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California

California Test Score Results Are an Honest Starting Point for Growth

I have talked before about the bitter medicine that is the Common Core Standards and the pain we have to go through to make gains. Well this past week and in coming weeks that pain was acutely felt by California schools and districts, and hundreds of thousands of students and families, as the state prepares to release results from the first set of tests linked to the Common Core State Standards. As predicted, these scores are significantly lower than what the state saw on previous tests, so we can expect a parade of confused parents, disappointed students and discouraged teachers. The results will be a painful accounting for the educational fraud that has been perpetrated on kids and families for years. And as we step on the scale and honestly see where we are, we should be disappointed. But it should be a call to action, and not a retreat into denial as we have seen in other states, through attempts at legislative repeal or encouraging families to “opt out” of testing. These tests are more challenging, not just in making students memorize facts, but in really asking them to think through the questions and reason their way to answers based on evidence. And the tests should be more challenging because we need to ask more of our students, and better prepare them if they are going to be successful and self-directed. If you don’t believe me, look at the number of high-school graduates who are required to take remedial classes in the California State University system: 68 percent of those deemed college-ready based on their SAT scores—or more than two-thirds of the top 40 percent of California’s test-takers. As someone who works with schools, it was a consistent shock to see how far behind many students are when they start fifth or ninth grade. While I am not a huge fan of holding students back and making them repeat the same grade, I just had to scratch my head about how this kid, who struggles to read “Hop on Pop,” made it to the fifth grade. So if high school graduation is the measure of college readiness, we have failed so far, and the results of the latest tests will be cold water on the faces of families and kids who (wrongly) were told that they were on track. We can really react to this through two paths—we can run from the truth by opting out kids or lowering standards. Or confront our failures as adults to provide the supports and quality schools that all children deserve. We have been in denial for too long about the quality of education that students (and particularly, disadvantaged students) are receiving. I hope we can cope with this bitter pill, without spitting it out and subjecting another generation of students to a condescending game where we tell them everything is all right for 12 years of schooling, only for them to graduate burdened by our inaction, struggling to catch up and left holding the bag for our cowardice.
Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. An earlier version of this post appeared on his blog, Silent Majority.
Dirk Tillotson
Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked for over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans and New York City, and he’s even consulted on education issues in the Middle East. As a child, his ...

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