Thursday, January 30, 2014

Standardized Absurdity: A Preview of Common Core Testing, Part 2

We shall continue with our Common Core standardized exam, provided by the testing consortium Smarter Balanced. Recall that this is an eleventh-grade English Language Arts examination.

    "Much Ado About Much Ado About Nothing

    It was the first day back at school after the holiday break. Our drama teacher, Mrs. Kent, handed out our next assignment: an in-depth study of a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. I was so excited to see that I had been assigned a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. Finally, here was my long-awaited opportunity to act out a comedy scene from Shakespeare! My joy was short-lived, however, because moments later I saw Luke shuffling my way with that mocking grin on his face that I find so infuriating. Of course, Mrs. Kent had assigned Luke to be my partner! Even worse, we were to play Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare’s most famous lovers. Where was Macbeth’s dagger when you needed it?

    . . . As soon as we sat down to look at the scene, Luke was pompously proclaiming himself an expert.

    “Beatrice and Benedick are obviously in love here at the beginning of the play. Anyone with a brain could see that, Kate,” he said.

    “I have brain enough for both of us, Luke, which is good, since you seem to be in need. Beatrice and Benedick only fall in love because they’re tricked into it. They would never have fallen in love otherwise—that much is obvious to anyone with a pulse.”

    “Oh, really? I’ll speak slowly so you can understand,” Luke said. Etc."

Sample question from the exam:

    Click on two sentences that summarize the main idea of the text.

    a) Luke and Kate are both very knowledgeable about Shakespeare.

    b) Luke and Kate present arguments to their teacher and defend their points of view.

    c) Luke and Kate realize that people can have different interpretations of characters in a play. Etc.

Common-sense questions.

    Who most likely wrote the foregoing passage? Support your answer in two-three sentences.

    a) an underpaid testing-hack

    b) an overpaid testing-hack

    c) a graduate student in English literature strapped for cash and willing to sell his soul

    d) William Shakespeare

    Which description least fits the foregoing banter between Kate and Luke:

    a) cutesy

    b) cloying

    c) perfectly natural; just how two star-crossed, teenage lovers of Shakespeare would talk to each other

    d) comically unrealistic

Questions on the examination as a whole (for advanced readers):

    Students who read such selections on a standardized exam (and have read similar passages in their English classes to prepare for the exam) will think about these passages . . .

    a) throughout the course of their lives.

    b) when telling stories to their children and grandchildren.

    c) when navigating the tempestuous waters of the twenty-first-century global economy.

    d) when Hell freezes over.

    Most noticeably missing in this standardized examination in English is:

    a) great English literature

    b) learning of any kind

    c) any discernable academic standard

    d) all of the above

    The proximity of such eleventh-grade English standards to the work that will be required of students in a college English literature and composition class could best be described as:

    a) pretty darn close

    b) close enough for government work

    c) exactly on the money

    d) missed by a country mile

So what have we learned through this examination? The first lesson is that all the promises of “college and career readiness” are empty slogans: a tour de force of jargon-ridden demagoguery on the part of the testing hacks and their rich supporters, as well as the rest of the education bureaucrats who control the nation’s public schools. The idea that these readings and the simple-minded questions that follow would prepare students for college is preposterous—unless, which is already the case—the first two years of most colleges serve as one giant, expensive effort at remediation.

The second lesson is, as I show in more detail in my book The Story-Killers, that the authors of the Common Core have no love for great literature. Do not be fooled by the cutesy dialogue of Kate and Luke, who talk about reading Shakespeare. This is not Shakespeare. In fact, this sample examination (presumably for the consumption of teachers primarily) contains not one selection from literature. Compare the passage above to the real Beatrice and Benedick:

    Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior

    Benedick: nobody marks you.

    Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

    Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath

    such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?

    Courtesy itself must convert to disdain; if you come

    in her presence.

    Benedick: Then courtesy is a turncoat. But it is certain I

    am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I

    would that I could find in my heart that I had not a hard

    heart; for truly I love none.

    Beatrice: A dear happiness to women: they would else have

    been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God

    and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I

    had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man

    swear he loves me.

A little tougher—and wittier—no? How much could be said—about Beatrice’s character, about young men, about love itself—discussing the line, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”! Is there any comparable line from the testers’ mock dialogue?

Finally, just how stupid (or somnolent) do they think the American people are? The passage on the “science of meditation” is clearly soft evangelizing in the new religion—a kind of New Age, quasi-spiritual, multicultural mush—supposedly supported by science. The passage on Eco-fashion, however, is the harder side of that evangelizing: on human beings’ constant threat to Goddess Planet. Washing your T-shirt is one of the new sins, and to have that sin forgiven, you must buy clothes that are genuinely Eco-friendly.

The rest of the passage urges the young consumers of clothing to action. Readers are invited to search labels thoroughly, making sure that clothing manufacturers aren’t just paying lip-service to environmentalism. The teenage consumer must learn to hold these awful corporations accountable for their destruction of the environment and chronic waste of the world’s energy and resources (on which the EPA has a perfect handle). In short, the forces behind the Common Core dictate that our children’s minds should be trained on absurdity and thinly-veiled political propaganda rather than the great, soul-ennobling stories written by Shakespeare and Austen and Melville and Poe.

To appreciate fully the gravity of the situation, parents and citizens must understand one basic reality of the Common Core and one basic reality of education. Nowadays, he who controls the testing controls the schools. And he who controls the schools controls the minds of our future citizenry.


Underprivileged British pupils fall FURTHER behind despite Nick Clegg's flagship education policy to narrow gap between rich and poor youngsters

Underprivileged pupils fell further behind better off children last year despite Nick Clegg’s flagship policy to narrow the exam gap between them.

The gulf widened in 72 out of 152 local authorities in a year despite extra funding from the pupil premium policy, according to Left-wing think-tank Demos.

This included 66 where the difference was larger than before the premium was introduced.

The analysis was based on the number of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs with a C grade or higher, including English and maths.

The achievement gap is measured by the difference between the results of those pupils receiving free school meals and those whose parents pay for their children’s school dinners.

Last summer’s exam results revealed it had reached 26.7 percentage points across England, up from 26.4 points in 2011-12. In 2010-11 it was 27.5 percentage points.

But if inner London is removed – where the difference closed from 18.9 percentage points to 18.6 points over three years – the average gap in 2012-13 rises to 29.5 points.

The capital has benefited from another initiative, the London Challenge, which has improved academic results for poorer children by pouring millions of pounds into schools.

The lack of progress made nationwide since the £2.5billion-a-year pupil premium was introduced in April 2011 is an embarrassment for the Deputy Prime Minister, who included it in the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto.

It comes just a week after another of his policies, to double the number of free nursery places for deprived two-year-olds, was criticised for threatening to lower standards unless it was delayed.

The Sutton Trust education charity warned many of the extra staff needed would be former childminders, who tend to have lower qualifications than nursery workers.

The pupil premium was introduced in April 2011. At present, the scheme provides primaries with an extra £953 for each child on free school meals and secondaries with £900 for each such pupil.

The widest gaps were found in the South East, with 42.5 per cent in Wokingham, Berkshire, and 39.6 per cent in Buckinghamshire.

London had the three smallest gaps - 4.2 per cent in Kensington and Chelsea, 7.7 per cent in Southwark and 9.5 per cent in Lambeth.

Ian Wybron, an education specialist at the think tank Demos, said: 'The attainment gap has been a difficult nut to crack in recent years.


English education system among most class-ridden in developed world

Class has a bigger influence on how well educated people are in England than in almost any other developed country, a major study has concluded.

English adults whose parents went to university have dramatically higher levels of literacy and numeracy than those from less privileged backgrounds, it found.

It warns of an “exceptionally” large gap between those with the highest skill levels and those at the bottom, a gulf which is even more dramatic among young people.

The report, published by the Institute of Education, blames decades of inequality between the best schools and the worst.

It finds that the link between people’s skills in adult life and their parents’ background is “especially high” in England in comparison with 24 other countries or regions.

England has the biggest numeracy gap among those aged 25 to 29 out of the 25 countries studied and only Slovakia has a stronger link between young people’s skill levels and their parental background.

Researchers at the institute’s Research Centre on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) compared data from OECD studies of literacy and numeracy.

Overall it concludes: “The association of people’s adult skills with their parents’ social background is especially high in England.

“We conclude that the primary cause of adult skills inequality in England is the exceptionally unequal skills outcomes of the initial education system sustained over a long period, fuelled and supplemented by an especially strong influence from social background.”

It adds that mass migration or different levels of adult training cannot explain the gap between the most skilled and the least in England in comparison with elsewhere.

“Two factors do seem to provide an explanation, at least for England,” it says.  “One is the relatively strong effect in England of social background on skills attainment. “The other is the high level of inequality in the outputs of the education system over a long period.”

Significantly, the study found that 16 to 24-year-olds with parents who have degrees were likely to score 67 points higher in one international numeracy survey than those who parents were educated to GCSE level.

This gap was bigger than in every other country which took part in the survey, apart from the Slovak Republic.

In literacy the gap between those 16 to 24-year-olds with degree-educated and GCSE-educated parents was around 58 points, again wider than in every other nation apart from the Slovak Republic.

Among the working age adult population as a whole, England has the third biggest numeracy gap, after France, Canada and the US.

It is also in the bottom half for literacy. In both literacy and numeracy, the gap between the top scores and bottom scores is narrower in Northern Ireland which retains grammar schools.

However the Province has an even wider skills gap among the young on some measures.

Andrew Green, director of LLAKES, said: "These findings matter, because skills have well-known effects on labour market and wider social outcomes.

“Over the last quarter century the UK as a whole has experienced one of the fastest increases in wage inequality in the developed world.”


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