Poll hints of political train wreck over Common Core
(Calif.) If it was big news last week that most parents know nothing about new K-12 testing aligned to the Common Core, consider the headlines later this summer when the results come back and only a fraction of the students pass.
That’s the scenario that the California State Board of Education has been bracing for and why the Brown administration has so vigorously fought off efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to use the results for federal accountability purposes.
It’s also why the state has delayed setting the critical scoring marks that will separate the students passing the new tests from those that fail – even though most districts are already engaged in administrating the exams.
The poll, a survey of education issues conducted every year by the Public Policy Institute of California, found 55 percent of public school parents said they knew nothing about the new Common Core testing.
The finding probably didn’t surprise too many inside the education system but it does signal even more ominous developments surrounding the test results.
If most parents whose children are taking the new tests this spring know little about it, how will they – along with lawmakers, taxpayer groups and the mainstream media – react when they learn that a large, perhaps very large, percentage of kids failed.
The question then becomes: Does support for the Common Core come under pressure here in California too?
“This is going to be a very tense moment for the Common Core,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. “It’s a very tricky policy dilemma created around the fact that there’s such low awareness of the testing and of the specifics around the curriculum change.”
Ushered in under the Schwarzenegger administration and embraced by Gov. Jerry Brown, the Common Core enjoys, on some levels, widespread support among voters and parents.
A second poll, conducted by Children Now and released on April 20, found 67 percent of registered voters support the use of the Common Core standards in the public schools. The PPIC survey reported a similar finding – 57 percent of public school parents support the new standards.
Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the situation in many other states where the Common Core has become a lightning rod for partisan attacks.
Efforts to repeal the standards are being actively pushed in 19 states and are already becoming a wedge issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, said one reason they wanted to conduct their poll on the Common Core was to illustrate California’s standing as the national leader.
“We know the Common Core brand has been somewhat tarnished in other parts of the country,” he said. “But that isn’t the case in California where support is just off the charts.”
But what the PPIC poll appears to have discovered is a depth problem with that support.
Based on interviews with 1,706 adults – of which 501 were parents – the poll found just 8 percent of public school parents who said they knew a lot about the Common Core assessments. That number is significant even with a margin of error of plus or minus 7.7 percent.
Perhaps even more telling, 42 percent of public school parents said they expect the scores to be about the same as in the past, despite all the changes; only 6 percent said they expect the scores will be lower.
Baldassare said it is important to note that poll results going back years have shown that Californians and public school parents place a significant value on testing – and thus test results are important too.
“It doesn’t seem that people are ready for test scores that could be much lower,” he said. “You may well hear people saying, ‘Wait a minute – I thought this was going to lead to certain improvements but the test scores are going in the wrong direction. What’s going on here?’”
Lempert agreed that the test results may cause some confusion but also said he believes California officials are positioned to handle the challenge.
“There is concern about the test results – but just as California is in better shape implementing Common Core than many other states, I think we have also been preparing for exactly this issue,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of effort to set the stage for explaining why these tests are different from the past and why the results need to be looked at differently.”
The test score issue comes as California’s school accountability system is undergoing a broad revision, as the Brown administration and state schools chief Tom Torlakson search for more achievement measures than just test scores. But the work has been stalled, at least in part, while schools undertake the first round of Common Core testing.
Federal law requires annual testing of students in grades three through eight and 11, and mandates that states report the scores to the public.
Last spring students piloted the new assessments but this year the scores will be publicly released. The Brown administration won a hard-fought waiver last year to set aside the test scores for federal accountability and is seeking similar relief this year.
Student and school performance has since the late 1990s been expressed with the Academic Performance Index – based exclusively on test scores.
With the adoption of Common Core, the old assessment system – the Standardized Testing and Reporting system, or STAR – has been replaced by the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP. And with the new classroom content, the new tests are measuring different indicators and require a completely new scoring matrix.