Archives for category: Testing

In this post, New Jersey high school teacher Dan Ferat reflects on how many tests he is now required to give to his students, as compared to ten years ago.

 

Here is a sample, read it all:

 

So, in only ten years, we have gone from students taking five exams per year (six for juniors with the HSPA) to 34 exams per year (30 for seniors) with many more in sight because there will be a PARCC for EVERY SUBJECT supposedly because there are CCCS for every subject except electives (plus those PSAT/SAT/ACT tests which I’m not even counting).

 

Forget the amount of time teachers will have to spend grading all these exams and writing them and adjusting them over the years. Honestly, that’s beside the point when it comes to education. It’s true we don’t get enough time “on the clock” as it is, but the real issue is the students. See, I always thought education was about LEARNING a subject in a classroom from readings, teachers, and experiences (like labs). But with all this testing, there will be less learning and more studying for tests. We teachers are evaluated on how well our students do on all the tests, so of course we’re going to teach to them. One would be a complete moron not to since one can wind up fired if one gets too low scores in two years. This will narrow curricula, which means less information and fewer skills learned. It will standardize curricula more, which means fewer choices for students and less of a need for EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, who share so much of their insight and experiences with students to bring their subjects to life. But if everything is just straight out of a book, like a script, all you need is a warm body to watch the kids and lead them through the standardized curriculum.

 

If parents understood this, they would not be happy. They would begin to recognize what the legislators and the federal government are doing to undermine genuine education and to dampen students’ ardor for learning as well as to demoralize teachers.

 

 

Anthony Cody here describes teachers as “reluctant warriors,” as men and women who chose a profession because they wanted to teach, not to engage in political battles over their basic rights as professionals.

 

The profession is under attack, as everyone now knows. Pensions are under attack. The right to due process is under attack. The policymakers want inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who won’t talk back, who won’t collect a pension, who will turn over rapidly:

 

In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students. The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

 

First, the privatizers came for the schools of the poor, because their parents and communities were powerless and were easy marks for privatization. Then they came for the union and the teachers:

 

Schools of the poor were the first targets. It was easy to stigmatize schools attended by African Americans and Latinos, by English learners and the children of the disempowered. Use test scores to label them failures, dropout factories, close them down, turn them over to privatizers. But this was just the beginning. And now, as Arne Duncan made clear with his dismissal of “white suburban moms,” they want all the schools, and are prepared to use poor performance on the Common Core tests to fuel the “schools are failing” narrative.

 

Teacher unions are under ruthless attack by billionaires, who conveniently own the media, and provide the very “facts” to guide public discourse. Due process is maligned and destroyed under the guise of “increasing professionalism.” Democratic control of local schools is undermined by mayoral control and the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

 

Congress and state legislatures have been purchased wholesale through bribes legalized by the Supreme Court, which has given superhuman power to corporate “citizens.”

 

Teachers, by our nature cooperators respectful of authority, are slow to react. Can the destruction of public education truly be anyone’s goal? The people responsible for this erosion rarely state their intentions. With smiles and praise for teachers, they remove our autonomy and make our jobs depend on test scores. With calls for choice and civil rights, they re-segregate our schools, and institute zero-tolerance discipline policies in their no-excuses charter schools. They push for larger classes in public schools but send their own children to schools with no more than 16 students in a room. Corporate philanthropies anoint teacher “leaders” who are willing to echo reform themes – sometimes even endorsed by our national teacher unions.

 

Now, he says, as the truth gets out about the privatization movement and its bipartisan support, teachers are starting to fight back. They are joining the BATs, they are joining the Network for Public Education, they are speaking out, they are (as in Seattle) refusing to give the tests, they are organizing (as in New York City) to protest the low quality of the tests.

 

Join in the fight against high-stakes testing, which is a central element in the privatization movement. They use the data to target teachers, principals, and public schools. They use the data to destroy public education. Don’t cooperate. Join the reluctant warriors. One person alone will be hammered. Do it with your colleagues, stand together, and be strong.

 

 

 

 

Peter Greene has a large appetite for listening to our educational leaders. In this post, he describes speeches given by Arne Duncan and John King, defending the status quo. They want all children tested, they all teachers evaluated by test scores. They want everyone to stop making so much noise. They want everyone to listen to them. Now.

As Greene puts it, Arne’s new message is: “Shut up.”

Since there is always a lot of chatter about what international tests scores mean, I invited David Berliner to share his views. Berliner is one of our nation’s pre-eminent scholars of education.

 

 

Dear Diane,

 

A few weeks ago you asked me a question about recent PISA test results and the role that is played by poverty in the scores of the USA and other countries. As I understand it PISA doesn’t compute the poverty-test score relationships in quite the same way we might in the USA, but the results they get are similar to what we get.

 

Investigations of the poverty-test score relationships in PISA 2012 (OECD, 2013) relied on two variables, each of which was a composite. First, they used a family social class measure that was supposed to capture the income and cultural resources of a family. They combined three factors to get one composite index of family social standing: the highest occupational level of either parent; the highest educational level of the parents; and home possessions (particularly, books in the home). This family index of social class standing is not income, and it is also not always a good measure of social class standing (for example, think of highly educated immigrants who hold low wage jobs). Nevertheless, it is this composite indicator of social standing that was used to examine the scores each nation attained in tests of mathematics, science, or reading. The relationships between social standing and achievement were quite similar on all three tests of subject matter.

 

When we ask what percent of the variance in US students’ PISA scores was accounted for by this composite of family social class variables, the answer is around 20% (OECD, 2013, Fig ll.2.3). Twenty percent explained variation in PISA scores that arise from differences in socioeconomic factors related to families is low enough to suggest that “poverty is no excuse,” or that, “demography is not destiny.” Such maximssound reasonable because it appears at first that about 80% of the variation in student test scores is still to be accounted for. Thus, if we just had great teachers and great school leaders every child would be successful. But this interpretation is completely misleading.

 

For example, PISA also informs us that the test score difference attributable to moving up or down one place on the social class measure is 39 points. That works out to nearly one year of schooling on the PISA scale. So, if in the recent great recession your family was hurt and you move down the social class scale one unit, the prediction from PISA data is that children of such families are likely, eventually, to be scoring one full year lower than they might have had their family just stayed at their more advantaged social level. So the “20% variance accounted for” estimate is not a trivial figure when we look at the score points that are involved in having only slightly different social class standing. The data convincingly suggests that social status variables are quite powerful and not quite as easily overcome as the maxims we hear that suggest otherwise.

 

This becomes even more apparent with some additional information collected by the PISA designers. The 2012 study used information obtained from school principals about the school attended by each child in the sample. Thus, schools were categorized on the basis of the wealth and the poverty of the student body, along with the housing patterns and values in the school catchment areas, the qualities of the teachers assigned to the schools the children attend, the funding of the schools, and a number of other school level variables that are correlated strongly with the incomes of students’ families. This is the second large composite variable used in understanding the relationship of poverty to PISA test scores.

 

The relevant data is given as the percent of the test score variance that is attributable to differences between schools because of the population they draw. Together the family and the school level variables related to social class account for 58% of the variance we see between schools. This is quite close to the data we usually cite in the USA, namely, that about 60% of the variance we see among schools is the result of outside-of-school factors, not inside-of-school factors. (It is generally agreed that in the USA we often have 20% of the variance in test scores accounted for by school variables, maybe half of which is a teacher effect. So, in the USA, the outside-of-school variables count for about 3 times the effect of the inside-of-school variables, and they count for about 6 times the effect of teachers on the aggregate scores of classes and schools.)

 

Thus the international data support the estimate of poverty’s effects on test scores that we have obtained from studying internal US test data. In fact, the 2012 PISA data provides a similar estimate to what was found in the Coleman report of the 1960s. The historical record, therefore, tells us that if we want to fix schools that are not now performing well on achievement tests, we might do well to work on the out-of-school factors that influence educational achievement, and not put all our efforts into trying to improve inside-of-the school factors, as the President and Secretary of Education continue to do. Our elected officials and numerous misguided individuals and corporations keep failing to interpret the extant data in a credible way.

 

To those who say “poverty is no excuse,” I would then ask how they account for poverty’s potency in explaining so much of the variance in achievement test scores in the USA and elsewhere? Indeed, poverty may not be an excuse for poor performance, but it sure is a quite reasonable hypothesis about the origins of student, school, and school district differences in achievement test scores. And, of course, it may not be poverty per se that is the causal factor in the low achievement seen on so many different tests. Rather, it may be poverty’s sequelae that is the culprit. That is, the wealth of families determines such things as housing, and it is housing that determines the types of neighbors one has, the mental health and crime rates in your neighborhood, the availability of role models for children, the number of moves a family makes while children are young, the stability of family relationships, low birth weight, teen pregnancy rates, Otitus Media rates in childhood, and so forth. Discussing “poverty” and “achievement” is a simple way of expressing the relationships we find between dozens of the sequelae associated with poverty and the many forms of achievement valued by our society.

 

PISA provides still more evidence that poverty is a strong factor in shaping students’ lives, supporting the contention that it is really quite common for demography to determine destiny. PISA looked at “resilient students,” those who are in the bottom quartile of the social class distribution, but in the top quartile in the achievement test distribution. These are 15-year-olds who seem to beak the shackles imposed by family and neighborhood poverty. In the USA, about 6% of the children do that. So 94% of youth born into or raised in that lower quartile of family culture and resources do not make it into the top quartile of school achievers. Admittedly, poverty is hard to overcome in most countries. But why is it that Belgium, Canada, Finland, Turkey, and Portugal, among many others, produce at least 40% more “resilient kids” than do we? Could it be because the class lines are more hardened here in the USA? Whatever the cause, given these data, the mantra that “Poverty is no Excuse” seems weak, and easily countered by the more rational statement that comes directly from the PISA data, namely, that family poverty and its sequelae severely limit the life chances of most children in the lower quartiles, quintiles, and deciles on measures of social class standing.

 

More evidence of this is also found in the PISA data. Housing patterns seemed to matter a lot in determining scores on the PISA 2012 assessments. There were striking performance differences observed between students in schools with socially advantaged students and those in schools with socially disadvantaged schools. Students attending socioeconomically advantaged schools in OECD countries outscore those in disadvantaged schools, on average, by more than 104 points in mathematics! This is of course quite a common finding in the USA where Jonathan Kozol once described our housing patterns as “Apartheid-Lite.” We should note, too, that a reanalysis of the Coleman report by Borman and Dowling (2010) broke out the variance in test scores attributable to individual background (like variable 1 in PISA) and the social composition of the schools (like variable 2 in PISA). Borman and Dowling say their reanalysis provides “very clear and compelling evidence that going to a high-poverty school or a highly segregated African American school has a profound effect on a student’s achievement outcomes, above and beyond the effect of his or her individual poverty or minority status. Specifically, both the racial/ethnic and social class composition of a student’s school are more than 1 3/4 times more important than a student’s individual race/ethnicity or social class for understanding educational outcomes. In dramatic contrast to previous analyses of the Coleman data, these findings reveal that school context effects dwarf the effects of family background.”

 

Many other nations have the same pattern of housing and schooling that we do: wages determine housing, and housing determines the characteristics of the student body and the quality of the school attended by children. This all suggests that there is a lot of support for the statement that demography, in too many instances, really does determine destiny.

 

The clearest case of this comes from analyses of other, earlier PISA data, by Doug Willms (2006). His analysis suggests that if children of average SES attended one of their own nations high performing schools, or instead attended one of their own nations’ low performing schools, the difference at age 15, the age of PISA testing, would be equivalent to about 4 grade levels. Thus a 10th grader of average SES who can attend a high performing school is likely to score at about the 12th grade level (a grade level approximation from PISA data). And if that same child were to attend a low performing school, he or she would score at about the 8th grade level. It’s the same hypothetical child we are talking about, but with two very different lives to be lead as a function of the makeup of the schools attended. It is not the quality of the teachers, the curriculum, the computers available, or any number of other variables that are often discussed when issues of school quality come up. Instead, the composition of the school seems to be the most powerful factor in changing the life course for this hypothetical, average child. PISA data from an earlier assessment in Australia documents the same phenomena (Perry and McConney, 2010). In science, the score of a low income student in a low income school averages 455. But the score of similar low income students at schools that serve upper income children is over half a standard deviation higher—512. And a high income student in a school serving low income students scores 555, but high income students enrolled in schools with high income peers score half a standard deviation higher—607. Note what is most impressive here: the low income student in a school with low income families scores 455, while a high income student in a school with high income families scores 607. That is about a standard deviation and a half apart! These are 15 year olds that are worlds apart in both housing patterns, school quality, and in measures of cognitive ability. In short, PISA data overwhelmingly supports the belief that demography and destiny are closely related, a terrible embarrassment for democratic countries that pay so much lip service to the principal of equality of opportunity. Apparently, the chant that “poverty is no excuse” can easily become a reason for doing nothing about poverty’s effects on many social variables that consistently, and cross nationally, affect both school outcomes and life chances. Horatio Alger may have never been fully believable, but a few decades ago it looks like Horatio simply died, mostly unnoticed.

 

References

 

Borman, G. D. & Dowling, M. (2010). Schools and Inequality: A Multilevel Analysis of Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity Data. Teachers College Record, 112 (5), 1201–1246.

 

OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II), PISA, OECD Publishing.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264201132-en

 

Perry, L. B. & McConney, A. (2010). Does the SES of the school matter? An

examination of socioeconomic status and student achievement using PISA

2003. Teachers College Record 112 (4), 1137–1162.

 

Willms, J. D. (2006). Learning divides: Ten policy questions about the performance and equity of schools and schooling systems. Montreal, Canada: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

 

 

 

 

A reader explains how the states’ demand for standardized testing may do harm to gifted children:

“For highly gifted children, sometimes called highly sensitive children, who have high spatial intelligence, this testing is a nightmare. They will usually have signs of ADD or ADHD by 2nd or 3rd grade. That does not mean they have a disorder, but are just wired differently. They are the ones who will be artists, designers, engineers, and inventors. They need to use their imagination and curiosity to “create”. However, sitting through the traditional drill and kill of the test obsessed school environment will cause them to lose imagination and spontaneity. They are the children are the most damaged from the chronic traumatic stress of this environment, and will lose their “gifts”. Depression and anxiety are common for these children unless they can be given freedom for self expression, such as Montessori.

“Your child, if diagnosed with a disability such as ADHD, or ASD, etc. is eligible for the 504 Program or possibly SpEd services and may be allowed special accommodations for testing. Have you discussed this with the school psychologists?”

Today, parents and students rallied against the state tests at dozens of schools across New York City, unassuaged by State Commissioner John King’s claims that the tests were better this year and consumed less than 1% of the year. Little children that had sat for three hours of reading tests did not take comfort in his words, and parents demanded transparency.

“The protests, which drew hundreds of people to some schools before the start of classes, followed a speech Thursday by New York State Education Commissioner John King, in which he fiercely defended the state’s education initiatives, including the new standards and tests.

“He described recent debates over those efforts as “noise” and “drama,” and attributed some of the outcry to “misinformation.” And while acknowledging that some schools spend too much time preparing for tests, he insisted that the state had worked to reduce testing time. He added that the new Common Core exams “are better tests” than previous ones.

“His comments struck a nerve with some of the principals, who usually avoid getting involved in education’s political fights, but felt impelled to refute the notion that misinformed members of the public were stirring up unrest about the tests.

“P.S. 59 Principal Adele Schroeter said the hundreds of parents and students who filled the streets around her Midtown school Friday morning were “more than noise and drama, in spite of what John King might say.””

Tomorrow, dozens of Manhattan principals plan their own protests. One of them wrote in a letter to parents: ““I have never seen a more atrocious exam.”

“Echoing criticisms of the exams that other educators have posted online, the Manhattan principals said the tests did not measure the type of analytical reading and writing they associate with the Common Core standards. They also argued that the tests were too long and many of the multiple-choice answers were bafflingly similar.

“I have a double masters and some of them could be A or C,” said Medea McEvoy, principal of P.S. 267 on the Upper East Side, one of the schools planning to protest.

“The principals also said that confidentiality rules shield the test maker, publishing giant Pearson, from public scrutiny. And because only a portion of the test questions are eventually released, they said, teachers cannot rely on them as instructional tools.
The school leaders added that, considering all the flaws they found in the exams, they do not trust the state’s new evaluations that rate teachers partly on their students’ test scores.”

Sherm Koons left this comment. Check out Sherm’s blog, Tales from the Classroom. He is a veteran high school English teacher in Ohio.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole with PARCC.

It’s taken me a while to begin to wrap my head around what’s really going on with PARCC and what makes it so absolutely wrong, but standing in the hall after school today talking to some fellow teachers I think got a glimpse. As we discussed the inappropriateness of the exams for our students, it occurred to me that actually it all makes perfect sense if your goal is to generate the most data that you possibly can. If you believe that, given enough data, you can predict human behavior, environmental, societal and other factors, and all the infinite variables of existence to a degree that mimics reality, of course you would want the most data that you could get. And you become obsessed with data. And eventually you lose track of what you initially were hoping to measure. It becomes data for data’s sake. And soon it has absolutely nothing to do with education, students, or anything human. And as you disappear further and further down the rabbit hole, you can’t understand why nobody gets it but you. The reason we don’t “get it” is that IT MAKES NO SENSE. You have become lost in your never-ending quest for data. You are delusional. And you must be stopped.

State Commissioner  John King, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by his side, spoke this morning at New York University and sent a message to New York’s parents and educators: We are on the right track and we won’t back down! On the same day he spoke, elementary school principal Elizabeth Phillips published an op-ed article in the New York Times explaining that the state tests were too long and developmentally inappropriate. The juxtaposition demonstrated how out-of-touch Commissioner King is with the people who actually work with children every day in the state’s schools. If nothing else, his speech revealed his devotion to abstractions, not to real children. Despite widespread parent protests about the length of the tests–children in grades 3 through 8 are tested for about 7 hours in reading and math–Commissioner King insists that those 7 hours constitute less than 1% of the year of schooling. Technically, he is right, but in real life terms, why can’t he explain why the state must administer 7 hours of testing to find out how well children can read and do math. While talking about equity, he did not mention the appalling failure rates on last year’s tests, where only 3% of English language learners passed, only 5% of children with disabilities, less than 20% of African American and Hispanic children. Will he change the passing mark? On what does he base his faith that these horrifying failure rates will change? He didn’t say.

 

Here is Commissioner John King’s speech. Please feel free to respond:

 
Good morning and thank you all for being here. I especially want to thank the Wagner School for hosting us and Secretary Duncan for traveling from Washington, DC this morning to join us and for his warm introduction.

 

New York State has reached an important turning point in our work to ensure an excellent education for every student. We’re poised to lead the country. It’s within our grasp – and together we have the potential to make a difference for every single child in this state.

 

I became an educator for a very simple reason: I know that school can be the difference between hope and despair for a child and especially a child at risk – whether its from poverty, disability or a difficult family situation. I know that an amazing teacher can save lives because one of my elementary school teachers at P.S. 276 in Brooklyn saved mine. His name was Mr. Osterweil. My mother died when I was 8. At the time, my father was suffering from undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. It was just the two of us in my house. Over the next four years, he declined rapidly and then he passed away when I was 12. During those years, life outside of school was scary and unpredictable – but in Mr. Osterweil’s classroom I was safe, I was nurtured, and I was challenged. We read the New York Times every morning; we did a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Mr. Osterweil’s classroom, the world beyond Canarsie was opened up to me. We worked hard in Mr. Osterweil’s class and we discovered the joy of learning. As a teacher, principal and policymaker, my goal is and has always been to give every student what Mr. Osterweil gave me –a classroom where they feel supported and inspired and challenged. That’s all I want for New York’s children. We all want that — but sometimes politics gets in the way. I have always tried to separate the politics of education from the substance of the issue. I try to focus on instruction – to look only at evidence, at practice, and at what students know and are able to do. I try to focus on outcomes for students and to leave ideology and politics aside.

 

These days, however, New York politics seems to be all about education and its hard to find any agreement on facts — let alone policy. And it’s also hard to see where everyone stands. Some Republicans and business leaders support high standards while others don’t. Some Democrats and civil rights leaders support student-focused evaluations for teachers and principals and some don’t. Some folks align with unions while others keep their distance. Some demand accountability while others fight it. And often, those with the most to gain are not in the fight at all. Sometimes, these debates focus on real issues and there are honest disagreements that can lead to productive compromise. But sometimes the conversation devolves into extraordinarily personal attacks, which should have no place in open civic discourse. Civility and respect should be the price of admission in public debate. Its opposite is not only inappropriate but it has the disheartening effect of turning off the people we serve– the students, the parents, and the taxpayers of New York. Their voices matter. We represent their interests – not our own – and when the noise level rises, healthy engagement declines and the likelihood of achieving consensus drops. I saw that happen last fall in a series of public forums across the state. People were angry and frustrated.

 

There was a great deal of misinformation and people felt they weren’t being heard. I saw it happen again this winter where the state teachers union voiced the anxiety and frustration of their members over evaluation and accountability. At times, the union leadership even appeared to oppose higher standards for teaching and learning – even though they had agreed to raise standards and worked with us to secure funding for that work. It culminated last weekend – not only in a “no-confidence” vote for me by NYSUT delegates – but also the election defeat of NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, who lost his reelection as union president. While we have had our differences, I respect President Iannuzzi. He was a dedicated and hard-working teacher and union leader and I salute him for his service. I also look forward to working with his successor. Some principals and some superintendents have also called for a course correction and it’s played out in the State Capitol where long-time legislative supporters of education reform decided the transition to higher standards was moving too quickly. And I saw it over the last few weeks where a small percentage of parents and students opted out of the new state assessments that will measure whether our students are on track to being prepared for college and work. In doing so, they made their voices heard even if they are now denying themselves and their teachers the opportunity to know how their children are performing against a common benchmark used throughout the state.

 

On a more local level, you can read the comments section in any newspaper article about testing or standards, and quite often someone will end up saying something harsh and inappropriate. Partly – this is New York’s character. New Yorkers have deeply-held beliefs and we’re willing to stand up for them – and even fight for them. It’s one of the things that makes us great. But that doesn’t justify the kind of degrading rhetoric that increasingly fills our newspapers and airwaves. Every confrontation does not need to end with one side declaring victory and the other side retreating in defeat. We can achieve shared victories — and that’s especially true in public education, where there should be more acknowledgment of the facts and common aspirations – because there really is only one thing that counts – and that is student outcomes. No matter where we stand on the policy or political spectrum – our job is to get results in the classroom and graduate every student ready for the next step – whether its post-secondary education or work. We can differ on how to get there — what works best — and the pace of change – but the goal is beyond debate: to prepare our children for the future. So today, I’m going to try — not to add to the noise – but to turn the page and talk about how New York can move forward and affirm our place as a national leader in public education.

 

There are three basic issues on which we should be able to agree. The first is that – for all of our progress – New York State is not yet where it needs to be: Without question, New York State has many excellent districts and schools. From high school graduation rates to Advance Placement exams to college enrollment, our students are learning more and doing better than they were ten years ago or even four years ago. We should all take pride in our progress – BUT we can and must do better:

 

 One in four New York State students does not graduate high school. That’s below the national average.  Only about a third of the students who begin high school as freshmen graduate four years later ready for college-level work.

 

 More than 50 percent of those who enroll in state community colleges need remedial education. Here in the city it’s over 80 percent. Huge numbers never finish.

 

 And needless to say, all of these facts are worse – often much worse – for low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with special needs. New York, of course, isn’t alone. Whether you look at the NAEP national assessment, the PISA international assessment, state assessments or graduation rates, the conclusion is the same.

 

America needs to get better, faster or too many young people will face fewer opportunities in a global economy. The second area of agreement should be in favor of high standards. Nobody can honestly argue that we are better off keeping standards low and deluding ourselves and our children into thinking they are ready for college and work when we know they aren’t. Employers will tell you that many students coming out of high school struggle to communicate effectively. College professors will tell you that many incoming freshmen can’t write a simple essay in which they make an argument and defend it with evidence. To meet this challenge, the New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 – standards developed by asking college professors, employers, and accomplished teachers what students need for success in college, careers, and life. Since then, we have committed nearly $500 million dollars in Race to the Top funds spent in districts to help launch Common Core and to improve instruction. • We put teacher trainers in every region of the state and in all the large school districts training thousands of teachers. • We created free voluntary curriculum that’s been downloaded more than 6.2 million times. • And we put instructional videos on our website showing how higher standards work in the classroom.

 

Countless teachers have bravely and creatively stepped up — adopting new curricula, developing new lesson plans and redesigning instruction to promote critical thinking and problem-solving rather than rote memorization. Whether in the local papers or on our website, EngageNY.org, or on websites like the ones run by both national teacher unions, there are constant stories about teachers successfully making the transition. It’s a huge change and no one thought for a moment it would be easy – but the truth is that it is well underway in classrooms all across the state. I have seen the progress firsthand in the over 60 schools I have visited around the state since September. From a math teacher in Cooperstown challenging students to solve real world problems by subtracting mixed numbers to a classroom in Harlem where students were discussing evidence for common themes in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Watsons Go to Birmingham, the Common Core is enriching instruction in classrooms all across the state every day. Of course, in a system as decentralized as ours, the road to change will always be bumpier for some than for others. We have 700 school districts in New York and there is no question that implementation has been uneven—but that’s no reason to stop. We teach our children to meet failure and challenge with renewed effort. Adults must do the same. The third issue that unites us is accountability for student results. We can debate the best way to hold ourselves accountable.

 

Time will tell whether the current mix of measures – from state tests and Regents exams to graduation rates and student portfolios – provide the best indicators of college and career readiness. But the idea that we don’t really need accountability is unacceptable. It’s an abdication of responsibility. We’ve been hired to educate the children of New York – all the children of New York – no matter how poor or how challenged or how difficult their home life. Every single child deserves an effective education and the parents and taxpayers who hired us have a right to know whether we are getting the job done. And — if New York is not getting it done – then I am accountable. We are all accountable. That’s the bargain at the heart of public education.

 

Parents trust us with their children and the people of the state give us billions and billions of dollars each year – and what they ask in return is that we deliver results – and prove it. And that gets to two issues that are really at the heart of all the drama here in New York in recent months: the first is testing and the second is evaluation. Many New York parents have expressed frustration with testing and I understand where they are coming from. Testing is not teaching. Testing is not the point of education. Testing does not make our children smarter. It just tells us where we are so we can get better. Unfortunately, the facts around testing seem to get lost. First of all, the new Common Core tests are a much better reflection of the skills students will need for college and career success. They rely less on multiple choice and require students to write more. They ask students to critically analyze challenging texts and to apply their math skills to real world problems. They are better tests. Second, New York State has not added any new tests since adopting the Common Core standards. In fact, we have made every effort to simultaneously improve our tests and reduce testing time. Today, the total testing time for those state tests accounts for less than one percent of the instructional time in the school year.

 

I want to say that again: since New York State adopted the Common Core in 2010, we have not added any new tests — and total testing time accounts for less than one percent of class time each year. We also discourage test prep, which takes time away from learning. The best preparation for testing is good teaching so let me say here and now – as loudly and clearly as possible – stop doing rote standardized test prep. It doesn’t help children or schools and I salute the legislature and the Governor for putting a cap on test prep into law. We have also discouraged local school districts from layering on additional testing. Now, some local tests provide useful information throughout the school year to inform instruction and guide efforts to help struggling students. But principals and superintendents have to justify these local tests to parents – or eliminate them. Our goal is the minimum amount of testing needed to inform effective decision- making. And that gets to the second issue around accountability. Some teachers and principals are pushing back on evaluation, even though New York has barely begun to implement the evaluation process that our districts and our unions all agreed to support. Moreover, no teachers or principals have faced any consequences so far. The evaluation system has three parts: 20 percent relies on the state test or comparable measures; another 20 percent relies on local tests. The other 60 percent of a teacher’s Page 5 of 9Page 6 of 96 evaluation relies on classroom observation and other factors like feedback from parents and students. Again – 60% has nothing to do with test scores – so anyone who says that evaluation is all about test scores is wrong. They’re misinforming people to stir up anxiety and fear among teachers and parents – and that’s having a negative effect on students. Right now – as we speak — we have only one year of test results that measure the new standards. We have not identified any new schools for intervention. Not a single teacher or principal has faced any negative consequences in connection with the new standards. No one has been fired through the process created under the new evaluation law. And there won’t be negative consequences under the new evaluation law until new results come in next year.

 

More than likely, districts would not take action until the summer of 2015 – which is five full years after the Common Core standards were adopted. Moreover, last year, just one percent of educators in the entire state were found ineffective – which is the bottom of four categories under our new evaluation system – and they have to be ineffective two years in a row to be at risk of dismissal. In the meantime, they develop a plan to improve – and hopefully they will. The bottom line is that less one percent of teachers could face dismissal proceedings from our evaluation system over the next year. So — anyone who says evaluation is all about firing teachers is deliberately misrepresenting the facts. For the vast majority of teachers – 99 percent – these early evaluations will only help them get better – and that helps our students improve. Now – the work of raising standards for teaching and learning is work we launched together. Not just the state – but the districts, the unions, the teachers, the legislature, the governor – all with the support of the federal government. Everyone has had a voice in this. It’s been open, transparent – and we have all known about it for years. But for this to actually work and to make a difference in the lives of students, local education leaders must implement these changes – thoughtfully, consistently and fairly. Local leaders set budgets and priorities. They dedicate time and money to professional development. They choose curriculum. They track results and they manage school schedules to allow for planning and collaboration and create a culture of continuous improvement. Several talented local superintendents are here with us today representing the 700 district leaders across this state charged with delivering on the promise of the Common Core. The state can help with funding, provide guidance and highlight best practices. We can offer flexibility when it is in the best interests of students. And we can seek relief from Washington and we have. We thank Secretary Duncan for giving New York the flexibility to do this right. Now, there’s been a lot of talk about rushed implementation of Common Core. Some people say it is unfair to hold ourselves accountable for meeting new standards when teachers are still getting comfortable with new curricula and lesson plans.

 

Some have proposed a delay of two or three years – with no consequences for teachers or principals when students aren’t making progress. The Board of Regents established a workgroup that looked at Common Core implementation, made recommendations for adjustments, and proposed that rather than delay student-focused evaluations yet again we should create additional mechanisms to ensure fairness. Similarly, the Governor appointed a commission to consider the issue and they came back with their recommendation. Despite some anecdotal evidence of poor implementation in some places, the commission said that New York must stay on schedule and stay on track toward higher standards. But they listened – and they continue to listen — and we will continue to talk with the Board of Regents, the Governor, the legislature — and teachers and administrators — about how to do this fairly and thoughtfully. But we’re not going backwards. We’re not retreating. New York is moving forward with a common belief in the power of great teachers to make a difference in the lives of children and an urgent commitment to do everything in our power to put an effective teacher in every classroom. And that requires real and authentic accountability that recognizes, celebrates and honors our best teachers and lifts and strengthens the entire field. Nothing else we do is more important. So I hope that all of us – administrators, educators, parents and unions – can lay down our swords – soften the rhetoric – put aside the politics — and come together for our children. It is time to rebuild the trust and mutual respect required to collaborate at scale on something as complex as raising standards for teaching and learning. It is time to stop stoking the fires of fear – and start expressing the confidence and optimism that common sense standards offer – both to our teachers and our students. To our students – New York offers you the promise of an education that truly prepares you for college, work and life. Included in that promise is a commitment to tell you the truth about how well you are prepared and what you need to do to succeed. For our teachers, we offer you a path to the respect and recognition that you rightly crave and justly deserve. Instead of feeling blamed for our educational shortcomings, we want teachers to feel empowered to fix them. Recently Secretary Duncan called for a new era of teacher leadership in order to strengthen the teaching profession. New York will be the first state in the union to answer that call. On Tuesday, I was in Greece, NY, a district using Race to the Top funds to develop a career ladder for teachers. Teacher leaders – master teachers selected jointly by the district and their union – split their time between classroom instruction and supporting and coaching their peers.

 

I was inspired and reassured listening to them describe the powerful conversations they are having with colleagues. It affirmed for me what I have always known: That there is no educational challenge in New York that is beyond the reach of our educators, our schools, our parents and our students. But it will ask more of each of us. Schools of education need to rethink how they train teachers. Elected officials must take greater responsibility for fully and equitably funding our schools and I am grateful to the governor and legislature for boosting education funding next year. Administrators need to use that money to give teachers the training and support they need. The union leadership at the state and local level needs to continue to honor its commitment to accountability and reform. We can’t do this without them – and we certainly can’t do this in a climate of open hostility. It’s got to end. Teachers themselves need to embrace a system of accountability – instead of fearing it – because they have very little to fear and far more to gain. And finally – we at the state level and our colleagues at the federal level need to own up to the unintended consequences of our policies – from narrowing of the curriculum to the overemphasis on testing. We can and must minimize test prep and the stress that it places on students and teachers. I worked in schools where collaboration and trust were central to the school culture and where students had a rich, well-rounded curriculum. Testing was a diagnostic tool – not an end in itself. It didn’t impede learning or overwhelm children. Teachers valued the feedback.

 

 

Still, I accept responsibility for state policies and the impact they have had – both positive and negative. I know implementation has not gone perfectly and there is more the state can do. Which is why today, I want to announce three initiatives to further support the transition: (1) The first is a $16 million dollar grant program called Teaching is the Core. The goal is to reduce local testing by evaluating which ones are needed and which ones aren’t. I don’t want New York students spending one minute longer than necessary on testing. (2) The second is a plan to borrow classroom teachers from across the state to help us shape the state’s curriculum and instruction supports around the Common Core. We want to find teachers who are doing it well so they can help their colleagues across New York make this transition. We’ll pay their salaries for a year so that there is no cost to districts. (3) The third is really a challenge to local administrators and local union leaders to build time into school schedules for more collaboration and high-quality professional development. Student learning is our bottom line and that means professional development is not an optional luxury – it is essential.

 

This is a historic moment and an opportunity to lead the whole country. I have never been more confident because I know there are tens of thousands of smart and dedicated teachers across this state that share Mr. Osterweil’s passion and commitment. They’re devoted to their students and willing to do whatever it takes to help them get over the bar we have set for ourselves. I know there are millions of parents across this state who want only the best for their children and who are willing to be good partners with their children’s teachers in meeting those goals. There are elected officials all across New York who don’t want to take sides among adults fighting over reform. They just want to be on the side of children and what is best for them. I also know that even my most ardent critics in the teachers union share the goal of providing the best education possible to every child in our state – and just because we don’t agree on everything – does not make us enemies. One of the gifts my mother gave me when I was little was that she taught me to look for the good in everyone. I hope that we can all see the good in each other and begin to move forward together – because the alternative is unthinkable. Children have been waiting for too long for the education they desperately need, while the adults have become paralyzed by the politics of education. We can’t get back a single day stolen from our children because we could not find common ground. We all have to own that and accept responsibility for every missed opportunity and that means we have to resolve here and now not to let another day go by where we are arguing about process instead of delivering an effective education to children. Not another day should go by when we are more concerned with making ourselves look good and making others look bad, because we all look bad and nothing good comes of it. I know that this work is difficult for some. I know this is scary for some. But anything worthwhile is going to be difficult and scary sometimes. It’s been difficult for me as well. I didn’t seek or invite the antagonism and acrimony – but it’s there and it’s real and I don’t dismiss it. I just hope we’re all a little bit stronger for it and a little bit chastened by the recent battles. I hope we’re all a little bit humbler and a little bit more understanding of each other’s point of view. And hopefully, we’re all a little bit smarter – and a little bit more able to find today’s solutions to yesterday’s battles. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it. Thank you.
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The deepest secret in New York used to be the disappearance of Judge Crater. Judge Crater disappeared one night in 1930 and was never heard from again.

But now the state has an even deeper, darker, more consequential secret: what was on the Common Core tests.

Principals and teachers have complained about the tests but they are under a strict gag order not to reveal their contents. In this post, Bianca Tanis, parent and educator, asks why parents can’t find out anything about the tests that will be so consequential for their children and for teachers. Are there any Pineapples lurking in there? Trick questions with two right answers?

Left in the dark, parents speculate:

“Over the course of the past year, parents have come to realize that these tests serve no purpose other than to grade teachers and feed the data monster. The continued secrecy surrounding the tests further undermines the idea put forth by NYSED that they are simply an assessment of “where kids are” and supports the assertion that the purpose they serve is much, much darker. Those in power know that if these assessments can be used to paint an image of a public school system that is failing to prepare students for the future, and if we can use them depict teachers as ineffective, there is money to be made.” Those peddling educational products, test prep materials, and consulting services aimed at fixing “broken” schools stand to gain billions of dollars off of these secret tests. The more we believe that 70% of NYS students are failing, the more willing we are to throw money at solutions to this manufactured crisis.”

The tests have high stakes for students and teachers alike. Shouldn’t parents have a right to see the instruments used to measure the worth of their children?

She writes:

“The questions raised by this practice are staggering. For instance, some schools have used these tests to determine placement in advanced courses or remedial courses. How do we know if these assessments are a valid measures of student ability if most people have never seen them? Are we denying students access to programs based on a flawed measurement? And if the instrument used to evaluate educators is broken, what does this mean about the teacher improvement plans foisted upon experienced, dedicated teachers? If the test is shown to be a broken instrument, who will be responsible for the costly lawsuits and legal battles that will ensue? These questions must be addressed if we are to continue to use an evaluative instrument that has never been available for unbiased scrutiny or even examined for validity.

“And what exactly are we measuring? 2013 ELA test questions released on Engage NY show that students who used valid inferences in their written responses supported by paraphrased details from a passage did not receive full credit despite being correct and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the text. This is because the Common Core requires students to use a strategy called “close reading,” a strategy that requires them to support their answers using only “text-based details.” What this means is that a student who engages in higher-level thinking skills (such as inference) and who is able to explain a text in his or her own words will not score as a well as a students who simply copy text details verbatim into their response. If high-stakes testing encourages teaching to the test, could we actually be encouraging a dumbed-down, formulaic method of responding to a text? Without access to these tests, we may never know.”

Some years ago, the State Legislature passed a”Truth in testing” law, requiring disclosure of test questions. Did it disappear? Why doesn’t the public have a right to know?

Parents and teachers in New York are angry bout the state tests. There are protests and demonstrations taking place outside many schools. Last year, when the state gave the first Common Core tests, the scores plummeted. Only 31% of the students in grades 3-8 passed because the passing mark was set artificially high by State Commissioner John King, who sends how own children to a private Montessori school that does not take the Common Core tests.

Why the outrage?

Liz Phillips, principal of PS 321 in Brooklyn, explains in this article. She can’t describe the questions because she is under a gag order imposed by the state and test maker Pearson. Neither she nor the teachers understand why the tests lasted more than three hours.

Not allowed to discuss the content of the test, she writes:

“In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.”

Teachers, principals, and schools will be evaluated based on these flawed tests.

Next year, New York will very likely use the PARCC tests, the federally funded tests given online. What a bonanza for the tech industry!

There ought to be a law: every member of the New York Board of Regents, the Governor, and every legislator should take the eighth grade tests and publish their scores. If they don’t pass, they resign.

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