Just before the holidays, Education Sector released a report entitled Let History Not Repeat Itself: Overcoming Obstacles to the Common Core’s Success authored by John Chubb. This is a rich and thought-provoking report whose basic premise is that twice before—in 1983 with the publication of A Nation at Risk and in 2002 with the enactment of NCLB—a wave of educational reform failed to deliver the desired results. Chubb draws lessons from these failed reform efforts that he hopes will inform the Common Core State Standards movement.
Chubb’s first lesson may be characterized as the standards are only as good as the assessments that measure them. He says,
Even the clearest standards—and the Common Core standards are clear—do not become concrete until they are translated into tests of student knowledge, assessments that specify what the standards actually require students to know and be able to do.
For me, standards do not become concrete until they are translated into curriculum. Now, if the curriculum is driven by the assessments, as Chubb suggests and as we have seen in the NCLB/AYP environment, then the CCSS reform movement will not succeed.
Necessarily, assessments narrow the potential scope of the Common Core State Standards in ways that good curriculum and good instruction are not bound by. Assessments have two large constraints: time and money. We have already seen PARCC and SBAC scale back their vision of the assessments to measure the CCSS because of both time and money. For example, SBAC will only offer one performance assessment per subject area—and even this will be a performance assessment “lite” with a strict time constraint.
If curriculum developers scale back their performance activities in the same way, then they will fail to offer their students what the standards suggest ought to be offered. This is just one small example of the way assessment scales back the scope of the standards. There will always be tension between what is good instruction and what is instruction tailored to meet assessment needs—not to say that all instruction aimed at assessment needs is not good. If the latter becomes the driver of curriculum and instruction then we will not deliver more career and college ready students except in the narrow definition created by assessment success. I know this is naïve but, the reform opportunity presented by the CCSS is the opportunity to reinvent curriculum and instruction not the opportunity to create new assessments.