The Disappearing Horizon of College Readiness
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Pilots use the horizon as a critical tool in directing their plane when they are practicing attitude flying, or visual rules flying. The horizon provides a constant point of orientation, a demarcation between to areas earth:sky. When it is erased by something, like a large cloud bank or flying over water at night, maintaining a safe course becomes exceptionally difficult if there are no instruments to provide other course indicators. It is hard to tell if you are aiming too high or too low.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative appears to have been successful in erasing the horizon of what everyone understood to be college readiness. They have working hard to get rid of all the instruments we used to have to tell us if we were aiming too high or too low. Choice architects know that people don’t like to move from their comfort zones so they have come in with flame throwers to destroy those comfort zones so people will have to move.
College readiness tools like the SAT and ACT, used to be able “to separate” those who were ready for the academic challenge of university degree program from those who weren’t. The CCSSI has been a force causing those traditionally well understood and respected sorting instruments to change course. Jane Robbins, of the American Principles Project, wrote on the destruction of these traditional systems.
The central problem for the proponents is that students trained (not educated) under the minimal, non-academic, workforce-development Common Core standards will not perform as well on legitimate tests as did their predecessors. Under the new direction of Common Core architect David Coleman, the College Board has addressed that problem by dumbing down the SAT. Making the SAT easier for Common Core victims (for example, by abolishing the writing section and the hard vocabulary words) helps them appear to be as prepared for college as were previous students.
But the SAT isn’t the only test that might reveal the decline in college-readiness. For years, SAT competitor ACT has offered other college-readiness tests called EXPLORE (given in the 8th or 9th grade) and PLAN (given in the 10th). These two tests are aligned to the ACT college-entrance examination and have proven to be good predictors of college-readiness.
That EXPLORE and PLAN are a threat to the Common Core narrative is evident from recent experience in Kentucky. Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute reports that Kentucky students’ latest performance from the 2014-15 school term on the two tests raises red flags about the effectiveness of Common Core.
According to Innes, 2014-15 EXPLORE scores for all Common Core-related areas (English, math, and reading) declined from two years ago. The PLAN math scores improved slightly, but English and reading scores were down. “The recent trends,” Innes says, “are not encouraging for the performance of Common Core” for Kentucky students.
In a remarkable coincidence, ACT has announced the elimination of EXPLORE and PLAN. It will thus be impossible to make further comparisons of college-readiness performance of pre-Common Core 8th-graders and 10th-graders to that of the post-Common Core students using these tests. And ACT is also phasing out a college-placement test called COMPASS, which has been in use since 1983. With the demise of all these proven college-readiness tests, we’re losing a valuable means of assessing the effect of Common Core.
Innes asks the critical question: “Why would anyone want to eliminate established college-readiness tests if the goal of education is to be college- and career-ready? Could it be that college-readiness under Common Core isn’t going to be what college-readiness used to be?”
The answer is simple Richard. The goal is to erase the horizon of what is known about test scores relationship to actual college readiness. Now, instead of the colleges determining what readiness for their program looks like, the testing companies will be in charge of making that determination. Colleges are asked to go along with the new system based solely on the reputation of the two companies from the last system. The problem is, that reputation was built on years of data collection that led to product improvements that showed a statistical correlation between their test scores and college readiness. Now they want you, the colleges, to simply assume that their new unverified tests are just as accurate.
Worse is the conclusion of many education professionals that the new tests will set the bar lower to allow schools to meet the arbitrary goal of 60% acceptance of high school graduates into a college program. Colleges were intended to be places where only the most academically advanced and committed students would go to dive deep into a selected subject area while also being exposed to a liberal arts education which provided the knowledge that a free person would need to be active in civic life. Now they are a training ground for the broad work force. Hence the need to expect (ahem) a little less of the applicants.
SBAC and PARCC were headed in the same direction, but states have been bailing out of those nightmares, where there was no control of future costs for membership, or of the actual product. No worries. ACT has stepped in to fill the void.
Eager to provide a lifeboat to the states that are fleeing the sinking ships of the federally funded Common Core assessments (PARCC and SBAC), ACT has introduced a new test system called Aspire to fill the void left by abolition of EXPLORE and PLAN. Aspire is marketed as “the first to launch its College and Career Readiness System . . .” Already adopted by Alabama, Aspire is fully aligned with Common Core. And to the surprise of no one who follows the incestuous and extraordinarily lucrative testing industrial complex, ACT is producing this new Aspire system in partnership with British mega-corporation Pearson.
We know that orientation to previous reference points is important in education by the constant call to maintain the Common Core Standards numbering rubric or provide a cross walk from the old standards to the new. It has been a point of terror for some teachers not to know how the new standards relate to CC (which tells me they didn’t really understand the CC ones to begin with.) You see, teachers understand the importance of a horizon and they will fight tooth and nail to keep sight of one.
For the rest of us parents, legislators and colleges, that horizon will be but a faint line out there that the corporatists promise us will get clearer as we go forward. We are meant to trust the untested instruments and simply keep flying along at full speed in this plane that Chester Finn said we are building as we fly. What could go wrong?