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.

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.