(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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Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking

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The Common Core demands students think critically while staying connected and diving into text, yet employers desire workers who can think creatively while connecting with people as they dive into their work.

In college and careers students will often face the challenge of answering open-ended questions rather than text-dependent ones. Much of the text they encounter in school and work will not be “rich and worthy” of close reading.

College students and employees will often be required to make decisions and determine a course of action using vague, conflicting, or even incomplete data that is derived from a variety of sources.

Education programs should cultivate independent thinkers who can formulate creative solutions to novel problems rather than training text-dependent thinkers who can answer standardized text-based questions.

David Coleman has made it clear that Common Core students are expected to remain tethered to the text and read like a detective while most employers expect their workers to be autonomous learners as they read with perspective.

There is a significant difference between thinking critically while close reading complex text and thinking creatively while solving a complicated task…

Creative thinking is divergent, critical thinking is convergent; whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity in something that exists; whereas creative thinking is carried on by violating accepted principles, critical thinking is carried on by applying accepted principles. Although creative and critical thinking may very well be different sides of the same coin they are not identical (Beyer, 1987, p.35).

The Common Core’s emphasis on text-based thinking at the expense of experiential learning is not in the best interest of students or their future employers.

Text may be complex and rigorous but it is a passive, dull, and lifeless way to learn, while activities are a much more dynamic, interactive, and vigorous way to learn.

The Common Core Standards do not cultivate innovative and creative thought because it’s lead author has made it clear that original thoughts and personal feelings don’t matter in life.

Supporters of the Common Core continue to claim it will prepare students for colleges and careers despite numerous surveys, reports, and research (evidence) that employers are seeking workers who think creatively

Overwhelmingly, both the superintendents of schools who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agreed that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces, and that arts training—and, to a lesser degree, communications studies—are crucial to developing creativity…Employers look for employees who reinforce their creativity by showing certain characteristics in the selection process:

Able to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question (78 percent)

Respond well to hypothetical scenarios (70 percent)

Able to identify new patterns of behavior or new combination of actions

Integrate knowledge across different disciplines

Show ability to originate new ideas

Comfortable with the notion of “no right answer”

Fundamentally curious

Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work

Show ability to take risks

Tolerant of ambiguity

Show ability to communicate new ideas to others

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Supporters of the Common Core may point to standards that call for creative and divergent thinking yet the multiple choice questions on the Common Core standardized tests DISCOURAGE and DISCOUNT such thinking as they have only one right answer and plausible responses are graded as wrong.

Standards should serve as a flexible framework to meet the academic, social, emotional, and vocational needs of diverse learners and NOT a forced march to meet the data driven demands of standardized tests.

To date, Common Core instruction and implementation efforts have been focused primarily on the standardized “needs” of tests rather than the diverse needs of young learners. Standards should be a guide or pathway to learning and success, rather than a high stakes destination to failure.

Defenders of public education have questioned whether the data driven Common Core implementation efforts will actually lead to more students dropping out of school rather than increasing student achievement.

Paul Bruno, a supporter of the Common Core  responded to this concern…

And it’s also likely that, Common Core notwithstanding, our dropout rates will increase in the coming years since they are currently at an all-time low and an improving economy will give marginal students better alternatives outside of school.

For the record, it is entirely possible that the CCSS will contribute modestly  to future increases in the dropout rate. The Common Core will – by design – make some courses more difficult for many students, and for marginal students that may be enough to nudge them out of school altogether.

The Common Core Will Not Double the Dropout Rate ~ Paul Bruno

Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has expressed views on preparing ALL students for college and the discipline of at-risk learners that also seem contrary or inconsistent with his enthusiastic support for the K-12 college prep for all approach of the Common Core.

What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track—despite very long odds of crossing its finish line—does them more harm than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class?…

We shouldn’t force anyone into that route, but we also shouldn’t guilt kids with low odds of college success—regardless of their race or class—to keep trudging through academic coursework as teens…

Rather than pretend that we’re going to get “all students” to “climb the mountain to college,” we should build a system that helps many students find another road to the middle class—a path that starts with a better prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade education and then develops strong technical and interpersonal skills in high school and at community colleges. This is an honorable path, and one that’s much sturdier than the rickety bridges to failure that we’ve got now.

“Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material” Is exactly what we should be telling a lot of high school students. ~ Michael Petrilli

In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents…

The reason to celebrate these schools and the role they play is because the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families…tracking or ability grouping is seen as elitist; any effort to provide special classes, environments, or challenges for motivated or high-achieving kids is cast as perpetuating inequality—even when all the kids are poor, and even though there’s a ton of evidence that high achievers do best around other high achievers.

And now these “social justice” types want to berate schools for asking disruptive students to leave. For sure, there should be checks on pushing kids out willy-nilly…

But let’s not forget about the needs (even rights) of the other kids to learn. Isn’t it possible that U.S. public schools have gone too far in the direction of accommodating the disruptors at the expense of everyone else?

Or been guilty of “defining deviancy down,” in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words? As Eduwonk Andy wrote this week, it’s probably because charter schools are willing (and able) to enforce discipline that they are so popular with parents. That wouldn’t be true if they had to retain chronic disrupters.

To be sure, this raises tough questions for the system as a whole. As I said in the Washington Post video, there are reasons to be concerned that district schools will become the last resort for the toughest-to-serve kids.

But in life there are trade-offs, and I would be willing to accept a somewhat less ideal outcome for the most-challenged students if it meant tremendously better life outcomes for their peers.

Flypaper: The charter expulsion flap ~ Michael Petrilli

It is odd that reformers who fervently support the Common Core with its mandate of college and career readiness for ALL students would express views that excuse the most challenged segments of our student population from meeting these higher standards.

Wasn’t the rationale for adoption of the Common Core that higher standards would serve as an academic rising tide that will lift all boats regardless of condition, design, or years at sea?

Or is it possible that the Common Core, which lacks meaningful career and technical standards or pathways, is intentionally designed to prepare cognitively privileged and standardized students for college and post-college careers while the “marginal” learners in our schools will be encouraged to apply at Dave and Buster’s?

In a rigorous Common Core world “marginal” learners are expendable and in the vigorous history of America these individuals were exceptional.

Rather than rating and sorting students according to a common and narrow set of testable academic skills we should be celebrating and cultivating uncommon talents and divergent thinking in our classrooms.

As Arnold Dodge explains, schools should be honoring and uplifting the creative “characters” in their classrooms…

Many of our schools have become dry, lifeless places. Joy and spirited emotions have been replaced by fear, generated by masters from afar. These remote overseers — politicians, policy makers, test prep executives — have decided that tests and numbers and drills and worksheets and threats and ultimatums will somehow improve the learning process…

When a student does well on a reading test, the results tell us nothing about how well she will use reading as a tool to learn larger topics, nor does it tell us that she will be interested in reading at all. What it tells us is that she is good at taking a reading test…

With the battle cry “College and Career Ready,” the champions of standardization are determined to drum out every last bit of creativity, unpredictability, humor, improvisation and genuine emotion from the education process in the name of useful “outcomes.”..

The self-righteous, powerful and moneyed, if they have their way, will eliminate from schools kids who have character — or kids who are characters, for that matter…

But there is another way. If we believe that children are imaginative creatures by nature with vast amounts of talent waiting to be mined, and if we believe that opening children’s minds and hearts to the thrill of learning — without competition and ranking — is a healthy approach to child development, then we are off to a good start…

William Glasser, M.D., studied schools for over 30 years and in his seminal work, The Quality School, he outlines five basic needs that all human beings are born with: survival, love, power, fun and freedom.

How many policymakers today would subscribe to having fun or experiencing freedom as a goal of our educational system? Just think of the possibilities if they did. Kids actually laughing in school and not being punished for it. Students feeling strong enough to talk truth to power and not being silenced. Youngsters feeling free to write with creativity and originality without being ridiculed for deviating from state test guidelines.

And that’s before we even get to love.

Think of the characters that would emerge from such an environment. Comedians, orators, raconteurs, revolutionaries, magicians, clowns, young people with agency and drive, having fun, not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. Not afraid to be children…

The BLOG: Needed in School: 140 Characters ~ Arnold Dodge

Creative-Brain

Thoughts and Feelings Do Matter

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Schools must provide less data-driven classroom activities and more emotion-filled community building experiences if we are to properly prepare our children to be self-directed lifetime learners and independent thinkers.

Many K-12 education programs are now focused primarily on preparing students for standardardized tests rather than cultivating student agency and preparing our children for the social and emotional “tests” of adulthood and employment.

“The children coming into their second grade classroom that morning arranged their chairs in a circle for a daily ritual: Their teacher asked every child to tell the class how they felt (unless they didn’t want to share this), and why they felt that way.

This simple exercise in a New Haven, CT elementary school was the first time I saw a lesson in emotional literacy. Naming emotions accurately helps children be clearer about what is going on inside – essential both to making clearheaded decisions and to managing emotions throughout life. Self-awareness – turning our attention to our inner world of thoughts and feelings – allows us to manage ourselves well.

An inner focus lets us understand and handle our inner world, even when rocked by disturbing feelings. This is a life skill that keeps us on track throughout the years, and helps children become better learners. For instance, when children tune in to what engages them, they connect with the intrinsic motivation that drives them…

In our life and career this can blossom into “good work” – a potent combination of what engages us, what matters to us, and what we can accomplish successfully. In the school years, the equivalent is “good learning” – being engaged with what enthuses us and what feels important…”

Daniel Goleman, “The Case for Teaching Emotional Literacy in Schools” 8/10/14

“A 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids – the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables – found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in…

To further understand what attributes actually predict success, a more satisfying answer lies in another kind of data altogether: competence models. These are studies done by companies themselves to identify the abilities of their star performers

It’s the distinguishing competencies that are the crucial factor in workplace success: the variables that you find only in the star performers – and those are largely due to emotional intelligence.

These human skills include, for instance, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence.

Those are the competencies companies use to identify their star performers about twice as often as do purely cognitive skills (IQ or technical abilities) for jobs of all kinds.

The higher you go up the ladder, the more emotional intelligence matters: for top leadership positions they are about 80 to 90 percent of distinguishing competences…”

Daniel Goleman, “What Predicts Success? It’s Not Your IQ” 7/17/14

Daniel Goleman provides evidence and cites research to support his claim that thoughts and feelings do matter in life and they have a significant impact on the performance of students and employees.

I can’t help but wonder how much more diverse the Common Core State Standards would be if the cognitively privileged and powerful A-Team assembled to develop the Common Core State Standards had consulted with Daniel Goleman?

Guess that’s what happens when an unqualified “expert” and inexperienced person such as David Coleman is chosen to be the lead designer and architect of the passion-less Common Core State Standards despite his offensive belief and evidence-less claim that…

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

wrong

Learning To Care

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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”

Passion and Purpose

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David Coleman has made it perfectly clear there is no “room” in the Common Core for such trivial matters as students’ thoughts, feelings, and personal reflections.

Coleman may claim his emotionless Common Core will improve the career readiness of students but there is ample evidence that what employees think and feel has a direct impact on worker engagement and job satisfaction.

“Best places to work” companies don’t just have ping pong tables and free lunch, they have a “ soul” which makes work exciting and energizing.

They invest in great management and leadership. They train and develop people so they can grow. And they define their business in a way that brings meaning and purpose to the organization…

Now is the time to think holistically about your company’s work environment and consider what you can do to create passion, engagement, and commitment. It may be “the issue” we face in business over the next few years.”

Josh Bersin, “Why Companies Fail To Engage Today’s Workforce: The Overwhelmed Employee” Forbes, 3/15/14

Hard to understand how a passionless set of standards will improve the career readiness of students at a time when record numbers of employees are reporting feeling disengaged and dispassionate about their jobs…

Gallup’s data shows 30% of employees Engaged, 52% Disengaged, 18% Actively Disengaged.  “These latest findings indicate that 70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive,” states the report.

“Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.  They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away…

Though higher education generally leads to higher earnings, it by no means guarantees higher engagement.  Consider the data: College graduates in the survey were 28% Engaged, 55% Not Engaged, 17% Actively Disengaged.  High school graduates were 32% Engaged, 49% Not Engaged, 19% Actively Disengaged.”

Victor Lipman, “Surprising, Disturbing Facts From The Mother Of All Employee Engagement Surveys” Forbes 9/23/13

K-12 education programs that claim to prepare students for college and careers should be focused more on cultivating a wide array of social and emotional competencies that are transferable workforce skills rather than continually testing a narrow set of measurable Math and ELA skills.

Learning should be a self-directed 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.

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“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why
It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable but in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life”

Learning should be passion-driven rather than data-driven and focus on the needs of students rather than the needs of the tests. Classroom activities should provide numerous opportunities for students to connect with their dreams, feelings, interests, and other people rather than demand students read closely and stay connected to text.

Data-driven programs focus primarily on testing and measuring student knowledge while passion-driven programs provide numerous learning experiences that interest students and cultivate student wisdom.

The following excerpt from a 2010 valedictory speech reveals the consequences of standardized and test-centric education programs, unfortunately David Coleman is not interested in students thoughts and feelings…

“…While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. 

While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost?

I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

And quite frankly, now I’m scared…”

Erica Goldson, “Here I Stand” 6/25/10 Valedictory Speech

Many education reformers do not understand  that being “ready” for college and careers is not just about the subjects learned in school, but did you learn how to live?

In 2014 Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management that challenged students to overcome their fears and follow their hearts…

“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please!…

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world and after you walk through those doors today, you will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,

and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Build Your Dream

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The lessons the Common Core teaches our students about achieving success in school, work, and life are misleading, and the empty rhetoric about college and career readiness is misguided.

The Common Core evaluates student competency and proficiency in regards to a very narrow and shallow set of learning standards.

This test-centric and data-driven approach to learning is more about repeatedly measuring student skills than actually cultivating them.

While competent and proficient workers are often retained and maintained by employers, it is imaginative and courageous risk-takers who will advance and succeed by creating their own opportunities to learn and lead.

“Now today, I’m going to give you the six rules of success. But before I start, I just wanted to say these are my rules. I think that they can apply to anyone, but that is for you to decide, because not everyone is the same. There are some people that just like to kick back and coast through life and others want to be very intense and want to be number one and want to be successful. And that’s like me…”

~ Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Six Rules for Success” University of Southern California, May 15, 2009