by David Safier
Ed Supe John Huppenthal put out the word that the Common Core test will mean higher failure rates in Arizona than the current AIMS test. And he's right. It only makes sense, if you give a tougher test and don't adjust the pass-fail point downward, more kids will fail. But he hasn't pointed out that, while the failure rate will go up a bit at schools with "high achieving students" — that usually translates to "high income students" — the failure rate could rocket to 90% or higher at schools with low achieving — read "low income" — students.
That's what happened when New York gave the Common Core test in place of the usual state test at the end of last school year. In New York City, the passage rate was basically cut in half, from 47% to 26% in English and from 60% to 30% in math. But among low income students, the scores plummeted, reaching a 75% drop in some cases. In one East Harlem school, for instance, the passage rate on the English portion fell from 31% to 6.8%, and in math from 44% to 9.5%.
The huge drop in scores for low income students compared to high income students — the growth in "achievement inequality" between the academic haves and have-nots — isn't because the low achieving students are worse educated than they were before, or because their test prep wasn't as good. It's a predictable outcome of the test getting harder. And the same thing is going to happen in Arizona when the Common Core is implemented. Achievement inequality will increase dramatically, as will the number of schools labeled as failures when the Common Core tests replace AIMS. Expect the conservative "education reform" crowd to be overjoyed as they ratchet up their faux outrage at the growing failure of "government schools."
This old English teacher is going to risk making a fool of himself by diving into some simple statistics, but I'm willing to take the chance because I think the reasons behind the increase in achievement inequality when we go with the Common Core tests are clear enough, even I can figure them out. Below are two simple graphs. Both show the standard bell curve — the normal spread of test scores — for two schools. The school in green is an "A" school. The school in blue is a "D" or "F" school.
The bell curves of both schools are in the same place on both graphs. The only thing that changes is the position of the pass-fail line.
This first graph shows what these schools might look like with the current AIMS test scoring. The "A" school has 90% of its student passing with only a 10% tail falling into the failing range. The "D" or "F" school has a 30% passing rate.
Look what happens when the pass-fail line is moved. The "A" school goes from 90% to 60% passing. It only loses about a third of its passing students. But the "D" or "F" school loses three-quarters of its passing students, dropping from 30% to 7%.
This increase in "achievement inequality" would happen if we raised the pass-fail point for the current AIMS test. It's certain to happen with the Common Core. The test is more difficult than AIMS, and the passing point is set at a higher point nationally, so a major jump in "achievement inequality" is inevitable. And it will inevitably be used as a weapon against the low performing schools to put them into "turnaround" status. The next likely step would be a state takeover of the lowest performing districts.