The Reid Report   |  April 07, 2014

Standardized testing causes controversy

As President Obama announced the winners of his Youth Career Connect competition, opposition to the educational system titled, “common core,” which standardizes what students should know at each grade level, grows.  NBC’s Rehema Ellis and Jeannette Deutermann join Joy Reid to discuss the controversy surrounding standardized tests.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> maryland this morning to announce the winners of the youth career connect competition. it was created by executive action , and it provides more than $100 million in grants for education opportunities, job training, and academic counseling. it's all part of the president's plan to get high school graduates ready to compete in a high-tech economy.

>> we don't do it by just resting on what we've done before. we got to outwork and out ino vat and out hustle everybody else.

>> it's another classroom curriculum that's drawing backlash across the country. it's bringing together an unlikely coalition of conservatives, parents, unions, and teachers in the fight. adopted by the national government association, common core sets a uniform curriculum for grades k through 12 by creating standards for what kids should know and be able to do at each grade level . since 2010 45 states and the district of columbia have adopted common core , but last month indiana became the first state to repeal the testing standards. oklahoma and more than a dozen other states are considering similar legislation to overhaul or to halt the implementation of the program. the legislative rebukes come as millions of students across the country began taking common core for the first time last week. in new york parents held protests, and at one brooklyn school alone an estimated 80% of the 300 test-age students opted out. opposition to common core has managed right both sides of the political aisle. on the left teachers unions and democratic lawmakers question the cost of implementation on school districts . on the right tea party conservatives argue the standards exert too much federal influence in the classroom. even as establishment republicans, like former florida governor jeb bush , voiced their support.

>> people don't recognize that dumb down standards are going to achieve -- yield the same result that we've had, then we're really missing the chance to move forward as a country, so i'm totally committed to this.

>>> rahima ellis is -- and janet duderman is for the allies of public education . she's also the parent of two school-aged children. i want to start with you because this is something i think gets in my own head. can you explain the difference between no child left behind , race to the top , and common core ? what is the difference?

>> first of all, no child left behind was signed as a legislative act by george bush with strong bipartisan support in 2002 . that said essentially what it does say. leave no child behind when you start assessing how a school is doing in this country because some schools were saying they were doing very great, but they would leave out the numbers of poor minority students and particularly special ed students. nclb said you cannot do that, and it said by 2014 every single student in america must be proficient in reading and math. that's a very tall order to be 100% efficient or you're at risk of being considered a failure and your school could be shut down. many people saw it as now you are saying federal mandate that said it was not fully federally funded. people felt they were pushing, pushing, pushing students, and training them just to prepare them for the test. a lot of opposition to it. one thing many people said they thought was good about it is that it forced all schools to look at all of their students as they evaluate it. well, because there was a lot of op sfwligs to it, some people thought it was even something that pushed people into cheating in order to reach those mandates. along comes race to the top under president obama . $4.5 billion that was basically a carrot, if you will, encouraging states to up their standards because many people are saying the standards weren't being improved. well, that's race to the top money. race to the top money many people now said was being used to help many states decide to accept common core . common core is a set of standards adopted as you pointed out by 45 states, and why did they do that? because of all of these initiatives. let's share some figures for you. in the latest national assessment of educational progress done by the federal government , in 2012 only 34% of eighth graders in this country were proficient in reading. 35% were proficient in math. only 32% of our students were proficient in science. the governors, the president, legislators looked around and said we cannot compete on a global basis with those kind of numbers, and we have to do something. common core was an attempt to say we will set a common standard. not a common curriculum, but a common standard of excellence for students all across the country, and that an a in massachusetts will equal an a in kentucky. before common core , it did not mean the same across the country or within states.

>> okay. so with all of that now explained, what could be wrong with the idea of making sure that an a is an a is an a across the country?

>> because you have different students that perform dirchly. you have a whole -- we're not testing and we're not teaching to the exact same demographic across the entire country. then to teach them the same, to have the exact same standards that they have to meet at the exact same time, it does leave -- it does exactly the opposite of what they were saying.

>> do you feel that the goal is worthyng is they want to make sure that across the country you don't have students in oklahoma with one set of skills and students in mississippi with another set of skills and the two being so disparate. do you agree with the overall idea of doing that?

>> yeah. you know, we've always said that in theory common core , you know, it works in theory, but that's the problem. that's all we have is the theory that's working. the actual implementation across the country is not working. the teachers don't like it. the patients don't like it. the students are not succeeding with it. they don't -- when teachers don't feel that this is something that is good for their classrooms, how can it succeed?

>> rahema, what i want to ask you is between the three programs, the core does seem to be standardized testing . am i wrong about that? is common core utilizing standardized tests to assess whether an a is an a?

>> they will test the sty will do is under common core , unlike the other tests, students will no longer simply be asked to fill in the bubble. is "charlotte's web" is charlotte a spider? students will now be asked to say what kind of spider is charlotte? explain is she a good spider, and how do you know? refer to something within the story of charlotte's web that tells you that she's a good spider. so, yes, standardized testing is at the core of that, and that is what many people are concerned about. some people also say even though the teachers union, american federation of teachers , even the united federation of teachers here for new york city , which has the largest population of students in the country, a million students, they say they're not against common core , but they think that it is -- it has not been tested. we're rolling out something that we have not had a chance to fully evaluate its effectiveness and it may be happening too fast. they've called for a moratorium of up to three years, i believe. the american federation of teachers says delay the implementation of this for at least two years. again, many of them saying it's a clumsy roll-out of this because even at my son's school, the principal informed us last year he was going to be tested on the common core , and he said let me prepare you. we haven't trained him. he hasn't been taught any of the material in common core , so guess how the scores turned out. really bad.

>> we have to go, but do you look for it to be repealed or just reformed?

>> reform. we need everything to be re-evaluated. it's insane to have a set of standards that the teachers aren't allowed re-evaluate and look at. we've never had standards that are just set in stone and that's it. this is the way it is. we need to take a look at it and see what's wrong with it.

>> a debate that will surely continue. rahema ellis, thank you so much, nbc news education correspondent. invaluable today, and, of course, janet duderman, mom and activist, politician. thank you for being here.