Standardization Of College And Career Readiness

Standardization of College and Career Readiness: The Underlying Assumptions and Potential Issues
Brian Stone
Northern Arizona University

Introduction
The trend in education since “A Nation at Risk,” the 1983 government report, has been one of increasing standardization and higher doses of accountability. That particular report called for “excellence in education” as well as a strong curriculum for all students, while building the bridge for what is now known as college and career readiness (Hess, 2009). In essence, “A Nation at Risk” solidified the value of English, math, science, social studies, computer science, and foreign languages, collectively, as the high-school gateway subjects necessary for college entrance and success (Hess, 2009). However, as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are now being implemented, and assessment measures like the PARCC (Partnership for Assessing Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) focus on the skills needed for university and career success, a further narrowing of the transmission of human knowledge has occurred. The purpose of this analysis is to discuss the potential hazards of such a movement as well as the dangers of attempting a standardization of college and career readiness.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of 2002 used entrenched ideas from “A Nation at Risk” to implement educational standardization at an unprecedented level. This legislation demanded state standards and tests, which immediately had a high-stakes impact on students. Even a report from the Common Core organization mentions the “current mania for testing and test-preparation has narrowed the curriculum and caused the limiting or exclusion of such subjects as history, literature, civics, geography, science, and the arts” (Hess, 2009). This report also suggests the recent legislation including NCLB has aimed accountability measures at basic skills only (Hess, 2009, p. 6).
Context
To examine what this might mean for educators, parents, and our children, let us take a closer look at the Common Core standards, which have been adopted in 45 states. We can tell a great deal about our culture and our goals from the information that is valued enough to be standardized and tested. From the Common Core Standards website, it is said, “we need standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce” (Common Core, 2012). One might inquire further, “what information do children need to know?” The Common Core standards do not include areas for science, social studies, or the arts. According to the website, the rationale for only developing standards in math and language arts is because “they are… the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes” (Common Core, 2012). The PARCC, which will be one of two major forms of measuring students’ acquisition of core standards, only measures mathematics and language arts. This is the information that is valued, so is it the only content necessary for students to make it to college and be successful in life? What happens to other forms of knowledge and other subject areas of study?
The PARCC, which includes a consortium of states and was funded ($186 million grant) by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition, will soon be implementing an assessment starting in kindergarten. The goal of this assessment, just like the name implies, is to obtain measurable data on children from third through twelfth grade in order to keep students on track for university entrance and their ensuing careers. This PARCC implementation promises “building a K-12 assessment system that: builds a pathway to college and career readiness for all students, creates high-quality assessments that measure the full range of the Common Core State Standards, and advances accountability at all levels” (PARCC, 2012). An estimated 25 million students will take these assessments.
The SBAC assessment will operate similarly to the PARCC. It is related to the CCSS, and likewise was funded by federal grants from the Race to the Top competition. These assessments will cost $27.31 per student, and will use Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) for efficiency and a quick result turnaround (SBAC, 2012).
Both the PARCC and SBAC assessments will first be implemented on a large scale in 2014-2015. This massive core standard movement and the subsequent testing will affect millions of public and charter school students. With this information in mind, let us examine some of the assumptions that form the foundation for the movement.
Assumptions
The assumptions underlying the movement toward the CCSS, which are assessed by PARCC and SBAC include: all students are conformable to a standardized model (and should be conformed), all students have equal access to education (and eventually college and careers), funding such a movement is possible and even easy, all students want to and should go to college, success in college and careers can be dictated by P-12 experience, and increased university attendance will boost the workforce and economy of the United States. Using these assumptions, this paper will explore the implicit, unintended effects that the current movement may have on our educational system and our students. As Henry Braun (2011) states, “despite the huge investment and the enthusiasm for CCSS and linked multi-state assessments, there is a real danger both that the impact on student learning will be weak and that there will be many negative unintended consequences” (p. 132).
Underlying Problems
The first two assumptions are somewhat related. Uniformity and equal access/performance are assumed possibilities, but are they or can they be realities? Linda Darling-Hammond (2012) discusses the implications of the rampant inequality present in our schools today when she posits, “we face pernicious achievement gaps that fuel inequality, short changing our young people and our nation” (p. 25). Darling-Hammond (2012) also deliberately addresses the achievement gap in terms of inequitable funding/resources, inadequate teachers, and overcrowded classrooms in schools serving students of color. Perhaps the most indicting statement from Darling-Hammond (2012) declares, “these disparities have come to appear inevitable in the United States” (p. 25). One goal still in effect from the NCLB legislation is the expected proficiency of all students in language arts and mathematics (the two CCSS curricular areas). Diane Ravitch (2010) adds to Darling-Hammond’s statements by portraying NCLB’s goal as toxic due to the idea that all learners “including students with special needs, students whose native language is not English, students who are homeless and lacking in any societal advantage, and students who have every societal advantage but are not interested in their schoolwork” will be coerced to meet or exceed standards (p. 27), if this were even a possibility.
The case that race matters in education has been made repeatedly in educational research, just like social class. The evidence seems to strongly suggest that African-American, Hispanic, and Native American children are significantly lower achieving than their white and Asian counterparts. Irvine et al. (2000) posits, “by the year 2020 about 40 percent of the nation's school-age population will be students of color, and students of color already represent 70 percent of the student population in the 20 largest school districts” (p. 3). However, the CCSS and ensuing assessments do not accommodate, modify, or make any consideration for the existing issues we face in such a diverse and unequal society. This current movement does not value divergence of human capacities either, as the mass conformation of the student populace is the inevitable, but hopefully unattainable goal.
Ron Dietel (2011) suggests no test or even a combination of summative assessments can be a substitute for a safe learning environment, high quality teachers, and experienced/understanding school administrators. For Dietel, if the multi-state assessments (PARCC and SBAC) are centered on performance (as expected), especially on such a large scale, the scoring can be subject to shortcuts and even fraud (Dietel, 2011, p. 33). Therefore, the costs of ensuring reliability and putting safeguards in place to protect against fraud will likely increase school costs significantly, especially with multiple assessments and advanced technology needed for students to take the tests (Dietel, 2011, p. 33).
For researcher Christopher Tienken (2011), the claim made by the developers of the CCSS that education drives the economy, and standardization improves education is completely untenable. Tienken expounds, “An increase in education does not guarantee a lifetime of rising salaries” (p. 59). Also, the centralized curriculum is a major problem for Tienken. He proposes the notion of making every student learn the same thing is illogical and presents an invalid view of the reality and necessity of diversity (Tienken, 2011, p. 60).
Possibilities and Conclusion
The aforementioned problems are but a few of the underlying issues that this path of standardization and renewed passion for accountability might bring about in the near future. Students cannot be conformed, nor should they be, and diversity will play a major role in this movement going forward. We cannot assume a boost in economic prosperity, nor that an increase in jobs will happen automatically. This homogenized industrial mania may see some very adverse effects indeed. We have seen in the last decade the greatest standardization movement in the history of our country’s educational system. With Common Core standards now coming to dominate the nation’s schools, one might wonder about the end or outcome of this mass conformity.
As the focus of education continues down the path of accountability, and a new vigor of college and career readiness sweeps the nation’s schools, we may see a cheapening of college degrees (more people getting them = less value), heavy and unfruitful job market competition (more people with similar skills), and a decrease in innovation and creativity. Instead of an officious homogenization of our children, we need to back off from standardization as we have come to know it, and focus instead on social justice and child-centered approaches to education with differentiation and the divergence of curricula at the forefront of educational thought.

References
Braun, H. (2011). Can road maps tell us whether we are off course?. Measurement, 9, 130-133.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2012). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/frequently-asked-questions
Darling-Hammond, L. (2012). Soaring systems. Education Review, 24, 24-33.
Dietel, R. (2011). Testing to the top: Everything but the kitchen sink?. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 32-36.
Hess, F.M. (2009). Still at risk: What students don’t know, even now. Arts Education Policy Review, 110, 5-20.
Irvine, J., Armento, B., Causey, V., Jones, J., Frasher, R., & Weinburgh, M. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Lesson planning for elementary and middle grades. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill.

Partnership for Assessing Readiness of College and Careers. (2012). About PARCC. Retrieved from http://www.parcconline.org/about-parcc
Ravitch, D. (2010). Stop the madness. Education Review, 23, 27-34.
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (2012). Smarter balanced factsheet. Retrieved from http://www.smarterbalanced.org/about/
Tienken, C.H. (2011). Common core standards: The emperor has no clothes, or evidence. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47, 58-62.

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