Archives for category: Common Core

Teachers in Portland, Oregon, voted in opposition to administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The best part of the resolution calls on the superintendent, the school board, and principals to take the test and publicly release their scores!

“About 70 Portland Association of Teachers representatives from schools across the district voted to approve the resolution Wednesday night, said PAT President Gwen Sullivan. The resolution was crafted by a union committee and references the Oregon Education Association’s vote last spring for a moratorium on administering the test.

“”It’s not just going against something, it’s about what we’re for,” she said. “It was even more of a symbol of (what) people honestly feel about this particular issue. Teachers do not support this test.”

“The resolution references multiple concerns with the test, such as predictions that approximately 65 percent of students will fail this year and that Smarter Balanced test scores have not yet been determined to be valid or reliable. The resolution also points out the millions of federal and state dollars that have been allocated for test design and implementation.

“The resolution calls for PAT members to speak and petition about the amount of time students will spend preparing and taking the test. Members are also encouraged to hold parent informational sessions about Smarter Balanced and opting out and practice sessions for parents and teachers to take the test.

“The PAT also asks for Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith, school board members and principals take the Smarter Balanced test and publicly release their scores. The school board is encouraged to quit using standardized test scores to make decisions, the resolution states.”

Here is a video clip of the President of the Portland Association of Teachers speaking out about teacher concerns regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessment at last week’s school board hearing:

A judge in Missiuri blocked state payment to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, agreeing with critics that SBAC is ““an unlawful interstate compact to which the U.S. Congress has never consented,”

Gary Rubinstein deconstructed the claim made by the NYC charter industry that 143,000 students are “trapped in failing schools.”

As Rubinstein shows, a billionaire-backed group called “Families for Excellent Schools” decided arbitrarily that any school where less than 10% passed the new Common Core test was a “failing school.” He points out that only 30% “passed” the Common Core tests (including charter schools, which had the same pass rate as public schools). If Families for Excellent Schools had used a 20% pass rate instead of 10%, he notes, then FES could have bemoaned the “Forgotten Three-Quarters.”

Rubinstein discovered that 90% of the parents in the 371 schools arbitrarily labeled “failing” would recommend their school to other parents. Obviously, the parents don’t believe their children are “trapped.”

The claim about “children trapped in failung schools” comes from a “report” by the Walton Family-funded “Families for Excellent Schools.” This is the same group that hastily raised and spent $5-6 million last year to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to charge rent to charter schools using public space. With money spent so freely on the airwaves and in Albany, Governor Cuomo adopted charter schools as his cause (only 3% of the state’s students attend charter schools). With his support, the Legislature passed a bill requiring NYC to provide free space in public schools to charters and to pay their rent if they located in private space.

The New York Times is convinced that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been a great success, and the editorial board urges Congress to stick with annual high-stakes testing. The editorial is couched in terms of the wonderful things that have happened to children of color, echoing the “reform” theme of testing as a “civil right.” This editorial is so out of touch with reality that it is hard to know where to begin. States are now beginning to test little children for 10-12 hours to see if they can read and do math; the amount of testing and the stakes attached to it are not found in any high-performing nation in the world, only here. The billions of dollars now devoted to standardized testing is obscene, especially when many of children who need help the most are in overcrowded classes and in states that have slashed the budget and/or opened charter schools and handed out vouchers to drain funding away from the public schools.


For a different point of view, read Carol Burris’s strong article about why it is time for civil disobedience, why parents should refuse to allow their children to take the tests.


Burris writes:


It has become increasingly clear that Congress does not have the will to move away from annual high-stakes testing. The bizarre notion that subjecting 9-year-olds to hours of high-stakes tests is a “civil right,” is embedded in the thinking of both parties. Conservatives no longer believe in the local, democratic control of our schools. Progressives refuse to address the effects of poverty, segregation and the destruction of the middle class on student learning. The unimaginative strategy to improve achievement is to make standardized tests longer and harder.


And then there are the Common Core State Standards. Legislators talk a good game to appease parents, but for all their bluff and bluster, they are quite content to use code names, like the West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards, to trick their constituents into believing their state standards are unique, even though most are word for word from the Common Core.


The only remedy left to parents is to refuse to have their children take the tests. Testing is the rock on which the policies that are destroying our local public schools are built. If our politicians do not have the courage to reverse high-stakes testing, then those who care must step in. As professor of Language and Composition, Ira Shor, bluntly stated:


Because our kids cannot defend themselves, we have to defend them. We parents must step in to stop it. We should put our foot down and say, “Do it to your own kids first before you experiment on ours!”


In contrast to the New York Times, which argues for the status quo on grounds of helping minority students, Burris sharply argues:


The alleged benefit of annual high stakes testing was to unveil the achievement gaps, and by doing so, close them. All that has been closed are children’s neighborhood schools. In a powerful piece in the Huffington Post, Fairfield University Professor Yohuru Williams argues that annual high-stakes testing feeds racial determinism and closes doors of opportunity for black and brown children.


Last year, Alan Aja and I presented evidence on how the Common Core and its tests are hurting, not helping, disadvantaged students. (The links to both articles are in Burris’s article.)


Burris concludes:


I am a rule follower by nature. I have never gotten a speeding ticket. I patiently wait my turn in lines. I am the product of 12 years of Catholic schools–raised in a blue-collar home where authority was not to be questioned. I was the little girl who always colored in the lines.


But there comes a time when rules must be broken — when adults, after exhausting all remedies, must be willing to break ranks and not comply. That time is now. The promise of a public school system, however imperfectly realized, is at risk of being destroyed. The future of our children is hanging from testing’s high stakes. The time to Opt Out is now.

Peter Greene is a problem for me. He can easily toss off two or three hilarious, original posts every day, and I can’t keep up with him. I keep trying. So ignore the original publication date.

In this post, he live blogs the experience of taking a sample PARCC test. What strikes him and the reader is that the questions are often confusing and usually very boring.

This is how he begins:

“Today, I’m trying something new. I’ve gotten myself onto the PARCC sample item site and am going to look at the ELA sample items for high school. This set was updated in March of 2014, so, you know, it’s entirely possible they are not fully representative, given that the folks at Pearson are reportedly working tirelessly to improve testing so that new generations of Even Very Betterer Tests can be released into the wild, like so many majestic lion-maned dolphins.

“So I’m just going to live blog this in real-ish time, because we know that one important part of measuring reading skill is that it should not involve any time for reflection and thoughtful revisiting of the work being read. No, the Real Readers of this world are all Wham Bam Thank You Madam Librarian, so that’s how we’ll do this. There appear to be twenty-three sample items, and I have two hours to do this, so this could take a while. You’ve been warned.”

The first six questions are about DNA. Greene screams with frustration as he imagines his students tuning out.

If you want to know what our government spent $180 million to develop, read this. It may be coming to your children or students.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education commissioned a study comparing MCAS, the 20-year-old state assessment system, and PARCC, the federally funded Common Core test. It concluded that PARCC is superior to MCAS in preparing students to be workforce and college ready.

This is a surprising conclusion, since MCAS has been in use for two decades and PARCC is not only untried but very controversial. When Arne Duncan handed out $360 million to create two consortia to develop tests for the Common Core, PARCC enlisted 24 states and DC. Now, only 10 states and DC are sticking with PARCC.

Even more surprising are the reports about a lack of well-prepared workers. Massachusetts is by far the most successful state in the nation, as judged by NAEP test scores. Maybe test scores don’t translate into the skills, behaviors, and habits that employers seek. But how do these business people know that PARCC will be better?

Mark Neal, superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local Schools in Ohio, wrote a sharply worded statement about parents’ right to opt their child out of testing.


When parents asked if they had the right to opt out, he responded with this advice:


While I am not (and never have been) an advocate of the PARCC Testing, Ohio got into this testing debacle with little to no input from local school officials. Therefore, I feel no responsibility to stick my neck out for the Department of Education by defending their decisions. What’s happening now, in my opinion, is that parents have figured out what is being forced upon their children, and the proverbial rubber… is beginning to meet the road. However, it is not our goal to discourage nor undermine the laws of our governing body.


Therefore, our position as a school district is that we do not discourage nor encourage a parent’s decision to opt out their child. We must respect parental rights at all costs. This is the very reason I advocate for local control. Our own Tri-Valley Board of Education is in a much better position to make sound decisions for the families of our school district, than are the bureaucrats in Columbus and Washington. I say that with no disrespect toward our own legislators, whom have worked diligently behind the scenes to address the over-testing issue. The unfortunate reality is that the parents who have contacted the school district up to this point, are the parents of high achieving students who undoubtedly would do well on these assessments. We will effectively be rating school districts and individual teachers based on test scores that do not include many of their highest achieving students….


I am quite confident that reason will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, we will respect the rights of our parents to make the best decisions for their children while simultaneously following the laws and policies of the Ohio Department of Education.


For defending common sense and speaking plainly to his community, I place Mark Neal on the honor roll of the blog as a champion of American public education.

Russ Walsh, a literacy expert, is analyzing the reading passages on the PARCC test. In his first post on this topic, he reviewed sample questions from the test for readability levels; while the Lexile measure was aligned with the correct grade level, other measures showed the readability to be about two grade levels above the students’ actual grade. In the following post, Walsh looks at the kinds of questions that are asked.


He writes:


Readability, however, is about more than the level of difficulty of the text itself. It is also about the reading task (what the student is expected to do with the reading) and the characteristics of the reader (prior knowledge, vocabulary, reading strategies, motivation).


In this post I will look at the second aspect of readability that must be considered in any full assessment of readability: the task that the reader faces based on the reading. Since this is a testing environment, the task is answering reading comprehension questions and writing about what has been read.


In any readability situation the task matters. When students choose to read a story for pleasure, the task is straightforward. The task is more complex when we ask them to read something and answer questions that someone else has determined are important to an understanding of the text. Questions need to be carefully crafted to help the student focus on important aspects of the text and to allow them to demonstrate understanding or the lack thereof…..


Whenever a new test is rolled out, we know through past experience that test scores will go down. Over time schools, teachers, and students adjust and the trend then is for scores to go up. It will be no different with the PARCC tests. As the scores rise, some questions will arise like, “Have we been focused on the right things in these tests?” and “Have the tests led to better, more thoughtful readers?” Based on my analysis of these test questions, I am not confident.



Robert Pondiscio hit a hornet’s nest when he wrote in defense of the Common Core standards for kindergarten. In this post, which was released by DEY (Defending the Early Years), its director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, responds to Pondiscio.



She writes:




Last week, Senior Fellow and Vice President for External Affairs at the conservative Fordham Institute, Robert Pondiscio published a critique of our recent report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. His essay “Is Common Core too hard for kindergarten?” was published in the Common Core Watch blog at the Fordham Institute. After reading his essay, a few things are quite clear.


First, it is not surprising that the critique comes from this corner – the Fordham Institute has been a key player promoting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In fact, the Gates-funded Fordham Institute, which has been rating education standards for years, has been pushing the CCSS even in places where they have rated the existing state standards higher than they have rated the CCSS.


Second, it is surprising how our paper and our position have been completely misunderstood by Pondiscio. Not only does he dismiss early childhood expertise out of hand, he misrepresents our arguments. This is even after participating in an hour-long panel discussion on KQED’s Forum with one of the report authors, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Pondiscio further debases the intellectual competence of early childhood educators when he describes our researched-based advocacy report as “complaints”.


Pondiscio writes that our report “complains” that “expecting kindergarteners to read is ‘developmentally inappropriate’”. In fact, we agree that many kindergarteners do learn to read. It is precisely something that we expect. Our deep concern is over the CCSS expectation that ALL children learn to read in kindergarten. As we state in the report, “Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten, yet the Common Core State Standards require them to do just that. This is leading to inappropriate classroom practices.”


Pondiscio describes our position as simply stating the “Common Core is too hard for kindergarten”. He uses this reductive phrase “too hard” repeatedly throughout his essay. In fact, our argument is much more nuanced than that. We do state, “When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy and confusion.”


To bolster his critique, Pondiscio offers a link to a chapter in a book published by Scholastic (no author given) that references a study by researchers Hanson and Farrell (1995). We were able to find this study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Chicago, though it is not clear if this research was published in a peer-reviewed journal. We shared the research with a trusted education researcher who responded that it is difficult to evaluate this “poor and old piece of evidence,” as some important technical information is missing – such as the standard deviations – making it hard to estimate the size of the claimed effects.


Pondiscio writes that “If teachers are turning their kindergarten classrooms into joyless grinding mills and claiming they are forced to do so under Common Core (as the report’s authors allege), something clearly has gone wrong.” Here, Pondiscio contributes to the on-going national narrative of teacher-bashing. The onus here is on the teachers, he claims, not on the misguided CCSS or the pressure from school administrators, district superintendents and state departments of education to produce high-scoring test results.


It is insulting for Pondiscio to imply our intended message is “children should not be reading by the end of kindergarten, or that they will read when they are good and ready.” We clearly state that there is a normal range for learning to read. We know that many children learn to read at five, four or even three-years-old. Many will learn to read in kindergarten. That is not a problem. We also understand quite fully that learning to read is highly individualized and that it is part of the craft of good teaching to know your students well and to understand why, how and when specific supports are needed. The CCSS one-size-fits-all, lock-step expectations do not allow for teacher judgment. We know that the CCSS has led to a shift in reading assessments that have been around for a long time. For example, reading experts Fountas and Pinnell used to suggest that ending kindergarten in the A-C of books range was okay. Now, with the CCSS-informed shift, if a student has not progressed past level B by the beginning of first grade, he is designated as requiring “Intensive Intervention.”


There is much more to refute in Pondiscio’s essay, though we have given him enough of our attention. To read more on the issue, we suggest Susan Ochshorn’s response to Pondiscio here.


Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director

Defending the Early Years (DEY)

James Kirylo explains here why his son will opt out of the PARCC test. He reminds his local school board that State Superintendent John White has often defended vouchers by saying that parents know what is best for his child. Kirylo says he knows what is best for his third-grade son: not to be subjected to hours and hours of pre-testing and testing. He wants him to love learning, not to be subjected to a grueling regime of finding the right answer. Kirylo happens to be an expert in early childhood education who has written frequently about developmentally appropriate education. Now, as a father, he is acting in the best interest of his child.
Remarks to Tangipahoa School Board
Amite, Louisiana

Why my Son will Opt Out of PARCC
(Enough: Stand Up, Speak Out, and Opt Out)


James D. Kirylo

While I am a professor of education, I don’t come here to speak in that official capacity, but, rather, as a parent with two children attending a public school in the state of Louisiana.

The theme of my remarks is related to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) testing, and standardized testing in general, obviously politically charged interrelated topics.
But, then again, education is political at its core, no more exemplified when Governor Jindal was for Common Core before he was against it, and not to be outdone, Senator Vitter was against it, before he was for it, to be back against it. And, now more recently, the Governor and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), headed by Chas Roemer, are in a cat fight regarding PARCC testing, with many others now jumping into the fray.
And so, of course, it should not be any great wonder that so many people around the state are scratching their collective heads regarding Common Core and PARCC, no more tangibly experienced by teachers, felt by the parents, and imposed on our children.
I think it is fair to say Common Core should be taken with a relative grain of salt simply because some of it just makes no doggone sense. For example, it is not uncommon my Antonio, a third grader, will ask me how to do a particular homework math problem, and I will have no earthly idea how to do it. So I respond to him, son, please explain to your teacher that your daddy doesn’t know how to do this one. And, I jokingly suggest to my wife that his teacher probably doesn’t know how to do it either that is why she sends it home to see if the parents can figure this thing out. Because it makes no doggone sense to her either. And so it goes.
To the central point of what I want to share, which is to let this board know that my son will be opting out of PARCC testing. There are many reasons for this decision, some of which I will communicate here.
Wasn’t it Mr. John White, the unqualified Louisiana Superintendent of Education, who said on more than one occasion that parents know what is best for their children? Well, I can unequivocally tell you that opting out my child from PARCC is best for him. I encourage other parents to do the same. And, parents, don’t let anyone coercively tell you different, with a bullying tactic how opting out will negatively impact schools’/teachers’ scores. You have the right to opt out. And opting out of PARCC does not mean one is agreeing to take some other replacement standardized test.
The issue for me here is not only the PARCC assessment tool, which is symptomatic of a warped system, but, rather, the critical concern is also the entire testing industrial complex that is poisoning our schools. There are those who claim these standardized tests as they are currently being used are what strengthen our accountability system. But, I say that is misguided thinking coming from a bully pulpit that is using these tests in an effort to shamelessly control schools, teachers, parents, children, and entire communities.
My son is very conscientious child, and his teacher recently shared with me that he likes to think through things, loves to read, and is doing well. That brings this father much joy that what he is doing at school is the same what does at home. As I have told my two young boys, my other one, Alexander, who is in first grade, I have no interest in them focusing on getting an A. They don’t need that artificial burden.
Rather, what I am interested in is that they try their best, faithfully apply themselves, listen to the teacher, and question the teacher. There are two principal tasks of the teacher. First, a teacher must work diligently to tap into the natural curiosities a child brings to the class. Second, and perhaps most importantly, a central goal of the teacher is to inspire. Why? Because inspiration moves us. Inspiration is the fuel that feeds the learner to fall in love with learning. If and when a teacher does that, the world is a child’s oyster.
As I understand it, part I of PARCC is scheduled to take place March 16-20. During the course of the week, eight year old children will endure over 6 hours of testing. But of course, that is not enough of testing. Enter in Part II of PARCC, which will take place May 4-6 in which students will endure another 3 hours and 30 minutes of testing.
That is not to mention, that between that time ILeap will occur on April 14 and 15, where these same eight year old children will yet endure another 2 hours and 45 minutes of testing. And let’s not forget the Mock Testing that is to occur. Add up all those hours, and that comes to over 11 hours of testing. In a span of three months, an 8 year old will spend more hours subjected to standardized testing, which translates more than what I withstood throughout my entire K-12 schooling experience.
Of course, this does not include the months of testing practice, testing talk, and as we get closer to testing days we will have balloon send offs, pep rallies, and the like. These dog and pony shows are really not for students, but for the adults involved in the system who are under tremendous pressure, running on scared on how they will be judged by this perverted system. Perhaps, as the thinking goes, if we have a pep rally, the child will be “motivated” to do well on the test, and then our school will get a good grade. After all isn’t education all about ratings, scores, and percentages.
But, it doesn’t stop there. We tell children to get enough sleep, eat right, and frighten the daylights out of them on how important these tests are. What I speak is not hyperbole; this is reality.
As a result of this fabricated environment, young children are unnecessarily under great stress, fearful, dealing with bouts of panic, crying spells, apathy, sleeplessness, and depression, playing havoc on their self-worth and motivation, ultimately equating that schooling is simply about passing a test, leading some to even drop out. And the most affected are the poor, the ones without a voice. Make no mistake, these created conditions fall right in the lap of policy makers, many of whom chief among them sit on BESE, and enforced by the school board such as this one, and applauded by many others holding public office.
Evidently, BESE has become so blind to the poison they are injecting into our youth that they don’t even see our children anymore. Peter Sacks is spot on in his brilliant book, Standardized Minds (1999), “The accountability crusade has been dramatic and emotionally wrenching for many, and yet it operates with utter, bureaucratic coldness” (p.68)…. Regarding her son’s achievement on a standardized test, one parent put it this way: “Teachers were mesmerized by the numbers…They were in awe of him. Because he did so well on the test, in a way they didn’t see him. They saw him as his test scores” (p. 65).
For the last approximate 20 years, Education Week, publishes an annual Quality Counts State by State Report Card. What did Louisiana receive this year on K-12 Achievement? D- (49th in the nation). Every year for the past near two decades, the state of Louisiana has been hovering in that score range. And every year, we then predictably respond with more of the same rhetoric that centers around preparing for standardized tests. Except each year it becomes more heightened, more emphasized, more high stakes, and a whole lot sicker.
This is madness. I imagine all of us are familiar with the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. This definition is credited to Albert Einstein, who, by the way, would have been labeled a failure in an era of high stakes testing.
And speaking of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and now moving into Race to the Top Program, which is linked to Common Core and PARCC, Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the most respected education scholars in the nation, puts it this way, “After 13 years of federally mandated annual testing, how could anyone still believe that testing will improve instruction and close achievement gaps?” (
Well, I don’t, Dr. Ravitch. Excellent teachers, don’t. A plethora of concerned parents, don’t. And, high achieving countries, don’t. But, obviously, Dr. Ravitch, it appears that many policymakers in the state of Louisiana still do.
Let’s be clear, standardized testing has extraordinarily narrowed the curriculum, even has dumbed it down, impelling teachers to simply focus on prescribed areas of certain disciplines that will be tested. As a consequence, the arts in all its forms have greatly been deprived; the same for physical education; social studies and the sciences have received less attention; and, particularly for the very young, the idea of play and recess has been dismissed as frivolous. Clearly, the joy of learning is being systematically sucked out of curious children in a schooling environment that is riddled with fear (Solley, 2007).
Of course, assessment has its place in school. That is not being questioned here. And the ultimate goal of assessment is to improve teaching and learning. But, when it comes to our obsession with standardized tests, they have not only harmed quality teaching and meaningful learning, but also have chased good teachers away.
This is not to mention, the costs of them, so much so that the standardized testing industrial complex is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. We often hear that school systems are short of monies. My response to that is, no; they are short of priorities in which many dollars, much time, and much energy places its trust in the testing industry.
In the final analysis, it is no wonder, therefore, that numerous professional organizations, educators, and researchers from all over the world have admonished such a system. But more importantly, a sleeping giant called parents are waking up to this madness, and proclaiming, “Enough!” And that is why I am here.
Many will say, okay, what is the solution. I understand that. And there is no one solution, no one silver bullet, but collectively there are alternatives. However, before talking solutions, we need to be sure that there is an awareness of a problem.
Particularly among many in policy making positions, it appears that awareness is as dim as a small pen flashlight running on a weak battery. Many don’t see the problem. One can’t work on solutions, until awareness is more forcefully illuminated. And once that happens, the lighted path toward solutions will be guided by what can be.
In the end, our current system fundamentally functions by promoting competition, which inherently fosters a system of winners and losers, a system in which some are in and some are out. This kind of system is perpetual.
However, on the other hand, I don’t view a system of schooling as one that is steered by competition; rather, I view schooling as an endeavor in which learning is the focal point, in which cooperation and collaboration is the anchor, and in which the entire community works in concert to transform its citizenry.
In closing, it is for these reasons and others my son will be opting out of this testing madness. Parents all over the country are opting out, including a growing number in Louisiana. In addition, teachers all over the country are also joining forces, and saying enough and are refusing to administer something they know is developmentally inappropriate.
I strongly urge parents all over this parish to join me, to join the chorus of parents around this state, and proclaim enough, and opt out. I urge my colleagues at Southeastern Louisiana University, Louisiana State University, and other universities to speak out more forcefully, and say enough.
As I see it, we have two choices here: We can either continue to submit to the narrative of an unqualified state superintendent, a power hungry Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and an out of control testing industry, all of which is backed by corporate greed, in an effort that arrogantly promotes a system that is poisoning our youth….or….We can listen to the voices of scholars who have conducted thoughtful research, consider the position statements of numerous educational organizations, listen to the voices of thousands of teachers, and pay attention to the crying out of our youngsters, all of whom are saying enough, urging a different direction…I choose the latter every single time. Thank you.

Sacks, P. (1999). Standardized minds. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Solley, B. A. (2007). On standardized testing: An ACEI position paper. Childhood Education, 84(1), 31-37.


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