PA standards get low marks in study
By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 22, 2010 10:15 AM
The Fordham Institute, a big promoter of national education standards, released a report Wednesday comparing existing state standards with the new Common Core standards that a majority of states, including Pennsylvania, have vowed to adopt. And Pennsylvania's standards received some of the lowest scores - a D in English-Language Arts and an F in Math.
The institute's report said that the Common Core reading-language arts standards were more rigorous than those in 37 states and more rigorous in math than 39 states. In 33 states, including Pennsylvania, the Common Core standards are better than both, according to the report.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (DOE) released a statement saying that Fordham didn't consider all the "tools and resources" that are available to Pennsylvania teachers because, unlike in some other states, they are not part of the official standards.
The Fordham critique appears to be based on what the standards ask of students, whether they are vague or specific, and whether they are logically sequenced. Maybe these additional "resources" provide more specificity, but nobody at DOE was available to answer questions.
The DOE statement also said, that, analyzing the raw data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation's Report Card), Pennsylvania is moving up rapidly compared to other states in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math. (The press release also makes the point that according to the Center on Education Policy, Pennsylvania is the only state to make significant progress in every grade tested between 2002 and 2008, a major selling point for Gov. Rendell as he continues to push to increase education funding. But it doesn’t point out that this was according to the PSSA scores, not NAEP).
Whether Pennsylvania's standards are comparable to the new Common Core standards or not, there is a huge discrepancy between the percentage of students judged proficient on Pennsylvania's standardized test, the PSSA, compared to the percentage proficient on NAEP. Many advocates, including Fordham, pushed for Common Core standards precisely because many states adopted easier standards to avoid having too many schools fall into the No Child Left Behind "needs improvement" category, and their rigor is all over the map.
On NAEP, while Pennsylvania's scale scores have gone up, it is still in the middle of the national pack. If I read the data and state comparisons on the NAEP site correctly, it scores significantly better than just 14 states -- most of them in the deep South. And, as I reported last year, Pennsylvania also has one of the widest Black-White achievement gaps on NAEP.
And Philadelphia, which is part of TUDA, a voluntary initiative on the part of several urban districts to have their NAEP scores broken out so improvement can be tracked over time, does poorly by this standard. NAEP indicates that 60 percent of fourth graders are below basic readers and just 10 percent proficient or advanced. The numbers were little better in math.
On the most recent PSSA, preliminary data released by the District show that for the first time more than half Philadelphia's students scored proficient in both reading and math, which the District has been trumpeting as a major breakthrough.
Having said all that, there are also several critiques worth reading of whether adopting Common Core standards is a good idea -- and they aren't simply questioning loss of local control and state prerogative. This all gets to the heart of what we want education to be and what we think is the best way to judge rigor and quality.
Finally, meeting the Common Core standards, if in fact it means helping all the state's students reach higher academic levels, could come with significant cost. But a study done for the state Board of Education, which has already voted to adopt the standards like a majority of other states, concluded that the cost would be negligible. Given that Pennsylvania still has some of the widest per-pupil gaps in spending between rich and poor districts and that this year's $250 million increase in basic education aid is still precarious because of a shortfall in federal funding, that analysis is somewhat hard to believe.