An Interview with Neal McCluskey: Is the Core about to Melt Down? Or is it Emitting Vibes?

Oct 12, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)         Neal, I understand that you have had a chance to peruse some items from the Common Core- where did you find them?

I have read the Common Core, but the new stuff is sample test items from the two consortia the Obama administration picked to create tests to go with the Common Core. Those consortia are the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. I found the test items through a HechingerEd blog post, but you can go to the websites for the consortia to find them.

2) Okay- first impression- what did you think?

Taking a lot of the test items, my first thought was how would my answers be scored. Apparently, however, that crucial functionality doesn’t yet exist for either consortium, or at least I couldn’t find it. Then I was struck by the poor overall functionality.

Some of the reading passages I’d have needed to answer questions didn’t show up on the SBAC site, and the PARCC site wouldn’t let me alter answers without completely resetting the question. Of course, these are still preliminary so they could – and hopefully will – be improved, but not a good show for something intentionally made public.

More long-term troubling than the functionality, I found some of the reading passages and other material for the SBAC poorly written or presented. The “right” answer also wasn’t very clear in some of the items (or I’m just not very smart).

3) Any relationship between Common Core and Core Knowledge?

I’m not aware of any formal connection, though I believe Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch has come out in favor of the Common Core.

4) Now, what issues are there in terms of subjectivity versus objectivity?

This is related to a question the Hechinger report pointed to, not one I found on my own: SBAC would have teachers give presentations on nuclear power, then have students put together “presentations” to a congresswoman as if they were on her staff. Those presentations would be graded by trained evaluators.

Talk about opening up a hornet’s nest!

Not only tackling something as controversial as nuclear power, but having anonymous human beings grade presentations on it? You can imagine the possibility of subjective – and perhaps even politicized – grading, and worse the fear of such grading.  Common Core supporters have tried very hard to keep controversial content out of the standards, but the tests – perhaps inevitably because they have to contain something concrete – are on a different path if this sort of thing is indicative of what will be on them.

5) What are the “value laden “ issues that might raise some eyebrows?

Basically, anything controversial. Nuclear power is the issue in the highlighted question, but anything dealing with politics, race, morals, etc.

6) What is this Hechinger Blog? And what do they seem to espouse?

It’s the blog of the Hechinger Report, an outlet funded by Columbia Teachers College that focuses on education reporting. Their raison d’être is to provide in-depth education reporting because they perceive a dearth of such reporting in major media.

7) Who is going to be scoring some of these writing samples? And what problems do you forsee ?

I’m not really sure who will be scoring these items, which is a big part of the problem: who in the public will know? So far, Hechinger reports only that “trained evaluators” will likely be needed. If that’s how vague the answer remains, likely many people will not trust that their child is getting a fair evaluation.

8) Are there any hidden or political agendas that you can discern?

None that I know of, other than that it is a political decision to move toward national standards and testing to begin with. The root problem, however, is that no one will know if there are hidden agendas in the testing and grading, but many people will no doubt suspect such agendas. And with a process that will be largely opaque – you would probably never be told who graded your son’s nuclear presentation, for instance – such suspicions cannot easily be dispelled. Nor, for that matter, could reasonable assurance be provided that bias wasn’t at work. It is a recipe for conflict and distrust.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Seems you got all the big stuff.

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