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From the Kitchen Table

Intended Consequences

by Peg Luksik

Sometimes folks try to do something good but, because they couldn't predict all of the results of their actions or because they lack a piece of important information, their actions cause harm instead of benefit. We call this sequence of events unintended consequences.

But sometimes the consequences of one's actions are fully intended, although not fully revealed. The person in charge does have the necessary information and the results of the actions being taken were absolutely predictable.

This is the case with the testing of Common Core.

The fact that high-stakes assessment is not a valid measurement of educational achievement is not a secret. There is no way, for example, to control what a child brings to the testing situation. Illness, emotional upheaval at home, interrupted sleep, and poor nutrition all affect a child's performance on an assessment. And no one knows which child is affected by any of these factors on any given day, so no one can know if the score any child receives is a measurement of his achievement or a measurement of the fact that the child's dog died the night before.

We do know, however, that when the poverty level of the child being tested goes down, the likelihood that the test is measuring family upheaval or poor nutrition or lack of sleep or untreated illness goes up. That means that children who live in poverty are more likely to fail, not because they haven't learned the material, but because they had an interfering problem on Test Day.

So these children are more likely to be placed in remediation. This means that their academic progress will be slowed — they will have to go back over material that they may have already learned instead of moving forward into new material.

That slow-down is not the only consequence of remediation.

The time for these remedial classes has to come from somewhere. So the very children who most need exposure to things like music and art are the ones least likely to receive it. Instead they will spend their time being remediated, based on test results that may or may not have been accurate.

But there is a second consequence of this situation. Teacher evaluation is tied to these tests as well. The U.S. Department of Education is currently pushing as hard as it can to force states into compliance with this evaluation feature.

So if children from poor districts score more poorly, the teachers in these districts will be more likely to receive unsatisfactory evaluations. Unsatisfactory evaluations lead to employment termination. So the poorest districts are the most likely to lose their teachers.

Who will replace them?

Either brand new certified teachers with no real classroom experience, or Teach for America volunteers, who have weeks instead of years of training, no classroom experience, and only have to "stick it out" for two years to receive a reward.

And because the flaws in this assessment system will continue to measure poverty instead of academic performance, the new teachers will be rated unsatisfactory as well; thus insuring that these children face a revolving door of constantly new, and inexperienced, teachers.

So, the very children who most need experienced teachers who understand how to deal with the myriad of issues children in poverty face will be the children who will be deprived of those teachers because of the results of high-stakes assessments that do not actually measure educational achievement.

The Common Core high-stakes assessment system will result in slower progress, fewer educational enrichment opportunities, and less qualified teachers for the children of the poor. And every one of these consequences was easily predictable based on available information, meaning they were, in fact, intended.

The critical questions are: By whom? And Why?

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