Common Core: A Matter of Perspective

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Part of the reason there has been such strong disagreement and debate regarding the Common Core is people “see” ed reform and the new Standards very differently, depending on their perspective.

For example when teachers express concern regarding the validity of VAM and the use of standardized test scores to measure student learning and teacher quality, many ed reformers and even the media will claim that teachers don’t want to be evaluated or held accountable for their students’ performance.

When teachers raise the issue of poverty and how it impacts student learning many reformers respond that “poverty is not destiny” and accuse teachers of furthering a #beliefgap rather than just acknowledging that students living in poverty are disadvantaged and they will require additional supports and services.

Most teachers understand that it would be misleading to suggest that students living in poverty are destined to be unsuccessful in life just as it is disingenuous to claim that a single data point can determine and predict the college readiness of elementary students or measure the effectiveness of their teachers.

Ed reformers have a strong belief and faith in the “power” of higher standards to act like a rising tide and lift all boats.

The Common Core “tide” of higer expectations may well rise in all schools across the nation but that will not change the fact that the “boats” in our classrooms are of different design and capabilities ranging from yachts to row boats and even rafts.

And while this academic “tide” will continue to rise, that will also not change the fact that many of the “boats” are also in dire need of repair as they have “holes” in them and some are “sinking”.

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I believe that many ed reformers are looking at education from a macro perspective and national point of view. They are evaluating the quality of education programs in schools from a distance and EQUALITY of learning standards is the main priority.

Reformers want students regardless of zip code, to have the same standards of performance in their schools and the same opportunities to be successful in life. This emphasis on equality and uniformity explains why reformers are strong supporters of national standards and assessments.

On the other hand, public school teachers view education up close every day from a micro perspective. Aware of the cognitive, economic, social, and emotional differences between their individual students, teachers are focused more on finding EQUITABLE or fair solutions and customized strategies to support and increase student learning in their classrooms and communities.

Teachers are not opposed to higher standards for students, we just want to make sure that EQUITABLE resources, support services and diverse college/career “pathways” are available in order to facilitate the learning of disadvantaged, discouraged, disinterested, delayed and disabled learners.

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Standards-based reforms and EQUALLY high expectations for all students seems a reasonable approach from ed reformers macro perspective, but teachers with their micro perspective and experiences are more concerned about EQUITY especially when they observe Race to The Top funds being spent on new computers, software solutions, and standardized tests while funding and staffing is reduced or eliminated for arts programs, sports programs, field trips, and essential wrap around services that support and promote student learning.

Jamie Vollmer’s insightful “Blueberry Story” reveals what happens when the misperceptions and miscalculations of a businessman are challenged by an experienced teacher.

“I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.”

Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”

I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

“I send them back.”

She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”…

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.”

Jamie Vollmer, The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

Teachers know that fairly assessing student learning and teacher performance requires a more customized, comprehensive, and holistic approach, rather than a rigid and standardized evaluation system that simply counts how many students meet a standard of performance at a specific moment in time.

Doe Zantamata believes a more EQUITABLE way to assess student learning and growth would be using a student-centered “Measuring Up” system that recognizes, “Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”  rather than a test-centered system that expects each child to learn and “grow” in a synchronized and standardized way.

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Standards Are Expectations of Learning

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Many ed reformers who are not experienced educators don’t understand that The Common Core State Standards are cognitive goals and expectations of student learning or “growth”.

The Standards demand a fixed set of cognitive skills that must be learned and levels of performance that must be achieved by every student each school year regardless of individual circumstance and cognitive ability or disability.

Many reformers don’t understand that standards identify the “college ready” skills that must be acquired by learners and they are not simply bestowed or imparted by teachers.

Our students are not standardized, they possess a wide range of cognitive capabilities and disabilities. These abilities and skills do not emerge and “blossom” at the same rate and in the same way.

Unfortunately, the extra academic assistance and support services that our schools and teachers provide for struggling students, may not be enough to compensate for the absence of learning after school hours.

Many students living in poverty begin their schooling lagging far behind in basic skills and vocabulary development. Many do not participate in after school enrichment activities and informal learning experiences during the summer and other breaks that help to support and advance student achievement in school.

Too often, at-risk students who begin their schooling lagging behind their classmates will actually fall even farther behind and the “gap” will increase as they progress through grade levels because their academic growth is delayed and restrained by numerous barriers to learning.

In effect, our disadvantaged students who are “Racing To The Top” have a much greater academic “distance” to travel to reach graduation performance standards and in many cases they must do this with less academic assistance and resources at home.

The Common Core does very little to ameliorate this problem, because it focuses on the “symptoms” of low achievement in our classrooms rather than the underlying “illness” of poverty in our homes and communities.

It is fanciful to suggest that a steady “diet” or regime of higher academic expectations and standardized tests will address and eliminate the impact of diverse cognitive, social, emotional, and economic factors on student learning in our classrooms.

This approach makes as much sense as a nation raising the daily calorie intake recommendations and recommended weight for all citizens as a way to combat the effects of hunger and famine.

If a student enters school lagging behind other students in academic skills and abilities, he or she could achieve the same amount of academic “growth” as peers but may still be lagging behind in skills at graduation.

With so many students starting school “behind” and living in poverty, it is not prudent or wise to assume the number of first-year college students requiring remedial courses is reliable evidence that K-12 teachers are ineffective and their schools are failing.

It is foolish to spend millions of dollars on software “solutions” and standardized tests that repeatedly measure a narrow and shallow set of hard skills, rather than supporting student learning by using those funds to hire art teachers, librarians, counselors, coaches, nurses, and increase the number of field trips along with work-based learning experiences that actually cultivate student self-efficacy and lifelong learning skills.

The Race To The Top funds would be much better spent if they were used to support job shadowing programs, apprenticeships and internships for all our students so that they spend much less sit and learn class time testing and PREPARING for college and careers and much more work experience time applying and PRACTICING transferable learning and work-based skills.

Any Race To The Top funds that are remaining could be used to solve the “problem” of families having to pay for extra math or ELA college classes by providing Common Core vouchers for 1st year remedial college courses.

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Would You Believe…?

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As data-driven and evidence-based challenges to the efficacy of the untested Common Core State Standards become stronger and louder, it appears CCSS supporters are growing desperate and resorting to Maxwell Smart’s catchphrase and tactic of backpedaling and switching between unconvincing and unsubstantiated claims.

This “Would you believe…?” strategy of continually shifting claims and substituting evidence is apparent in a new report from the New America Foundation.

“America’s primary and secondary schools may be busy preparing for the onset of the Common Core standards, meant to better prepare students for college, but one key partner isn’t even close to ready: colleges and universities themselves.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the New America Foundation, which finds that “there is little evidence to suggest colleges are meaningfully aligning college instruction and teacher preparation programs with the Common Core standards.”

Even though the Common Core was meant largely to improve the college readiness of high school graduates, the report says, “Many of those within higher education were not involved in developing or endorsing the Common Core standards and assessments, and have not considered how they might change their own practices to align with this K–12 initiative. Indeed, many are not even aware of the Common Core.

The findings follow earlier alarms that the people who run higher education have, for the most part, gotten involved only late in the Common Core process…

One reason, it said, is that it’s hard to come up with a single definition of what makes a student ready for college. Another is the huge variety of colleges and universities…

The report recommends that colleges add the results of Common Core assessment tests to the measures by which they gauge students’ eligibility for admission and financial aid..”

Jon Marcus, “Report: Higher Education Behind On Common Core” Huff Post College 7/23/14

I have previously commented on the important distinction between data and evidence and the tendency of some ed reformers to cherry-pick data in order to find any “evidence” supporting their predetermined conclusions.

Ed reformers have claimed that the Common Core is necessary for students so they can meet the academic demands of colleges, yet this new report reveals that colleges have made few if any demands, as they have been primarily silent partners when it comes to advising the authors of the Common Core State Standards.

Relying on Maxwell Smart’s  “Would you believe…?” playbook, some ed reformers appear to be adopting an emergency response strategy, and are now hoping we will believe newly fabricated evidence supporting their claims.

It doesn’t matter that the authors of the Standards barely consulted with colleges during the design and development phase, as long as colleges will now change their academic programs to align with the Common Core and that will serve as evidence of their endorsement.

While the report found that colleges have been reluctant to participate in the Common Core experiment because it is very difficult to achieve consensus on a “single definition of what makes a student ready for college.” and there is a  “huge variety of colleges and universities” ed reformers would still have us believe the great and powerful OZ, I mean Coleman, has identified a common set of college and career readiness skills.

So, the inexperienced and unwise chief architect of the Common Core has been designated America’s college and career readiness guru, and we are to believe he is qualified to advise every elementary, middle, secondary school and college in America regarding what it means to be “college ready”?

When it comes to the lack of evidence supporting their specious claim that Common Core standardized tests are valid and reliable indicators of college readiness, reformers just need to get colleges to follow orders, I mean recommendations and now agree to, “add the results of Common Core assessment tests to the measures by which they gauge students’ eligibility for admission and financial aid..”

Considering the weekly news reports of states that are reconsidering their participation in PARCC and the Common Core State Standards, I wonder how many times David Coleman has responded to his subordinates, “I asked you not to tell me that!”

Knowledge vs. Wisdom: A Common Core Conundrum

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Many people have expressed concern regarding David Coleman’s lack of experience in the classroom. Coleman himself has acknowledged his lack of qualifications for serving as the lead author and architect of the Common Core State Standards.

There is a big difference between being knowledgeable in a subject matter and having wisdom. Knowledge can be obtained through education, while wisdom is most often acquired through experience.

More troubling than David Coleman’s lack of classroom experience is his lack of work experience which greatly diminishes his wisdom regarding transferable and applicable job-ready literacy skills and his qualifications for writing career readiness standards.

The Common Core demands that teachers make 12 instructional “shifts” to properly align with the Standards including…

“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

David Coleman had a powerful role as the lead author or architect of the Common Core and it is not surprising that the Standards would reflect and emphasize a text-dependent way of learning that is both familiar to Coleman, and most likely preferred by him.

Unfortunately, the Common Core’s emphasis on learning through reading rather than doing will cultivate workers who are more likely to be knowledgeable close readers rather than wise critical thinkers.

Wisdom aside, David Coleman clearly loves to dive deeply into text..

“David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”

“Kids don’t wonder about these things,” Coleman told his audience, a collection of 300 public-school English teachers and administrators. “It is you as teachers who have this obligation” to ask students “to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”

Dana Goldstein, “The Schoolmaster” The Atlantic, 10/19/12

There is a huge disconnect between the Common Core’s “promise” of improving students’ college and career literacy skills and its emphasis on cultivating specialized close reading skills.

While close reading may be easily measured by a standardized test these skills are not likely to be utilized in fast-paced work environments where solutions to novel problems are not found in the text.

Employers expect new hires to have proficient reading comprehension skills so they can work effectively with complex informational text, and not contrived close reading skills so they can spend days determining how the text “works”.

Close reading trains students to answer text-dependent questions using information and evidence derived exclusively from the text.

Multiple choice standardized tests that consider a likely or plausible response wrong because the student invoked prior knowledge rather than select the response that is text-based DO NOT measure higher order thinking skills.

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In contrast, employers rely on critical thinking and creative problem-solving workers who can operate in a rapidly changing environment where they must deal with open-ended questions while finding solutions to nonroutine problems using vague, conflicting, and incomplete data.

Close reading demands a deep and detailed analysis of text. Students are expected to independently analyze the use of evidence and how information and ideas “interact” in the text.

Students must explain how word choices shape meaning or tone. They analyze the craft and structure of the text and must determine how separate components (sentence, paragraph etc.) relate to each other and the whole.

Students are discouraged from thinking or feeling beyond the text. Their thoughts must remain closely connected to the text as they fastidiously deconstruct and dissect the reading in order to determine the explicit meaning of the text.

The Common Core ELA Standards presume that the information employees need to analyze and deconstruct is primarily text-based, so while the Common Core does include multimedia Standards, Appendix A explicitly discounts and devalues the importance of media literacy skills.

In reality, many workers are required to analyze data and information that is presented in multimedia and virtual formats including, charts, tables, graphs, audio, visual, webinar, video conference, Skype etc.

Close readers must repeatedly go back to a reading in order to correctly answer text-dependent questions, while many employees must go beyond and outside the reading to find answers to job-related questions.

In most work situations, employees are valued for their ability to think outside the text and determine the meaning and significance of the information as it relates to the department they work in or business they work for.

Many 21st century employees must also be able to anticipate and predict the economic, political, environmental, social, and emotional significance and consequence of the information that is revealed in the text.

Close reading students may be able to think deeply and critically within the text, but successful employees must think broadly and creatively to help formulate policies and strategies that will enable their employer to operate appropriately, effectively, legally, and profitably outside the text.

David Coleman is convinced that knowledgeable students should be trained to read “like a detective” and the meaning of the words and ideas must be derived exclusively from the text, while employers rely on wise workers who read with perspective, and recognize that the meaning and significance of words and ideas is very often dependent on situations and circumstances that exist outside the text.

How ironic would it be if the fateful decision to make close reading a centerpiece of the data-driven and evidence-based Common Core ELA Standards was little more than a gratuitous and self-indulgent whim satisfying David Coleman’s passion for close reading?

So much for thoughts and feelings don’t matter in life…unless you are the chief architect of the Common Core.

 

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

~ T. S. Eliot.

 

 

David Coleman’s College Ready Corps

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,

but in the expert’s there are few 

~ Shunryu Suzuki

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Hard to imagine an applicant for a teaching job explaining to the panel of educators interviewing him/her that he really doesn’t give a shit what his students or their parents think or feel…or joking about the fact that she really isn’t qualified to teach the position she is applying for.

Yet the chief architect of the Common Core which was initially adopted and implemented by 45 states explained at a teacher conference in 2011,

forgive me for saying this so bluntly, is, as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

Coleman admitted during another speech in 2011, 

Student Achievement Partners, all you need to know about us are a couple things. One is we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards…

And now let’s get to what do we mean tonight about what you should be doing over the next two years regarding the standards. Let’s start with math and then do literacy. I’ll probably spend a little more time on literacy because as weak as my qualifications are there, in math they’re even more desperate in their lacking.

Even more troubling than Coleman’s lack of classroom experience and lack of respect for diverse learners and thinkers, is the fact that the Common Core demands students learn primarily from informational text, yet its supporters ignore countless informational texts (like the excerpt below) which reveal that the Common Core college prep program will not “ensure” career readiness for ALL students.

Dakota Blazier had made a big decision. Friendly and fresh-faced, from a small town north of Indianapolis, he’d made up his mind: He wasn’t going to college.

“I discovered a long time ago,” he explained, “I’m not book smart. I don’t like sitting still, and I learn better when the problem is practical.” But he didn’t feel this limited his options—to the contrary. And he was executing a plan as purposeful as that of any of his high-school peers…

College-educated Americans tend to know mostly other college-educated Americans and to think that is the norm, if not universal. In fact, just three in 10 Americans age 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees. Another 8% are high-school dropouts, leaving the overwhelming majority—more than 60%—in circumstances something like Mr. Blazier’s…

Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships. Many economists are bullish about the prospects of what they call “middle-skilled” workers. In coming years, according to some, at least a third and perhaps closer to half of all U.S. jobs will require more than high school but less than four years of college—and most will involve some sort of technical or practical training…

As Mr. Blazier knows, there are plenty of opportunities for people like him to get ahead. Despite our digital-age prejudices against practical skills, Americans are quietly reinventing upward mobility.

This is especially true in a trade like welding, where demand can sometimes seem insatiable. The average age in the field is 54, and the American Welding Institute predicts openings for more than 400,000 workers by 2024—welders and others who need welding skills, such as pipe fitters, plumbers and boilermakers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the average wage at $36,300 a year, but anecdotal evidence suggests that is the low end of what’s possible. JV Industrial says that it pays more like $75,000, with some employees earning more than $100,000. In the burgeoning shale industry, in Texas and Appalachia, welders can earn as much as $7,000 a week.

Like construction, nursing is a time-tested path to the middle class, and it has many of the same hallmarks: easy on-ramps, goal-oriented job training and a series of ascending steps, with industry-certified credentials to guide the way.

The profession is already growing robustly. From 2000 to 2010, the number of registered nurses increased by 24%. But the aging of the baby-boom generation will sharpen demand even as it reduces supply: Roughly a third of today’s nurses are more than 50 years old….

Today’s conventional wisdom about economic mobility in the U.S. is gloomy and growing gloomier. We’re told that good jobs are disappearing, that less educated workers have bad work habits, that the U.S. is falling behind other countries.

What’s strange is that this isn’t what you hear from many people who are working toward the middle class: people training, saving and in other ways striving to make it, who invariably see more dynamism and possibility…

Who’s right? Surely, the answer is up to us—and not just the strivers alone. One place to start would be by showing some respect for practical training. As millions of Americans know, even in a knowledge economy, countless valuable career skills can be learned outside a college classroom.

Tamar Jacoby, “This Way Up: Mobility in America” The Wall Street Journal 7/18/14

The Common Core ELA Standards with their emphasis on Close Reading of complex informational text do not address the work-based literacy needs of countless careers including welders and nurses who need to Read With Understanding

Imagine an ICU nurse responding to a doctor, when asked about the status of a critically ill patient…

Well, I’m not really sure if the patient is better or worse since I did not review yesterday’s chart as that would be providing context and using prior knowledge to help me understand his current condition, and I haven’t yet administered his medicine because I am still dissecting and deconstructing the craft and structure of your orders.

Seems to me the education and political leaders who have spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars implementing and assessing the Common Core boondoggle, should re-evaluate their own decision-making and critical thinking skills before they try to improve the skills of K-12 students.

 

Data-Driven Common Core Does Not Compute

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More and more it feels like the education leaders who are tasked with overseeing the data-driven Common Core implementation and assessment policies are “Lost in Space” and their data “does not compute”.

During the school year 100% of teachers are expected to “unpack” the standards, differentiate instruction, use collaborative protocols, individualized “scaffolding”, while providing extra time and “space” to support diverse learners possessing a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

However, at the end of the year, virtually 100% of the students and teachers will be evaluated by a timed standardized test that measures a small fraction of the standards and many special education students will take all or part of the test with 0% of their accommodations..

“Out of the 83 combinations of Common Core Standards (ELA 3rd), NYS chose to test only 15% of them. This leaves teachers, administrators, parents, students and colleges/careers wondering if these 15% can truly be the measure of college/career readiness…”

Lace To The Top: “NYS Common Core Test Fails Itself” 11/11/13

Many states are planning to use PARCC Assessments to measure and predict the college and career readiness of students even though the creators of the test have acknowledged that it will assess 0% of essential college and career readiness soft skills…

“A comprehensive determination of college and career readiness that would include additional factors such as these [persistence, motivation, and time management] is beyond the scope of the PARCC assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics…”

(pgs 2-3) College- and Career-Ready Determination Policy and Policy-Level PLDs ( Adopted October 2012; Updated March 2013 ) (PDF)

Many Common Core supporters also claim that student scores on these tests can accurately and reliably measure as much as 50% of a teacher’s effectiveness, even though there is 0% evidence to support these claims.

In fact, The American Statistical Association (ASA) recently released an ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment which reported…

“Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality. (2)…

A decision to use VAMs for teacher evaluations might change the way the tests are viewed and lead to changes in the school environment. For example, more classroom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. (6)…

The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences. (7)…”

Robert D. Skeels, “American Statistical Association has just released a very important document on Value Added Methodologies” 4/9/14

In order to prove their effectiveness and earn “points” towards the remaining  50 – 60% of their evaluation, teachers are required to provide evidence of research based strategies and practices they use in the classroom to implement the Common Core Standards while there is 0% research and evidence proving effectiveness of the standards.

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Stress Impacts Student Performance

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Decades of research and studies have documented the impact of stress on cognitive performance such as critical thinking, judgment, and decision-making skills.

The ability to concentrate, follow directions, process new information, and make good decisions are all greatly diminished and impaired by stress.

The high level of stress induced by the high stakes consequences of standardized tests has in effect “poisoned the assessment well” and directly undermines the reliability and validity of the data that is being collected and shared by the new computer-based Common Core assessments.

The use of test items that are “distractors” on Common Core-aligned standardized tests should also raise concerns and doubts about the efficacy of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments and raise serious questions as to whether numerous items on these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than reading comprehension skills.

Distractors are plausible responses but not the “fully correct” answer. Many of the new Common Core test items also 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 9, #21)

Here is a sample 4th Grade ELA test question from the 2014-15 PARCC assessment

What is the meaning of the word constantly as the narrator uses it in paragraph 4 of Kira-Kira?

A. often

B. all the time

C. once in a while

D. sometimes

Is the above question testing whether a student knows the meaning of the word constantly, or if a student can distinguish between the meaning of the words often and the phrase all the time?

Furthermore, if one student reads the passage and believes the characters were together often while another student says all the time how do these slightly different interpretations of a reading passage have anything to do with determining and predicting the college readiness of a 4th grader?

The answer key for the sample question states;

Option B is the correct response; the narrator makes it clear that the girls spent all their time together when Lynn was not in school.

While PARCC may be convinced that there is a distiguishable difference between the words constantly and often, according to Merriam-Webster, the word constantly is a synonym for the word often.

When it comes to cultivating reading comprehension skills shouldn’t we be encouraging young readers to broaden and expand their use of vocabulary rather than teaching them that words can have only one meaning? Is it even appropriate or reasonable to claim that a plausible interpretation or understanding of a reading passage is wrong?

PARCC claims these “new and improved” test questions will determine whether students have proficient reading comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the reading passage just fine, but they may still choose the plausible or partially correct response whether their decision-making skills are impaired by stress or not.

Ironically when it comes to the CCSS math standards a mathematically proficient student is expected to construct viable or feasible arguments and compare the effectiveness of plausible arguments.

In the United States every citizen is entitled to a presumption of innocence and cannot be found guilty in a court of law if there is reasonable doubt yet we deny our students a presumption of proficiency and their teachers a presumption of effectiveness when we presume that students have insufficient reading comprehension skills and their teachers are ineffective because students selected too many plausible responses.

Climbing Rungless Ladders

Talk with most ed reformers about the importance of the Common Core and many will bring up the need for higher learning standards and more academic rigor in the classroom.

Unfortunately, misguided and poorly designed implementation efforts have resulted in many disadvantaged students being subjected to “grit building” learning activities that are comparable to being required to climb a rungless ladder… 10260017_749020085129823_3965045056750888009_n In January, 2015 it was revealed that 51 percent of K-12 students were living in poverty. One would expect that a data-driven campaign to raise academic achievement in America would take into account this staggering figure. The Ed Department awarded Race To The Top funds to assist states that adopted the Common Core Standards and has established spending priorities and guidelines to support successful implementation of the Standards.

At a time when so many students are living in poverty one would expect that funding priorities would include, additional staff, smaller class sizes, after school programs, morning programs, school counselors, along with essential wrap around and community-based services to help ameliorate the affects of poverty.

Instead the Ed Department has set spending priorities such as upgrading and expanding data collection systems, purchasing new computers and upgrading technology infrastructure to accommodate online testing, implementing new VAM teacher evaluation systems, high quality CCSS professional development for teachers, and designing or purchasing curriculum materials and standardized testing programs.

So while these new and improved tests will allow parents to see if there child is “on track” for college and careers and how effective their child’s teacher is, many poor children will continue to struggle to learn without being able to see the chalkboard…

“My colleagues and I have conducted 2,400 screenings on students in three New York City middle schools: one in the South Bronx, one in Williamsburg and one in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. We have prescribed and distributed 450 free pairs of glasses to the nearly one-fifth of the kids who had 20/40 vision (which means street signs and chalkboards are blurry) or worse. Many of the kids knew they couldn’t see the board, but hadn’t thought to ask for a checkup, because their vision had deteriorated gradually.

Children who struggle to see don’t tend to make for very good students. At Middle School 223 in the Bronx, the principal reported dramatic differences in several students once they’d received their glasses. An eighth-grade boy who had previously been reprimanded for talking during class stopped being disruptive. When administrators asked him what had caused his sudden change in behavior, he explained that he’d been asking other students to help him read the board. A sixth grader who had been notably quiet in class revealed that she had stopped looking at the board because she couldn’t read it.

“Kids Who Can’t See Can’t  Learn”, Pamela F. Gallin NY Times 5/15/15

So while teachers across the country attend close reading professional development sessions, students in poorer schools and communities won’t come close to reading a book in the school library because there are no funds to hire a librarian or purchase new reading material.

“More than half of school libraries in California lack even a part-time state-certified school librarian, compared with about 20 percent nationwide, federal data shows. Urban districts are less likely to fund collections in every school.

Researchers have documented a stark difference in the number of books available outside of the classroom to children from rich and poor families, with children from low-income families typically having fewer books at home and less access to public libraries or bookstores.

Students at many D.C. schools have never had a full-time librarian or an updated book collection, and not all schools have permitted students to check books out of the library.”

“Unequal shelves in D.C. school libraries benefit wealthier students”  3/9/15

While ed reform leaders are proud of their efforts to increase college readiness and raise standards, students in 20% of the public schools in New York City aren’t able to raise their voices in a choir because there are no arts teachers.

“New York City’s comptroller plans to release a report on Monday quantifying what student advocates have long suspected: that many public schools in the city do not offer any kind of arts education, and that the lack of arts instruction disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods…

Between 2006 and 2013, spending on arts supplies and equipment dropped by 84 percent, the report said. When money is tight, arts education is often one of the first subjects to be sidelined, the report noted.

It said the trend had accelerated as schools focused more on meeting accountability standards, shifting their resources from subjects seen as nonessential, like arts, to preparation for English and math tests…”

Vivian Yee, “Arts Education Lacking in Low-Income Areas of New York City, Report Says” 4/7/14

“Just 45 percent of public schools have a full-time registered nurse, according to a 2007 study from the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). Another 30 percent of schools have a nurse who works part time in one or more schools, while 25 percent have no nurse at all.

There has been no comprehensive study since then, but anecdotal reports show that more school nurses are losing their jobs as budgets are cut and health services are a low priority, says Carolyn Duff, president of the NASN.

The preventative care provided by nurses keeps students healthier, which means less absences, Duff says. “School administrators cannot accomplish their mission of enabling students to reach their full academic potential without providing school health services,” she adds.

NASN recommends a nurse-to-student ratio of one-to-750 for students without chronic illnesses. But 33 states were above that average in 2010, the association found. Vermont had the lowest nurse-to-student ratio at 396 students per nurse at the time, while Michigan had the highest, at 4,411 students per nurse.

To determine how many nurses are needed, administrators should consider the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who may have less access to outside health care, and the number of emergency services calls from the school each year, Duff says.

No federal legislation mandates school nursing, and as of 2005 only 14 states had established student-per-nurse ratios, according to the American Nurses Association. With no nurse on duty, the responsibility for administering medications and treating students falls on administrators, educators and staff who may not have enough training.

In an interview about recent budget cuts, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite told DA the district was investigating the events leading to the girl’s death. The district meets the state-mandated ratio of one nurse per 1,500 students, so hiring more nurses is not a priority, he says.

The ratio of nurses in Philadelphia schools was 1 to 950 students before the cuts two years ago. And the reduction has led to poorer student health services, according to a May 2013 Education Law Center of Philadelphia survey of school nurses, parents and special education advocates.

Seventy percent of respondents reported that medications and/or treatments were being administered by teachers or aides rather than by nurses, and 52 percent reported that children were not receiving urgent medical care. Another 36 percent said children were not receiving their treatments at prescribed intervals.”

School nurse shortages grow as budgets shrink Alison DeNisco, District Administration, January 2014

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past thirty years, so one would expect that a data-driven education reform movement would make purchasing new playground and sports equipment a priority seeking to decrease sit and learn / sit and test time, rather than buying more computers to “deliver” software solutions and administer the new Common Core assessments.

The Race To The Top funding priorities are more about measuring student achievement and teacher quality, rather than providing essential academic and support services to help our neediest students achieve higher standards.

Expecting the implementation of higher standards to improve student outcomes without investing in necessary wrap around services is like raising the recommended amount of exercise for young people while lowering the recommended calorie intake for youth and then expecting these new standards on their own to decrease the rate of childhood obesity.

Ed reformers data-driven and test-centered approaches to school improvement make as much sense as a doctor advising overweight patients to spend their money on a tape measure, scale, and blood pressure machine rather than purchasing sneakers, a bicycle, or membership in a gym.

Education reform programs implemented in classrooms are focused primarily on measuring the manifestations of poverty and treating student “symptoms” such as low achievement or poor attendance, rather than addressing the underlying “illness” of poverty that is impacting students in their homes and communities around the United States. testiop

College and Career Readiness: A Data Dilemma

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The Common Core will not be able to deliver on the “promise” of college readiness for all students if the data used to inform classroom instruction and measure student achievement, is not valid or reliable.

It is dishonest and dispiriting to tell any student, regardless of ability or disability, that he or she is not “ready” for college based on a GPA, standardized test score, or some other data point.

Developmentally delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, creative, persistent, self-reliant, compassionate, curious, confident, open-minded, courageous, resilient, honest, healthy risk-takers and reliable will be successful in post-secondary studies and careers.

Students who are cognitively privileged but are selfish, lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, rigid, compelled, doubtful, indifferent, unimaginative, and narrow minded will not be successful in higher ed and work environments.

When it comes to success in college and careers, the ability to independently master complex informational text is far less important than students having learned how to maximize their talents and master themselves.

It is foolish to devote weeks of rigorous sit and learn class time prepping and testing students to supposedly prepare them for college and careers at the expense of vigorous non routine and content rich learning activities that cultivate student agency which is essential for the appropriate and effective application of hard skills.

The Common Core “diet” of close reading and standardized testing has students spending much more time staying connected to text, than learning how to connect with diverse people and ideas.

Not surprisingly, a recent Gallup-Purdue study suggests that we should reconsider and revise the metrics and data we use to assess and predict career readiness.

“When it comes to being engaged at work and experiencing high well-being after graduation, a new Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates shows that the type of institution they attended matters less than what they experienced there…

Instead, the study found that support and experiences in college had more of a relationship to long-term outcomes for these college graduates. For example, if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being.

And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well…”

Gallup-Purdue Study, “Life in College Matters for Life After College” 5/6/14

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“The current excessive emphasis on getting short-term economic value out of college will have students attending to their safety net at the precise time when they should be thinking about swinging on the trapeze…

They would be, as Mark Twain put it, allowing schooling to get in the way of one’s education. They would be hanging out on the safety net while never reaching for the trapeze.The college experience encompasses a rich collection of endeavors inside and outside the classroom that shape and prepare young people for success later in life.

Without extracurricular interaction, they’re unlikely to develop the ‘soft skills’ so many employers seek, the nimbleness that comes from managing time across activities, and the essential ‘distractions’ that become as enriching as their studies (and may even become part of a career down the road)…

Steve Jobs didn’t know that a calligraphy course he took on a whim would pay off years later when he launched that first Apple computer. And that’s the point. There’s no way to know. So students should err on the side of opening up, rather than limiting, their possibilities.

By taking a turn on that trapeze every chance they get, their college years will be filled with trials and errors and diverse, engaging experiences. Will it be risky? Sure. But it will also be thrilling and, oh, so rewarding, too.

Some might even call it valuable.”

Carpe College! Blog – “Consuming College: Trapeze or not Trapeze?”, Mike Metzler 

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“There’s way more to college than book learnin’. There are sporting events, concerts, intramural activities, art shows, theater, political demonstrations, philanthropic endeavors, guest speakers, and every possible club activity under the sun, from a cappella singing to rock climbing to Quidditch (Yes, there are even intercollegiate Quidditch competitions nowadays).”

~ Mike Metzler, “Carpe College!”

Will the real PARCC Assessment…

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On July 7, 2014 PARCC issued a statement that included the following…

“..The latest good news came Friday: a legal challenge that paused work on the assessments has been overcome, and the PARCC states can continue working to build and deliver high quality assessments that measure how on track students are for success in college and careers.

This is welcome news at a time when, sadly, in some states PARCC has become a political football. That’s a shame for the educators who have worked for years to implement new standards and build better assessments. And it is a shame for students who deserve to have quality tools that tell them where they are on their path to success after high school…

Together, we are working to improve the lives of children from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans to inner city Camden and the south side of Chicago. Those kids deserve access to the same engaging and challenging education as their peers across the country. They deserve to know if they will graduate with a meaningless piece of paper or with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a career or in college…

The reality is that the assessments and diagnostic resources are tools developed by exceptional educators across states to help make sure students learn what they need to be prepared for college and work. They also will help ensure students and their parents know the truth about whether they are on track for success after high school or not…”

~ Laura Slover, PARCC is Alive and Well

And back in 2012 PARCC issued the following disclaimer regarding their assessment…

“It must be noted that the academic knowledge, skills, and practices defined by the PARCC CCR Determinations in ELA/literacy and mathematics are an essential part of students’ readiness for college and careers, but do not encompass the full range of knowledge, skills, and practices students need for success in postsecondary programs and careers. 

For example, Conley (2012) includes learning skills and techniques such as persistence, motivation, and time management as critical elements of college and career readiness, along with transition skills and knowledge such as awareness of postsecondary norms and culture and career awareness…

A comprehensive determination of college and career readiness that would include additional factors such as these is beyond the scope of the PARCC assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics..

Since these non-academic factors are so important, PARCC College- and Career-Ready Determinations 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.”

College- and Career-Ready Determination Policy and Policy-Level PLDs (pgs 2-3) (Adopted October 2012; Updated March 2013) (PDF)

April 20, 2011 John de Rosier editorial cartoon