Within the last two weeks both houses of Congress passed legislation that will effectively cement the Common Core national standards, or something very similar, in state school systems (politicians’ claims to the contrary are unfortunately mistaken). In light of clear evidence that Common Core is substandard, the creators and proponents are busily rearranging the educational furniture to hide the evidence.
The central problem for the proponents is that students trained (not educated) under the minimal, non-academic, workforce-development Common Core standards will not perform as well on legitimate tests as did their predecessors. Under the new direction of Common Core architect David Coleman, the College Board has addressed that problem by dumbing down the SAT. Making the SAT easier for Common Core victims (for example, by abolishing the writing section and the hard vocabulary words) helps them appear to be as prepared for college as were previous students.
But the SAT isn’t the only test that might reveal the decline in college-readiness. For years, SAT competitor ACT has offered other college-readiness tests called EXPLORE (given in the 8th or 9th grade) and PLAN (given in the 10th). These two tests are aligned to the ACT college-entrance examination and have proven to be good predictors of college-readiness.
That EXPLORE and PLAN are a threat to the Common Core narrative is evident from recent experience in Kentucky. Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute reports that Kentucky students’ latest performance from the 2014-15 school term on the two tests raises red flags about the effectiveness of Common Core.
According to Innes, 2014-15 EXPLORE scores for all Common Core-related areas (English, math, and reading) declined from two years ago. The PLAN math scores improved slightly, but English and reading scores were down. “The recent trends,” Innes says, “are not encouraging for the performance of Common Core” for Kentucky students.
In a remarkable coincidence, ACT has announced the elimination of EXPLORE and PLAN. It will thus be impossible to make further comparisons of college-readiness performance of pre-Common Core 8th-graders and 10th-graders to that of the post-Common Core students using these tests. And ACT is also phasing out a college-placement test called COMPASS, which has been in use since 1983. With the demise of all these proven college-readiness tests, we’re losing a valuable means of assessing the effect of Common Core.
Innes asks the critical question: “Why would anyone want to eliminate established college-readiness tests if the goal of education is to be college- and career-ready? Could it be that college-readiness under Common Core isn’t going to be what college-readiness used to be?”
Eager to provide a lifeboat to the states that are fleeing the sinking ships of the federally funded Common Core assessments (PARCC and SBAC), ACT has introduced a new test system called Aspire to fill the void left by abolition of EXPLORE and PLAN. Aspire is marketed as “the first to launch its College and Career Readiness System . . .” Already adopted by Alabama, Aspire is fully aligned with Common Core. And to the surprise of no one who follows the incestuous and extraordinarily lucrative testing industrial complex, ACT is producing this new Aspire system in partnership with British mega-corporation Pearson.
So now the Aspire states can embark on years of testing with this new system, starting from square one in developing trend lines that were well established from the now defunct EXPLORE and PLAN tests. For the next several years, at least, states going in this direction will have no way to judge how Common Core students perform compared to their predecessors. If things aren’t going well, these states won’t know it for several years. But as one Common Core creator and proponent testified, years’ worth of students will just have to serve as guinea pigs: “The full effects of the Common Core won’t be seen until an entire cohort of students, from kindergarten through high school graduation, has been effectively exposed to Common Core teaching.” That point in time is still over a decade away.
With ACT suddenly chopping off years of trend data, the Common Core establishment will be able to hide some of the problems from parents for at least a few more years. Yes, their children will have been sacrificed, but to the greater glory of progressive education. After all, you can’t be too concerned about individual children when you have an educational system to transform.
Jane Robbins is senior fellow at American Principles in Action.