“You Get What You Assess”: another couple cents about the Common Core

common_core_logoIn discussions about the Common Core, I often hear (and often say), “you get what you assess.”

Sometimes, this is a backhandedly snarky dig at real classroom teachers: we’re saying, essentially, “we don’t trust teachers to do the right thing on their own, so we have to implement some sort of stick, in the form of an assessment, so that when they inevitably teach to the test, at least they’ll teach the right stuff.”

But it has another meaning: the Common Core Standards are, like the constitution, subject to interpretation. And the interpretation that will get implemented is in the hands of the assessors.

I don’t think there’s a way around this second point. We can’t write standards unambiguously and completely—and get them agreed on. This way, if we’re feeling charitable, we can see in the Standards what we want to see, enough, at least, so we can move forward. When I first read the grade 7 standards on stats and probability, my reaction was, OMG this is way too early! This is the college course! but when I calmed down, I realized that if we interpret the words of the Standards in a humane way, the 7.SP standards make sense and are the right thing at the right time.

But that does put a lot of power in the hands of assessment developers. They don’t ask me what I think we ought to ask seventh-graders about statistics—so I’m bound to think they’ve gotten it wrong 🙂

More importantly, (as was recently pointed out by an NCTM officer but I can’t find the reference) much of the giant brouhaha about Core Standards, corporate control of education, lack of teachers on the committee, and so forth, misses the point: the Standards themselves are probably OK; but the devil is in the assessment: what will students actually be asked to do, what do we need to do to prepare teachers to get students ready, and what are the consequences for teachers, schools, and students?

Author: Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math and science teacher. Currently working on various projects.

One thought on ““You Get What You Assess”: another couple cents about the Common Core”

  1. We have the same dilemma in politics. Elected officials make the rules but an appointed few decide what they mean.

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