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New Online Common Core Test Wastes More Teacher and Student Time

Last updated on 2014.05.15

The Sioux Falls School District used children as unpaid guinea pigs this spring in its field test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the new statewide, online standardized test our children will take to measure their fulfillment of the Common Core standards. Some computers crashed on both the student side and the testmaker side, but the District reports that its "technology and infrastructure performed better than expected." Sigh.

Here are some reasons from the District's report to be annoyed that we are trundling mindlessly along into another cycle of fruitless education reform churn:

  1. "Each classroom test administrator set aside from three to ten hours to read documents and view Smarter Balanced required test administration modules/videos." Up to ten hours: that's two full days of classroom instruction lost to learning how to administer someone else's test.
  2. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is two to two and a half hours longer than the Dakota Step test it replaces. Two and a half hours: that's as much as three class periods that each student misses to sit and answer questions instead of learning.
  3. Twelve parents asked the Sioux Falls School District to excuse their students from the SBA. The District told them state law and rules require all students to take the SBA. Then the District apparently kept tabs on those students during the tests; the District report says teachers observed five of those students "randomly answering questions or choosing the same answer and completing the test in half the time of the other students." The report offers no count of other kids blowing off the test. So try to opt out of an oppressive and wasteful testing regimen, and the Sioux Falls Schol District will single your kids out for special surveillance.
  4. Some kids knew their stuff but had trouble banging out answers fast enough on the computer keyboard. The report's response: we need to keep pushing keyboard and mouse skills. This is teaching to the test at its most offensive, not even teaching subject matter, but teaching specific technology skills that will let kids take tests about subject matter.

What does the report recommend the school board do? "Acknowledge the review of the Smarter Balanced Assessment administration 2013-14 school year."

Acknowledged. Ack!


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.13

    Students can't opt out of this kind of test in SD? Seriously? Why not?
    Surveiling those students is crap.

  2. Linda 2014.05.13

    I have a relative who is an elementary teacher in SD who says this test is terrible. Those she teaches with agree that this testing is a waste of time, does not give a true assessment of a student's abilities, and even though they have communicated the problems with Common Core to the state powers that be, the powers that be still think Common Core is just hunky dory. IMO the teachers, who know their students and their abilities and know a good test when they see it, are the ones who should be setting up the guidelines for testing and teaching, not some administrator in Pierre! And I thought too that students could opt out of this testing. I know a family who pulled their daughter out of school prior to the testing and because of the testing and will be pulling their other kids out of public school next year in favor of homeschooling. I don't know if homeschooling is the best option for everyone, but it's the only choice some feel they have when the powers that be won't listen to teachers in the field and instead just push Common Core regardless of its inherent and proven problems.

    I don't know if anyone in Pierre education administration reads this blog, but wake up and listen to your teachers, please!! Common Core is NOT good for SD students.

  3. rollin potter 2014.05.13

    oh Cory, the people in pierre and the monkeys the voters send up there year after year and the monkeys the voters put on the school boards and vote into office every place else without even knowing who they are voting for are unbelievable. It should be mandatory the voting public attend at least one meeting with the candidates to find out who they are and what if anything they have any idea what is going on!!!!

  4. grudznick 2014.05.13

    I really don't understand all the fear about this Common Core business and I don't want to understand it. It is entertaining because it gets pants all in knots and frothed at the teeth, but all I can think is young Mr. Nelson saying "Booga Booga".

    Booga Booga Mr. Nelson.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.13

    The big 'education' corporations are making huge amounts of money off the testing frenzy. (Bribery? Why not? It seems to work for many economic dealings in the Land of Infinite Variety.)

    I worked as an essay test scorer for Pearson in spring 2007-2009. Prior to the 21st century Pearson was a fairly unimposing little company working with various associations to write and score tests. Then along came GWB and his baby, NCLB. Pearson got in on the ground floor of that boondoggle and hasn't let up yet. They write tests for many states, score them, work with individual states on content and scoring rubrics. It's not unusual to see very arbitrary ribrics to guide the scorers. For example:

    The very short essay for 6th graders is about cleaning up the river and its banks. They get points for referring to trash, waste and refuse, among other things. However, if they use the word 'garbage', they get nothing.

    That kind of arbitrariness is not rare. These tests are Worthless! The big corporations aren't paid for effectiveness. They are paid for producing a serviceable product or service. It stinks from top to almost bottom.( I'm excluding the schools that get stuck with this crap.)

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.05.13

    Kurt! Good link! All the conservatives agitating against Common Core should throw out their arguments about Agenda 21 and the Soviet Union and cite nothing but that article. It is strong stuff!

  7. Cranky Old Dude 2014.05.13

    Notice that the great folks in DC who thought of this crap don't send their kids to public schools; no, indeed! they go to private schools that aren't adopting CC, the better to serve as the future overlords and masters of your children.

  8. Donald Pay 2014.05.13

    I've always said you have to separate Common Core State Standards from the testing component (Smarter Balance). I think the standards are necessary, but the testing is problematic.

    Regarding your numbered points, I don't have much of a problem with the first three. These could just be designed into the field test to find out what works, what doesn't and how it works.

    (1) The 3 to 10 hours is interesting in that it is quite a range. I wonder if they had this range set up to test whether greater amounts of time spent in prepping the test administrators made a difference in student test scores.

    (2) Is the length of the field test longer because the purpose of the field test is to test various questions? Is it longer in order to test whether the length of time makes a difference in student responses?

    (3) It is important to know how those students who might be getting pressure from home not to perform well on the test skew results.

    (4) This is the only one that gets my blood boiling. They should have a way to test how the level of keyboard familiarity affects test results, and it looks like the study did that. It seems they found keyboard skills does affect the scores. That, to me, is a big problem with the test, not with the kids taking it. And it may just invalidate the whole approach.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.13

    That is an outstanding essay on Mr. Evan's link! Good work. I know 90% more about Common Core than previously. What was not surprising was the role my former employer, Pearson Education, is playing.

    I followed a link from Kurt's article that led to more Pearson testing crapola. To be sure, Pearson is not the only corporation making beau coup bucks in this scam, but it is the one I'm familiar with. This is the article I'm referring to:

    This is what they are doing to 1st graders. FIRST GRADERS! I'm talking about babies who are 6-7 years old. I'm incensed!

  10. JeniW 2014.05.13

    Sounds like there really has not been any progress in terms of need/want of "testing." Only the tools have changed.

    When I was in grade school, every year, we were gathered in mass inside the school's multi-purpose room, and given timed tests. The testing would take place over a two to three day period. The test/problems were in booklets, and we had a separate answer sheet, and a blank sheet of paper to try to solve the math problems. We used a pencil.

    We were told that there was no "failures," which was pure BS, because when I reached the question that I could not answer, or did not complete a section by the time line, I knew that I had failed.

    I am guessing that today's students have the same feeling that I had when tested, it was hard, frustrating, demoralizing, a waste of time, and I felt lied to.

    I do not if there will ever be a way of avoiding the negative effects, and problems of testing.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.05.14

    Deb, one of the really good points made in the essay Kurt links is that Common Core did not build on the core of knowledge about childhood development. It started at the end, the stuff Bill Gates and others say they want kids to know to be ready to go to college and to go to work, then worked backwards to pull kids up that road. Kurt's author says the Common Core crafters did not start with knowledge about how little kids really learn. That's not as juicy as saying, "Common Core is Communism!" but it's a far more effective argument against it than the things I hear from some Tea-flavored opponents.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.05.14

    Don, good points. The test length is not just because it's a field test; the report gives that longer length estimate for next year's test, the ongoing version. The report does not explain the differences in test admin prep time; I speculate it could be that some tests are more complicated to administer than others (perhaps the math tests have more widgets, with graphing and online calculators, while the English tests are straightforward pick multiple-guess slots and written responses). It could also be that some teachers just click Next, Next, Next while others actually read the prep materials.

    Keyboard familiarity is a big issue. Did the old bubble-tests ever have problems with pencil familiarity?

    Monitoring the opt-out requestors has a scientific purpose, but I'm uneasy with the singling out. It sounds like parents need to default to my opt-out plan: don't say a word to the school; just tell your kids to blow off the test and bring a good book.

  13. Michael B 2014.05.14

    My daughter has 3 more years of high school and I am happy about that.

  14. Steve Sibson 2014.05.14

    "the stuff Bill Gates and others say they want kids to know"

    Did you know Bill Gates has an agreement with UNESCO regarding global education?

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.14

    I taught school in the mid to late 70s, pre-tech. But test taking ability still mattered. This is an illustration:

    Brad was a smart and witty small town SD 8th grader who could not read or write. Unsurprisingly, he had flunked most everything in school. He had dyslexia, which was mostly unknown, untested for, and untreated at that time. I didn't know he was dyslexic, but I knew he was smart.

    My class, Civics, (Yes! I taught Civics!) included a great deal of discussion, argument, explanation, etc. Brad was very good at that, plus he was a bit of a smart ass, which I enjoyed too. Anyway . . .

    I read his tests to him and the perennial failure raised his grade to B. With no notes, no book to study with, he got Bs. He scored at the very bottom of the scale on the annual Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. He hated test days and was deeply embarrassed, though his classmates were pretty decent to him about it. Being a nice kid, and especially a Big Kid, didn't hurt either.

  16. Kurt Evans 2014.05.15

    Cory wrote:
    >"Kurt! Good link! All the conservatives agitating against Common Core should throw out their arguments about Agenda 21 and the Soviet Union and cite nothing but that article. It is strong stuff!"

    Thanks, Cory. Part of the problem is that the corrupt elites pushing Common Core (and many journalists) are intentionally focusing attention on the weakest arguments against it.

    By the way, when I use my Facebook page as my webpage, my comments here generate a really annoying accusation that they're "spammy"...

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