Education Reform, No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing, Thomas Scarice Superintendent of Madison Corporate Education Reform Industry, NCLB, RTTT, SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing
A commentary piece written by A dozen of Connecticut’s most forward thinking school superintendents:
This commentary piece as first published in CTMirror and can be found at: http://ctmirror.org/2015/03/16/op-ed-connecticut-education-vision-lacks-clarity-coherence-superintendents-say/
Connecticut education needs clearer vision, better objectives
The journey of education reform, which has at times moved in a deliberate direction and at other times wandered in many directions, is currently at a very important and, potentially exciting, crossroads. At this moment, a narrow window of opportunity has presented itself.
As the federal government debates renewing the failed No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), our state is set to submit our latest plans to be held harmless from the sanctions of NCLB through a federal waiver, last done in 2012, and due for renewal on March 31, 2015.
Any effective system is best served by knowing when an important juncture presents itself and identifying, at that precise moment, the changes necessary to travel down the road of continuous improvement.
Our public school landscape is littered with initiatives, while the vision for learning in Connecticut lacks clarity and coherence. In this “vision void” our measures (i.e. test scores) have become our goals, confounding the purpose of schooling and perpetuating yet another round of piecemeal initiatives.
The path we should avoid taking is the one that implements the NCLB waiver plan as the de facto vision for the education of Connecticut’s children. Instead we should identify a clear and compelling vision for education in our state and employ all of our resources to achieve it. Staying the course of current reform efforts without a deep analysis of the effects in actual classrooms across the state will further cement the system of compliance and “one size fits all” that grips our very diverse school districts like a vise.
One way to clarify the vision is to answer the direct and simple questions:
- What are the most worthy outcomes of our public education system?
- Are we preparing our students for the world they will enter when they graduate?
- Is our public education system positioned for continuous improvement, as opposed to ranking, sorting and punishing?
- To what extent do our laws increase conformity at the expense of innovation?
The answers to these questions imply the need to foster the cognitive, social/emotional and interpersonal student capacities for work, citizenship and life. Additionally, they demand a deep analysis of the systemic efforts to continuously improve. Confronting these questions, and others, will require:
- A redefinition of the role of testing,
- An accountability model (mandatory in the NCLB waiver) matched to a clarified vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut
- Statewide systems that incentivize innovation and a broad sharing of innovative programs
Standardized tests … do not measure our highest aspirations for our students. They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes.
The following steps can be taken immediately and considered prior to submitting our NCLB waiver, particularly in the absence of a compelling vision for learning in Connecticut.
- Take action to redefine the role of testing in our schools.
Standardized tests play a critical role in validating local assessments and giving a broad view of the limited range of student outcomes they intend to measure. They do not measure our highest aspirations for our students. They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes. They can disrupt authentic learning for long periods of time. Yet, some districts have oriented their practice and curriculum around these tests. Some immediate steps to take include:
- Reducing or eliminating the use of standardized test scores in the evaluation of individual teachers,
- Adjusting the role these tests play in a school/district accountability model,
- Broadening the “student learning objectives” (SLO) component of the state mandated teacher evaluation plans to encourage districts to creatively incorporate local measures of worthy student outcomes, thereby returning some measure of local discretion to individual districts and the communities they serve, and
- Incentivizing districts to develop local formative and summative measures in collaboration with other districts, vetted by the Connecticut State Department of Education, similar to the longstanding exemplary “New York Performance Standards Consortium”, which was founded in 1997 on the premise that high stakes standardized tests do not measure what matters most.
- Develop an accountability model designed to drive continuous improvement, in contrast to the current model of ranking/sorting/sanctioning.
The current school/district accountability model relies heavily on standardized test scores to inform communities about the performance of their schools. This misuse of data is a disservice to each community and to the entire state because it fails to capture the many ways in which schools generate student success. A transparent balanced scorecard designed to drive continuous improvement is imperative. Some alternatives include:
- Broadening the definition of student success and aligning indicators of success with a clear and compelling vision for 21st Century learning in Connecticut,
- Leaving space for districts to incorporate local indicators of student growth specific to their communities in order to foster intrinsic motivation and ownership at the classroom teacher level,
- Significantly minimizing the role of any single standardized test to its appropriate role as one data point in a series of overall performance criteria,
- Focusing on the “opportunity gap”: the extent to which districts provide equitable access for all students to a rich curricular and extra-curricular educational program,
- Incorporating a strong measure of student voice about their levels of authentic engagement in their learning experiences (genuine student engagement is not a “thing”, it is the only thing),
- Integrating local, “real world” performance assessments designed by classroom teachers, scored at the local level and juried by a quality assurance program across all districts,
- Surveying alumni to determine the extent to which they felt prepared for college, work, and life,
- Assess funding patterns to determine if resource allocation targets are being met by federal, state, and local entities, and
- Employing an external “peer review”/”school quality review” process administered by current classroom practitioners and administrators in which districts engage in a deep analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, in order to benchmark district performance, to diagnose problems of practice, and to commit to improvement strategies (accreditation models, such as that of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, could serve as ideal partners in developing a school quality review process with the state) in place of current accountability measures
In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization.
- Create systems to incentivize innovation.
Districts and teachers are suffocating from a “one size fits all”, compliance-based approach to schooling. One size does not fit all in education, no more than it does in medicine, social work or any other endeavor in which human beings are at the core of the enterprise. In an era that rewards and requires innovative thinking to solve complex problems, public schools have endured a stifling of professional autonomy through increased standardization and homogenization. As a result, energy is drained, a passion for teaching and learning evaporates, and many teachers and leaders question the lack of purpose to their work. Some ways to foster innovation include:
- Creating a “Districts of Innovation” program through which the State Department of Education would administer a rigorous process identifying various district approaches to current challenges faced by schools, such as, reducing bullying, improving school climate, evaluating the performance of individual teachers and administrators, etc. These districts would apply for a waiver or modification from state requirements in order to innovate their practices, while analyzing the impact. These districts could be required to partner with a university, commit to sharing their results, and, if successful, serve as a provider of professional development for other districts. The incubation of fresh, innovative ideas, by classroom teachers and administrators would exponentially grow the capacity of educators in the state.
- Working with Regional Education Service Centers (RESC) to develop an “expert in residence” program with area districts. Districts could grant a yearlong sabbatical to individual teachers to share their innovative work and provide professional development to schools across the state.
- Pairing schools to work across different districts to collaboratively confront professional challenges. These partnerships could foster such promising practices as “lesson study”, peer to peer observations, and collaborative analysis of student work.
The window of opportunity is closing. As in 2012, the waiver for NCLB dictates the overly prescriptive education laws that compromise innovation and promote a compliance-based malaise among Connecticut’s best educators.
Some states have foregone the NCLB waiver (e.g. Vermont, Washington), choosing instead to absorb the draconian NCLB consequences in order to spare their opportunity to chart their own course through a compelling vision for learning in their states.
The opportunity for Connecticut to establish a dynamic vision for its 21st Century public schools is now.
The piece was authored by the following 12 Connecticut superintendents of schools. They are Thomas Scarice, Madison Public Schools; Jody Goeler, Hamden Public Schools; Jan Peruccio, Old Saybrook Public Schools; Kathy Veronesi, Region 13 Public Schools; Jack Cross, Clinton Public Schools; Jerry Belair, Waterford Public Schools; Patricia Ciccone, Westbrook Public Schools; Paul Freeman, Guilford Public Schools; Howard Thiery, Region 17 Public Schools; Ruth Levy, Region 4 Public Schools; Kevin Smith, Wilton; and Diane Dugas, East Hampton Public Schools.
Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, Education Reform, Joseph Ricciotti, No Child Left Behind Act, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing Joseph Ricciotti, NCLB, RTTT, SBAC, Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Standardized Testing
An important guest post from Josesph Ricciotti, a retired educator and a leading public school advocate in Connecticut. His commentary pieces can be found in many of Connecticut’s media outlets as well as here at Wait, What?
School districts in Connecticut will soon embark on another round of standardized testing referred to as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium( (SBAC) which are tests administered to all students in school districts that are implementing Common Core. Hence, as a life-long educator and a former principal the question I would ask is why? Education officials from the Connecticut Commissioner of Education down to the superintendents of Connecticut school districts immersed in implementing the SBAC tests would say we need “accountability.” Ah, yes, that infamous word “accountability” that has a thirty year record of failing children, parents, teachers and communities.
The era of “accountability” started back in the early eighties when Ronald Reagan was president. Education historian Diane Ravitch and author of the best selling book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” traces the accountability movement back to 1983 when “A Nation at Risk” was published. Ravitch cites “For the past 30 years, U.S. educators have been like a dog chasing its tail. What has happened is tragic.” Ravitch is also of the belief that our nation’s political leadership “have become obsessed with the idea that everything that matters can be measured and that test scores are the ultimate measure for children, schools, teachers, and now, higher education.” As one educator said, “it is as though we want to quantify everything.
For the past fourteen years also in the name of “accountability” we have had No Child Left Behind (NCLB) followed by Race to the Top (RTTT) which, because of the testing aligned with these programs, have been utter failures. And now we are entering a new era of “accountability” with Common Core and the SBAC tests, again, all in the name of “accountability.” In essence, what NCLB and RTTT and now Common Core have done according to Tom Skelar, Dean of the Edgewood School of Education in Wisconsin,”was that over the last 14 years it has literally denied a generation of children access to their fundamental right to a powerful and critical education.” Skelar goes on to state that the only beneficiaries of “accountability” have been legislators and, of course, the testing companies that have made millions on the sale of tests and data systems to schools.
The SBAC tests aligned with Common Core were largely designed by testing experts with minimal input from teachers. Yet so much of teachers’ success under the guise of “accountability” will now be determined by SBAC test scores – or more commonly known in educational circles as “high-stakes testing” – which includes teacher performance evaluations as well as their salaries. As George Ball in an op-ed piece in the San Franciscogate so appropriately stated, “What’s lost in Common Core is the human factor. Teachers are deprived of the freedom and creativity that is the oxygen of learning. Common Core sacrifices the magic of teaching and learning at the alter of metrics.” Needless to say, these are powerful words aimed at what is occurring throughout the nation’s schools in the name of “test-based accountability.
In Westport, where Staples High School principal John Dodig is retiring, he cites his displeasure with the state’s implementation of the SBAC testing tied to teacher evaluation emphatically stating “I don’t believe in it. I think it is hypocritical, it’s destructive and it’s not going to change education.” Under Dodig’s tenure, Staples High School in 2008 was named by Connecticut Magazine as “#1 High School in the State and was also recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013.
The new interim Connecticut Commissioner of Education Dianne Roberge-Wentzell has wasted no time as her top priority in pushing school districts in Connecticut in the administration and implementation of the SBAC tests aligned with Common Core which are schedule to be given to public school students during the spring of 2015. Why the big rush for tests that are destined to create havoc? According to Jonathan Pelto, the SBAC tests are “designed to ensure that potentially up to 70 percent of students fail to reach goal.” Hence, critics of Common Core testing believe that its evaluation methods are built on bad science, faulty research and compare it to “ building a plane while flying it.” Do we really want the test makers experimenting with our children in the name of “accountability”? Is Common Core and the SBAC aligned tests yet another train wreck waiting to happen?
Research on testing indicates that SBAC test scores will, in reality, simply and basically describe the demographics of students. That is why school districts such as Fairfield and Westport will have high SBAC scores while Bridgeport and Hartford will have low scores. In the end, the SBAC test scores will tell more about the real estate values than the quality of its schools. University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber has shown that nonschool factors such as family income amount to 60% of achievement.
Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, in a recent talk had a poignant message to education reformers and test makers when she said, “Testing does nothing but show you the educational attainment of the child’s mother. We don’t even see the test results, Why? What is the point of all this testing? These tests are what they are using to ruin people’s lives-adults and children; and then they run around saying, “I’m for the kids.” We continue to brand education as a failure. Why are we telling these lies?”
In light of the nonschool factors that impact student achievement, the Connecticut State Department of Education needs to take a step back and reflect on what their focus on high-stakes testing is doing to our students and what they are doing to our teachers and schools. There is more to teaching and learning than test scores. “Accountability” is the culprit that is demeaning our public schools.
Education Funding, Education Reform, No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, Standardized Testing Corporate Education Reform Industry, NCLB, Public Education, RTTT, Standardized Testing
Jonathan Kantrowitz, is a public education advocate, political activist and blogger. His blog appears on the Connecticut Post website and the sites operated by the Hearst Media Group. In a post entitled, “U.S. has the world’s most educated workforce—but students face unparalleled levels of poverty, inequity and violence,” Jonathan Kantrowitz has written an extraordinary and profound piece about the real problems that are causing the growing educational achievement gap in the United States.
This article should be mandatory reading for the President of the United States, every member of Congress, every state governor and every state legislator.
At the very least, Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo should read it and be required to respond – in writing – as to why they are promoting policies that take our public education policies in exactly the wrong direction.
The following is Jonathan Kantrowitz’s post;
Source: Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable
A new study released today challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S.educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.
In their report, School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect, the Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable examined six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.
Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.
“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.
Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. Measures included rates of childhood poverty, income inequality and violence. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”
The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K-12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip—and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.
Some key findings:
Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.
Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.
Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.
Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.
Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.
System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.
“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. To avoid that scoreboard mentality, we need to look at many measures important to shaping our future citizens. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.
A call for more nuanced assessments
American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ performance in education. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.
“We don’t oppose using international assessments as one measure of performance. But as educators and policymakers, we need to compare ourselves with similar nations and on a broader set of indicators that put school performance in context—not just a single number in an international ranking,” said Harvey.
“Our study suggests the U.S. has the most educated workforce, yet students confront shockingly high rates of poverty and violence. Research shows that those larger issues, outside the classroom, are serious threats to student learning,” noted HML Executive Director Jack McKay.
For more of his posts, go to; http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/
Malloy, No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, State Budget, Stefan Pryor Malloy, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Stefan Pryor
On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.
Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.
In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.
That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14. With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;
January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly
Senate Resolution No.14
RESOLUTION APPROVING THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE CONNECTICUT STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.
Resolved by the Senate:
That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved
Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.
So what is the story?
It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.
The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.
However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”
It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.
In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.
However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”
Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.
So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with non-Federal funds . It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).
In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.
And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.
So all in favor, say yes…
Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.
Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.
And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.
We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.
Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.
It is a question every legislator should be asked.
And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.
Education Reform, Malloy, No Child Left Behind Act, Stefan Pryor, Wendy Lecker Education Reform, Malloy, NCLB
My colleague, fellow public education advocate and commentator, Wendy Lecker, had another “must read” column in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Post and the other papers that make up the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.
While many readers know about the problems associated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, many may not fully appreciated why a federal waiver doesn’t solve the problem. In her column, Lecker explains why the Malloy Administration’s unquestioning commitment to getting a federal waiver is not the right solution.
“If education is supposed to be the civil rights issue of this era, why does Connecticut’s new system for rating schools and districts discriminate against our most vulnerable students? Connecticut instituted the new system in order to obtain a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). NCLB mandated that states judge schools and districts, and impose punishments, based on test scores of the entire school and district and of subgroups of students: different ethnic groups, English language learners, children living in poverty and students with disabilities. One claimed benefit of reporting scores by subgroups is that this revealed which groups of children tended to score poorly on standardized tests.
However, under NCLB, schools serving a more heterogeneous population were more likely to be punished. Not only did entire schools and districts have to pass the testing goal for a year, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), but each subgroup had to pass the goal as well. Thus, a school or district with fewer subgroups had a better chance of making AYP than a diverse one.
Since the ultimate goal of NCLB, that 100 percent of students would be proficient on state tests by 2014, was widely acknowledged as unattainable, more and more schools were failing to make AYP as we approached that deadline. Even homogeneous, affluent districts were bound to fail. Sanctions under NCLB ranged from mandating unregulated tutoring and allowing students to transfer out, to more serious interventions such as firing all staff and/or handing schools over to private operators. None of these sanctions have proven effective at improving schools.”
Read the rest at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Waivers-intensify-injustice-of-No-4004364.php#ixzz2BeV8i2CU