(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.

data wall

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.

1661123_726896554008843_1319350048_n

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.

door

Advertisements

A Clever Way To Share Student Data

photo (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to edSurge,

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

A 2012, edSurge report on Clever revealed,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Dr. Martin Luther King warned,

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

kindergarteners

Standards Are Expectations of Learning

1374855_640652432633256_1705194981_n

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.

2567_600

Teachers are like gardeners

60237_475187302512542_878841619_n

Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving. 

They don’t blame the plant when it’s not performing well; they check the growing conditions. Is the soil the plant is growing in suitable or does it need amending? Does the plant need more water; does the plant need less water? Does the plant need more sunshine; does the plant need less sunshine. 

Good gardeners are good problem solvers, but realize that sometimes no matter what you do, the plant still will not grow the way you would like it to.

~ Elona Hartjes, “Good Teachers Are Like Good Gardeners”

If teachers are like gardeners, then the Common Core is like Miracle-Gro.

The makers of Miracle-Gro understand there are numerous factors that can impact plant growth, and their packaging includes the necessary disclaimer, “results may vary depending on rainfall and temperature.”

Soil formation and fertility is one of many influences on plant growth, and has a direct impact on the ability of a plant to thrive. There are 5 factors that contribute to soil formation including, parent material.

Parent material affects soil fertility in many ways…Parent material is the starting point for most soil development…The type of parent material and how the soil is formed will greatly influence the properties of the soil.”

~University of Hawaii at Manoa, “Soil Formation”

The architects of the Common Core also understand that there are many factors outside the classroom and beyond the reach of teachers that directly impact student progress and “growth” yet they did not include a similar disclaimer regarding the effectiveness of the Standards…

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

By coupling the Standards with standardized tests and VAM the architects of the Common Core can conveniently deflect any concerns regarding the efficacy and quality of the standards because the lack of students to thrive in the classroom is attributed to ineffective teachers.

The architects of the Common Core may claim to be concerned about proper implementation of the Standards, but they obviously knew it would be very difficult for teachers to focus on thoughtfully unpacking the Standards while they were busy packing their bags.

It is understandable that nations want to replicate Finland’s bountiful education “garden” but we are spending millions of dollars on new computers, software solutions, and standardized tests to increase student achievement while neglecting to invest in art programs, work-based learning, trade and vocational programs, adult education, wrap around services, and other community-based programs that help to assure America’s education soil is ‘fertile” and will properly nourish student “growth”.

That is like a gardener purchasing a lifetime supply of Miracle-Gro, pruning shears, and rulers to measure plant growth, but having no more money to purchase frost blankets, a garden hose, or even pay the water bill.

 

Art Matters

Image

 “A new report by a presidentially appointed committee on arts education makes the case that art education not only helps young people find their voice but also is an effective tool in improving student achievement in all subjects. It even ends up helping the private sector too….

What the report advocates makes a great deal of sense, especially in an era when the arts have been given short shrift in a rush to concentrate on subjects that are measured by standardized tests, especially math and reading, and education funding has been cut…

The report strains to discuss research that attempts to connect arts education with student achievement, because today, somehow, we have to have “research” that proves things that are self-evident.

If you have ever watched kids learn, you know that engaging them through the arts is much easier than trying to get them to memorize facts. It’s a no-brainer to infuse arts in learning across the disciplines, but, because there is no standardized test attached to it — at least not quite yet — it is looked on as less important…

So this is where we are today: Not only do advocates find themselves in the defensive position of having to “prove” the value of arts education in relation to test scores, but the whole exercises belittles the importance of creativity as a value necessary to the development of young people who are going to become active participants in American civic life…”

Source: “Report: Why we need arts education (not only to improve test scores)” Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet, 5/20/11