Teach Now, Test Later

by Robert Pondiscio
July 20th, 2011

Over at Joanne Jacobs, they’re talking about Sol Stern’s recent article on the New York City Core Knowledge Language Arts program. Regular commenter Stuart Buck, as he is wont to do, looks to turn the discussion into a referendum on what he perceives to be the anti-reform stance of Diane Ravitch and others.  Stern’s piece, he writes,

“supports the idea that we need a broad curriculum, etc. On the other hand, it completely undermines their insistence that testing inevitably leads poor beleaguered educators to teach to the test, to narrow the curriculum, and even to cheat and lie out of the sheer pressure. After all, if kids can actually do BETTER on the tests with none of the latter misbehavior, then testing isn’t the horror it’s made out to be.”

Later Buck offers that it is not possible to hold these two ideas in one’s head at the same time:

1. “It’s the STAKES attached to the testing that inevitably lead educators to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, and cheat.”

2. Broad and rich curricula like Core Knowledge would actually allow educators to IMPROVE test scores above and beyond a narrow test-prep curriculum.

True, a patient investment in knowledge and language growth will raise scores over time, but the key phrase is over time.  There is no reason to expect an instant dividend from a knowledge-rich curriculum.  Indeed, because reading tests are de facto tests of background knowledge, there is every reason NOT to expect the results to show for several years when the cumulative effect of broad knowledge acquisition asserts itself. 

The high stakes associated with reading tests may not preclude teaching a knowledge-rich curriculum, but it arguably disincentivizes it.  If you are expected to show at least one year’s growth in one year’s time (a concept I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around) you are far more likely to resort defensively to test-prep and “reading strategies” instruction rather than teach material that might not show up on a state exam this year, or ever. 

The entire proposition is that knowledge and vocabulary are a “slow growing plant,” as E.D. Hirsch has said. The results show up in the long term. That’s hard to reconcile with high stakes reading tests that demand results now.

46 Comments »

  1. I left this comment over there, but to move the discussion here:

    I still don’t see why this is necessarily the case. NCLB had a 12-year time frame, enough for an entire first through 12th grade student body to turn completely over. And I’ve never heard of any penalties, whether under NCLB or state law, for individual teachers or individual grades that don’t see their test scores go up in every single year. The only expectation is that entire schools would rise to proficiency over a 12-year period.

    Why isn’t that long enough for administrators to have a little perspective on what would work over the long term? What do we need to do, give schools 25 or 50 years to get to the target of actually teaching kids a couple of bare minimum skills?

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  2. Stuart,

    This must all seem very straightforward when you’re unencumbered by any understanding of the facts on the ground.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — July 20, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  3. I agree with this blog post 100%. Why is so much emphasis being placed on the teachers to test to the test instead of having the teachers to teach the basic skills that are needed in order to score proficient and advanced on the test. Learning takes place over time and not in an instant. Many of our children are facing this challenge each year and no one is paying the much needed attention that it deserves to this issue.

    Comment by Carlos Bonner — July 20, 2011 @ 11:46 am

  4. I’m not about to suggest that testing is the exclusive bad guy. A content-free approach to reading instruction wasn’t invented with NCLB. Far from it. But the underlying assumption behind high-stakes reading tests is the we know how to teach reading, and high stakes accountability will ensure it gets done. It is closer to the truth to say NCLB enshrines much of the bad literacy practice schools were doing anyway. In short, it has not been a force for positive change. Just the opposite.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

  5. In short, it has not been a force for positive change. Just the opposite.

    Is that inherent to high-stakes testing, or is it more because educators are too short-sighted to figure out the right thing to do?

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

  6. I hope that there’s no suggestion that testing is the exclusive bad guy, just as strongly as I hope that we don’t get confused and take testing (and unfair measures of accountability) to be the exclusive ‘good’ guy.

    At best – testing gives us a snapshot of a school, student, teacher at a given time – and a limited amount of factor-independent information we can use to improve that snapshot. At worst, and more regularly though, testing transforms the curriculum far beyond its intent.

    Though I agree that one of these unintended transformations is the ‘beleaguered educator’ teaching to the test, the far worse implication and carry away of this excellent post is that : “high stakes associated with reading tests may not preclude teaching a knowledge-rich curriculum, but it arguably disincentivizes it.”

    More specifically, the small, almost imperceptible shifts in teaching attitudes, curricula and strategies is what suffers most here.

    Comment by Fernando Camberos — July 20, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

  7. NCLB testing doesn’t start until 3rd grade. So there is time to build knowledge (and thus raise scores) if the school starts with a content-rich curriculum from Kindergarten. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened in most schools. Schools not choosing good curricula doesn’t mean that testing is a bad idea.

    Comment by Mia Munn — July 20, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  8. @Stuart These things aren’t mutually exclusive. You have both deleterious ideas about how to teach reading. And you have reading tests that are not currriculum-based, but rather probe the “skill” of reading comprehension–which is not a skill at all. Essentially, they become two mutually reinforcing bsd ideas.

    @Mia Agreed. But the point is, if we have to have high stakes testing (and again, I don’t dispute the need for it) doesn’t it make more sense to have an accountability system that encourages and rewards good practice, not bad?

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  9. Robert, you put this very well.

    I’d add that CK goes far beyond most tests. It teaches some testable things, some not-so-testable things. And both are essential to the long-term learning.

    For instance, the CK pilot program, as I understand it, places great emphasis on listening–to historical tales, fictional stories, folk tales, poems, biographies, stories about scientific topics, and so forth. Now, you can test kids to see how much they understood. But the listening has value beyond that immediate understanding. They get language in their ears and concepts in their minds. They get a sense of a larger world: places they have never seen, times other than our own, people they will never meet but somehow get to know.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — July 20, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

  10. What’s lost in this discussion is that tests may be either content-specific or content-agnostic. All the NCLB tests fall in the 2nd category; we don’t seem to have a test in the 1st category, while the AP tests tend to straddle somewhere in between.

    What is the difference? In ELA, for example, a content-specific test will ask questions from material already studied, e.g. would ask students to comment a passage from a reading list which is part of the curriculum, say, from Romeo and Juliet or from the Great Gatsby.

    An ELA content-agnostic test will instead ask questions from material strictly presented part of the test questionnaire, on the face of it requiring little inference from personal culture and experience, with test items designed to be context free and culturally independent.

    In practice, background knowledge always matters – but for these tests it makes itself felt in a diffused way which may be rarely recognized. That’s why so many educationalists are surprised when students using the Core Knowledge sequence do better on the content-’free’ tests.

    Then there’s the AP English Language and Composition test – which is not content-centric, because it has no set reading list, and only a suggested list of authors. But the AP test is not content-free either, because texts from the given authors regularly appear as exam items, and therefore familiarity with the writings of the chosen authors gives students a boost on the test.

    The writers for Common Core tests may follow the lead of the AP test – including abundant items from the optional reading list of the Common Core standards, and thus encouraging schools to pick curricula centered on the same background knowledge. We shall see.

    The other thing lost in the conversation is that some tests (e.g. the AP) have a curriculum aligned to them, while others do not. NCLB tests are of the latter sort, not even the MCAS has a curriculum going with it and schools in MA tend to use Balanced Literacy programs which were not designed with the MCAS in mind.

    What awaits us with Common Core only future can tell. As for the past, we only have to look at the content-agnostic tests and the absence of aligned curricula to see how troubled the standardization movement has proved itself to be.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — July 20, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  11. “And you have reading tests that are not currriculum-based, but rather probe the “skill” of reading comprehension–which is not a skill at all. ”

    So what, though? If you’re right that reading comprehension, even on non-curriculum-based tests, is a skill that depends so heavily on background knowledge, then emphasizing background knowledge would be to the ultimate benefit even on the poorly constructed reading tests.

    So we’re back to square one. If Core Knowledge-type curricula would be better than narrow test prep even on bad reading tests, and if educators have any interest in seeing their students do better on reading tests, then there must be some serious dysfunctionality preventing those educators from selecting the curriculum that would be to their own benefit.

    Maybe that dysfunctionality is so strong and pervasive that accountability testing ultimately doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to, but that’s less an argument against testing than an argument for allowing the maximal number of students to opt out of said dysfunctional institutions.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

  12. <<< So what, though.

    So what indeed. Unless you insist on using reading tests to reach conclusions about individual teacher performance. Especially for teachers of low-SES kids who almost always come to school with smaller vocabularies and less background knowledge.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

  13. Well, you’re only strengthening my original observation.

    If low-SES students lack enough background knowledge, and if they are going to be sunk on reading tests without getting such background knowledge, and if narrow test prep will ultimately be counterproductive, then that just proves that educators and schools must be wildly dysfunctional to make curricular choices that harm not only the children but their own self-interest as well.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  14. In the immortal words of Paul Tsongas, “That’s a very interesting question. Let me try to evade it.” Let me ask it directly: Are you conceding that it is foolish to hold teachers accountable for one year’s growth in reading “skills” (which are cumulative, knowledge-dependent, domain-specific and not curriculum-based)? If so, then we are in perfect agreement.

    (And I said earlier and will say again, I’m not defending shoddy literacy practices. But come to think of it, high stakes testing does more than defend it. It insists on it.)

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2011 @ 10:44 pm

  15. I do think that holding individual teachers accountable for reading test scores in one class in one year is unwise. But again, that bolsters my point. If such a decision by the principal or superintendent (no such thing is required by NCLB) creates an incentive for teachers to focus on activities that will somehow increase that year’s test scores while harming the long-term acquisition of background knowledge, then those principals or superintendents are shortsighted and negligent, which is what I’ve said from the beginning.

    Under different conditions, though, why not? Surely it matters if you find that in one classroom, kids come out year after year not knowing how to punctuate or identify what argument a paragraph is making, while down the hall identical-looking kids with the same poverty levels and everything are showing much more improvement. Why would that be something to ignore?

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  16. That second paragraph is really just a footnote to my first sentence (about holding teachers accountable).

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 20, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  17. I appreciate your reasonable stance, Stuart, but I don’t think that it bolsters your point. Teachers and principals are indeed under increasing pressure to put points on the board. Now. Reading tests are an unstable instrument fot evaluating teacher quality in a given year. If I were a K-8 school leader, I would probably make the bargain that if you want to judge my performance, you can start with the 8th grade reading tests. When this year’s kindergarteners take it nine years from now.

    I suspect I’d have a hard time getting hired, don’t you?

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  18. There is a K-8 charter school a couple blocks from my house that presumably is exactly the kind of school Stuart thinks I should be able to opt-into to escape the dysfunctional Providence Public School District. And I’d be happy to do so. Their middle school scores are higher than any of the district middle schools around here.

    BUT, Deborah Gist tried to close it last year because they’ve had some dips in elementary school scores recently. Exactly what Robert is talking about. This is not educator dysfunction or school dysfunction or district dysfunction. This is school reform dysfunction. Unless you’re going to argue against Deb Gist’s reform credentials, that’s where reform is taking us.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — July 20, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  19. Stuart,

    “A” is to have schools tested yearly and to do your best to raise scores. “B” is to use a culturally-placed content-rich curriculum like Singapore Math and Core Knowledge.

    “A” implies “B”. You know it, I know it, nobody in their sane mind would disagree.

    But why then require “A” part of the federal law but do not require “B”? It is illogical. Either the states or the federal government should put together a serious review of what curricula are “B”. Washington state has done that. My state Massachusetts has not, and we are none the wiser.

    And if so obviously A => B, then why only a negligible portion of schools have B? It is because in real life this is a mathematical implication plagued by a thousand cuts. Too many educators cannot put A and B together. That’s how we end up with Balanced Literacy instead of Core Knowledge.

    How do test scores play up in a district like mine, suburban town in Massachusetts with high scores and lousy curricula like Balanced Literacy and Everyday Math?

    1) The town has one of the highest SES in the state, and test scores are high in good measure because parents care for their children, nurture them intellectually, and pay for Russian School, Kumon and other tutoring when needed. The school district uses the high test scores as a shield saying that it does not need to change curricula.

    2) When other towns in the neighborhood with lower SES and lower test scores look at towns like mine, they will pick the same bad curricula we are using because our district is viewed as a flagship in the state.

    Top schools don’t learn from bottom up experiments in lesser districts. Instead, the rot spreads from the top.

    3) Our school district has beefed up Math and ELA in grades 3-4 at the expense of Science and Social Studies because the first two are on the MCAS, the 2nd two are not. Foreign languages have been eliminated in elementary school grades – while the MA curricular frameworks require a foreign language in grades K-5, there are no inspections from the MA dept of Education to check for these classes and shame the district into implementing them.

    In fact, MA maintains no statistics as to how many elementary schools don’t have foreign languages. (The number is perhaps as high as 75%.)

    4) Our district has observed the following areas of strength in elementary school ELA MCAS:
    - Multiple-choice questions
    - Fiction
    - Standard English

    And the following areas of relative weakness:
    - Open response
    - Topic development
    - Non-fiction

    Areas of strength in middle school are:
    - Non-fiction
    - Vocabulary
    - Concept Development

    Relative weaknesses:
    - Dramatic literature
    - Myths and folklore
    - Open response

    So far, so good. At least we are learning something useful from the MCAS. The key observation here, however, is that the people put in charge for ELA elementary school and middle school did a very good job. They actually plan to beef up the curriculum in the weak areas. More dramatic literature, myths and folklore in middle school.

    But at the high school level, no such statistics are maintained. The head of the high school English department took the new Common Core standards as an excuse to lambast content out of the curriculum, because according to her Common Core is a skills based standard (it is not).

    What does this mean, and how can it be explained?

    a) I have followed school politics in our district long enough to tell that the elementary and middle school curriculum leaders are in fact astute enough to know our strengths and weaknesses without the MCAS. The high school curriculum leader could not figure it out with or without the MCAS. So much for standards and the MCAS by themselves being of any help.

    b) It is not surprising that the high school curriculum review is of poorer quality. For one, the MCAS is only taken in 10th grade, and the 10th grade MCAS is at the level of 8th grade. There is not much to be learned at the higher end of the spectrum on the 10th grade MCAS.

    And for second, the curriculum review does not include the AP and the honors classes. So, in fact, the high school curriculum review applies to the low-end classes, which are known to be assigned the poorer teachers and to have the most careless curriculum.

    Conclusion: my town would have been better served if, in addition to the standards and the MCAS, the state evaluated curricula, and if the state inspected schools to make sure disciplines like foreign languages, science and history are assigned the required instructional time in the elementary schools.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — July 21, 2011 @ 1:30 am

  20. Tom — you’ve said that Gist tried to close the school. What you’ve not said is that any bad classroom practices were going on, let alone that Gist’s effort necessarily caused those bad practices.

    That’s the question. Is accountability testing necessarily going to cause all these bad things to happen, or is the real problem that teachers or principals or superintendents are unable to figure out how to do their job properly?

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 8:59 am

  21. Anyway, Rob, why does your post say this:

    there is every reason NOT to expect the results to show for several years

    The article by Sol Stern says, however, that gains showed up immediately, in the first year.

    Do you believe this or not? If you believe it, then one can’t suggest that testing automatically pressures educators into choosing bad curriculum or pedagogy that somehow deliver better short-term gains but poorer long-term gains. Core Knowledge apparently DOES deliver better short-term gains, if this study pans out.

    So back to the point: If testing makes educators frantic to find something that works right now, and if Core Knowledge does work right now (better than narrow test prep), then one cannot also claim that accountability testing automatically leads to narrow test prep.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  22. Sol’s right but that’s on things like decoding, word attack, rudimentary comprehension. We’ve been completely forthright in saying that’s great (CKLA uses a synthetic phonics approach that is quite powerful), but the real test of CKLA’s fundamental proposition will come only if these kids stay with CK, have it implemented well and consistently over time. Given what we know about comprehension, it makes perfect sense to expect long-term gains–IF the program continues at a significant level of intensity.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 21, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  23. OK, you get both short-term and long-term gains on accountability testing.

    So then how is accountability testing preventing CK from being adopted more widely? The opposite should be the case.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  24. OK, Stuart. I’m throwing in the towel. I can’t imagine saying anything at this point that I haven’t said multiple times. It seems you may laboring under some misconceptions about literacy instruction, reading comprehension and the nature of reading tests that you are unable or unwilling to examine in your apparent zeal to defend tests and attack critics of testing. Significantly I do not oppose tests. But having accepted the practical need for accountability, the next step in my intellectual journey is to insist on tests or accountability with consequential validity–tests that encourage good practice.

    Other commenters–Andrei most specifically–have detailed what happens on the ground. And Tom Hoffman, who I think has disagreed with every word I’ve ever written including my signature, supports the gist of my comments. That tells me that I have failed to make my case.

    If we are to have tests with stakes, it makes zero sense to have tests that encourage short-term thinking and bad practice. I don’t think that’s asking too much. Its just as easy to do it well as badly

    Over and out

    Robert

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 21, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  25. Correction: that I have NOT failed to make my case.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 21, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  26. If we are to have tests with stakes, it makes zero sense to have tests that encourage short-term thinking and bad practice.

    And I agree. My only point is that if CK actually leads to better test scores in the short- and long-term, then in a rational and functional system, accountability testing would encourage schools to adopt CK or something like it. If that’s not happening, then something about the system isn’t rational or functional. (I would have thought you’d happily agree that educators are deciding poorly when they decide on narrow test prep rather than CK . . . .)

    By the way, Andrei agrees with me: he said that the real reason is “too many educators cannot put A and B together,” which is my only point.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 11:00 am

  27. Let me put it this way: Why wouldn’t you want to be using this New York study as a wonderful selling point? You could say, “Don’t let test scores or even poorly written tests get you down. You don’t have to resort to bad teaching practices or narrow test prep. Instead, as recent evidence shows, a deep curriculum like Core Knowledge helps kids do better on tests, even on dumbed-down tests.”

    Instead, you’re saying that high stakes testing “insists” on “shoddy literary practices.” Isn’t this shooting yourself in the foot? Sure, the tests in New York may be bad, but why preemptively give up on the idea that CK can be beneficial anyway?

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 11:46 am

  28. Stuart,

    Regarding my example, there are no “good” or “bad” classroom practices. There is only instruction which raises achievement as measured by test scores, or not. In this case, the scores in the terminal years were good, but in the middle years, bad. I would argue, as I thought you were, that the system should not punish this, but that it in fact DOES.

    Also, how do explain the fact that high-performing “no excuses” charters haven’t (for the most part) adopted CK? Are they as clueless as everyone else?

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — July 21, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  29. Also, how do explain the fact that high-performing “no excuses” charters haven’t (for the most part) adopted CK? Are they as clueless as everyone else?

    I don’t think CK is the only broad curriculum in the world. KIPP, for example, may not use CK, but KIPP schools have a rich curriculum (the whole reason for extending the school day and week, as I have personally heard Dave Feinberg say, is to allow extra time for math/reading without having to sacrifice anything else in the curriculum).

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 21, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  30. My kids have attended a Core Knowledge charter school for seven years. I’ve read all of the Hirsch books on CK, and I admire the cognitive scientist Dan Willingham. I’m not surprised by the great results of CK in the New York City schools cited in the Stern article.

    These great results were achieved in traditional public schools with union teachers affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT has praised Core Knowledge for over 20 years. So why hasn’t the AFT pushed for CK in all the local districts nationwide where the union teachers belong to the AFT?

    I’m not an expert on union politics, but I know the NEA doesn’t really put much value on curriculum; their only goals are higher pay and benefits, lifetime job security for all members, and no accountability for poor teacher performance.

    But the AFT regularly publishes pieces advocating for great curricula like Core Knowledge. Again, why don’t they push harder for CK all across the country? That could truly benefit the students their teachers work with. It would also show that the AFT, unlike the NEA, really believes that traditional public schools can and should be schools that accomplish something meaningful.

    Other commenters and writers, please enlighten me.

    Comment by John Webster — July 21, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

  31. It must be frustrating. You’re out there trying to promote CK, and not only do you have to deal with spurious claims that CK is racist, you’ve got one of your own board members using her position as one of the most prominent and prolific commentators in the country not to help CK, but to argue essentially that schools can’t help rejecting CK in the face of accountability testing, and even to urge curtailing the one group of schools that is by far the most likely to adopt CK (charter schools).

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 22, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  32. “…you’ve got one of your own board members using her position.” So Stuart, who is this “her?” Just curious.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — July 22, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  33. I wish, John, I knew the answer to your question: why doesn’t the AFT, which has a history of interest in curricula—their “I-Read” professional development program and Louisa’s Moat’s text for that program, “Reading is Rocket Science,” are the outstanding examples of it—tout their success with CK in New York? Certainly there is a failure of imagination at the top in the circle of leadership around Randi Weingarten. How else can you explain it? But I understand, too—as yet dimly—that the AFT is structurally different from the NEA. The local affiliates seem to be left to their own devices with little help from the center. Here in Rhode Island, for example, ground zero for the infamous Central Falls High School “refrom,” AFT central has been of no practical help to their Central Falls local. The school has been mismanaged by the Rhode Island Board of Regents for the past decade, and especially so for the past five years, and yet the local remains absolutely helpless to get the story of this mismanagement in front of the public. The AFT national leadership, you would think, would provide a team of troubleshooters to help the local, but they haven’t. The state AFT leadership is completely asleep at the wheel, too. Curriculum mismanagement is hardly the worst sin, but to cite two examples relevant to this discussion, Central Falls, under state management, has recently implemented a flakey balanced literacy program borrowed from a brand new charter, plus Investigations math. The union local, state or national hasn’t said “Boo.” They just lean back on the ropes, all three, and let the press, the politcal right, and—incredibly—an increasingly aggressive national charter school movement led from the political left, Democrats for Education Reform, and 50-CAN, punch the daylights out of them. Frankly, I just don’t think Randi Weingarten has the political intelligence to led the organization. I used to like her, the sound of her anyway—”The American Teacher” is always a good read—but since the Central Falls fiasco I’ve changed my mind. The Central Falls teachers continue to be tortured by both their own inept administration and the public forum and yet Weingarten and the national AFT continue to be AWOL. That is such a shame because they do have some fine political artillery to deploy, such as the CK in New York story, and the success of “I-Read” .

    Comment by bill eccleston — July 22, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  34. When under great pressure to raise scores, people will look for the most literal and direct route to this goal. It is very hard to persuade them that students’ performance on reading comprehension tests will be boosted by instruction in mythology, medieval and Renaissance history, and so forth. Yes, they may grasp the importance of background knowledge. But to them it’s still awfully risky to teach so many things that won’t be on the tests. (This ties in with Andrei’s point about the non-curricular nature of the tests.)

    Schools that adopt and appreciate CK (and other fine curricula) do it for much more than the test scores. Yes, their students tend to do well on the tests. But that isn’t why they go to the trouble to teach all these subjects and topics. And those who resist curricula such as CK won’t be convinced by test scores alone.

    High-stakes testing doesn’t automatically pressure people into choosing bad curricula. But it does bring things to a banal level. Many of these tests contain little or nothing of inherent value–insipid reading passages that one would never seek out, writing prompts that have more to do with following directions than with presenting and developing an idea on a topic of any substance.

    To go beyond that banality takes a bit of daring. (Remember that Bloomberg and Klein mandated Balanced Literacy throughout NYC schools and never acknowledged their mistake.) To go beyond the banality AND adopt CK requires both daring and appreciation of the value of CK.

    It also requires teacher preparation. Even those with a strong background in their subjects need to study the CK curriculum in order to teach it with confidence. They need to return to the topics year after year in order to gain a deeper understanding of them. Teacher preparation should include immersion in a curriculum like CK. Professional development, or a great deal of it, should focus on the subject matter itself. But that aspect of preparation is generally ignored.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — July 23, 2011 @ 7:39 am

  35. Diana —

    All the more reason for Ravitch to take a break from bashing the one group of schools that is likely to use CK, and instead use her fame to argue for CK as vociferously and ceaselessly as she can muster.

    (Yes, she nominally supports curriculum once in a while, but in the past 1.5 years, so far as I can tell, she hasn’t mentioned CK in as much detail as you just did in one blog comment).

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 23, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  36. Stuart,

    Diane Ravitch can say what she wants. It isn’t what you would like her to say. So be it.

    And remember that CK is nonpartisan and does not have an official position on charters. There is room within it for charter supporters and critics.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — July 23, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  37. What she says about charter schools isn’t what I would like her to say, but it also isn’t what someone who thinks CK is important would say.

    I suppose it’s theoretically possible for someone to support CK and yet to oppose the one form of school that is most likely to use CK, but it would take a lot more nuance than her handful of talking points about charter schools (CREDO study, Eva Moskowitz makes too much money, there’s attrition somewhere).

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 23, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

  38. Looks as though it has to be Diane Ravitch. My apologies for the confusion.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — July 23, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  39. Diana —

    Put it this way: Suppose there’s a scholar in 2000 who likes charter schools. Suppose she writes a whole book about why the public schools are so affected by interest groups on the right and the left that they water down curriculum to the lowest common denominator. Suppose she thinks CK is a great curriculum, and that education is about much more than test scores.

    Then suppose that the following decade reveals that when you allow more school choice via charter schools, the number of CK schools doubles nationwide, even though charter schools are still a tiny fraction of all schools.

    What could such a person coherently and logically say about charter schools? Something like this:

    “Charter schools aren’t the miracle answer to test scores, but then I never thought that test scores should matter that much anyway. But charter schools do allow some people a chance to opt out of the politically-driven curriculum process that I have so thoroughly documented, and therefore charters allow many more kids to be educated with a rich and broad curriculum.”

    But that’s not even remotely what Ravitch says. Look at every speech or debate (such as the recent debate with Wendy Kopp). Her number one talking point is always what the CREDO study says about test scores. This is bafflingly contradictory to everything she supposedly believes about rich curriculum vs. test scores.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — July 24, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

  40. Hey Robert,

    I was thinking about Massachusetts. Our first state test is end of Grade 3. Doesn’t that square pretty well with slow-growing plant? I.e., you get Grades K, 1, 2, and most of 3. Four years of slow-growing plant. My question: does 4 years meet your long-term criteria?

    Comment by MG — July 29, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  41. @MG I think it’s fair to expect to see effects in Grade Three for students who start in K, absolutely. My concern–as discussed ad nauseum in this thread–is the expectation that one should see immediate effects across grades within a single year, regardless of where kids started. That’s not realistic.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 29, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  42. [...] When Reading Tests Attack (Content) “We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading” Teach Now, Test Later Pretty Good Gatsby Reading Solution “Hiding in Plain [...]

    Pingback by When Reading Tests Attack (Content) « The Core Knowledge Blog — August 3, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

  43. your Teach Now, Test Later The Core Knowledge Blog post look great, i shared this page with my tweet followers.

    Comment by double indemnity — August 6, 2011 @ 8:59 am

  44. Can you truly and accurately judge the success of a “slow-growing plant,” without the means to decipher which seedlings have been in the garden long term and which have been transplanted in multiple regions and multiple curriculums? This is the frustration of the teacher that must show one year’s reading growth in students who migrate to the extent that 28 children at year’s end are none of them the same as the 28 that began.

    I have always rejoiced that my two youngest children were able to attend a fine CK school through grade six. My daughter began to notice the extreme advantage this gave her as a freshman in college. That is slow growing, long-term outcome.

    Comment by Cherry — August 7, 2011 @ 11:44 am

  45. [...] have the patience to rely on a “well-rounded and knowledge-rich curriculum” to raise scores gradually, Levy [...]

    Pingback by Attack of the reading tests — Joanne Jacobs — August 9, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

  46. I know I am in 8th grade, but I don’t get this!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Kat — December 20, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

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