School districts in California are trying to compel the state to pick up the $1 billion cost of Common Core testing. The districts say it is an unfunded mandate. Many districts are strapped for cash, and they can’t find the money to pay for Common Core hardware for testing.
Remember a few months ago when everyone was wringing their hands and agreeing there was too much testing? Remember Arne Duncan said testing was sucking the oxygen out of the classroom?
That was then. This is now. Duncan is upset that Chicago is backing away from Commmon Core PARCC testing.
Mike Klonsky reports that Duncan threatened to cut off $1.2 billion in state aid if Chicago doesn’t give the PARCC.
This is crazy. The Secretary of Education is not supposed to tell states and districts what tests to use. He has overstepped his bounds, as he has done so often in the past. He has no understanding of federalism or of the limits of the federal role in education. The law says that no federal official may try to direct, control, or influence curriculum or instruction. Tests influence curriculum and instruction. By funding two tests and then compelling states to use them, he is flouting the law.
If he cuts any funding, Illinois should sue him.
Who has primary responsibility for children, the state or their parents? Florida says it is the state, not the parents.
Parent and teacher Andy Goldstein here makes an impassioned plea to the local school board: Stop the madness! Opt out of the state tests! Our children can’t wait! Restore the joy of learning! Opt out! Opt out!
However, State Commissioner Pam Stewart warned that opting out of state tests is illegal. She told legislators that opting out is not an option under Florida law. Teachers will be punished if they encourage parents to skip the testing. Those parents who insist on parental rights should contact their state legislator and demand changes in the law.
Florida is a state that tests children again and again and again. Parents should do what they think is right for their child. The only way to stop the testing madness is if enough parents refuse to allow their children to take the tests and ignore the State Commissioner’s threats.
Massachusetts is switching from its 20-year-old MCAS testing program to PARCC, the federally-funded Common Core test.
Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation on NAEP, the federal tests. Why is it making the change?
Some think it is because Massachusetts’ State Commissioner Mitchell Chester is the chair of the PARCC governing board.
“Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education, said the PARCC exam would help the state reduce the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, white and minority, by giving teachers better information about which kids need extra support.”
So let’s get this right: a harder test will improve the test scores of kids who are poor? A harder test will raise the scores of minority students but not white kids so the gaps will be reduced? Or the scores of poor and minority kids will increase at a faster pace than the scores of rich and white kids?
And one other question: why do teachers need a new test to tell which kids need extra help? Didn’t they learn that with the MCAS? Don’t they know it by seeing the kids in class daily and reviewing their class participation and homework?
None of this makes sense.
In the discussion draft for the revision of No Child Left Behind, Senator Lamar Alexander posed two options for testing: 1) grade span testing (once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school); 2) the status quo, that is, annual testing in grades 3-8. Politico reports this morning that there is some interest in a third option for federally-mandated testing: Let states and districts give assessments of their own choosing and their own timing.
A THIRD TESTING OPTION? Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been considering a pair options for how to approach testing in No Child Left Behind – but additional language in Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s NCLB discussion draft raises the possibility of another option, by opening the door for districts to develop their own set of assessments. Alexander’s language gives them the option to go that route, if they meet a set of requirements, whether Congress keeps NCLB mandates intact or gives states more flexibility on testing. Districts technically have the same option now, but it never caught on. Might it catch on in today’s climate, given the public backlash against standardized testing? Depends on whom you ask. Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, wrote recently [http://bit.ly/1ByO4rh] that it could become ‘an irresistible option’ for many districts. But Gary Phillips, vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said ‘this is one of those concepts that’s theoretically desirable, but practically impossible.’ It’s just too difficult, and too pricey, for districts to develop their own assessments, he said.
Here is a fourth option: Let state and districts make the choice to allow teachers to write their own tests and to supplement them by sampling, like NAEP testing. Those who believe so passionately in “school choice” should support the right of states and districts to “choose” when and how to test, including the option of letting teachers test what they have taught.
Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, may not get a new contract from his board. The reasons are unclear. The Washington Post wrote about Starr’s possible ouster yesterday.
Starr won national attention by his outspoken opposition to evaluating teachers by test scores; Montgomery County has a successful teacher evaluation system called Peer Assistance and Review.
Starr called for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing.
At present, a majority of the board is not willing to renew his contract.
Arthur L. Caplan and Lee H. Igel of the NYU Sports & Society Program warn that many American schools are reducing or eliminating recess in order to make more time for Common Core testing, and they explain why this is a terrible idea. NCLB testing started the race to narrow the curriculum, then Race to the Top raised the stakes. Now, Common Core testing–which will cause large numbers of children to be labeled “failures”–makes the testing even more decisive for students, teachers, and schools. Thus, recess and physical education fall victim to the pressure to spend more and more time preparing to take the tests, which will decide the fates of everyone, even the school itself.
In an article in Forbes, Caplan and Igel explain that recess is necessary for children’s healthy development.
They write (the links are in the original post in Forbes):
For those committed to keeping kids in the classroom, which keeps them away from the playground, consider the following:
Rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled in children during the past 30 years and about 18% of children in the U.S. are obese, according to both a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association;
Countries that are internationally regarded as having the best education systems, such as Finland, schedule time for students to have unstructured breaks throughout the day;
Activities—physical, emotional, cognitive, and social—that children regularly engage in during recess are essential to development and well-being, in childhood and throughout the lifespan.
Kids eat better and healthier when they get recess.
“Preparing America’s students for success” is one of the slogans often trumpeted by the Common Core initiative. It is a terrific aspiration—and an even better objective. But if you ask most parents, teachers and students, they will tell you that, under current conditions, it is closer to imprisonment than education.
With physical education classes now almost non-existent in our schools, recess needs to be a part of the school day. Students—and teachers—need occasional, repeated breaks from their work. It’s how the human body and mind get repaired and recharged.
What do we mean by success? What are we willing to sacrifice to get it? We should not sacrifice children’s health in pursuit of getting a higher score on a commercial test.
Georgia’s recently elected State Superintendent Richard Woods wrote a terrific letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, explaining patiently why federal testing mandates are defective. The letter was printed in Maureen Downey’s blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Superintendent Woods sounds like a veteran educator, which he is. He pulls no punches. This is what he wrote:
Dear Secretary Duncan,
With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) comes an opportunity to address the valid concerns of students, parents, teachers, and communities regarding the quantity and quality of federally mandated standardized tests.
As Georgia’s School Superintendent, I have a constitutional duty to convey those concerns and provide ideas on how to move my state and our nation forward. Georgia recently entered into a $108 million contract to deliver federally mandated standardized tests to our students. That figure does not include the millions of dollars spent to develop and validate test questions and inform the public about the new tests.
This adds to the need for an audit to provide information on the number of tests and loss of instructional time our children endure, as well as a cost/benefit analysis on our current national testing model. As a nation, we have surrendered time, talent, and resources to an emphasis on autopsy-styled assessments, rather than physical-styled assessments. With the reauthorization of ESEA comes an opportunity for a real paradigm shift in the area of assessment.
Instead of a “measure, pressure, and punish” model that sets our students, teachers, and schools up for failure, we need a diagnostic, remediate/accelerate model that personalizes instruction, empowers students, involves parents, and provides real feedback to our teachers.
We need greater emphasis for a federally supported but state-driven formative assessment model that identifies the strengths and weakness of students, coupled with a less intrusive, student-sampled or grade-staggered summative assessment model for the purposes of state-tostate comparisons and world rankings.
Our broken model of assessment is too focused on labeling our schools and teachers, and not focused enough on supporting our students. Our current status quo model is forcing our teachers to teach to the test. We need an innovative approach that uses tests to guide instruction, just as scans and tests guide medical professionals. Oftentimes, we hear teachers called professionals because they have the knowledge and skill set to reach the needs of their individual students, yet in our accountability measures we have not supported or given value to diagnostic tools and tests that teachers need to fully utilize that knowledge or those skills. We must find a balance between accountability and responsibility.
We must give our teachers the tools and trust to be successful or our current path to hyper-accountability will continue to set our students and teachers up for failure. Teachers should not view tests as tools that tie their hands as professionals, but as tools that help them grow in their profession. Students should not view tests as tools that can strengthen barriers to be promoted or to graduate, but as tools that help them overcome those barriers. Schools should not view tests as tools that can doom them to failure, but as tools that serve as a compass pointing them down the path of success.
Testing must be a tool in our toolbox, but we need more rulers and fewer hammers. As Georgia’s School Superintendent, but more importantly as someone with 22 years of Pre-K through twelfth grade experience in education, I strongly urge you to take this moment in history to listen to the concerns of your constituents – parents, teachers, and community members – and reform the federal standardized testing requirements for the betterment of our children. I look forward to working with you to move education forward.
Jeffery Corbett, president of the Oklahoma PTA, released the following statement today:
Oklahoma PTA Encourages Parents to Opt-Out of Field Test
January 27, 2015: In an effort to keep the parents, guardians and students of Oklahoma’s public schools informed about the administration of field test questions in standardized tests, Oklahoma PTA has asked the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to release specific information regarding a field test writing prompt included in both the 5th grade and 8th grade writing assessments for 2015.
“Parents are frustrated by the overwhelming use of standardized tests,” stated Jeffery Corbett, President. “Oklahoma PTA believes that parents have the right to make informed decisions regarding whether or not their child provides unpaid research to the billion-dollar testing industry. They deserve the opportunity to opt their child out of the field test.”
The state department has informed districts that these tests will contain two writing prompts: one that is operational and one that is a field test. A prompt provides the student with one or more passages to read, followed by a question to which an essay response is generated. A field test prompt was part of these tests as recently as 2013.
The OSDE did not inform districts which prompt is for the field test, so parents are not able to obtain that information from their school.
In July 2014, members of Oklahoma PTA unanimously adopted a resolution objecting to the mass administration of field tests, stating that students should not be expected to conduct corporate research for any testing company.
Information obtained through the scoring of field tests is not provided to the student, parent, teacher or school district. The testing company, however, obtains valuable data to help develop tests that will then be sold back to the State of Oklahoma for a profit. This, of course, comes after public tax dollars are spent not teaching students, but instead administering tests to them, creating a meaningless loss of instructional time.
“By calling for an opt-out of the field test prompt, we are taking a strong stand against testing as education,” Corbett stated. “Our future, our children, deserve more than to be great test takers.”
The response to the field test inquiry will be shared with PTA members and made available to the public at http://www.okpta.org once it has been received from the OSDE.
Anthony Cody has been a persistent critic of the hubris of the Gates Foundation. Not long ago, he managed to get an agreement from the foundation to engage in a debate about the foundation’s agenda, what it is and what it should be. That debate became the basis for Cody’s recent book The Educator and the Oligarch. Cody wants the foundation to pay more attention to experienced educators, not so much to economists and theoreticians who don’t know much about the realities of classrooms today.
In this post, he holds out hope that the foundation might display a new humility because of the recently expressed views of its new CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman, who taught for two years in Uganda. She was quoted saying,
On a very practical level, that time in Uganda was a lesson about what it takes to work successfully in a different culture. “I learned about what it really takes to work at scale in a poor country. As a western academician, as a Gates Foundation person, the first thing you should be doing is listening and learning. And have a huge sense of humility about what you don’t know,” she said.
I googled Dr. Desmond-Hellman, and I must say, she has an extraordinarily impressive resume. I think her appointment signals that the Gates Foundation will review and increase its investments in public health, especially in impoverished nations.
It is not clear where she might take the foundation’s top-down, heavy-handed education agenda, which has so far produced no results and tremendous hostility towards the foundation. Bill Gates said in 2013 that “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” It seems that the many teachers and principals who have been fired, the wreckage caused by the foundation’s love of standardized testing and data, are simply collateral damage while Mr. Gates waits to figure out, a decade from now, whether “our education stuff” is working.
I am betting on Sue Desmond-Hellman. Something tells me that her life experience is broad enough and deep enough to warn her away from evidence-free experimentation with people’s lives. I may be wrong, but I will take a wait-and-see attitude and hope for the best. Sue, I’m counting on you.