(What’s So Special ‘Bout) Rigor, Grit and Standardized Testing?

In his 1979 song, “(What’s So Funny “Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Elvis Costello wonders;

So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me wanna cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

Imagine how different education reform and the Common Core State Standards would be if Elvis Costello had been their chief architect and lead writer rather than David Coleman, who infamously declared in April, 2011 at a NY State Department of Education Presentation;

As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

Rigor vs. Vigor

The Common Core’s exclusive focus on rigorous math and ELA standards may be well intended, but these standards fail to prepare students for the diverse expectations and vigorous challenges of post-secondary learning and working.

According to the Common Core web site;

The standards are: Based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills

And Barbara Blackburn has explained that;

True instructional rigor is “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2012).”

Rather than focusing on rigorous math/ELA standards and skills that prepare students for a standardized test, K-12 learning programs should focus on vigorous, purposeful, and transferable standards and skills that are relevant to students and prepare them for life.

Learning should be a self-directed and spirited journey of discovery. Students should be “free to learn” as they explore their interests and pursue their passions rather than simply following a curriculum map and standardized pathway to each Common Core learning standard.

Grit vs. Passion

Another justification or rationale for the rigorous Common Core Standards is that students must experience frustration and failure as they struggle with higher standards and harder tasks if they are going to develop grit and be more successful in school and life.

While resilience and perseverance are essential life skills, the notion that the best and most effective way to cultivate these traits is by compelling students to complete rigorous math and ELA activities is foolish.

The Common Core supports a test-centered and data-driven model of classroom instruction rather than a learning program that is student-centered and passion-driven. Unfortunately, ed reformers thirst for data now trumps our students thirst for knowledge.

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The Common Core “demands” that all students achieve at higher levels and demonstrate deeper understandings when they are engaged in learning activities that are primarily determined by the standards and delivered by the teacher.

Rather than focusing our efforts on rigorous learning that cultivates student grit, we should be creating vigorous learning activities and experiences that capture students’ interest and stimulates their own desire to learn, also known as “flow”.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, students achieve flow when they find a challenge or task so enjoyable they will pursue it as a reward in itself.

When a person experiences flow they want to do more of an activity leading to advanced skill development and mastery of the task.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi further explains in, ”Thoughts About Education” …

“…Yet it seems increasingly clear that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive in nature. It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to…

 Of the two main forms of motivation — extrinsic and intrinsic — I focus primarily on the second kind. Although both are needed to induce people to invest energy in learning, intrinsic motivation, which is operative when we learn something primarily because we find the task enjoyable and not because it is useful, is a more effective and more satisfying way to learn…”

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Standardized Testing vs. Authentic Assessment

A standardized test does not provide a reliable or comprehensive measure of student learning or the skill level they have attained. A standardized test measures a students ability to apply the skills he or she has learned at a particular moment in time and in a standardized way.

The fact that a student does not demonstrate the ability to properly apply a numeracy or literacy skill during the administration of a standardized test is not evidence or proof that the students has not acquired that skill.

A standardized test may reveal how a student performs at a moment in time, but it cannot determine and tell you why this happened or predict how the student will perform in the future.

There are so many factors and variables that can impact student performance on a standardized test that is misleading and false to claim that student scores are a reliable means of predicting “college readiness” or measuring teacher quality.

A standardized  test does not provide meaningful information to support and improve student learning because the score only reveals what questions the student answered wrong, but not the reason why.

It would be foolish for a teacher to adjust or modify instructional practices based on a standardized test score when the new group of students they teach the following year have different cognitive abilities and disabilities.

The real time data generated by informal and formative classroom assessment ( informal + formative = informative) is the gold standard of effective student-centered classroom instruction, while the data generated by standardized and summative testing is about as useful and valuable as “fool’s gold”.

“Effective” teachers understand that actionable and meaningful feedback is essential to guide and support student learning, and this data should be provided “in the moment” while the student is actively engaged in a learning process.

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Clearly, the decision to align and couple standardized tests to the Common Core is more about satisfying NCLB and teacher accountability requirements (VAM) than about informing classroom instruction and improving student  learning.

Learning standards serve as a framework and guide that generally dictate and determine the boundaries and limits of learning in the classroom so that students share common learning experiences that are sequenced and synchronized in order to compare, rate, and sort students according to their performance on a standardized test.

The terms rigor and grit are part of ed reformers narrative and rhetoric used to sell the Common Core Standards and convince parents that sterile, scripted, and data-driven instruction is superior to vigorous, customized, and passion-driven learning that is not controlled and restrained by the format and design of a standardized test.

K-12 education programs that claim to prepare students for “college and careers” should cultivate a wide array of cognitive, social, and emotional competencies that are useful and transferable life skills rather than focusing on a narrow set of numeracy and literacy skills that are measured by a standardized test.

It is far more important that students are free to learn in school and well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Today many schools are eliminating vigorous extracurricular experiences that help students discover the ways they are “smart”, so they can devote more time to preparing students for rigorous standardized tests so the state can measure and compare how “smart” they are.

Successful adults understand that their achievements are less about standardized test scores and the subjects they learned in school, and more about self-efficacy and knowing how to learn in life.

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Teach students to care about others instead of measuring how they compare to each other

If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. ~ Atticus Finch, ( Gregory Peck) “To Kill A Mockingbird”

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Whether its hundreds of spring break bystanders watching and recording a daylight sexual assault of an unconscious woman, or middle school students using a cell phone to video the merciless verbal abuse and taunting of a 68 year old bus monitor, or even a depressed and desperate German co-pilot who decides to include a plane load of people in his suicide plans, there clearly is an empathy deficit and crisis in our world today.

Ed reformers must have experienced a serious case of buyer’s remorse after recruiting David Colemen ( the anti-Atticus Finch) to design and craft the Common Core State Standards only to hear him proclaim

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s#@% about what you feel or what you think”

We are foolishly implementing national education reforms obsessed with measuring how students compare to each other at a time when schools should be doubling their efforts to maximize our students ability and inclination to care about others.

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There appears to have been a data-driven hijacking of the Common Core Standards. The use of standardized tests to assess student mastery devalues the most vibrant components of the standards and abandons the “promise” of constructivist learning.

Standardized  tests measure only specialized and discrete skills called for in the Commmon Core but they are not a comprehensive ruler or appropriate metric for measuring student agency and a wide array of essential non-cognitive skills.

What if the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were designed and developed more for teacher accountability purposes than to reliably measure students skills?

PARCC has already acknowledged that their test is not a comprehensive or reliable measure of college and career readiness.

Using junk science VAM formulas, education leaders claim they can use student scores on these unreliable assessments to reliably measure the quality and effectiveness of their teachers.

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Have education reformers even considered the possibility that a “highly effective” educator who prepares and trains students to master a standardized test may not be a good teacher?

The unfortunate decision to use standardized tests to evaluate student mastery AND teacher quality means classroom instruction is focused primarily on rigorous and standardized lessons that prepare students for assessments at a time when many would be better served by vigorous and nonroutine experiences helping them learn how to properly manage their attitutes, behaviors, and emotions.

We are devoting too much class time training and testing children just so parents can be assured their 3rd graders are “on track” for college when there is no way the Common Core Standards and tests can prevent or predict which students will be “derailed” by cyberbullying, pregnancy, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, abusive relationship, poverty, texting and driving, homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, sexual abuse, drinking and driving…

It is unwise to focus so much instructional time on students staying closely connected to text when many of them lack the ability to socially and emotionally connect with people.

Students should be spending less time in the classroom dissecting the craft and structure of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and much more time volunteering in their communities as they honor and apply his powerful ideas about empathy, service, and justice.

When you think about all the rating, ranking, and sorting of students and teachers that is demanded by the Common Core, can’t help but wonder if so much emphasis on student proficiency, data-driven instruction, and standardized testing unintentionally suppresses academic, social, and emotional growth and actually diminishes readiness?

Education reform should be about CULTIVATING changemakers, good decision makers, and healthy risk takers rather than TRAINING text dependent thinkers and proficient multiple choice test takers.

In our efforts to ensure all students are college and career ready we must not forget the importance of preparing citizens that are courage and compassion ready.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

~ Winston Churchill

“Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”

~ Doe Zantamata, “Measuring Up.”

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What Happens When Highly Effective Instructors Are Not Good Teachers?

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It is fanciful to suggest that a single score on a standardized test is somehow going to assess the overall effectiveness and quality of a teacher or measure the academic, social, and emotional impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future endeavors and accomplishments.

Many reformers are also convinced that a standardized test score will provide evidence that a student is “on track” to be ready for college and careers.

Unfortunately, the decision to couple standardized tests with the Common Core Standards and to attach high stakes for accountability purposes will often distort classroom instruction and actually diminish student readiness.

While the Common Core Standards may claim to “ensure” that all students will be ready for diverse colleges and careers, classroom instruction is focused primarily on preparing students for standardized tests.

It seems ed reformers are not aware that employers are not hiring text-dependent thinkers who have been trained to correctly answer Common Core multiple choice questions by disregarding plausible answers…

“It’s not a multiple-choice world, employers say. Don’t send us graduates who only know how to solve multiple-choice problems…

Today, educators all over the U.S. are reinventing liberal education in ways that blend the best strength of the liberal arts and sciences…including their constant focus on real-world contexts and decision-making in situations where the answer isn’t clear cut.”

In Defense Of A Liberal Education, Carol Geary Schneider, Forbes 8/10/09

More recent interviews with CEOs and other executives have confirmed the disconnect between Common Core test preparation and employer expectations…

Respondents said students lack self-awareness, can’t work in teams, have poor critical thinking skills and come up short on creativity…

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with students; some blame must go to the schools that purport to educate them, the report found…

One of the biggest problems executives cited was that schools don’t measure student success with the right metrics. Just 12% of those interviewed said M.B.A. grades actually matter in hiring…

Instead, employers said they’d like to see more assessment of so-called soft skills like the ability to execute a plan, communication and critical thinking.

Business Schools Flunk When CEOs Grade the Test, Melissa Korn, 3/18/14

It is a mistake to rely so heavily on standardized test scores to predict future performance of students and to draw conclusions regarding quality of instruction in the classroom.

A standardized math or ELA test measures a narrow set of testable skills. Determining the effectiveness of a teacher based on student test scores suggests the primary responsibility of teachers is to train his or her students to take standardized tests.

Have ed reformers even considered the possibility that a person who effectively trains students to take standardized tests may not be a good teacher?

Teachers wear many “hats” during the school day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, mediator, friend…

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Good teachers help every child to “grow” and develop as a healthy human being in diverse and unique ways that can’t be measured by a standardized test including…

Helping an obese child to lose weight by walking with him/her before school

Convincing a bully to change his/her ways

Empowering bystanders to become upstanders

Helping a student who is prone to violence to learn to resolve disputes peacefully

Getting a depressed student to eat regular meals by having lunch with him/her

Convincing a student to bring and wear eye glasses each day

Encouraging a student to be more responsible about taking medication each day

Helping a student to understand that racist, sexist, and other prejudiced beliefs are not OK

Inspiring students to lead and serve others through student council or peer mentoring

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Education should be about preparing future caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, learners, creators, entrepreneurs, designers. developers, voters, change agents, and volunteers….not test takers.

Back in 2011, David T. Conley warned in his essay, “Building on the Common Core” about the potential for misuse and misapplication of assessments…

“Implemented correctly, the common standards and assessments can vault education over the barrier of low-level test preparation and toward the goal of world-class learning outcomes for all students. Implemented poorly, however, the standards and assessments could result in accountability on steroids, stifling meaningful school improvement nationwide.”

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and dreams of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

Learning is a lifelong process and self-directed journey of discovery. It is far more important that a person is well educated than trying to determine if they have been educated well.

A standardized assessment measures testable hard skills and will not reveal whether teachers and students possess the social and emotional skills that are essential for good teaching and college/career readiness.

Accountability measures should be more focused on ensuring there is an empathetic teacher in every classroom rather than an effective trainer of standardized test-takers.

As Bruce Cameron wisely said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

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One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

Common Sense

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Free and open societies can benefit from uniform learning standards that guide and shape classroom instruction to prepare future learners, leaders, inventors, artisans, entrepreneurs, tradesmen, artists, teachers, mentors, volunteers, etc.

To be effective, these standards must also cultivate student agency and a set of “skills” that are not easily measured including; courage, creativity, empathy, initiative, collaboration, integrity, self-efficacy, persistence, resilience, risk-taking, decision-making, problem solving, civic engagement etc.

Governments create an intolerable situation when they couple standardized tests with national standards and then impose sanctions or “high stakes” on schools and teachers when their students do not meet these standards on time and in a synchronized way.

By design, these standardized assessments can only measure the discrete numeracy and literacy skills of the standards.

While the Common Core standards may “promise” to prepare students for college and careers the misguided and punitive nature of the assessment program actually distorts implementation efforts and leads to a narrowing of instruction that emphasizes the measurable and testable components of the standards.

Implemented incorrectly, “rigorous” standards will actually diminish student potential as viable academic and vocational pathways are closed off and even eliminated to make room for an extra portion of literacy and numeracy instruction and assessment.

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Education programs that provide numerous pathways allowing students to unleash their special talents and pursue their passions will “open doors” and increase learning and earning opportunities in the future.

The unintended and negative consequences of data-driven implementation are real and there are countless school letters being sent home to parents like the one posted here…

rigorImage source: Extra curricular activities cancelled for rigor.

There is a troubling disconnect between the promised “outcomes” of the Common Core Standards and the test-focused implementation efforts.

For example, the Common Core includes numerous descriptors and paints a “portrait” of students who meet the Standards and are considered to be college and career ready including…

They demonstrate independence…they become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials

They use technology and digital media strategically and capably. Students employ technology thoughtfully…They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.

Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, Page 5

However, the implementation efforts are focused primarily on numeracy/literacy and disregard these intended outcomes as the instructional “shifts” demanded by the standards focus on cultivating text-dependent thinking and discrete literacy skills that actually discourage independent learning…

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities.

Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards

The descriptors may call for students to “use technology strategically” yet most of the time spent using technology in the classroom will be while students are preparing for or taking standardized tests.

The descriptors may say students will learn to “understand and work with other cultures” yet the added expense and time devoted to Math/ELA preparation and testing leaves less time and resources for educational field trips, exchange programs, internships, and other learning experiences where students would interact with people from other cultures…not than just read about them.

It is foolish to believe that students who are prepared and trained to think and perform within the “box” of a standardized test will become adult learners and workers who can create and think “outside the box”. Or as Sir Ken Robinson explains…

You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.

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Google VP Laszlo Bock explained in a NY Times interview…

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation…

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment…”

In Head-Hunting Big Data May Not be Such A Big Deal NY Times, 6/19/13

After distributing a quarterly report that reveals a recent drop in users and revenue, Google management will never ask employees to determine whether the change in company performance detailed in the informational text was either “bad”, “terrible”, or “disappointing”, but they will expect them to come up with plausible strategies and creative solutions to increase company earnings during the next quarter.

In the real world of learning and work outside of school, plausible solutions to novel problems are worth consideration and further study, but in the standardized testing “box” of the Common Core, such answers are wrong.

This distorted and somewhat dystopian view of student learning is apparent in the Common Core teacher training video (shared below); “Preparing for Close Reading with Students” as evidenced by the following exchange at 16:40 in the video…

Coleman: He moves to this very philosophical treatise on just and unjust law and what does it mean. And I think for students that’s very exciting cause he, I think the question of whether to follow a law is pretty interesting to them. What rules can they break, what rules can’t they break?

Gerson: And who’s rules are they?

King: But again, that’s one of those challenges right, because kids are gonna want to take that off into a conversation about rules and rule breaking…

Gerson: This uniform is an unjust law

King: Right, right…exactly, exactly. Again I think the discipline that you’re calling for is so important to stick with the text, stick with King’s argument, and try to avoid going too quickly to the easy connections…”

The speakers in the video clearly advocate a “discipline” of thought in the classroom so that children are initially denied the opportunity to make sense of difficult text by drawing upon their own life experiences and understandings.

Students are expected to read and think critically regarding Dr. King’s ideas about breaking unjust laws, but relevant activities such as opting out must not be openly discussed and debated in the classroom, and students better not be expressing their thoughts about the quality of the state exams on social media.

Daily training for Common Core-aligned standardized tests actually limits student learning as these tests fail to measure or “value” the most vibrant and vigorous components of the standards.

Jason Stanford, a  contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, recently took a Smarter Balanced 4th Grade ELA practice test and commented..

Then there were the questions that made me want to strangle the committee that wrote this test. None of the possible answers for what “best describes the lesson Coyote learned” had anything to do with the real meaning of the parable, and a student is asked to decide whether a particular metaphor about a “tree’s belly” is humorous, playful, or surprising, even though humor is often playful and surprising…

We’re so focused on measuring children that we’ve stopped developing them. These tests don’t measure what we want our children to learn and are a waste of money.

Common Core tests are failures, Jason Stanford 3/23/15

Just because standardized testing has been accepted practice for many years is not proof or evidence that these assessments will provide accurate and reliable data regarding student “readiness” and teacher quality.

As Thomas Paine said, in Common Sense,

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

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A Common Core Curriculum Conundrum

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The Common Core State Standards is an aspirational document that describes a set of academic goals and learning expectations. The standards identify what ALL students should know and be able to do at each grade level in order to be ready for college and careers.

Proponents of the standards stress that they are not a curriculum as they do not prescribe how the standards should be taught or what materials should be used to support student learning in the classroom.

Another way of looking at it is standards are the destination and curriculum is the path or road students take to get there.

Standards are a critical component that help to inform and shape the curriculum. Together, standards and curriculum can serve as a foundation upon which assessments could be developed and aligned.

Common Core supporters insist that decisions on how to implement the standards are to be made at the state and local levels and school districts across the country may very well adopt different approaches and roads to implement the standards.

It is very surprising that states and local districts are encouraged to create different academic pathways for their students to follow when the video below explains that the goal of the Common Core is to create a national set of academic expectations and create a uniform or standardized education system so student and teacher performance can be compared on a national and international level.

If Common Core proponents claim it was not possible to generate valid and reliable data regarding student and teacher performance because states were following different standards, how does allowing students to use different class materials and follow different paths to the standards pose any less of a threat to data reliability?

Under the Common Core the curriculum clearly plays a greatly diminished and less important role compared to the national standards.

The national tests have already been constructed, so it is clear that the curriculum is not part of the foundation upon which the Common Core assessments have been developed and aligned.

The design and content of the National PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments has been influenced and shaped entirely by the Common Core State Standards.

Prior to CCSS it was the curriculum that dictated what materials would be used and what activities would take place in the classroom.

Since the tests have already been created and teachers will be held accountable for student performance on them via VAM, the new assessments will clearly be much more influential when it comes to decisions regarding classrroom materials and activities.

If Pearson publishes the new Common Core tests and Pearson also publishes the ELA and MATH text books that are aligned to the standards and assessments, how believable are reformers claims regarding “local control” of the curriculum?

While it may be true the standards are not a curriculum, the specificity of the skills identified in the Common Core Standards clearly does influence and control how we teach, just as a curriculum would.

Hard to argue that Common Core ELA Shift #2 doesn’t determine the way we teach and the way students learn in the classroom

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/ content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities

or Mathematics Shift #3

Students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations; teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to memorize, through repetition, core functions

While education leaders and Common Core supporters continue to claim that test prep or teaching to the test is not an appropriate or effective means to prepare students for the Common Core test, the convoluted or rigorous format and design of test questions would suggest otherwise.

No better way to determine if teachers will need to devote extra class time to training students for the Common Core assessments than to look at a sample question like the one published in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” Blog,

Consider this fourth-grade question on the test based on a passage from Pecos Bill Captures the Pacing White Mustang by Leigh Peck.

Why is Pecos Bill’s conversation with the cowboys important to the story?

A) It predicts the action in paragraph 4

B) It predicts the action in paragraph 5

C) It predicts the choice in paragraph 10

D) It predicts the choice in paragraph 11

Hard to take the Common Core supporters criticism of teaching to the test seriously, when David Coleman, the chief architect of the standards, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of such practices during a 2011 Keynote Speech.

Coleman clearly boasts about the quality of his standards and the assessments that are built on them, while the issue of curriculum and how learning will unfold in the classroom in diverse and student-centered ways must have been a topic for another day.

… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation.

It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there‟s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don‟t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do.

Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and its hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention. It is in my judgment the single most important work we have to do over the next two years to ensure that that is so, period.

The use of test items that are “distractors” would also suggest a need for extra test preparation and also raise serious questions as to whether these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than critical thinking.

Distractors are plausible responses but not the fully correct answer. Many of the new test items require students to select one or more answers that “best support”, are “most significant” or are “most likely”.

The questions on the Common Core English Language Arts test are more complex than those found on previous tests that measured previous grade‐level standards.

Correct answers will not “jump out”; rather, students will need to make a thoughtful distinction between the fully‐correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.

These multiple‐choice questions are specifically designed to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the comprehension and analyses specified by the standards.

Frequently Asked Questions: 3-8 Testing Program (pg 8, #21)

The passage above claims these new and improved test questions will determine whether students have proficient comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the passage, but their judgement and decision-making skills could be impaired by stress, and they mistakenly choose the plausible or partially correct response.

It is also quite possible that the student fully comprehended the passage, but they had difficulty understanding the complex and convoluted wording of the question.

Clearly teachers will need to use class time for students to prepare for the test and practice answering such questions.

We should also be concerned about lessons that the use of distractors will teach our students when it comes to learning and solving problems in real life?

Where wouId America be today if Thomas Edison had been taught not to pursue or investigate possibly true solutions and that plausible answers are always wrong.

If we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will accurately evaluate students and teachers, then isn’t a National Common Core Curriculum or single “pathway” to the standards an essential component to assure that nationwide comparisons and conclusions regarding student and teacher performance are valid and reliable?

The editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” seemed to think so back in 2011 when they devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards.

The AFT editors enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum…

A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools-is what binds all the different actors together…A common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come

Common Core Curriculum: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Perhaps its time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core to clarify and update their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, or common pathway to the standards, and explain…Where They Stand?

Perhaps we should also consider the possibility that during the initial roll out period or Phase I of the standards, schools and states are being encouraged to develop and design their own Common Core Curriculum.

However during Phase II, when the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments become fully operational, a National Common Core Curriculum will be actively “sold” to parents in America as a means of improving student performance on the Common Core assessment and also as a necessity to accurately evaluate the quality of their children’s teachers.

#whatif…

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Students spent as much class time on vigorous learning activities that cultivate social and emotional skills as they do taking rigorous assessments that quantify math and ELA skills.

The US Department of Education began grading parents based on the age their children learned to walk, tie their shoes, or ride a bike.

Teachers could focus more on cultivating students’ thirst for knowledge rather than satisfying ed reformers thirst for data.

Students spent more time taking informal and formative (informative) assessments rather than standardized summative assessments.

Schools provided diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities rather than trying to standardize and quantify their skills.

Schools replaced rigorous and standardized rules for learning with a vigorous and vibrant approaches in the classroom that embraced the philosophy; learning rules!

Reformers understood that students learn from taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

Schools could be more focused on teaching diverse learners how worthy they are rather than repeatedly testing students to determine how much their skills are worth.

Data-driven instruction meant helping EVERY child to learn and discover ways they are “Ten Feet Tall”

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Reformers realized that cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, persistent, courageous, and resilient will succeed in college and careers while academically and cognitively proficient students who are lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, and unimaginative will not be successful in college and work environments.

Joy, civics, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, fun, health, history, field trips, home economics, humanities, recess, fiction, driver education, athletics, political science, chess, psychology, play, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts were not left behind in our Race To The Top.

Reformers understood that learning is a lifelong process and a self-directed journey of discovery and not a “race” to reach a learning standard or data point.

Reformers understood that it is far more important that students are free to learn in school and are well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Reformers understood that teachers are like gardeners and Common Core is like Miracle-Gro but students will never thrive if their schools lack the resources to purchase garden hoses or even pay the water bill.

Education programs had more resources to address the underlying “illness” of poverty rather than continually measuring and addressing student “symptoms” in the classroom.

Reformers realized learning that doesn’t take place outside the classroom can have a much greater impact on student achievement than what transpires inside the classroom.

Reformers understood that learning should be more passion and purpose-driven rather than standards and data-driven.

Education leaders realized that in free and open democratic societies education should be focused on the needs and interests of students rather than the desires of data miners, corporations, and the state.

Reformers realized that using students’ standardized test score to determine the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

There was as much effort devoted to assuring there are equitable resources available to every public school as there is assuring schools have equally high learning standards.

We remember that it was not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It was courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years. These learners didn’t fit educational molds, they broke them. They didn’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They often improvised and innovated and they were more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they were to follow them.

Reformers understood that increased opposition to the Common Core is not simply “growing pains” but a growing awareness that coupling high stakes testing with the standards leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and incentivizes teaching to the test.

We did our best to help every child learn to care and we supported, encouraged, and inspired all students so they care to learn.

Teachers could first help EVERY student learn how to “Swim” before making them dive into complex informational text.

Yeah you gotta swim Don’t let yourself sink

Just find the horizon I promise you it’s not as far as you think

~ Jack’s Mannequin, “Swim”

There were many more education leaders and far fewer Common Core cheerleaders.

Ed reformers put less effort into selling solutions and put more thought into solving problems.

Ed reformers acknowledged that it is not fair to test older students using Common Core assessments or claim these scores reveal the effectiveness of their teachers because we are grading the ability of a person to climb an academic staircase that is partially completed and under construction.

AFT devoted an upcoming issue of “American Educator” to the Common Core State Standards and the editors clarified their statement in the 2011 Winter Edition that enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum

David Colemen retracted his infamous statement and the Common Core State Standards were rewritten by an experienced educator who understands that thoughts and feelings do matter in life.

Proficient and experienced educators took over leadership roles in the ed reform movement as the powerful and privileged education experts stepped down.

The Common Core’s close reading program were replaced by the National Work Readiness literacy program called Read With Understanding.

Reformers realized that employers desire workers who can think creatively, connect with people, and dive into their work rather than think critically while staying connected and diving into text.

Education technology were used to enrich and support student learning rather than to collect and share student data.

Reformers understood that education is a staircase of learning rather than an escalator and the diverse abilities and skills of students along with the amount of parental involvement will determine the manner and speed at which each student will be able to climb the steps.

The Common Core provided diverse career pathways rather than one path to college and underemployment.

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Common Core: Closing the Skills Gap or Expanding the Economic Reality Gap?

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As I reflect upon the numerous changes in education policy and reforms that are moving full speed ahead across our nation, surreal is the best word to describe how it feels to be a public school teacher as 2014 comes to a close.

Wonder if I am the only educator expecting Morpheus to walk into my classroom any day now and say; “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

There is a huge disconect between the college and career readiness rhetoric of the ed reformers and the reality of our nation’s jobs outlook and employment trends that reveal a continuing shift away from manufacturing and to a service-based economy.

Many Common Core enthusiasts continue to preach about the importance of Big Data and the power of data-driven instruction, but when it comes to reliable evidence and actual research supporting their nationwide college and career readiness mandate, there  is a significant data deficit.

In the debate over why the U.S. has been so slow to emerge from the Great Recession, many have laid the blame on what’s become known as the skills gap: Despite an abundance of workers, too many simply aren’t qualified to fill the jobs available…

Indeed, there are now 4.7 million job openings in the U.S., the most in more than a decade. Even so, some 9.7 million people are looking for work—more than two for every open job.

The skills gap argument relies on that basic paradox: How can there be so many unemployed people in the face of so many job openings?…

In recent decades, on-the-job training has declined. Companies want new hires to be able to “hit the ground running.”…

In particular, companies want employees who have already done the job somewhere else. That shows up in data about how much employers value internships.

It’s Not a Skills Gap: U.S. Workers Are Overqualified, Undertrained Matthew Philips 8/19/14

While the Common Core claims to foster career readiness, the Math and ELA standards are focused exclusively on academic skills and preparing students for Common Core tests, while employers increasingly desire entry-level workers (with and without college degrees) who have actual work experience.

By the time most kids are in high school, they’ve probably heard some career advice along these lines: get into a good college, pick a marketable major, keep those grades up, and you’ll land a good job. But that doesn’t quite cover it anymore.

In a survey out today from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers said what matters most to them actually happens outside the classroom.

“Internships came back as the most important thing that employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate,” says Dan Berrett, senior reporter at the Chronicle. “More important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”

Internships become the new job requirement Amy Scott 3/4/13

Data also suggests that new-hires lack of skills and work experience can be attributed to a decline in school-based vocational pathways and lack of employer training programs.

There are almost certainly more hedge-fund managers in Mount Kisco than there are tool and die makers–and Gretchen Zierick has no use for the Wall-Streeters. But she says she can’t even get the time to talk with students about manufacturing careers, because, well, every kid is above average, as Garrison Keillor would say, and supposed to go to college. “There just aren’t people out there with the skills we need, or the interest in acquiring them”…

What’s really interesting about all this is that it’s not just the usual suspects who are complaining about the lack of good workers. You know: software companies that want to hire programmers from India. It turns out that good old manufacturers are having trouble finding excellent employees.

So, what is going on? And why is this happening?

Business owners start by blaming the education system. For example, Hypertherm, a New Hampshire maker of precision-cutting systems, says half of its applicants can’t perform simple math. Adds Jay Moon of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association: “A lot of kids cannot even read a ruler.” Many companies also complain that shop classes are being eliminated, so that few high-schoolers even know what a lathe is, much less how to work one.

There is some truth to these complaints. Yeah, the nation’s schools could do better; young people are, alas, imperfect (unlike their elders). But whining about the good old days is hardly useful. And it also obscures an important point: Businesses themselves are a big part of the alleged skills gap.

Why “alleged”? Because, on a national level, the skills gap does not exist. (See Who Says There’s A Skills Gap?)

Yes, there are issues finding people for specific jobs in specific industries; for the labor force as a whole, however, the skills-gap “crisis” is no such thing. And to the extent that your business is having problems, to a large degree, the solutions are in your hands. Specifically: Start training programs, pay competitive wages, and work with governments and community colleges.

Is There Really a Skills Gap? Cait Murphy April, 014

While the Common Core focuses on academic skills and preparing every student for the rigors of first-year Math and ELA college courses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this month that there are millions of job openings in manufacturing, trade, transportation, retail, health services, food service, arts, entertainment, leisure and hospitality that do not require college degrees.

There were 4.8 million job openings on the last business day of October. The job openings rate was 3.3 percent. The number of job openings was little changed for total private and declined for government in October. (See table 1.) The level of job openings decreased for state and local government. The job openings level was little changed in all four regions.

The number of job openings (not seasonally adjusted) increased over the 12 months ending in October for total nonfarm and total private, and was little changed for government. The job openings level increased over the year for many industries, including both professional and business services and accommodation and food services. The number of openings also increased over the year in all four regions. (See table 7.)

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary Bureau of Labor Statistics 12/9/14

Hard to take Common Core claims of career readiness seriously when the standards are focused primarily on Singapore-like math skills and close reading skills rather than transferable skills addressing the Labor Force projections of U.S. Department of Labor

Occupations related to healthcare, healthcare support, construction, and personal care services are projected to add a combined 5.3 million jobs, an increase representing approximately one-third of all employment gains over the coming decade…

Occupations requiring a high school diploma are expected to add the greatest number of new jobs, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all employment gains over the projection period.

As demand for medical services increases as a result of population aging and expanding medical insurance coverage, the health care sector and its associated occupations are expected to see sizable gains in employment and output.

The construction industry, as well as the occupations that support it, also will experience rapid growth in employment and output. Employment in the construction sector is expected to return to its long-term trend of increase, a rebound consistent with expectations about future population growth and the need to replace older structures.

Overview of Projections to 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics 12/2013

Surely the evidence-light career readiness claims of the Common Core evangelists are supported by STEM occupations data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau?

People with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math are more likely than other college graduates to have a job, but most of them don’t work in STEM occupations, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday.

Nearly 75 percent of all holders of bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines don’t have jobs in STEM occupations, according to a survey that reached 3.5 million homes, said Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist with the Census Bureau. The bureau’s American Community Survey is the largest household survey in the nation…

Michael S. Teitelbaum, senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said certain fields do have good job prospects, but he cautioned against blindly guiding students into STEM disciplines.

“The STEM acronym is increasingly misleading rather than informative,” Teitelbaum said. He said that studies have found that nearly 20 percent of all jobs should be considered STEM-related, based on the technology used. The workers involved could include heating and air-conditioning installers, carpenters and automotive technicians, whose careers require technical knowledge but not a STEM degree, he said.

Teitelbaum said data indicate that there are at least twice as many people entering the workforce as there are jobs in STEM fields for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Most with college STEM degrees go to work in other fields, survey finds  7/10/14

Some have suggested that perpetuating misleading claims regarding the great demand for STEM workers may also in the best interest of Colleges and Universities that recruit STEM majors.

Higher education receives about half of the total federal STEM education budget of $3.1-billion, according to the National Science and Technology Council. Colleges get grants from 14 agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation, to increase the number of STEM majors and grads, improve curricula, and bring more women and minority students into science and technology fields.

Master’s-degree STEM slots also draw the international students whose tuition so many research universities rely on, and institutions hire postdoctoral workers to run labs…

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology who frequently testifies before Congress, has argued that companies, including Microsoft, have advocated for more federal money for STEM education and more visas for foreign IT workers, even as they lay off thousands of American employees with comparable skills. “The Washington consensus is that there is a broad-based shortage of STEM workers, and it’s just not true,” he says.

Others also see something nefarious behind the crisis rhetoric.

“This is all about industry wanting to lower wages,” says Norman S. Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis. Mr. Matloff has investigated how IT employers benefit by raising the numbers of lower-paid foreign STEM laborers and by sending offshore the engineering and STEM manufacturing jobs of mostly older American workers. “We have a surplus of homegrown STEM workers now,” he says. “We’ve had it in the past and we’re likely to have it in the future.”

The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth? Michael Anft 11/11/2013

While Common Core enthusiasts continue to claim that a college degree is the best passport to good jobs and higher wages, college graduates are increasingly underemployed and must work several  jobs as more and more employers are offering part-time jobs and relying on temp workers to reduce payroll and avoid having to provide benefits for their workers.

Over three quarters of college professors are adjunct. Legally, adjunct positions are part-time, at-will employment. Universities pay adjunct professors by the course, anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000. So if a professor teaches three courses in both the fall and spring semesters at a rate of $3000 per course, they’ll make $18,000 dollars. The average full-time barista makes the same yearly wage…

Being financially secure and teaching at an institute of higher education are almost mutually exclusive, even among professors who are able to teach the maximum amount of courses each semester. Thus, more than half of adjunct professors in the United States seek a second job…

“I ended up applying for a job in a donut shop recently,” said an Ohio professor who requested to go by a pseudonym. Professor Doe taught for over two decades. Many years he only made $9600. Resorting to a food service job was the only way he could afford to live, but it came with more than its expected share of humiliation.

“One of the managers there is one of the students I had a year ago who was one of the very worst writers I’ve ever had. What are we really saying here? What’s going on in the work world? Something does not seem quite right. I’m not asking to be rich. I’m not asking to be famous. I just want to pay my bills.”

Life became even more harrowing for adjuncts after the Affordable Care Act when universities slashed hours and health insurance coverage became even more difficult to obtain…

“On the whole, teaching quality by adjuncts is excellent,” said Kane Faucher, a six-year adjunct. “But many are not available for mentoring and consultation because they have to string together so many courses just to reach or possibly exceed the poverty line. This means our resources are stretched too thinly as a matter of financial survival, and there are many adjuncts who do not even have access to a proper office, which means they work out of coffee shops and cars.”…

Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor and activist, agreed.

“The real problem with the adjunct market right now is that it cheats students of the really outstanding educations they should be getting,” she said. “They’re paying a lot of money for these educations and they’re not getting them. And it’s not because they have bad instructors, it’s because their instructors are not supported to do the kind of work they can do.”

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014 Matt Saccaro 9/21/14

Earlier this month Brittany Bronson, an English instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas explained the challenges and rewards of working in higher education in her NY Times Op-ED.

Bumping into a student at the gym can be awkward, but exposing the reality that I, with my master’s degree, not only have another job, but must have one, risks destroying the facade of success I present to my students as one of their university mentors…

In class I emphasize the value of a degree as a means to avoid the sort of jobs that I myself go to when those hours in the classroom are over…

The majority of my students this semester hold part-time survival jobs, and some of them will remain in those jobs for the rest of their working lives. About 60 percent of the college freshmen I teach will not finish their degree. They will turn 21 and then forgo a bachelor’s degree for the instant gratification of a cash-based income…

In a city like Las Vegas, many customer-service jobs generate far more cash (with fewer work hours) than entry-level, office-dwelling, degree-requiring jobs. It can be hard to convince my 19-year-old students that the latter is more profitable or of greater personal value…

But not all my restaurant co-workers are college dropouts, and none are failures. Many have bachelor’s degrees; others have real estate licenses, freelancing projects or extraordinary musical and artistic abilities. Others are nontraditional students, having entered the work force before attending college and making the wise decision not to “find themselves” and come out with $40,000 in debt, at 4.6 percent interest.

Most of them are parents who have bought homes, raised children and made financial investments off their modest incomes. They are some of the kindest, hardest-working people I know, and after three years alongside them, I find it difficult to tell my students to avoid being like them.

My perhaps naïve hope is that when I tell students I’m not only an academic, but a “survival” jobholder, I’ll make a dent in the artificial, inaccurate division society places between blue-collar work and “intelligent” work. We expect our teachers to teach us, not our servers, although in the current economy, these might be the same people.

If my students can imagine the possibility that choosing to work with their hands does not automatically exclude them from being people who critically examine the world around them, I will feel I’ve done something worthwhile, not only for those who will earn their degree, but for the majority who will not.

Your Waitress, Your Professor Brittany Bronson 12/18/14

Don’t have to be an expert in Common Core math to know that the ed reformers claims about preparing our students for college and careers just doesn’t add up.

It may be true that the data-driven Common Core supports current and future careers in Big Data collecting/mining/sharing, the testing industry, and software development.

However, the absence of CCSS pathways leading to internships, apprenticeships, work-based learning experiences, certificates, licenses, etc clearly debunks ed reformers rhetoric that the Common Core advances career readiness.

Not one to believe in conspiracy theories but considering the reality of America’s jobs outlook and trends, could ed reformers emphasis on college prep actually be less about career readiness and more about assuring that most students apply to and attend college?

Saddled with $20,000 or more in debt and lacking work experience and desireable  trade/vocational job skills, college graduates will have no choice but to accept the economic reality of part-time jobs and underemployment.

If you squint your eyes just a little bit, there is an uncanny resemblance between David Coleman and Agent Smith.

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