Common Core Fails The Foul-Shot Test

Melissa Bailey PhotoAnn Policelli Cronin, a one-time Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year who has received national awards for middle and high school programs she designed and implemented, originally wrote this opinion article for the Connecticut Mirror. Click here and here for previous articles on Common Core.

Imagine ...

The NCAA Basketball Championship is based solely on free-throw shooting. Team practices are spent doing repetitive exercises of shooting from the foul line. All college players take the same free-throw shooting test. Their scores determine the excellence of the team, expertise of the coach and quality of the school. The team with the highest score becomes the national champion.

As a result of this new competition, the game of basketball is lost. The game, in which quick thinking, collaborative efforts and a whole array of athletic abilities are integral to the success of a team, is not played. The players begin to forget what it was to play 40 minutes of basketball. The coaches stop thinking about ways to develop talents of individual players and stop strategizing about how to make the team as a whole more successful. The fans forget about that long-ago game of basketball and enthusiastically cheer for their favorite foul shooters and compare them to foul shooters on other teams and in other countries.

Critics say that free-throw shooting is a simple skill and won’t prepare the college players for the basketball played in the NBA or WNBA. They also say that free-throw testing was chosen to replace playing games because the NCAA commissioned people in the test-making business to make that decision.

If this scenario were real, there would be quite an outcry…

But something scarier is happening in public school classrooms due to the Common Core State Standards. At stake there is not the game of basketball, but the development of students as thoughtful, engaged readers and effective writers. The Common Core requires the teaching of 200 narrow skills each year. Such skills will never foster students’ growth as readers and writers. The Common Core keeps students on the foul line, practicing limited skills.

In high school English classes, teaching Common Core skills in preparation for the accompanying test means that students are not asked to create meaning as they read, to think divergently and innovatively, nor learn a variety of ways to express their ideas orally and in writing. Instead, learning the isolated skills of the Common Core will keep students at the rudimentary level of simply finding information as they read and writing in a prescribed formula without any personal investment or even their personal voice.

Teachers of literature in love with ideas must be quiet. Teachers whose satisfaction is helping their students grow as thinkers by immersing them in reading and writing must be quiet. They must spend time at the foul line, urging their students to sink more shots, urging them to get higher and higher scores on tests that classify and rank them compared to other test-takers.

Executives of testing companies designed the Common Core. They wrote standards with skills that are measurable on computerized tests. Those skills are far too small a definition of literacy just as free-throw shooting is far too small a definition of playing basketball. We could benefit from authentic standards, written by those who know how to teach and not measured by computerized tests. Unfortunately, the Common Core committee didn’t have one English teacher in love with ideas on it, not one coach who knows the game.

A foul shooting test will never determine the NCAA championship because of the reality facing college players: The NBA and WNBA await. That world of professional sports demands experience in playing the whole game of basketball. Similarly, the world of higher education and the global workplace await current public school students. That world demands that graduates excel in the complex thinking that a rich literacy environment teaches.

College basketball players certainly will not spend the season just practicing free-throw shooting; instead, they will work at becoming accomplished and strategic basketball players. How our children, our students, our future citizens and leaders, spend their season, their school year, however, is up for grabs. They will spend it either preparing for Common Core tests or spend it becoming thoughtful readers, effective writers and complex thinkers. They can’t have it both ways.

What will we as parents, educators and taxpayers choose for them? It is our call. The time for our voice and our action in opposition to the Common Core is now.

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posted by: Jill_the_Pill on April 2, 2014  4:03pm

Does Cronin think that all of the CMT prep of recent years developed “thoughtful readers, effective writers and complex thinkers”?  For CMT success, my children were taught phony writing “skills” that were the antithesis of good writing.

The Common Core is not wonderful, but it is far better than the previous testing regime.  Rail against standardized tests in general, not this fairly successful attempt to improve them.

posted by: NewHavenPublic on April 2, 2014  4:47pm

@Ann - thank you for pulling back the blinds of the test-driven farce that is common core.

These tests are being “field tested” on our children this spring.

They are not proven and we should reject them.

Parents, please step up.  Protect your children and reject corporate education reform.

Bill Gates (at latest tally) has spent $2.3 BILLION dollars on common core.

Our schools are not for sale.

Opt out.

posted by: Wooster Squared on April 2, 2014  5:38pm

Great metaphor and great article. I was originally supportive of common core when the idea first appeared in debates. However, the more I hear and read about it, the more it seems like a way for testing companies to make money at the expense of giving children a real education that will serve them well in life.

While U.S. students have always lagged their international peers on standardized math and reading tests, the one overwhelming strength of our system was that it taught innovative problem solving and creative thinking to a much higher degree than European or Asian education systems. 

In trying to fix the bad, we’re throwing out the good (without even really fixing the bad).

posted by: ElmCityVoice on April 2, 2014  7:07pm

Thank you Ann Policelli Cronin. Parents need to know that their children DO NOT have to take the Common Core test. In cities throughout the country, the Opt Out movement is spreading. Here’s hoping New Haven parents are next. Parent and teacher organizations are speaking out and refusing to let the self anointed “policy makers” make high stake decisions for their children. I wonder how many of these policy makers’ children go to public school…

posted by: NewHaven06513 on April 2, 2014  9:45pm

Our kids are taking a test where the scores are not given to the district, state or child… This is a money making farce… Kill the common core before it’s to late!