Moving The Goal Post (By Ann P. Cronin)

Educator and education blogger Ann Cronin has a powerful piece on the corporate education reform industry’s fixation on measuring “student achievement.”  She takes on the education reformers’ notion that turning students into data points is the best vehicle for providing children with the comprehensive education they need to live more fulfilling lives.

You can read Ann Cronin’s great columns at http://reallearningct.com/.

In Moving The Goal Post, Cronin writes;

How do we measure student achievement?  By its standardized test scores or by something else? And what is the relationship between student achievement and the economic strength of a nation?

Arne Duncan, when he was Secretary of Education, spoke about the achievement of South Korean students, as measured by standardized tests, and advocated that the United States follow the South Korean approach to education so that our students can achieve as the South Korean students do on those standardized tests. A recent (March 15, 2016) letter to the editor inEducation Week described how the South Korean students achieve those high test scores.

Here is that letter:

South Korea’s ‘Top Performance’ Numbers Should Not Be Applauded

To the Editor:

As a student from South Korea who is now studying in the United States, I find it surprising that many people here applaud the South Korean education system. The Center on International Education Benchmarking lists South Korea as a “top performer,” and even Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, has asked why the United States can’t be more like South Korea. As a recent Commentary argued, the United States should not blindly applaud and emulate countries that perform well on international assessments.

I want to share what South Korea’s high performance on these assessments is not telling you.

First, beyond South Korea’s impressive scores on international exams, there are unhappy, sleep-deprived, and suicidal South Korean students. South Korean students report levels of happiness that are among the lowest for youths in developed nations. High school students report sleeping an average of 5.5 hours per day in order to study. Alarmingly, slightly more than half of South Korean teenagers reported having suicidal thoughts in response to a 2014 poll conducted by the country’s Korea Health Promotion Foundation; over 40 percent of the respondents listed academic pressure and uncertainty over their futures as their greatest concern.

Second, South Korea’s high scores are a reflection of private tutoring rather than the public education system itself. About 77 percent of South Korean students participate in an average of 10 hours of private tutoring a week. This percentage is more than double the average rate of private tutoring in countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2013, South Korean parents paid the equivalent of $18 billion for private tutoring in order to give their children a competitive advantage.

Moreover, in the education system where high performance is all that matters, struggling students as well as students with disabilities are often neglected and left behind.

Thus, no matter how high the country ranks on international tests, our seemingly impressive test scores come at too high a price.

As a South Korean, I call on the world to see what is beyond my country’s high scores on international assessments. Until South Korea addresses its pressing educational issues, such as student well-being, reliance on private tutoring, and support for students with disabilities, the country should not be considered a model system for the United States.

April B. Choi
Cambridge, Mass.

I would bet that most of us are not willing to pay the price that the South Koreans are paying for their children to get high scores on standardized tests.

The good news for the United States, which never scored at the top of the pack in the 50 years there have been international standardized tests, is that standardized are not important. Standardized tests measure only one thing: the ability to take a standardized test. And that is a skill rapidly going out of vogue because that skill does not equip students for the world of work they will enter. The world of work in our postindustrial era demands other skills. The current time in history and the decades that stretch ahead are described in the report as the Conceptual Age. That age requires skills such as designing, making meaning, creativity, problem-solving, and developing new ideas and artifacts.

The even better news for the United States is that the kind of education that our students need and which will engage their minds and touch their souls is exactly the kind of education that will make our country economically strong in this Conceptual Age. They need to learn to question and to explore those questions. They need to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to collaborate so that they deepen and broaden their individual thinking through interaction with others. They need to learn to tell the stories of their past learning and to tell the stories of what has not yet been imagined. The need to learn to tap into their own creativity and their own passion.

Arne Duncan was wrong. John King is wrong. U.S. education policy is wrong. High standardized test scores are not a worthy goal.  We will harm the minds and deplete the souls of our precious children if we stick with emulating South Korea. We will head for economic peril as a nation if we do not create a different kind of education, one that can never, ever be measured by standardized tests.

It’s time for a change. Let’s get on it.

Readers Need Not Apply (by Ann Policelli Cronin)

Connecticut educator and fellow education blogger Ann Policelli Cronin recently posted a great article about how the “education reformers” and their Common Core and Common Core testing scheme are seeking to narrow down the role of public education.

In the name of making students “College and Career Ready,” those who seek to profit off public education see little role for concepts like literature, music, arts and the humanities.

In a piece that first appeared on her blog entitled Readers Need Not Apply, Ann Cronin writes;

In the early 1960’s, as the United States was becoming the leading economy in the world, the International Paper Company posted an ad in every edition of The Reader’s Digest which said: “Send me a man who reads”.  It always had an accompanying text which indicated that the one who reads is the one who  thinks, is the one who is productive, and is the one becomes the successful leader of the company.

I am sure that the reading referred to was not the short test prep informational articles or excerpts of full-length texts as now are read in U.S. schools.

No longer is that slogan relevant. Not only is it both women and men that we expect to be in positions of leadership, but also now reading literature is no longer a priority in our Common Core culture.

Peter Greene, a veteran teacher and education blogger at Curmudgucation, wrote the following piece, The Core vs. Content, about the substantial reduction in the reading of literature due to the Common Core. He points out well the travesty it is that the U.S. is the only nation in the world to restrict the amount of literature to be read in schools. In addition to all the sad results that he mentions, U.S. students will also not learn to question and to think in ways that only the opportunity to interpret literature offers them. Poor them. Poor us as a nation.

The Core vs. Content

By Peter Greene

Since the Core first popped its tiny head out of its crinkly shell, advocates have insisted that CCSS ELA standards, demand rich content. Meanwhile, I have become increasingly convinced that the demands for rich content and the assertions that rich content must be part of Core implementation rise up precisely because the Core actually has a giant gaping hole where rich content should be.

In other words, rich content Core-o-philes are like guys looking at an automobile with no wheels saying, “Well, obviously the makers of this car intend for us to put on wheels.” It’s not that the wheels are in evidence; it’s that their absence is an obvious fatal flaw. Or to put it another way, surely the emperor must mean for us to buy him some clothes.

But the longer the Core sticks around out in the field, the more obvious it becomes that the Core is anti-content– particularly once you throw in the Core-based standards-measuring Big Standardized Tests.

Consider this article, written by someone whose intent is to show us how the Core is perfectly swell, even as it explains that part of the swellness is how it “eases literary classics to the sidelines.

Consider some of these quotes:

“It is true that the days for ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Great Expectations’ might be numbered, but the question that teachers have to ask themselves is ‘What is the purpose of reading this text?’” said Mark Gardner, a high school English teacher in Clarke County, Washington.

“While it may seem like sacrilege, there are many goals that can be achieved by digging deeply into a series of well-curated selections of a text rather than all of it, and then relying on teacher lecture, lessons or even Sparknotes to fill in the gaps,” Gardner said in an interview.

 As an AP English and composition teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland, Ambereen Khan-Baker has included political cartoons and shorter, more complex texts while cutting out longer novels. Using multiple texts instead of focusing on one book has allowed her to teach diverse opinions.

The article is presenting, uncritically and with a light tone of  “you old fossils need to understand the new, cool way of doing things,” the idea of trimming the classics down to a chapter or two. I’ve encountered this more than a few times– cover a couple of key chapters in depth and fill in the rest with a summary or even, I swear, sparknotes.  

Making such changes could be a positive thing if it provides students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of literature and the skills that can be applied to reading non-fiction, according to Gardner, who said that is a key reason the classics are taught in the first place.

This is what the Core promotes and requires– reading as a conduit for transmitting certain skills to students, and because it’s teamed with the BS Tests, the skills do not include wrestling with full-length texts in any sort of depth. And apparently we can’t think of any reason that classics are classic and need to be taught. Because it’s easier to work on relevant themes and skills by folding in current YA hits.

Look, there’s a whole worthwhile (and generally unending) conversation to be had among language-teaching professionals about the canon and what should be in the canon and what makes a classic classic and why we teach anything that was written before our students were born and how we should teach it. But the Core’s contribution to that conversation is to say, “Screw content. Just teach them the skills they need for the test.”

When I write lesson plans and plug in the standards, it makes absolutely no difference what actual content I’m teaching– the standards are completely divorced from content and I can recycle the same standards-aligned plan over and over again, just plugging in some piece, any piece, of reading.

And in turns of getting great “student achievement” results (aka high test scores) I could spend the whole year having students read nothing but newspaper extracts and single pages ripped from any current fiction. If I totally lost my mind and any sense of why I actually became an English teacher, I could crank out students with great BS Tests scores who knew absolutely nothing about the literature, history and culture of their own country (or any other).

The article closes with another quote from Gardner: “We don’t read books in school so we can write papers or do projects about that book; rather, we read books in school so we can more deeply understand all of the texts – books, blogs or advertisements – that we will face beyond school.”

I think Gardner is half right– we don’t read books in school just to do projects or papers. But if we only read in school so that we can practice skills we’ll need to read things later in life, what will we be reading those works later in life for? If there are no riches to be found in Great Expectations or Hamlet or The Crucible or Song of Solomon or To Kill a Mockingbird, why read them just to get some practice with reading skills? If they have nothing to say to any of us about understanding what it means to be fully human and more fully ourselves, if they have nothing to tell us about the human experience as it has unspooled throughout human history, if they have nothing to say about the power of language to communicate across the gaps that separate us, if they have nothing to say about culture, if they have nothing to say about the rich heritage of the English language, if they have nothing to say about understanding the universal and the specific in human life, about how to grow beyond our own immediate experience– if they are, in fact, nothing more than fodder for test prep, then what the hell are we doing?

The article sets out to address the effect of the Core on the classics, but it only addresses the question of how much the standards push in non-fiction and many, multiple short texts. What the article does not address is how the Core assaults the very notion of why we bother to teach reading or writing or literature in the first place. Instead, like so many Core-ophiles, it assumes that such an assault is appropriate. Rich content fans are correct to believe that the empty head and empty heart at the center of the Core screams out to be filled with real study of real literature, but they are missing the fact that the Core itself thinks that vast emptiness is a good thing, a feature instead of a bug.

With this piece, Ann P. Cronin (and Peter Greene) remind us of Martin Luther King profound observation that;

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

You can read all of Ann P. Cronin’s posts at her blog: http://reallearningct.com/

Peter Greene’s great blog can be found at: http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/

 

While Team Malloy says full steam ahead on the Common Core and Common Core Testing Mania…

Veteran Connecticut educator Ann P. Cronin says that in this new post No Child Behind Act  (NCLB)Environment, “CT Must Reject The Common Core.”

Educator, public education advocate and education blogger Ann P. Cronin posts her writing on her blog, Real Learning CT

Her latest piece entitled, Post NCLB: CT Must Reject The Common Core, cuts through all the “education reform” rhetoric and lays out the harsh truth.  The Common Core and Common Cores testing frenzy is undermining public education in Connecticut and across the country.

The time has come to dump and replace it with a system of standards designed to provide ALL students with the knowledge and skills they need to live fulfilling lives.  Such a set of standards must be developed by educators and those who understand childhood development, not by those who seek to profit off of our children and the resources we taxpayers devote to public education.

Ann P. Cronin writes;

With the end of No Child Left Behind, states will have the flexibility to continue with the controversial Common Core State Standards or not. This is Connecticut’s opportunity to put a good education in place for our students by rejecting the Common Core. However, Alan Taylor, the Chair of the Connecticut State Board of Education, recently said, “I don’t foresee that happening. I happen to think that the Common Core is far better than anything we had done before.” 

The Common Core Standards “far better than anything we had done before”? Hardly.

In fact, the claim has been the opposite. When the Common Core was adopted by Connecticut in 2010, the Connecticut State Department of Education claimed that the existing Connecticut State Standards were 80% the same as the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and 92% the same in Mathematics.

Connecticut students have done really well in the years when their education was based on our Connecticut State Standards rather than on the Common Core. On the international PISA test, Connecticut’s 15 year olds scored higher in reading than students in 63 nations. Also, from 1992 until 2014, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores in the country. Somebodies had been doing something right under our own Connecticut State Standards.

It’s time to build on that “something right” and rid ourselves of the Common Core. The figure of a 20% percent difference between the Connecticut State Standards in English Language Arts and the Common Core English Language Arts doesn’t tell the whole story. There is the 20% difference in topics covered, but, even more importantly, the whole approach of the Common Core contradicts the philosophically and academically-sound Connecticut State Standards approach and dictates outdated pedagogy for teachers and poor learning experiences for students. It is time to get rid of the Common Core and return to what we already had in Connecticut.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core early childhood approach to learning that 500 of the country’s most prominent early childhood professionals say harms young children due to the Common Core emphasis on didactic instruction and reduction in active learning through play and inquiry. Those experts say that we must return to developmentally appropriate active learning, which encourages the initiative, curiosity, and imagination of our youngest students and helps them to be successful learners.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the limitations that the Common Core puts on the amount of literature that students read. We must return to students reading full books in place of the Common Core recommended practice of reading selected chapters of books. We must once again give students opportunities to fall in love with reading.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core practice of treating literary texts as informational texts in which the reader’s task is to figure out what the author intended to say, based on word choice and sentence structure, rather than to explore a range of interpretive possibilities. We must return to the Connecticut State Standards, which divided texts into informational texts and literary texts and taught students how to read and respond to each kind of text and to think in the markedly different ways that reading each kind of text offers.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core approach to the teaching of writing, which was best summed up in the words of the “architect of the Common Core”, David Coleman, when he said that with the Common Core, writing is taught so that “students know that no one gives a **** what they think and feel.” We must return to the approach of teaching writing in which students are taught to write by gaining ownership of their ideas and their expression of those ideas.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core’s prohibition of students using the personal voice when arguing a position in essays. We must return to the classroom practice of students exploring a wide range of ideas and questions in class so that each student forms his or her individual thinking and then teach students to  express that thinking in both personal and impersonal voices.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core way of teaching writing in which students revise their writing only “as needed”. We must return to teaching students the process of writing in which revision is always assigned because it is through revising their writing that students develop the quality of their thinking and learn the art and craft of written expression.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of teaching students the answers for the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core and, instead, teach students to form their own questions and explore those questions wherever those explorations take them because questioning is the essential skill for the information-laden 21st century.

Connecticut is in great shape to begin the Post No Child Left Behind Era. Many other states have the choice of staying with the inadequate Common Core Standards or spending large sums of money to create their own standards because the standards they had prior to Common Core were inferior. Not so in Connecticut.

We are ready to go.

Post NCLB: Here we come.

The steps to beginning the Post NCLB Era in Connecticut are:

  1. Form a committee of educators to review the Connecticut State Standards, revising and adding on if necessary, and republish the Connecticut State Standards.
  2. Form a committee of educators to make the decisions about the forms of yearly assessments required by the federal government, reviewing Connecticut standardized test formats, the CMT and CAPT, and designing of new performance assessments.

Onward, Connecticut!

You can read and comment on this important article at; http://reallearningct.com/2015/12/07/post-nclb-ct-must-reject-the-common-core/

Money Talks – By Ann Policelli Cronin at Real Learning Blog

Ann Policelli Cronin is an education advocate and fellow blogger.  Many of her commentary pieces have been featured here at Wait, What? and in other Connecticut media outlets.  Ann is a Connecticut educator who taught middle and high school English and was named  Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.  You can bookmark and read her blog at Real Learning CT.

In her piece entitled, Money Talks, Ann lays out the extremely troubling reality about how the wealthiest many in the world is undermining public education in the United States.  Ann Policelli writes,

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

You can watch the 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates here –  please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.

2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.

3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students. Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.

4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.

5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of education, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.

6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.

7. Melissa Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.

8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers.Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.

9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.

10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Common Core SBAC testing – Big Cost, No Value

Over the past two years Connecticut taxpayers have dropped $32 million on the Common Core SBAC tests and another $12.4 million for implementation of the Common Core.  The Connecticut state budget allocates another $43.1 million for the Common Core and Common Core SBAC tests for this year and next.

Add in the tens of million spent by local school districts on computers and internet expansion so that students can take the on-line tests, along with the substitute teachers who were brought in so that full-time teachers could be pulled out to “learn about the Common Core,” and well over $150 – $200 million dollars (or more) in public funds have been diverted from instruction to the Common Core and Common Core testing disaster.

So what has all that money gotten the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Connecticut?

Public education advocate, commentator and educator Ann Policelli Cronin addresses the issue in her latest blog post entitled, SBAC: The Beginning Of The End

So what did we learn from the release of the SBAC scores?  …

Not much.

We did learn that the achievement gap has not been in any way affected by implementation of the Common Core. I have been in a position to analyze CMT and CAPT scores over many years, and the SBAC scores tell the same story as the CMT and CAPT scores. That story is that students in affluent communities score significantly higher than students in poor communities do. No administration of a test will ever change that fact. No set of national standards or standardized test on those standards will ever “close the achievement gap”. First of all, high scores depend on the quality of the lives children have outside of school much more than what happens in school. Secondly, if the national standards and aligned testing did raise scores, then all scores would go up, both those of the students in affluent districts and those in poor cities. So the “gap” would be unchanged.

We did learn that charter schools, even with their cherry-picked student bodies, did not do better than many public school districts which do not restrict their student populations of special education students, English language learners, or students with behavioral issues. For example, SBAC 8th grade math scores for charter schools ranked 63, 67, 71, 74, 100, 103, 107, 119, 123,130, and 133 out of 133 reporting districts and schools. Of course, many of those charter schools had better scores than the districts from which their students came and should be expected to have better scores than the students’ originating public school districts because the charter schools have siphoned off some students with drive and potential from those districts.

We did learn that the SBAC scores tell us nothing about the learning going on in Connecticut schools. We can’t tell what schools just paid lip service to Common Core Standards and what ones focused almost exclusively on the Common Core. Without a doubt, the schools with scores demonstrating under 20% proficiency on the SBAC spent more time on test prep than the schools in affluent districts with higher SBAC scores. Yet we are told that schools must limit their curriculum to Common Core so that the school’s test scores will improve. It makes no sense. Some districts which had curriculum dedicated to the Common Core and teachers who taught to it diligently had low test scores, and some districts that just about ignored the Common Core in curriculum and practice had good scores. High test scores and teaching to the Common Core had  zero correlation.

We also learned that SBAC scores tell us nothing about students’ real competencies. As anyone who has an understanding of how to teach students to be thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers knows, the more a teacher teaches to the Common Core ELA standards, the farther away those students will be from being thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers. So the actual achievement gap will widen between the students in the affluent communities and the students in the cities with their increased test prep due to the low 2015 SBAC scores.

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts lack any research base whatsoever and have no evidence that they will produce “college and career readiness”, yet we restrict our neediest students to that Common Core regimen due to our misplaced reliance on the SBAC scores. Just because a PR firm was hired to promote the Common Core Standards and that PR firm, through focus groups, determined that “rigor” was the word that would sell the standards to the American public does not make the standards or the SBAC test rigorous. Neither of them is. The Common Core ELA standards teach a discredited way of reading and an inadequate way of writing, and the SBAC test is an exercise in “Gotcha”.

We did learn from the 2015 SBAC test that opting-out is going to be an influential part of the narrative about assessing learning in the future. For example, in West Hartford, Conard High School had an opt-out rate of 5.5% and Hall High School had a 61.4 % opt out rate. What then can we tell about the two schools in the same town? Does Hall have more students who have applied to competitive colleges and do not want their excellent records of good grades and SAT scores hurt by a test designed to produce low scores? Does Hall High have parents who are more savvy than Conard parents and who are making a statement about their values and the kind of learning that they want for their children? Is learning richer and deeper at Hall than at Conard so that students and their parents seek other kinds of demonstrations of student achievement?

Also, are Westbrook High School, North Haven High School, Hartford Public High School’s Law and Government Academy, Daniel Hand High School in Madison, and E.O. Smith High School in Storrs places where the emphasis is on real learning because more than 85% of the juniors in those schools opted-out of the 2105 SBAC math test? School by school, parent by parent, district by district, those questions will be explored now that Connecticut has completed its first year of SBAC testing, and, if we can judge by what is happening in New York where implementation of the Common Core and the taking of a Common Core aligned test is a year ahead of Connecticut, it seems reasonable to believe that opting-out will increase.

Over this past year of SBAC testing, some told the story that we need SBAC to close the achievement gap. That story is wrong. Closing the achievement gap will never happen with standardized tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data in order to compare schools and districts. That story is wrong. SBAC data is same-old, same-old; we had it all along with our state tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data about individual students and the skills they need. That story is wrong. SBAC doesn’t address students’ learning needs; teachers do. Some told the story that SBAC measures what students need to learn, but that story is terribly wrong. Those telling it must not be educators. They must not know what real learning is or what students need to be prepared to do.

It is time to end SBAC. It is time for a new story. A true one.

You can read the full blog at: http://reallearningct.com/2015/09/01/sbac-the-beginning-of-the-end/

A Must Read from Ann Policelli Cronin- SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one

First published in the CT Mirror, SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one fellow public educator advocate and columnist has a great article that provides important information to parents across Connecticut and should be required reading for Connecticut’s elected officials.

SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one by Ann Policelli Cronin

The Connecticut SBAC scores will be released by the State Department of Education any day now. The scores will be low. You will be told that the low scores are because the SBAC tests are rigorous and our students don’t measure up.

Don’t believe it.

First of all, the test can’t possibly be rigorous because the Common Core Standards on which the tests are based are vapid. The Common Core English Standards do not teach students to be thoughtful readers, deep thinkers, or effective writers, so the SBAC exams do not measure those competencies.

Secondly, we have no idea if what is tested has predictability for the students’ future success in the next grade or college because no one checked with grade 4-12 teachers or college professors to see what competencies students will need. The Common Core English Standards were written by makers of standardized tests and are comprised of what can be measured by those tests, not comprised of what students need to learn.

Lastly, even though the Common Core has a low intellectual bar, most students will fail the tests because the passing grades have been artificially set. Last November, before any students had taken the 2015 SBAC tests, the Connecticut Commissioner of Education, representing Gov. Dannel Malloy, signed an agreement that the 2015 SBAC tests would fail 59 percent of high school juniors in English, 67 percent of high school juniors in math, 56-62 percent of third through eighth graders in English, and 61-68 percent of third through eighth graders in math       (“Cutoff Scores Set for Common-Core Tests”,Education Week, November 17, 2014).

When the majority of Connecticut children are soon told that they are failures, it is not because some absolute measure with objective criteria determined that, but because a test was designed to fail them.

By other criteria, Connecticut students are highly successful. For example, since 1992, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, has had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in the country, and Connecticut ranks fifth in the world, outranked by only three countries and the state of Massachusetts, in reading scores of 15-year-olds on the international PISA test. And we as a state have accomplished all of that with the highest achievement gap in the country and without excluding our lowest performing students from taking those tests. Somebody, mostly our kids, are doing something right. Yet most of them will be deemed failures next week.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

I have worked with hundreds of Connecticut English teachers and am confident that any of them could design a test that would fail two thirds of their students. But I don’t know one teacher who would do it.  That’s because they are educators and not politicians using manufactured test results to advance political agendas.

Those English teachers and I know how to design rigorous exams. We also know how to teach students so that those who do what we ask of them and put out good effort each day in class will demonstrate competency on rigorous assessments. We also know that some of those students will perform in truly exceptional ways on the assessments and that an occasional student will exceed even our wildest dreams and thrill us beyond belief.

We teach students the skills and then see how far they go with them. We teach for success.

Last January, I reviewed a midterm English exam with high school students who had just taken it. They had their graded exams on their desks along with a description of the competencies the exam asked of them.  Those competencies were:

  • Asking their own complex and multi-layered questions as thoughtful inquiry.
  • Engaging in active and critical reading of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and films.
  • Thinking analytically as they independently interpreted challenging literary texts.
  • Thinking imaginatively as they made connections between a historical or fictional character and their own lives and creating a persona to write about that connection.
  • Engaging in narrative thinking as they told the story of their own learning.
  • Collaborating with others in order to strengthen their own interpretations and evaluations.
  • Writing essays which demonstrate their ability to revise and strengthen a piece over time as well as writing essays in a timed classroom setting.
  • Using correct grammar and usage.
  • Demonstrating focus, energy, and passion as they prepare for and participate in the two-hour exam.

Those students knew their exam was rigorous. Those students had been taught how to succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers. Those students, therefore, did succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers.

After comparing their exams to the list of competencies, the students ascertained their strengths and determined what they needed to work on in the next semester. And, for sure, these students knew they were not failures.

Not so when the SBAC scores come out. Most students will consider themselves failures. Or, perhaps, the Connecticut State Department of Education will do what the State of Washington did and lower the passing grade to keep educators and parents quiet about the low test scores.

Either way, the message of SBAC hurts kids. Either way, SBAC is not about teaching and learning. The truth is: The SBAC test is political monkey business.

It is our job as citizens and parents to tell students the truth about SBAC. It is our job as educators to keep teaching and assessing students in real and honest ways.

Otherwise, we adults are the failures.

You can read more of Ann Policelli Cronin’s pieces at her blog: http://reallearningct.com/

Say No to SBAC (by Ann P. Cronin)

If you don’t follow Ann Cronin’s new blog entitled Real Learning CT you need to go bookmark the site and make a daily stop to read her latest pieces.  Ann is a Connecticut educator and has posted a number of guest columns here at Wait, What?  She now has her own education blog and today she has a MUST READ commentary piece titled Say No to SBAC.

Ann Cronin writes;

Say No to SBAC.

Connecticut currently mandates the testing of public school students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 with standardized tests produced by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). I am opposed to SBAC testing for English language arts because those tests neither measure authentic achievement nor foster students’ growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. Here are 10 reasons to STOP the harmful SBAC testing.

  1. SBAC tests are not rigorous.

The tests do not demand complex thinking. The tests are aligned to the Common Core standards, and the content of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts is inferior content which does not serve to develop students as motivated, engaged readers and effective writers.

  1. SBAC tests are not field-tested for college and career readiness.

No one knows if a good score indicates that a student will be successful in college or careers or if a poor score indicates that a student will struggle in college or careers. According to Joseph Willholt, executive director of SBAC, there is a “large validity question “ about the tests in regard to college readiness.

The SBAC tests do not measure the skills students will need for the global workforce. Those needed skills are: to pose and shape critical questions, to collaborate with others of different cultures and points of view, to communicate effectively orally and in writing, and to use meta-cognitive skills (learning how to learn skills) when facing new problems. Other countries with which we compare ourselves measure those skills because they have standards for them, but we have neither the standards to teach those skills nor the SBAC tests to measure them.

  1. SBAC tests are not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core English Language Arts Common Standards were not written by educators or those with knowledge of child and adolescent development. They were written by employees of testing companies. The content of the standards and of the SBAC tests is simply what test makers determined could be measured on standardized tests, not what is appropriate for students to learn or what fosters student growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core because of the content of those standards,  the content SBAC tests measure.

  1. SBAC tests are capriciously graded.

The passing grade on the tests is arbitrarily set. On the high school SBAC tests, the passing grade is set such that 70% of students will be labeled as failing the math portion and 60% labeled as failing the English portion. The passing grade on SBAC has been set at what the highly respected National Assessment of Educational Progress considers a B+/ A- performance. SBAC labels all those who score a B or lower as failures.

  1. SBAC tests serve to widen the achievement gap.

The more time students spend preparing for SBAC tests, the less education they will have in authentic literacy learning. Time spent in test prep for SBAC robs students of reading, writing, and collaborating experiences which develop literacy skills. Schools with a history of low test scores spend concentrated time on test prep; schools with traditionally high test scores do not spend time on test prep. Therefore, the gap between those graduates with genuine skills in reading, writing, and collaborating will widen with students of privilege receiving a notably better education than students in schools with historically low test scores.

  1. SBAC tests discriminate against Connecticut’s neediest students.

Since all standardized test scores correlate with family income, many children of poverty will fail. How long will students be motivated to learn and how long will they stay in school if they fail tests in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5thgrade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade? Not only are impoverished students receiving a poor education with Common Core but their dropout rate will also increase.

  1. SBAC tests narrow the curriculum.

Preparing students for SBAC tests requires a high school English curriculum that strictly adheres  to the Common Core. That adherence severely limits what students read, what thinking skills they learn as readers, what students write, and what kind of thinking skills they learn as writers.

Common Core limits the amount of literature read and totally eliminates teaching students the skills of questioning, making text connections to themselves and their world, and analyzing multiple and divergent interpretations  that reading literature offers. None of those skills are assessed on the SBAC test so are not part of the test prep curriculum many schools have adopted.

Similarly, that test prep curriculum does not develop students as writers and thinkers. High school students are tested only on how they write formulaic arguments, graded either by computers or hourly employees hired through Craig’s List and not required to have knowledge about the craft of writing.   Therefore, students do not have a curriculum rich in writing experiences which develop their inductive, explorative,  and narrative thinking – all keys to success in higher education and the workplace.

  1. SBAC tests encourage poor pedagogy.

Because of the high stakes of the SBAC tests, English teachers, especially in schools with a history of low standardized test scores,, prepare students for the test by adhering to the pedagogy prescribed by the Common Core. It, however, is a flawed and discredited pedagogy prevalent in the 1940’s and 50’s and does nor prepare students to think complexly. Not only does that pedagogy severely restrict students’ development as readers and writers, it discourages many of them from even wanting to become readers and writers.

  1. SBAC tests will not “level the playing field”.

Connecticut is already doing well with literacy education.

Connecticut ranks higher than 62 nations in the reading performance of 15 year olds (according to the 2012 PISA- Program of International Student Assessment) and ranks highest in the country in reading performance of high school seniors (according to NAEP, the nation’s most authoritative measure of academic performance in reading and math). If standardized tests are thought to give us useful information, we already have that information.

We know that affluent areas of Connecticut provide an unparalleled education for their students, and we know that where students are impacted by poverty and racism, those students suffer. To level the playing filed, we need to provide for impoverished students what their more privileged peers have been given and standardize opportunities for learning for all students.

  1. SBAC tests teach the wrong values.

The tests teach children that competition, beating out other schools and other students, is what matters instead of the student’s own learning, the student’s own passion for ideas, the student’s own growth as a thinker, a reader, and a writer.

Connecticut educators can design assessments which measure the achievements students really need for their future. I have done considerable work with teachers in both affluent and impoverished districts to design assessments that measure critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and oral and written communication for students of all abilities. Student achievement always exceeds original expectations when teachers are invited to do this work.

We CAN improve achievement in Connecticut for ALL of our students but not with SBAC tests.

You can find this article and Ann Cronin’s other pieces at: http://reallearningct.com/

Great new Connecticut based Education Blog to add to your reading list

Ann Policelli Cronin, a Connecticut educator and fellow public education advocate has posted a number of fantastic commentary pieces here at Wait, What?

It is with excitement and appreciation that I’m honored to announce that Ann has set up blog entitled Real Learning CT and located at: reallearningct.com.

Be sure to subscribe to Ann’s Blog or at least make it a regular stop on your Internet travels.

As Ann reports, the purpose of the blog is to change the conversation about education in Connecticut by focusing that conversation on what real learning is and on how we can, as a state, provide all the students in Connecticut’s public schools with the kind of education that they need for their future. It is a forum for teachers, administrators, college and university professors, parents, citizens, and students to share with and learn from one another so that together we speak in a strong and effective voice for the welfare of all Connecticut’s public school students.

Here is the first post on that blog:

Invitation to Connecticut Educators

There is a lot of conversation about public education going on.

Politicians are talking about the Common Core in regard to federal vs. local control. Billionaires with no understanding of child or adolescent development are mandating what education should look like in every grade from kindergarten through high school graduation. Testing companies are dictating that what is taught is limited to what they know how to test. Entrepreneurs are saying that schools should be enterprises from which they make a profit. Journalists are writing about the worth of standards they have never read. State legislators require students to take tests which determine promotions and graduations although no one has any idea if those tests measure what it takes to be successful in higher education or the workplace. The chief writer of the English language arts standards tells teachers exactly how to teach although he has never taught himself and is shockingly unfamiliar with good pedagogy. Proponents of the standards claim that the standards are evidence-based and internationally benchmarked although they are neither.

All in all, the ongoing conversation is dominated by a combination of those who have not read the standards, those who have never taught, and those who have little or no knowledge of child development, including how children and teenagers learn.

The Common Core and the accompanying tests are not receiving the scrutiny they deserve so implementation marches on. As a result, students do not experience the passion for learning, the engagement with ideas, or the substantive content to which they have a right.

It’s time for educators in public schools to reclaim the conversation so that Connecticut’s children receive the education they need. In Connecticut, we have innumerable educators who are experts in their academic disciplines and practice effective pedagogy. We have many excellent teachers and administrators who mentor inexperienced teachers and administrators. We have renowned educators in both our public K-12 schools and at our colleges and universities who are experts in child and adolescent development and who know how to shape instruction that fits that development. We have many accomplished administrators who know how to create collaborative school environments in which both students and teachers grow and learn. We have an untold number of teachers in our public schools who know how to inspire students to be critical thinkers, pose pivotal questions, read thoughtfully, communicate effectively, construct individual meaning by interacting with other thinkers, and also gain the skills of learning how to learn. We have countless educators in Connecticut who prepare our children for the future instead of equipping them for the past as Common Core does.

If we educators start talking about what we know, perhaps the public, the politicians, and the journalists will listen and give the Common Core and the accompanying testing the scrutiny they warrant. Our conversation, however, will not deter corporate “reformers” and test makers because their interest is in making a profit off our children, not in the quality of their education.

This blog provides a space for educators to talk to one another and to the public about what real learning is and how excellence can be provided for all of Connecticut’s public school students. If we educators share with one another what we know from our teaching, from our research, and from what we have learned from our students, there will be no stopping us, no stopping what we can do for Connecticut’s students.

Let’s aim big. Let’s make real learning available to all Connecticut’s students. Let’s join with other educators across the nation as two University of Arkansas professors of education, Jason L. Endacott and Christian Z. Goering (read here), rally us together with this summons:

Let’s take back the story on education by any nonviolent means necessary…  Just when it seems that all of the money and all the of the influence is stacked up against us, we can absolutely recapture our schools for the sake of our children. Stand together and say it: Our children aren’t products, aren’t numbers, and aren’t for sale.

Let’s start talking on this blog. I will explore key questions and highlight current issues. I invite you to offer your own posts – posts you write yourself or articles, photos, or videos you find provocative. I urge you to take the surveys and comment on the postings. I especially ask you to submit descriptions of a moment or an activity or a unit of study from your classroom that demonstrates real learning. We will then do more than reclaim the conversation about education. We will shape that conversation. We will elevate that conversation. We will focus that conversation. At last, the conversation will be about what we know best and what students need most: real learning,

Here are some conversation starters:

  • What is real learning?
  • How can all of Connecticut’s students have real learning opportunities?
  • What is the content or the substance of the Common Core standards?
  • How are the Common Core standards related or not related to real learning?
  • What do we know from research and our experience as teachers about the cognitive development of children and adolescents?
  • How do we engage students as readers, writers, and thinkers?
  • How can we, as the state with the largest achievement gap, close that gap?
  • How can we as a state promote equity?
  • Do the SBAC tests measure real learning?
  • What are the students’ experiences with SBAC testing?
  • How do we best prepare students for their future?

Let the conversation begin… 

So be sure to Bookmark Ann’s new blog at reallearningct.com

More on Common Core – Truth Is Truer Than Fiction (Guest post by Ann Policelli Cronin)

Ann Policelli Cronin provides Wait, What? readers with another powerful commentary piece!

Ann writes,

The old adage “If something seems too good to be true, maybe that’s because it is” came to mind as I read Jennifer Alexander’s Op-Ed (“Don’t let misinformation destroy the promise of the Common Core”, October 9, 2014) Read here. In it, she said that the Common Core standards will ensure that Connecticut remains a place where people want to live, work and invest in their future, that the standards are clear and high and will make students ready for college and careers, and that those standards will cause children of poverty to graduate from high school in increasing numbers.

Oh if only it were true. But none of it is. It is fantasy at best and the author not understanding what it means to teach and what it means to learn at worst.

First of all, the Common Core standards have never been tested in the real world for accuracy or effectiveness.  No one has any idea if a high score on a Common Core-aligned standardized test will result in a student being successful in college or in a career. No work has been done to determine if those tests actually measure the capabilities and skills that professors in higher education and people successful in a wide variety of careers want college students and professionals to have. Those people were never asked.  The standards were simply decided by employees of testing companies. All that we know for sure is that the Common Core standards are skills that testing companies can measure on their tests.

The Common Core standards are also neither “high” nor “clear”.  The Connecticut State Standards for English Language Arts are much more rigorous than the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and have a strong and deep research base that is totally lacking with the Common Core. The Common Core standards require a way of teaching students to read and to write that has long been discredited. Not only will the Common Core approach severely restrict students’ development as readers and writers, it will discourage students from even wanting to become readers and writers. The Common Core standards are definitely not rigorous, as teachers who have required rigor of their students know.

Standards that are rigorous encourage students to read and to write. They actively involve students in reading books that engage them and in writing poems, essays, narratives, plays, and speeches about ideas that are theirs alone.  The author of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, David Coleman, has said over and over at conferences, in interviews and in online presentations that students’ personal responses and interpretations have no place in the classroom nor does discussion of the cultural and historical context in which books are written or in which students live belong in that classroom. Also, as writers, the personal voice of students is not allowed and essays of personal interpretation and evaluation have been replaced with impersonal, formulaic essays that have nothing in common with real writing. Rigorous learning engages students with the big questions that great literature poses, encourages students to connect their own lives to those questions, and requires students to integrate the classroom discussions about those ideas so that they create new knowledge for themselves.

As for the Common Core standards being “clear”, they are not.  There are 42 English Language Arts standards crammed with almost 200 different skills to be taught in each academic year.  They are a mishmash of skills without a plan of developmental appropriateness and devoid of logic as to why some of them are in one grade and others in another grade. In a recent article in Education Week (September 23, 2014), Mike Schmoker reports that Gerald Graff, the former president of the professional organization of college English professors (Modern Language Association) said that most of the Common Core standards are unnecessary and nonsensical. For curriculum expert Robert Shepherd, the Common Core standards are “just another set of blithering, poorly thought-out abstractions.” Schmoker challenges any of us to make sense out of this 8th grade Common Core standard:

Analyze how the points of view of the characters and audience or reader (e.g. created through the use of dramatic irony) create effects like suspense or humor.

It’s gobbeldy gook.

Not only are students receiving a poor education with the Common Core but the dropout rate will also increase. The Common Core aligned tests have the passing rate set at 30%; therefore, about 70% of the students in Connecticut will fail those tests. Since all standardized test scores correlate with family income, many children of poverty will fail.  The way to break that correlation is not by testing and punishing students but by addressing the needs of those disadvantaged by poverty and racism. Feed the kids, give them eye exams, lower the class size so that that they get the adult conversation they crave, add personnel for extended learning experiences after school and in the summer. Standardize opportunities for learning.

Insisting upon real rigor for all Connecticut’s children and addressing the needs of children disadvantaged by poverty and racism – that is how Connecticut will be a state where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught English, been a district level administrator for English programs, taught university courses in English education, been assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project, and won state awards for her teaching and national awards for curriculum design.

Connecticut, a Jim Crow state? [A must read by Ann Policelli Cronin]

This commentary piece by Ann Policelli Cronin first appeared in the CT Mirror –  Op-Ed: Connecticut, a Jim Crow state?

Unless Connecticut changes direction in what has been packaged and sold as “education reform,” its achievement gap, the largest in the nation, will be exacerbated.

All of Connecticut’s children are harmed by the narrow and inappropriate content of the Common Core Standards and by the amount of instructional time lost to preparing for and taking standardized tests to measure acquisition of that content.

Connecticut children of color,already hurt by poverty and racism, however, suffer the most. Current “education reform” will further marginalize them as Jim Crow laws of the past marginalized African Americans in southern states.

The content of the Common Core standards was established by employees of testing companies. The content is simply what those employees determined can be measured on standardized tests.

For example, not one educator with expertise in teaching students how to develop as thoughtful readers and effective writers chose the 188 random skills to be taught in grade 9 and 10 English courses, or the 192 random skills for grades 11 and 12.  Also, no field studies were done to determine if those particular skills lead to achievement in college or careers.

The tests to assess mastery of this arbitrary content are meaningless hurdles whose function is to produce scores by which schools, teachers, and students are ranked. The more a school focuses on teaching the narrow and inappropriate content of the Common Core, the more its students will be harmed.

Connecticut schools vary widely in their adherence to the Common Core. None of the private prep schools, which specialize in preparing students for college, teach or test the Common Core. Many school districts with affluent parents and a history of good test scores pay lip service to the Common Core and continue with their own curricula.

However, the school districts with a history of low test scores teach exclusively to the Common Core tests because so much rides on raising those scores and not being identified as failing schools. Teaching to the test means those students are not taught to be engaged readers, motivated writers, critical thinkers, and thoughtful questioners as their peers in schools of the more privileged are taught to be. Impoverished students of color are often taught to simply be takers of standardized tests.

All this test preparation, however, is not likely to help students, disadvantaged by poverty and racism, score well. The “cut score” or passing grade on the Common Core aligned tests has been arbitrarily set so that approximately 30 percent of the test takers pass and 70 percent fail.

Scores on all standardized tests, such as the SAT and Connecticut’s CMT and CAPT, correlate with the family income of the test takers. Children living in poverty are disadvantaged in so many ways that even stringent test prep will not produce scores equal to their more advantaged peers. A large proportion of the 70 percent of Connecticut students who fail the tests will come from homes affected by poverty and racism.

The Common Core tests are given in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11. How will failing tests year after year affect children’s sense of themselves and their belief that schools are places for them to learn and grow?

How will it feel to come to school each day and look at the data wall in their classroom which posts each child’s scores on practice Common Core tests given throughout the school year and recognize their failures?

When they are 16, will they take the 11th grade test or drop out of school beforehand?  If they stay in school and are not among the 30 percent who pass the test, what will the schools do with the students who fail the test and, therefore, do not qualify to graduate? Keep testing them?

What will Connecticut as a state do with large numbers of teenagers who give up and drop out of school?  What are those young people without high school diplomas to do with their lives?

Connecticut’s students of privilege have the opportunity of receiving a private or public school education not restricted to the Common Core which prepares them to be future participants in society and the workforce who can innovate, collaborate, and communicate effectively. Students in schools intent upon raising test scores, however, have little opportunity of acquiring those necessary skills.

How can Connecticut turn this around and keep from becoming a Jim Crow state dividing those who are well-educated from those denied a productive education?

First, we must reject the misguided “reform” of the Common Core and its accompanying tests. As parents, we must opt our children out of those tests, and, as educators, we must reduce instructional time given to teaching the narrow and inappropriate Common Core content and preparing for Common Core tests.

Secondly and most importantly, as educators we must offer an alternate vision about teaching and learning, one grounded in well-documented knowledge about how children and adolescents grow and learn, and design ways to assess the achievement of real growth, real learning.

Connecticut has the resources — the educators, the research institutions, and the knowledge — to lead the country in creating real reform for children of all races and all incomes. Let’s begin.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught English, been a district level administrator for English programs, taught university courses in English education, been assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project, and won state awards for her teaching and national awards for curriculum design.