Archives for category: Testing

Robyn Brydalski is a third grade teacher. When she gathered up the Common Core tests at the end of three days of testing, she cried.

She cried for her students, who had spent hours and hours responding to questions that were often poorly written.

She cried for her profession, because the state had forced her to follow scripted modules, abandoning her own professional judgment.

“My blood boiled and anger seethed from the deepest parts of my heart when I saw the confusing passages and misleading questions. This test played on an eight year old mind taking advantage of these literal thinkers full knowing, on their own, very few students would be able to analyze, synthesize and evaluate an author’s message. The sheer volume of passages was exhausting. One of my brightest students was so confused by a question that she shut down and gave up. She looked at me and said, “I’m just stupid, I guess.” She is eight years old. No eight year old deserves to feel this way. I cried tears of pain when many of my students looked to me for guidance and clarification. I encouraged them but I knew without a teacher guiding them, they would not be successful with the expected question and my students knew this. How is this right? How is this just? How is this a true measure of good teaching? My students persevered through day one, toughed it out for day two but by day three could not demonstrate any evidence of learning. They were academically beat, physically exhausted and morally defeated.”

Jesse Hagopian, Seattle teacher leader, reports on the chaos that accompanied the introduction of the Smarter Balanced assessment in Seattle.

“Before the testing season began, educators in Seattle knew that because of the lack of proper preparations, IT support, technological upgrades, and training – and due to the outlandish number of tests administered this year – testing pandemonium would ensue.”

Their expectations proved correct.

” We heard many stories about SBAC testing that are common to high-stakes, standardized tests: the tests dramatically disrupted the educational process, deprived students of hours of instructional time, reduced stressed out students to tears, and monopolized the computer labs and libraries in service of test administration for weeks at a time.”

One teacher reported:

“Students spent a total of 6 hours completing the first half of the [Common Core] testing they are required to do. Students are being asked to navigate confusing split screens; drag, drop, and highlight; and type extended responses. They are being asked to demonstrate their learning in a completely different way than how they have acquired it. The district has said that the amount students are expected to type is not overwhelming. However, students are being asked to type an entire essay, several paragraphs long, on the computer. Our school does not have a technology teacher and not all students have computer access at home, so many students have not learned computer or keyboarding skills. I watched more than one student hitting the space bar over and over because they did not know how to go down to the next line to start a new paragraph.

“I was so proud of my students for working through the test and trying their hardest, despite the challenges. We were all glad when a long week of testing was over and we could get back to learning. We later learned that the directions we received from the district about how to access the test and what the test was called were incorrect. This meant that an entire grade took the wrong test and were then required to retake it. We were told that this was not an isolated incident but had occurred at several schools. The look on my students’ faces when I told them we had to do the test again was heart-breaking.

“Due to the challenges students have had navigating the testing interface, I question the developmental appropriateness and the equity of this test. Due to the many issues we’ve seen with the rollout this year, I question the validity of this test to evaluate our schools, our teachers, and our students.”

Tim Slekar, dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, recognizes that the Néw York opt out has national implications.

He links to a dismissive editorial in the Néw York Daily News that characterizes opt out as union-led, which is ridiculous. Parents don’t work for the union and don’t take orders from the union.

He writes:

“It’s fills me with such warmth to watch the media try with all its might to prop up an invalid, unreliable, and politically driven system to divert tax dollars to private companies and charter schools.

“Opt out was never and will never be an anti-testing movement. It is the ultimate reality check and newest form of civil disobedience.

“People are now opting out in large numbers because they finally understand that the results are scientifically invalid.

“Simply, the tests don’t tell us how children our doing and don’t hold anybody accountable. 25 years of testing and not a single budge in the achievement gap. 25 years of accountability and 1 trillion dollars redirected towards ACCOUNTABILITY and all we have to show for it is soaring profits for test making companies, test prep companies and data companies.

“Sorry but its over. This was never about helping our neediest children. It was always about destroying the public system, blaming teachers and then selling off our schools to the highest bidders.”

Let me add a personal note about Tim. Five years ago, he urged me to endorse opting out, and I declined. I did not want to urge anyone to break the law. Over time, I have come to realize that Tim was right. Opting out is the only way that parents have to tell legislators to stop demonizing our public schools and our teachers. Doing so requires civil disobedience. We can take action. We will be heard. Our numbers will grow until politicians stop using test scores to harm children and privatize public schools.

Valerie Strauss analyzes the debate between Chancellor Merryl Tisch and me on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes.”

She includes the transcript.

What she found odd was Tisch’s resoonse right after I explained that teachers are not allowed to see how individual students answered questions, so the tests have
no diagnostic value. All that teachers see is the students’ scores and how they compare to others. There is no item analysis, no description of students’ weaknesses or strength.

Tisch answered:

“TISCH: Well, I would say that the tests are really a diagnostic tool that is used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state. New York State spends $54 billion a year on educating 3.2 million schoolchildren. For $54 billion a year I think New Yorkers deserve a snapshot of how our kids are doing, how our schools are doing, how our systems are doing. There is a really important data point.”

She began by saying that the Common Core standards and tests would close the achievement gap, although there is no evidence for that claim. Then she said the tests are a valuable diagnostic tool, but they don’t provide enough information to perform that function. Then she said the tests would show how our schools were doing, which I disagree with, because the passing mark was set artificially high, guaranteeing that most children would fail.

Unfortunately I had no opportunity to respond.

The resounding success of the opt out movement in Néw York state prompted a state senator to introduce a bill to exempt the highest-performing districts from Governor Cuomo’s test-based teacher evaluation plan.

Presumably the advocates of the plan hope to take the steam out of the opt out movement. Divide and conquer. Apparently high-stakes will be for the middle class and the poor, not the affluent high-performing districts.

Call it segregated testing. None for the rich. Only for peons.

This is a powerful letter from a teacher in New York City who realized that the test mania has grown out of control and must be reigned in. Although, as she puts it, she is not a risk taker, she concluded that she had to speak out. This is her letter:

To the Parents of New York City Public School Children:

I must preface this letter by stating that I am not a risk taker. I have played by the rules my entire life and prefer it that way. Follow directions, work hard, get rewarded. But what do you do when you feel like you are playing fair and square against an opponent who isn’t? I’ve been a teacher in the New York City Public School System for 10 years. I’ve watched the emphasis on, and stakes attached to, standardized testing in New York State increase each year, while simultaneously I’ve witnessed the tests becoming longer and more challenging. And yet each spring teachers are expected to proctor these tests without contest or debate. I can no longer do that. It is my time to speak up, on behalf of the students and teachers of New York.

Many proponents of testing argue that these state assessments allow schools to follow students’ progress and watch how they are growing each year. The New York State Department of Education claims that it has “embarked on a comprehensive initiative to ensure that schools prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and their careers.” Part of this initiative, is testing students in grades 3-8 each year to measure what students know and can do relative to the grade-level Common Core Learning Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

So, let’s look at the tests themselves, starting with the English Language Arts Tests. When New York State introduced the new Common Core tests three years ago, they argued “high-quality, grade-appropriate texts” would be used to assess students’ reading ability. What teachers and school administrators have found is that more and more of the reading passages and questions asked on these tests are actually above grade level standards. On last year’s 3rd grade test, many of the questions were examined by a teacher and former test-maker who normed them at a 7th and 8thgraded reading level! The same is true of the math tests, where the language is so tricky that many teachers argue that these assessments test reading comprehension instead of problem solving and mathematical ability. Too often, these tests are really focused on whether or not students can decipher the meaning of convoluted and confusing questions, not on showing actual reading or mathematical understanding.

When students have to select their answer to multiple choice questions, they have yet another challenge. The State argues that, “Answer choices will not jump out; rather, students will need to make hard choices between ‘fully correct’ and ‘plausible but incorrect’ answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the deep analyses specified by the standards.” At our school, to prepare students, teachers emphasize healthy debate, where students are encouraged to prove that their answer choice is correct, using evidence from the text. On the test, however, students are only rewarded if they circle the correct answer choice. Thus, the student who grapples with an answer for 10 minutes, but makes the wrong choice, is not rewarded for his/her deep thinking and analysis. Not only is the test unfair, but it does not promote the critical thinking that teachers emphasize in the classroom.

Then, of course, there is the issue of time. Both the ELA and Math tests are administered over the course of three days in each grade. That’s six days of testing, for a total of six hours and 40 minutes for third graders. By fifth grade, the total testing time is increased to eight hours and 40 minutes. To put it in perspective, aspiring lawyers must sit for the LSATs for three and a half hours. Why is it that eight year olds must be tested for nearly twice as long? One has to wonder, are we really testing reading and math skills, or the ability to sit still and focus under pressure for long durations of time?

The issues of time and appropriateness, both developmentally and linguistically, are further exacerbated when we consider our Special Education students and English Language Learners. Most Special Education students get extra time to take these tests, which means that they could be sitting for up to 18 hours over the course of six days! English Language Learners are often recent immigrants but are still required to take the tests in English. One has to wonder if we are truly supporting these students.

But this is just the beginning. Test scores are also being used to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools. Tests, that we know are not fair, can help decide whether or not to fire teachers and principals or close schools. Governor Cuomo has even proposed that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on state test scores alone. As a result, more and more schools are increasing the amount of time that is spent on test preparation instead of real learning. While the New York State Department of Education and advocates of standardized testing do not support these “rote test prep practices” in place of quality instruction, teachers and principals often feel like they have no other choice when faced with an unfair test and incredibly high stakes. I’ve been in the system for 10 years and have seen the toll that these tests take on even our best schools. Our curriculum becomes watered down, and learning becomes a passive act. Thus, one cannot ignore the implications these tests are having on classroom culture and content of the curriculum.

As a teacher, my vision for the classroom is a learning laboratory, where students spend their days discussing and analyzing books with their peers, debating current events and social issues, solving real-world math problems with tools and visual models, conducting hands-on science experiments, diving into historical research with open-ended questions, writing stories, speeches, letters, informational articles, poetry and the works, exploring the worlds of drama, music, art and dance, and taking field trips around the city we all call home, all the while, linking such rigorous instruction and activities to standards. As a parent, you have to ask yourself, what type of education do you want your children to receive? It is imperative, that we all work together to ensure that our students receive the education that they deserve and that teachers can teach in way that fosters true engagement, independence and the desire for life-long learning.

Some smart people in our City’s school system are waking up to the fact that these tests are not fair and cannot begin to measure everything a child learns in school. Chancellor Farina has discontinued the usage of these tests as the sole criteria for student promotion to the next grade. Many middle schools are no longer using fourth grade test scores for admissions. This is start, but I fear that stakes for teachers and schools will only increase if we do not speak up as a collective force. Change happens when individuals rise up, gather together and let their voices be heard.

Last year 60,000 parents refused these tests for their children and “opted out.” They took a stance against the New York State Tests and hoped, that in solidarity, change would come. This year the movement is growing across our state.

However, the State Department of Education is not favor of opting out and is working hard to convince parents that it is a bad idea. At a recent superintendents conference in Albany, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued that, “Test Refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing.” Ask most teachers if the test truly gives valuable information about students’ growth and progress and you will get a much different answer. One of the biggest frustrations for educators is how time-consuming these tests are, and yet, how little we learn about how our students are actually doing in school. We don’t get any useful data that truly tells us what skills each student knows and what we need to teach in order for students to be successful in school and in life. Instead, we learn whether or not our children are good test-takers. After 10 years of teaching, I can tell you that I learn the most about my students by conferring with them on a daily basis and looking at the work they produce in the classroom. All of these in-class assessments are standards-based and linked to a rigorous curriculum.

I understand the dilemma that parents are faced with when they make the decision of whether to opt their child in or out of the tests. I understand the concerns about going against the grain – after all I’m not a risk taker either. I truly believe that opting your child out of these tests is an act of courage and the single most powerful thing a parent can do to change the future of testing in New York State. When you opt-out of these tests, you make your voice heard. You stand up to demand a test that is fair and developmentally appropriate. You stand up so that teachers can teach and engage kids in rigorous discussions and debates instead of test prep. You stand up for English Language Learners and students with special needs, teachers and principals who are being unfairly evaluated, and schools that are being closed because of failing test scores.

To those of you who are worried that if you opt out, you are sending the message to your children that they can just get out of doing things that are hard, that they can give up before trying, remember that there is a difference between hard and fair. It’s not that the tests are too difficult, it’s that they are developmentally and cognitively inappropriate. To those of you who say, “What’s the big deal? Kids are going to take tests for the rest of their lives anyway, why not get an early start preparing?,” remember, this stance implies that testing as we know it is acceptable. Is that really what we want and value in our system of education? Is there nothing we can do to change it? To those of you who say, “My child is a good test taker, what’s the big deal?,” think for moment beyond your child. Think about all of the children, teachers, and schools who are affected by these tests.

Ultimately, you have to make the best choice for your child and your family. And as you make that decision, talk to other parents, engage in a dialogue about these tests, weigh both sides of the debate and do what you feel is right. Think about the education you dream of for your child and how to make that a reality.

Sincerely,

Melissa Browning
New York City Public School Teacher

In an astute article at Salon.com, Gabriel Arana explains in Salon how the Common Core standards united both left and right in opposition.

 

Arne Duncan has tried his best to portray critics as wing nuts from the fringes of American politics whose views should be ignored or as whiny “white suburban moms” who mistakenly thought their child was brilliant, but it hasn’t worked. Most of those who speak out for Common Core are either paid to do so, or work for organizations funded by the Gates Foundation, which paid out between $200 million and $2 billion to write and promote the Common Core.

 

“There’s been a convergence on the left and right on Common Core,” says Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University. “A lot of the right-wing opposition is about Obama. … On the left, it’s about standardized testing and how high-stakes tests are going to be used to hold schools accountable.”

 

While defenders of the Common Core repeat the false claim that the standards were written by the nation’s governors (imagine that!) or by teachers, Arana notes that few teachers were involved in the writing of them and that there is no way to fix what’s wrong about them. They were written by a committee in which the testing industry was well represented but early childhood educators and teachers were not.

 

The standards were implemented with little forethought or preparation. Seventh graders were assumed to know everything that was in the standards in the previous six grades, for example. Teachers had minimal preparation.

 

This is a good article. Show it to your friends.

 

The implementation has been a disaster. For starters, the 27-member committee that wrote the standards had few actual teachers on it, but plenty of representatives from the testing industry. Because it is illegal for the U.S. Department of Education to exert influence over state curriculums, the Bill Gates foundation stepped in and funded most of the effort. Even worse, the committee that wrote the standards no longer exists, and there are no formal procedures for amending them.

That task has been left to the states. Some, like New York, adopted the standards and started testing students on them without bothering to train teachers — teachers there got a printout of students’ scores that don’t even tell them the areas where they performed well or poorly. “If you simply raise the bar and a whole host of schools were failing when the bar was lower, how is that going to be effective?” says Noguera, who supports national education standards….

 

Under ideal circumstances, national education standards would ensure students across the country are getting the instruction they need to prepare them for college, and help bring some uniformity to widely varying state curricula. But the effort has floundered for a familiar reason: Americans’ enduring distrust of the federal government. With the Department of Education unable to take a strong lead, Common Core has been hijacked by the for-profit school-reform movement. Whether Common Core ends up doing any good largely depends on what each state decides to do with the benchmarks, which sort of undermines the whole point of having national standards in the first place.

 

To make any sense at all, national education standards must be aspirational, saying this is what should happen under the best of circumstances. They must recognize that children are not widgets, and that they differ in rates of development and in other dimensions. They should come with the resources to make them possible. They should be phased in slowly. There should be a central organization that can make adjustments to the standards and fix errors. They should be written by experienced teachers and educators of established reputations, not by testing companies, consultants, and inside-the-Beltway bureaucrats.

 

We really must think more rationally about the value and purpose of standards. Common standards will not cause everyone to become proficient, nor will tests linked to the standards. If that were true, everyone in Massachusetts–not just 50% of students–would be proficient on NAEP. If we have “high” standards, “rigorous” standards, “challenging” standards, a large proportion of students will not pass.

 

Of course, we should constantly strive to make schools better. All children should have a full and varied curriculum taught by well-prepared teachers. Experience should be respected and valued. All schools should have principals who are experienced teachers. All districts should have superintendents who are experienced teachers and administrators. Schools should have nurses, psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, and librarians. Teachers should have reasonable class sizes, especially in the elementary years and especially for the neediest children. Most tests should be written by teachers; standardized tests should be used solely for diagnostic purposes, to help children, not to rank them. If we were serious about wanting higher achievement, we would reduce poverty. Standards and tests don’t cure poverty, and if we don’t reduce poverty, there will be no change in educational outcomes.

 

It is good to have standards, but not to think of them as “one-size-fits-all.” Think about running. For many years, the idea of running a four-minute was held up as the highest possible standard. Wikipedia says that the four-minute mile is “the standard” for all male middle-distance runners.

 

In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile is the act of completing the mile run (1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 metres) in less than four minutes. It was first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister in 3:59.4.[1] The “four-minute barrier” has since been broken by many male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.

 

Does that mean that all male middle-distance runners should aspire to running a four-minute mile? Yes. Does it mean that everyone, no matter what their personal health or ability or interest, should be judged by their success in running a four-minute mile? That’s absurd.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, an attorney who represents public schools in education matters, including testing and special education—and is currently working to reform special education—posted this comment. Her website is http://www.schoollawpro.com.

 

Can we really use student tests to measure teacher effectiveness?

 

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D.

 

This is the year! Tests related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are launching across our country. They are designed to measure how well students are learning the CCSS. Meanwhile, some states, with federal encouragement, plan to use them also to measure teacher effectiveness. Is this use valid?

 

There is no shortage of controversy about educational testing and, unfortunately, this controversy includes the opportunity to file lawsuits. The use of student achievement data to also evaluate teacher effectiveness is certainly controversial. Notably, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, gave states a year’s reprieve on implementing this practice. Across the country, teacher unions have called it unfair. My concern is far more basic. It’s about validity.

 

As an attorney who has represented public schools for more than 30 years, I am concerned about this multipurpose use. It may not get us what we need—a valid, reliable, fair, trusted, and transparent accountability system. The tests at issue include the PARCC and SBAC, two multi-state consortia that are funded by the U. S. Department of Education and private funders. They were charged with developing an assessment system aligned to the CCSS by the 2014-15 school year.

 

At last count, these consortia have 27 states and the District of Columbia signed up— affecting 42% of U.S. students according to Education Week.
The media remind us constantly that our ‘failing’ schools need fixing; that, to do so, we should assess student skills and knowledge to help teachers improve instruction; that we also need to evaluate and rate teachers and weed out poor performers. And we are told that these tests can be multipurposed to do all of the above!

 

Sounds good? Actually, it sounds too good to be true. Does this multipurpose use to evaluate teacher effectiveness clear a key psychometric hurdle: test validity?

 

What is test validity?

 

At its core, it is the basic, bedrock requirement that a test measure what it is designed to measure. Thus, if a test is designed to measure how well 3rd graders decode, we judge the test according to how well it does that. Can students decode? If it is designed to be predictive; say, to measure if students are ‘on track’ or progressing toward college or career-readiness, we judge it accordingly. Either way, we must ask if a test whose purpose is to measure what students learn or whether they are ‘on track’ can also be used to measure something else—such as how well teachers teach?

 

So what are these tests’ purposes? For answers, let’s review the PARCC and SBAC websites. First PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers:

 

PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers. These high quality, computer-based K–12 assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy give teachers, schools, students, and parents better information whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school, and tools to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs.

 

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning. Because the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards, they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level. They will also provide parents and teachers with timely information to identify students who may be falling behind and need extra help. [Emphasis added]

 

Second, the SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:

 

The [SBAC] is a state-led consortium working to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness. Smarter Balanced is one of two multistate consortia awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)by the 2014-15 school year.

 

The work of Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system can provide information and tools for teachers and schools to improve instruction and help students succeed – regardless of disability, language or subgroup.

 

Smarter Balanced involves experienced educators, researchers, state and local policymakers and community groups working together in a transparent and consensus-driven process. [Emphasis added]

 

Clearly, these tests’ purpose is to (a) measure student progress on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and college or career readiness, (b) give teachers and parents better information about students, and (c) help improve instruction. No mention is made of gauging teacher effectiveness.

 

Yet, questions about the validity of using these tests in this multipurpose way seem to be missing from national discussions, even as other validity issues are raised. For example, questions are raised about score validity when tests are administered in different ways (on a computer or with paper and pencil) and at different times of the year.

 

Also discussed are questions about whether these tests are aligned to the CCSS. The media reports battles among states, unions, and others about how to measure teacher effectiveness through these tests; e.g., through value-added models, student growth percentages, or other approaches. But, questions of basic test validity from the get-go about this multipurpose use of these tests are not part of today’s public discourse.

 

They should be.

 

If we continue on this track of creating high stakes for teachers with tests designed for a different purpose, we may well end up with unintended consequences, including distrust of the system, questionable accountability, and lawsuits.

 

My suggestion? Given the reprieve for states and growing concern among the public about these tests and the CCSS themselves, test consortia and our federal and state governments should take a deep breath and do two things.

 

First, the consortia should remind the public that the purpose of these tests is to measure student achievement on the new CCSS and career and college readiness, provide better information to teachers and parents, and improve instruction.

 

Second, the states (with federal approval and encouragement) that intend to use these results also to evaluate teacher effectiveness must inform the public explicitly about how they intend to validate the tests for this new purpose. They need to provide solid proof that their proposed use, which differs from the stated purpose of these tests, is valid, reliable, and fair. The current silence is worrisome, not transparent, and unwise.

 

This test validity issue needs to be fully aired and resolved satisfactorily before we can begin to tackle the larger issues about the multiple uses of testing. Otherwise, in our litigious land of opportunity, the ensuing battles may be costly and not pretty. Let’s not go there.

Long Island, Néw York, is indeed the epicenter of opt out. The numbers are coming in, and they are historic. Never before have so many parents withheld their children from state testing to protest the overuse and misuse of testing.

The Long Island Press continues to be the best source of information for LI activism, and its reporter Jaime Franchi continues to provide excellent coverage (by contrast, the Néw York Times had not a single word about the statewide and national opt outs, but a front-page story about the Atlanta educators who were sentenced to jail). The corporate-owned Newsday has a larger circulation but has been consistently hostile to teachers and opting out. This is odd because the populous island that is mostly suburban has some of the best public schools in the state.

Franchi writes:

“With day one of three controversial Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) examinations for grades three through eight completed in New York State, the total score of students refusing to take the tests continues to rise exponentially.

“Compiled by Jeanette Deutermann, founder of anti-Common Core Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out” and a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of 50 parent and teacher organizations who oppose the standardized tests, Long Island school officials—including Board of Education members, administrators and educators, she says—are reporting an astounding number of test refusals.

“As of press time, her preliminary unofficial count from more than half the 124 school districts on Long Island had already tallied more than 62,000 students opting out—more than last year’s total figure for the entire state and double the 30,000 students from across Long Island who refused the tests last year—according to a Google Drive spreadsheet on Long Island Opt Out’s Facebook page. Comsewogue School District, home base of vocal public education advocates including Dr. Joe Rella, its superintendent, and Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher and president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, who stood as a “conscientious objector” earlier this year and vowed to refuse to administer Common Core exams to students, saw 82 percent of their eligible students refuse the test–a new record for that district.

“Sisi Wong Townson, co-president of the Plainedge Middle School PTA, reports that a record-shattering 74 percent of Plainedge students opted out of the test yesterday, including an entire third-grade class. A vocal opponent of high-stakes standardized testing, she testified against Common Core before New York State legislators two years ago drawing upon her personal experience as a student in Hong Kong.”

Andrea Gabor asks the million-dollar question: Why did Massachusetts, the most successful state in the nation on the National Assessment of Progress, drop its own finely honed standards and replace them with the untested Common Core standards? On one level, the answer is obvious: It wanted the money that come from Race to the Top. But at another level, this decision is not only puzzling but downright distressing. With the outstanding record of the students and teachers of Massachusetts, why in the world would policymakers take a chance on changing its successful system of standards and assessments? Of course, the $250 million that the state won is impressive, but no doubt the mandates that accompanied Race to the Top money very likely cost more than $250 million. From afar, it looks irresponsible. Even stranger is that the business community continues to complain about student performance when the performance of the public schools in Massachusetts is not only first in the nation but near the top of world rankings. What gives?

 

Is this just disruption for the sake of disruption?

 

Gabor writes:

 

Now the Massachusetts reforms are once again under assault by Common-Core enthusiasts. Strangely, many of those attacking the reforms are its erstwhile defenders. In February, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a leading advocacy group for the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, issued the first of several reports that found, or are expected to find, the Bay State standards and an accompanying high-stakes test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS, wanting when compared to the still-untested “Common-Core aligned” PARCC tests (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)

 

“The current MCAS high school tests do not identify students who are college- and career-ready, and they do not contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness,” concludes the MBAE study.

 

By contrast, the MBAE cautiously endorses the PARCC test: “As we are preparing this report in early 2015, the PARCC tests hold the promise of being a good indicator of college- and career-readiness.” (Emphasis added.)

 

In response, researchers from the Pioneer Institute, a market-oriented Massachusetts think thank, argue that money, once again, is playing an outsized role in the latest anti-MCAS research. The turncoats, according to Pioneer, include MBAE, which was cofounded by the aforementioned Paul Reville, as well as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve Inc., both national Common-Core advocates. What these organizations all have in common is that they have receive funding– lots of it—from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also invested over $200 million in developing the Common Core.

 

The most recent Massachusetts skirmish over the Common Core is no coincidence. This year, Massachusetts elementary and middle schools had the choice of taking the PARCC test or the MCAS. In the fall, Massachusetts will make a final decision about whether to ditch the MCAS entirely in favor of PARCC, at a time when half the states that initially agreed to adopt the Common-Core aligned test have since backed out.

 

In their OpEd, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, detail the tangled web of relationships that tie the critics of the Massachusetts reforms to the Gates foundation, the PARCC tests and the Common Core. The OpEd is particularly scathing about the role of the MBAE:

 

“The Mass. Business Alliance study’s credibility was further compromised by the fact that its author is an adviser to PARCC. An earlier report from the Alliance — written by the senior education adviser to the giant testing company Pearson, which is near the top of a long list of entities that stand to gain from the switch to Common Core — was so bereft of intellectual integrity that it lifted an entire purported “case study” from The Boston Globe without attribution.”

 

However, the winner of the “conflict-of-interest derby,” according to Chieppo and Gass, is Teach Plus, a Boston-based national education-reform organization, which published a pro-PARCC report, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC“, in March:

 

The group recently released a study in which 23 of its fellows conclude that the commonwealth should ditch MCAS for PARCC. Teach Plus has received over $17 million from the Gates Foundation, including stipends for each of those 23 fellows.

 

The question now is whether Massachusetts will stick with its own test, MCAS, or whether it will switch to PARCC.

 

After each administration of MCAS, the questions and answers are released for public review. This is not the case with PARCC.

 

PARCC, by contrast, is a locked box, entirely controlled by Pearson, the testing giant that is developing the PARCC tests. It isn’t designed to be improved by educators over time, nor to help educators use the test to improve what or how they teach.

 

For now, at least in Massachusetts, the war over the Common Core will continue for at least a few months. Fordham Institute is expected to produce a study this summer examining the MCAS’s alignment to the Common Core; if its earlier support for the PARCC test is any indication, it too is likely to find against MCAS.

 

In Massachusetts, a final decision will be made by Mitchell Chester, the current education commissioner. Chester, it must be noted, also chairs PARCC’s governing board.

 

There you have it, folks. Conflicts of interest abound. Lots of money riding on the decision. And the person who will make the final decision as to which test will be used just happens to be the chair of the PARCC governing board. What do you think will happen?

 

 

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