Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth by Jacob Werblow

1 Comment

Jacob Werblow, Ph.D., is a former standardized test developer and urban classroom teacher. He is an associate professor of Teacher Education at Central Connecticut State University. Jacob lives in New Britain with his wife and two girls, who will be opting out of high-stakes standardized tests.

Jacob Werblow has a great commentary piece in CTMirror entitled, Op-ed: Still more standardized testing? Listen to the youth.

Werblow concludes his piece with,

Over 30 years of research supports these students’ views that increased standardization of the curriculum decreases a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of diverse learners. Recent research shows that even the SAT is not a good predictor of college success. Students’ high school GPA is a much better predictor.

Parents do have the right to have their children opt out of standardized testing. A growing number of school boards around the country (including several in Massachusetts) have voted to no longer participate in the new high-stakes standardized tests. A new wave is building, one that needs to include youths’ voices about how students learn best.

You can read his entire commentary piece at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-still-more-standardized-testing-listen-to-the-youth/

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

5 Comments

Fellow pro-public education advocate and blogger Jeff Bryant runs  the Education Opportunity Network, one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups in the battle to beat back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our public education system.  By signing up on the Education Opportunity Network’s website will not only be adding your voice to the effort but will be getting access to critically important information about the battles around the country.  You can sign up at: http://educationopportunitynetwork.org.

In the meantime, here is a very timely piece that Jeff Bryant wrote,

Test Season Reveals America’s Biggest Failures (By Jeff Bryant)

It’s testing season in America, and regardless of how the students do, it’s clear who is already flunking the exams.

Last week in New York, new standardized tests began rolling out across the state, and tens of thousands of families said “no dice.”

According to local news sources, over 33,000 students skipped the tests – a figure “that will probably rise.”

At one Brooklyn school, so many parents opted their students out of the tests the teachers were told they were no longer needed to proctor the exams. At another Brooklyn school, 80 percent of the students opted out.Elsewhere in Long Island, 41 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk reported thousands of students refusing to take the test, and an additional district reported hundreds more.

Reflecting how the testing rebellion may affect upcoming elections, the Republican opponent to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rob Astorino, announced his intention to opt his children out of state tests.

What is happening in New York is indicative of a groundswell of popular dissent – what Peter Rothberg, a journalist for The Nation and a New York City parent, called a “nationwide movement” – against the over-use and abuse of standardized testing in public schools.

One would think all this consternation begs some response from people whose job it is to react when the populace is enraged. But so far, major media outlets and an entrenched education regime that’s prevailed in policy making for over 30 years are proving they’re not up to the task.

A Storm Surge Out Of Texas Sweeps The Nation

Growing resistance to testing in New York follows a similar popular rebellion in Texas, where a grassroots movement led by parents abruptly undid over 30 years of test supremacy in the state’s education system, according to a new series in The Dallas Morning News.

“No state has been more important than Texas in the growth of standardized testing,” the News reporter noted. “And not just here. Gov. George W. Bush took the model and his education advisers to Washington when he became president. The Texas system provided the scaffolding for No Child Left Behind – and the seed of the new Common Core program that calls for even more testing. In Texas and across the nation, the push for more testing seemed unstoppable. Until it was stopped.”

Despite their success in thwarting the testing juggernaut, more Texas parents are still opting out, the News reported in another article. These parents claim, “An unhealthy focus on test scores has warped what happens in the classroom, so that too much time is spent on testing strategy and on drills that are designed to maximize test scores at the expense of other valuable skills.”

In Massachusetts, school districts that had been warned by the state not to allow parents to withhold their children from new state tests have been caving to demands and give parents permission to opt their children out.

In Connecticut, resistance to the state tests is growing so rapidly that “the state Department of Education released guidelines telling school districts just how to deal with parents who want to opt out.”

In Pittsburgh, hundreds of Pennsylvania parents who had opted their children out of state tests caught the attention of a local news outlet that interviewed one of the mothers leading the fight.

In Colorado, “a growing cacophony of assessment protests” has prompted public school officials to release new guidelines for opting out of tests because of so many “teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing.” Dozens of activists in the nationwide test resistance movement gathered at an event in Denver to listen to speakers, conduct panels, and share strategies on resisting the tests. A report on the meeting noted that while only 1 percent of parents in Colorado opt their children out of tests, “the movement appears to be gaining traction.”

On the west coast, anticipating the rising test rebellion in Washington, thestate’s largest teachers’ union just “passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests.”

At The Lost Angeles Times, one of the paper’s top editorial writers Karen Klein declared, “My family is opting out” of new tests in California. ” I’m not one for whining about standardized tests,” Klein wrote. “I had gone along with the mind-numbing academic program for far too long.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch called Klein’s column an important “defection” because of LAT’s previous editorial support of high-stakes testing and other features of the current education establishment. This turnaround “suggests,” Ravitch concluded, “that the patina of certitude attached to the standardized testing regime may in time crumble as more parents realize how flawed, how subjective, and how limited these tests really are.”

Media Either Mute Or Misrepresent

Outside of local news and blogs, the nation’s test rebellion has garnered little notice from major broadcast outlets, and when it has, the reporting has misrepresented the movement.

In reporting about the tests in New York, a reporter for The New York Times managed to find a few students who claimed the tests were easier – a claim not supported by any other accounts, anywhere, and refuted by the reporter’s own quote from a state official who said the tests were designed to be “more challenging.”

The reporter, Al Baker, minimalized opposition to the tests as “a growing, albeit relatively small, number of parents.” Rather than interviewing any of those parents, he chose to include a quote from a parent who said she was “she was eager to see” how her son did. Hey, too bad the only “results” she’ll see are a relatively meaningless score and percentile rank many months down the road rather than any item-by-item account that could revel something about her son’s abilities.

In its coverage, NPR chose to run an op ed equating parents who were opting out of tests to parents who refused to allow their children to be vaccinated for infectious diseases. For sure, withholding your children from vaccinations runs the risk of spreading whooping cough or measles. But the writer, Alan Greenblatt, never explained what the “risks” are to withholding students from tests. If he took the time to listen to the people opting out, he might learn that what’s posing the most “risk” to children and education is the tests themselves.

As The Nation’s Michelle Chen explained, there are very specific reasons for wanting to ditch the tests. “There’s something to hate for everyone in these standardized tests,” she wrote. “Students become miserable and bored with constant test-prep; parents and caregivers grow frustrated with curricula that seem to be failing their children … and teachers have raged against the imposition of formulaic, stress-inducing reading and math drills.”

In New York City, three teachers supporting parents opting their children out of tests wrote a letter to NYC school chief Carmen Farina explaining their decision. In the letter, posted at the Answer Sheet blogsite (not part of the paper’s printed editions) at The Washington Post, the teachers called their support “clear acts of conscience” to protest tests that lead to “ranking and sorting of children … encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” and “push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation.”

But the media outlet that scored an A for most tone-deaf coverage was the Beacon of the Beltway, The Washington Post. Choosing to completely ignore the rising chorus of teachers, parents, and students opting out, the Post instead chose to feature an op-ed by Michelle Rhee, the founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, a lobbying group and prodigious donor to political campaigns.

Rhee stated that refusing the tests “makes no sense” because “all parents want to know how their children are progressing and how good the teachers are in the classroom.”

Too bad these tests don’t really do that. Responding to Rhee from her blogsite at The Washington Post (again, not part of the paper’s printed editions) Valerie Strauss wrote, “Parents who want to know how their children are doing can know — from grades and non-standardized tests their children take in class. The scores of the most important end-of-year standardized tests don’t actually come back to the districts until the summer, making it impossible for teachers to use the results to help tailor instruction to a particular child — if in fact the tests actually gave important information to the teacher. Which by and large they don’t because so many of the tests are badly drawn. Even Rhee admits this in her op-ed.”

The Education Establishment Pushes Back

While the media generally ignore or misrepresent what the testing resistance is all about, an education establishment long used to enforcing top-down mandates is resorting to misinformation and intimidation.

In New York, some school administrators discouraged parents from opting their children out, told them their children would be penalized, or made children not taking the test “sit and stare” rather than reading and drawing quietly.

In Connecticut, state leaders and school district officials have become so alarmed at the growing number of parents opting their children out of tests that they have resorted to misinformation and punishments, according to local blogger Jonathan Pelto, that include denying any “accommodations” for students opting out and withholding use of laptops or other electronic devices, something normally allowed.

Similarly in Chicago, when parents declared their intentions to opt their children out of tests, and teachers refused to administer tests, school officials responded by pulling school children as young as eight out of class and interrogating them about their parents and teachers who had opted them out.

The campaign of misinformation and intimidation goes all the way up the line to the halls of the Department of Education in Washington, DC.

Although the objects of scorn for these parents and educators are state required tests, their anger is not addressed at their state capitals alone. Parents understand that the tests are products of years of top-down mandates imposed from Washington, DC. Most states have competed for federal dollars from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. And practically all states have been granted waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind law. These federal grants and waivers required states to institute vast testing regimes for the purpose of evaluating teachers and rating school performance. So states are intent on enforcing the tests so as not to lose their federal grants or the waivers that protect them from federal sanctions.

One of the states in danger of losing its federal waiver is Washington, where state lawmakers have yet to believe there is a valid reason to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Few states are willing to run this risk – only Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon so far – so most other states are intent on imposing the tests.

Also, the new tests are alleged to align to new Common Core Standards, which have now become so hugely controversial that two states – Indiana and Oklahoma – have reneged on their pledges to impose them, and many other states are scrambling to rebrand the Standards as something other than a federal mandate.

This week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did all he could in front of a U.S. House committee to back away from the federal government’s link to the Common Core and its aligned tests, stating, “I’m just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they’re common or not is secondary.”

But crack reporter Michele McNeil at Education Week was quick to point out, “The administration’s original $4 billion Race to the Top program awarded 40 points to states for developing and adopting common standards. All 12 of those winners have adopted the standards, and have not backed off. What’s more, a separate, $360 million Race to the Top contest to fund common tests was based on the premise that states needed help developing such assessments based on the common standards. But technically, aligning to the common core wasn’t required (you just probably weren’t going to win without it).”

Proponents of the Common Core now may want to decouple the standards from the tests that parents and teachers are increasingly rebelling against. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do. And misinforming – misleading, actually – people about how the two are so entangled is not going to be effective.

How About A Little Honesty?

What’s called for is an honest debate about the tests – how good or bad they are, what are the real limits to their usefulness, and whose ends are being served here (certainly, it doesn’t seem to be the students).

So far, only parents and teachers engaged in opting out seem to be having that debate while an entrenched education establishment does all it can to stifle opposition, and an apathetic media either misses the story or looks the other way.

One of those teachers Elizabeth Phillips, from PS 321 in Brooklyn, New York, wrote in an op-ed at The New York Times, “We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools … We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.”

Phillips called for some transparency in a debate where the people in authority want to hold all the cards and the media act as indifferent bystanders. She suggested, “The commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests,” then explain why “these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.”

That might be a pretty good start, but why stop there? One wonders how Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan would do.

“When we buy something, we should get what we pay for”

2 Comments

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

In a powerful commentary piece posted on the CT Mirror website and entitled, “When we buy something, we should get what we pay for,” Ann Cronin begins by laying out the harsh reality that faces our public schools.  She writes,

We, as U.S. taxpayers, spent $350 million for standardized tests to assess if students are mastering Common Core standards, and we are spending millions more at the state level to implement that testing. What we have been asked to buy is that teaching those standards and assessing them will make our students “college and career ready.”

But who knows? We need a warranty so we can return the standards and tests and get a new education for our children if they don’t work.

“Readiness for college and careers” will be measured by standardized tests given in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. As a parent, good standardized test scores were not what I asked of my children’s public schools. Instead, I asked that their teachers tap into my children’s love of learning, motivate them to want to learn more, and help them to grow in both their knowledge and their skills in building their own knowledge.

Cronin adds,

Standardized tests give a very limited picture of a student, limited by the goals of the test-makers. What seems much more important, even in terms of college and careers, is that children enjoy a stimulating and challenging year in school and have ideas and skills in June they didn’t have in September, rather than receive a high score on a standardized test.

This standardized test of “college and career readiness” is particularly inappropriate and unreliable because not one teacher was involved in setting the learning goals. Of the 29 writers of those goals, called Common Core standards, 27 were employees of testing companies. People who know how to test but not how to teach decided exactly what our children need to be “ready” for and how they demonstrate that “readiness” each year, kindergarten through high school.

And Cronin concludes with,

But we in Connecticut are still buying the idea that learning can be measured by standardized tests. The cost is high – not just in money but also in the education our children are not receiving. As Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal who first supported the Common Core but changed her mind after a year of implementation and testing in New York, said:

Eventually all of it will fail. But your child will not get another chance to be a third grader. We are on our way with the Common Core to creating a generation of students who will despise school before they get to college, ready or not. Our country and our children deserve better. (The Washington Post, April 7, 2013)

There is no warranty for the Common Core and its testing. Let’s look the governor, the commissioner of education and the State Board of Education in the eye and say: No Sale.

This MUST READ article can be found in its entirety at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-buyers-beware-of-common-core/

History Repeats Itself (Guest post by Alyce Roberts, Ed.D)

1 Comment

One of the primary benefits of having an extraordinary group of readers is that they bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the debate. 

A growing number are stepping forward to comment on blog posts or offering up their own guest posts in the on-going effort to educate, persuade and mobilize teachers, parents, public school advocates and others to join us in our battle to push back the corporate education reform industry and take back control of our system of public education.

The following is just such a post.  In it, educator Alyce Roberts helps put the “Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing in to context.”

History Repeats Itself: Context for the Current Debate on National Standards and Standardized Testing (By Alyce Roberts)

The Achievement Gap

The underachievement of minority adolescents remains one of the most discussed and studied phenomena in education.  According to a NAEP long-term trends report, the literacy achievement gap has been apparent since at least 1971, shortly after data collection began.  Black and Hispanic students in grade 12, on average, have the reading skills of 13-year-old White students.  Half of incoming 9th graders in urban, high-poverty schools read three years or more below grade level.  Without question, minority adolescents’ literacy needs are complex and demand attention.   One reason for the rise in literacy demands is globalization.

A Social/Political Response

The American educational system has a long history of neglecting to meet the needs of many of its students of diverse backgrounds.  Some contend that the primary purpose of school, as a social institution, has never been to provide a quality education to all.  (Until the 20th century, high school was mostly attended by a small number of White middle class and upper-middle class men.) 

Brown decision.  Efforts to bring equity into the education of minorities have not always turned out as anticipated.  The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, for example, reversed a long-standing policy of separate but equal public schools.  Instead, schools reacted by putting a disproportionately high number of the nation’s minority children in special education.  Others were suspended, expelled, or attended public schools where teachers and the curriculum reflected a Eurocentric perspective.  Later, the social movements in the 1960s and 1970s raised awareness of the multicultural nature of American society.  Yet, despite protests, schools resisted and continued to impose the dominant culture on students, through teachers, curriculum, and daily school routines, showing little regard for differences in language or cultures.  Public schools traditionally have failed to meet the needs of many marginalized low income and minority students.

Neoliberal backlash.  Neoliberalism rose in the mid-twentieth century in an attempt to regain some of the power the ruling class lost to the working class, African Americans, and women during the rise of social democratic liberalism.  Neoliberalism contends that society works when individuals choose within competitive markets (like charter schools).  Further, it contends that social institutions, like schools, should exist to promote economic growth.  In practice, neoliberal policies often result in increased inequality with few provisions for public welfare.  The poor and working classes are often highly regulated, but corporations are only loosely regulated with conditions for accumulating wealth ensured.  For neoliberals, those in society who do not succeed are viewed as having made poor choices, which means society is not at fault and people have only themselves to blame.  Many assert that neoliberal political theory increasingly is influencing education policies.   

We have an educational system of testing and accountability whereby: (a) the curriculum is simplified and narrowed, (b) poorly devised tests lead to huge failure, and (c) students who score low are abandoned or pushed out of school.  Thus, it is not surprising the achievement gap for minority students has not only not narrowed, but, in fact, has grown since NCLB.  One must question whether reforms that emphasize high-stakes tests and accountability actually increase fairness and equality or, instead, use testing and accountability to portray public schools as failing and to push for privatizing education provided through competitive markets.  Evidence suggests that our education system is becoming more, not less unequal.    

Backlash Pedagogy.  Some have termed these neoliberal educational policies “backlash pedagogy,” arguing that it threatens the chances of educational achievement and social equity for large numbers of public school students of diverse backgrounds.  Historically, backlash practices have used race as a way to categorize and marginalize groups within the population.  White privilege and control are maintained through racial subjugation and inequality.  The status quo becomes a baseline for educational reform disguised as color-blindness.  The current educational backlash blames the educational crisis on teachers and on linguistically and culturally diverse and poor children.  Specifically, this backlash not only ignores the historical disparity people of color have experienced in our country; it preserves it.   

Educational policies derive from backlash politics and ideological and institutional structures that legitimize and maintain privilege, access, and control over the society, politics, and economics.  Backlash politics can be deliberate attempts to prevent changes in society or deceptive practices cloaked in the language of progress.  Backlash pedagogy attempts to erase differences that are known to affect learning and makes it more difficult for educators to implement what they know to be effective, culturally responsive practices.  Over the last 20 years, culturally responsive approaches to teaching have been marginalized and, instead, standardized curricula and teaching practices along with standardized testing have been put in place.  These neoliberal reforms are counter to culturally relevant and responsive instruction. 

Equity in Education

The current preoccupation with standardizing curricula and measuring output will have further negative consequences for students of diverse backgrounds who are already seriously cheated by the system.  These standards and assessments put pressure on school districts to standardize and emphasize prescribed content at the expense of other concerns.  Among the consequences of NCLB are a narrowed curriculum, a focus on low-level skills, inappropriate assessment of students with special needs and ELLs, and incentives to exclude low-scoring students to meet test score targets.  

Education should not allow the demands of globalization or the drive for a standardized curriculum and testing to derail efforts in how minority students are taught.  Moreover, education cannot allow the lure of a global society and global citizenship to diminish the need to take care of social justice issues closer to home that, to date, have never been adequately addressed.  It is imperative that schools provide equity in education for all students.  A hundred years ago, Helen Todd, a child- labor inspector in Chicago, wrote, “Would it not be possible to adapt this child . . . less to education, and to adapt education more to the child?”  For our students of diverse backgrounds, it is time we did.

Alyce Roberts, Ed.D has served as an English teacher in the Hartford Public school system for 13 years.    Before that Alyce had a successful career in the insurance field working for four major insurance companies in the Northeast.

Arrogance, Ignorance and the Myth of the “High Stakes” Test (Guest Post by Dr. James D. Trifone)

23 Comments

Anyone who has been following Jonathan Pelto’s Wait What? Blog has read several posts regarding the botched rollout of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and most recently the software SNAFU that resulted in an eleventh hour rescheduling of the start up date for administering the SBAC test.  Many, including this blogger, have criticized the CCSS developers because educators were neither involved as participants in its creation nor consulted on its grade level validity, relevance and developmentally appropriateness.  Moreover, educators neither participated in the development of, nor consulted to review, the SBAC test items that will be eventually be used to assess CCSS competency of our nation’s children. As a consequence, the Common Core Standards are terribly flawed in their assumptions regarding the expected grade level competencies and guidelines that have been previously established by curriculum and developmental specialists.

In the wake of the NCLB initiative it has become clear that “high stakes” tests have had little to no impact in enhancing learning and thinking in American classrooms. Furthermore, “high stakes” tests have proven themselves incapable of assessing the essential critical skills and knowledge requisite to be successful learners and workers in the 21st century. Consequently, corporate reformers and their allies created the Common Core State Standards that they posit “might” better prepare our students to be “college and career” ready.  However, CCSS advocates have yet to define what they even mean by “college and career” ready.  If they had read any of the books or articles by Jonathan Kozol, David Elkind, David Sobel, Diane Ravitch, Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, Howard Gardner, Tony Wagner, Heidi Hayes Jacobs or Ken Robinson, to name but a few, they would have been able to clearly delineate the actual skills and abilities kids need today.  These learning experts have determined that to be successful in the 21st century classroom teaching needs to foster —empathy, self-motivation and initiative, ability to work collaboratively with others, ability to critically analyze abstract information to solve practical problems, as well as competency in using cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies to self-regulate and embrace a meaningful approach to learning—all of which cannot be measured by a standardized test.

Finally, the corporate reformers would have realized that their 19th “factory model” of “one size fits all” will not work in the 21st century. What they refer to as the “common core” is far too limited in its scope and relevance for today’s generation of learners. While some aspects of the CCSS have merit, many of the standards are age and developmentally inappropriate for many, if not most students (especially those in the elementary grades). If educators had been involved in the creation of the CCSS they would have maintained that many of the skills and competencies required to be effective learners and citizens are not necessarily cognitive. Rather, developing a positive attitude towards learning needs to occur first.  This attitude fosters using the imagination and creativity to explore the natural world. Children are naturally curious and love to learn.

The thrust of Waldorf and Montessori schools philosophy has been to offer children opportunities to explore the world using their natural curiosity and creative instincts.  Once children are provided with opportunities that build upon their natural learning tendencies in a positive context they are better prepared to learn the more academic subjects requisite to understand how the world works.  However, the current reform movement is mandating that children start learning the abstract and academic content in Kindergarten.  To wit, parents in my home town of Cheshire are petitioning the Town Council to approve a full-day Kindergarten in order to better prepare their kids for the academic needs of first grade! What ever happened to learning how to socialize and resolve conflicts and all the other things Robert Fulghum shared in his classic book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Education should be about developing the mind, body and spirit of learners. If schooling omits any of these, students miss opportunities to grow and mature into successful and happy adults.  Therefore, what needs to be considered “Common  Core” is something very different than what has been promulgated and foisted upon America. 

Fortunately, parents are now recognizing the inadequacies and flawed assumptions of the corporate reform movement and are finally standing up and speaking out to their legislators to demand a course correction for the misdirected national education policy. There is even a movement underway to eliminate the SAT’s. Colleges are now realizing that they have little predictive value for success in college. Rather, even the College Board acknowledged that the grade point averages of high school graduates are far more predictive of future academic success than the SAT. Therefore, the silver lining in the dark cloud we now find ourselves under is that foisting a poorly designed, non-educator vetted CCSS upon American schools has brought to light the myopic vision held by many of our politicians, as well as the real underlying agenda of the corporate reform initiative of the “billionaire boys club” (e.g. Bill Gates, the Waltons). To date Bill Gates has invested over $2 billion in grants to finance the creation of the CCSS and SBAC test, while the Waltons and the Broad Foundation have offered grant money to advocate for the privatization of education in America. Rupert Murdoch made their financial investment in education very clear when he stated the education “industry” represents a $500 billion dollar market that has only recently become tapped by the business community.

The real irony that has led to this travesty of a reform movement is that the corporate reformers have assumed that American schools are not only failing but are doing so primarily because teachers are not holding their students accountable for rising to the challenge of high academic standards. However, it isn’t that educators’ are not challenging their students.  Rather, today’s classrooms are overcrowded due to budgetary cuts, as well as becoming increasingly populated with children from impoverished backgrounds, who lack parental support and commitment to ensure they come to school well fed and prepared to learn. Moreover, today’s classroom teachers have to contend with a more diverse population of students as a result of the politically correct and egalitarian initiative to “collapse” ability levels and deliver a “one size fits all” curriculum to every student.

However, educators take umbrage with those who are most critical of public education. These critics assume they know how to ameliorate the problem simply because they were once students themselves. Educators, unlike Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, have been trained and have a wealth of experience in the art of teaching and, as such, are learning professionals. Therefore, reading articles citing Mr. Gates’ request that educators convince parents of the value in supporting the Common Core is no less ridiculous a proposal than pleading with physicians or lawyers to have their patients and clients support standards for their profession drawn up by individuals lacking expertise and experience in medicine or law.  Arrogance and ignorance are a dangerous combination especially if possessed by very wealthy and influential individuals who see themselves as social reformers. The time has come for educators to be recognized and respected as professionals who are the only individuals capable of creating and implementing authentic and effective educational reform.

Therefore, it is my hope that in the next few years we will see a major shift away from a reliance on “high stakes” testing and a resurgence of interest in promoting skills and knowledge that nurture the development of competent learners, good citizens, and capable workers who can critically analyze information, collaboratively work with others, effectively communicate their ideas both orally and in written form, appreciate and participate in the Arts, and cultivate their curiosity, imagination and creativity to be innovative and adaptive learners. That’s the America I wish for my grand kids to live in.

Dr. James D. Trifone is a 38-year veteran high school biology teacher, as well as the program coordinator for The Graduate Institute’s Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking Degree program in Bethany, Connecticut. 

Guinea Pigs (aka Connecticut students) – it is time to log into the Common Core Test of a test

4 Comments

Today is the day…

In nearly every public school in Connecticut students will put aside the learning process during the coming weeks in order to become guinea pigs for the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test of a test and the entire corporate education reform industry.

In some states only 10 percent of students were assigned the task of becoming test subjects for the billion dollar education testing industry.  But in Connecticut, Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, were more than willing to turn nearly 100 percent of the state’s public school students into guinea pigs.

Across the state the only public school superintendents will to stand up and protect their children from this inappropriate and unfair experiment were the ones running the following schools. (If you live in one of these towns you should give your school administrators a thank you shout out).

Ashford elementary
Chaplin (elementary)
Danbury
Madison
Preston Elementary
Rocky Hill
Scotland Elementary
Thomaston
Westport
Windsor
Region School District 11

Public schools students in the rest of the state will be spending much of the next few weeks taking the test of the test rather than using their time to learn. 

In order to make room for lengthy and complex testing system, many school districts are giving up so-called “Specials” like art, music, PE and even social studies to make room for this massive testing taking experiment.

As we’ve all seen, in the run up to this corporate charade, Commissioner Pryor and the Malloy administration consistently worked to mislead parents into thinking they didn’t have the right to opt their children out of these tests. 

Commissioner Pryor used many claims to push his “no opt out” message, some of them were no less than out-and-out lies.  His primary argument was that this Common Core Test of a test was a “mastery test” as defined by Connecticut state law and therefore students were mandated to take the test.

But the entity designing the Common Core Test of a test makes it very clear on their website that this Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test of a test is anything but a “Mastery Test” as it is defined by Connecticut state law.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium states:

“The field test will evaluate the performance of more than 20,000 assessment items and performance tasks—as well as the performance of the online testing system. For test developers, the Field Test will show which questions work well and which ones need to be improved so that they contribute to a fair and accurate assessment of student achievement.”

Sadly, Governor Malloy nor the state’s top four legislative leaders were willing to step in and protect parents and their children by requesting an official legal opinion from Attorney General George Jepsen on whether Commissioner Pryor’s claims were correct.

Another key factor proving that this Common Core Test of a test is not a Connecticut Mastery Test is the fact that in order to be a “Connecticut Mastery Test,” the state must provide students and their parents with the results of the test.

However, Commissioner Pryor and his team of education reform proponents have consistently stated that no student specific results would be provided to parents this year.

So the test doesn’t measure mastery and it doesn’t provide results and yet the Malloy administration inappropriately claimed that it was a “Mastery Test,” thus limiting the rights of parents to refuse to have their children tested.

With each statement, the actions of the Malloy administration become more suspicious.

Just the other day a distinguished former school administrator wrote to Wait, What? noting,

“The claim has been made that parents and districts will not be able to get the results of student tests.  However, it is my understanding that students are entering a unique identification number, along with his or her name, when they take the test.  If that’s the case, it seems to me that a student’s test can be tracked, otherwise, why would students have to enter a unique identification number.  Wouldn’t they just add a generic number or enter as “guest”? 

The observation is an excellent one.

Why is Commissioner Pryor saying that parents will not have access to their children’s responses when it appears that the Common Core Test of the test is designed to track individual student responses.

If individual responses do exist then parents have a fundamental and legal right to getting information about how their children did.

Finally, every parent should understand the most important issue of all.

Unlike the Connecticut Mastery Test, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test is designed to ensure that the vast majority of students fail. 

It is expected that when the Common Core test is fully implemented, the number of students deemed proficient will plummet from more than 75 percent to about 25 percent.  This is because the material on the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the “cut score” used to decide who is proficient and who isn’t has been designed by the corporate education reform industry to prove that students, teachers and public schools are failing.

One need only read the stories coming out of New York to see how the testing industry is gaming the system.

These corporate education reform industry advocates have developed Common Core standards that are not developmentally appropriate and are then using the Common Core Test to make it appear that the majority of students and schools are failures. 

Let us not forget that the new testing is taking place despite the fact that school districts have not even had the time to develop Common Core curriculum that could prepare students for this new testing scheme.

The whole testing system is a farce. 

But of course, we can’t forget that this farce it is being pushed by Governor Malloy who famously said that he didn’t mind teaching to the test as long as the test scores went up.

As students, parents, teachers and school administrators experience the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test, please take the time to post  your observations here at Wait, What? or send them to [email protected]

 

A real public hearing on the Common Core and Common Core testing fiasco?

4 Comments

Many parents, teachers, public school advocates and taxpayers are asking whether the Connecticut General Assembly will hold a real public hearing on  the Common Core , the Common Core testing fiasco, and the flawed teacher evaluation system?

The answer is …  yeah, sort of, maybe… it depends on what you call a real public hearing.

When Governor Malloy introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school ,corporate education reform industry bill of any Democratic governor in the nation, the Connecticut General Assembly blindly jumped on the train.

With Malloy’s signature, Senate Bill 458 became Public Act 12-116 and Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and their allies were off and running in their effort to undermine public education in Connecticut.

Malloy’s “education reform” bill is the driving force behind the Common Core testing scheme and the unfair and inappropriate teacher evaluation system — a legislative package that  passed the Connecticut House of Representatives 149-0.  

Not a single legislator, Democratic or Republican was willing to stand up for the students, parents, teachers or public schools in Connecticut.

The vote in the State Senate was 28-7.  Of the 13 Republicans who voted, seven voted with the Governor and the Democrats and six voted against the bill.

For two years, teachers and public school advocates have been warning elected and appointed officials about the impending disaster that will be caused by the rollout of the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and the teacher evaluation program.

But Connecticut’s “see no evil, hear no evil” elected officials remained silent.

That was until this year when, thanks to the outcry from teachers and parents, elected officials starting waking up.

The strategy being displayed by the Malloy administration and Democratic legislative leaders remained one dedicated to staying the course.

On the other hand, Republicans realized they had a great political opportunity on their hands and despite the fact that most of them voted for Malloy’s “education reforms,” they called for a public hearing on the Common Core and introduced bills to slow the process down.

Led by House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, the Republicans used a petitioning process to force the Democrats to hold a public hearing on the Common Core, the outrageous testing and the unfair teacher evaluation system.

As the Connecticut Newsjunkie story reported on February 26, 2014 in an article entitled, “GOP Use Parliamentary Rule To Get Public Hearing On Common Core,” the Connecticut General Assembly’s House Republicans used a rarely utilized technique to force a public hearing on some bills related to the implementation of the Common Core.

The CT Newsjunkie wrote,

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero appeared behind the podium and made his own announcement. Cafero said House Republicans had used a legislative petition process to force the Education Committee to hold a public hearing on two bills, including one to impose a moratorium on the implementation of Common Core.

Cafero said the chairs of the Education Committee had indicated they did not plan to hold any public hearings this year on bills pertaining to the Common Core and instead had opted to have an informational hearing on the subject. He said Republicans collected enough signatures from lawmakers to force a public hearing on the bills under legislative rules.

“We have circulated a petition which has been signed by 51 House Republican members which was filed moments ago with the House Clerk office which will force a public hearing on the two bills in question,” he said.

Cafero said lawmakers “have heard horror story after horror story about the inability for boards of education, teachers to prepare themselves” for the Common Core implementation. The other bill would codify changes made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration last month to delay the implementation of elements of the state’s teacher guidelines.

“Those two bills now, by Joint Rule 11, will be having a public hearing. The scheduling of that hearing will be up to the chairs, but the issue as to whether or not there will be a public hearing is no longer an issue,” he said.

Cafero said it was “unacceptable” to have no public hearing on an issue impacting parents, students, and teachers.

The legislative rule that Cafero used is called the “PETITION FOR PREPARATION OF BILLS OR RESOLUTIONS.”

According to the rule, if a petition is signed by at least fifty-one members of the House or at least twelve members of the Senate, a committee “shall hold a public hearing on the bill.”

But the chairs of the committee still have the power to schedule the timing of that public hearing.

In this case that means that the Democratic leaders could hold the public hearing during the day when most parents and teachers would be unable to attend.

If the Democrats were serious about providing Connecticut citizens with the right to be heard on this critical issue they would hold a hearing in the late afternoon and evening.

To date, the Democrats have yet to announce their plans about the public hearing that the Republicans have forced to be held.

In some ways,  equally important is the reality that all the petition process requires is a public hearing.

The Education Committee doesn’t even have to discuss or vote on the bill following the public hearing.    In fact, Democrats on the committee could prevent a vote from even being taken on the Republican bills..

There is a petition process for forcing the committee to vote, but that requires a full majority in the House or Senate to sign yet another petition.

Considering Malloy and his corporate education reform advocates don’t want the Common Core testing and teacher evaluation issues to even be discussed in public, it will take a lot to convince Democratic rank and file legislators that they should put their constituents ahead of Malloy’s politics.

More and more teachers are leading the opt-out effort.

25 Comments

This just in from Chicago, a growing number of Chicago public schools teachers, like public school teachers in Seattle, are standing up and taking on the corporate education reform industry’s absurd, unfair and inappropriate standardized testing frenzy.

Guy Brandenburg, a fellow pro-public education advocate and blogger reports that, “According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the entire faculty of Saucedo Elementary Academy, with the support of parents, have voted to refuse to administer a standardized test called the ISAT. Most of the parents have apparently already chosen to have their children ‘opt out’ of taking the test. The test administration is supposed to start on Monday, 3/3/14.”

As has been the case with some school administrators in Connecticut, rather than step up and speak ot on behalf of students, parents and teachers, the local superintendent of schools is Chicago is “threatening to fire the teachers and revoke their licenses.”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said says the union will fight any disciplinary action writing, “I think it would be outrageous and wrong. . . . The teachers aren’t doing this for any gain. They’re doing this because they want to teach, “  he said.

Chambers said teachers know this is risky, and there might be consequences from the administration.

According to blogger Guy Brandenburg, “Boycotters at Saucedo hope the school is a leader in the anti-ISAT movement, which has been gaining momentum in recent days.”

The battle is taking shape.

Bethel Public Schools to Parents: Guinea pigs will be rewarded

31 Comments

Some public school superintendents and principals are using Commissioner Pryor’s instructions to mislead, lie and intimidate parents into thinking they can’t opt their children out of the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test.

Other public school superintendents and principals are sending letters telling parents what a great opportunity taking the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test will be because they will be helping develop a more effective Common Core test for future students.

And yet other public school superintendent are dealing with the issue in a professional, responsible and humanitarian way and allowing parents to opt out their children from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test March Madness.   In some cases children will be allowed to go to the library or cafeteria.  In other local schools, administrators are taking the rather strange step of telling the parents that their children must sit in the class or computer lab but can read a book while other students take the test.  (Still haven’t figured out whether that is meant as a punishment to the students whose parents have opted them out or to the student’s whose parents didn’t step forward and opt their children out of this charade of a standardized test).

But after receiving dozens of letters from parents who have shared their school districts’ letters to parents, the winner for the most bizarre and inappropriate response to date comes from the Town of Bethel.

In a letter dated February 2014, school administrators sent out a letter that begins:

Dear Parent or Guardian:

Bethel High School is one of many in the country participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test this March.  Students in Grade 11 will take the online assessment in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. The assessment is untimed, participation is confidential, and your child’s grades will not be affected.

[…]

By participating in the field test, your child will be influencing the development of future Smarter Balanced assessments used in our schools and throughout the nation. Students will be able to try out new, online testing software and innovative question types that will be very similar on future Smarter Balanced assessments. Unless we are able to field test students, we will not know what assessment items and performance tasks work well and what must be changed in the future development of the test. From these field test results, Smarter Balanced will set preliminary achievement standards, and those are important to all of us—students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Therefore, every child’s participation is critical.

And then comes the most incredible statement of all,

For actively participating in both portions of the field test (mathematics/English language arts), students will receive 10 hours of community service and they will be eligible for exemption from their final exam in English and/or Math if they receive a B average (83) or higher in that class during Semester Two.

So if parents allow their students to be guinea pigs for the Corporate Education Reform Industry  they will be able to get out of some of their community service responsibilities and will exempt from having to take the tests that actually measure what they are supposed to be learning in English and Math. (except, of course, for those student who are struggling in which case they will still be forced to take the “real” tests in additional to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test of a Test).

The entire Common Core and Common Core Smarter Balanced Testing scheme has been sold as a vehicle to ensure public school students graduate college or workplace ready.

The message to Bethel’s students and parents is that if you agree to be a test subject for the Common Core test of a test, you can reduce your community service responsibilities and skip the tests colleges actually use to determine if you are college ready.

As we seem to be saying more and more here at Wait, What? You just can’t make this sh*t up.

Where Does Common Sense Fit Into Common Core? (By Barth Keck)

6 Comments

Earlier this week, Connecticut educator and CT Newsjunkie columnist Barth Keck published another important column about the problems associated with the Common Core and the utter failure in the way it is being implemented.

The Common Core fiasco was begun with President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” and continued under Barak Obama’s “Race to the Top.”  It has consistently had strong bi-partisan support from the “incumbent party” of Democratic and Republican elected and appointed officials.  The overall effort to create this monstrosity was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with hundreds of millions more coming from taxpayers via the federal and state governments.

In this week’s column, Barth Keck writes,

As we place more and more emphasis on computerized algorithms and Big Data to help us make Big Decisions, one question lingers: Where does common sense fit in?

The Hartford Courant’s Kathleen Megan recently reported that “new research shows that high school grades — not standardized tests — area much better predictor of college performance” for current high school juniors.

William C. Hiss, the principal investigator of the study, explains that good grades come from “long-term discipline, attention to detail, and doing your homework” — precisely the qualities needed for success in college.

As one of my colleagues quipped after reading Megan’s article, “I am completely surprised . . . said no teacher, ever.”

Put another way, isn’t this simply old-fashioned common sense?

Maybe so, but the current craving for more standardized testing in public education indicates a definitive lack of common sense.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 initiated this frenzy by requiring annual tests of all students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Individual states were left to choose how to test their students.

By 2010, the future of standardized testing in schools became more complex through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program in concert with the new Common Core State Standards.

“These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the time. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments — the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”

Indeed, these “better, smarter assessments” are not your run-of-the-mill “bubble tests.” Instead, they are “adaptive tests” that automatically change as a test taker provides answers.

“Computer-adaptive assessments,” explains an Education Week article, “rely on complex algorithms to feed students questions targeted to their individual skill levels based on their prior responses. The more questions a student gets right, the harder the subsequent questions will be.”

Scheduled for official implementation by 2015, these adaptive tests sound much more individualized than the traditional standardized assessments. What could be so bad about that?

Ask the folks in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Their initial foray last year into these new tests was hardly reassuring.

“Thousands of students experienced slow loading times of test questions, students were closed out of testing in mid-answer, and some were unable to log in to the tests,” according to another Education Week piece. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of tests may be invalidated.”

Moreover, one school official in Oklahoma termed the testing problems as “absolutely horrible, in terms of kids being anxious. It was heartbreaking to watch them. Some of them were almost in tears.”

Thankfully, states have another year to get the situation straightened out. In Connecticut, students this spring will be taking a field test — a “test of the test” — to help work out the kinks.

“The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system that helps ensure the assessments are valid, reliable, and fair for all students,” according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the organization behind Common Core-aligned tests in 22 states.

“It also gives teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015. Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 — along with a small sample of students in grades 9 and 10 — will participate in the Field Test.”

For my school, that means three weeks of testing this spring — one each for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders — the results of which will be shared with neither the students nor the school. This spring’s test, after all, is testing the test, not the students.

College-bound juniors, no doubt, are thankful that their scores will count when they take the SAT around the same time they serve as guinea pigs for SBAC. You remember the SAT? It’s that other standardized test which research shows is a poor indicator of college performance.

Perhaps by next year, the algorithmically-enriched SBAC test will tell us if kids are — as the Common Core people would say — “college- and career-ready.”

Makes perfect sense to me — just not common sense.

You can read this column and Barth Keck’s other pieces at CT Newsjunkie

Older Entries