by Dr. Sandra Stotsky
Not by using Common Core-based standards and tests, for sure, or anything that looks like them. As anyone can see, the English language arts and mathematics standards dumped by the Governor Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July 2010 are nothing like Common Core’s standards. Unlike Common Core’s standards, which are not designed to prepare American high school students for authentic college coursework, the Commonwealth’s previous standards accelerated the academic achievement of minority groups in the state and did prepare our grade 10 students for authentic college coursework. Yet, Massachusetts parents, legislators, and teachers have been regularly told for five years that standards cleverly labeled “college and career ready” are better than those they replaced because the old ones didn’t prepare our students for authentic college coursework, just for a high school diploma. The facts tell otherwise.
We know that achievement on the grade 10 MCAS was related to authentic college readiness from a report relating our high school students’ performance on their grade 10 MCAS to the type of public college they enrolled in after graduation in 2005 and the extent of remedial coursework they needed.* Almost all the students at the Advanced level and about 80% of the students at the Proficient level who had enrolled in four-year public colleges and universities in the Bay State in 2005 needed no remediation in mathematics or reading. They were college-ready as well as high-school diploma-ready, whether or not they took a mathematics course in their senior year of high school (which the report doesn’t tell us). That is exactly the way the system should work.
On the other hand, about half of the 2005 high school graduating students who had enrolled in a Massachusetts community college in 2005 and had earlier been placed at the Needs Improvement level on a grade 10 MCAS test needed remediation in mathematics, reading, or both. (Again, we don’t know if they had taken a mathematics course in their senior year of high school.) Sounds completely rational.
Yet, the Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decided in July 2010 that students enrolling in a state college after graduation from high school should not be required to take any college course without college credit if they passed a grade 11 test deeming them “college ready.” In other words, no placement test or enrollment in a non-credit-bearing developmental course in reading or mathematics. Instead, students needing improvement must be given credit for the courses they take, whether or not they are academically ready for them.
Clearly, their readiness depends on the academic quality and rigor of this grade 11 “college readiness” test, about to be given in Massachusetts high schools in 2015. Yet, we know from many mathematicians (e.g., R. James Milgram of Stanford, Marina Ratner of Berkeley, Jason Zimba of Bennington) that Common Core’s mathematics standards do not prepare students for STEM careers—the jobs of the 21st century. And it is obvious to anyone who compares the reading passages used over the years on the grade 10 MCAS with the sample reading passages for the grade 11 Common Core-based reading test that the overall reading level of the passages on the latter test is not higher than the overall reading level of the passages on the grade 10 MCAS test.
So who are the chief victims of this gross public deception? Minority students, especially African-American students.** They are the students for whom Common Core’s standards and tests were created in order to label them college-ready when they aren’t. In the 2005 report, they were featured as having lower “persistence” rates than most other demographic groups, as having a lower Grade Point Average than Asian/Pacific Islanders (2.5 to 2.8), and as earning a lower number of credits on average during their first year of college than Asian/Pacific Islanders (22.7 to 27.1), even though more than 80% of all students in the 2005 school-to-college cohort remained enrolled for a second year of college in 2006.
Instead of finding commendations for their persistence and their college-going rates, readers are left to infer that they are so hopeless that the only solution to the “gaps” in demographic performance between African-American students and Asian/Pacific Islanders is to reduce the academic demands of the high school curriculum for all students. Why not restore the standards that actually turned out to help make all Massachusetts students better prepared for high school and for college? Why do Massachusetts legislators and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education want to believe what they have been told by organizations funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when these organizations seem to be the only ones who have benefitted from states that have committed to the use of Common Core’s standards.
*Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and Massachusetts Board of Education. Massachusetts School-to-College Report: High School Class of 2005. February 2008. http://www.mass.edu/reports
For more by Dr. Stotsky on this, read this Pioneer Institute article.
For more on the Massachusetts education miracle, read this article.