Reform of the Common Core
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Debate Rounds (4)
This debate will be centered on whether or not the common core system for American education needs to be changed. I will be arguing that it does need to be changed. Whoever accepts the Con position in the debate will be arguing that it does not.
Round one is for acceptance. Please only accept this debate if you are serious about it.
I look forward to a fun, provocative, and interesting debate!
I accept, upon the condition that Pro defines his terms next round, or accepts my suggested ones.
Reform: the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.
Common Core: slang for The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI).
CCSSI: an educational initiative in the United States that details what K–12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade.
While I understand the benefits of a universal testing system for students, the Common Core system is riddled with problems, and needs serious reform, if not abolition.
First of all, a student"s knowledge, talent, and creativity cannot be summed up into a series of standardized tests. The CCSSI tests base a school"s ability to teach students solely on math and reading skills, completely disregarding the classes teaching arts and music. It doesn"t even test all subjects that most schools teach. In this system, a school specializing in the arts would be marked as a low-ranked school, even though it would have clear benefits over other schools. It would receive less funding than other schools.
Worse, the tests are often horribly designed and subject to mechanical problems. For instance, one of the Common Core exams that schools often take, the PARCC test, has been the cause of protest in several states. In New Mexico, hundreds of students protested by "walking out of school." In New Jersey, thousands of students protested by refusing to take the test. Florida could not even allow students to take the test because of computer problems.
As stated previously, the design of CCSSI tests are often absolutely horrible, and incorporate useless questions into them. Linked below are some insanely stupid and unnecessarily complicated common core test questions. In some, the answer is literally given in the question. In others, language so complex is used that calculus students had trouble deciphering it.
The test that the letter in the article above cites is linked below
What may be the biggest problem with the common core is the extent to which it restricts teachers and forces them to teach classes that involve focusing more on test-taking skills than on actual, meaningful content. Realistically, any school with a standardized test-determined budget will spend massively increased amounts of time teaching material related to taking the tests, rather than on meaningful subjects.
I would say more on the subject, but I am somewhat pressed for time. Ultimately, the SSCCI system needs significant reform, for the reasons above.
This is a policy debate (reform of the Common Core). Therefore, the rules are as follows:
Seeing that Pro is taking an affirmative plan (to significantly reform CCSSI), he has the burden to
a) prove that there are significant harms in the status quo,
b) bring forward a plan that solves these harms, and
c) show that Pro's plan has advantages.
If I can show that at least one of these is false, I will have met my burden of rebuttal. These are the four stock issues that Pro must prove:
1) Topicality (stay on topic)
2) Significance (significant harms in status quo)
3) Inherency (harms will not go away unless plan is implemented)
4) Solvency (Pro's plan will acctualy solve the harms and give advantages)
With that out of the way, I'll rebut Pro's contentions.
Observation 1: Defintions
I agree to all defintions set out by Pro. I'd ask that in the next round for Pro to specify what needs to be reformed and how it needs to be reformed (give a plan).
Observation 2: Harms:
1) CCSSI standardized tests cannot test knowledge, talent, and creativity.
Pro makes the claim that the standardized tests are faulty for the reason that they don't test the extra-curriculars (art, music, etc.). These extra-curriculars are not the focus of the test because they are not the focus of CCSSI. If you'd recall, Pro concedes that the purpose for CCSSI is to "set nation-wide standards for reading and mathematics levels (Round 2, Pro, empasis added)." CCSSI's purpose is not to test how good a certain school's music program is, or what great artists they have. Thus, this contention is, quite frankly, not topical to the discussion on the status quo Common Core system.
To Pro's contention that standardized tests cannot test knowledge, I'd ask Pro if he belives the SAT, ACT, or any other college board test can be used by colleges to examine whether or not they want to admit a certain student.
2) Tests are designed poorly and are subject to mechanical problems.
Pro claims that the design of the CCSSI tests (fill in the bubble for your answer) are poorly designed. However, this "fill in the bubble" approach allows for rapid, quick, and effective evaluations of tests by computers with human input (1).
Also, the failure of the mechanical system is not by any means significant, as it only affected a couple students. And it didn't affect thier scores, either, only the date when the test was to be administered. "In Miami, parents at the New World School of the Arts received a text message Monday saying the ninth-grade writing test had been postponed until March 5. The reason: 'computer technical difficulties (2).'" This site also references weather as a significant problem with standardized testing. "Another problem for PARCC: the weather. Some schools were forced to close because of snow and ice, and they consequently had to reschedule testing (2)." Pro, please explain why rescheduling a test shows that CCSSI needs significant reform.
3) CCSSI tests incorporate useless questions into them.
Have you read your article? It seems to affirm that Common Core is a good thing! "Though Common Core standards remain hotly debated, it seems, at least with these questions, the issue isn't with Common Core, but with the teachers implementing it (3)." It is not Common Core that is at fault, it is the teachers that issue faulty tests to evaluate thier students.
The second article linked shows a test of a first grader, where, for lack of better wording, completely failed the test. However, the reason for this failure is not because of "terrible testing" or "insanely stupid questions," as Pro would have you belive. No, the reason for this failed test is because the student answered many of the questions incorrectly. For example, the student answers:
6-5=3 (problem 1),
4+8=6 (problem 7), and
7-2=65 (problem 11).
The reason for the student's failure is because he answered the questions incorrectly (4).
4) CCSSI forces teachers to teach how to take the tests rather than meaningful content.
Quite the opposite. CCSSI gives teachers an endgoal, not a curriculum. The way that the teachers get the students to the standards presented by CCSSI is completely up to them. "Mili says a lot of teachers have fun, creative activities stuffed into their closets or desk drawers because they haven’t had the time to use them in the era of NCLB tests and curriculum. He thinks the Common Core will allow those activities to again see the light of day. That’s because the Common Core State Standards are just that — standards and not a prescribed curriculum. They may tell educators what students should be able to do by the end of a grade or course, but it’s up to the educators to figure out how to deliver the instruction (4)." Thus, CCSSI is not restrictive. It's like this:
Let's say that we are in a race. There is a starting line and a finish line. At the finish line, you are expected to have crossed 200 meters upon your own power, i.e. no cutting corners or piggy-backing off someone else. However, the way you get there is completely up to you. You can bike, run, skate, etc..
It is the same with Common Core. You have a starting line and a finish line. At the finish line, you are expected to know such and such in math and English arts upon your own power, i.e. no cheating on tests, copying answers. However, the way you learn what you're expected to know is completely up to you. You can take 2 classes at school and 5 at a college, all at school, take as many electives you want, etc..
Does this make sense?
Obseravation 3: Plan/advantages
None provided by Pro. Remember, you can't just say that CCSSI needs reform. You need to show specificaly what and how CCSSI needs to be reformed.
That being said, I will put a rough set of ideas for improvement at the bottom of my argument.
With THAT out of the way, here are my counterarguments:
The problem regarding CCSSI lack of attention regarding the arts
If schools" funding was not determined by the CCSSI tests, then I would be completely fine with most elements of the tests. But one of the biggest problems I have with the system, as I thought I made clear, was that it based schools" funding off of their math and reading scores, while disregarding the achievements that students might have made in other subjects. As such, schools would be forced to take attention away from their arts programs.
Again, the problem lies in the very purpose of CCSSI. While CCSSI is designed to determine math and reading standards, it also determines the funding that schools get from the scores of their students on these standards. As such, it unfairly benefits schools that emphasize reading and math skills, and disadvantage schools focused more on the arts.
Tests are designed poorly and subject to mechanical difficulties
While I admit that the MTQ (multiple choice question) approach allows for fast grading, it also reduces the educational value of each student to a number on a page. The problem with multiple choice tests is that they do not allow students to freely express their creativity, writing style, and application of their reading and writing skills in a more realistic setting. The test allows judgement of the student"s skills regarding the formation of an argument. I was asked by my opponent whether the SAT, ACT, or other Collegeboard tests are sufficiently qualified to test students entering college. My answer is yes. Those tests have free response sections, where students" creativity, intelligence, and writing style can be given sufficient judgement. Also, unlike the majority of students entering high school, colleges look at much, much more than students" test scores and grades. Students entering college submit an entire resume of activities and achievements on top of their basic GPAs, A.P. scores (at least the scores they want to submit), and their SAT/ACT scores. The SAT and ACT tests are only PART of what determines a student"s eligibility for a certain college. If these tests were all that affected students" college acceptance, then I would consider them problematic. But they are not, and hopefully never will be. My opponent cannot consider college applications to be even marginally similar to testing into high schools.
Tests incorporate useless questions into them
I agree that, were the questions for students of a higher grade level, the material would be acceptable for tests. But that exam was given to first graders, and the questions were pretty nonsensical.
The first problem on the test shows five coins and a cup with the number 6 written on it, and then asks for a mathematical expression of what is being shown. If I was a first grader, I would have had no idea whatsoever what was meant by the question. What do five coins have to do with a cup labeled "6?" Most students would have come to the conclusion that the problem was" nonsensical.
I understand that the cup was supposed to represent the container into which the coins were being put, and that the number 6 represented the maximum number of coins that could fit in the cup. But no first grader is going to understand this without directions. Expecting elementary school students to understand what this question means without guidance is ridiculous.
Negative Influence on Curriculums
According to Con, the CCSSI system does not influence teachers" curriculums. This is false.
Teachers" salaries and ratings are heavily impacted by the test scores of their students. The tests are, at least somewhat, unorthodox. Common sense would indicate that, in order to keep their paychecks secure, teachers will modify their curriculums to focus on preparing for common core material. Testing material is generally what teachers base their curriculums around -- I"m sure that any A.P. student can attest to this -- and, frankly, I would rather that teachers in grades k-8 form curriculums based on more meaningful tests that let students express creativity, writing skills, and argument structure.
Both David Coleman, the main designer of the Common Core system, and Bill Gates, who helped fund the system agreed that the CCSSI tests would heavily impact teachers" curriculums. According to Coleman, teachers will "teach toward the test." If the tests are badly written, then, logically, teachers" curriculums will undergo negative changes.
Now that I have responded to Con"s arguments, I will introduce some new ones.
One of the main reasons for adopting the Common Core standards is the improved preparation it will supposedly give students for careers in STEM. The CCSSI system clearly does not improve students" STEM skills. In fact, James Milgram, one of the only actual math analysts on the Common Core validation committee. Understanding that CCSSI math standards were completely inadequate and under researched, he asked that the standards be changed. The power of his committee to demand revisions was promptly taken away, and the math standards continued. In his own words, " there are a number of extremely serious failings in Core Standards that make it premature for any state with serious hopes for improving the quality of the mathematical education of their children to adopt them." Again, James Milgram is, most likely, the most skilled mathematics analyst in the CCSSI program. He is a math professor at Stanford, and has had experience in NASA. Clearly, there are serious problems with CCSSI"s math standards.
The CCSSI system also vastly increases the number of standardized tests that students take. As I stated before, a student"s learning cannot be represented as a number on a test -- especially not when that number is open to statistical manipulative across the states. According to an article in the New York Times, states are consistently manipulating the test scores required to pass. While the Common Core was supposed to address "inconsistency in educational standards," it clearly has not come close to solving this issue.
Frankly, very few people are even marginally satisfied with the Common Core system. Only 27 percent of teachers feel confident about the CCSSI system, and about 60 percent of Americans oppose the Common Core standards. A large percentage of teachers are thinking about quitting because of the increased rates of testing. While I acknowledge that the public disapproval may be in part because of misinformation, the data is still pretty conclusive.
There are many improvements that could be made to the Common Core. First off, its power could be decreased -- specifically the amount of clout that CCSSI test scores have in determining the funding that schools and teachers get. I would also expand the test to include an essay section, if not more than one. These essay sections would be focused on building arguments and strengthening them with evidence and reasoning. I would assemble a team of qualified mathematicians across the nation to rewrite the math tests. Finally, I would set universal standards for test grading in order to avoid educational inconsistencies in our states.
In the comments, this is the resolution stipulated to by both Pro and Con:
"Resolved: The Common Core State Standards Initiative should be reformed significantly."
Changing it to
"Does the Common Core system needs to be reformed?"
is unfair to me. These two resolutions are vastly different. Pro's failure to bring up this new resolution in round 2 is grounds for conduct violation. In my round 2 argument, I am arguing against the resolution stipulated to by both sides in the comments, not the new one mentioned in round 3 by Pro. Changing it in round 3 is also unfair and is, once again, grounds for conduct violation.
With that, I'll refute Con's harms.
1) CCSSI does not pay attention to the arts.
The purpose of CCSSI, to remind Pro, is to "set nation-wide standards for reading and mathematics levels (1)." Note, CCSSI's purpose is not for setting nation-wide standards for completely subjective subjects such as the ones mentioned by Pro (art, music, etc.). Reading and mathematics are measurable. A person can't be right and wrong to two different people when he states that 5+5=10. But on the other hand, it would unfair to deny funding to a school who's music or art program didn't impress a representative from CCSSI.
The fact comes down to this: it is unfair for a subjective subject to be used to determine a school's funding. Unless, of course, Pro disagrees, and states that funding ought to be completely subjective.
2) Tests are poorly designed and are subject to mechanical failure.
CCSSI tests don't "reduce [a student's] educational value," it gives them a grade. It states how many questions they got correct. How is this demeaning of students?
So you acknowledge that standardized tests are effective ways of determining one's knowledge in a certain subject. You're objection (if I have it correctly) is not that they are subject to mechanical failure. You completely dropped that argument. No, your objection is that there aren't enough free-response sections on the CCSSI tests, right?
Tell me, what "free-response" sections would be necessary to test mathematics and English? That is CCSSI's purpose, so let's keep it limited to that.
3) Tests incorporate useless questions into them.
So what you are saying is that the CCSSI tests are too difficult? It is too challenging to prepare for? Let's actually look at the problems again and see if we can and should expect a rising 2nd grader to be able to solve the problems.
The first problem gives a part: 5 coins. Then, it shows how many coins altogether are in the cup (labeled whole): 6. The student is asked to find how many coin(s) are still in the cup. In other words, the child is asked
What is 6-5 (2)?
Most students would have come to the conclusion that the problem had an answer, and that it was 1. A rising 2nd grader would be expected to know subtraction, at least rudimentary problems about it. How is this "non-sensical" or "ridiculous?"
Also, my opponent states that expecting elementary school students to understand what this question means without guidance is ridiculous. He is absolutely right. It would be completely unfair to not allow teachers to teach the students how to subtract parts from wholes before the test. But this is the point of CCSSI! The teachers prepare the student by teaching them until they know the standards provided for their grade. There aren't "surprise" questions about, say, algebraic notation. No, the teacher knows exactly what the children will need to know in order to pass the test (subtraction, addition, word problems, etc.).
If Pro thinks that there are any more "ridiculous" and "non-sensical" questions from the test in question, he may bring it up next round.
4) Negative influence on curriculum
I never stated that CCSSI does not influence teacher's curriculum. I stated, actually, that it did.
"That’s because the Common Core State Standards are just that — standards and not a prescribed curriculum. They may tell educators what students should be able to do by the end of a grade or course, but it’s up to the educators to figure out how to deliver the instruction (3)."
It influences the curriculum by telling a teacher to make sure that his students know such and such in math and such and such in English. However, CCSSI does not give the teacher a curriculum, or force the way of teaching. That leaves the teacher in complete control of his own curriculum, making sure that it meets the standards presented by CCSSI. I would ask Pro how this is negatively impactful on teaching.
You also bring up how testing should rely on subjective subjects, and therefore, funding should too. How is this a good idea? To have a teachers funding be determined on whether or not a student is "creative enough" or "has enough writing skills?" What would be the standard of measurement for grading? How would it even be graded?
We are talking about a standard, universal testing system. In order to be fair, that test would need to be both
a) the same for everyone, and
b) clear cut.
When I say "clear cut," I mean that 200 graders should all come to the same verdict on whether or not a problem is correct or false. With mathematics and English, both of the prerequisites are fufiled. A machine can grade (making it impartial and standard), and 200 machines would all come to the same conclusion that 2+2=5, or that the word "and" is a conjunction.
But with subjective subjects such as music, art, or argument structure? These do not fulfil either of the prerequisites. The score is completely dependent upon whether or not the grader is impressed enough, making the standards subjective. Also, it is not clear cut, as 200 graders would probably not all agree whether or not a student's answer to "compose a measure of music" is sufficient for his/her grade level. These subjective subjects should definitely cannot and should not be universally tested, let alone determine a school's funding.
5) CCSSI does not give improved preparation to carriers in STEM.
Quite the opposite. CCSSI and STEM are a perfect fit. They can make the students a) college ready, and b) integrate STEM research into their curriculum. "One reason STEM non fiction is an excellent fit for meeting the Common Core English Language Arts requirements is that those requirements are based on comprehension, not merely recitation. Combine the facts learned when reading non fiction books on STEM topics with experiments and activities fueled by those facts—e.g., students read about condensation, then do a condensation lab—and students are sure to more completely comprehend what they have read, as they have seen it in action (4)."
This is what I have been talking about. CCSSI doesn't force your curriculum. You can have a curriculum specifically in STEM research and still meet all the requirements and standards.
6) CCSSI increases the number of standardized tests that students take.
Note: a standard test's job is not to test "knowledge." However, a student's proficiency in a certain subject can be evaluated by a standard test, and then compare it to other scores. That is the point of a standardized test.
How is this a negative?
7) Teachers and parents are not confident about CCSSI.
Quite the opposite. This is due to assumption, rather than negative experiences. Your own source confirms this: "But [the teachers that have implemented CCSSI] are more likely than public school teachers overall to say they feel confident about the initiative and are somewhat more likely to feel hopeful and enthusiastic about it (5)."
Your source also states that you are sadly mistaken when it comes to a large disparity between supporters and reformers: " 41% of all public school teachers view the program positively and 44% negatively (5)." Also, a poll done by AFT (The American Federation of Teachers) finds that an astounding 3/4ths of teachers support CCSSI (6)!
I think Pro was confused by me stating that he must give a plan to support his resolution. To be clear, the reason why Pro must give a plan that has significant advantages is because if there is no better program we could implement, Con can make the argument that we ought to keep it this way because there is no better solution.
That in mind, Pro's plan is to
a) decrease its power in determining state funding,
b) Add a essay portion to the test, and
c) Set universal standards for grading these tests.
Points b and c are contradictory. How good of a writer a student is cannot be assigned a universal standard for grading. One grader may give it 10 points, the other 15, another may give it all the points. Adding a subjective portion to the test opens it up to interpretation by the grader, making it impossible to "set universal standards for grading these tests."
To your point a, I'd assume you are talking about federal funding. In this case, I respond that federal funding only accounts for about 9% of school funds (7). If you are meaning different funding types, please specify.
In the end, Pro has failed to prove that CCSSI is in need of significant reform, thereby failing to meet his burden of proof as Pro.
With that being said, I will respond to my opponent"s arguments, identify some questions I would like him to respond to, and end with my closing argument.
CCSSI does not pay attention to the arts
My opponent has argued that subjective subjects cannot be universally tested (at least not fairly). Why, then, do we have A.P. tests for composition, historical subjects, and even a drawing exam for A.P. Art. Almost all of these exams have structured essays, and some of them have short response questions that are virtually unconstructed. The A.P. Art exam, in fact, is composed of a portfolio of artwork that students submit by the end of the year. Are these exams unfair?
Virtually every competent test for either college acceptance or Advanced Placement classes (excluding some of the math ones) have parts that are quite subjective. I agree that subjectivity allows room for unfair variation in test scores, but it is much more unfair to students to not incorporate essay sections and ignore students" writing skills.
I don"t think that testing should determine a school"s funding. Many schools have different styles of teaching, and have different educational goals for their students. As I stated before, students" reading and math scores, regardless of how accurate they are, should not determine a school"s funding. Making a universal system that only values schools specializing in math and reading forces the rest of the schools to take focus away from their other programs.
Tests are poorly designed and subject to mechanical problems
I have no problem with giving students a grade. I have a problem with the material given on the tests and the tests" structure. A statement of "how many questions they got correct" is often intrinsically problematic. Many educationally relevant questions do not purely have a right answer. The point of an essay section in an A.P. test (or, in the math tests, a written response section to a set of problems) is to allow students to express their answers to a controversial question that requires more than a single filled-in answer on a page. As it stands, there are very few (on most tests, no) essay sections.
The tests are subject to mechanical failure. I haven"t dropped that argument. Tests reliant on computers (like the PARCC test) are problematic. Not every school in the U.S. is wealthy enough to have updated computers. I understand that the vast majority of schools are, but not all of them. A universal standard needs to be able to apply to every school. Otherwise, it"s not universal.
For mathematics, the free-response questions are not really needed. Geometrical proofs for problems would be nice, though.
For reading, I would set free-response questions graded based on argumentative structure, usage of evidence, a valid conclusion, and smooth transitions between paragraphs. The questions would be responses to several prompts. So as not to restrict the student, he/she would be allowed to pick from several prompts per question.
Tests incorporate useless questions into them
I"m saying that the CCSSI tests are unnecessarily difficult. There is no reason to make problems that needlessly complicated without giving a proper explanation for the problem.
Negative influence on curriculum
Technically, my opponent is right. A teacher, regardless of whether CCSSI is present, is still in control of his/her curriculum.
However, when teachers" salaries are determined by their students" test scores, they will teach to the test. They will angle most of their class time toward teaching their students how to take standardized tests, rather than teaching their students actual math and reading skills. When the Common Core standards deviate enough from the normal, prior curriculum, time is taken from actual core learning.
CCSSI does not give improved preparation for STEM subjects
My opponent seems to believe that "CCSSI and STEM are a perfect fit." If he truly believes this, I would ask him to respond to the testimony of James Milgram. As I explained last round, James Milgram was one of the mathematicians on the validation committee, and, without a doubt, the most qualified. He realized the faults in CCSSI"s mathematics program, and spoke out about them.
My sources for this can be found in my prior arguments.
As my opponent stated, the Common Core Standards do influence teachers" curriculums. If the Standards have problems, then it would stand to reason that teachers" classes and the students" learning would suffer.
CCSSI increases the number of standardized tests that students take
Isn"t the job of a standardized test to, essentially, test "knowledge" of a certain subject? It would seem so. In the very definition of an "achievement test" is the notion that it tests " the knowledge and skills students learned in school."
Excess standardized testing is bad for several reasons. It takes time away from teaching (both in terms of preparating for and administering the test), it costs money, and, most importantly, it acts as an unnecessary stressor for students.
Teachers and parents are not confident about CCSSI
My opponent"s report is from 2013. Then, 3/4s of teachers DID support the Common Core. Now, the approval rating among teachers has dropped to about 40%. Surely, if Common Core has been implemented in more classrooms since then -- and the majority of teachers who actually teach the material support the system -- then the approval rating would go up, not down.
Questions for my opponent:
My opponent believes that tests with any subjective parts are unfair. Does my opponent believe that A.P. tests, SAT tests, and ACT tests are also unfair? They all have essay sections (excluding a couple of the A.P. tests), and those are very open to interpretation.
Does my opponent still believe, despite the rapid drop in teacher approval ratings, that the Common Core is generally accepted as a benefit by teachers? Why?
Does my opponent believe that James Milgram"s opinion on the Common Core"s application in STEM fields is incorrect? Why?
Would my opponent rather that every k-12 test be completely fact-based and not at all open to interpretation?
The CCSSI system needs reform. It puts too much on multiple-choice tests in reading and mathematics, and is flawed in its purpose. It should not be used to determine schools" funding. Its standards are severely flawed, and it negatively affects teachers" curriculums.
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