(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…”

aristotle

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.

dewey

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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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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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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A Clever Way To Share Student Data

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The impact of too much screen time on childhood obesity is well documented, and there is also greater awareness regarding past and present efforts of tech leaders to restrict their own children’s use of technology at home and in school.

A recent study also found that too much screen time inhibits a child’s ability to recognize emotions as corporate surveys and interviews have revealed the critical importance of emotional intelligence and soft skills.

So why would the American Federation of Teachers partner with a company that makes it easier for software programs to be used in the classroom and access student data?

“We’re starting to see fewer entrepreneurs going around teachers and instead starting to say, ‘How can we talk to them to find out what they really need?'” Weingarten said in an interview.

“Clever knew that from the beginning.  And that’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful. ” …

And in the bigger picture, she said, the union’s relationship with Clever offers a lesson for others in the education-technology field.

“If you want your product to be used in schools,” Weingarten said, “talk to teachers.”

According to edSurge,

Clever is a service that makes it easier for schools to use many popular education technology products. It works by providing a simple developer interface (API) for third party education technology software to access important data from Student Information Systems (SIS) used by schools. This data can then be used by third party products to deliver services with less hassle.

A 2012, edSurge report on Clever revealed,

“We’re putting schools in control of their data and making it easier to share it when they choose to,” says Tyler Bosmeny, Clever’s co-founder and chief executive.

Clever has dramatically speeded up the once onerous task of connecting to schools’ data systems. Liang-Vergara says that he’s seen software vendors’ eyes light up when he asks if they will use Clever’s API to connect to his school’s data. “They say, ‘That’s an easy step for us,'” and it works, he says.

Vendors have been asking him to verify that Clever is sending them accurate data–and so far, he says, it’s been checking out. And when partners use Clever’s software to connect with schools, they in turn, share a slice of the revenue they make with Clever.

“There’s no greater challenge that a young software company faces that selling into schools,” says Deborah Quazzo, chief executive of GSV Advisors. “Selling into the schools and districts via partners [with other software companies] is very smart,” she says.

According to the security page on Clever’s web site,

Clever is always completely FERPA compliant under the Education Services Exemption. We partner with leading school district security teams and experts to provide outstanding data stewardship, and vendors who work with Clever have agreed to use student data in total compliance with FERPA.

Clever’s assertion that they are fully compliant with FERPA is not very reassuring considering that FERPA was amended in 2011 to expand access to private student data

The Secretary of Education (Secretary) amends the regulations implementing section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which is commonly referred to as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data…The use of data is vital to ensuring the best education for our children.

Even more disconcerting is the 2008 Guidance document regarding the privacy of student health data…

In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Even with growing concern about the privacy of student data, more and more school districts are turning to software developers to help their students meet the math and ELA standards of the Common Core

Under NCLB and the Common Core, students are required to demonstrate proficiency with respect to specific Math and ELA standards at each grade level.

Many reformers continue to claim that excessive standardized testing and the efficacy of the Common Core Standards are two separate issues despite the fact that the chief architect of the standards has explained that the standards were written to be tested and teachers are expected to teach to the test.

The Common Core testing regime is designed to annually identify those students who have not successfully mastered grade level math and ELA standards and those teachers (via VAM) who are not performing up to those standards.

Yes, we have had learning standards before, but parents and teachers also understood that students are not standardized and they will learn and acquire new skills in their own way and at their own pace.

One year a student may lag behind in a subject area and the next year when they are cognitively and developmentally ready they may jump ahead of other learners. That is why grade-span testing is a more reliable means of measuring student learning but not as profitable for vendors selling customized and “personalized” software solutions.

Some people have stronger math or writing abilities than others and that is OK. People will gravitate towards those college programs and careers that allow them to exploit their academic, vocational, and social/emotional strengths and capabilities.

The college and career readiness mandate of the Common Core has become more rhetoric and a scare tactic to manipulate and convince parents that their child “needs” additional sit and learn math/ELA computer time to “catch up” with peers before the end of the year standardized test.

That is why some parents don’t protest when their children are parked in front of a computer for an extra class period rather than drawing a picture, playing an instrument, or engaging in other creative and physical activities that cultivate fluid intelligence and unleash other talents a child may have that also lead to careers.

These adaptive and customized programs may engage students and artificially increase their math skills and reading scores, but this type of digitally-enhanced learning and problem solving is not lasting or transferable.

Students will acquire new skills when they choose to engage in a novel learning activity rather than solving a standardized problem or a virtual task that continually adapts and adjusts in order to engage with them.

In the real world, it is the student/employee that must learn to adapt and adjust to new situations as they acquire transferable problem solving skills while developing their own techniques and strategies to successfully complete non routine work-based tasks.

Reformers continually complain about added college costs as some parents must pay for 1st-year remedial math and ELA courses for their children who are not “college ready” and they do not earn college credits for these classes.

Reformer use this argument to justify and defend the Common Core Standards which have distorted classroom instruction and have actually diminished student learning by forcing both teacher and students to focus primarily on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and ELA standards.

It is foolish to worry about the cost of two college classes rather than the enormous “price” our diverse and talented K-12 learners are going to pay every year as they receive less instruction in other content and special areas in order to make room for more remedial Math and ELA computer time in their schedule.

2008 Common Core report found that “NCLB’s intense focus on reading and math skills has dumbed down the curriculum” and resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum…

According to most teachers, schools are narrowing curriculum, shifting instructional time and resources toward math and language arts and away from subjects such as art, music, foreign language, and social studies.

Two-thirds (66%) say that other subjects “get crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts” (Figure 1)

Math (55%) and language arts (54%) are the only two subjects getting more attention, according to most teachers; in sharp contrast, about half say that art (51%) and music (48%) get less attention; 40% say the same for foreign language, 36% for social studies, and 27% for science (Figure 2)

The vast majority of elementary school teachers (81%) report that other subjects are getting crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts (62% middle school; 54% high school) (Figure 3)

About half (51%) of elementary school teachers say that struggling students get extra help in math or language arts by getting pulled out of other classes; the most likely subjects are social studies (48%) and science (40%)

59% of elementary school teachers report that social studies has been getting less instructional time and resources (28% middle school; 20% high school); 46% say the same about science (20% middle school; 14% high school)

Unfortunately increasing numbers of students are going to spend much of their K-12 schooling trying to improve math and ELA skills rather than having the freedom and opportunity to discover their talents and pursue their passions in other content and special areas that cultivate equally important career-related skills and abilities that the students actually excel at.

As Dr. Martin Luther King warned,

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.

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Common Core and PARCC: An Education Datapalooza?

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According to the Common Core web site

The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.

According to the PARCC web site

the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level.

However, PARCC has also issued a disclaimer regarding the assessments admitting that the new and improved tests WILL NOT provide a comprehensive and reliable measure of college readiness as they…

can only provide an estimate of the likelihood that students who earn them have the academic preparation necessary to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing courses.

PARCC’s disclaimer acknowledging that their Common Core aligned assessment is not a reliable measure of college readiness raises serious doubts regarding the validity of the claim that the Common Core State Standards ensure college readinesss.

So why are so many states and school districts moving full spead ahead with the costly technology upgrades and improvements necessary for the online administration of PARCC’s computer-based assessments?

Perhaps we can find an answer to this question by going back in time to 2011 when the Department of Education amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA

The Secretary of Education (Secretary) amends the regulations implementing section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which is commonly referred to as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data…The use of data is vital to ensuring the best education for our children.

Permitting the expanded “use” of data not only has implications regarding the collection of student data through online assessments but it will also diminish the privacy of student health data as detailed in this 2008 Guidance document

In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

If you are wondering just how student data is being used more “effectively”, check out this video by eScholar myTrack…

Shawn Bay, the CEO of eScholar spoke at the Whitehouse’s’ Education Datapalooza back in 2012 and you can view the video of his presentation below. Sean blogged about his experience presenting and reflected on the event and shared his takeaways…

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan led off the morning with some thought-provoking words about how open education data can be a game changer.  I completely agree with him.

Education data must be open and available, with appropriate security, for all education entities: companies, districts, state agencies, nonprofits.  This is the only way interoperability can be achieved.

So where does eScholar fit into this?  I believe that we are a game changer here. For the past 15 years, we’ve been collecting student data from all sorts of sources: assessments, program, enrollment, attendance, and more…

In 2012 Jonathan Harber, CEO Pearson K-12 technology also presented at White House Datapalooza and you can view his presentation below. Harber also blogged about his experience and the importance of open data.

Now, the power of open data makes the connection directly. Pearson has been partnering with organizations like NASA to tag its open education resources with open tagging schemes and the Common Core academic standards. We are indexing our learning object repositories in the government’s new Learning Registry.

But even more compelling is the fact that data on Benjamin’s academic accomplishments are mashed up with data about the class curriculum and educational resources available via the Internet to deliver a recommendation from NASA directly to Benjamin’s teacher.

Instead of searching for content, the content is searching for Benjamin!

All this talk about the importance and significance of “open data” could that have anything to do with President Obama’s 2013 Executive Order regarding open data.

Openness in government strengthens our democracy, promotes the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public, and contributes to economic growth….and making information resources easy to find, accessible, and useful can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation.

Later in 2013, the Department of Education “opened” The ED Data Inventory which includes “Common Core of Data” and this web resource “is designed to help users of education information more easily understand and locate ED data assets”.

While many supporters of the Common Core continue to claim that the efficacy of the Standards is a separate issue and unrelated to growing concerns regarding the misuse of standardized tests, the posting  “Using Standards to Make Big Bata Analytics That Work” explains that the Common Core Standards actually provide a means to a data collecting and mining ends via standardized online assessments.

Standards, like the Common Core, make big data analytics work because they support the creation of more rigorous models of student learning and enable larger big data systems…National standards like the Common Core allow analytics systems to make better inferences for detailed sub-groups of students.

The Common Core includes only two assessments which, assuming national adoption, would greatly reduce the number of tests.  It is technically easier to link data from separate states if they use the same test or an assessment aligned to the Common Core….

Standards lower the barriers to entry for startups seeking to enter the personalized learning market.  National standards reduce the resources necessary to develop big data tools that are usable nationwide.

If each state has its own standards then analytics creators need to develop 50 different tools…The Common Core will usher in the next generation of big data tools and transform classrooms across the country.

The public might gain additional insights and a fuller understanding of the role of National Learning Standards by also reading; “7 Ways Entrepreneurs Could Change the World This Year”

Transforming higher education is so 2013. This year, the innovation battle will be won and lost in the K-12 classroom. That’s because the Common Core Standards, a new national standard of math and language arts education, are set to go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.

That means schools across the country will, for the first time, be giving students a uniform education and uniform assessments, which Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, says is a major opportunity for entrepreneurs to get a foot in the door.

“In the past, new tech companies had to create something very specific for each state, and they weren’t able to compete with larger companies,” says Chaudhry. “This will make purchasing power of a standardized product easier.”

Not only will they have an easier time getting into the classroom, but ed tech businesses will also have more to work with. Under the new standards, students will take their assessments online, which, Chaudhry says; means schools are investing more in technology infrastructure and providing one-to-one devices for students.

That opens up a world of opportunity for entrepreneurs with ideas for how to make the classroom experience better. Chaudhry expects to see a fleet of new applications that assess, in real time, a student’s understanding of subject matter and adapt the lesson on the basis of the student’s comprehension level.

It’s a trend called adaptive learning. Apps that give teachers real-time feedback on student understanding will also become the norm, Chaudhry says, solving a major flaw in our education system.

Coincidentally, last November voters in New York approved the “New York Bonds for School Technology Act, Proposal 3” which provides additional school aid for projects related to “Purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.”

Not just NY State that is concerned about the digital connectivity of schools in the United States. Future Ready Schools is a recent initiative by the US Department of Education asking school Superintendents to take the Future Ready District Pledge.

The Future Ready District Pledge is designed to set out a roadmap to achieve that success and to commit districts to move as quickly as possible towards our shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship…

However, in order for these resources to leverage their maximum impact on student learning, schools and districts must develop the human capacity, digital materials, and device access to use the new bandwidth wisely and effectively.

The Future Ready District Pledge establishes a framework for achieving those goals and will be followed by providing district leaders with additional implementation guidance, online resources, and other support they need to transition to effective digital learning and achieve tangible outcomes for the students they serve…

Future Ready districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning.

The US Governments Office of Educational Technology has posted several research reports online including; “Expanding Evidence: Approaches for Measuring Learning in a Digital World” that focus on potential educational and entrepreneurial opportunities associated with Common Core, digital learning, big data, and data mining.

The U.S. education system invests heavily in tests of student achievement that are used to hold districts, schools, and, in some cases, individual teachers accountable for whether students meet state proficiency standards.

All the states have implemented large-scale testing systems for this purpose, and technology will become part of most states’ assessment systems within the next few years as the computer-based Next Generation Assessments connected to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go into effect…

As discussed, one advantage of digital learning systems is that they can collect very large amounts of data (big data) from many users quickly. As a result, they permit the use of multivariate analytic approaches (analyses of more than one statistical variable at a time) early in the life cycle of an innovation.

But big data requires new forms of modeling for data that are highly interdependent (Dai 2011). Accordingly, the emerging field of educational data mining is being combined with learning analytics to apply sophisticated statistical models and machine learning techniques from such fields as finance and marketing (U.S. Department of Education 2012a).

State and district student data systems have improved greatly over the past decade in ways that permit examining an individual student’s educational experiences and achievement over time, even if the student changes schools or school districts.

For example, an increasing number of states now assign student identification numbers that stay with the student anywhere in the state, and state data systems typically contain more information on a student’s background (that is, ethnicity, whether eligible for subsidized meals, English proficiency, disability status, date of birth, gender) as well as grade level, school attended, and state achievement test scores.

Districts are also creating student data systems that include such variables as attendance, performance on district-mandated tests and benchmark exams, courses taken, grades, and teachers.

These improved data systems and the new data they house open up opportunities for schools and districts to partner with community and government agencies from other sectors to create linked datasets with more kinds of information about the circumstances of students’ lives.

Combining datasets from different agencies permits analyzing information on students’ academic achievement, attendance, and other indicators of school success with information on their involvement in social services, the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, and youth development programming aimed at supporting students’ social and emotional learning.

To their credit, the authors also raise important questions regarding the validity and reliability of any achievement data that is obtained from students while they are learning and testing in an artificial digital environment.

When a resource is intended for use as part of formal education, however, educators and developers must be concerned with more than what learners do when using the product.

They must also consider whether the learning demonstrated inside the product can be also observed in learners’ actions outside the product—for example, in an independent performance assessment or in performing some new task requiring the same understanding or skill.

This is necessary because while a student may demonstrate what appears to be understanding of fractions in a digital game, the student may not necessarily demonstrate that understanding in another situation. The ability to transfer what one has learned is a challenge…

Unlike conventional assessments, embedded assessments often provide students with feedback. This is advantageous because students can learn from the feedback, but it means that the students are learning about a concept or how to execute a skill at the same time the system is attempting to gauge their competence in that knowledge or skill.

Shute, Hansen, and Almond (2008) found that adding feedback within a system assessing high school students’ ability to work with geometric sequences did not diminish the system’s ability to assess student competence. More research of this nature is needed.

Selling software solutions is not the same as solving societal problems. Why spend money and commit resources to actually fixing socioeconomic problems and supporting distressed communities and disadvantaged students, when you and your dollar driven, I mean data-driven reformers can actually make money by selling data collection systems to quantify the educational impact of poverty?

Why stop with data collection when even more profits can be earned by letting your friends “mine” this data in order to provide personalized learning and software solutions to “fix” and address the academic and social manifestations of poverty in our classrooms, but not a penny of RTTT funds devoted to ameliorating the societal problem itself?

Expecting to improve student achievement by reducing instructional time in order to increase testing of students just so we can measure the academic impact and consequences of poverty makes as much sense as a doctor insisting his obese patients cancel their membership at the local health club for the entire month in order to make daily office visits to get their weight, cholesterol level, and blood pressure checked.

The Common Core ELA Standards emphasize close reading and challenge students to draw conclusions and make inferences directly from text while they try to determine, “what the author is up to?”

While I have previously expressed concern regarding the efficacy of the Common Core Standards, I do strongly believe that more people should give some serious thought to what exactly the Big Data enthusiasts and data miners are up to?

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He Who Controls The Language…

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‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

~ Lewis Carroll, “Through The Looking-Glass”

In the Humpty Dumpty world of the Common Core, “level the playing field” means providing accommodations for learning disabled students during classroom instruction and assessment AND denying those same accommodations during standardized testing at the end of the school year.

During the school year teachers are legally required to follow a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) which describes services and accommodations to support their learning.

Test accommodations are intended to remove obstacles presented by the disability so students can equally “access” the test and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

When learning disabled students take their State ELA exams at the end of the school year, they are not allowed to have the test read aloud to them because that accommodation is considered to be a modification of the reading assessment and their score will be invalid and not accurately reflect the students’ reading ability.

The question is, said WagTheDog, if providing legally required testing accommodations invalidates the test score, then why are those learning disabled students even required to take the test? Common sense, not the Common Core, would dictate that there is nothing to be gained from subjecting a special education student to a 4 hour ordeal or test of his or her reading disability. These are not diagnostic tests and the disability has already been identified and evaluated by mandated diagnostic and screening tools administered during the school year.

The question is, said WagTheDog, if we gave a Common Core listening test would we require hearing impaired students to remove hearing aids or cochlear implants and then expect them to answer questions about a passage that was read to them?

The question is, said WagTheDog, if we gave a one mile Common Core walking test, would we require amputee and paraplegic students to remove their prosthesis, get out of their wheelchairs, and start “walking”?

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These policies do make perfect CENTS if your goal is just to manipulate data and fabricate evidence to support your claims regarding a “crisis” of poor quality education programs and ineffective teachers that plague our nation’s schools.

Not only are special education students required to take these tests without their accommodations, but NCLB regulations also require all students, with few exceptions, be tested at their grade level, rather than their instructional level and ability.

During the 2013- 2014 school year New York State Education Department consulted with a group of stakeholders in preparing a waiver request and renewal application for the U.S. Education Department asking for more flexibility with respect to this requirement…

“Stakeholders from across the State, representing teachers, administrators, parents, and community based organizations have assisted the Department in responding to the requirements of the Renewal application. During the first week of November, an external “Think Tank” was convened, and members were asked to be thought partners with the Department as it drafted its response to the renewal requirements. A large portion of the members of the ESEA Renewal Think Tank also participated in the original ESEA Waiver Think Tank that guided the creation of New York State’s approved ESEA Waiver application. To date, The ESEA Waiver Renewal Think Tank has met five times since convening in November, with various related work groups meeting at least twice additionally during that time period.

In addition to the Think Tank, the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Department staff have solicited feedback on the waiver through meetings with a wide variety of organizations, including the Title I Committee of Practitioners, the English Language Learners Leadership Group, the DTSDE Training Group, and the District Superintendents. Since one of the most significant amendment proposals involves the assessment of students with disabilities, staff from the Office of Special Education consulted with the Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education and with representatives from the thirteen Special Education Parent Centers funded by NYSED.”

The citation above came from a January 2014 NYSED Memo/Update which also explained the basis for the waiver request…

“There is a group of students with significant cognitive disabilities who cannot demonstrate what they know and can do on the general grade level assessments, even with accommodations. These are students who are not eligible for the State’s alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards…

NYSED is applying for a waiver to allow school districts to administer the general State assessments to these students with disabilities, but at their appropriate instructional grade levels, provided that (1) the State assessment administered to the student is not more than two grade levels below the student’s chronological grade level; and (2) the student is assessed at a higher grade level for each subsequent year. The student’s instructional grade level would be calculated annually and separately for English Language Arts (ELA) and math…

However, these students need to be provided with instruction with special education supports and services at a pace and level commensurate with their needs and abilities and their individual rates of learning. When students with disabilities are required to participate in an assessment at their chronological age significantly misaligned with content learned at their instructional level, the assessment may not provide as much instructionally actionable information on student performance or foster the most prudent instructional decisions. For these students, State assessments do not provide meaningful measures of growth for purposes of teacher and leader evaluations.

NYSED holds all schools and students to high expectations and believes this waiver will lead to more appropriate instruction and assessment of students, while ensuring that students with disabilities participate in the general curriculum and the same State assessments, but closer to their instructional levels in order to obtain instructionally relevant information from the assessments…”

On 7/31/14 The Huffington Post reported…

“New York students with disabilities will be held to the same academic standards and take the same standardized tests as other kids their age next school year, the U.S. Education Department said Thursday, spurning the state’s efforts to change the policy.”

Some special education advocates hailed the Education Department decision, saying it will enable students with disabilities to continue receiving the same opportunities as peers…

Joy Resmovits,“This Will Make Some Special Education Advocates Really Happy” 7/31/14

While I fully support holding all students to the same high academic standards, I do not believe it is fair to deny learning disabled students accommodations that enable them to equally “access” a test and fully demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

If there was a national Common Core Standard that said all children must be proficient swimmers  by age 5, would we insist that every 5 year-old regardless of individual ability, discard all flotation devices they have been using to learn to swim and repeatedly take a swimming test in the deep end of the pool, rather than test the skills they have acquired in the shallow end of the pool such as holding their breath, paddling with their feet, or treading water?

When it comes to deciding what is “fair” with respect to education policy, shouldn’t the academic, social, and emotional needs of students take precedence over the data-driven demands of student and teacher accountability systems?

Recently there has been media attention focused on half-truths and evidence-less claims about the quality of special education programs…

The Obama administration said Tuesday that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are not receiving a quality education, and that it will hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress…

The latest government figures show that the dropout rate for students with disabilities is twice that for nondisabled students. Two-thirds of students with disabilities are performing well below grade level in reading and math. By the eighth grade, that figure rises to 90 percent…

Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he’ll require proof that these kids aren’t just being served but are actually making academic progress.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said.

These are students with a range of disabilities, from ADHD and dyslexia to developmental, emotional and behavioral disorders. During his conference call with reporters, Duncan was joined by Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner.

Huffman challenged the prevailing view that most special education students lag behind because of their disabilities. He said most lag behind because they’re not expected to succeed if they’re given more demanding schoolwork and because they’re seldom tested.

“In Tennessee, we’ve seen over time that our students with disabilities did not have access to strong assessments. So the results were not providing an honest picture of how those students were doing.”

Claudio Sanchez, “A ‘Major Shift’ In Oversight Of Special Education” 6/24/14 

I have commented before on ed reformers penchant for cherry-picking data and self-serving efforts to manipulate and actually generate data supporting their claims.

Calculated claims implying that teachers just need to expect more and learning disabled students just need to try harder are not being sufficiently challenged or questioned by the media.

These sensational “sky is falling” claims are reported and repeated by a complicit media over and over again till the public can’t discern where the evidence-less claims end and the fabricated evidence begins.

Imagine how different the above article would be if independent fact-checking reporters actually challenged ed reformers claims and held them to the same high standards of evidence-based claims that their Common Core Standards demand of our students….

The question is, said WagTheDog, while your desire to see proof of academic progress is admirable Mr. Duncan, are you aware  that The National Center for Learning Disabilities has reported on the lifelong challenges faced by learning disabled students and that individual academic progress may be incremental and inconsistent depending on the accommodations and services provided to the student, and the specific nature and severity of the disability.

“In an ideal world, students who struggle are able to overcome their challenges and grow to become adults who enjoy personal satisfaction, high self-esteem, self-sufficiency, and productive relationships within their families and in the general community. If only this was the case…

No matter how many times it’s been said, it needs to be repeated again and again: learning disabilities do not go away, and LD is a problem with lifelong implications. Addressing features of LD during the early years can indeed help to circumvent and minimize struggles later in life, but we know that problems with listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, math and sometimes social skills can persist, even after years of special education instruction and support.”

The question is, said WagTheDog, have you considered Mr. Duncan that SED  guidelines specifically prohibiting the use of test accommodations and NCLB regulations requiring most students be tested at grade-level, might actually exacerbate the lack of progress and low performance of so many learning disabled students on reading tests, and you are deliberately misrepresenting that data as evidence of a lack of progress by special education students?

The question is, said WagTheDog did you really mean to suggest Mr. Hoffman that learning disabilities are a result of low expectations and a lack of testing and this condition can be turned around if only a learning disabled student worked harder and took stronger assessments?

Is it possible all this hype and rhetoric about grit, rigor, college and career readiness could simply be a distraction intended to take our attention away from the deals that are being made and the real “lessons” of education reform that are being taught in the backrooms of America, rather than in our classrooms?

In the Humpty Dumpty world of the Common Core and education reform the “lesson” is clear; power and privilege will trump proficiency and experience every time.

That is the only way to explain how unqualified and inexperienced education “experts” backed by taxpayers money, have been entrusted with the task of developing national learning standards and implementing national education policy in America.

Successful and diverse locally designed education programs across this country are being defunded and set aside for an untested standardized learning and testing program.

This “new and improved” program emphasizes the importance of data, research, and evidence-based claims, while there is no reliable research, data, or evidence to support claims that national standards like the Common Core will improve student learning and achievement.

Under the Common Core, truth may be even rarer than fiction.

Humpty_Dumpty