What makes a good teacher?

What makes a great teacher is someone who teaches you more than just that subject. They teach you how to be a better person, how to act everyday, and live your life to the fullest. Teachers teach, but great teachers help us learn and live.

~ Brooklyn, 12th grader, Fairfax R-3 – “A Great Teacher is…”

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In 2009 Bill Gates explained during a TED Talk what makes a good teacher…

“…A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class based on test scores – by over 10 percent in a single year…

What are the characteristics of this top quartile? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter

Now, there are a few places — very few — where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP…

They’re constantly improving their teachers. They’re taking data, the test scores,and saying to a teacher, “Hey, you caused this amount of increase.” They’re deeply engaged in making teaching better…

I think there are some clear things we can do…First of all, there’s a lot more testing going on, and that’s given us the picture of where we are.

Putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being recorded on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools… have it so everyone sees who is the very best at teaching this stuff.

You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid could go out and watch the physics course, learn from that. If you have a kid who’s behind, you would know you could assign them that video to watch and review the concept.

And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the Internet, but you could make it so that DVDs were always available, and so anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers.

And so by thinking of this as a personnel system, we can do it much better.”

Bill Gates: “Mosquitos, malaria and education” TED Talk, February 2009

Effective and experienced educators know that good teaching is about building and maintaining individual relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Students learn best when they have emotional rather than digital access to their teachers.

Unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. Veteran educator, James Comer, states that, ‘No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.’…

There is the belief among some that camaraderie between teachers and students leads to unprofessional familiarity or places the teacher in a weakened position in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect

Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. But I guess I am just old school. I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear that inflection in your voice when you are angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team.”

WATCH: How A Teacher Encouraged Her Students With An ‘F’ Rita F. Pierson 7/3/13

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You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you don’t get that simply by raising test scores.”

School-By-School Reform: Dr. James P. Comer Interview PBS 2005

Using students’ standardized test score to measure the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

These tests provide limited information regarding the overall health of the patient and just like a standardized test, they cannot determine the influence and impact of pre-existing conditions, patient behavior, and environmental factors on the test scores.

It seems Bill Gates and other reformers have not considered the possibility that an educator who can train students to get high test scores may not be a good teacher.

Rather than rely on Bill Gates or scores on a standardized test, what if we were to ask students, what makes a good teacher?…

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and confidence of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Students will learn more from good teachers who collect hugs and care about them, than from great teachers who are more concerned with collecting data and comparing them to others.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

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“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”

What Happens When Highly Effective Instructors Are Not Good Teachers?

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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 measure the academic, social, and emotional impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future endeavors and accomplishments.

Many reformers are also convinced that a standardized test score will provide evidence that a student is “on track” to be ready for college and careers.

Unfortunately, the decision to couple standardized tests with the Common Core Standards and to attach high stakes for accountability purposes will often distort classroom instruction and actually diminish student readiness.

While the Common Core Standards may claim to “ensure” that all students will be ready for diverse colleges and careers, classroom instruction is focused primarily on preparing students for standardized tests.

It seems ed reformers are not aware that employers are not hiring text-dependent thinkers who have been trained to correctly answer Common Core multiple choice questions by disregarding plausible answers…

“It’s not a multiple-choice world, employers say. Don’t send us graduates who only know how to solve multiple-choice problems…

Today, educators all over the U.S. are reinventing liberal education in ways that blend the best strength of the liberal arts and sciences…including their constant focus on real-world contexts and decision-making in situations where the answer isn’t clear cut.”

In Defense Of A Liberal Education, Carol Geary Schneider, Forbes 8/10/09

More recent interviews with CEOs and other executives have confirmed the disconnect between Common Core test preparation and employer expectations…

Respondents said students lack self-awareness, can’t work in teams, have poor critical thinking skills and come up short on creativity…

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with students; some blame must go to the schools that purport to educate them, the report found…

One of the biggest problems executives cited was that schools don’t measure student success with the right metrics. Just 12% of those interviewed said M.B.A. grades actually matter in hiring…

Instead, employers said they’d like to see more assessment of so-called soft skills like the ability to execute a plan, communication and critical thinking.

Business Schools Flunk When CEOs Grade the Test, Melissa Korn, 3/18/14

It is a mistake to rely so heavily on standardized test scores to predict future performance of students and to draw conclusions regarding quality of instruction in the classroom.

A standardized math or ELA test measures a narrow set of testable skills. Determining the effectiveness of a teacher based on student test scores suggests the primary responsibility of teachers is to train his or her students to take standardized tests.

Have ed reformers even considered the possibility that a person who effectively trains students to take standardized tests may not be a good teacher?

Teachers wear many “hats” during the school day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, mediator, friend…

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Good teachers help every child to “grow” and develop as a healthy human being in diverse and unique ways that can’t be measured by a standardized test including…

Helping an obese child to lose weight by walking with him/her before school

Convincing a bully to change his/her ways

Empowering bystanders to become upstanders

Helping a student who is prone to violence to learn to resolve disputes peacefully

Getting a depressed student to eat regular meals by having lunch with him/her

Convincing a student to bring and wear eye glasses each day

Encouraging a student to be more responsible about taking medication each day

Helping a student to understand that racist, sexist, and other prejudiced beliefs are not OK

Inspiring students to lead and serve others through student council or peer mentoring

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Education should be about preparing future caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, learners, creators, entrepreneurs, designers. developers, voters, change agents, 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.”

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and dreams of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

Learning is a lifelong process and self-directed journey of discovery. It is far more important that a person is well educated than trying to determine if they have been educated well.

A standardized assessment measures testable hard skills and will not reveal whether teachers and students possess the social and emotional skills that are essential for good teaching and college/career readiness.

Accountability measures should be more focused on ensuring there is an empathetic teacher in every classroom rather than an effective trainer of standardized test-takers.

As Bruce Cameron wisely said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

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One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

Common Sense

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Free and open societies can benefit from uniform learning standards that guide and shape classroom instruction to prepare future learners, leaders, inventors, artisans, entrepreneurs, tradesmen, artists, teachers, mentors, volunteers, etc.

To be effective, these standards must also cultivate student agency and a set of “skills” that are not easily measured including; courage, creativity, empathy, initiative, collaboration, integrity, self-efficacy, persistence, resilience, risk-taking, decision-making, problem solving, civic engagement etc.

Governments create an intolerable situation when they couple standardized tests with national standards and then impose sanctions or “high stakes” on schools and teachers when their students do not meet these standards on time and in a synchronized way.

By design, these standardized assessments can only measure the discrete numeracy and literacy skills of the standards.

While the Common Core standards may “promise” to prepare students for college and careers the misguided and punitive nature of the assessment program actually distorts implementation efforts and leads to a narrowing of instruction that emphasizes the measurable and testable components of the standards.

Implemented incorrectly, “rigorous” standards will actually diminish student potential as viable academic and vocational pathways are closed off and even eliminated to make room for an extra portion of literacy and numeracy instruction and assessment.

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Education programs that provide numerous pathways allowing students to unleash their special talents and pursue their passions will “open doors” and increase learning and earning opportunities in the future.

The unintended and negative consequences of data-driven implementation are real and there are countless school letters being sent home to parents like the one posted here…

rigorImage source: Extra curricular activities cancelled for rigor.

There is a troubling disconnect between the promised “outcomes” of the Common Core Standards and the test-focused implementation efforts.

For example, the Common Core includes numerous descriptors and paints a “portrait” of students who meet the Standards and are considered to be college and career ready including…

They demonstrate independence…they become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials

They use technology and digital media strategically and capably. Students employ technology thoughtfully…They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.

Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, Page 5

However, the implementation efforts are focused primarily on numeracy/literacy and disregard these intended outcomes as the instructional “shifts” demanded by the standards focus on cultivating text-dependent thinking and discrete literacy skills that actually discourage independent learning…

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities.

Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards

The descriptors may call for students to “use technology strategically” yet most of the time spent using technology in the classroom will be while students are preparing for or taking standardized tests.

The descriptors may say students will learn to “understand and work with other cultures” yet the added expense and time devoted to Math/ELA preparation and testing leaves less time and resources for educational field trips, exchange programs, internships, and other learning experiences where students would interact with people from other cultures…not than just read about them.

It is foolish to believe that students who are prepared and trained to think and perform within the “box” of a standardized test will become adult learners and workers who can create and think “outside the box”. Or as Sir Ken Robinson explains…

You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.

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Google VP Laszlo Bock explained in a NY Times interview…

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation…

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment…”

In Head-Hunting Big Data May Not be Such A Big Deal NY Times, 6/19/13

After distributing a quarterly report that reveals a recent drop in users and revenue, Google management will never ask employees to determine whether the change in company performance detailed in the informational text was either “bad”, “terrible”, or “disappointing”, but they will expect them to come up with plausible strategies and creative solutions to increase company earnings during the next quarter.

In the real world of learning and work outside of school, plausible solutions to novel problems are worth consideration and further study, but in the standardized testing “box” of the Common Core, such answers are wrong.

This distorted and somewhat dystopian view of student learning is apparent in the Common Core teacher training video (shared below); “Preparing for Close Reading with Students” as evidenced by the following exchange at 16:40 in the video…

Coleman: He moves to this very philosophical treatise on just and unjust law and what does it mean. And I think for students that’s very exciting cause he, I think the question of whether to follow a law is pretty interesting to them. What rules can they break, what rules can’t they break?

Gerson: And who’s rules are they?

King: But again, that’s one of those challenges right, because kids are gonna want to take that off into a conversation about rules and rule breaking…

Gerson: This uniform is an unjust law

King: Right, right…exactly, exactly. Again I think the discipline that you’re calling for is so important to stick with the text, stick with King’s argument, and try to avoid going too quickly to the easy connections…”

The speakers in the video clearly advocate a “discipline” of thought in the classroom so that children are initially denied the opportunity to make sense of difficult text by drawing upon their own life experiences and understandings.

Students are expected to read and think critically regarding Dr. King’s ideas about breaking unjust laws, but relevant activities such as opting out must not be openly discussed and debated in the classroom, and students better not be expressing their thoughts about the quality of the state exams on social media.

Daily training for Common Core-aligned standardized tests actually limits student learning as these tests fail to measure or “value” the most vibrant and vigorous components of the standards.

Jason Stanford, a  contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, recently took a Smarter Balanced 4th Grade ELA practice test and commented..

Then there were the questions that made me want to strangle the committee that wrote this test. None of the possible answers for what “best describes the lesson Coyote learned” had anything to do with the real meaning of the parable, and a student is asked to decide whether a particular metaphor about a “tree’s belly” is humorous, playful, or surprising, even though humor is often playful and surprising…

We’re so focused on measuring children that we’ve stopped developing them. These tests don’t measure what we want our children to learn and are a waste of money.

Common Core tests are failures, Jason Stanford 3/23/15

Just because standardized testing has been accepted practice for many years is not proof or evidence that these assessments will provide accurate and reliable data regarding student “readiness” and teacher quality.

As Thomas Paine said, in Common Sense,

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

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A Common Core Curriculum Conundrum

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The Common Core State Standards is an aspirational document that describes a set of academic goals and learning expectations. The standards identify what ALL students should know and be able to do at each grade level in order to be ready for college and careers.

Proponents of the standards stress that they are not a curriculum as they do not prescribe how the standards should be taught or what materials should be used to support student learning in the classroom.

Another way of looking at it is standards are the destination and curriculum is the path or road students take to get there.

Standards are a critical component that help to inform and shape the curriculum. Together, standards and curriculum can serve as a foundation upon which assessments could be developed and aligned.

Common Core supporters insist that decisions on how to implement the standards are to be made at the state and local levels and school districts across the country may very well adopt different approaches and roads to implement the standards.

It is very surprising that states and local districts are encouraged to create different academic pathways for their students to follow when the video below explains that the goal of the Common Core is to create a national set of academic expectations and create a uniform or standardized education system so student and teacher performance can be compared on a national and international level.

If Common Core proponents claim it was not possible to generate valid and reliable data regarding student and teacher performance because states were following different standards, how does allowing students to use different class materials and follow different paths to the standards pose any less of a threat to data reliability?

Under the Common Core the curriculum clearly plays a greatly diminished and less important role compared to the national standards.

The national tests have already been constructed, so it is clear that the curriculum is not part of the foundation upon which the Common Core assessments have been developed and aligned.

The design and content of the National PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments has been influenced and shaped entirely by the Common Core State Standards.

Prior to CCSS it was the curriculum that dictated what materials would be used and what activities would take place in the classroom.

Since the tests have already been created and teachers will be held accountable for student performance on them via VAM, the new assessments will clearly be much more influential when it comes to decisions regarding classrroom materials and activities.

If Pearson publishes the new Common Core tests and Pearson also publishes the ELA and MATH text books that are aligned to the standards and assessments, how believable are reformers claims regarding “local control” of the curriculum?

While it may be true the standards are not a curriculum, the specificity of the skills identified in the Common Core Standards clearly does influence and control how we teach, just as a curriculum would.

Hard to argue that Common Core ELA Shift #2 doesn’t determine the way we teach and the way students learn in the classroom

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/ content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities

or Mathematics Shift #3

Students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations; teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to memorize, through repetition, core functions

While education leaders and Common Core supporters continue to claim that test prep or teaching to the test is not an appropriate or effective means to prepare students for the Common Core test, the convoluted or rigorous format and design of test questions would suggest otherwise.

No better way to determine if teachers will need to devote extra class time to training students for the Common Core assessments than to look at a sample question like the one published in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” Blog,

Consider this fourth-grade question on the test based on a passage from Pecos Bill Captures the Pacing White Mustang by Leigh Peck.

Why is Pecos Bill’s conversation with the cowboys important to the story?

A) It predicts the action in paragraph 4

B) It predicts the action in paragraph 5

C) It predicts the choice in paragraph 10

D) It predicts the choice in paragraph 11

Hard to take the Common Core supporters criticism of teaching to the test seriously, when David Coleman, the chief architect of the standards, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of such practices during a 2011 Keynote Speech.

Coleman clearly boasts about the quality of his standards and the assessments that are built on them, while the issue of curriculum and how learning will unfold in the classroom in diverse and student-centered ways must have been a topic for another day.

… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation.

It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there‟s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don‟t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do.

Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and its hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention. It is in my judgment the single most important work we have to do over the next two years to ensure that that is so, period.

The use of test items that are “distractors” would also suggest a need for extra test preparation and also raise serious questions as to whether these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than critical thinking.

Distractors are plausible responses but not the fully correct answer. Many of the new test items require students to select one or more answers that “best support”, are “most significant” or are “most likely”.

The questions on the Common Core English Language Arts test are more complex than those found on previous tests that measured previous grade‐level standards.

Correct answers will not “jump out”; rather, students will need to make a thoughtful distinction between the fully‐correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.

These multiple‐choice questions are specifically designed to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the comprehension and analyses specified by the standards.

Frequently Asked Questions: 3-8 Testing Program (pg 8, #21)

The passage above claims these new and improved test questions will determine whether students have proficient comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the passage, but their judgement and decision-making skills could be impaired by stress, and they mistakenly choose the plausible or partially correct response.

It is also quite possible that the student fully comprehended the passage, but they had difficulty understanding the complex and convoluted wording of the question.

Clearly teachers will need to use class time for students to prepare for the test and practice answering such questions.

We should also be concerned about lessons that the use of distractors will teach our students when it comes to learning and solving problems in real life?

Where wouId America be today if Thomas Edison had been taught not to pursue or investigate possibly true solutions and that plausible answers are always wrong.

If we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will accurately evaluate students and teachers, then isn’t a National Common Core Curriculum or single “pathway” to the standards an essential component to assure that nationwide comparisons and conclusions regarding student and teacher performance are valid and reliable?

The editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” seemed to think so back in 2011 when they devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards.

The AFT editors enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum…

A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools-is what binds all the different actors together…A common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come

Common Core Curriculum: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Perhaps its time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core to clarify and update their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, or common pathway to the standards, and explain…Where They Stand?

Perhaps we should also consider the possibility that during the initial roll out period or Phase I of the standards, schools and states are being encouraged to develop and design their own Common Core Curriculum.

However during Phase II, when the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments become fully operational, a National Common Core Curriculum will be actively “sold” to parents in America as a means of improving student performance on the Common Core assessment and also as a necessity to accurately evaluate the quality of their children’s teachers.

#whatif…

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Students spent as much class time on vigorous learning activities that cultivate social and emotional skills as they do taking rigorous assessments that quantify math and ELA skills.

The US Department of Education began grading parents based on the age their children learned to walk, tie their shoes, or ride a bike.

Teachers could focus more on cultivating students’ thirst for knowledge rather than satisfying ed reformers thirst for data.

Students spent more time taking informal and formative (informative) assessments rather than standardized summative assessments.

Schools provided diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities rather than trying to standardize and quantify their skills.

Schools replaced rigorous and standardized rules for learning with a vigorous and vibrant approaches in the classroom that embraced the philosophy; learning rules!

Reformers understood that students learn from taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

Schools could be more focused on teaching diverse learners how worthy they are rather than repeatedly testing students to determine how much their skills are worth.

Data-driven instruction meant helping EVERY child to learn and discover ways they are “Ten Feet Tall”

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Reformers realized that cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, persistent, courageous, and resilient will succeed in college and careers while academically and cognitively proficient students who are lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, and unimaginative will not be successful in college and work environments.

Joy, civics, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, fun, health, history, field trips, home economics, humanities, recess, fiction, driver education, athletics, political science, chess, psychology, play, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts were not left behind in our Race To The Top.

Reformers understood that learning is a lifelong process and a self-directed journey of discovery and not a “race” to reach a learning standard or data point.

Reformers understood that it is far more important that students are free to learn in school and are well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Reformers understood that teachers are like gardeners and Common Core is like Miracle-Gro but students will never thrive if their schools lack the resources to purchase garden hoses or even pay the water bill.

Education programs had more resources to address the underlying “illness” of poverty rather than continually measuring and addressing student “symptoms” in the classroom.

Reformers realized learning that doesn’t take place outside the classroom can have a much greater impact on student achievement than what transpires inside the classroom.

Reformers understood that learning should be more passion and purpose-driven rather than standards and data-driven.

Education leaders realized that in free and open democratic societies education should be focused on the needs and interests of students rather than the desires of data miners, corporations, and the state.

Reformers realized that using students’ standardized test score to determine the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

There was as much effort devoted to assuring there are equitable resources available to every public school as there is assuring schools have equally high learning standards.

We remember that it was not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It was courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years. These learners didn’t fit educational molds, they broke them. They didn’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They often improvised and innovated and they were more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they were to follow them.

Reformers understood that increased opposition to the Common Core is not simply “growing pains” but a growing awareness that coupling high stakes testing with the standards leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and incentivizes teaching to the test.

We did our best to help every child learn to care and we supported, encouraged, and inspired all students so they care to learn.

Teachers could first help EVERY student learn how to “Swim” before making them dive into complex informational text.

Yeah you gotta swim Don’t let yourself sink

Just find the horizon I promise you it’s not as far as you think

~ Jack’s Mannequin, “Swim”

There were many more education leaders and far fewer Common Core cheerleaders.

Ed reformers put less effort into selling solutions and put more thought into solving problems.

Ed reformers acknowledged that it is not fair to test older students using Common Core assessments or claim these scores reveal the effectiveness of their teachers because we are grading the ability of a person to climb an academic staircase that is partially completed and under construction.

AFT devoted an upcoming issue of “American Educator” to the Common Core State Standards and the editors clarified their statement in the 2011 Winter Edition that enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum

David Colemen retracted his infamous statement and the Common Core State Standards were rewritten by an experienced educator who understands that thoughts and feelings do matter in life.

Proficient and experienced educators took over leadership roles in the ed reform movement as the powerful and privileged education experts stepped down.

The Common Core’s close reading program were replaced by the National Work Readiness literacy program called Read With Understanding.

Reformers realized that employers desire workers who can think creatively, connect with people, and dive into their work rather than think critically while staying connected and diving into text.

Education technology were used to enrich and support student learning rather than to collect and share student data.

Reformers understood that education is a staircase of learning rather than an escalator and the diverse abilities and skills of students along with the amount of parental involvement will determine the manner and speed at which each student will be able to climb the steps.

The Common Core provided diverse career pathways rather than one path to college and underemployment.

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Common Core and PARCC: An Education Datapalooza?

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According to the Common Core web site

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

According to the PARCC web site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Common Core Bait and Switch

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“Selling” the Common Core State Standards to students, parents, and employers with promotional slogans such as  “college and career readiness”, “critical thinking”, “constructivist  learning”, “technology integration”, and  “21st century skills” while cash-strapped schools provide fewer trade and vocational programs, eliminate the arts, increase class size, narrow the curriculum, and rely on test prep to prepare students for Common Core standardized tests…is like walking your customers past a sumptuous all-you-can-eat buffet and once they are seated, telling them they will be ordering from the children’s menu.

The rigorous and robust standards may look good on paper but when implementation is coupled with standardized tests only those Standards that are measurable and testable actually receive attention in the classroom leading to a routine and standardized learning experience for students.

Reformers claim students will be expected to painstakingly deconstruct authentic text and passages that are “rich and worthy of close reading” when in fact students have encountered “nonsensical” passages on the Common Core-aligned tests that include distracting product placements along with embedded questions being field tested that may not even be “worthy” of future tests.

Ed reformers claim that the ability to independently master complex informational text is essential for success in college and careers when the personal and professional success of countless dyslexics proves otherwise.

…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…

Ed reformers claim test-taking skills are a critical component of college readiness and test scores are a significant criteria used by admission officers to select applicants while more and more business and college leaders explain;

Last year, Ithaca joined the growing number of colleges that have incorporated an option to omit standardized test scores for some or all of their applicants last year…Our first realization was that test scores add relatively little to our ability to predict the success of our students.

Ed reformers claim that standardized tests accurately measure student proficiency and teacher effectiveness while recent studies of VAM have concluded;

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions…The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.

Many schools continue to reduce staffing and programs while using scarce resources to pay for costly technology upgrades required for the online administration of the Common Core PARCC assessments. These misguided wag the dog policies undermine the quality of instructional programs as limited school funding is focused on the “needs” of the new assessments rather than the academic needs of students.

PARCC enthusiasts continue to claim the assessments will measure how on track students are for success in college and careers even though PARCC issued it’s own disclaimer more than a year ago acknowledging the test does not measure career readiness and will only provide an estimate of the likelihood that students are college ready;

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

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

Reformers claim the Common Core emphasizes transferable college and workplace literacy skills needed to understand an introductory level college textbook, an office memo, or technical report, yet according to the Common Core 3-8 Testing FAQ as much as 40% of the questions on Common Core assessments focus on a student’s ability to;

Discuss what the author is up to and how the text works… understand how an author builds and shapes meaning through their craft and structure…identify or analyze the structure of texts…compare and synthesize ideas within and across multiple texts

These specialized literacy skills are not broad-based and applicable to most work settings and situations. Instead, The National Institute for Literacy has determined that successful citizens and employees should be able to Read With Understanding and comprehend what they read, but the Close Reading technique is not an appropriate or essential work-based literacy standard.

Do Common Core supporters really envision new employees responding when asked if there are any questions regarding the company manual/handbook that they would like to discuss the different meaning of the word “mileage” as it relates to employee benefits discussed in the handbook as compared with the use of the word “mileage” as it relates to penalties in an auto lease agreement the employee recently signed?

Deep analysis and deconstruction of informational text is very challenging for learning disabled and disadvantaged students. The extra time and instructional supports they will need to independently master these skills reduces instructional time and learning opportunities in other content areas which results in a narrowing of the curriculum.

The Common Core Standards do call for “scaffolding” and other academic supports to assist weaker learners and readers. Learning disabled students’ IEP’s also describe accommodations and modifications that help to make learning and testing activities more accessible.

However, when it comes time for disabled students to take the Common Core tests, NCLB regulations specifically prohibit accommodations for reading disabled students on the ELA assessments in order to obtain a “fair” and “true” measure of student ability.

Sure is ironic that we are witnessing an unprecedented and historic period of academic false advertising and “bait and switch” tactics when the education reform movement is being bankrolled and supported by numerous multinational corporations including Walmart, the #1 retailer in the United States.

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He Who Controls The Language…

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Lewis Carroll, “Through The Looking-Glass”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On 7/31/14 The Huffington Post reported…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A National Common Core Curriculum…An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

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In 2011 the editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards. The pro-Common Core publication included commentary from a variety of Common Core cheerleaders.

The AFT editors also enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum…

“A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools-is what binds all the different actors together…A common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come”

Common Core Curriculum: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

NationalHistoryStandards

Misleading and meaningless eduspeak coming from some ed reformers is to be expected, but from the leadership of The American Federation of Teachers?

Curriculum that “fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time” is a disingenuous claim that no experienced teacher would make when it is virtually impossible to predict and estimate the amount of instructional time needed for ESL, disadvantaged, learning disabled, regular ed, and gifted students to master the untested and unproven Common Core Standards.

One of the contributors to the Common Core issue was E.D. Hirsch, Jr. who stated…

“We have yet to adopt a common core curriculum that builds knowledge grade by grade – but we need to…if we are really to serve all of our children to the best of our ability, then nothing short of a common curriculum – one shared by all schools – will do…”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. “Beyond Comprehension” 

Fast forward to 2014 and E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge web site provides a rationale for a common and content-specific curriculum…

“A typical state or district curriculum says, “Students will demonstrate knowledge of people, events, ideas, and movements that contributed to the development of the United States.” But which people and events? Which ideas and movements? The Sequence is distinguished by its specificity. By clearly specifying important knowledge in language arts, history, geography, math, science, and the fine arts, the Sequence presents a practical answer to the question, “What do our children need to know?”  Teachers are free to devote their energies and efforts to creatively planning how to teach the content to the children in their classrooms.” 

Core Knowledge: “Why Knowledge Matters”

The New York State ELA Curriculum materials for grades Pre-K-2 are created by Core Knowledge and according to the EngageNY web site, these curriculum modules are optional and they can be adopted or adapted by schools to assist with implementation of the Common Core.

The Core Knowledge web site also reports…

“During the 2012–2013 school year there were 1,230 schools (ranging from preschool through eighth grade) in 45 states and the District of Columbia using all or part of the Core Knowledge Sequence. Thousands more schools use Core Knowledge materials, but the community includes only those schools that send their profile form to the Foundation annually.”

Learn about Core Knowledge Schools

The Common Core has been “sold” as a way to make our students more globally competitive and to properly prepare them for the rigors of college and careers.

The Common Core video below explains that another important reason we need the Common Core is it will allow us to compare the performance of students and teachers from state to state and even compare our students’ performance with other nations…

Teachers are certainly important, but so are police, firefighters, doctors, and even parents. Don’t quite understand the urgency of comparing the quality of teachers and education programs from state to state or the efficacy of using a national standardized test to do this, when there are so many variables outside the classroom that significantly impact the academic performance of our students.

If we were to compare the quality of doctors from state to state, we certainly wouldn’t look at the average weight of citizens, blood pressure, cholesterol levels or lung cancer rates, to measure and compare the effectiveness of doctors and then presume to know how well they had taught their patients about the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise or the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Environmental and community factors are so powerful, that most people understand it would be foolish to claim that Beverly Hills police officers have superior policing skills compared to police officers in Newark, New Jersey because of the much lower crime rate in that city in California.

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Even if we are able to solve the problem of equitable funding for distressed schools so they have the necessary programs and wrap around services to support student learning, CC evangelists have not provided sufficient evidence to support their claim that student performance on national assessments provides enough data to reliably measure and compare the skills of students and effectiveness of teachers on a national and international basis.

An essential and missing ingredient would be a national curriculum, otherwise both teachers and students could explain that their lower performance is attributed to a different and inferior curriculum.

To be fair, AFT has adjusted it’s position regarding VAM, the over use of testing, and have called for a decoupling of standardized tests. CCSS supporters also continue to proclaim that the Common Core are standards and curriculum decisions should be made at a local level.

That said, if we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will fairly and reliably evaluate and compare student and teacher performance across the country, then isn’t a national curriculum an inevitable and necessary outcome to assure the validity of the data?

Time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core so the leadership of The American Federation of Teachers can clarify their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, and clearly explain to; members, reformers, and the general public…Where They Stand?

The Un-Level Playing Field

Common Core Staircase

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The CCSSO and NGA clearly have high hopes and great expectations for their Common Core staircase…

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. 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.

~About the Common Core State Standards

Rather than focusing solely on the skills of reading and writing, the ELA/literacy standards highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college, career, and life. The standards call for a staircase of increasing complexity so that all students are ready for the demands of college- and career-level reading no later than the end of high school.

~Key Shifts in English Language Arts

The Common Core is a standard staircase , with a standard slope, a standard number of steps, each rising a standard distance, and it is designed to challenge the climbing skills of “standard” students.

Unfortunately the Common Core implementation kit that has been distributed to the States does not appear to include contingency plans and directions for assembling and installing the stairs for use by students who do not climb and learn in a standardized way.

Since the CCSS are a cumulative K-12 program that functions like a ladder or staircase of learning, they must be taught in sequence as acquisition of each new skill is dependent on mastery of skills learned during the prior school year. 

With each school year students acquire new knowledge and understandings based on the “step” of learning the previous school year.

If students are to climb the Common Core staircase or ladder successfully, they must “spend time” on each step and begin their climb with the first step.

Common Core assessments cannot properly measure student proficiency if they are measuring standards and skills that were never taught and learned.

That is why education leaders in NY predicted correctly that student scores would drop 30% or more on the new Common Core ELA and Math assessments because they were administered to students in grades 3 through 8 who began climbing the staircase at “higher steps”.

Many learning disabled and disadvantaged students will not be able to climb the Common Core stairs by starting in the “middle” and it is not fair to expect them to do so.

The new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments will not provide accurate and reliable student data regarding “college readiness” at every grade level, unless they are phased in one year at a time beginning with the bottom step.

Accordingly, the Common Core tests should become “operational” beginning with our youngest students and then administer a new assessment for the next grade level the following school year.

How quickly each student “climbs” the Common Core staircase is not as important as making sure that every student has an equal opportunity to do so.

If we implement and assess the Common Core in a careful and thoughtful way, “one step at a time”, we may well learn that a number of students will need to use a modified staircase that includes additional “steps” and not as steep a slope as the standard staircase.

Struggling and weaker students will not be able to “climb” the Common Core staircase without using all the “steps” and some students may even need to use two handrails.

Students will most surely not climb these stairs at the same rate of speed, as many students may need to “rest” at certain steps along the way while others may even need the assistance of a stairlift to reach the top.

It is foolish to claim that once we have installed a national set of uniform “stairs” across this country that teachers should be held accountable if their students do not learn and climb these stairs in a synchronized way.

Furthermore, the new Common Core assessments could not possibly assess the proficiency levels of middle and high school students in an accurate and reliable way, because these students never had the opportunity to learn on the lower “steps” of the Common Core staircase.

Even if VAM were not junk science, it still is not fair to test middle and high school students using Common Core assessments and then claim these scores measure the effectiveness of their teachers because we are grading the ability of students to climb up a partially completed or broken-down staircase.

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