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PBS, NPR Take Year-End Looks at Education

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Both the "PBS Newshour" and NPR have aired year-end reports on education, with each concentrating on the state of school testing and the Common Core State Standards.

The "Newshour" on Dec. 24 held an on-air discussion among three education journalists: its special correspondent on education John Merrow; NPR education reporter Claudio Sanchez; and journalist Amanda Ripley, the author of the book The Smartest Kids in the Room.

Moderator Jeffrey Brown noted that 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common core standards in reading and mathematics, but said "there is still plenty of pushback as well, ranging from anger over the role of the federal government to worries about our tests set to begin more widely next year."

Sanchez noted that most Americans, some 60 percent to 70 percent in surveys, are "kind of in the dark" about what the common core is. Merrow said the pushback coming from some states centers on the fact that "we already test a lot."

"We test more than anybody, but we use cheap tests," Merrow added. "A state will spend somewhere between $9 and $25 per kid on tests. These common core tests are going to cost $30 or more. They're better, more complicated tests. But states are saying, well, we don't want these."

Ripley said that "testing fatigue is so intense, among kids especially."

Students believe their time is being wasted because they spend so many days taking "dumb tests" in so many states, she said.

"I fear that the Common Core, which is a very legitimate effort to try to raise the standards ... so the work is more interesting and more relevant to their lives, [is] being conflated with the larger sort of fatigue with testing."

It's an interesting segment of 11 or 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, the testing theme continued in a segment a couple of days later, during the Dec. 26 "Morning Edition" show on NPR.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the director of the Center for Opportunity in Education at Stanford University, said the question for 2014 and beyond is: "Will we move from a test-and-punish philosophy—which was the framework for No Child Left Behind—to an assess-and-improve philosophy? Will we move from the old multiple-choice tests to more open-ended assessments that allow kids to explain their thinking and evaluate and investigate and research and demonstrate their learning?"

"The Common Core could be a pathway to a more meaningful curriculum, and more than 40 states have adopted the common core standards, which do aim to create a deeper approach to learning, where kids are taking up critical thinking and problem solving," Darling-Hammond told interviewer Steve Inskeep. "The question will be whether we change our policies around the nature of testing, the amount of testing, and the uses of testing that accompany these new standards."

The new year is sure to bring further debate on the Common Core and on testing.

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