Archives for category: Common Core

Professor Janet D. Johnson and Brittany A. Richer of Rhode Island College surveyed teachers in the state about their reactions to PARCC, the federally funded test of Common Core standards. Their goal was to allow teachers to voice their assessment of the assessments.

The study can be found here.

Teachers are the experts when it comes to teaching and learning. See what they say.

Bianca Tanis and Marla Kilfoyle are parents and educators in Néw York. They have fought against inappropriate testing of children with special needs. They are leaders of the state’s large Opt Out movement.

They became outraged when they learned that the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents said that, if she had a child with certsin disabilities, she would “think twice” before letting the child take the state tests.

This is the message that parents of children with disabilities have repeated again and again, only to be rebuffed.

Tanis and Kilfoyle write:

“For some time now, the parents of New York have been in full revolt over the testing requirements set down by both federal and state leadership. Parents of children with special needs have been extremely vocal about the fact that Common Core state tests in grades 3-8 are abusive and inappropriate for their children. You can read examples of parents informing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch that these tests have harmed their children with special needs here, here, here, and here. Despite anecdotal stories of children engaging in self-injury and soiling themselves during state testing, Merryl Tisch blatantly ignored parent concerns and allowed testing abuses to continue. As a result, New York is experiencing the largest parent test revolt in education history…

“In fact, just a few months ago, Chancellor Tisch penned an editorial in which she criticized parents who planned to opt out of state assessments by asserting that opt out hurts the neediest children, characterizing opt out as “putting blinders on….”

They then link to an opinion article by Tisch in which she disparaged parents who opt out and insisted that the tests provide valuable information. Tisch wrote: “It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students.”

They note:

“As Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch is keenly aware of the fact that a current 5th grade student with a disability who receives a testing accommodation of extended time may sit for as long as 9 hours over the course of 3 days for a single exam. Despite being aware of this and other egregious examples of abuse, the Chancellor has done nothing to lessen the duration of testing or to mediate the harm to students. Rather, she has overseen changes to the New York State testing program that have doubled and in some instances, tripled the length of testing and allowed the inclusion of reading passages years above grade level.”

They conclude:

“The Chancellor’s actions are tantamount to sitting by and not only watching, but commissioning the abuse of the most vulnerable children. Her failure to inform special needs parents of the potential for harm while simultaneously encouraging them to subject their children to inappropriate tests is inexcusable.

“Merryl Tisch should immediately relinquish her Chancellorship and step down from the Board of Regents. Failing her resignation, parents and educators must urge their legislators NOT to reappoint to Merryl Tisch to the Board of Regents when her term expires next year. New York needs education leadership that will protect our children, not lead them to harm.”

A reader reports on first-hand experience with Néw York’s EngageNY curriculum for Common Core:

“As a 2nd grade teacher with nearly 20 years teaching experience, I cannot express how disturbing it is to be forced to use the EngageNY materials every day. It goes against everything we know works effectively to engage and educate our students. As professionals originally hired for our creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication – these materials do everything possible to kill those qualities in each of us.

“We were told from day one that we were to use the program “with fidelity.” It was obvious that no one had actually reviewed the materials (probably due to the fact that many of the modules hadn’t even been completed yet when districts adopted them) or had asked teachers to take a look at what we were being given ahead of time. We also were not given any training – the boxes were just delivered just a few days before the school year began. As the year progressed and it became increasingly evident that there were multiple errors and/or no way to implement all of the many components scheduled in a day with the time allotted, we were then told to “use common sense.” We were not exactly sure what that meant as we were still expected to follow the program and would be evaluated on our use of it as well.

“Last year we entered our second year with EngageNY. Having been through it once, we are still identifying more and more errors and, most importantly, developmentally inappropriate material that we are expected to present to our students. Mid-year we were told that we would finally have a day to meet with a representative to do some training. All we had ever requested was that someone come in to our school and demonstrate exactly HOW all of the materials were to be used in a given lesson. Please just SHOW US! – we asked over and over. That would never happen. However, during our “training” (which was essentially just a sales presentation showing us each component), again we asked how it would be possible to fit all of these things that were dictated in a lesson into our limited time each day. The representative did finally admit that there really couldn’t be any at to fit 2 1/2 hours worth of lessons in an hour or 1 1/2 hour period.

“We, teachers and students, are being set up to fail. It is so sad to think that I hear teachers talk about “the good old days” when we used to be able to create fun and engaging activities that students enjoyed and we loved teaching! I am sorry that this has been a bit long-winded (and I could go on and on with more about this), but I haven’t had an opportunity to share this with any teachers outside of my own district. It is both comforting (and discouraging) to know that there are others experiencing the same things around the country. I hope that we can come together and fight for what we know is right for our students!”

Joseph G. Rosenstein, a distinguished professor of mathematics at Rutgers University, is mightily disappointed in the Common Core math standards. Professor Rosenstein has spent the past 30 years focused on K-12 mathematics education. He helped to write state standards over the past 20 years. He believed that New Jersey had excellent math standards. But in the pursuit of Race to the Top funding, New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and junked its own successful ones. He believes the CC math standards are deeply flawed.

 

He writes:

 

What are some of those inadequacies? One is the assumption that all students should learn the material that is typically in an Algebra II course. When that proposal was first raised by the commissioner of education in 2008, I wrote an article for the Star Ledger that was given the title “Algebra II + all high schoolers = overkill.”

 

I also testified on that issue to the Joint Education Committee of the New Jersey State Legislature and asked them if they were able to calculate 64 to the two-thirds power, a typical Algebra II question. It became clear to them that such topics are not for all students, and the proposal to require all students to take Algebra II was rejected.

 

Yet a number of political organizations continue to argue that Algebra II is necessary for career readiness for all students. It isn’t. For those students who hope to choose an education and career path that includes science and technology, it is essential, but for those not going in those directions, it is simply unnecessary.

 

Unfortunately, the Common Core mathematics standards is based on the false assumption that all students should learn much of what is found in an Algebra II course. And that assumption has implications all the way down to the early grades, where it is manifested in what one educator called “a fanatical focus on fractions” in the Common Core mathematics standards.

 

A second inadequacy of the Common Core mathematics standards is that they essentially banish statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics to the later grades; these are topics that should be woven throughout the curriculum and all grade levels

 

Students in elementary school should be drawing bar graphs based on their everyday experiences, should be conducting experiments involving coin-tossing, should be discovering and generating patterns, and should be following and writing directions for carrying out simple tasks (like walking from their classrooms to the school office). And students in middle school should be building their understanding of statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics based on their previous activities.

 

Activities like those are in the previous New Jersey mathematics standards, and the modeling and reasoning and problem solving they entail likely contributed to the success of New Jersey students on the NAEP. (Full disclosure: I have written a textbook entitled “Problem Solving and Reasoning with Discrete Mathematics.”)

 

Such activities were banished from the Common Core standards because of the mistaken belief that elementary school mathematics should be directed exclusively toward success in algebra and eventually calculus.

 

Gerri K. Songer, a literacy specialist in Illinois, here explains what is wrong with the Common Core tests:

 

 

 

I was asked by my EA President and the Superintendent of IL HS Township Dist. 214 to review Smarter Balanced, ACT, SAT, and PARCC. The following is a portion of my review:

 

“In terms of text complexity, ACT, SAT, and PARCC all use excessively high level text. PARCC is by far the worst assessment for many reasons, some of them including the use of multiple passages between which comparisons and contrasts are made; finite detail-oriented questions; and multi-step cognitive analysis. Yet, the ACT disseminated last March resembled PARCC in reading and mathematics, with the exception of multiple passage comparison/contrast. If the agenda of both ACT and SAT is to become more like PARCC, then one, in essence, wouldn’t be any better than another.

 

I’m still going through the SAT materials, so I’m not able to make any conclusions about this assessment yet. I don’t see anything strikingly different in Smarter Balanced, other than the listening portion of this assessment. Like PARCC, it contains multi-passage comparison/contrast, but at least the text used in these comparisons is shorter. Text is still excessively high. One significant difference ACT has over other assessments is the use of the following scaffolding: http://www.act.org/standard/planact/english/index.html This format is easier for teachers to work with, and it helps them target individual skills on which to focus in different level courses and grade levels.

 

There is no research I have come across that supports the use of archaic vocabulary used in primary source documents such as the Declaration of Independence to “level the playing field” in terms of comprehension. In fact, research supports the opposite. The single most important component of reading comprehension is background knowledge. Even when students cannot understand vocabulary terms used in a reading passage, they can still glean meaning from text using context to compensate for words they don’t understand.

 

Using archaic vocabulary only favors high achieving, high socio-economic students who have the fortitude and patience to weed through confusing, complex, and unfamiliar text. To understand this from the students’ point of view, I have to ask myself, how intelligent would I appear if I were assessed using text written in Spanish? I know some Spanish, but I’m not fluent in it, and such an assessment certainly wouldn’t appropriately or adequately assess my ability to compare, contrast, synthesize, apply, etc., information for purpose of extracting meaning.

 

Not only do these assessments not assess what they claim to assess, but I’m also convinced, based on brain research, they are actually harmful to students. The brain only has so much neural support. If the brain is trained through repetition to narrow this neural support to a specific region of the brain, then neural activity will supply less support, or perhaps no longer support, other very important areas of the brain, specifically those areas allowing for the ability to think conceptually and creatively.

 

Ray Charles was born with sight, but lost his sight early on in his childhood. Once he lost his sight, his senses of hearing and touch became more acute. This happened because neural activity once supporting sight was redirected to support other senses – hearing and touch. Without sight, there was no need for neural activity in this region of the brain, so neurons travelled to other areas that did need support. Fortunately, genius for Ray Charles evolved through his auditory modality in the form of musical, artistic expression.

 

It is exceedingly concerning that our assessment practices could likely be obstructing the natural development of human thought processes, and my heartfelt message is that this isn’t a question of what test is better or worse – this is an issue of morality and calls for careful consideration as to what we as educators are doing to our students in our effort to neatly package their performance into statistical boxes that are misleading, at best, and that lie, at worst. We are using quantitative assessment to evaluate qualitative data – it simply cannot be done. We, as mature adults, are far more advanced than what our cognitive abilities indicated as adolescents.

 

Unfortunately, government is dictating educational practice, but perhaps it’s time to evaluate the government’s ability to determine what sound educational practice is. The original intent behind the use of standardized assessment was a noble one, but it has spun out of control, and current research suggests it may actually be detrimental to student learning and damaging to the neurology of the brain.

 

My best advice is to “take the path less traveled by;” Robert Frost claims it “made all the difference.”

 

I’ve always believed students were the educators top priority, even if this means making very difficult decisions with which many may disagree. Funding is not a priority if it comes at the expense of our students’ well-being. They are in our care, and we, as adults and as educators, are supposed to know and do what is “educationally” sound for them.

 

We make mistakes, we learn from them, and then we adjust accordingly. We aren’t perfect, but when there is strong evidence indicating our assessment practices are very likely damaging to the natural development of neural activity in the human brain, we should stop what we are doing until this evidence is analyzed through appropriate research. My bet is this could be as simple as speaking with doctors specializing in the neurology of the brain.”

This post is a description of EngageNY, the scripted curriculum written for use in New York state and now migrating to other states. Ken Wagner, former deputy commissioner of the New York State Education Department, now Rhode Island state superintendent, promises to import them to Rhode Island. New York’s new state commissioner says she used the New York curriculum with great success in Florida. Read this post and decide for yourself. Be sure to read the comments.

Here is a sample:

The same people who gave us standardized testing have now given us standardized teaching, which goes directly to the information a student can get, how the student gets it, and what the student is supposed to get out of each and every class minute. It is 19th-century educational lockstep, pushed by the White House and institutionalized by the New York governor’s office.

If standardized testing dumbed down school and teacher evaluation, standardized teaching takes it a step further: It dumbs down the kids.

The project is called “Engage New York.” It does anything but.

If, say, you are a teacher of 11th-grade English in Buffalo, you get, every 10 weeks, a thick three-ring binder with instructions on what you are to do in every class. The copy I have of one of these runs 587 pages. The volume is excruciatingly boring to read. (I cheated: I skimmed most of the pages.) I cannot imagine what it is like to be a creative and imaginative teacher hamstrung by it. Worse: I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a student in classes that now have to be taught by teachers forced to deliver this drivel or be fired.

The book is divided into teaching “modules,” which list what questions the teachers should ask, what answers they should get, and how they should respond to them. They list what words students should learn each day.

There are regular pages headed “Unit-at-a-Glance Calendar,” telling the teacher the specific lines and paragraphs to be covered in each class. There are pages listing “Activity” items for each class; each named activity includes the percentage of class time to be devoted to it. One, for example has “Activity 1: Introduction of Lesson Agenda. 5%”; Activity 2: Homework Accountability. 10%”; “Activity 3: Masterful Reading. 5%”; “Activity 4: Hamlet Act 1.2, Lines 900-110 Reading and Discussion, 60%.”

Day after day of this, class after class, minute by minute.

The questions the teachers are ordered to ask are often so banal they read like a Monty Python parody. Here is an example. The teacher is told to ask the question, “What information do you gather from the full title of the play: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?” (All teacher questions are in bold type.)

Permissible student answers are:

—The play is about a person named Hamlet.

—This is a tragic or sad play.

—Hamlet is a prince.

—This play likely takes place in Denmark.

This is drivel. The book is full of things like that. It is also full of misinformation.

Minutes ago, a bipartisan majority of the Senate approved the Every Child Achieves Act, which is the bill forged by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-WA). This is the long-overdue reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the legislation passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law on January 8, 2002. The underlying legislation is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, whose purpose was to authorize federal aid to education targeted to schools that enrolled significant numbers of children living in poverty. The original bill was about equity, not testing and accountability.

 

The Senate bill retains annual testing, but removes federal sanctions attached to test results. Any rewards or sanctions attached to test scores will be left to states. The Senate rejected private school vouchers; nine Republican Senators joined with Democrats to defeat the voucher proposal. The bill also strengthens current prohibitions against the Secretary of Education dictating specific curriculum, standards, and tests to states, as well as barring the Secretary from tying test scores to teacher evaluations. The bill repudiates the punitive measures of of NCLB and RTTT.

 

The House of Representatives has already passed its own bill, called the Student Success Act. A conference committee representing both houses will meet to iron out their differences and craft a bill that will then be presented for a vote in both houses.

 

As I get additional details, I will post them.

 

Speaking for the Network for Public Education, I will say that we are pleased to see a decisive rejection of federal micromanagement of curriculum, standards, and assessments, as well as the prohibition of federal imposition of particular modes of evaluating teachers. We oppose annual student testing; no high-performing nation in the world administers annual tests, and there is no good reason for us to do so. We reject the claim that children who are not subjected to annual standardized tests suffer harm or will be neglected. We believe that the standardized tests are shallow and have a disparate impact on children who are Black and Brown, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. We believe such tests degrade the quality of education and unfairly stigmatize children as “failures.” We also regret this bill’s financial support for charter schools, which on average do not perform as well as public schools, and in many jurisdictions, perform far worse than public schools. We would have preferred a bill that outlawed the allocation of federal funds to for-profit K-12 schools and that abandoned time-wasting annual testing.

 

Nonetheless, we support the Senate bill because it draws a close to the punitive methods of NCLB and RTTT. It is an important step forward for children, teachers, and public education. The battle over “reform” now shifts to the states, but we welcome an era in which the voices of parents, educators, and students can mobilize to influence policies in their communities and states. We believe that grassroots groups have a better chance of being heard locally than in Washington, D.C., where Beltway insiders think they speak for the public. We will continue to organize and carry our fight for better education to every state.

Pennsylvania’s test scores dropped again. Rigor!

The curriculum is developmentally inappropriate, the tests are two grade levels above grade level. Class sizes are growing because of budget cuts. Money has been sucked out of public schools to fund privately managed charters.

Rigor was designed to fail more students and pave the way for privatization. It is working.

Joseph Herbert teaches math at Wilson High School in the District of Columbia. In this post, he explains how PARCC, the Common Core test, hurt his students. He supports the Common Core but not the tests.

He writes that the current “reforms” are deeply flawed.

“The problem is two-fold: (1) the data collected do not reliably give us the information that reformers claim they do, and (2) the over-emphasis on testing is sucking the life and joy out of school, interfering significantly with actual teaching and learning, and narrowing the curriculum.”

VAM, he says, is unreliable and invalid, as is the data it produces.

Students lost many weeks of instructional time because of testing:

“Our freshmen and sophomores took over seven hours worth of PARCC tests in the month of March alone. Furthermore, they had a second round of PARCC tests in May followed shortly thereafter by final exams in June. Ultimately, these children had three out of the last four months of school dominated by tests.

“Previously, all students took the paper-and-pencil DC-CAS standardized test at the same time, and instruction was disrupted for about a week. With the new PARCC test, there was a much more protracted disruption to instruction. The PARCC test is administered online, but Wilson simply does not have the technological infrastructure to test large numbers of students simultaneously. Without the necessary IT infrastructure we were forced to test small groups of students on a rotating basis.

“As a result, we spent over three weeks administering the first round of PARCC tests alone. Students were forced to miss class to test while their classes went on, causing them to lose valuable instructional time.”

He does not blame the Common Core standards. He blames PARCC. To those who think we need annual testing, he points out that NAEP reports the gaps every two years, without the intrusiveness of PARCC.

He writes:

“Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what kind of experience we want our children to have in school. I believe that kids learn more when they’re excited to come to school. I believe they learn more when they have meaningful and thoughtful questions to ask and answer. I believe math can and should be fun.

“I believe that if we want to stem the tide of DC’s dropout crisis, school should be a worthwhile place to attend, not a miserable experience of test taking.

“I believe that if we want to close the achievement gap, we need to have an open and honest conversation about what students need from school, what they want from school, and how we can get data on student performance without perversely affecting their school experience.

“Most of all, I believe that school is a place for profound growth and learning. Anything that detracts from or actively impedes that must go.”

Mercedes Schneider reports that Arne Duncan sent his children to public schools in Arlington, Virginia, but Virginia never adopted the Common Core standards.

Now, as we know, his children will attend the University of Chicago Lab school, a progressive school that does not use the Common Core standards.

If the CCSS are imperative for America’s children, why has Duncan avoided placing his children in schools where they would encounter them? Doesn’t he want to know how they are doing compared to children in other states? Doesn’t he want them to be college-and-career-ready? Doesn’t he want them to be prepared for global competition?

It doesn’t make sense.

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