The Common Core approacheth: Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, Oregon public schools will do away with the old OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) testing and usher in the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a new standardized test that evaluates student performance by Common Core standards. But with its ties to corporations and its rushed implementation in Oregon, Smarter Balanced is not winning over everyone.
In May, Oregon’s teachers union, the Oregon Education Association (OEA), called for a moratorium on the test: “When the timeline doesn’t allow for giving 100 percent to preparing our students, none of us should be surprised by the prediction that 65 percent of all students will fail the first test,” OEA president Hanna Vaandering says on OEA’s website. “Why would we spend millions of dollars on a test that students are predicted to fail?”
Superintendent Shelley Berman of the Eugene 4J School District has a different view of the Common Core. Berman says that the Smarter Balanced Assessment may have initial drawbacks, but he says he believes that in the long run it will provide better data to show how to improve education. “I believe the Smarter Balanced testing will be a positive change for the district and the state,” he tells EW.
It may be a positive change from the perspective of tech companies and curriculum providers. A new report from NPR describes the Common Core’s connections to big money, pegging the market for K-12 instructional materials in the U.S. at $20 billion. Companies such as Apple and Amplify turn a profit from providing technology to classrooms, and according to a survey cited in the NPR’s “Common Core FAQ,” 68 percent of school districts plan to use Common Core as a guide to purchase new materials.
Even popular kids’ show Reading Rainbow is jumping on the Common Core bandwagon. The show ended in 2006 but LeVar Burton’s Kickstarter campaign has already raised more than $3 million to develop its app. The show’s website says it will be “modifying the platform to serve the needs of Common Core, measurable success tracking and additional learning resources geared specifically for the educational environment.”
President of the Eugene Education Association Tad Shannon feels that the Common Core money could be spent elsewhere. “Our money would be better spent, instead of having private testing companies and software, to have more teachers to lower class size and provide intervention for our most at-risk students,” Shannon says.
With the growing concern of dropping graduation rates, especially in the 4J School District, Shannon shares the same concerns as Vaandering. “More high-stakes testing will not result in a lower dropout rate, I can assure you of that,” he says.