Achievement gaps and Common Core tests

Common Core tests will widen achievement gap — at first
By Tara García Mathewson

IMG_1829-960x600-c-defaultIn the minutes between class periods, Revere High School’s halls flood with students. The local diversity in this eastern Massachusetts town shows quickly. While teachers call out with Boston-area accents, fewer students do. Arabic speakers make up a large minority of the student population and hijabs are not uncommon headwear in the hallways. Latinos, the majority ethnic group at Revere, include a number of recent arrivals from places like El Salvador and Colombia.

In between February blizzards, 11th-grader Amina Mansouri, 16, and her classmate Chaimae Hartout, 17, spread out their iPads and notebooks in the school library to work on a world history project. They paused to discuss some disheartening news: Their teachers had just reminded them they will soon be taking a new state exam tied to the Common Core, a set of standards adopted by more than 40 states in 2010. Ten other states and Washington, D.C., will be giving the same exam, meaning that for the first time, Revere students will be compared with peers not just across the state, but across the country.

Chaimae complained how unfair it is to be “guinea pigs” for the new test, but Amina wasn’t as worried. This year, at least, the school won’t factor test scores into students’ GPAs and the state will hold off on requiring a passing score to graduate. But switching to an online test from the old paper-and-pencil exams did give her pause.

“I’m just afraid the online is going to affect the grades,” Amina said.

There’s virtually no doubt that will be the case. Scores are likely to plummet, not only because the test is online and students will have to adjust to the technology demands, but also because it will be harder — and unfamiliar. In districts like Amina’s, where 79 percent of students come from low-income families and 16 percent are still learning English, the portion of students earning proficient scores will probably shrink more than in wealthy districts. Historically that has been the case after the switch to new tests, no matter how difficult they are, revealing an important difference between extensive test prep and true learning.

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