You are probably aware that Common Core testing started last week in a state-wide rollout in Ohio. For our state, it was the implementation of the PARCC test (Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). Even if your state didn’t give the PARCC test, if you live in a state which has adopted the Common Core standards, your child may very well be receiving a very similar round of testing.
The Common Core math textbooks have been in schools for several years now, spreading as the accepted “new” way to teach math and adopted by many schools nationwide. As this way of teaching math has become more prevalent, parents have started speaking out.
As a parent—and educator, and professional—I try to keep an open mind to change. Just because we have always done things a certain way doesn’t mean that there isn’t something better out there—but it also doesn’t mean that the change isn’t for the worse either. Either way, when a change is implemented, we need to be able to look at the effects and objectively analyze the results, then make necessary adjustments.
But sometimes we just get change for the sake of change.
I have tried to rationalize the concept of Common Core math, and I absolutely embrace the need for teaching students to think critically; however, I have not been able to figure out how on earth Common Core math even comes remotely close to meeting its lofty goal of raising the standard. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does the opposite.
So, let’s take a look at an example question from the PARCC practice test for third graders:
Cindy is finding the quotient 27 / 9. She says, “The answer is 18 because addition is the opposite of division and 9 + 18 = 27.”
Part A: Identify the incorrect reasoning in Cindy’s statement. Enter your explanation in the space provided.
Part B: Show or explain how Cindy can correct her reasoning. Find the quotient when 27 is divided by 9. Enter your answer and your work or your explanation in the space provided.
Honestly, it is hard for me to know where to start. Not with solving the math problem, but with pointing out all the things that are wrong and inappropriate about this question.
Common Core is negatively reinforcing math concepts.
First of all, the wording of this question is not directly asking the child to solve the math problem—or find the quotient—with the correct quotient actually being the answer. Instead, the math problem is posed with a hypothetical Cindy getting the wrong answer, based on faulty reasoning. Let’s think about this for a second. Why are we even posing questions that have misinformation in them to students? This can be a very destructive way to teach. I can guarantee that a small percentage of students will pick up on the phrase “addition is the opposite of division” and will remember this, even though it is explained in the question as “incorrect reasoning.”
Let me give you an example of the selective hearing that will lead to some students gleaning the incorrect statement of “addition is the opposite of division.” The other day, my third grade son came home from school and asked to play on his ipad. I told him that he could after he had a snack and did his homework. He came over and ate his snack, then went to the living room to play his ipad. I reminded him that he needed to do his homework first. His response was, “but you said I could play my ipad.” Does this scenario sound familiar to any other parent out there? Sometimes kids hear what they want to hear… maybe they only listen carefully to part of what is being said… maybe it was because that was the last part of the sentence and it stuck with him… who knows, but it is not out of the question to think that a third grader, who is just learning multiplication and division might get confused by the wording of this question. Perhaps, an older student, who has a more firm grasp of multiplication and division would be a better group of students to present “incorrect reasoning” questions to.
Second, let’s look at what the actual question is asking the student to do: “Part A: Identify the incorrect reasoning in Cindy’s statement. Enter your explanation in the space provided.” Now, the test is actually reinforcing the incorrect reasoning by asking students to only identify the incorrect reasoning and enter it in the space provided—this part of the question is not explicitly asking the student to explain why it is wrong. It is not until Part B of the question that the student is asked to identify how Cindy can correct her reasoning. Finally, the second action item of Part B asks the student to solve the math problem of 27 divided by 9 to find the quotient.
Let’s make sure we are keeping this straight. The student is reinforced of faulty information in the wording of the question and then asked to identify and explain the incorrect reasoning—two times being negatively reinforced—before being asked to come up with correct reasoning as to how to solve the problem and finally coming up with the quotient. So the tests are not positively reinforcing that a child know the correct answer, but are negatively reinforcing the concept if they don’t now why hypothetical Cindy got the question wrong. Hmmmm…
My suggestion for better wording for this question for a third grader: Find the quotient 27 / 9. Show all your work or explain how you got your answer. The wording of this question asks the student to solve the math problem, positively reinforcing the concept. Asking a student to show all work or explain how they got the answer will give the teacher (or test grader) an idea of the student’s reasoning.
But let’s be honest, math is numbers, not writing essays. If a third grader can solve basic math facts correctly, time and time again, I don’t really think the explanation is necessary because getting a correct answer indicates that a student has basic understanding of the concept. So if the student can come up with the quotient of 3 for this question, but is unable to identify hypothetical little Cindy’s faulty reasoning or explain what she can do to correct her reasoning, do we say this student missed the question? How much credit does the student get for arriving at the correct answer, but failing to come up with a satisfactory essay for the other parts of the question? Did the teacher fail to teach multiplication and division if the student cannot come up with an adequate essay answer? Is this fairly evaluating a teacher’s ability to convey math concepts?
Reasoning for how to solve 27 divided by 9 and identifying strategies to do so is what goes on during classroom instruction. Really, the only person in a third grade classroom that needs to be able to identify Cindy’s incorrect reasoning and figure out what she needs to do differently, is the teacher. The TEACHER.
Finally, the computerized implementation of these tests assumes that all students are fully computer literate, able to seamlessly navigate between screens and understand all button functionality. I think it is safe to say that it would be a pretty accomplished feat for a third grader to be able to type with correct finger placement, let alone expecting them to toggle back and forth with the math symbol keys at the side or knowing when to flag a question for review.
Teaching students how to use a computer is great—and should definitely be a part of their education, integrated throughout the years, but why must we place even more pressure on students by making this the basis for high stakes testing?
I know there are some people out there that think something along the lines of “What’s the big deal? I was tested when I was a kid. We want to raise the standard, don’t we?” Yes, of course we want to raise the standard. Yes, standardized tests have been around for a very long time. But Common Core and PARCC are different.
The purpose of the PARCC testing is also different than typical standardized tests. In the past, standardized tests have been given to students every few years to benchmark education. When fully implemented, some students will be tested 12 times during a school year, which will consume several days and take 18-24 hours away from necessary classroom instruction, not to mention test prep time. The purpose, according to PARCC’s website is to now assess students, several times a year: “The PARCC states’ high quality assessments will allow parents and educators to see how children are progressing in school and whether they are on track for postsecondary success. The PARCC assessment also provides teachers with the ability to identify students who may be falling behind and need extra help.”
So is PARCC is telling us is that teachers do not know how to do their jobs? A teacher’s ability to assess a student throughout the year and keep them progressing is a pretty basic teaching skill. Why do we need these high stakes tests—putting unnecessary pressure on students and teachers? Why are so many teachers remaining silent when they disagree with Common Core and PARCC? Because their jobs are being threatened. So where are the unions? Why aren’t they standing up for the teachers?
If Common Core and high stakes testing are not acceptable or beneficial to a child’s educational process, let’s repeal them and give control back to the states and allow teachers to do what they do best—teach.