Monitor Board of Contributors: A background in communications is helpful in deciphering the anti-Smarter Balanced message

Last modified: 4/29/2015 12:32:30 AM
Common Core and Smarter Balanced testing are going to make my head explode.

Changing curriculum is always hard. Parents don’t want to appear stupid in front of their children, but different does not equal wrong. Just because the new way students are being taught math or reading doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t make it bad. It does, however, make it more challenging to help with homework.

I’ve spent some time researching both Common Core and the associated Smarter Balanced tests. In my opinion, the New Hampshire Department of Education has done a good job putting out facts and explanations supporting its position. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions, but at least I can read the information, process it and form an opinion based on what I read.

I’ve found it really hard to find the same type of information from those opposing Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests. Most of what I’ve found is anti-education prose and video blurbs ranting about the government and mind control. Other pieces I’ve read are playing to the herd mentality: “Hundreds of thousands of students have opted out of Common Core.” That sounds like a lot, but when you consider millions did not opt out, it’s not such a big number.

I was a communications major in college. I took courses in rhetoric, public relations, marketing and advertising. We learned to interpret messaging so we could in turn create more effective messages. To interpret messaging, you must ask yourself these questions: What is the message? What information is the message conveying? How does the message align or not with your own knowledge and experiences? What point of view does the message want you to adopt? What is the source? Who is paying for, producing or sponsoring the message? What is their agenda?

Having an agenda is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a media consumer, knowing a group’s agenda can help you interpret their message.

These mental exercises are ingrained in me. I do them automatically whenever I encounter information sources. We are bombarded with information from print, radio, television and social media. It’s like a fire hose and that makes it hard to sort through it all to form an educated opinion. Kind of like election season, but I digress.

Thus far, most of the materials I’ve encountered that oppose Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests either come from random, uncited sources or from groups with whom I do not share common values.

I allowed my son to take the tests. We had a long conversation about them. We talked about how he was to do his best, but that I didn’t put a lot of value in the results. We talked about how standardized tests are just another tool in a teacher’s toolbox. As an adult, I recognize that the long-term plan is for these tests to be higher stakes, but I’m optimistic common sense will override and teachers and students will be evaluated on multiple data points.

Part of the reason I let him take the test is that testing is something we encounter all our lives, and many careers use standardized tests as a path to advancement. Nurses, financial planners, electricians, auto mechanics and even event planners take standardized tests for certification purposes. Funny how I don’t see a kerfuffle about the Auto Service Excellence exams, but car dealers and repair shops use the certification as a marketing tool all the time.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of faith in any standardized test as the sole determination for how well-educated a child is. I had an average score on the SATs. My mother begged me to retake them. For me, that test was nothing short of torture. I refused. I reasoned that any college that based its admission policies primarily on a test score was not a place where I would succeed anyway. I was accepted to all the schools I applied to. I chose to attend Boston College.

Are Common Core and Smarter Balanced perfect? Far from it. Are they an improvement? From what I’m reading, I think so. This is the first year and essentially a practice run. I’ll be curious to see my son’s results. I’m also curious to see how some of the complaints about this year’s tests are addressed.

Will my kids continue to take the test? For the foreseeable future, they will. But I reserve the right to change my mind if somewhere along the way, I encounter a sound, well-supported, non-ranty argument convincing me otherwise.

(Lee Laughlin of Loudon is a freelance writer, social media marketer, wife and mother of two.)

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