Archives for category: Common Core

Heidi Hayes Jacobs has surmised that this is an ominous situation. Before you go into a paroxysm of laughter, remember that life is ephemeral.

If you wonder why the outbreak of clamorous verbiage, please note that Jacobs has collected some of the unusual words that appeared on the 6th grade Common Core test in Néw York.

She writes:

“Arguably there is universal admiration for a command of vocabulary, but the thought of eleven and twelve year olds wrestling with these words in a timed pressure cooker suggests an “ominous situation”.

“What were these test makers thinking? Perhaps they yearn to design those SAT exams for seniors. The sobering fact that the results will have a direct impact on how a teacher is evaluated points to a profound disconnect.”

This is quite a remarkable admission. Nicholas Kristof writes today in the New York Times that the “reform” efforts have “peaked.” I read that and the rest of the column to mean that they have failed to make a difference. Think of it: Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and a host of other luminaries have been singing the same song for the past 15 years: Our schools are broken, and we can fix them with charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, elimination of unions, elimination of tenure, and rigorous efforts to remove teachers who can’t produce ever-rising test scores.

Despite the billions of dollars that the federal government, the states, and philanthropies have poured into this formula, it hasn’t worked, says Kristof. It is time to admit it and to focus instead on the early years from birth to kindergarten.

He writes:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has droppedfor the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Wow! That is exactly what I wrote in “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” along with recommendations for reduced class sizes, a full curriculum, a de-emphasis on high-stakes testing, a revival of public policies to reduce poverty and segregation, and a recommitment to the importance of public education.

When I look at the Tea Party legislature in North Carolina or the hard-right politicians in the Midwest or the new for-profit education industry, I don’t think of them as idealistic but as ideologues. Aside from that, I think that Kristof gives hope to all those parents and teachers who have been working for years to stop these ideologues from destroying public education. Yes, it should be improved, it must be improved. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code. But that won’t happen unless our leaders dedicate themselves to changing the conditions in which families and children live so that all may have equal opportunity in education and in life.

This letter was written by a first grade teacher in upstate Néw York:

She writes:

(Un)Intended Consequences

Today was the first day of the NYS ELA tests. I must state right from the outset that my students do not take these tests. Not yet. But in two short years, they will. And yet, these tests had an effect on my students today and will continue to do so in the days to come. You see, these tests have a ripple effect. The immediate effect is that my students who receive services such as reading and resource will not receive these services for the next TWO WEEKS since the teachers who provide these services are proctoring the state tests. They will also lose services when some of these same teachers are pulled out to score the tests in the subsequent weeks. (They will lose out again when we begin the SLO testing in May, but that is for another post). The longer term effects are more devastating. You see, their education has been hijacked by these tests. Although my “Firsties” are not taking these tests yet, they are preparing for them and will continue to do so throughout their Elementary years.

When I started teaching oh so many years ago, we focused on thematic instruction and integrating all subject areas so that our students had opportunities to make connections. We taught in ways that honored many learning styles, student’s individual differences and developmental stages, along with their individual needs. We understood (and still do) that each child has different intelligences and learning styles. My walls and windows of my classroom were covered with songs and poems, student artwork and artifacts of student learning. My little ones sang and read and played. We taught using literature with rich language and focused on building background knowledge. Children were encouraged to synthesize knowledge and draw conclusions using what they knew and what they were learning. We used a tremendous amount of glitter and paper and encouraged children to express themselves in ways that played to their strengths. We did projects and had lots of hands-on learning with manipulatives. I assessed through observation and working directly with students.

Over the years, we have had to move away from what we know is right for kids to what we are told we must do in order to prepare students for the tests.

At first, teachers knew that we could use those tests to help identify areas where students needed further instruction and where we could improve our teaching. We accepted that our 4th and 8th grade students would be tested and we knew how to prepare them. We focused on those areas and we saw growth. We didn’t like “No Child Left Behind” but we could work within it.

Fast forward to “Race To The Top” and Common Core and the use of the tests to evaluate teachers. Without going into all that is wrong with this, let me just say how it has affected my little ones:

My walls are no longer covered with songs and poems and artwork. That has been replaced with “anchor charts”, “I can statements” and “Learning targets”. We barely use construction paper and I have not purchased glitter in 3 years. There is no time for art projects or creative expression. Children can no longer choose their learning. They write to prompts and must write different genres at certain times. Math is done on paper and manipulatives are few and far between (except when I pull out the old stuff). Reading is “close reading” and answers to questions are to be solely based on the text, without synthesis of prior knowledge.

Assessment is daily and must be documented along with being scripted (because Big Brother is watching). Modules are scripted, teacher led and boring for little ones. We have to have 50% of text presented as informational text. Students have to write essays before they even have automaticity of letter formation. ALL THIS IS DONE SO THEY CAN PREP FOR THE TESTS. My students will take keyboarding in 3rd grade so they can take the tests online…BEFORE SOME OF THEM EVEN HAVE THE PHYSICAL HAND SPAN TO USE A KEYBOARD.

Our littlest learners are preparing for these tests as soon as they enter school. We know that. We know that our colleagues in grades 3-8 depend on us to lay the foundation. We know that our little ones are being used as weapons to help destroy public education. We know that they cannot possibly do well on these tests as they are written 2-3 grade levels above their current grade level and that an arbitrary “cut score” will be determined AFTER the tests are scored to manipulate the data. We know that we cannot discuss these tests and that they cannot be used to inform instruction nor to inform us of our students’ progress. These tests are solely being used to create false data about our students and our schools. They are being used to make our public schools look as though they are “failing” and that our teachers are incompetent. They are creating a pressure cooker atmosphere.

Our Bully of a governor wants to turn our public schools into For-profit Charter schools (which are little more than test prep factories that do NOT have transparency of finances). He is beholden to his hedge fund donors and his big $ donors. In addition, he has publicly stated that he wants to break the teacher’s union. Our children’s education has been hijacked. Our teachers are being abused by an agenda that puts money over what is right for kids. Our society’s future is being manipulated to create a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, both in terms of dollars and education and opportunities. The simple fact that the private schools where the children of the elite attend do not have to participate in these tests or this curriculum, is very telling.

Today’s refusal numbers are encouraging. This is a lesson in civil rights and civil disobedience. We are teaching our children that they have a way of changing what is wrong in our government and our society through nonviolent means. We are teaching them that they have a voice. We are showing them that we can all create change. We are also showing them how to stand up to Bullies. And THAT is a great lesson that no amount of test prep can compare to.

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School, has been an outspoken critic of both the Common Core standards (which she once supported, even wrote a book about them) and the testing associated with them. She is a leader of the Opt Out movement on Long Island in New York.

In this article for Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog, Burris reveals some of the most problematic questions on the Common Core ELA tests, administered last week. So many of the questions and the reading passages are now circulating on the Internet that it is hard to believe that Pearson thinks its tests are secure. They are not.

The article includes links to all the items mentioned.

Burris writes:

Disgusted teachers and parents are defying the “gag order” and talking about the tests, anonymously, on blogs. The sixth-grade test has consistently come under fire, especially during Day 3 when an article entitled, “Nimbus Clouds: Mysterious, Ephemeral, and Now Indoors” from the Smithsonian Magazine appeared on one version of the test.

Here is a passage from the article:

“As a result, the location of the cloud is an important aspect, as it is the setting for his creation and part of the artwork. In his favorite piece, Nimbus D’Aspremont, the architecture of the D’Aspremont-Lynden Castle in Rekem, Belgium, plays a significant role in the feel of the picture. “The contrast between the original castle and its former use as a military hospital and mental institution is still visible,” he writes. “You could say the spaces function as a plinth for the work.””

You can read the entire article here.

The genius at Pearson who put that article on the sixth-grade test should take his nimbi and his plinth and go contemplate his belly button in whatever corner of that Belgian castle he chooses. The members of the State Education Department who approved the article’s inclusion should go with him.

Other complaints include:

* requiring fourth graders to write about the architectural design of roller coasters and why cables are used instead of chains

* a sixth-grade passage from “That Spot” by Jack London, which included words and phrases such as “beaten curs,” “absconders of justice,” surmise, “savve our cabin,” and “let’s maroon him”

* a passage on the third-grade test from “Drag Racer” which has a grade level of 5.9 and an interest level of 9-12th grade.

The eighth-grade test required 13-year-olds to read articles on playground safety. Vocabulary included: bowdlerized, habituation techniques, counterintuitive, orthodoxy, circuitous, risk averse culture, and litigious. One of the articles, which was from The New York Times, can be found here. Here is an excerpt:

Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.

I am sure that 13-year old ESL students were delighted by that close read.

[Guess the subjects deemed too ‘sensitive’ for new Common Core tests]

And who will be scoring this new generation of tests? If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can ‘soar to new heights’ working either the day or night shift with Pearson making $13 an hour. Or, if you would like to spend some quality time in Menands, New York, the temp agency, Kelly Services, will hire you for $11.50 an hour to score. No degree? No problem. The company’s last ad on Craig’s list for test scorers didn’t require one.
With these exams, the testing industry is enriching itself at the expense of taxpayers, all supported by politicians who self-righteously claim that being subjected to these Common Core tests is a “civil right.” Nonsense. It is clear that none of this will stop unless the American public puts an end to this. I have only two words left to say—opt out.

EduShyster takes a hilarious look at the complicated landscape of Common Core testing in Massachusetts. The state is soon to make a decision about whether to stick with its MCAS exams or switch to the Common Core PARCC exams.


Is it a conflict of interest when the State Commissioner Mitchell Chester also happens to be chair of the governing board of PARCC?


She writes (with marvelous illustrations):


You see, Commissioner Chester wears more than one hat, as they say. Sporting his fedora of excellence, he has just presided over the start of an ambitious two-year effort to test drive the PARCC tests in more than 1,000 Massachusetts schools so that the state Board of Education, which Chester also advises, can vote in 2015 on whether to replace the old, outdated and outmoded MCAS tests with the cool new computerized PARCC edition. Still with me? But in his second hat—let’s call it his readiness beret—Chester serves as chairman of the governing board for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers otherwise known as PARCC: the *multi-state consortium* tasked both with developing the new tests and relentlessly flogging them until all *multi-states* adopt them. Did I say two hats? Make that three. Chester is also a director as well as the president of PARCC, Inc., a nonprofit that’s been created to make the development and implementation of the new PARCC assessments *more effective and efficient.* (See exhibit A). Got it? Good. Because it’s test time.
Now, exercising the career-and-college-readiness skills of observation, deduction, and proper use and evaluation of evidence would you say that Commissioner Chester’s dueling headgear as described above constitutes a. a conflict of interest b. a breach of trust c. just good common cents or d. time for more scotch? If you are a member of the Peabody School Committee [note to out-of-towners, correct pronunciation is Pea-buh-dee], the answer to this high-stakes question couldn’t be clearer. *It’s an outrageous conflict of interest and a breach of public trust,* says School Committee member Dave McGeney. The Committee recently voted unanimously to ask state officials to investigate the matter. McGeney says that Chester needs to pick a hat, any hat, but he can’t wear them all. *How can he be chairman of PARCC and also entering into agreements with PARCC on behalf of Massachusetts? It defies logic,* says McGeney.


Except that we’re in PARCC Place, where the old fusty logic about things like breaches of public trust and conflicts of the interest variety no longer apply. Someone has to get these kids college and career ready and apparently it’s not going to be you (hater.) Besides, Commissioner Chester took it upon himself to seek advice from the State Ethics Commission about a possible conflict of interest. In 2013. Three years after Chester signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to join PARCC and became chair of its governing board. And just to be extra, extra sure, Chester also checked his hats with Secretary of Education Matt Malone and the Chairwoman of the Board of Education, Maura Banta, who was also signatory to the MOU and who will eventually vote on whether the state should adopt the new PARCC assessments.
Meanwhile, some 80,000 Massachusetts students in grades 3-11 recently wrapped up the first round of PARCC piloting; they’ll resume test driving in May. Which brings us to the only question that really matters: how great are the PARCC assessments at measuring readiness, college and career style? Really great, reader. You see, drop the pesky *A,* which stands for Achieve, and the *CC*, which stands for Common Core, and you’re left with *PR,* as displayed in this handy informational assemblage of quotes, purporting to be from educators, parents and students, like Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, *responding positively to their early experiences with the assessments.*



What do you think Commissioner Chester will decide?



CNN ran an excellent segment about the burgeoning opt out movement. It is especially strong in New York, but it is rapidly spreading across the country as parents recognize that the tests provide no information other than a score and have no diagnostic value. For some reason, the defenders of high-stakes testing continue to say that the tests are helpful to our most vulnerable children, who are likeliest to fail the test, because until now we have neglected them. We didn’t really know that they were far behind and now they will get attention. After years of No Child Left Behind, in which no child was left untested, this is not a credible claim. Every child has been tested every year since at least 2003. How is it possible to say that no one knows that special education students need extra time and attention and accommodations? How is it possible to say that without Common Core testing, we will not know that English language learners don’t read English? In New York, we have had two administrations of the Common Core. Five percent of the children with disabilities passed the test; 95% were told they were failures. Three percent of English language learners passed the test; 97% were told they failed. How were they helped by learning that they had failed a test that was far beyond their capacity?

The school board of Springfield, Oregon, may propose a moratorium on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In other words, the whole district may opt out.

State officials have warned the district it may lose state and federal funds, in a blatant attempt to intimidate the elected officials of the district.

“Board member Jonathan Light proposed a motion at a meeting earlier this week that would place a moratorium on the more challenging tests, called Smarter Balanced. Light, who is a music teacher in the Pleasant Hill School District, said he determined that the computerized tests “are not good for kids.”

“Not good for kids” is a good reason not to do it.

““There’s a whole lot of agreement about not liking this test,” said Light, citing concerns for students who don’t have access to computers at home to practice the tests. He criticized the state Department of Education for requiring students to take the test when state officials predict that 70 percent are expected to fail.

The five-member Springfield board is currently the only one in the state to consider such action. The board is expected to discuss the topic again at an April 27 planning meeting and may vote on the motion at a later date.

In addition to placing a moratorium on the tests, Light also proposed that the district create a committee to study the tests and the Common Core State Standards to “either accept, modify or introduce an alternative testing system that would directly serve our students and satisfy state requirements.”

“I think it is a risk, but hopefully other boards would step up,” he said.

“We could really change things,” he added….”

“Some parents have criticized the tests because they say students are not prepared to take them, and younger students don’t have the keyboarding skills to type their answers. Some parents and teachers say the tests give school districts incentive to focus more on reading, writing and math — topics students are tested on — rather than a more well-rounded education that includes, for example, the arts.”

Jonathan Pelto reacts with dismay to the new state superintendent in Connecticut. Diana R. Wentzell has been interim commissioner since Stefan Pryor departed after a series of charter school scandals.

Wentzell has been a major booster of Common Core and the SBAC tests. If Connecticut follows the pattern of other states, parents will be shocked when they learn their child has failed the test. Connecticut regularly scores second or third in the nation on NAEP.

One of the biggest challenges to those of us who oppose privatization, school closings, high-stakes testing, and the rest of the failed ideas mistakenly called “reform” have a big job to do. We must educate the public. The public hears the word “reform,” and they think it means progress and improvement. They don’t know it means chaos and disruption of their local public schools. They hear about testing, and they think, “I took tests, what’s so bad about that?”

Here is a fine example of educating the public. It appeared in my local newspaper, the Suffolk Times-Review (recently recognized as the best weekly in New York state). It was written by Gregory Wallace, a former “educator of the year.”

Wallace explains in plain language for non-educators why the Common Core testing will harm public education.

He writes:

As a seasoned educator, I strongly believe that well-designed tests are a valuable educational tool. When used properly, tests provide timely feedback about student progress. Rather than adding to the diagnostic value of tests, however, the NYS Common Core assessments are used solely to rank students, evaluate teachers and label schools as “failing,” slating them for takeover by privately run charters.

One need only understand that the results of these tests are released months after students have moved to the next grade. Parents cannot see an itemized breakdown of how their children performed, because the content of the test remains a closely guarded secret. There is no transparency. Thus, unlike traditional tests, the information generated is completely useless to the parent and child. Without the ability to analyze how students answered the questions, educators are not able to use them to drive instruction or shape pedagogy.

Although testing companies work hard to make sure the content of exams remains embargoed, some information that has been gleaned is cause for great concern. Questions are ambiguous; there are often questions with multiple correct answers and others with no correct answer. The readability of the tests is often two or three grade levels higher than a student’s typical development. The passing rates are set after the test is taken. (That’s how former education commissioner John King was able to accurately predict that 70 percent of students would fail the exam months before they were administered.) These reports, if accurate, underscore the limited (if any) value that these tests provide to the educational system…

I am proud of the education I received in Greenport public schools and I am also proud that my children reside in this district. What takes place in the halls of our community’s school cannot be quantified by a test. Yet as a result of the demographic makeup, our school, its teachers and the district itself will have a far greater risk of sanctions than a school that is wealthier.

Since the NYS Common Core tests provide none of the valuable feedback of a proper test and seemingly disregard all the unique factors that contribute to the complexity of a particular district or region, I have concluded that if my children took these tests I would be complicit in the loss of local control leading to the possible erosion of public education here in Greenport.

My children are vessels to be filled; they are not commodities and will not be used as pawns to create market share for charter schools.

Thus, after much consideration, the only recourse left is to withhold consent. My children will be refusing these exams.

The fifteen comments posted on the newspaper’s website thanked Wallace, and several said their children too would refuse the tests. This is the kind of information that helps people understand how pointless the tests are, except as a way to label students. They do not provide any information about student progress other than a score. There is nothing in the report to help teachers know where they need support. Like the parent group called “Long Island Opt Out,” Wallace educated the public, which helps to explain the large numbers of opt outs on Long Island.


I received this from a principal in New York City. It was written by one of his teachers.


From a 3rd Grade Teacher


“I love teaching!! It fills my heart when my students make connections and get that light in their eyes when they become excited by what they’ve learned. I have some of the brightest bunch of kids this year. They come to school enthusiastic about the day, prepared to learn something new. They challenge me and my thinking, my pedagogy and I reciprocate. Today I saw some of the light in many of my students completely disappear and it broke my heart.


It’s been a grueling three days of testing. Their anxieties manifested themselves in tears, trips to the bathroom because of nausea and complete shutdown. Their self-confidence was stripped from them today and I felt them questioning their intelligence. I believe my 3rd graders were asked to think in ways that many of them are not developmentally ready for. When I could not decide between ‘a’ or ‘d’ and had to critically think and rethink how I would go about answering the questions being asked, I know that what was given to them today was not fair.


So now I will spend the next few days building my kids back up. Help them to forget the trauma of these past few days and remind them that it’s ok to be a kid and to think the way they do. I cannot find the words to express my disgust for this system and for the people in power who continue to allow this to happen.


We have to STAND UP PEOPLE!! We need to remind those test makers that we teach children, little humans who learn in different ways and who can demonstrate their learning in different ways. We need to change the face of assessment in this country. I’m ready… Are you??! “


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