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!”

Reading fiction improves college and career readiness

From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot before the other. But when books are opened you discover that you have wings.

~ Helen Hayes 

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Common Core enthusiasts CLAIM that K-12 students need to read much more nonfiction and informational text if they are to be ready for college and careers.

These reformers must not have read the following informational texts that cite research and DATA suggesting a healthy “diet” of fiction provides plenty of “nourishment” and perhaps, better prepares our students for the cognitive, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers.

While comprehension of informational text is an essential skill for employees, it is the lack of soft skills and emotional intelligence that employers more often cite as, “The Real Reason New College Graduates Can’t Get Hired”.

“The imperative to try to understand others’ points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise…

To bring the subject home, think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — coworkers, clients, passing strangers, store clerks. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction.

It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience…”

~ Anne Kreamer, “The Business Case for Reading Novels” 1/11/12

“I’ve noticed for many years that executives I coach who only read non-fiction tend to be somewhat more two-dimensional in their perceptions of others and of situations; they seem to have fewer options to call upon when making decisions or solving problems…

The research Anne cites resolves my chicken-and-egg quandary: it seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations; it provides a richer ‘toolkit’ of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships.

And as our business lives get more complex, faster-paced, less hierarchical and more dependent upon our ability to build support with those around us – that kind of toolkit becomes ever more critical to our success...”

~ Erika Andersen, “If You Want to Succeed in Business, Read More Novels” 5/31/12

“I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different…”

Neil Gaiman“Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming” 10/15/13

Can’t help but wonder if ed reformers penchant for doublethink, unsubstantiated claims, standardized education, and nonfiction, along with David Coleman’s infamous statement, “As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s%@# about what you feel or what you think.” are all inspired by fictional text?

Talk about your irony…in futuristic fictional literature, reading a book is portrayed as dangerous to society because it promotes creativity, dissent, feelings, individuality, and independent thought.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Common Core State Standards are used to closely monitor and regulate reading in the classroom in order to discipline student thoughts, (stay connected to text), limit choice, and discourage personal feelings and reflections.


“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

~ Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.”

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

~ 1984, George Orwell

“We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”

~The Giver, Lois Lowry

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Every Picture Tells A Story

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The Common Core “promises” to prepare our students for the 21st century but fails to deliver on this promise when the standards claim that students will learn more from close reading text rather than skyping or tweeting with a historian, researcher, writer, explorer, artist, poet, musician, etc.

In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets.

These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text.

As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest.”

CCSS Appendix A ( p4 ) Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards

Demanding that students stay “connected’ to a reading and think critically about informational text will not cultivate transferable and work-based creative thinking skills, just as spending hours solving Common Core math word problems will not cultivate real life problem solving skills.

In reality, career success in the 21st century is more about establishing close business relationships and connecting with clients rather than close reading skills and connecting with informational text.

The Common Core claim that text is a more “powerful” medium to convey information and express ideas than a painting, sculpture…

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…is absurd and reveals a lack of understanding and appreciation for, Multiple Intelligences, differentiated instruction, and the multimedia demands and expectations of 21st century jobs.

Even though Common Core enthusiasts claim the Standards don’t tell teachers how to teach, the Standards dictate that teachers “Shift” their instruction so…

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 “Shifts” also include declarations such as…

Students must get smart in Science and Social Studies through reading…Get smarter through text …What is written is much more complex than what we say

Common Core State Standards: Shifts for Students and Parents

If Common Core enthusiasts were truly interested in preparing students for the 21st century workforce, the Common Core Standards would be more closely aligned with the 6 Drivers of Change and 10 Skills for the Future Workforce that have been identified by The Institute for the Future

Driver of Change #4 New Media Ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text…New multimedia technologies are bringing about a transformation in the way we communicate.

Skill #3 Novel and Adaptive Thinkingproficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based.

Skill #6 New Media Literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.

Skill #10 Virtual Collaboration: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team. Connective technologies make it easier than ever to work, share ideas and be productive despite physical separation. But the virtual work environment also demands a new set of competencies.

Institute for the Future:  Future Work Skills 2020

Thanks to David Coleman, students across the United States are working to increase their global competitiveness by learning how to “dive in” and stay connected to text, while their counterparts around the world are acquiring transferable workforce skills and powerful new literacies that will enable them to collaborate and virtually connect with people.

The Common Core bias and emphasis on text-based and text-centric learning ignores the multimedia realities of a 21st century classroom/workplace and will leave our students ill-prepared to meaningfully and effectively participate in a company teleconference, video conference, or webinar. 

When I think back on the crap I learned in high school

It’s a wonder I can think at all…

I got a Nikon camera

I love to take a photograph

So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away…

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

Performance Standards

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The Common Core’s emphasis on higher learning standards is well intended but poorly executed and evaluated. Standards are expectations of student learning and skill development. Skills must be acquired by students rather than imparted by teachers or the standards.

We are mistakenly evaluating student learning and predicting future outcomes based on how well a child meets a particular standard of performance at a predetermined moment in time regardless of individual circumstance, ability, or disability.

Availability of funding, class size, academic support programs, wrap around services, along with numerous other  “barriers to learning” that exist outside of school and beyond the reach of teachers, can also have an impact and diminish student performance.

Furthermore, cognitive skills emerge and develop differently in people depending on both genetic and environmental factors, and that is why K-12 education programs should focus on the acquisition and cultivation of individualized, customized, and transferable skills, rather than standardized ones.

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Conversely, learning activities that foster the development of foundational social and emotional skills and cultivate student agency should be standard practice and a primary focus of all K-12 programs.

Students learn differently and school programs that emphasize a standardized curriculum and standardized testing will not by osmosis standardize student skills and abilities or synchronize student learning.

Students must actively participate in the learning process and care to do better if their performance is going to improve.

Learning is not done to you.

learning is something you choose to do.

~Seth Godin

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Student agency and self-efficacy is an essential component of achievement and learning in school. The appropriate and effective application of hard skills is soft skills dependent.

Rather than a narrow focus on the acquisition of “college ready” numeracy and literacy skills measured by a standardized test, K-12 education programs should cultivate the development of diverse academic, social, and emotional skills that will prepare students for the real “tests” in life.

Common Core’s misguided emphasis on rigorous “college ready” math and ELA skills may be well intended, but in practice other critically important skills and vigorous learning experiences are crowded out and receive less attention in the classroom.

A broad-based and well balanced K-12 education program will help to assure that each child achieves his or her academic, social, and emotional potential as they acquire a comprehensive and customized set of life skills and “tools”.

A contractor may possess the literacy skills to understand building plans, permits, and blueprints along with the numeracy skills to construct a level, square, and properly angled structure but that is of little consequence if he or she lacks the self-confidence and courage to climb a ladder and the balance to work on a roof.

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Every person is unique and cognitive ability will always differ among our students. K-12 education programs must include activities and diverse experiences or “pathways” that cultivate academic, social, emotional, and vocational skills that will enhance and support student learning and growth throughout life.

Passion-driven learning respects students as individual learners with unique interests, talents, and abilities while data-driven Common Core education programs seek to rate, sort, and compare students according to a narrow and standardized set of math and ELA skills.

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Cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, creative, persistent, self-reliant, compassionate, generous, curious, confident, flexible, open-minded, courageous, resilient, and volunteer will succeed in college and careers.

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

A more accurate and reliable indicator or predictor of “readiness” is not how well you perform on a standardized test at a particular moment in time, but whether you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue learning and striving towards a higher level of performance.

It is foolish to claim that all high school graduates must first acquire the same “college ready” Common Core math and ELA skills in order to attend and succeed in college, when they just need to be “ready to learn” and apply the numeracy and literacy skills they do have in more advanced and challenging ways.

What would have been the likelihood of Michael Jordan being “career ready” if his K-12 schooling was focused primarily on acquiring the same math and ELA skills as his classmates at the expense of time spent discovering his passion and developing his unique and special athletic skills and abilities?

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Learning Through Play

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“Learning through play with “hands-on, minds-on” approaches (not workbooks) is a powerful way forward. Play gives children space to dream, discover, improvise, and challenge convention. It’s crucial to social, emotional, cognitive and even physical development, helping them grow up “better adjusted, smarter and less stressed.” We know this.

So, where did play go?

Over the last three decades, while schoolchildren K-12 have become better test-takers, they’ve also become less imaginative, according to many experts in education, including Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary. 

In 2011, she analyzed scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”…

If we want a better, smarter planet, we need to change the way the next generation children are taught. Allowing more students to grow up without those prosocial, exploratory skills, leaving them unable to reach their potential, would be criminal.

Play can deliver.

What are we waiting for?”

~ John Converse Townshend, “Why Playful Learning Is The Key To Prosperity” Forbes 4/10/14

Square Peg, Round Hole…Take Two

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As the Common Core “promise” of critical thinking, deeper learning, and college readiness meets the reality of test-centric instruction supporters of the Core may be experiencing a change of heart and buyer’s remorse.

The “emergency response” timeline for implementation imposed by Common Core’s data-driven and accountability evangelists has resulted in misguided test prep that provides a double portion of rigor and not a trace of vigor.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of business leaders, employers, college leaders, and economists, who are questioning the efficacy of the Common Core’s emphasis on standardized testing, and this chorus of voices grows louder every day …

“After 10 years of federal education policies based on test-based accountability, there has been no perceptible improvement in student performance among high school students…There is little doubt—whether test-based accountability is being used to hold schools accountable or individual teachers—that it has failed to improve student performance…

Test-based accountability and teacher evaluation systems are not neutral in their effect. It is not simply that they fail to improve student performance. Their pernicious effect is to create an environment that could not be better calculated to drive the best practitioners out of teaching and to prevent the most promising young people from entering it.

If we want broad improvement in student performance and we want to close the gap between disadvantaged students and the majority of our students, then we will abandon test-based accountability and teacher evaluation as key drivers of our education reform program…”

~ Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, “The Failure of Test-Based Accountability”

“Our first realization was that test scores add relatively little to our ability to predict the success of our students…In addition, we know that some potential students are deterred from applying to colleges that require a test score because they are not comfortable taking standardized tests…. ”

~ Thomas Rochon, President, Ithaca College and former executive director of the GRE testing program, “The Case Against the SAT”

“The current focus on testing has tended to make test results the goal of the system, rather than a measure. The change in goal means recognizing that a test is only measure. Using tests as the goal infringes Goodhart’s Law: when measure becomes the goal, it ceases to be an effective measure.”

~ Steve Denning, Program Director, Knowledge Management at the World Bank, “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education”

“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…We found that they don’t predict anything…”

~ Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, “In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such A Big Deal”

Our task as facilitators should be to design non-routine and content-rich learning activities that stimulate the hearts as well as the minds of students while cultivating social and emotional skills that are essential for creative, meaningful, productive, and rewarding lives.

College and career readiness is not simply about understanding a Pearson textbook or filling in the right bubble on a standardized test, but knowing how to behave and collaborate with people in the classroom and on the job.

Weapons of Mass Instruction

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One of the underlying premises of the Common Core is that students who cannot independently read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life.

Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?

Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, Erin Brockovich, Pablo Picasso, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and other dyslexics were fortunate CCSS wasn’t around when they were in school as they might still be serving time in AIS class trying to pass a tier two vocabulary word quiz rather than testing a new theory, creating a new work of art, or discovering new principles that actually generated brand new vocabulary words.

These individuals and many others like them did not allow limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life.

Instead, they relied upon their own unique gifts, talents, personality, and learning strategies to overcome obstacles and compensate for any academic deficiencies.

The heck with art, film, music, sports, vocational, trade, and alternative education programs…force feeding complex informational texts 70% of the time is the key to success in college and careers for all students… why not 38%, 55%, or 61.25%?

We expect our students to question the accuracy and reliability of any data they may collect from resources. We encourage them to consider the source of information and look for any possible bias or conflict of interest.

This same degree of scrutiny and skepticism should be applied vigorously to the data and claims of the Common Core sales team.

While Common Core advocates may decry the plight of college students who don’t read closely, many students actually enjoy the challenge and mystery of a puzzle and will refrain from reading the instructions for a newly purchased electronic device as they prefer to learn through discovery, experimentation, play, and trial and error.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There are some things of value in life, like the dynamic relationship between a teacher and student, that are not easily quantified and measured.

A teacher may wear many “hats” during the day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, and friend.

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

Working with teenagers for more than two decades, the most important lesson I have learned is to never give up on a student as the fruits of my labor are not always immediate and very often will become apparent over time.

Education should be about preparing future artists, caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, and volunteers….not test takers.

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

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

Assessments should measure multiple performance indicators and be administered over an extended period of time to assure that accurate, comprehensive, and reliable data is collected.

Attempting to determine a student’s overall level of achievement for an entire school year (180 days) by measuring his or her performance during a very narrow and limited period of time (3 to 4 hours) will most certainly produce inaccurate and incomplete data.

This data is further compromised and corrupted whenever the student’s performance is hindered by extraneous factors such as; carelessness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, hunger, stress, apathy, depression, fear, illness, anger, etc…

Scores on a standardized test do not differentiate between students who answered a question wrong because they lack the requisite knowledge and skills, and those students who are sufficiently skilled but suffered from diminished performance the day of the test.

Therein lies a critical flaw and weakness of standardized assessments…while the results may identify specific questions a student failed to answer correctly, they do not provide a definitive reason or explanation as to why this occurred?

Project-based and performance assessments provide a more reliable, robust, and comprehensive means of documenting student achievement because they assess student performance over an extended period of time.

Most importantly, an extended task generates valuable data regarding student character development and soft skills.

Projects and presentations help students to develop essential college and career skills including; time management, public speaking, problem solving, creativity, decision making, resilience, collaboration, communication, persistence, resourcefulness, risk-taking, and self-reliance.

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 The most vigorous and vibrant qualities of the Common Core… constructivism, media literacy, technology integration, project-based and student-centered learning are de-emphasized in the classroom because these standards don’t easily adapt or conform to the boilerplate format of a standardized test.

“Rigor Redefined” and other research based writings by Tony Wagner offer great insights into career readiness and the expectations of employers…

“…He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.

“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”

 “What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.

 “I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know.”

A bachelor’s degree is not a requirement for every occupation in the 21st century. Advising and encouraging all our students to attend college and accumulate a considerable amount of debt, is both thoughtless and irresponsible.

The headline of this 4/23/12 AP article says it all “1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed”

“According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers…

…Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor’s degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age.”

Schools should be in the business of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child’s athletic, artistic and creative talents are free to flourish and thrive.

Education should always be focused on helping each student to discover his or her unique gifts and abilities while providing numerous opportunities for students to pursue their passions.

With the new testing regime, the whole school experience has been diminished and transformed into a forced march toward a “designated performance level.” Under this system students are actually learning more about what they can’t do, than what they can do.

Matthew B. Crawford’s 2006 essay, “Shop Class as Soulcraft” discusses the importance of vocational education programs along with the inherent value and rewards of manual competence.

Crawford’s essay may lead readers to consider the possibility that readiness for college and career might be mutually exclusive endeavors for some students, and our noble efforts to prepare every student for the academic rigors of higher education could be negatively impacting the career readiness of those students who wish to obtain employment in the manual trades.

In 2009 the essay was expanded into a book; “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work”. This excerpt from the book jacket explains…

On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.

 But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work…”

In Tara Tiger Brown’s 2012 commentary; “The Death of Shop Class And America’s Skilled Workforce” she laments the decline of shop class…

“During my freshman year of high school I was required to take home economics and shop class where I learned basics skills in sewing, cooking, woodwork and metal work… 

I have continued to use those skills throughout my life both professionally and when needed around the house…

75% of the students in California are not going to attend university yet they are taking classes that will help them get into UC and CA State schools. Just like there are people who are not inclined to become welders or machinists, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a football star. 

Students take physical education class in elementary school and with that opportunity they discover their abilities and their like or dislike for various sports. The schools breed our pro football and basketball stars. What would it be like if as adults we didn’t have exposure to sports in school?…

Without early exposure to shop class many kids are going to lose out on the opportunity to discover whether or not they like making things, and the inclination to pursue a career as a drafter, carpenter, welder or auto mechanic.

As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop…

What is America going to do without skilled workers who can build and fix things?”

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If education leaders and proponents of the Common Core want to be taken seriously regarding their campaign to improve college and career readiness for all students perhaps they should consider if accounting, athletics, character education, civics, community service, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, health, history, home economics, humanities, driver education, marketing, media literacy, political science, psychology, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts, are being adequately addressed in our schools today, or have they been left behind in a Race To The Top?

Lifelong Learning

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Most adults reading this post completed their K-12 schooling during the BC (Before Core) education era. All the ed reform leaders and data driven evangelists were also educated long before the “Core” and ironically some of them did not even complete their formal education such as Bill Gates who dropped out of college to pursue his interests and passions.

The Common Core‘s emphasis on grade level standards and student proficiency reveals a fundamental flaw in the rigid design and assessment of the standards. The only way one can explain the frantic “race” to implement the “Core” and raise academic standards is that Common Core evangelists believe the acquisition and development of math, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills is limited to the years or “window” of K-12 education. 

In fact, many of us continued learning long after we graduated high school. Our math, reading, and writing skills continued to strengthen and in many cases we “caught up” with, and even surpassed, the skills of some of our classmates who may have out performed and outpaced us in school.

For most of us today our success on the job has had very little to do with our reading level in 4th grade or math proficiency in 6th grade. We are successful employees today because we continue to adapt to changing job requirements and are always willing to learn new skills.

The qualities and skills that make us valuable employees include; creative problem solvers, attentive listeners, good decision makers, we can teach others, learn from others, follow directions, take initiative, good public speakers,  honest, passionate, flexible, self-reliant, persistent, resilient, etc…

Ironically, our students will actually be less prepared for the real “tests” in life and the diverse challenges of college and careers precisely because the Common Core focuses on testing a very narrow and shallow academic skill set rather than cultivating an expansive and robust set of academic, social, and emotional skills that will enable and empower our students to be life-long learners and leaders, just like ourselves.

Heavy emphasis on “hard skills” leaves children unprepared for the real “tests” in life.

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The appropriate and skillful application of hard skills is soft skills dependent.

~ Corporate Learning World Blog

Working with grade 7-12 students in a public school for more than a quarter century, and as a summer youth employment counselor for more than a decade, it has been my experience that a lack of soft skills (perseverance, ambition, self-confidence, self-discipline, patience, initiative, integrity, empathy, courage, cooperative, resilient…) has directly contributed to declining student achievement and performance in the classroom and on the job.

While mastery of content and literacy skills are important for career and college readiness, these performance standards are too often trumped or canceled out when a student or employee lacks a work ethic, emotional intelligence, and has not developed a personal code of conduct.

One of the underlying premises of CCSS appears to be that students who cannot read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life. Not everyone can be an advanced reader, no matter how hard they try. Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?

Considering the diversity of student skills and abilities represented in our classrooms It is foolish and inherently unfair to define and predict student success in life based on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and reading skills.

Testing and training students to meet common math and ELA standards does not prepare them for the social and emotional challenges of uncommon careers.

The “power” and critical importance of soft skills is evidenced by the highly successful careers of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Tom Cruise, Erin Brockovich, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Winston Churchill and many other dyslexics.

These individuals and many others learners like them have not allowed limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life. Instead, they relied upon their special talents and abilities to overcome obstacles in life and compensate for any cognitive deficiencies.

Emotional intelligence often “levels the playing field” and helps adults to lead productive and very successful lives in spite of weaker reading or writing skills…

“…But what has become obvious—as evidenced by the sheer number of dyslexic World Economic Forum attendees in Davos and by plenty of research—is not only that dyslexics can be, and often are, brilliant, but that many develop far superior abilities in some areas than their so-called normal counterparts…What those highly accomplished people wanted to discuss, albeit discreetly, was their reading ability, or, more accurately, the difficulty they have reading—one of the telltale symptoms of the disorder…”

Coudl This Be teh Sercet to Sussecc? American Way, July, 2008

Learning is about discovering your purpose and passion in life. Schools should provide diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities…not standardize them.

Many disabled, delayed, and struggling learners will not reach and realize their full academic and vocational potential in life if their schools choose to eliminate diverse learning activities and K-12 programs to increase instructional time and preparation for annual math and ELA assessments.

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While CCSS evangelists continue to extol the importance of hard skills to properly prepare students for college and careers. Business leaders and employers continue to lament the subpar soft skills of their new hires.

A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.

Source: The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired 11/10/13

As Dale Carnegie said, The man who is enthusiastic will find the scales tipped in his favor. And a man of second-rate ability, with enthusiasm, will outstrip a man of first-rate ability without enthusiasm.”

The fact that a person does not apply critical thinking skills is not proof or evidence that he or she does not possess them. People often confuse critical thinking skills with decision making skills. Just because a person can think critically does not mean they will always make good decisions.

This helps to explain why people who can think critically may still decide to….text and drive, steal from an employer, send inappropriate emails and texts, lie on a resume, participate in scandalous behavior as part of the US President’s Secret Service detail, exaggerate and lie about their war reporting, participate in bullying and violent activities, or choose to remain a bystander but decide to videotape such vile activities and share them on social media.

In school and the workplace, it is very often decision making skills as well as critical thinking skills that will determine success.

Good decision making depends on an essential set of soft skills and attitudes that are not easily tested and measured including;  integrity, empathy, selflessness, persistence, resilience, compassion, risk-taker, self-efficacy etc.

The reliability and “strength” of these abilities is not always constant as they can be affected and impaired by emotions, drugs, lack of sleep, stress, trauma, a chemical imbalance, and other neurological and psychological conditions.

Critical reading and thinking skills are very important, but they do not trump or supersede the equally if not more important soft skills.

Mastery of content may help a person get hired, or accepted to college, but it is content of character that ultimately determines who keeps their job and who will graduate from college.

While it certainly is important that a recently hired worker can read and understand the employee manual and quarterly reports that will be of little consequence if the person doesn’t possess the self-discipline and decision making skills to abide by the company’s email, texting, and computer use policies.

Focusing education programs on a narrow and rigorous set of measurable hard skills at the expense of vigorous social/emotional learning experiences that cultivate essential interpersonal and intrapersonal skills will leave our students ill equipped and unprepared for the real “tests” in life.

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Hard skills are the foundation of a successful career. But soft skills are the cement. ~ Dorothy Dalton