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Common Core Testing for Dogs and Cats

Published in ChicagoNow, November 17, 2014

I’m not making this up. In the print version of Scientifics Direct, a very nice catalog of science-related activities for kids, it describes kits for creating interactive pet toys as being “like common core testing.” Among the things these kits claim they can do is teaching obedience commands and training both dogs and cats to be smarter. Wait a minute…it is like Common Core testing.

In the print version, there is an accompanying photo of a cat in glasses and a dog reading a book. Having owned both dogs and cats, I can imagine getting a dog to lie down in front of a book. But putting glasses on a cat? I have to question how they did that, even with a Common Core approach.

The more I think about it, maybe this is a helpful way to view the testing that accompanies the Common Core Standards. In Illinois, our kids will have the honor of joining 8 other states that are subjecting children as young as eight to hours and hours of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests this spring. I guess getting through that calls for lots of training and many commands to obey.

Some kids will approach this like dogs. They will be loyal, eager to please, and quick to learn commands. This will be especially true if they are positively reinforced with treats. Throw them a few smiley stickers, certificates, and stars and they will sit until you release them and calmly heel wherever you decide to walk. These kids will succeed under the current educational climate, but then again, these are the kids who always succeed.

What about the kids who are more like cats? As any cat lover knows, they are smart, independent creatures who are unresponsive to performing tricks, no matter what the treat. They will come when they feel like it rather than when you call them. They may or may not eat what you give them. They may sit on your lap purring one minute and tear around your house wildly the next. Remember how curiosity killed the cat? Their adventurous side can get them into lots of trouble.

There are tons of kids who have more cat-like personalities. How will you get these free thinkers, curious explorers, and daydreamers to focus on over 10 hours of testing? If they are not people pleasers, you can use all of the “carrot and stick” tricks in your arsenal and they probably won’t care. So while these cat-like kids are just as smart as their dog-like peers, they are unlikely to buy into the Race to the Top (RTTT). They will race if and when they feel like it.

But things get even trickier if you consider the differences between all of the types of dogs and cats. Would you train a high-strung terrier the same way as a placid Labrador retriever? Would you expect a timid, “hide-under-the bed” cat to respond the same way as an overly affectionate lap cat? Probably not, but there is an underlying one-size-fits-all aspect to how we are implementing Common Core standards and to the standardized testing that accompanies them. Despite the fact that all kids in Illinois are expected to take PARCC this spring, Accommodations for English language learners and special education students are not yet in place. And there is no solution to the computer-based requirements for taking the test, which definitely favor the kids with lots of technology in their homes.

To receive RTTT funds, Illinois joined with 25 states and agreed to give the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. The number of states still planning to have students take PARCC has dwindled to 13. Of that 13, only 8 plan to use all of the PARCC for all elementary and high schools. You might wonder what the carrot is for going along with this test. Well, Illinois did receive $42.8 million in RTTP funds. But here’s the catch: that doesn’t come close to covering the cost of administering this test.

It’s like the State of Illinois bought the dog and cat training kits and now is determined to use them, even though they won’t work on the cats for sure. They may not even train most of the dogs. At least when you buy a toy, you can return it if it doesn’t seem like it will work as advertised. Right now, the only way to return the gift of the PARCC is to opt your child out of taking it.


by Laurie Levy
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