Archives for category: Common Core

It is important to remember a few key facts about the Opt Out Movement.

Number one: It was created and is led by parents, not by teachers or unions. In New York, where 20% of the students refused the mandated tests, the leader of the state’s teachers’ union did not endorse opt out until a few days before the testing started. The organizations promoting the opt out were grassroots, unfunded, and parent-led.

Number two: The opt out movement did not arise in opposition to the publication or implementation of the Common Core standards. It was only when parents received the results of the first round of Common Core testing that they got angry and got organized to fight the tests. Recall that 70% of the students in the state “failed” the first round of testing. Parents in districts where almost all the children graduate from high school, and where most are admitted to four-year colleges were told to their astonishment that their children were “failing.” The parent rebellion started, and State Commissioner John King could not quell it. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan referred to the protestors as “white suburban moms” who all of a sudden discovered that their child was not as “brilliant” as they thought. What an insult!

Number three: In three administrations of the Common Core tests, a majority of students has continued to “fail.”

*In English language arts 2015, only 31.3% of students reached the “proficiency” level across the state.

*Among black and Hispanic students, the “pass” rate was less than 20%.

*Students in New York City almost matched the statewide average, but in the state’s five big cities, only 11% “passed.”

*Among English language learners, only 3.9% “passed” the ELA test. Appalling!

*Among students with disabilities, only 5.7% “passed.” Appalling!

*Achievement gaps between racial groups were unchanged over three years of testing and quite large.

The math scores were better than the ELA scores, but still only 38.1 “passed,” and nearly 62% “failed.” The corresponding scores for black and Hispanic students, English language learners and students with disabilities were far lower. Read the report.

Why are most students failing the Common Core tests in New York? In the past, a majority passed. Did the students get dumber? No. The developers of the Common Core tests decided to use a “cut score” or “passing mark” that was set beyond the capability of the students in each grade. They chose to align the passing mark with the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s achievement levels. (See here and here.)

That decision was made two years ago. At that time, Catherine Gewertz of Education Week wrote:

The two common-assessment consortia are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.

“After all, fewer than four in 10 children reached the “proficient” level on the 2013 NAEP in reading and math.

The NAEP “proficiency” level is not a pass-fail mark. It is not a “grade-level” mark. It is a level that represents solid academic achievement. I was on the National Assessment Governing Board for seven years, and I assure you that “proficient” represented work that I would consider to be an A or A- (the highest level, “advanced” is like A+).

Please note that in no state other than Massachusetts has as much as 50% of students reached “proficient.” In no state has 60% reached the “proficient” level, and state scores have been calculated since 1992.

Thus, the developers of the Common Core tests chose a passing mark that they knew in advance would fail most students and that would lead to even higher failure rates among black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners. Based on NAEP, there is no evidence that harder tests and higher bars lead to smaller achievement gaps.

They set the bar so high that the tests are designed to fail most students. Do students feel motivated to work harder if they fail every year?

Parents figured this out, and they didn’t see why the state had adopted tests that most children were certain to fail.

And that is why there is an Opt Out movement. Parents do not want to participate in a system that is rigged against their children. They don’t want to be part of a system where their children’s test scores determine their teachers’ reputation, livelihood, and future. They want to bring that system crashing down and restore common sense to education.

Nicholas Tampio seeks to understand why the Democratic Party abandoned public education.

Some part of the explanation, he believe, can be found in the leadership’s limited personal engagement with public schools.

“The key to understanding Obama’s education policy, according to Maranto and McShane, is his biography. Obama attended the prestigious Punahou School in Hawaii, an experience that prepared him for college and law school. Obama also observed from a distance a Hawaiian public school system rife with ethnic violence, low academic standards and an unresponsive bureaucracy. These experiences influenced Obama’s decision to send his daughters to Sidwell Friends, the elite Washington, D.C. institution whose alumni include the younger Albert Gore and Chelsea Clinton.

“As president, Obama has advocated reforms to the public education system that include upping merit pay, weakening tenure rules and evaluating teachers by student test scores. Obama’s most controversial education policy, however, was the Race to the Top program that gave states additional incentives to adopt the Common Core standards.”

“There is nothing wrong with private school. The problem here, though, is that too many Democratic elites advocate education reforms such as the Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing with minimal first-hand knowledge of how they affect schools or children. In sending their children to private schools, Democratic elites exempt themselves from policies that they might oppose if they saw their own children being harmed by them.”

New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia plans an informational campaign for parents with a toolkit to explain why assessment is valuable and necessary.

““As you get more people involved in the process, you have more people understanding what’s going on and why you have assessments,” she said. “There are a lot of people that don’t know what the Common Core is.”

“Educators are hoping that the toolkit includes further guidelines, including what is and what is not ethical for teachers or school administrators to say publicly about the exams, an issue that has become controversial across the state.”

Elia recently told a meeting of the Gates-funded group “Educators for Excellence” that opting out was “unreasonable” and that educators who encourage it are “unethical.”

Leaders of the opt out movement reject the claim that they are uninformed.

“Some parents, like Jessica McNair [who is also a teacher], say they already are informed about Common Core and the opt-out movement should not be dismissed as a lack of information.

“I think she has a lot to learn about the parents in New York State,” McNair said. “We’re not going to back down until we see tests that are developmentally appropriate, and tests that are decoupled from the teacher evaluations.”

Is it “ethical” to require children who can’t read to take standardized tests? Is it “ethical” to require children who are English language learners to take tests they are sure to fail?

It is time to think about the meaning of ethics. Does it mean following orders, regardless of the consequences? Or do educators have a higher duty when directed to act in ways that harm the children in their care?

Jonathan Pelto wonders whatever happened to the Common Core test scores in Connecticut. Why hasn’t Governor Malloy’s administration released them. If the scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment are similar to other states, Connecticut will discover that half or more of its students are “failing.”

Bear in mind that Connecticut is one of the top three states on NAEP. No matter. SBAC and PARCC set their passing scores so high that most kids will fail in most states. Diabolical or insane or incompetent?

The state’s Commissioner of Education blamed classroom teachers for growing public opposition to the tests.

Pelto writes:

“It what may be the most incredible, insulting, outrageous and absurd statement yet from Governor Malloy’s administration about the Common Core SBAC testing program, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education is now blaming teachers for the fact that there is growing opposition to the SBAC testing scam.

“In their warped world where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” these people have the audacity to blame the victims for the crimes that are of the politicians’ making.

“Forget that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Test (SBAC) is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory.

“Forget that the SBAC test is designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut students.

“Forget that the SBAC test is particularly discriminatory for children who come from poorer backgrounds, those who face English Language barriers and those who require special education services.

“Forget that the SBAC test results are being used to inappropriately “evaluate” teachers

“Forget that state taxpayers have paid well over $50 million for this disastrous test program just over the past two years and local taxpayers have paid tens of millions of dollars more.

“And forget that the SBAC testing has wasted hundreds of hours of instructional time, time that our children could have been getting the education they actually need and deserve.

“Forgetting all that and proving that Governor Malloy’s administration has lost all contact with reality, the Commissioner of Education is now claiming that the lack of support for the Common Core SBAC tests is the fault of Connecticut’s public school teachers.”

Mercedes Schneider reports that the U.S. Department of Education has issued rules and regulations requiring that most special education students take the same Common Core tests as students who do not have a disability. Schneider predicts that this requirement will add more fuel to the fires of opting out. Where students with disabilities have taken the Common Core tests, very few of them “pass” the test, less than 10%. Will they ever graduate high school?

Anthony Cody was appalled to read an article on the “Think Progress” website with the headline “People Like Common Core Better When They Know What It Is.” Cody says, “Caution! Common Core Spin Doctors at Work.” We have recently seen the same spin from the New York Times and the Washington Post in what appears to be a desperate effort to save the Common Core from its toxic reputation.

The article cites the recent poll published by the conservative journal Education Next that showed the opposite to be the case. Among teachers, who certainly know what Common Core is, support is plummeting. 76% of teachers support Common Core in 2013, but in 2015, support has fallen to 40%. Among the general public (which is not necessarily well informed about Common Core), support fell from 65% in 2013 to 49% in 2015.

Cody points out that these poll numbers do not support the headline. The people who know the CCSS best (teachers) like it less and less each year.

He also writes that:

If your bank account dropped by 12% last year and another 4% this year, would you feel as if your situation was “stabilizing”? And just so we are clear on sources here, Education Next is a publication which lists as its prominent supporters the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B Fordham Institute. It exists to promote corporate reform.Some bastion of “progressive” thought. The credibility of organizations like the Center for American Progress and Think Progress suffer when they publish this sort of propaganda.

The very real problem that this propaganda is attempting to distract us from is that we are seeing a huge drop in student test scores as a result of the new, “more rigorous” tests.

Some people (like me) believe that the Common Core architects and planners designed the tests to have a passing mark so ridiculously high that most students were doomed to fail. The cut scores on the tests are aligned with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Proficient on the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment is supposed to be the same as “proficient” on NAEP. But in no state in the nation other than Massachusetts has 50% of students reached the “proficient” level on NAEP. This kind of blue-sky goal makes as much sense as NCLB’s requirement that all students must be “proficient” by the year 2014. This is failure by design.

When it comes to Common Core, we should ask the experts: the teachers who are expected to implement it every day in the classroom. As the Education Next poll shows, they started off liking it, and their like has turned to rejection.

I came out in opposition to the Common Core standards in 2013. My opposition was based on the undemocratic process by which they were developed, without field testing and with no mechanism for revision. Later, I learned that Bill Gates paid for everything–the writing, the launch, the promotion, the advocacy campaign–and my concerns deepened. Early childhood educators have complained ad infinitum about the developmental inappropriateness of the early grades, but there is no one empowered to make changes. No one cared much about the standards until the testing started; the unreasonable “rigor” of the tests, set well above the grade level of most students, produce results that “fail” most students, especially students with disabilities and English language learners. The testing ignited the Opt Out movement.

But what about the standards themselves, detached from the testing and detached from teacher evaluation?

Some teachers like them. Could they become voluntary standards with no stakes attached? This teacher thinks so.

She writes:

“I am a full fledged BAT, and activist teacher. However, after leading a study group that analyzed math CCS (and more importantly the Progression Documents that provide further detail) and having taught using those standards last year, I must say that I frankly love them. They require teachers to teach in such a way as for their students to develop a deep conceptual understanding of math While the testing is balderdash, and the imposition of the standards by the feds is also balderdash, the math standards themselves, while not perfect in every way, have provided my school with an avenue to greatly improve math instruction.

“In our group we discussed how the standards were developed and also discussed how to handle areas that to our professional knowledge are ill conceived, but overall they provide a direction that is positive for math in my district. My guess is that other districts and states, if they move beyond the political rhetoric would find the math portion of the CCS over-archingly sound and enlightening.

“Of course all the testing must go, and I have heard horrible things of the reading standards, but there is much to love in the math standards. I hope the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater and that other schools and districts are able to take the time to study and find the good in the math standards – I believe they provide a more humane and intellectual way to teach math.”

Carol Burris recently became executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund. The NPE Fund is the nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonpartisan wing of NPE, as opposed to NPE’s c(4), which endorses political candidates and is led by Robin Hiller of Tucson.

She plans to issue regular reports on important education issues. A prolific and well-informed writer, her perspective will help to inform and hopefully shape the national debate about education.

In this post, she explains the causes of the national teacher shortage. As she writes, the New York Times attributed it to an improving economy, which opened up more attractive jobs than teaching (hmmm, given the collapse of the stock market, maybe the shortage will end soon?).

Burris says the economy may have something to do with the shortage, but other factors were also important:

Earlier this year, NPR also reported on the national teacher shortage. Correspondent Eric Westervelt’s identification of the cause went beyond the usual suspect—the economy. Noting the dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher education programs (a 74% drop in less than 10 years in California), he astutely attributed at least part of the problem to the way corporate reforms have impacted the profession.

Westervelt reported that the Common Core and its battles; high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.

This comes as no surprise to those inside the profession.

David Gamberg is the superintendent of the Greenport and Southold districts on Long Island’s east end. He has long worried that the politically hostile environment for teachers is contributing to the shortage we are seeing today. “I suspect that a range of issues conspire to exacerbate the problem. Certainly the ongoing, nationwide attack on teachers and unions is near or at the very top of the list of factors driving people away.”

What Gamberg suspects has evidence. There are frequent stories about public school teachers who are leaving the profession or taking early retirement because of the toll of working in a ‘test and punish’ environment. A November NEA survey reported that nearly 50% of all teachers are considering leaving due to standardized testing. Of equal concern is how frequently educators are cautioning young adults about entering the profession.

Renowned author and teacher of literacy, Nancie Attwell, recently won the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation. When she was asked by CNN whether she would advise others to become a public school teacher, her response was she would not. She said she would tell them to find a job in the private sector, or in an independent school instead. She spoke about how constricting both the Common Core and testing have made the profession. “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” she said.

EdWeek reported on the story, which was followed by a poll. By nearly a 5 to 1 margin, respondents said that they would not recommend teaching as a profession. Considering that EdWeek readers are by and large educational professionals, that response, combined with the NEA data, is a clear indicator of the stress felt within the profession from outside reforms.

If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist. Even so, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the Empire State dropped 22% in two years time. Many factors are contributing to the decline.

It is time for policymakers to step back and chart a different course. It makes no sense to cling to failed reforms. As school begins, students across the country are paying a hefty price.

Leonie Haimson and Jeanette Deutermann explain here why the opt out movement is right and necessary. If policymakers continue on their present path, they predict, the opt out movement will grow and spread to many other states who see the power of grassroots activism.

They do so in response to editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post criticizing the parents who opt out of mandated testing.

The mainstream media echoes the Obama administration’s line that high-stakes testing will somehow promote equity and reduce the achievement gap, but as Haimson and Deutermann contend, thirteen years of No Child Left Behind demonstrate that this assertion is false.

Haimson and Deutermann write:

Why should parents put their children through this time-consuming, anxiety-producing and pointless exercise? When parents are repeatedly ignored by policymakers, opting out is their only option.

For months leading up to the assessments, and especially during the two weeks of testing, parents report their children show signs of anxiety, sleep problems, physical symptoms, school phobias and attention difficulties. This phenomenon has been growing among children as young as 8 years old. To add insult to injury, for the last three years the exams have become overly long and confusing, with incoherent questions like the pineapple passage on theeighth-grade exam in 2010, and the talking snake passage on thethird-grade test this year. Our youngest learners sit for up to 18 hours of state testing.

The most vulnerable children – students with disabilities and English language learners – are asked to endure exams that are so inappropriate even the state asked for waivers from the federal government, which were denied. Only 3.9 percent of English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities passed these exams. The bar should be set high for all children, but at an appropriate level for each child.

Parents have become increasingly frustrated at watching the alarming changes in their children and their education, along with the waste of precious tax dollars. More than 220,000 New York state parents chose to have their children refuse the state exams this year, in both high-performing suburban districts and struggling city schools, to express their anger. Many teachers joined parents in the fight to protect their students and the integrity of their profession. The question is, will the powers that be listen and make the necessary changes? If not, the number of opt-outs will continue to grow until parents’ voices are heard by policymakers, the tests are improved, the punitive, high-stakes exams removed, and real teaching and learning return to our classrooms.

Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial in defense of Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and the Common Core. The editorial scoffed at the idea that the federal government had anything to do with the standards and commended Bush and Cuomo for their sensible support of these state-led standards.

Mercedes just published a book about the Common Core called “The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

I recommend it to the editorial writers at the Washington Post.

They can save some time by reading Mercedes’ advice to them in this post.

The Post asserts that the CCSS were developed by the states and merely “encouraged” by the federal government.

Mercedes patiently explains how the U.S. Department of Education used the lure of bilions of dollars to entice states to adopt common standards and assessments, to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores, to turnaround low-performing schools (firing staff or closing the schools), and to create a longitudinal data base of student information.

These governors were led right into the federal will for state-level education by the promise of federal money. It was just that easy.

The governors traded state autonomy for federal money. And the federal government– US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed by President Barack Obama– encouraged them to do so and allowed it to happen….

The Washington Post editorial board assumes that the governors who signed on for Common Core did so for some primary reason greater that the federal dollars doing so would possibly bring into their states. However, any governor who really wanted “higher standards” would surely have insisted on some empirical evidence that the resulting standards were indeed “higher” prior to agreeing to adopt them. Yet this common-sense insistence did not happen.

The promise of federal dollars won.

The near-simultaneous appearance of editorials at the New York Times and the Washington Post in defense of the floundering Common Core tests does make you wonder which important person is making the calls.


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