Goals For Latest AP Common Core Story Go Unfulfilled

image from binaryapi.ap.org

This weekend’s big AP story about Common Core came off as overly negative to me.

I’m a big fan of the AP education team (which on this story included Christine Armario, Donna Gordon Blankinship, and Sally Ho). I am so glad that Armario is back on the beat in LA, and still remember her 2012 FOIA piece about NCLB waivers that left many others in the dust. Earlier this year, she bylined an interesting story about schools now offering reduced-price meals after school as well as breakfast and lunch. 

Her latest piece story provides an extremely useful overview of where things stand, noting that full or preliminary figures have been released for 7 Smarter Balanced states (Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia), plus 4 indie states. Eleven PARCC states plus DC have yet to release their results.  There aren’t any issues of fact that I can see or have heard about. 

To be sure, the Common Core label has become somewhat toxic, and a bunch of states have backed off from their initial Race to the Top enthusiasm. Twenty percent of parents pulled their kids out of some or all standardized testing in New York State.

The numbers have dwindled — and may continue to do so in the near future, notes the story: “When the testing groups were created, PARCC was a coalition of 26 states and Smarter Balanced 31; some states belonged to both. This year, 11 states and the District of Columbia took PARCC exams. Arkansas, Mississippi, and Ohio have since decided to withdraw from the exams. Eighteen states participated in the Smarter Balanced test this year. Of those, three states have since decided to abandon one or all of the grade level tests.”

Not only are there fewer states participating in the group effort than there were at the start, the two groups PARCC and Smarter Balanced are going to report scores in different ways that will make comparisons among them more difficult.

But there’s another way to look at it: a bunch of states have now adopted the standards, administered both field tests in 2014 and the real thing this past spring, and the results coming back aren’t as abysmally bad as many had worried. I’m not usually accused of being overly optimistic, but shouldn’t the measure of success include how much progress is made rather than what remains or what was originally aspired to? 

Some of my issues have to do with the local headline writers, who have mangled the original version (Common Core test results trickle in, but goal of comparing among states goes unfulfilled) into shorter, perhaps less accurate options. Sure, reporters aren’t in charge of headlines, but let’s be honest they’re what most folks read and remember.

More of my issues have to do with this devastating quote from Brookings’ Tom Loveless, left unexamined: “The whole idea of Common Core was to bring students and schools under a common definition of what success is… And Common Core is not going to have that.” I really wish the AP had given a Common Core supporter a chance to respond to that claim, which may be the strongest assertion in the piece.

According to Twitter, there are a few other folks out there with similar concerns. From Fordham’s Mike Petrilli: “Yes, a lack of comparability across states is a bummer, but #CommonCore + tougher tests still = much higher expectations.”

“More than 20 states are administering assessments that will allow comparisons across states – a comparison that most states have not been able to make before,” notes the pro-Common Core Collaborative for Student Success. In addition, the AP story “does not mention that states can choose to adopt the assessments in the future.”

But there are many others like veteran classroom teacher Peter Green who seem to have appreciated the piece: “Common Core boosters have dealt with this big slice of failure by simply ignoring it and developing selective amnesia about the goal of having every state on the same page. But Amario offers a few reminders.” 

Armario and Feldman have to take an angle, of course, and the “fallen short” story is appealing and clear and reasonably accurate. But still, I wonder why the “made progress” option – just as available to AP and other journalists in situations like this — didn’t get the nod instead. 

My pet theory is that the current rancor among education reformers and critics, the extremely frightening uncertainty surrounding the journalism business, combined with editors’ longstanding penchant for failure over success — is what’s getting in the way.  It’s very hard to pitch and write a “glass half full” education story, more than ever these days.

Amateur psychology aside, I think the piece would have been much stronger (more complete) if it had given voice to the issue of partial progress as well as the issue of lowered expectations. There’s no shortage of Common Core supporters who could have responded to Loveless. 

And in a perfect world according to me in which time and budgets weren’t a problem, the AP map (above) would have been animated to show the three main stages we’ve gone through over the past six years: states each doing their own thing (pre-Common Core), states signing up for Common Core testing in droves, and where we are now.

We need AP’s steady education coverage — I want more of it rather than less. But (greedy me) I want it to be rock solid, too. 

Related posts: New Hire Helps Settle Politico’s Education Coverage, Leaves AP’s Uncertain*Another Twist And Turn For The AP Education Team (2012); Associated Press Names New Education Editor (2011); White Reporters & Students Of Color.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.