Here is a prime example of why the Common Core is just plain wrong

As has been noted here on at Wait, What? on a regular basis, there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking to improve academic standards and phasing in greater expectations for our children’s educational achievement.

While the fundamental concept of local control remains critically important, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with seeking to align standards across political boundaries so that all of the nation’s children are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to live their lives to the fullest and be capable of becoming active participants in our egalitarian society.

What is unproductive, even immoral, is to promote the notion that we can increase academic achievement without recognizing that the greatest barriers to academic success are poverty, language challenges and a failure to provide the extra or special educational services that individual child need in order to grow and prosper.

The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies like Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama, along with Governors including Connecticut Democrat Dannel Malloy, New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo and former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush, would have us believe that the Common Core and the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme will produce a better educated citizenry, or at least one that will be more “college and career ready.”

But of course, the more we learn about the Common Core and its related Common Core testing system the clearer it gets that the path they are promoting is leading us quickly and steadily away from what our children need and deserve in order to be prepared to face the challenges of today’s world.

The nation’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, along with a host of teachers, parents, academics and public education advocates have been heroic in their efforts to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry and its truly un-American political agenda.

Today Diane Ravitch posted a series of article on her blog that highlight the very problem associated with the Common Core and Common Core Testing.  If you don’t read Diane’s blog you are missing out.  It can be found at http://dianeravitch.net/.

In one post Diane reports on a piece by fellow education blogger Peter Greene who responds to the Common Core’s requirement that:

“All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

Peter Greene takes on the Common Core proponents by saying

“There is a world of difference between saying, “It’s a good idea for children to proceed as quickly as they can toward reading skills” and “All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

“The development of reading skills, like the development of speech, height, weight, hair and potty training, is a developmental landmark that each child will reach on his or her own schedule.

“We would like all children to grow up to be tall and strong. It does not automatically follow that we should therefore set a height standard that all children must meet by their fifth birthday– especially if we are going to label all those who come up short as failures or slow or developmentally disabled, and then use those labels in turn to label their schools and their teachers failures as well. These standards demand that students develop at a time we’ve set for them. Trying to force, pressure and coerce them to mature or grow or develop sooner so that they don’t “fail”– how can that be a benefit to the child.

“And these are five year olds in kindergarten. On top of the developmental differences that naturally occur among baby humans, we’ve also got the arbitrary age requirements of the kindergarten system itself, meaning that there can be as much as a six-month age difference (10% of their lives so far) between the students.”

Peter Greene goes on to note,

“Children’s development is highly variable, making it impossible to set a hard and fast deadline, such as, they must be able to read at the end of kindergarten. My own children learned to read before they started kindergarten (I read to them and with them daily), but others in their class started reading in first grade; a few became readers as late as second grade.”

And as someone who also read to their children on a daily basis from their earliest days, I can certainly attest to the notion that the developmental issues related to become readers is highly variable.  Both of my daughters excelled at comprehension at an early age but neither became “successful” readers until first grade, at best.

In my younger daughter’s kindergarten class, one of her best friends was actually eight months younger than she was.  I don’t know whether her friend was able to read by the end of kindergarten or not, but both are now in high school and their grades and test scores define them as being extremely academically “successful.”

In the real world, there is simply no useful place for a Common Core Standard that requires that, “All students must demonstrate the ability to read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding by the last day of kindergarten.”

But equally bad, or perhaps even worse, is the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s insistence that the only way to determine who is winning and who is losing is through a system of unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Cores standardized tests.

Diane Ravitch raises this very issue in a second post which begins by noting,

“High-stakes testing has reached down into kindergarten, where it is developmentally inappropriate. Kindergarten is supposed to be the children’s garden. It is supposed to be a time for learning to socialize with others, to work and play with others, to engage in imaginative activities, to plan with building blocks and games. It is a time when little children learn letters and numbers as part of their activities. They listen as the teacher reads stories, and they want to learn to read.

But in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, kindergarten has changed. Little children must be tested. The great data monster needs data. How can their teachers be evaluated if there are no standardized tests and no data?”

Ravitch then introduces us to an article in Slate by Alexandria Neason where she describes the kindergarten classroom of Molly Mansel, a New Orleans teacher.

Remember this is kindergarten – 4 and 5 year olds!

“Mansel’s students started taking tests just three weeks into the 2014–15 school year. They began with a state-required early childhood exam in August, which covered everything from basic math to letter identification. Mansel estimates that it took between four and five weeks for the teachers to test all 58 kindergarten students—and that was with the help of the prekindergarten team. The test requires an adult to sit individually with each student, reading questions and asking them to perform various tasks. The test is 11 pages long and “it’s very time-consuming,” according to Mansel, who is 24 and in her third year of teaching (her first in kindergarten).

The rest of the demanding testing schedule involves repeated administrations of two different school-mandated tests. The first, Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, is used to measure how students are doing compared with their peers nationally—and to evaluate teachers’ performance. The students take the test in both reading and math three times a year. They have about an hour to complete the test, and slower test takers are pulled from class to finish.

The second test, called Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress, or STEP, is a literacy assessment that measures and ranks children’s progress as they learn letters, words, sentences, and, eventually, how to read. Mansel gives the test individually to students four times throughout the year. It takes several days to administer as Mansel progresses through a series of tasks: asking the students to write their names, to point to uppercase and lowercase versions of letters, and to identify words that rhyme, for example.

Although more informal, the students also take about four quizzes per week in writing, English, math, science, and social studies. The school’s other kindergarten teacher designs most of the quizzes, which might ask students to draw a picture describing what they learned, or write about it in a journal.

“By the end of the school year, Mansel estimates that she’ll have lost about 95 hours of class time to test administration—a number inconceivable to her when she reflects on her own kindergarten experience. She doesn’t remember taking any tests at all until she was in at least second grade. And she’s probably right.”

Whoever made this happen should be arrested for child abuse and theft of childhood.

And if there is anyone who thinks this doesn’t or can’t happen here in Connecticut…Watch for the Wait,What? series of articles this week reporting on the testing madness associated with Governor Malloy’s K-3 reading mandates.

The Common Core, Common Core testing program and the related efforts to “reform education” are turning our schools into little more than testing factories.  These forces are on track to undermine and destroy Connecticut’s public schools.

Every parent should consider taking immediately steps to protect their children from this inappropriate, unfair and discriminatory testing system.

For parents with children in grades 3-8 and 11 that starts by opting them out of the Common Core SBAC tests.

For parents with younger children, it means telling their local superintendent and board of education that they must take immediate steps to distance schools from the harmful effects of the testing and assessment frenzy.

For a draft opt out letter click on: Sample opt out letter for Connecticut parents

  • Guest

    LOL — so children will now read Pork Pig and say at age 5, ” this is a communist text meant to undermine the capitalist single farmer as property owner,”” and when they read E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web, ” they will be able to say, ‘This is really the story of how EB White was almost fired a million times by Harold Ross who could not stand his lead writer but tolerated him do the intervention of the chief copy editor who eventually became Mrs. White and moved with her husband to Maine, and of whom the character Charlotte is based.” and then simply say ‘these are beautiful words in stories that readers appreciate differently at different ages..” YES — I can see our preK and K readers doing exactly this… something most leaders cannot do!

  • Nora Matthews

    It’s worse when you delve into the variety of understandings of what “emergent reader text” means. What is being called “rigor” in kindergarten is very often an encouragement of memorizing words, a practice that has no support in research and actually stunts kid’s further reading progress. Prior to this year many Connecticut schools were required to use the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) as a primary assessment for first grade readiness. The districts I worked in required kindergarteners to pass either a level 4 or a level 6. Titles of books on a level 4 included “Gravity,” a word that is not and should not be considered appropriate for kindergarten level decoding. Even those who do support kindergarteners learning to read define the expectation of reading mastery as the ability to read or at least sound out and blend CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words like tub, rat, bit, etc.) and, importantly of having developed the phonemic awareness to orally segment such words as equally essential to their mastery of the alphabetic principle. So entire school districts have developed kindergarten language arts curricula which shuffles through these two research-based essential elements of reading instruction in a hurry to get kids to “read” words with diagraphs, vowel teams, etc., when if true analysis of children’s abilities were examined you would easily find that they do not yet have mastery of the ability to read CVC words in isolation without picture support. Further, districts are pushing long lists of “sight words” onto kids to meet the demands of assessments like this in the short term when this very often makes reading more difficult in the long term. This is why as a reading interventionist I have so many kids who read “a” for “the,” and “are” for “red.” They were taught to memorize, not to pay attention to the words’ features, and these bad habits become shamefully hard to break. Instructional casualties everywhere, and the teachers who are force fed illegitimate professional development and curricula will then be the ones blamed for students’ inability to meet third grade expectations several years later. I have worked in several school districts whose answer to the problem of having third graders who read on a first grade level was to push “comprehension strategies” that require students to spend an extensive amount of time focusing on context clues, picture support, and outright guessing rather than helping kids develop the foundational skills and phonemic awareness that might help them decode with a level of fluency in which they might actually have a chance of comprehending the text on their own. These practices are widespread in Connecticut, in part because of assessments like the DRA encouraging them, and they have only gotten worse since the introduction of Common Core.

    • CTedFromTheTrenches

      Duly noted.