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.

Don’t let them fool you: You can and should consider opting your child out of standardized testing frenzy

This week’s commentary piece from fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker is a message that should be distributed to every parent in Connecticut.

As Wendy Lecker explains in her column entitled, “Opting out, parents answer to a higher authority,” the Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and the Malloy administration are telling local school superintendents, principals and teachers that they are to instruct parents that their child MUST take Connecticut’s standardized tests and MUST take the new poorly designed and unfair Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test.

Call it an outright lie or an intentional misrepresentation of the truth, but Commissioner Pryor and his high-priced out-of-state consultants are wrong.

As Wendy Lecker makes stunningly clear in her column for the Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group– Parents answer to a higher authority – themselves!

Here is the MUST READ column on your rights as a parent of a public school student in Connecticut.

Opting out, parents answer to a higher authority

This year, Connecticut school districts had the option of administering the CMTs and CAPTs one more year, or the Common Core tests, known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, or the SBAC. The SBAC is just a field test, an experiment conducted in actual conditions — on our actual children. For some reason, the vast majority of districts elected to offer the SBAC field tests.

I live in a district that chose the SBAC. The SBAC is to be administered on computers. Actually in our schools, some children will take the SBAC on computers and some on iPads. How this differential test administration qualifies as “standardized” is puzzling. The iPads are more difficult to type on, so now, in January, children are practicing — for a test in May. What a productive way to spend school time.

As this SBAC test prep overtakes our schools, and interferes with learning, more parents may realize they do not want their children participating in this experiment. This realization may be especially important for parents of 11th-graders, who already took the CAPTs last year, and who will be facing these standardized tests, which do not count, at roughly the same time they are taking SATs, SAT subject tests, APs and ACTs.

As I detailed in my column several weeks ago, the State Department of Education knew this protest might be coming, so it orchestrated a strategy for bullying parents into not opting out of these tests. I noted that SDE provided districts with a sample letter to parents who indicate they want to opt their children, warning them that state law “requires that all children enrolled in public schools must take yearly state assessments;” but not informing parents that there is no punishment to a parent or child who insists on opting out. A sin of omission.

However, it appears now that SDE’s letter is even more egregiously deceitful. Comparing the Connecticut law on testing to the actual SBAC documents explaining their field tests reveals the deceit. The truth is that these SBAC field tests are not the type of tests required by this law.

Connecticut law mandates that students take a “statewide mastery test,” defined as “an examination which measures whether or not a student has mastered essential grade-level skills in reading, language arts and mathematics.”

According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, their field tests, the final experimental phase of test development, measure “the performance of more than 20,000 assessment items and performance tasks.” The field tests are also “an opportunity to make sure technology systems and administration logistics are ready.”

The field tests do not measure “whether a student has mastered” essential skills. They do not measure the performance of students at all. They measure the performance of test questions and of the computers and/or iPads the students must use for the test.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium also states that these 2014 field tests will be used “to set preliminary achievement standards in summer 2014.”

Connecticut law states that children must take a statewide test that measures mastery. For the SBAC tests, the level of “mastery” has not even been established yet.

These experimental field tests cannot be covered by Connecticut law because they fail to satisfy the basic elements the law clearly sets forth of the required statewide test. Thus, students are not “required” to take them.

In a recent commentary, New York state Sen. George Latimer likened the Common Core to the 1980s failure, New Coke. Coca-Cola marketed New Coke as a brand that would revolutionize soda. However, it was all marketing and no substance. The product itself was roundly rejected by the public, who liked what they already had.

Senator Latimer nailed it. To our leaders, public education is a commodity. A U.S. Department of Education official declared that our public schools are a “national market” for Common Core products. Connecticut officials exploit our children as crash-test dummies for SBAC’s assessments.

However, public education was never intended to be a business. In the words of one Connecticut Supreme Court justice, public education is vital “not only because our state constitution declares it as such, but because education is the very essence and foundation of a civilized culture . . . it is as necessary to a civilized society as food and shelter are to an individual.”

In opting their children out of experimental tests, parents are not only following Connecticut law, they are demanding that our leaders obey the constitution and return our schools to their essential democratic mission.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s complete column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Opting-out-parents-answer-to-a-higher-5173196.php

NOTE to Readers from Jonathan Pelto:  Here are some Draft Opt Out Letters for the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT/CAPT) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test (SBAC) if you are looking for a model 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

 

 

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.