Academics Find Common Standards Fit for College

Academics Find Common Standards Fit for College
By Catherine Gewertz   August 25, 2011   Education Week

Ze’ev Wurman comments about this report in the comments section:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I suspect the celebration is premature. The study is problematically designed and, even then, the results are not as reassuring as David Conley would have us believe. There are many issues with this study, and I will mention here only three.

1) While the sample of institutions was randomized, the responder within each institution was not. He or she was hand-picked by the institution’s liaison person. Nobody has any idea what biases this process introduced into the respondent pool — we only know that it was a truly terrible study design. And, of these hand-picked responders, only about 50% actually replied.

2) The study was very careful not to ask the $64,000 questions: (a) Do the standards reflect a sufficient level of preparation for your course, and (b) do the standards reflect a better, or a worse, level of preparation as compared to your current requirements? Instead the study asked about “coherent representation” of the subject, and about a “level of cognitive demand.” One can have a coherent representation of any subject, and even at a reasonable depth in certain areas, yet miss whole chunks of material. The form of the questions in the study seems targeted to maximize positive responses, as some coherence and depth is almost always present.

3) The study does not provide a breakdown by different type of institutions (2-year vs. 4-year) and courses, which makes the conclusions premature and probably misleading. For example, over 90% of responders answered the “coherence” question about the math standards, yet more than one third of them teach language and literature courses that have nothing to do with mathematics. Moreover, if one takes the almost 40%(!) that did not find the math standards “coherent,” and if we assume that the literature instructors are probably not those who mostly found the math standards incoherent, then the fraction of instructors of math-related courses who found the math standards incoherent jumps to somewhere between 55% and 60%! Not a resounding vote of confidence by anyone’s measure. The study avoids breaking down the results by course-type and college-type, which make crisp answers to such questions impossible.

Overall, however, I am not very surprised. This study was designed from the beginning to validate the Common Core standards, rather than to inquire after the appropriate meaning of being “college ready.” After all, the Common Core’s “college readiness” was pre-defined already two years ago (with little empirical evidence, I may add), the Common Core standards have been already written, the federal kitty for them already handed out and the train has already left the station. What other results would one expect under these circumstances?