Archives for the month of: March, 2014

An invitation to join a new website and share your stories about the Common Core tests.

Hello friends,

I am writing with exciting news about testingtalk.org, a national website created to gather on-the-ground feedback about the new Common Core tests being piloted this spring.

Your help in spreading the word about testingtalk.org is critical. With this new forum, parents and educators across the country can share their real-life experiences with PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and other standardized tests.
Any decisions about the future of these new tests ought to be informed by the voices of those who have experienced the tests firsthand – that’s why testingtalk.org is so important.

I am asking for your help in two ways:

1. Visit testingtalk.org. Read what others are saying, and add your own voice to the mix. If you are the parent of a child taking any of these new tests, if you are a teacher giving the tests, if you are a superintendent leading the implementation of these tests – log in and tell us what you have observed. Remember: please be as concrete and detailed as possible when writing. The more grounded we can be in real-life specifics, the more accurate our emerging picture will be – and the more influence we will have in future policy discussions about standardized tests.

2. Spread the word. Share the link to http://www.testingtalk.org with anyone in your life who may have some connection to standardized testing in K-12 education.

Working together, we can generate a powerful and illuminating national discussion about PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and the other Common Core-aligned tests.

Thank you for spreading the word about testingtalk.org, and please feel free to let me know how I can help you join the conversation.

Patricia

One more note: testingtalk.org was developed independently by a steering committee of education leaders from across the country. The site is not supported by the testing industry, or to any departments of education at either the state or national level. As you can see when reading the biographies of steering committee members, there is quite a range of experiences and perspectives among the group. We sought out this range of viewpoints quite deliberately: the site is not intended to push the conversation in any predetermined direction. Instead, we hope to promote the most vigorous conversation possible, one grounded in details about real-life experiences with the tests.

The Steering Committee for testingtalk.org:

Richard Allington
Carl Anderson
Kylene Beers
Henry Braun
Lucy Calkins
Anthony Cody
Kathy Collins
Eric Cooper
Tom Corcoran
Smokey Daniels

Steve Leinwand
Mary Ehrenworth
Anne Goudvis
Stephanie Harvey
Julian Vasquez Heilig
Heidi Hayes Jacobs
Peter Johnston
Bena Kallick
Ellin Oliver Keene
Patricia Kinsella

Robert Marzano
Mariana Souto-Manning
Jay McTighe
Debbie Miller
Pedro Noguera
Nancy Carlsson-Paige
David Pearson
Robert Probst
Gary Rubinstein
Alan Schoenfeld
Rick Stiggins
Grant Wiggins

A comment from a reader:

 

Hi! I’m going through the same problem right now with my son who will be taking the state testing for the first time this year. He is on the spectrum, and is incredibly bright, but can only demonstrate it on tests if it is presented to him in a way he understands. He thinks, reasons, and understands at a different level of comprehension than what is on these tests. I asked his school if his questions could be reworded for him to understand, and they won’t do it. My friend has a great FB page where she is fighting for severely disabled children, but changes need to be made for ALL the disabled/special needs kids. //www.facebook.com/Who.Is.Ethan.Rediske

Jeffrey Weiss, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, asked me why the Network for Public Education decided to hold its first national meeting in Austin, Texas.

I remembered something that Robert Scott, a recent state commissioner of education in Texas, said about high-stakes testing. He said it was “the heart of the vampire,” the heart of a new military-industrial complex.

He put it this way:

“The assessment and accountability regime has become not only a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex. And the reason that you’re seeing this move toward the “common core” is there’s a big business sentiment out there that if you’re going to spend $600-$700 billion a year in public education, why shouldn’t be one big Boeing, or Lockheed-Grumman contract where one company can get it all and provide all these services to schools across the country.”

So I told Jeff that NPE was meeting in Austin to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire in the place it was created. That gives a new meaning to the term “high-stakes testing.”

As the Opt Out movement spreads across the nation, as parents realize that testing has become more important than instruction, as awareness grows that the testing industry has taken control of education, as parents understand that the online Comon Core tests are being used for data mining, the vampire will die.

Join the Network for Public Education and help us spread the word and take action to restore real education to our schools.

If the answer is yes, please come to one or both of the two
sessions where I am speaking on April 3. I will give the
John Dewey Society lecture at the
Convention Center, 100 Level, Room 114, from 4-7 pm. (Lots of time
for discussion). My topic: “Does Evidence
Matter?”
Fair warning: The room holds only 600
people. Before the Dewey lecture, I will join Philadelphia parent
activist Helen Gym and Carl Grant of the University of Wisconsin
(chair) in a special Presidential session from 2:15 to 3:45,
on the same level in Room 121B The
title of the session is:
Rising to the
Challenges of Quality and Equality:

The Promise of a Public
Pedagogy
If you join me at the early session,
you will have to race with me to the lecture, and the room may be
full.

Rob Astorino, County Executive of Westchester County, announced today that he and his wife have decided to opt their three children out of state testing. Astorino opposes both the high-stakes testing and the Common Core as intrusions on local control imposed by Washington and Albany.

 

Astorino, a Republican, is running for Governor against Andrew Cuomo.

 

He has twice been elected as County Executive in a county where only a quarter of voters are Republicans.

 

Because Cuomo has raised $33 million for his re-election campaign, most political pundits think he will be re-elected easily. He is heavily favored by Wall Street and has made his reputation as a pro-business, anti-public education governor.

 

Education will be an important issue in this campaign.

 

 

Tim Farley has had it. He knows what the state and federal government is mandating is wrong. He knows it hurts children. He will do his best to protect the children from these harmful and spirit-deadening demands. But he will home-school his youngest child. He explains why here:

Tim Farley writes:

My wife and I have finally hit the breaking point. We can no longer sit by and watch the educational system that has been co opted by Bill Gates and his corporate cronies in the name of “education reform”, harm our youngest child. Jessica and I are the parents of four wonderful children (7th, 5th, 3rd grade, and kindergarten). Although we would like to homeschool all of our children, due to several factors, we will only be homeschooling our youngest, John Paul.

John Paul is a bright and energetic boy. He was born with a heart defect, and at two years old had open heart surgery. As traumatic as that experience was for my wife and me, it didn’t seem to have any long lasting impact on him. He is a little spitfire. At least he was. He no longer likes going to school. In fact he hates going to school. It is not his teacher, as one of our older children had the same teacher and had a fantastic experience. It is the developmentally inappropriate standards and the “rigorous” demands placed on 5 year old children that has changed. Kindergarten is supposed to be a time of exploratory learning and developing social skills. Unfortunately, it has become an assembly line environment of “drill and kill”. The inane assignments that lack any sort of creativity have crushed his love of school.

Recently I stumbled upon this video (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FHetioUW4lI) which illustrates what many thousands of children and parents are experiencing on a daily basis due to the Common Core. My child could easily be one of those in the video.

At first, I felt that by choosing to homeschool, we were giving in to the “reformers”. It was our hope that the state legislators would have taken real steps to slow down the rushed implementation that has been widely described as an “unmitigated disaster”, a “train wreck”, and as “institutionalized educational abuse”. The legislators have failed. The Commissioner has failed. The Board of Regents has failed. The Governor has failed. We will not allow our children to be “collateral damage” while the politicians figure out how to fix the mess that they created.

My son will be provided individualized instruction by a loving mom and a former educator. He won’t be reduced to a number. We are truly blessed that this is even an option for us, as many parents lack the resources to make this choice. We only get one chance to get this right. There are no do-overs.

I will keep you posted as we embark on this new journey.

Sincerely,
Tim Farley
(Elementary and Middle School Principal of a school in the Hudson Valley)

This week begins the make-or-break, do-or-die standardized testing that will label your child a success or a failure. I urge you not to let your child take the state test.

 

Opt out.

 

The best test for students is the test made by their teacher. Teachers know what they taught; they test what the students were taught. They get instant feedback. They can find out immediately which students didn’t understand the lesson and need extra help. They can get instant feedback about their own success or lack of success if the students didn’t learn what they taught.

 

The standardized tests are useless for instant feedback. They have no diagnostic value. The test asks questions that may cover concepts that were never introduced in class. The test is multiple-choice, creating an unrealistic expectation that all questions have only one right answer. The tests may have errors, e.g., two right answers or no right answers or a confusing question. The test results are returned months after the test, meaning that the student now has a different teacher. The test scores give no breakdown of what the student did or did not understand, just a score.

 

These days, the purpose of the tests is to evaluate the teacher;  most researchers agree that using student scores to evaluate teachers gives inaccurate and unable results. This year’s “effective” teacher may be next year’s “ineffective” teacher. “Value-added-measurement” has not proven to work anywhere. Most teachers don’t teach tested subjects and they are assigned rating based on the results of the school as a whole. A music teacher may be found “ineffective” based on the school’s math scores. This is madness.

 

Because the tests have no diagnostic value for students, they are worthless. If they can’t be used to help students or to improve instruction, they shouldn’t be used at all. We can learn all we need to know about states or cities by sampling (like NAEP, which compares states to states, and cities to cities). We can learn all we need to know about individual students by relying on teacher judgment and testing in specific grades, like 4 and 8.

 

The reason we have so much testing is because our policymakers don’t trust teachers. If we trusted teachers, we would let them teach and trust them to do what is right for their students. The more we distrust teachers, the less appealing is teaching as a job or a profession.

 

Another reason we test so much is the power of the testing corporations, which pay lobbyists in Washington and the states to push for more testing. This is big business.

 

Elite private schools rarely use standardized tests. They trust their teachers to evaluate their students’ progress.

 

We are trapped in a machine that is profitable for the few, but demoralizing to teachers and students.

 

Testing is not teaching. It steals time from instruction. Making it so important leads schools to narrow the curriculum, cutting funding for the arts, eliminating social workers and counselors, cutting recess and physical education. Making testing so important leads to states and districts gaming the system, to schools shedding low-scoring students, to cheating, to teaching to the test, and to other anti-educational actions.

 

How to stop the machine?

 

Opt out.

 

Don’t let your children take the test.

 

Deny the machine the data on which it feeds. There are corporations ready to mine your child’s data. Don’t let them have it.

 

I am reminded of the famous speech by Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement, during a protest rally at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. He said:

 

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

 

Assert your independence. Protect your child. Stop the machine.

 

Opt out.

As is well known, the U. S. Department of Education zealously believes–like Michelle Rhee–that low test scores are caused by “bad” teachers. The way to find these ineffective teachers, the theory goes, is to see whose students get higher scores and whose don’t. That’s known as value-added measurement (VAM), and the DOE used Race to the Top to persuade or bribe most states to use it to discover who should be terminated.

As we also know, things have not worked out too well, as some Teachers of the Year were fired; some got a bonus one year, then got fired the next year. In many states, teachers are rated by the scores of students they never taught. The overall effect of VAM has been demoralization, even among those with high scores because they know the ratings are arbitrary.

For some reason, teachers don’t like to “win ” at the expense of their colleagues and they can spot a phony deal a mile away.

But the U.S. DOE won’t give up, so they released a research brief attempting to show that VAM does work!

But Audrey Amrein Beardsley deconstructs the brief and shows that it is a mix of ho-hum, old-hat and wrong-headed assumptions.

It’s true (but not new) that disadvantaged students have less access to the best teachers (e.g., NBCT, advanced degrees, expertise in content areas (although as Beardsley says, the brief doesn’t suggest such things matter).

It is true, that “Students’ access to effective teaching varies across districts. There is indeed a lot of variation in terms of teacher quality across districts, thanks largely to local (and historical) educational policies (e.g., district and school zoning, charter and magnet schools, open enrollment, vouchers and other choice policies promoting public school privatization), all of which continue to perpetuate these problems.”

She writes:

“What is most relevant here, though, and in particular for readers of this blog, is that the authors of this brief used misinformed approaches when writing this brief and advancing their findings. That is, they used VAMs to examine the extent to which disadvantaged students receive “less effective teaching” by defining “less effective teaching” using only VAM estimates as the indicators of effectiveness, and as relatively compared to other teachers across the schools and districts in which they found that such grave disparities exist. All the while, not once did they mention how these disparities very likely biased the relative estimates on which they based their main findings.

Most importantly, they blindly agreed to a largely unchecked and largely false assumption that the teachers caused the relatively low growth in scores rather than the low growth being caused by the bias inherent in the VAMs being used to estimate the relative levels of “effective teaching” across teachers. This is the bias that across VAMs is still, it seems weekly, becoming more apparent and of increasing concern.”

VAM in the real world is Junque Science.

Kathleen M. Cashin and Bruce S. Cooper are on the faculty of Fordham University. Dr. Cashin, an experienced educator, is also a member of the New York State Board of Regents. She is regularly in the minority on votes that increase the pressure for high-stakes testing. Dr. Cooper is a scholar who has written about school finance for many years. In this essay, they criticize the state’s pressure to raise test scores while sacrificing the social and emotional supports that students need to succeed in school. Schools across the state, restricted by Governor Cuomo’s 2% tax limit, must cut somewhere, and they are forced to cut such necessary services to students as social workers, psychologists, counselors, as well as the arts and athletics. These demands and the sacrifices they require will prove harmful to students, in the short run and the long run. A cardinal rule of medicine, derived from the Hippocratic Oath, is: “First, do no harm.” If it were the rule in education, the Regents and the State Commissioner would be judged to have done significant harm to the students in their care, whose well-being they willfully ignore in pursuit of ever higher scores on standardized tests.

Sacrificing Psychologists, Counselors,

& Social Workers—and Athletics & the Arts—to Test Preparation

Kathleen M. Cashin Bruce S. Cooper

To increase funds for the preparation of students for state tests, sadly, New York public schools and their districts have reduced the number of professionals for critical student services; these include guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers, while removing often athletic coaches, arts and music staff. But how can we expect our children to flourish in schools socially, psychologically, and inter-personally if these students have fewer trained school professionals to turn to, should they need help, comfort, or support?

Thus, we are cutting the most important services for children, those that help them to develop as healthy, happy human beings, all because we are obsessed with spending more funds, hoping to raise test score results through test prep. As one school principal recently commented, “Just forget it if you are seeking a job as a school guidance counselor, as these jobs are few and far between!”

For example, New York State recorded a decline from 7,126 guidance counselors in local public schools in 2009, to 6,622 in school year 2011-12, a drop of 7%, even though the enrollments (and needs) had risen. Likewise, social workers in the state employed in public schools dropped by 6%, from 3,270 to 3,050 during the same time period. And nurses working in public schools in New York declined by 3%, from 3,662 to 3,544 during this time.

As another administrator recalls, when he was a student at a major N.Y.C. public high school, his guidance counselor frequently called him into her office and asked:

“How are you adjusting to school?” She would regularly check on my grades, attendance, and my adjustment to various subjects and classes. This attention and private time meant so much to me, and I remember her fondly to this day, as she helped me to become the person and professional that I became.

Even teachers of art, music, drama, and physical education – and other areas that often go “untested” by the state — are disappearing, again reducing children’s engagement, joy, expression, physical fitness, creativity, and affirmation. What have we as a society accomplished by turning schools into “test mills” where fewer kids are happy; and schools are now spending eight months each year prepping for state tests?

Funding for the music and art in schools in New York City, for example, has plummeted by 81 percent since 2006, from about $10 million for supplies, dipping down to just $2 million in 2012. Cultural partnership funding — to build bridges between N.Y.C. public schools and it important cultural institutions — likewise, has been reduced by 50 percent, from $26 million to only $13 million.

Results

Now, attention and time devoted to the “whole child” are now much less likely because teachers working alone in their classrooms are assuming more and more responsibility. And we see less staff who are trained and hired to help students — socially and emotionally — with a reduction in social workers, guidance counselors, athletic coaches, and school psychologists.

As a consequence, what are the effects of this drop in guidance counselors, now fewer in number in many schools, on children’s growth, stability, school attendance, as well the impact on levels of bad behaviors, such as physical bullying, and cyber-bullying? Those staff, specifically trained to address these students’ needs and problems, have diminished and thus are no longer around — or have so many students to serve, that they are not able to counsel students fully for college and career readiness.

We have data on the reduction in nonteaching staff, and on the rise of bad, anti-social behavior and depression among school kids; thus, we are believe that the drop in counselors and athletic-arts-music staff relates to the rising despair of students, who may have no one to whom to turn: fewer coaches, counselors, and psychologists in their schools.

Hence, we are making demands that students now become college and career prepared, while reducing (or overburdening) the very staff members who are trained to help these students. These critical questions must be answered at the federal, state, and local levels:

1. What is the level of relationship between loss of staff and the rise in student bullying and cyber-bullying?

2. What are the effects of reductions in available psychological and guidance personnel upon the levels of: (a) student suicide, (b) self-mutilation, and (c) truancy and dropout?

3. And how has the increase in gang membership — and combat among gangs –affected students’ feelings of school safety, school climate, and productivity?

Thus, overall, why are we letting our schools become less humane, supportive, and communal. And how are some students taking steps to join or create more gangs for fellowship and a sense of safety in numbers—or trying in other ways to create their own “safety nets”? Unsafe schools may then become breeding grounds, where frightened children look for protection in neighborhood gangs.

In effect, students are creating their own victimhood by these actions:

Looking to gangs for protection from other gangs;

• Missing coping mechanisms developed through counseling, guidance, and teacher relationships;

• Losing chances to learn life and life-coping skills in schools, along with other students and professional staff;

• Reducing available parental involvement and support in helping their own children learn to cope, practice, and succeed in school – and life; and,

• Losing real opportunities to practice social and personal skills at school and home.

We must recognize that caring for and supporting the socio-emotional needs of children are as important in the long-run as simply test-prepping our children’s way to a higher score on English, math, science, and social studies examinations.

Research and experience together show that children can learn, retain, and focus better when they are feeling and functioning as safe, happy, well-adjusted young people. Society has a real responsibility once again to make schools safe-havens for all children, physically and socially. For are we not truly our brothers and sisters’ keepers?

______________

Kathleen M. Cashin, Ed.D., is a member of the N.Y. State Board Regents and a clinical professor at Fordham University.

Bruce S. Cooper, Ph.D., is professor at Fordham University, Graduate School of Education, N.Y.C.

Contact:

Dr. Bruce S. Cooper

175 Riverside Dr. Apt. #2F

New York, NY 10024

Tel: 917 843-2281

Email: bruce.cooper@mac.com

This wonderful article in the American Educator describes the work of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, which has been conducting summer seminars for teachers for 30 years.

It opens the story through the eyes of a teacher named Keith Black:

“Instead of being subjected to what he disparagingly calls “PowerPoint drudgery,” Black spent eight hours each day dis- cussing classic works of literature, 17 in all, that he had read the previous three months on his own: Prometheus Bound, Agamem- non, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides, Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Peace, Lysistrata, King Lear, Othello, Hamlet, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Blood Wedding, Crime and Punishment, and Beloved.”

The Dallas Institute does not mention the Common Core or testing or rubrics:

“For 30 years, the Dallas Institute has treated teachers as intellectuals. To that end, the nonprofit educational organization, founded by former faculty members at the University of Dallas, offers teachers from all grade levels and all disciplines—not just English—an experience that either reacquaints them with or introduces them to the literature of Western civilization. The classic works studied are taught at the level of a graduate-school course and do not at all resemble typical professional development. Educators who attend this program rise to the challenge of engaging in insightful discussions about these complicated texts. In fact, they hunger to do so.

“Teachers work with human material, and the best way traditionally to gain access to human things is through the humani- ties, which are the foundation of a liberal arts education,” says Claudia Allums, who directs the Summer Institute. But a liberal arts education encompasses more than literature or philosophy or history courses, she says. It’s a particular spirit with which one approaches any discipline. “If a teacher has a broad, strong liberal arts education, then he or she is going to have a broad, strong foundation in human sensibilities. That’s the foundation we believe is important for any teacher’s wisdom.”

“Today, that belief is not widely shared. With the overwhelming focus on testing and measuring, it’s rare to hear words such as “wisdom,” “humanities,” and “human sensibilities” in relation to public education. Occasionally, reports like The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation,2 published last year by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, will decry the narrowing of the curriculum and call for a renewed emphasis on the liberal arts and their importance. But in the end, often little will be done to act on these ideas, however noble.”

I visited the the Dallas Institute a few years ago and was exhilarated by the spirit that permeates it: love of learning. Learning for the sake of learning, not for a bonus or a prize. This is a very small island of joy in a land where joy has been banned by federal and state authorities. Here there is intellectual freedom, which is endangered in our society by the powerful plutocrats who prize standardization and the ability to check the right box.

How ironic that the Institute flourishes in Texas, where the educational industrial complex was first launched. It is a small but important form of resistance to the status quo, a place where learning lives and thrives.