Lelac Almagor, a teacher at a charter school in Washington, D.C., describes both the detriments and the benefits of standardized tests. While her students take the annual assessments amidst “a zenith of dedication and hopefulness,” the “trouble is that we know the scores can and will be used against us and our students” and she offers various policy changes that would “reframe testing as a source of information rather than evaluation .” She has this to say about the new Common Core-aligned tests:
Lately, when we talk about testing, we whisper with apocalyptic trepidation about the coming shift to the Common Core and new national assessments that align to it. These exams are less repetitive and grueling than the DC CAS, but so much harder. They require even young students to synthesize multiple sources, write analytical essays, perform a “research simulation,” and solve multi-part problems that feel more like logic puzzles.
It is less practical to “prep” kids for this kind of test. They have to actually be prepared—to be confident reading and writing at or above grade level—before they can begin to tackle the task itself. Compared with state tests such as the DC CAS, early versions of these Common Core–aligned tests have often revealed bigger gaps in achievement between disadvantaged kids and their peers. But the measurement is not the problem.
Testing doesn’t produce the staggering gaps in performance between privileged and unprivileged students; historical, generational, systemic inequality does. Testing only seeks to tell the truth about those gaps, and the truth is that the complex tasks of the Common Core are a better representation of what our students need to and ought to be able to do. I’m all for measuring that as accurately as we can. In recent years our schools have in fact made huge gains in helping our students tackle real complexity. I’d love to take genuine pride in our scores, knowing they reflect those strides toward rigor.