Who on earth would require HS juniors to take the Common Core Field Test in the spring?

Ah….  Well… Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and their corporate education reform industry allies are doing exactly that.

When it comes to these proponents of education reform, three of their favorite words tend to be “Common Core, “Standardized Testing,” and “College Ready.”

As any parent who has sent a child off to college or is entering that process knows that many college bound high school juniors take college admission tests, such as the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests or the ACT in the spring.

As the College Board instructs students;

“Most students take the SAT for the first time during the spring of their junior year and a second time during the fall of their senior year…At least half of all students take the SAT twice…Most students also improve their score the second time around.”

This year the SAT Test Days are March 8, May 3 and June 7.

And the useless Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test?

Schools are making high school juniors take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test between March 18 and June 6, 2014.

Last spring, Wendy Lecker, Sara Darer Littman and I wrote a blog post about this very issue.  It was entitled, “Take it from parents; teenagers are people, not data points.”  Unfortunately neither the Governor nor the legislature took the warning seriously.

Thanks to Malloy, Pryor and the education reformers, thousands of juniors will be wasting their time taking the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test instead of focusing on what will really make them “college ready.”

Our blog post explained;

Ask any parent, high school student or teacher- 11th grade is hell. Aside from the heavy course-load, juniors have to suffer through a litany of standardized tests- and these count: SATs, SAT subject tests, ACTs, APs.

Could anyone make junior year any worse? Why yes! Thank President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor, the State Board of Education and Connecticut’s esteemed legislators. They all pushed and/or voted to make the Common Core State Standards Connecticut law.

As we all know, the CAPT test, the only state standardized test in high school, is administered in 10th grade. That test will now be replaced by the Common Core test, which will now be administered in 11th grade.

Would anyone who has any familiarity with high school ever be moronic enough to add ANOTHER standardized test to 11th grade, losing weeks of learning time and adding stress to the pressure cooker that is junior year?

Of course not- but then again, students, parents and teachers were never consulted before the Common Core was rammed down our throats.

What could possibly be the justification for this move to eleventh grade testing? That “we” want to make sure students are “college-ready?” Do people really think that a standardized test, scored in seconds by a computer, will tell us whether a student is ready for the research, writing and in-depth learning she will face in college? Rather than imposing tests that pretend to measure whether they are college-ready, leave our kids alone- they already have enough exams on their plate. We want them to be well-rounded, healthy individuals, with time for extra-curricular interests and yes, even a social life.

Defenders of the Common Core, a set of standards written with virtually no teacher involvement, like to claim that its critics are right-wing nuts or left-wing nuts.

But we aren’t. We are parents, who care deeply about education and learning. We also love our children and unlike the geniuses that thought it would be a bright idea to add another round of high stakes testing in junior year, we understand their social and emotional needs.

When Sarah told her junior daughter that the Greenwich Board of Education had planned Common Core Alignment Testing to gather data for the State Board of Education this month, while she was also going to be taking AP Exams and preparing for the SAT, she said, “That’s just disrespectful.”  She is right.

We adults expect respect from our teenagers. But to earn their respect, we must show them the respect they, too, deserve. Expecting them take an assessment test for data purposes when they are already facing so much pressure is not only disrespectful, it is unhealthy.

Greenwich parents rebelled and Greenwich was allowed to opt-out of testing – for this year. But just for this year. Meanwhile, across the state, juniors in other districts are suffering.  Parents in the wealthy suburbs had better wake up and smell the coffee. This testing madness is coming for your kids too.

As adults, we should be modeling balance for our kids, not cruelty and insanity. The rate of suicide for the 15-24 age group has nearly tripled since 1960. Is it any wonder when the State Board of Education and the National Secretary of Education treat our already stressed out teens like lab rats instead of human beings?

This is not a partisan issue. This is a conflict between those driven by ideology alone, who clearly will never live with the consequences of their policies, versus those who live with children in our public schools. And for those of us who teach in, learn in or have children in high school, no matter what our political affiliation, it is time to rise up and shout: “Enough is enough!”

Wendy Lecker, Sarah Darer Littman and Jonathan Pelto are public education advocates and commentators.  In addition to their pieces here at Wait, What? you can find many of Wendy’s commentary pieces at the Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group papers and Sarah’s at CTNewsjunkie

More than 500 New York State principals slam Common Core testing frenzy

While Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, and the Connecticut State Department of Education are instructing Connecticut superintendents and principals to mislead and lie to parents in an attempt to scare parents from opting their children out of the standardized testing frenzy, a group of more than 500 New York State principals have signed a letter setting the record straight about the problems associated with these new Common Core standardized tests.

Hopefully more Connecticut school administrators will join education leaders like Madison, Connecticut Superintendent  Thomas Scarice and stand up, step forward and speak out against the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAC), the overuse of standardized testing in Connecticut’s public schools and the right of parents to opt-out their children from these unfair, unnecessary, expensive and destructive tests.


New York State Principals

 An Open Letter to Parents of Children throughout New York State

Dear Parents,

We are the principals of your children’s schools. We serve communities in every corner of New York State — from Niagara County to Clinton, Chautauqua to Suffolk. We come from every size and type of school, with students from every background. We thank you for sharing your children with us and for entrusting us to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams and your hopes for them.

This year, many of your children experienced the first administration of the newly revised New York State Assessments. You may have heard that teachers, administrators, and parents are questioning the validity of these tests. As dedicated administrators, we have carefully observed the testing process and have learned a great deal about these tests and their impact. We care deeply about your children and their learning and want to share with you what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.

Here’s what we know:

1)    NYS Testing Has Increased Dramatically: We know that our students are spending more time taking State tests than ever before. Since 2010, the amount of time spent on average taking the 3-8 ELA and Math tests has increased by a whopping 128%! The increase has been particularly hard on our younger students, with third graders seeing an increase of 163%!

2)    The Tests were Too Long: We know that many students were unable to complete the tests in the allotted time. Not only were the tests lengthy and challenging, but embedded field test questions extended the length of the tests and caused mental exhaustion, often before students reached the questions that counted toward their scores. For our Special Education students who receive additional time, these tests have become more a measure of endurance than anything else.

3)    Ambiguous Questions Appeared throughout the Exams: We know that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers to ambiguous questions in both ELA and Math. In some schools, identical passages and questions appeared on more than one test and at more than one grade level. One school reported that on one day of the ELA Assessment, the same passage with identical questions was included in the third, fourth AND fifth grade ELA Assessments.

4)    Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests: We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.

5)    The Low Passing Rate was Predicted: We know that in his “Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards” memo of March 2013, Deputy Commissioner Slentz stated that proficiency scores (i.e., passing rate) on the new assessments would range between 30%-37% statewide. When scores were released in August 2013, the statewide proficiency rate was announced as 31%.

6)    The College Readiness Benchmark is Irresponsibly Inflated: We know that the New York State Education Department used SAT scores of 560 in Reading, 540 in Writing and 530 in mathematics, as the college readiness benchmarks to help set the “passing” cut scores on the 3-8 New York State exams. These NYSED scores, totaling 1630, are far higher than the College Board’s own college readiness benchmark score of 1550. By doing this, NYSED has carelessly inflated the “college readiness” proficiency cut scores for students as young as nine years of age.

7)    State Measures are Contradictory: We know that many children are receiving scores that are not commensurate with the abilities they demonstrate on other measures, particularly the New York State Integrated Algebra Regents examination. Across New York, many accelerated eighth-graders scored below proficiency on the eighth grade test only to go on and excel on the Regents examination one month later. One district reports that 58% of the students who scored below proficiency on the NYS Math 8 examination earned a mastery score on the Integrated Algebra Regents.

8)    Students Labeled as Failures are Forced Out of Classes: We know that many students who never needed Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in the past, are now receiving mandated AIS as a result of the failing scores. As a result, these students are forced to forgo enrichment classes. For example, in one district, some middle school students had to give up instrumental music, computer or other special classes in order to fit AIS into their schedules.

9)    The Achievement Gap is Widening: We know that the tests have caused the achievement gap to widen as the scores of economically disadvantaged students plummeted, and that parents are reporting that low-scoring children feel like failures.

10) The Tests are Putting Financial Strains on Schools: We know that many schools are spending precious dollars on test prep materials, and that instructional time formerly dedicated to field trips, special projects, the arts and enrichment, has been reallocated to test prep, testing, and AIS services.

11) The Tests are Threatening Other State Initiatives: Without a doubt, the emphasis on testing is threatening other important State initiatives, most notably the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Parents who see the impact of the testing on their children are blaming the CCSS, rather than the unwise decision to implement high stakes testing before proper capacity had been developed. As long as these tests remain, it will be nearly impossible to have honest conversations about the impact of the CCSS on our schools.

 

Here’s what we do not know:

1)    How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.

2)    How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.

3)    The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.

4)    What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.

5)    How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.

Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.

As principals of New York schools, it is always our goal to move forward in a constant state of improvement. Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good. Please work with us to preserve a healthy learning environment for our children and to protect all of the unique varieties of intelligence that are not reducible to scores on standardized tests. Your child is so much more than a test score, and we know it.

When real teachers speak… Elected officials should listen

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach in Connecticut.  He also writes commentary pieces for CT News Junkie.  His pieces should be mandatory reading for every federal, state and local elected official in Connecticut.

In his latest column entitled, Already Feeling Squeezed As I Attempt to ‘Align’ With Common Core, Barth Keck provides a direct view into the challenges facing teachers and the chaos being created by the corporate education reform industry and their elected and appointed lackeys who are implementing their strategies.

There are the complexities and oddities of the Common Core Standards, some of which actually force Connecticut’s teachers to back-down and reduce the scope and sequence of Connecticut’s existing standards.

Then there is the rush to test child on those Common Core Standards despite the fact that sufficient Common Core Curricula has yet to be developed.

And now there is the unfair and flawed Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test.

And the list goes on and on.

The whole education reform fiasco is demoralizing teachers and undermining Connecticut’s system of public education.

As Barth Keck observes;

Little did Elizabeth Natale know that her Hartford Courant opinion piece would not only go viral, but also set off a chain reaction that essentially put Connecticut’s education reform on hold.

Natale’s op-ed appeared on Jan. 17 under the headline “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.” The piece has been read by nearly 500,000 viewers, according to the Courant.

Ten days after Natale’s op-ed appeared, veteran Connecticut politico and blogger Jonathan Pelto published a comprehensive post summarizing the reactions of politicians and pundits.

The real bomb was dropped on Jan. 29 when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy effectively put the brakes on education reform in Connecticut.

Shortly thereafter, Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice pled with state legislators to “listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections” to school reform.

In truth, the issue of education reform has been smoldering for a while. Connecticut, however, has been slow to react because most Nutmeggers — especially parents — had not truly contemplated the “Common Core” until Natale’s personal and lucid reflections brought CCSS to the forefront.

Veteran teacher Stan Karp has written perhaps the most comprehensive and informative article on the issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards, starting with the hasty implementation of its untested principles.

“These standards have never been fully implemented in real schools anywhere,” writes Karp. “They’re more or less abstract descriptions of academic abilities organized into sequences by people who have never taught at all or who have not taught this particular set of standards.”

As a high school English teacher for the past 23 years, I consider myself, well, experienced. But not even my own professional experience could prepare me — in one year’s time — for the voluminous standards which, under Connecticut’s plan, comprise 22.5 percent of my performance evaluation.

Take the English Language Arts Standards for 9th and 10th graders as an example. There are six “strands” such as “Reading: Literature” and “Reading: Informational Text.” Within each strand are standards, many of which have numerous sub-standards.

The strand of Writing, for instance, has four categories: Text Types and Purposes, Production and Distribution of Writing, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing. This last category has just one standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.”

All of the other categories in the Writing strand, meanwhile, have multiple standards. Text Types and Purposes alone has 19 standards and sub-standards, including CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1c : “Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.”

All told, there are 75 standards and sub-standards that I must teach my students to prepare them for the computerized Smarter Balanced test — the final details of which are still being worked out.

[…]

Please take the time to go read Barth Keck’s entire piece.  It can be found at the CT News Junkie at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_already_feeling_squeezed_as_i_attempt_to_align_with_common_core/

Parents can opt their children out of the standardized testing frenzy and school superintendents should be supporting them

Connecticut Parents have a right to opt their children out of the standardized testing frenzy and school superintendents should be supporting them.

It is not easy being a superintendent of schools.  I know, having had a superintendent in the family and having e worked with dozens of superintendents over the past 30 years.

Superintendents are pulled in countless directions and are often put in “no-win” situations.

However, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has put Connecticut’s public school superintendents in an untenable position and now they must choose whether they see their job as carrying out orders from above or serving as the voice and chief advocate for the students, parents, teachers, staff and taxpayers that are part of their school district.

Superintendents must make this choice because Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and their Corporate Education Reform Industry thugs are on a mission to convince parents and guardians that they do not have a right to opt their child out of the unfair, ill-conceived and ludicrous standardized testing fiasco that is enveloping Connecticut’s Public Schools.

Sadly, far too many Connecticut Superintendent of Schools appear to be turning their backs on their students and communities and are, instead, taking on the responsibilities of following inappropriate orders and directives.

Yesterday, Regional School District #16 joined Shelton and other districts in trying to persuade parents that they lack the right to opt-out their children for these faulty tests.

Reports are coming in from across the state that other superintendents have or will be sending out letters that are intended to mislead parents into believing that their local school administrators “don’t have a choice” when it comes to the opt-out issue.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that superintendents have been instructed by the State Department of Education to send out a letter based on a model that was provided by Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor.  The letter is misleading, inappropriate and contains statements that cross the line into outright lies.

As was the case in Shelton, public school parents are being told that local school administrators, “have no degrees of freedom in this matter.  Federal and State laws require that public school students be tested.”

As directed by Commissioner Pryor’s office, the local letter states;

“Both federal and state statutes are clear in their language – that all students enrolled in public schools must take this yearly state assessment.  Until such legislation changes, the Department of Education and each school district must comply with federal and state mandates.”

As many Wait, What? readers already know, this information was contained in a December 2013 memo that was sent by Commissioner Pryor’s office to public school superintendents.

You can read the full memo here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/206539705/Connecticut-State-Department-of-Education-on-Opt-Out-State-Testing-Requests-2014.

While Pryor’s memo states;

“There is no opt-out language in state or federal law governing assessment. Sec.10-14n of the Connecticut Education Laws states that “Each student enrolled…in any public school shall annually take a statewide mastery examination.”

The memo goes on to explain;

 “….there are no legal/policy directions when parents seek to remove a child from statewide testing. Until recently, there have only been a handful of requests for exemptions each year. Districts are now reporting greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program.

The State Department of Education memo then goes on to instruct Connecticut public school superintendents and other school administrators about what they should say to mislead, trick and lie to Connecticut parents.

Those instructions are as follows:

“If Parent(s) contact their public school district to request/inform the district that they want their child(ren) removed from statewide testing…

  • The school or district administrator explains to the parent that the district has no degrees of freedom in the matter. Federal and state law requires that public school students are to be tested.

If Parent calls the state to ask if they can opt-out of testing.

  • State informs parent that there is no opt-out language in the law. As long as the student is enrolled in a Connecticut public school, the district is required to test them on some form of the statewide exam. The state sends a copy of the statutory references to the parent.

If Parent informs the district that, regardless of the law, the district is not to test the student.

  • District is advised to get this statement of intent from the parent in writing so that the district can provide a written response. The CSDE’s legal office has provided a model letter…which districts may adapt, citing all pertinent laws and regulations and asking the parent to reconsider as it is a violation of the law not to comply.

If Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested.

  • In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).

When it comes to the Connecticut Mastery Test, local superintendents are well aware  that if parents “insist that the child not be testing” then “In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).”

Incredibly, Commissioner Stefan Pryor’ directives for the 2104 standardized testing are even more misleading because the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test is nothing but a test of a test  and doesn’t even qualify as a Connecticut Mastery Test under the law.

Here is the Connecticut State Statute on the definition of a Mastery Test;

“Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination. (a) As used in this section, “mastery examination” means an examination or examinations, approved by the State Board of Education, that measure essential and grade-appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics or science.”

Even Malloy and Pryor have to know that a Test of a Test CANNOT be used to “measure essential and grade-appropriate skills.”

If SBAC, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test, is not a Connecticut Mastery Test then parents have the absolute right to opt-out their children.

If Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor want to further destroy their careers and ask Attorney General George Jepsen for an official opinion that the Common Core field test is a Connecticut Mastery Test or they want to go hunt for a judge to rule that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test is a Connecticut Mastery Test then they have that right.

But even if Attorney General Jepsen or a Connecticut judge determine that the Common Core test of a test is a Connecticut Mastery Test, then parents can return to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s own memo that states;

  • In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing.

The following chart indicates which towns are using the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test and which superintendents decided not to turn their students into guinea pig and stuck with the Connecticut Mastery Test.

As you can see, only a handful of towns decided to wait until the Corporate Education Reform Industry could work out the bugs and problems with their new absurd Common Core test before making our children suffer through it.

Meanwhile, if you are look for examples of Connecticut opt-out letters here are some drafts that you may want to use.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/202349382/UPDATED-Draft-Opt-Out-Letters-for-Connecticut-CMT-and-Common-Core-Smarter-Balanced-Assessment-Field-Test-1-26-14

No HS means the districts does not have its own high school but I part of a regional high school:

School District Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test (Grade 3-8) Common Core Smart Balanced Field Test (Grade 11) CMT (Grades 3-8) CAPT (Grade 10)
Andover X No HS
Ansonia X x
Ashford x No HS
Avon x x
Barkhamsted x No HS
Berlin x x
Bethany x No HS
Bethel x x
Bloomfield x x x x
Boton x x
Bozrah x   NO HS
Branford x x
Bridgeport x x
Bristol x x
Brookfield x x
Brooklyn x No HS
Canaan x x
Canterbury x No HS
Canton x x
Chaplin x No HS
Cheshire x x
Chester x No HS
Clinton x x
Colcehster x x
Colebrook x No HS
Cornwall x No HS
Coventry x x
Cromwell x x
Danbury x x
Darien x x
Deep River x No HS
Derby x x
Eastford x No HS
East Granby x x
East Haddam x x
East Hampton x x
East Hartford x x
East Haven x x
East Lyme x x
Easton x x
East Windsor x x
Ellington x x
Enfield x x
Essex x   NO HS
Fairfield x x
Farmington x x
Franklin x   NO HS
Glastonbury x x
Granby x x
Greenwich x x
Griswold x x
Groton x x
Guilford x x
Hamden x x
Hamden x x
Hampton x No HS
Hartford x x
Hartland x No HS
Hebron x No HS
Kent x x
Killingly x x
Lebanon x x
Ledyard x x
Lisbon x x
Litchfield x x
Madison x x
Manchester x x
Mansfield x No HS
Marlborough x x
Meriden x x
Middletown x x
Milford x x
Monroe x x
Montville x x
Naugatuck x x
New Britain x x
New Canaan x x
New Fairfield x x
New Hartford x No HS
New Haven x x
Newington x x
New London x x x x
New Milford x x
Newtown x x
Norfolk x No HS
North Branford x x
North Canaan x x
North Haven x x
North Stonington x x
Norwalk x x
Norwich x No HS
Old Saybrook x x
Orange x No HS
Oxford x x
Plainfield x x
Plainville x x
Plymouth x x
Pomfret x No HS
Portland x x
Preston x No HS
Putnam x x
Redding x x
Rocky Hill x x
Salem x x
Salisbury x x
Scotland x No HS
Seymour x x
Sharon x x
Shelton x x
Sherman x No HS
Simsbury x x
Somers x x
Southington x x
South Windsor x x
Sprague x   NO HS
Stafford x x
Stamford x x
Sterling x  NO HS
Stonington x x
Stratford x x
Suffield x x
Thompson x x
Tolland x x
Thomaston x x
Torrington x x
Trumbull x x
Union x   NO HS
Vernon x x
Voluntown x  NO HS
Wallingford x x
Waterbury x x
Waterford x x
Watertown x x
Westbrook x x
West Hartford x x
West Haven x x
Weston x x
Westport x x
Wethersfield x x
Willington x  NO HS
Wilton x x
Windham x x x x
Winchester x   NO HS
Windsor x x
Windsor Locks x x
Wolcott x x
Woodbridge x  NO HS
Woodstock x   NO HS
Region 1 x x
Region 2 x x
Region 3 x x
Region 4 x x
Region 5 x x
Region 6 x x
Region 7 x x
Region 8 x x
Region 9 x x
Region 10 x x
Region 11 x x
Region 12 x x
Region 13 x x
Region 14 x x
Region 15 x x
Region 16 x x
Region 17 x x
Region 18 x x
Region 19 x x
Norwich Free Academy x
Woodstock Academy x
School District Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test (Grade 3-8) Common Core Smart Balanced Field Test (Grade 11) Connecticut Master Test (Grades 3-8) CAPT (Grade 10)

Malloy and Pryor’s “Mandatory” March Madness: The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test

Despite what Governor Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and their corporate education reform industry allies are telling Connecticut parents, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment “Field Test” scheduled for March-June is not a Connecticut Mastery Examination. 

In fact, it is nothing more than a Test of a Test.

And to suggest that parents must force their children to participate in the Common Core Test of a Test is utter nonsense!

Take a look at the applicable Connecticut State Statute;

“Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination. (a) As used in this section, “mastery examination” means an examination or examinations, approved by the State Board of Education, that measure essential and grade-appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics or science.”

Even Malloy and Pryor must realize that a Test of a Test CANNOT be used to “measure essential and grade-appropriate skills.”

As Wait,What? readers already know, the Smarter Balanced Consortium’s own website explains the situation;

Field Test

The Smarter Balanced Field Test will take place from March 18 – June 6, 2014. The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system…

Furthermore, according to the corporate entity that is developing the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment, Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor could have chosen to try and force only 10% of Connecticut students to participate.

Instead the Malloy/Pryor operation decided to disrupt Connecticut’s entire public education system by trying to force all public school students and teachers to shift from instruction to testing for extended periods of time from March through June. 

But rather than tell the truth about the Common Cause testing frenzy, Malloy, Pryor and their inner-circle of non-educators are engaged in an ongoing taxpayer-funded PR campaign to try to persuade parents that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test of a Test is good for our children, teachers and public schools.

Just take a look at the following form letter that Commissioner Pryor’s office developed and sent to public school superintendents around the state.  Superintendents were then instructed to use their school principals to “educate” parents about the benefits of the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test.

Your mission [insert reader’s name] should you decide to accept it is to identify the half-truths, misleading statements and out-right lies contained in the letter that Commissioner Pryor’s office is telling local school administrators to send to parents.

Letter provided by the Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Department of Education

 Smarter Balanced Field Test
Parent and Guardian Notification Letter Template

DIRECTIONS: Before this letter is distributed, place the following text on school letterhead and insert the information indicated by bold type in parentheses.

                                                                                                                                               

[Insert date]

Dear Parent or Guardian:

Our school is one of many in the country that will participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test this spring.  Schools in 24 states will participate in the field test starting this March.

For our school, all students in [insert grades(s) here] will participate in the Field Test in both mathematics and English language arts/literacy.  Students will not participate in the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for these content areas.  Please note that students in Grade 5, 8, and 10 are required to take the CMT or CAPT Science test.  Students assessed with the CMT/CAPT Skills Checklist will not participate in the Smarter Balanced Field Test, but will continue to be assessed with the CMT/CAPT Skills Checklist.

Our school plans to administer the Field Test [insert dates here].

  • The tests are not timed; however, it will take approximately 3 to 4 hours to complete each content area test.
  • Testing may be scheduled over multiple sessions of about 45 minutes each, but may be scheduled in shorter or longer sessions as appropriate for the students in the school.

To comply with federal and state statute, participation in the field test is required.  Please note that Smarter Balanced will adhere to all federal and state privacy laws, including but not limited to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The Field Test is an opportunity to “test the test.”  Information from the Field Test will be used to evaluate the testing software, ensure the quality of test questions, and evaluate the effectiveness of the test administration and training materials.

This is an exciting opportunity for our school.  Students will be able to try out new, online testing software and new question types that will be similar to future Smarter Balanced assessments.  By participating in the Field Test, your child will be influencing the development of the Smarter Balanced assessments that will be Connecticut’s statewide assessment beginning in the 2014 – 2015 school year.  Every student response is a valuable piece of information that will be used to ensure that the new assessments are valid, reliable, and fair for all students.

Please visit the Smarter Balanced website at www.smarterbalanced.org for more information.  If you have any questions regarding your child’s participation, please contact [insert name of school contact] at [insert phone number and/or e-mail address].

Sincerely,
[Insert name of school principal]
Principal

PS, you can find Pryor’s PR piece via the following link (at least until they take it down): http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/student_assessment/smarter_balanced/CT_Smarter_FieldTest_ParentNotification_LetterTemplate.docx

Commissioner Pryor’s agency tells superintendents to mislead and lie to parents – and they are

Shelton Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Freeman Burr is sending a letter to parents who seek to opt their children out of Connecticut’s standardized testing scheme.  The letter, based on a model provided by Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor’s office, is misleading and could reasonably be called an outright lie.

When Governor Malloy was recently asked if parents could opt their children out of Connecticut’s standardized tests he said that he didn’t know.  When Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, was asked the same question he managed to provide a non-answer.

But as directed by a memo released by Commissioner Pryor’s office last December, Connecticut superintendents are being told to mislead, even lie, to any parents who seek to opt their children out of Connecticut’s misguided standardized testing fiasco.

In Shelton, public school parents who inform their school that they are opting out their children from the standardized testing are getting a letter from Superintendent Freeman explaining that, “Shelton Public Schools have no degrees of freedom in this matter.  Federal and State laws require that public school students be tested.”

Freeman goes on to explain;

“Both federal and state statutes are clear in their language – that all students enrolled in public schools must take this yearly state assessment.  Until such legislation changes, the Department of Education and each school district must comply with federal and state mandates.”

However, Freeman’s response to Shelton parents is certainly not the truth, the whole and nothing but the truth.

Rather than tell parents the whole truth, Superintendent Freeman and others are following Commissioner Pryor’s instructions and purposely misleading Connecticut public school parents.

A December 2013 memo released by Commissioner Pryor’s office reads as follows:

“There is no opt-out language in state or federal law governing assessment. Sec.10-14n of the Connecticut Education Laws states that “Each student enrolled…in any public school shall annually take a statewide mastery examination.”

However the memo goes on to explain;

 “….there are no legal/policy directions when parents seek to remove a child from statewide testing. Until recently, there have only been a handful of requests for exemptions each year. Districts are now reporting greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program.

The State Department of Education memo instructs Connecticut public school superintendents and other school administrators what they are to say to mislead, trick and lie to Connecticut parents.

Those instructions are as follows:

“If Parent(s) contact their public school district to request/inform the district that they want their child(ren) removed from statewide testing…

  • The school or district administrator explains to the parent that the district has no degrees of freedom in the matter. Federal and state law requires that public school students are to be tested.

If Parent calls the state to ask if they can opt-out of testing.

  • State informs parent that there is no opt-out language in the law. As long as the student is enrolled in a Connecticut public school, the district is required to test them on some form of the statewide exam. The state sends a copy of the statutory references to the parent.

If Parent informs the district that, regardless of the law, the district is not to test the student.

  • District is advised to get this statement of intent from the parent in writing so that the district can provide a written response. The CSDE’s legal office has provided a model letter…which districts may adapt, citing all pertinent laws and regulations and asking the parent to reconsider as it is a violation of the law not to comply.

If Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested.

  • In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district. The state, to date, has not done any follow-up on these cases.

Shelton’s superintendent of schools knows perfectly well that if parents “insist that the child not be testing” then “In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).”

It is a truly shocking commentary about their obsession with standardized testing that Commissioner Pryor, the State Department of Education, Superintendent Freeman and others are intentionally misleading, even lying, to Connecticut parents.

Instead of starting with the truth and then explaining why they want parents to force their children to participate in the standardized testing program, Pryor and his entourage are trying to scare parents into compliance.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Shelton and almost every other Connecticut school district isn’t even using the Connecticut standardized mastery test this year.

Instead Shelton and those other districts are forcing their students to serve as guinea pigs or human test subjects for the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test (SBAC).

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a corporate entity set up to develop the Common Core tests.  On their own website they admit that, “The Smarter Balanced Field Test will take place from March 18 – June 6, 2014. The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system…”

The truth is that this year’s testing program is not even Connecticut’s mandated standardized test program.  It is nothing more than a “field test.”  As the Consortium goes on to reveal, “Each Smarter Balanced state individually determined how schools and students would be selected to take the Field Test. In some states, only a representative sample of students will participate—10 percent of students for each subject area. In others, the Field Test will be administered more broadly.”

Commissioner Pryor is claiming this test of a test is Connecticut’s Standardized Test and goes on to say that students MUST take the test and parents MAY NOT opt their children out of it.

But in reality, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test is nothing more than an experiment and as Commissioner Pryor and the State Department of Education admit, if parents “insist that the child not be testing” then “in these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as “absent” (for purposes of testing).

The whole Common Core standardized testing scheme is already a hoax, but to tell parents they’ve lost their parental rights is beyond contempt.

As stated earlier this week, it is time for Commissioner Pryor to resign and any superintendent or school administrator who intentionally misleads and lies to parents should be forced to head out the door right behind him.

CT Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s letter on “education reform” makes the Washington Post

On Friday, in a piece entitled, “A CT superintendent speaks: Madison’s Thomas Scarice and the Power of Truth”, Wait, What? posted Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s letter to legislators about the fundamental flows associated with Connecticut’s “education reform” initiative and what Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools really needed from state government.

Over the weekend, the Scarice’s piece was showing up on blogs around the country and today it is featured on the Washington Post’s website.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss’s features Scarice’s letter in an article is entitled, “Superintendent on school reform: ‘It is not working’.

Strauss writes:

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has just asked for a “pause” in implementation of a controversial new teacher evaluation system that uses student standardized test scores to assess teachers as well creation of a task force to study the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Is “a pause” the answer?

You might think Malloy did this because of the growing opposition to both in his state, but blogger Jonathan Pelto points out here that he did it not because he really believes there is a problem with the school reforms but because he is trying to assure his re-election this November and can read the political tea leaves.

Whatever Malloy’s motives, here’s a powerful letter that Madison Schools Superintendent Tom Scarice wrote to state legislators explaining why Malloy’s “pause” isn’t the answer to the real problems. Incidentally, teachers, parents, community members, educators and others in his district together approved a teacher evaluation plan that does not include the use test scores. The state hasn’t approved it yet but the district is using it anyway.

You can read Superintendent Scarice’s letter in the Washington Post at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/03/superintendent-on-school-reform-it-is-not-working/

Or at Wait, What?: http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/01/31/ct-superintendent-speaks-madisons-thomas-scarice-power-truth/

Common Core Standardized Testing: Lessons from Los Angeles

The cost of ramping up Connecticut’s public schools for the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Test (SBAC) will easily exceed $100 million or more.  In fact, the Malloy administration, in conjunction with the Obama administration, have mandated the new test but never bothered to conduct a meaningful study as to how much this new test will cost Connecticut.

The reality is that the extra computers and increased Internet Bandwidth could cost taxpayers significantly more than $100 million.  Recently Governor Malloy took out the state’s credit card and borrowed $25 million to give to school districts.

(Although as CT Newsjunkie commentator Sarah Darer Littman revealed in a recent piece entitled, Blindly Financing the Common Core, Connecticut’s charter school made out like bandits compared to the traditional public schools).

Although $25 million is, well, $25 million … most of the costs associated with purchasing the Common Core compliant computers and expanding Internet Bandwidth so the new test doesn’t crash the school’s Internet will fall on local property taxpayers.

Since major tax increases are out of the question in many towns, implementing the Common Core Smarter Balanced Testing scheme will come from diverting scarce public money from other instructional activities such as art, music, PE, social studies and academic subjects that are not part of the Common Core testing.

Los Angeles, California has become the quintessential example of how the Common Core testing process is out of control.

Here is the latest from Diane Ravitch’s blog;

Los Angeles, which was teaching the nation what not to do with technology, is getting a new deal from Apple for its iPads.

Apple will cut the price.

Apple will sell L.A. new iPads instead of obsolete models.

The iPads will not be loaded with pre-set Pearson curriculum.

Howard Blume of the LA Times writes:

“The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay substantially less for thousands of iPads under the latest deal with Apple. The cost of the tablets that will be used on new state tests will be about $200 less per device, although the computers won’t include curriculum.

The revised price will be $504, compared to $699 for the iPads with curriculum. With taxes and other fees, the full cost of the more fully equipped devices rises to $768.

“The iPads are part of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and administrator in the nation’s second-largest school system. In response to concerns and problems, officials have slowed down the districtwide rollout, which began at 47 schools in the fall.

“L.A. Unified has also been under pressure to contain costs; it recently became clear that the district is paying more for devices than most other school systems. The higher price results mainly from L.A. Unified’s decision to purchase relatively costly devices and to include curriculum.

“District officials recently restarted negotiations with Apple and achieved two concessions. The first is that Apple would provide the latest iPad, rather than a discontinued model for which L.A. Unified was paying top dollar. The second is that Apple agreed to consider a lower price on machines for which curriculum was not necessary.”

Diane Ravitch summarizes the entire situation with the following:

The reason that L.A. is spending $1 billion on iPads is for Common Core testing. This raises the question as to how much Common Core testing will cost the nation. If Los Angeles alone–with about 670,000 students – will spend $1 billion, how many billions will the nation spend? $80 billion? How often will the tablets and iPads need to be replaced? What will be cut to pay for them? Does this vast new outlay explain the energetic support of the tech industry for Common Core?

Common Core costs up, instruction time down, Opt Out movement takes hold

When it comes to the implementation of the Common Core and its related Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) testing frenzy, the tide is beginning to turn. 

As a result of the policies being pushed by Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, massive amounts of school instruction time will give way to even more standardized test prep and standardized testing.

No country in the world conducts more standardized testing of its students and rather than cut back, the corporate education reform industry is dramatically increasing the amount standardized testing that is forced upon students in the United States.

Here in Connecticut, the new Common Core testing scheme will not only impact students from Kindergarten through 11th grade, but will cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars for new software, textbooks, computers, training and consultants to oversee it all.

As a result of this onslaught, a growing opt out of standardized testing movement is taking place across the country.

The effort to save our children and our taxpayers from this incredible waste of time and resources has arrived in Connecticut.

Here is a re-cap of some of the recent blog posts and commentary pieces about the movement to stop the standardized testing frenzy;

Don’t let them fool you: You can and should consider opting your child out of standardized testing frenzy (A powerful commentary piece by Wendy Lecker on the rights of parents when it comes to the Connecticut Mastery Test and the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test).

Sarah Darer Littman: Back with more news about the Malloy’s administration’s Common Core Spending (Sarah Darer Littman highlights the massive costs associated with the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test and how state funds will leave the primary burden for paying for these costs on the backs of local property taxpayers).

Jonathan Kantrowitz: A FACT based assessment of the Common Core (Jonathan Kantrowitz, a fellow blogger and expert on school curricula reminds readers that Connecticut already has extensive school standards already in place and that while standards can and should be improved, the Common Core standards aren’t the end all and be all they claim to be).

Those aren’t guinea pigs; those are our children! (A Wait, What? blog post about how many local school districts decided to go along with Commissioner Pryor’s decision to use our children as guinea pigs in this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) Field Test.  While states had the choice of having only 10% of the students be used in this expensive experiment, the Malloy administration decided to go to the other extreme and force as many students as possible to take the Common Core test – despite the fact that this year’s test is nothing more than a test of test on curriculum that students haven’t even been taught.  Only Ashford, Chaplin, Danbury, Madison, Preston, Rocky Hill, Scotland, Thomaston, Westport, Windsor and Regional District #11 rejected Commissioner Pryor’s directive and decided to stick with the Connecticut Mastery Test this year.   If you town isn’t on the list it means that your child is being used as a “lab rat” without your permission.

Opt Out Letters:

Finally, for those parents who are considering opting out their children from the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT/CAPT) or the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAC) here are some draft opt out letters you may want to use.

Go to: http://www.scribd.com/doc/202349382/UPDATED-Draft-Opt-Out-Letters-for-Connecticut-CMT-and-Common-Core-Smarter-Balanced-Assessment-Field-Test-1-26-14.

Jonathan Kantrowitz: A FACT based assessment of the Common Core

Jonathan Kantrowitz writes a great blog that can be found on the Connecticut Post and Hearst Connecticut Media Group websites.  Kantrowitz is a self-described “Political activist and health nut.” You should read the blog for both the political content and his health news.

Kantrowitz is also an expert on school curriculum and curriculum development.

When it comes to the new Common Core standards for our schools, standards that Connecticut has adopted and standards are requiring the state’s public school students to take the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test rather than the Connecticut Mastery Test, Kantrowitz goes where few others dare to tread.

Kantrowitz actually compares the standards that are now in place for Connecticut students, the standards used in Massachusetts’ public schools and the Common Core Standards.

His blog posts should be mandatory reading for policymakers because it makes clear that standards already exist, that the Common Core standards are far from perfect and that Connecticut could and should be looking to strengthen its own standards rather than adopt the Common Core Standards.

He also notes that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test systematically fails to provide a reasonable vehicle for testing students or evaluating teachers.

Kantrowitz makes the case overwhelming clear.  Rather than spend tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars on realigning Connecticut’s school curriculum to the Common Core standards and instituting the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Connecticut should be investing in developing the most appropriate and effective standards and then developing the training and tools so that Connecticut teachers are using those standards as effectively as possible.

The reading is a heavy lift for those not familiar with education standards and curricula but the posts are definitely a must read.

But first, here is a recent blog post in which Kantrowitz lays out the foundation for  the education reformers’ approach to standardized testing;

There is a big billboard alongside I-95 in Bridgeport that carries a quotation from the New Testament:

“With the testing, God will provide, so that you may endure it”

The citation on the billboard is 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Now I’m not sure that the people who put up the billboard were referring to Common Core testing, and I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t when he wrote the epistle, but there is a clue in the line before the passage quoted that makes me wonder:

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.”

In the series of blog posts, Jonathan Kantrowitz lays out the education standards.  When it comes to Grade 3 math, for example, he concludes that:

1. Connecticut’s standards are not sufficiently challenging.

2. Massachusetts’ standards are the “gold standard” for states, and make it clear why Massachusetts students consistently rank first in national comparisons.

3. The Common Core Standards are difficult to understand and challenging to teach.

4. Using high-stakes testing to evaluate third grade teachers on their performance in the first year of implementation of these standards is grossly unfair.

Here Kantrowitz lays out the facts about math standards:

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part I

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part II

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part III

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part IV

And here Kantrowitz lays out the issues related to writings, speaking and listening standards.

He explains;

“Connecticut has two sets of standards in the areas above, the State Framework and Grade-Level Expectations. There are no standards specifically addressed to CMT assessments. There are two assessments in this area in Connecticut however, the excellent, and unique, CMT Editing & Revising Test and CMT Writing: Expository/ Explanatory (compare and contrast).

Prior to the Common Core, many states tested only Math and Reading, not Writing at all. As mentioned, only Connecticut tested Editing and Revising, and only Georgia tested language conventions.

However, Connecticut limits testing at the Grade 5 level to Expository/ Explanatory. The Common Core includes Narrative and Persuasive Writing, and presumably these will be tested as well.

I believe because of the emphasis on testing Editing and Revising Connecticut is in pretty good shape here and adjusting to the Common Core should not be as difficult as in other parts of the curriculum.

Comparing Writing, Language, Speaking and Listening Standards – Common Core and Connecticut Grade 5

And finally Kantrowitz addresses the reading standards;

Reading standards are of necessity less highly specific than math standards making comparisons more difficult. The fact that Connecticut has 3 different sets of standards also complicates analysis. But nothing in Connecticut’s standards can compare to such CCSS standards as

“Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)”;

“Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.”;

“Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.”

Moreover, Connecticut’s higher level standards are contained only in Grade-Level Expectations, not in the more crucial CMT standards which have been tested.

1. Connecticut standards are far below CCSS.

2. Expecting 5th grade teachers to play catch-up and apply these standards to students who have no base from previous grades is unrealistic.

3. Evaluating teachers via high-stakes testing on the new standards is grossly unfair.

Comparing Reading Standards – Common Core and Connecticut Grade 5

Having standards are an important part of a successful public education system, but the evidence is becoming increasingly clear… The Common Core is not the best standards to use.