskilled labor creating the chattel corporate America wants so desperately.
From the teacher advocate point of view, both sides of the PARCC-CCSS coin are offensive for a number of reasons having nothing to do with being opposed to having academic standards. First, CCSS has a not-so-hidden agenda of nationalizing academic standards. The responsibility for public schools in America is historically and constitutionally the responsibility of each state, not the federal government. The reality of there being 50 separate sets of school laws and academic standards bothers the school reformists tremendously because it makes comparing test scores among the states much more difficult for them. It thwarts their desire for publicly rating, ranking, and grading school performance in order to keep the public on board for continuing divert billions of taxpayer monies into their own coffers.
Knowing how preoccupied the reformists are with test scores means they are resolute in getting everyone to take the same test so they can continue strengthening the yoke of pseudo accountability draped on American public schools and their educators. Given the significant anti-teacher results of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT), one can only imagine the effects of nationalizing standards in terms of how teachers and public schools will be treated with PARCC scores as their performance outcome measure.
All of this is not an argument against the importance of having academic standards. It is an argument against the Common Core and its companion assessment. Thoughtfully and appropriately developed content standards are vital for teaching effectively and for use in authentic teacher evaluation because they form reasoned goals for the outcomes of curriculum and instruction. That being said, the agenda of CCSS has nothing to do with good teaching or authentic teacher evaluation. CCSS and its companion PARCC are about a variety of special-interest goals that represent huge profits for corporations such as Pearson and the allied test-prep and curriculum-materials corporations, more fodder for anti-public school/anti-teacher groups, and more phony data for corporate charter school initiatives. The PARCC-CCSS coin is extremely valuable in terms of profits; Pearson alone is expected to make more than a billion dollars over the next eight years if enough states sign on.
Nationalizing content standards greatly enhances the power of the reformists to control the public debate and discussion of accountability in order to perpetuate the same fictional claims that NCLB and state compliance legislation brought us. Similarly, nationalizing standards enhances the power of the federal government to regulate federal funding for schools based on school compliance and subsequent performance of state and local school systems. In this sense it will be like a mandatory Race to the Top with the pseudo accountability of value-added metrics being a central result of nationalization.
It is also inevitable and certainly intentional that PARCC scores will be the ultimate false proxy for school reform—ramping up the current NCLB and state false proxies that fictionalize public school performance across the 50 states. The public will again be sold the grand lie that test scores represent the condition of public education. They do not. Indeed, the single most powerful anti-teacher, anti-public school aspect of the school reformists is the false proxy. (See paper on the Metrics Machine & the False Proxy2.)
Together, PARCC and CCSS represent new levels of punishment for students and teachers alike. The testing regimen is extreme in both the amount of time required for testing and the level of difficulty of the PARCC test items. The exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and just short of 10 hours for high school students. There will also be optional midyear tests to track if students and their teachers are on track. Also, there are plans to create tests for kindergarten,1st and 2nd graders, and 9th, 10th and 11th graders as well.
I would be remiss to not at least briefly mention the role of Bill Gates and his zealous, though mindless funding of the advancement of the CCSS-PARCC nationalization of standards. Gates may be a billionaire, but he is clueless when it comes to understanding education. Ever the buffoon when inside the education arena, he is an archetype of the corporate mentality that dominates the reform movement. Perhaps we need a national standard that teaches our children that money is not a proxy for one's personal intelligence. I would much sooner trust the professional judgment of those who have been working in schools and classrooms. To quote Ravitch,
Common Core testing will turn out to be the money pit that consumed American education. The sooner it dies, the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation's schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student. (Diane Ravitch, 7/3/2014)
1 The primary reference for much of this paper comes from Diane Ravitch. I strongly recommend reading her blog of 7/3/2014, "Good Riddance to the Common Core Tests." http://dianeravitch.net/2014/07/03/politico-plans-for-the-federal-tests-for-common-core-are-falling-apart
2 Also see Godin, S. (2012). Seth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/11/avoiding-the-false-proxy-trap.html
and Regunberg, A. (2012). Education’s false proxy trap. Retrieved from http://www.golocalprov.com/news/aaronregunberg-educations-false-proxy-trap