Dip in National Math Scores SHOULD Be Expected

I have been seeing quite a few articles recently regarding the “unexpected” low performance of students on recent standardized tests, such as the Nation Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the new Common Core Consortium Tests from PARCC and SBAL. There are the fear-invoking headlines such as “Nationonwide Test Shows Dip In Students’ Math Abilities” or “First Release of PARCC Scores Shows Fewer Students Make the Grade”. What I find ridiculous, in light of the fact that: a)  a majority of states have not fully implemented or have just fully implemented, the Common Core State Standards or a hybrid version of these standards in conjunction with individual state standards and b) the PARCC and SBAL assessments are NEW, is that people are surprised at these results.  Really?

Any time there is change, there is going to be EXPECTED setbacks.  That is the nature of change. As quoted in the New York Times article: “It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to first see a slight decline before you see improvement”. From those setbacks, you learn and improve. Testing results after new standards are implemented are expected to fall – it’s called the implementation dip. Michael Fullen, Author of “Leading in a Culture of Change” (2001) defines the implementation dip as “the inevitble bumpiness and difficulties encountered as people learn new behaviors and beliefs”. In this case, as schools, teachers, and students learn new standards, new instructional strategies, new resources and new expectations. It is expected, amidst all these new changes/expectations, that test scores, set to measure student proficiency, will be lower because teachers & students are in the midst of change. They are experiencing awkwardness with these new skills/standards, are confused, overwhelmed and cautious. And the tests themselves are new or may not be testing skills that students, with new standards, have learned yet. Only after everyone has more time to work with these standards, will these expected dips in student proficiency change.

Here’s the rub for me: because no one is allowing for the expected dip in scores, there is this immediate call for dropping the standards, and changing to new standards and new policies. (Hello election 2016!!) Guess what – if you change to something new, then the dip in scores will continue, if not worsen, because we NEVER allow for implementation to finish, rather we start the change process all over again. We want immediate results in a time-frame that is unrealistic.

Time, persistence, learning from the data and addressing areas of concern, and allowing progress to happen at the slower pace it needs rather than the unrealistic pace we expect now is what we need to be doing and allowing. Not shouting doomsday headlines and bleak outlooks. Quoting Randi Weindgarten (from the Times article again), who linked the drop in test scores to recent educational policies as well as the economic downturn and it’s aftermath: “…they should give pause to anyone who still wishes to double down on austerity and make competition, scapegoating teachers, closing rather than fixing schools, driving fear, and testing and sanctioning the dominant education strategies”.

Let us teach, let us implement the standards, let us have time and change will happen, and scores will improve.