Archives for category: Common Core

The new Common Core tests funded by the federal government agreed to adopt the standard of “proficiency” used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Students who are not “proficient” are deemed to have “failed” to meet the standards. They are described as “not proficient,” which is a very bad thing indeed.

But what does NAEP proficiency mean?

I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. I understood that “proficient” was a very high standard. There are four NAEP achievement levels: Advanced (typically reached by 5-8% of students); Proficient (typically reached by about 35-40% of students); Basic (typically reached by about 75% of students); and Below Basic (very poor performance, about 20-25% of students). Thus, by aligning its “pass” mark with NAEP proficient, the PARCC and SBAC (the two testing groups) were choosing a level that most students will not reach. Only in Massachusetts have as many as 50% of students reached NAEP proficient. Nearly half have not.

As Catherine Gewertz wrote in Education Week, “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.”

So, if these consortia intend to align with the very rigorous standards of NAEP, most students will fail the tests. They will fail them every year. Will the test results be used for promotion and/or graduation? If so, we can expect a majority of the current generation of students not to be promoted or graduate from high school. What will we do with them?

It is time to ask whether NAEP proficient is the right “cut score” (passing mark). I think it is not. To me, given my knowledge of NAEP achievement levels, proficient represents solid academic performance, a high level of achievement. I think of it as an A. Advanced, to me, is A+. Anyone who expects the majority of students to score an A on their state exams is being, I think, wildly unrealistic. Please remember that NAEP proficient represents a high level of achievement, not a grade level mark or a pass-fail mark. NAEP basic would be a proper benchmark as a passing grade, not NAEP proficient.

Furthermore, the NAEP achievements levels have been controversial ever since they were first promulgated in the early 1990s when Checker Finn was chairman of the NAEP governing board. Checker was subsequently president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute, and he has long believed that American students are slackers and need rigorous standards (as a member of his board for many years, I agreed with him then, not now). He believed that the NAEP scale scores (0-500) did not show the public how American students were doing, and he was a strong proponent of the achievement levels, which were set very high.

James Harvey, a former superintendent who runs the National Superintendents’ Roundtable, wrote an article in 2011 that explains just how controversial the NAEP achievement levels are.

He wrote then:

Since definition is crucial in any discussion of standards, let’s define the terms of the discussion. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in 2001 as the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, permitted states to develop their own assessments and set their own proficiency standards to measure student achievement. Most states, for their purposes, quite sensibly defined proficiency as performance at grade level.

What about NAEP? Oddly, NAEP’s proficient standard has little to do with grade-level performance or even proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP officials like to think of the assessment standard as “aspirational.” In 2001, long before the current contretemps around state assessments, two experts associated with the National Assessment Governing Board—Mary Lynne Bourque, staff member to the governing board, and Susan Loomis, a member of the board—made it clear that “the proficient achievement level does not refer to ‘at grade’ performance. Nor is performance at the proficient level synonymous with ‘proficiency’ in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that most state assessments aimed at establishing proficiency as “at grade” produce results different from a NAEP standard in which proficiency does not refer to “at grade” performance or even describe students that most would think of as proficient. Far from supporting the NAEP proficient level as an appropriate benchmark for state assessments, many analysts endorse the NAEP basic level as the more appropriate standard because NAEP’s current standard sets an unreasonably high bar.

What is striking in reviewing the history of NAEP is how easily its governing board has shrugged off criticisms about the board’s standards-setting processes.

In 1993, the National Academy of Education argued that NAEP’s achievement-setting processes were “fundamentally flawed” and “indefensible.” That same year, the General Accounting Office concluded that “the standard-setting approach was procedurally flawed, and that the interpretations of the resulting NAEP scores were of doubtful validity.” The National Assessment Governing Board, or NAGB, which oversees NAEP, was so incensed by an unfavorable report it received from Western Michigan University in 1991 that it looked into firing the contractor before hiring other experts to take issue with the university researchers’ conclusions that counseled against releasing NAEP scores without warning about NAEP’s “conceptual and technical shortcomings.”

“Most state assessments aimed at establishing proficiency as ‘at grade’ produce results different from a NAEP standard.”
In addition, NAGB absorbed savage criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded in 1999 that “NAEP’s current achievement-level-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results. … The results are not believable.”

For the most part, such pointed criticism has rolled off the governing board like so much water off a duck’s back.
As recently as 2009, the U.S. Department of Education received a report on NAEP from the University of Nebraska’s Buros Institute. This latest document expressed worries about NAEP’s “validity framework” and asked for a “transparent, organized validity framework, beginning with a clear definition of the intended and unintended uses of the NAEP assessment scores. We recommend that NAGB continue to explore achievement-level methodologies.” In short, for the last 20 years, it has been hard to find any expert not on the Education Department’s payroll who will accept the NAEP benchmarks uncritically.

Those benchmarks might be more convincing if most students outside the United States could meet them. That’s a hard case to make, judging by a 2007 analysis from Gary Phillips, a former acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Phillips set out to map NAEP benchmarks onto international assessments in science and mathematics and found that only Taipei (or Taiwan) and Singapore have a significantly higher percentage of proficient students in 8th grade science than the United States does. In math, the average performance of 8th grade students in six jurisdictions could be classified as proficient: Singapore, South Korea, Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and Flemish Belgium. Judging by Phillips’ results, it seems that when average results, by jurisdiction, place typical students at the NAEP proficient level, the jurisdictions involved are typically wealthy—many with “tiger mothers” or histories of excluding low-income students or those with disabilities.

None of this is to say that the method of determining the NAEP achievement levels is entirely indefensible. Like other large-scale assessments—the International Mathematics and Science Study, the Progress on International Reading Literacy Survey, and the Program on International Student Assessment—NAEP is an extremely complex endeavor, depending on procedures in which experts make judgments about what students should know and construct assessment items to distinguish between student responses. Panels then make judgments about specific items, and trained scorers, in turn, bring judgment to bear on constructed-response items, which typically make up about 40 percent of the assessment.

That said, it is hard to avoid some obvious conclusions. First, NAEP’s achievement levels, far from being engraved on stone tablets, are administered, as Congress has insisted, on a “trial basis.” Second, NAEP achievement levels are based on judgment and educated guesses, not science. Third, the proficiency benchmark seems reachable by most students in only a handful of wealthy or Asian jurisdictions.

It is important to know this history when looking at the results of the Common Core tests (PARCC and SBAC). The fact that they have chosen NAEP proficient as their cut score guarantees that most students will “fail” and will continue to “fail.” Exactly what is the point? It is a good thing to have high standards, but they should be reasonable and attainable. NAEP proficient is not attainable by most students. Not because they are dumb, but because it is the wrong cut score for a state examination. It is “aspirational,” like running a four-minute mile. Some runners will be able to run a four-minute mile, but most cannot and never will. Virtually every major league pitcher aspires to pitch a no-hitter, but very few will do it. The rest will not, and they are not failures.

What parents and teachers need to know is that the testing consortia have chosen a passing mark that is inappropriate, that is not objective, and that is certain to fail most students. That’s not right, and that’s not fair.

Gary Rubinstein, teacher of mathematics at Stuyvesant High School, author and blogger, reviews Eureka Math in this post and finds it wanting. He points out that Eureka Math is the program that is considered most closely aligned to the Common Core math standards.

 

Rubinstein picked several examples of math problems from the Eureka curriculum and found them poorly written or wrong.

 

Eureka Math will soon be the national curriculum or very close to being one. This is an important post. If you are a math novice, you may find it hard to follow. If you are a math teacher, please speak up and say what you think.

 

Joanne Yatvin was a teacher, principal, superintendent, and president of the National Council of Trachers of English.

She writes:

A few days ago the New York Times published an OP-Ed by Richard Atkinson and Saul Geiser about the new SAT that the College Board will implement in 1916. Although the writers approve of the direction of the new test, they argue that it does not go far enough. It will focus on students’ mastery of the subjects studied in high school, but still be norm-referenced rather than a strict measure of their performance against a fixed standard. Also, in the test a written essay is optional, not required, which allows students t o by-pass proving their competence in a skill that Atkinson and Geiser consider the “single most important one for success in college.”

In my view both the writers and the College Board are on the wrong track. Primarily, they have forgotten that the A in SAT stands for “aptitude.” Originally, the test was intended to identify students with native intelligence and rich personal learning, regardless of the quality of their schools or their own home backgrounds. In tough economic times the SAT sought to give bright and dedicated young people a chance at college that they would not have otherwise. In many states scholarships went to students with high-test scores.

Another problem I see is the strong emphasis that the Common Core State Standards will have on test results in the future. Considering that several states have decided to go with their own standards and that many schools in states still dedicated to the CCSS are not up to speed, countless numbers of students will not be prepared to do well on the new SAT.

About the New SAT’s stance on a written essay I have mixed emotions. I agree with Atkinson and Geiser about the importance of being able to write well, but I also recognize
that it’s very difficult to do that on demand in short time frame and with no opportunity to revise. Maybe requiring an essay written separately from taking the test would be a better option.

Finally, my own personal objection to both the CCSS and the new SAT is that they misconstrue the true nature of learning. Learning is not a detailed memory of school-selected knowledge and skills, but the ability to choose what is important for your personal life, career aspirations, and the societal roles you hope to play. Learners build their knowledge and skills on that foundation and can demonstrate them on a test that honors good thinking and problem solving.

……………………………..

P.S. Many years ago I created a proverbial saying that expressed my belief about the true nature of learning. Although I’ve often recited it to friends and colleagues, and edited over time, I’ve never made it public. Here it is: Learning is not climbing someone else’s ladder, but weaving your own web from the scraps of meaning you find along your way.

A strange affliction has taken control of American public education. Or perhaps it is better to say a group of people with a mindset from some fantasyland are now making policy, all geared to produce standardized children and standardized minds.

Here is an exemplar.

As I read this article, my eyes began to blur, the words lost all meaning. Who are these people? Why do they think that all children can be rated,ranked, and labeled by their scores on a standardized test? How do they define “proficiency”? What does it mean? Who decided?

One voice of reason: Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest says that “standards” are not objective, they are subjective.

If you can jump higher than me, am I a failure? If you can solve a crossword puzzle faster than me, are you better than me in general or just better at solving crossword puzzles?

I know that the people who are immersed in data and who believe in data like a religion, think they are being scientific. So did the eugenicisys of the 1920s,who thought they could use test scores to sort and label people and to decide who was allowed to reproduce; they thought they were “scientifically” improving the human race, like plant genetics or animal genetics. By the 1930s, they were recognized as quacks, but on another continent, a mad dictator loved the eugenics philosophy and drove the world mad.

Will anyone hear if I put in a word for humanism? For valuing the different gifts of each person? For loving every child, regardless of their test scores? For abandoning the nutty quest to have standards so high that most children are designated failures by arbitrary measures?

The Néw York Times has a terrific article about the importance of play in early childhood development. The article cites research on cognitive development to show that children eventually are better students if they learn through play rather than direct instruction.

The article points out that the Common Core standards do not reflect what cognitive scientists understand about how young children learn.

Didactic instruction for young children may actually harm their intellectual, social, and emotional development.

The author, David Kohn, writes:

“TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

“The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

“But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.”

Do you think the promoters of the Common Core will listen?

This post would be comical if it were satirical, but unfortunately it is factual and pathetic. Arthur Goldstein describes the tests that the Néw York State Education Department inflicts on his ELL students.

Read it and weep for the students and their teachers.

“And what a test it is, folks. Yesterday, a young man asked me why the essay specifically called for an introduction, body, and conclusion but only two paragraphs. This was the same young man who, the first day of the test, asked why the students had to stay until the bell rang if they had already finished their tests. Why do we have to sit here and do nothing? And why do they ask us for a basic structure that demands three paragraphs and then asks for two?”

“I’m not at all sure that particular student is in need of Common Core. He’s critical all by himself without it. Oddly, folks like Arne Duncan and John King get pretty churlish when people question the Core. They attack soccer moms and call teachers, parents and students “special interests.” Those who spend billions imposing their will on our children, of course, are philanthropists, heroes to be lauded on test passages.

“The second day, I stopped the CD because the listening activity was identical to that of the first day. It turned out that the geniuses at NYSED, or whoever they paid to design this thing, decided to repeat the same sample question three days in a row. I’m sure the students were as inspired as I was by that bold move, once I figured out it was not, in fact, yet another error. On part one of this review, a commenter offered:

“The Speaking Subtest was just the tip of the iceberg. This new CCLS-aligned NYSESLAT is the worst sort of rubbish: inappropriate, riddled with errors, and designed for failure. The CCLS cancer is spreading, my friends. Take heed.”

“Sounds ominous, but I’m not persuaded. I have no idea whatsoever what the NYSESLAT was designed for. Certainly it was an effective device in torturing beginning students. I watched a girl from El Salvador who’s been here maybe six weeks suffer through it for no good reason. She’s a rank beginner who will likely need to start from the beginning in September, and I don’t need a three day test to tell me that.

“But I have no idea what the test will say about her or anyone You see, after we grade the test at the school, we have to send it to Albany for the next part, The Rigging of the Scores. That’s when Albany decides which percentage of kids should be at which level, and sets the cut scores so whatever they predict comes true. After all, how can you be all-knowing unless you force your predictions on the entire populous? There are reputations to protect, and now that you’ve cut English learning in half, there’s gonna be a lot less of it anyway.”

New York State has bumbled into bizarre-O land. Chalkbeat reports that Néw York’s Common Core tests are more difficult than NAEP.

The NAEP tests are supposed to be internationally benchmarked. NAEP proficient is a very high standard that most students have never met (except in Massachusetts, where barely 50% reach proficient).

“In eighth-grade math, 22 percent of students earned what New York state called a passing score last school year, while 32 percent were deemed proficient on the NAEP exams. In fourth-grade reading, 33 percent passed the state test, while 37 percent of students earned a proficient score on the NAEP test. (Massachusetts was the other outlier, with more students earning a proficient score on the eighth-grade math NAEP test than on the state’s own tests.)”

State officials are pleased that their standards are beyond the reach of most students. For some strange reason, high failure rates are a source of pride. Bizarre.

The more they design tests to fail most students, the more the Opt Out movement will grow. When did education fall into the hands of technocratic sadists? They think education is a test of endurance, where only the stirring survive. Parents see education as a process of development, not a cruel race.

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney, contends that the Common Core standards–not just the testing, but the standards as well–are bad for education.

Humans are born with the desire to learn. The job of parents and teachers is to foster and nurture that desire to learn, not stifle it.

“As child development expert Diane Levin of Wheelock College told me, through play, children develop the foundation for reading. When a child builds with blocks or engages in socio-dramatic play, s/he is making a representation of something in a different form — a step toward abstract thought. By painting and drawing, a child begins to understand that two-dimensional lines can represent three dimensional objects — a precursor to comprehending that letters can represent sounds and words can represent objects or ideas. By telling stories or putting on plays, a child understands sequencing. In playing with objects, s/he learns to categorize. These activities are intentionally designed to help children build a strong foundation for the kind of skills required for formal reading instruction later on. Children need to first build this foundation experientially, in the concrete world in which they live, in order for the skills to have meaning for them.

“During the above-described play, children may start to recognize letters and words. However, for most children, formal reading instruction at this age is not meaningful or engaging. They may learn to mimic and comply with instructions, but without the necessary foundation, they will not integrate the lessons. In fact, studies show that children who begin formal reading instruction at age seven, having first developed strong oral language skills in a play-based environment, catch up to children who learn to read earlier and have better comprehension skills by middle school.”

Blogger Louisina Educator writes of the combination of forces fighting for Common Core:

“These heavily promoted standards pushed by an alliance of so called education reformers such as the Gates Foundation, The Broad and Walton Foundations, the Pearson education publishing conglomerate, and the Obama administration are also supported by the Charter School Association, big business interests LABI, CABL, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and two astro turf groups (phony grassroots organizations funded by the big foundations). All of these groups will also be fighting hard to kill HB 21 and 340 that would only modestly curtail the expansion of New Charter schools in Louisiana.

“The dedicated and informed parents and educators who oppose Common Core and PARCC testing are so outgunned by the privatization and Common Core promoters that the battle this week could be compared to confronting an Abrams tank with a BB gun.”

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center on Long Island in Néw York, is retiring to spend her time fighting phony and harmful “reforms.”

Burris has been one of the most effective critics of Common Core and high-stakes testing. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the legislsture’s passage of Governor Cuomo’s anti-teacher, anti- public school evaluation plan based on test scores.

Burris is a brilliant writer and a terrific organizer. She will be a tremendous addition to the struggle to save public education and protect children.

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