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Will New Common Core Tests Improve Students’ Skills?

educational processNew tests used in Common Core are aimed at asking complex questions promoting in-depth thinking, and many consider them to be a step forward from multiple choice tests almost universally loathed both by teachers and students. But is it really so? Will this measure actually lead to any improvement with the situation current American education is in, the situation which many justifiably call catastrophic?

For the last couple of decades educational system has passed through a number of major and minor overhauls that were supposed to improve the situation; so far they have only one thing in common: none of them showed any particular changes for the better. On the contrary, the statistics show that performance of students, their readiness for college and overall level of knowledge has been declining, ever more since the controversial No Child Left Behind act.

Against this background, changes in Common Core testing look a little too much like flogging a dead horse. It is the entire system that is to blame, not testing standards. By changing little details like this we will not achieve any results – unless our aim is imitation of frenzied activity.

No Child Left Behind scheme turned student’s performance into teacher’s responsibility. Today if a student does poorly on a standardized test it is not his or her, but teacher’s fault. It may be true – in some, very few, cases. But on the whole it is this idea that is to blame for the deplorable state in which our educational system is today.

When the teacher is responsible for the student’s performance, the latter has little to no motivation to excel at studies; while the former has all too much motivation to dedicate the majority of his teaching to preparing students for the test and, in extreme cases, to manipulate the results of these tests so as to improve their results.

Not only individual teachers, but entire schools are subjected to the same dynamic. As a number of reports have been showing for years, the amount of classroom time dedicated to revision and preparation to testing in general and to particular tests occupies an ever growing percentage of total time children spend at school. Education aimed at giving students knowledge gradually turns into education aimed at giving children knowledge and tricks that will help them pass the next test, after which teachers will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and get them off their hands, for somebody else to worry about them.

Is it any wonder that in such an atmosphere high school graduates are ever worse off when it comes to college? Is it any wonder that when we strip the student of responsibility he or she doesn’t feel any responsibility?

That is why changes in Common Core tests per se aren’t going to improve the situation in any major way. Yes, it may improve the performance of some students and make them readier to enter colleges – but it isn’t going to change the big picture.

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