Common Core Pennsylvania Standardized Testing

Stephen Singer: How to Create Failure and Destroy Public Education

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Steven Singer, who teaches in Pennsylvania, explains the planned insanity behing standardized testing, rigged for failure. He likens the situation to a video game that he played with his friend as a child, where the questions and answers might suddenly and arbitrarily change.

In Pennsylania, the privatization movement started with deep budget cuts. Then comes a new standardized test. Too many students did well, so the tests were made more “rigorous.” Now, most students “fail.”

Did they get dumber? No. Did he become a worse teacher? He says no.

So what’s up? The students are set up to fail. The teachers and schools are set up to fail? Why? It clears the way for charters and vouchers.

One hopeful sign in Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf wants to help public schools, not destroy them. Unlike his predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Singer writes:

“In my home state, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and the Keystone Exams are high stakes versions of my buddy’s moronic quiz. The purpose isn’t to fairly assess: it’s to stump as many kids as possible.

“And it’s working. For the fourth year in a row, student test scores have declined statewide. Previously, students had been doing relatively well. Why the change?

“It began with budget cuts. The legislature slashed almost $1 billion every year in school funding. That means higher class sizes, less teachers, fewer electives, tutoring, nurses, services, etc. And districts like mine weren’t exactly drowning in money to begin with.

“Students now have less resources, therefore they can’t prepare as well for the tests.

“So what did the legislature do? Did our lawmakers fix the problem by putting back the money they had repurposed as gifts to the natural gas industry?

“Heck no! They made the tests even more unnecessarily difficult.

“As a result, the steady decline in test scores this year fell off a cliff!

“After all, this was the first year in which the Commonwealth fully aligned every question of its mandatory testing with the Pennsylvania Core Standards – which are similar, but not identical to the Common Core standards adopted in other states.

“Proficiency rates in grades 3 through 8 dropped by an average of 35.4 percent in math and 9.4 percent in English language arts on the PSSA. Nearly half of all seventh and eighth graders dropped an entire proficiency level in math in just one year.

“If I made up a test like this in my own classroom, gave it to my students and got results like these, my first assumption would be that there was something horribly wrong with the test. I must have messed something up to fail so many students! Teachers are always on the lookout for unclear or bad questions on their self-created exams. The for-profit corporations that create our state-mandated tests? Not so much.

“Though state Department of Education officials acknowledge the continued decline in scores, they insist problems will work themselves out in subsequent years – as if a 4-year trend is just an anomaly. Move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

“My students used to make impressive gains on the tests. My principal stopped by today to give me the scores for my current students and those I taught last year. No surprise. Very few passed….

“It’s almost impossible to avoid certain conclusions about this whole process. Standardized testing is designed to fail students – just like my buddy’s movie quiz was designed to stump me.

“These tests constitute fake proof of inadequacy. They attempt to “prove” our public schools are failing and should, therefore, be replaced by private corporations – maybe even by subsidiaries of the same for-profit companies that make and grade these tests!

“When my buddy unfairly stumped me, we both knew it was a joke. We’d laugh and play another video game.

“But there’s nothing funny about this when it’s perpetrated by the state and federal government.

“Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores are a farce just like the scores in every state and territory throughout the country. They’re lies told by corporations, permitted and supported by lawmakers, and swallowed whole by the media and far too much of the public.”

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