CEA wrong to claim NWEA’s MAP test is an appropriate tool for evaluating teachers.

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In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece entitled, ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Wrong Answer For Students, Teachers, Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen correctly explains that,

[The] Smarter Balanced and other high-stakes standardized tests are not useful measures of student success — and were not designed to evaluate teachers. Smarter Balanced is an invalid, unfair and unreliable test that does not measure student growth within a school year. Smarter Balanced does not assist teachers in measuring academic growth, takes away precious instruction time and resources from teaching and learning, and is not developmentally and age-appropriate for students.

Teachers, administrators and parents want an evaluation system that develops and sustains high-quality teaching and provides teachers with more time to collaborate on best practices that result in a better outcome for all students.

But then, in a bizarre move that appears to be yet another attempt to acquiesce to Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s ongoing education reform and anti-teacher agenda, the leader of the CEA claims that although the state should not use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC test as part of the state’s teacher evaluation program, it is okay to use the NWEA’s MAP standardized test as a teacher evaluation tool.

The CEA’s President notes,

Teachers are evaluated appropriately by measurable results using:

  • Standardized progress monitoring tests like NWEA or STAR.

  • Progress on student performance rubrics tied to external standards in their evaluations.

  • District- and department-designed common assessments

When developed correctly, student performance rubrics and district and department designed common assessments can be useful tools when it comes to evaluating and improving teacher performance.

However, standardized tests like the SBAC or NWEA’s MAP are inherently unfair and inappropriate for use as part of a teacher evaluation system.  Period.  End of Story.

Education Advocate and columnist, Wendy Lecker, addressed this very point when she recently published, Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker.

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

As for the claim that the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) is a valid teacher evaluation tool, Wendy Lecker explains,

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

The truth is that the NWEA’s MAP standardized test is just as inappropriate a tool to evaluate teachers as is the SBAC and the unions that represent teachers have a fundamental obligation to ensure that public policy makers understand what are and what are not valid techniques for determining how well an individual teacher is doing in the classroom.

The CEA’s latest move to condemn the SBAC but endorse the MAP is an uncomfortable reminder that, over the past six years, teachers and other public employees have watched as their union leaders have engaged in an almost schizophrenic approach when it comes to dealing with Governor Malloy’s bully, while standing up for their members.

Wanting to be perceived as “insiders” for the purpose of “getting into the rooms of power,” some union leaders have consistently dismissed or tried to explain away Governor Malloy and Lt. Governor Wyman’s ongoing anti-teacher, anti-public employee agenda.

On the other hand, recognizing that their membership is getting angrier and angrier and that the Malloy/Wyman agenda is undermining public education, public services and is translating into public employee layoffs, some of these same unions have taken to running television advertisements urging citizens to stand up for the public servants who educate our children, provide critically important support for those in need and ensure that government programs are available to the people of Connecticut.

The CEA’s initial approach to the teacher evaluation issue was a case study in the strategy of trying to get-along to go-along.  But, after failing to successfully fight off Malloy’s inappropriate and unfair teacher evaluation initiative, the union changed course this past January.

As the January 5, 2016 Wait What? post,  4 years late[r] – The Connecticut Education Association may finally be standing up against Malloy and Wyman on their teacher evaluation disaster, reported,

According to a press advisory issued earlier today, the Connecticut Education Association will hold a press conference at 11am at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday, January 7, 2016 to call on Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to “join with the majority of states in the U.S. that have replaced the federally-sponsored SBAC or PARCC tests with better, more authentic and effective assessment programs.”

If the announcement is as impressive as suggested, it would mean that the leadership of Connecticut’s teacher unions have finally moved 180 degrees from the position they held on January 25, 2012 when the CEA and AFT joined with the other members of Governor Malloy’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) to approve the so-called “teacher evaluation framework” that inappropriately and unfairly mandates that student’s standardized test scores be a major factor in the teacher evaluation process.

In addition to reversing their position on the SBAC test, the CEA and AFT-CT have been working extremely hard to get the Connecticut General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 380 which would prohibit the state from using the results from the Connecticut’s Mastery Testing program in the state’s teacher evaluation program – a proposal that Malloy and his education reform allies strongly oppose.

And yet, as the CEA seriously – and finally – engages on this vital issue, along comes the claim that the NWEA MAP test is a valid mechanism for evaluating teachers – a claim that may please Governor Malloy and his anti-teacher friends but is absolutely and completely out of line with the academic evidence and good public policy.

Connecticut can and should have a strong and effective teacher evaluation system, but using standardized test results to evaluate teachers has no place in such a system.

It does a tremendous disservice for the CEA to suggest otherwise.

Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

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Background:  Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, as measured by per capita income.  If it was its own country, it would be one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world.

Connecticut’s most important natural resource is its people and their educational attainment.  According to US Census data, Connecticut is ranked 4th in the percentage of college graduates, 3rd in the percentage of citizens with advanced degrees and nearly 9 in 10 have a high school education, although faced with the impact of growing poverty, the number of high school graduates is dropping and without adequate funding for public schools and a well educated population, Connecticut’s economic future will be grim.

Meanwhile, as a result of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s irresponsible fiscal policies, Connecticut State Government has been plunged into fiscal chaos.  Today, Connecticut’s wealthiest pay about 5 percent of their income in state and local taxes, middle class and working families pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the poor pay about 12 percent.

Based on fiscal and education policies that coddle the rich while diverting more than $100 million a year to privately owned and operated charter schools, Malloy and Wyman have now proposed the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  Extraordinary budget deficits already exist in Hartford, Bridgeport and other communities.

Thanks to Malloy, Wyman and the General Assembly, most school districts will now be forced to raise local taxes and make deep cuts to existing education programs in local public schools.

As the state’s leading politicians attempt to hide the truth, public education advocate and fellow columnist Wendy Lecker has written another “MUST READ” column.

Her commentary piece, entitled, Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids first appeared in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media papers this past weekend

Wealthy state is failing our poorest kids (By Wendy Lecker)

Hartford parents, teachers and students came out in full force to last week’s Board of Education meeting to protest devastating school cuts. Owing to budget shortfalls, the district is cutting guidance counselors, intervention specialists, and other critical staff, art, sports, enrichment, SAT prep, textbooks, summer school, tutors and more. Many of Hartford high schools will be left with one counselor for 350-400 students. As one parent said, they are cutting the support Hartford students need; and the subjects that motivate them to come to school.

Hartford schools already suffer severe resource deficiencies. One high school has no library or computer lab. Another has no copier in the library, and no curricular material for certain classes. The culinary academy has no money to buy food for cooking class. The nursing academy cannot offer physics, though physics is a prerequisite for any nursing school. One high school is so overrun with rodents a teacher came in one morning to find five mice in traps she laid the night before. Teachers are forced to find vendors themselves and fill out orders in vain attempts to obtain supplies that never arrive. So they buy them out of their own pockets.

The conditions in which these students have to learn, and these teachers have to teach, is shameful — especially in Connecticut, a state consistently in the top five on the list of wealthiest states in America.

Hartford is not the only Connecticut school district suffering. According to a supplement to this year’s “Is School Funding Fair: A National Report Card,” issued by the Education Law Center (my employer) and Rutgers, Connecticut is the only state consistently among the five wealthiest states to have districts on the list of America’s “most financially disadvantaged school districts.” This year, two districts are featured on this list: Bridgeport and Danbury.

Since this list has been compiled, starting in 2012, Connecticut districts have been featured every year. Connecticut also has the dishonorable distinction of being the only wealthy state featured on the list of states whose funding system disadvantages the highest share of low income students; as measured by the percent of statewide enrollment concentrated in those most disadvantaged districts.

The National Report Card revealed some other disturbing facts about Connecticut’s lack of commitment to its public schools, especially those serving our neediest children.

As one of the wealthiest states, Connecticut does a poor job of maintaining competitive wages for teachers — a key ingredient to recruiting and retaining a strong teaching force. Connecticut teachers starting out earn 79 percent of the average salary of similar non-teaching professions. The report compares teachers with other professionals in the same labor market of similar age, degree level and hours worked. At age 45, that average drops to 73 percent of similar non-teaching professions.

An important measure of school funding fairness is the student-teacher ratio. High-poverty schools require more staff to address the challenges faced by their students. Small classes, reading and math specialists and support services are particularly necessary, for example. However, Connecticut is one of the few states with higher student-teacher ratios in poorer districts as compared to their wealthy districts. In fact, Connecticut is 46th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in student-teacher ratio fairness.

High-quality pre-K is a vital component of education; reducing placement in special education and improving academic and life outcomes. Sixty-two percent of Connecticut’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K, but only 48 percent of Connecticut’s poor children are. That disparity lands Connecticut in 45th place out of 51.

The deprivation of essential resources in Connecticut’s poorest districts is the crux of the CCJEF case, now on trial in Hartford. The plaintiffs seek adequate funding for basic educational necessities.

They are on solid ground. A new longitudinal study out of Berkeley demonstrates that school finance reform makes a real difference for students. The study, based on nationwide data, found that school finance reforms lead to substantial increases in revenues in low-income school districts, and to increases in student achievement. This study confirms a 2014 national study from Northwestern showing improvement in achievement, especially for poor students, when school funding increases. Earlier state-specific studies found similar results.

The evidence is clear. Connecticut schools need more resources, and school finance reform is the answer.

However, this year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made the deepest cuts to education in Connecticut history, while diverting more than $100 million dollars to privately run charter schools.

It is time for our elected officials in this, one of America’s wealthiest states, to start doing right by our poorest children.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Wealthy-state-failing-poorest-our-6924830.php

How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?

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The Connecticut House of Representatives will be meeting tomorrow – Wednesday, March 16, 2016.  On their agenda is a vote to confirm Erik Clemons, Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent nominee for a position on the State Board of Education.

When Governor Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education he failed to reveal that Clemons was a founding member of a new charter school in New Haven or that he served, up until recently, on the Board of another New Haven charter school, this one owned by Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain that operates charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  When Clemons left the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors he was replaced by an aide that works for Clemons’ company.

In addition, Malloy appears to have intentionally kept secret the fact that Erik Clemons’ company received a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded by the State Department of Education, the very board that Malloy has appointed him to serve on. The State Board of Education is required to monitor this contract and could continue to fund it in the years ahead.

As reported in previous Wait, What? articles, this incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  Erik Clemmons is the founding executive of ConnCAT and his compensation package is well in excess of $100,000 a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

However the ethical issues challenging Erik Clemons ability to serve on the State Board of Education go well beyond the no-bid contract that remains under the purview of the State Board.

Considering Clemons’ close relationship with the charter school industry, he shouldn’t be voting on any issue related to the oversight and funding of charter schools in Connecticut.

Furthermore, since the “Turnaround School” process was manipulated to grant Clemons a no-bid contract, he certainly shouldn’t be voting on any turnaround plans for any schools in New Haven or any other city.

Considering his company’s contract with the New Haven Public Schools will depend on adequate funding from the State of Connecticut, Clemons shouldn’t be voting on any issue that will provide New Haven schools with funding.

In Malloy’ world of “power politics,” it may be understandable that he wants to reward the charter school industry and its lobbying front group, ConnCAN, but the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Connecticut deserve better.

With the Connecticut General Assembly voting on Mr. Clemons’ appointment as early as tomorrow, the question is whether state legislators will stand with their constituents by supporting proper ethical standards for elected or appointed officials or will they throw ethics aside and vote in favor of Malloy’s nominee for the State Board of Education?

More about this issue can be found in the following articles, a number of them written or co-written with fellow education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker.

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

Criticism of the NEW SAT grows as Connecticut’s 11th grades are told they MUST take it on March 2nd

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Thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly, high school juniors attending Connecticut public schools are being told that they MUST take the NEW SAT during the school day on March 2, 2016.

Considering that the NEW SAT isn’t even aligned to Connecticut’s graduation requirements or high school curricula and that the new version of the SAT won’t even be statistically validated on a national level until after Connecticut’s 11th graders take the test, Connecticut’s elected officials have done nothing other than turn our students into guinea pigs for the $1 Billion standardized testing industry.

But of course, that is what the corporate education reform industry is demanding.

42,000 Connecticut students taking a faulty test, all at the expense of Connecticut taxpayers!

The truth is that after realizing that student grades are a better indicator of college readiness than standardized tests, hundreds and hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States are dropping the requirement that students even provide an SAT score with their application.

And as for the mandate, although Malloy’s Commissioner of Education continues to claim that high school juniors “MUST” take the discriminatory NEW SAT, like the SBAC testing scheme for grades 3-8, there is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prevents students and parents from opting out of the test nor is there any law that allows the state or districts to punish students who don’t take the NEW SAT on March 2, 2016.

As I’ve written on Wait, What? “My daughter will not be taking the “state mandated” NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016.”

One thing that is clear is that the professionals studying the NEW SAT are reporting that it completely fails to rectify the fundamental flaws that have undermined the credibility of the SAT.  Experts are reporting that the NEW SAT continues to discriminate based on a child’s socio-economic background and the test is inappropriately sensitive to short-term coaching, thereby assuring those who come from wealthier backgrounds can further game the system.

Just this week, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), blasted the NEW SAT warning students, parents, teachers and the public the NEW SAT fails to address the core problems that have made the test a relatively inaccurate predictor of how students will do in college.

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s Public Education Director explains;

“Even the College Board admits that the ‘new’ SAT will not provide more accurate forecasts of undergraduate success. It will still under-predict the classroom performance of women, older applicants and students whose first language is not English. The coaching industry is already selling high-priced ‘test prep steroids’ to teenagers whose parents can pay thousands to artificially boost scores on the revised exam.

The ‘new’ SAT may look more consumer-friendly, but is not a better test,” Schaeffer continued. “The facelift is largely marketing bells and whistles. The changes seem designed to compete with the ACT, the most widely used admissions exam. The College Board also appears more interested in trying to slow the test-optional movement than improving the test’s measurement precision.”

Higher education decision-makers increasingly recognize that neither the ‘new’ SAT nor the rival ACT is needed for high-quality admissions.”

Since the College Board announced the SAT redesign, more than 50 schools adopted test-optional policies. This month, a Harvard study encouraged other colleges and universities to follow suit. More than 850 accredited, bachelor degree granting institutions do not require SAT or ACT scores from all or many applicants. That list includes 200 schools ranked in the top tiers of their academic categories.

FairTest also provides students and their families with critically important information about how various schools handle the growing controversy around the use and misuse of standardized tests.

Valuable links posted on the FairTest website included:

Test-optional and test-flexible colleges and universities:

and

List of 200+ top tier schools that do not require admissions test scores from all or many applicants       

For Connecticut readers, if you have a high school juniors, or know of a family with a high school junior, please send them the following links or urge them to search the Wait, What? blog using the term – “SAT”

Yet another warning about taking the state “mandated” NEW SAT on March 2, 2016

The lies in the new SAT (by Wendy Lecker)

Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders

More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT

Connecticut school psychologist John Bestor on the NEW SAT and opting-out

 

Wendy Lecker explains – Again – Why the Malloy-Wyman teacher evaluation system is a terrible farce

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In her commentary piece last week, public education advocate Wendy Lecker returned to the issue of Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman’s unfair, inappropriate and fundamentally flawed teacher evaluation system.   Her article, entitled Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul, first appeared in the Stamford Advocate.

While Wendy Lecker has pounded away about the problems associated with Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system for four years, the good news is that it seems that some of the power-elite are finally listening.

Having helped craft and usher in the absurd and destructive teacher evaluation system, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) will be holding a press conference later today, January 7, 2016, in which they will apparently stand up for Connecticut educators and take a strong stand against Malloy and Wyman’s anti-teacher and anti-public school, teacher evaluation program.

The problem with the existing teacher evaluation system could not be any clearer.  As Wendy Lecker explains – Teacher evaluation system needs overhaul;

With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system.

In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating.

Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (“PEAC”), the body that oversees the teacher and principal evaluation system, will next meet in January. Since PEAC last met, the notion that one can rate teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized test scores has been thoroughly debunked.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors. A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid.

Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches. They cannot be jury-rigged after the fact to be.

In light of the ESSA, some PEAC members, notably the Connecticut Education Association, now indicate they would advocate decoupling statewide standardized tests from evaluations. Indeed, why continue such a demonstrably invalid practice?

Other members, including Connecticut’s superintendents’ and boards of education associations (CAPSS and CABE), maintain that standardized test scores must still be included because they show “student achievement growth.”

What does that mean?

Learning is a complex process. Even if one focuses only on cognitive skills, different grades teach different content and different skills. Each standardized test measures skills that supposedly correspond to that grade level. Comparing one grade level test to another is comparing apples to oranges.

As I wrote in an earlier column (bit.ly/1sOOxFc), in constructing “growth scales” for standardized tests, statisticians make a fictional assumption that learning in math and reading is linear and can actually be compared from year to year. To make this work, they can only focus on a limited universe of skills that might be subject to such a rough comparison.

Measuring growth through standardized tests is, at best, looking at a tiny fraction of cognitive skills.

When we construct an evaluation system based on that tiny universe of disjointed skills, all the components in that system will be equally narrow. Any observations of and conclusions about teachers will center only on how those teachers are teaching those particular skills.

Why do we want to know so little about a teacher?

I want much more for my son. I want my son’s teachers to help him learn skills, but I also want them to help him apply those skills to other subjects and in life. I want them to help him make sense of the world. I want them to help him ask better questions, so he can become a more critical thinker. I want them to help him be a better member of his school community so he can learn to become a good citizen. I want teachers who can assess my child with tools they developed based on their teaching.

None of these teaching skills can be measured with a test.

However test scores are simple, readily available measures; so policy-makers embrace them, even when they are inappropriate.

Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t PEAC start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers.

Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students. All eyes will be on the PEAC members to see if they have the courage and wisdom to do so.

For more about Connecticut’s flawed teacher evaluation policies check out the following Wait, What? posts;

Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed

Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan – even worse than we thought

Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

Will Malloy decouple Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system from the unfair Common Core SBAC Test?

Teacher Evaluations At The Heart Of Education Reform Are Flawed (By Jonathan Kantrowitz)

Evaluate Teachers based on Standardized Test Scores? Can an “education reformer” please answer the following question?

Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluations – But Wait – That’s Like Comparing Apples and Tomatoes

Leaving math standards to politicians doesn’t add up (By Wendy Lecker)

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The Corporate Education Reform Industry and its allies say the Common Core, Common Core testing mania and their agenda to privatize public education in the United States is necessary in order to ensure children are college and career ready.

However, as parents, students, teachers and the public are learning, the effort to disrupt and undermine public schools is having a very negative impact on the quality of education many students are receiving.

In her latest column in the Stamford Advocate, fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker takes on the notion that the “new” math being pushed by those focused on selling new textbooks, computer programs and curriculum is pushing children in the wrong direction.

Wendy Lecker writes;

At parents’ night this fall, a high school math teacher I know begged parents to teach their children long division “the old-fashioned way.” She explained that the new way students had learned long division impedes their ability to understand algebraic factoring. She lamented that students hadn’t been taught certain rote skills, like multiplication tables, that would enable them to perform more complex math operations efficiently.

It turns out that brain science supports this math teacher’s impressions. Rote learning and memorization at an early age are critical in developing math skills.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Those who developed the Common Core State Standards clearly ignored brain research in math, as they did in reading (http://bit.ly/1IeIgKm); The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding at every phase of math instruction. So, even young children are required not only to conduct a simple math procedure, but to also explain and justify every answer.

As education professor Katherine Beals and math teacher Barry Garelick wrote recently in the Atlantic, when certain mathematical procedures become automatic, it frees up the brain to progress to more difficult math concepts. Forcing children to explain every simple procedure distracts students from this vital transition. In a Wall Street Journal article last year, engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained that much like focusing on every aspect of a golf swing impedes the development of the swing, forcing children to stop and continually prove their understanding can actually impede their understanding. Mandatory explaining of math impedes the doing of math. The Stanford brain study indicates that it also inhibits brain development.

Moreover, as Beals and Garelick point out, some students, particularly English Language Learners and those on the autism spectrum, cannot easily explain their answers, even though they understand the concept and procedure. Thus these students would be penalized even though they may be strong math students.

Professor Oakley noted that just because a student understands a concept does not mean that she has mastered it. Expertise comes with repetition. True mastery, she explains, is the ability to pull out a chunk of knowledge quickly and use it. And expertise builds profound conceptual understanding, not the reverse.

Maybe the fad to force kids to explain every simple math procedure grew out of our selfie and Facebook culture; that tendency to document every mundane life experience. It certainly did not emanate from a true understanding or concern for how math skills develop.

Beals and Garelick observe that it is as if the architects of the Common Core thought that if students just act like mathematicians, they would magically become them. As they note, this approach may be an interesting behavioral experiment, but it is not mathematical development.

The goal of public education is to provide children with an education, not to use children as unwitting subjects in experiments. Our children only go through school once. Their brains only develop once. To jeopardize their growth because of some unfounded idea a policy maker thought might be neat is criminal.

Our children would be best served if politicians leave the experimenting to scientists, then pay attention to the findings.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s latest column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Leaving-math-standards-to-6660194.php

NEWS FLASH:  Vermont State Board of Education Trashes Common Core SBAC Test

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Yesterday the Vermont State Board of Education approved a letter that is being sent out to parents of public school students in that state.  Their honest and hard-hitting assessment that the Common Core SBAC test inappropriately labels children as failures and undermines public education is a message that all children, parents, teachers and policymakers need to hear.  By telling the truth and essentially trashing the SBAC test results, the Vermont Board is a shining example that we can fight back against the Corporate Education Reform Industry and its political allies. – Jonathan Pelto

A MUST READ NEWS FLASH – From fellow Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;

“Do not let the results wrongly discourage your child from pursuing his or her talents, ambitions, hopes or dreams.

These tests are based on a narrow definition of “college and career ready.” In truth, there are many different careers and colleges, and there are just as many different definitions of essential skills. In fact, many (if not most) successful adults fail to score well on standardized tests. If your child’s scores show that they are not yet proficient, this does not mean that they are not doing well or will not do well in the future.”  Vermont State Board of Education 11-4-2015

Wendy Lecker explains,

Once again, Vermont’s education officials are leading the way and, frankly, putting all other education officials, state and federal, to shame. These leaders understand the proper place standardized tests should occupy in the educational landscape, and they understand the purpose of education.

With the release of the 2015 test scores, Vermont’s State Board, of which Education Secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, is a member, issued a letter essentially telling parents that tests have limited value in describing the education their children are receiving or the type of students they are.

Here is the letter. It should be sent to every parent and guardian across the country: More

We lose Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, A True Public Education Hero

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Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries, a dear friend and extraordinarily powerful champion for Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools died on Sunday after a battle with cancer.

Although her legacy is yet to be fully written and those who will benefit the most from her incredible work may never know her name, as the leading force behind the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF], Dianne has been and will remain the most vital force behind the historic effort to ensure that Connecticut’s public schools are adequately and fairly funded and that every Connecticut child is provided with the education, knowledge and skills they need to live more fulfilling lives.

J.R.R. Tolkien whose work is categorized as fiction rather than non-fiction, and therefore cast aside by the Common Core and Common Cores testing enthusiasts wisely noted that,

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit” – J.R.R. Tolkien

With that knowledge and in that light there are few who have been as courageous and dedicated as Diane Kaplan deVries and fewer still whose lifetime of work has been as important to the future of our children.

Incredible in life, perhaps the most disturbing truth of all about Diane Kaplan Devries’ work is the uncomfortable fact that so many elected officials, often led by so-called Democrats, immorally and unethically sought to throw up barriers to stop Diane’s critical effort to make sure that Connecticut’s children got the education they needed, while ensuring that Connecticut’s middle income property taxpayers were treated more fairly.

It was a topic that many education advocates including Wendy Lecker and I wrote about often.  To fully understand the meaning of losing Diane Kaplan DeVries and the way in which some worked so hard to undermined her efforts, I respectfully request that you click on the links and read some of the following articles;

Jepsen/Malloy Continue to Squander the Opportunity of a Lifetime; (2/7/2012)

It’s only the most important school funding case in our lives – Malloy supported it/Now he opposes it (by Wendy Lecker) (3/23/13)

The Dan to Dannel transformation on the most important education lawsuit in Connecticut history (4/5/2013)

The CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Case: The incredible transformation of Malloy and Jepsen (9/16/2013)

Malloy can tell it to the judge (By Wendy Lecker) (12/14/2013)

Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! (1/15/2014)

NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer (1/16/2014)

As CCJEF (www.ccjef.org) reported in the press released that they issued last Monday night,

For the past 17 years Dianne has been the leading champion in the battle to force long-needed school finance reform here in Connecticut. Here dedication to overturning Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula began with the case of Johnson V. Rowland which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

When that case was dropped, Diane built a much larger statewide coalition that led to the filing of the CCJEF V. Rell lawsuit.  In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that “under the education clause of the state constitution, public school children are entitled not just to a free and equal education but also to an adequate (quality) education, and the state must pay for it.”  Although the court’s determination remains unfulfilled five years later, the finding was the turning point in how Connecticut will fund its schools.

While Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was one of the original plaintiffs in the case, upon being sworn in as Governor Dannel Malloy, the self-described education proponent completely reversed his position and has spent that last five years wasting precious time and taxpayer funds in his concerted effort o delay, derail and destroy what is probably the most important Connecticut legal case in our lifetimes.

But despite Malloy’s effort and that of his administration and other key Democrats, the CCJEF v. Rell will come to trial in January 2015 in Hartford Superior Court.

In the CCJEF press release, Herbert C. Rosenthal, the CCJEF President said,

 “Dianne Kaplan deVries was a tireless advocate for the rights of all Connecticut public schoolchildren — regardless of economic background, race or town of residence — to receive the quality education our state constitution promises and requires.  The passion, intelligence and commitment that Dianne brought to educational equity and adequacy is unsurpassed.  Our friend and colleague will be sorely missed. In this sad time, all of us in CCJEF rededicate ourselves to ensuring that her dream of equal educational opportunity is realized.”

And CCJEF consultant and fellow education advocate James J. Finley added,

“Dr. Dianne Kaplan deVries will be in the forefront when the history of equal educational opportunity in Connecticut is written.  At great personal sacrifice, Dianne dedicated over 17 years of her life to righting the wrongs of our state’s PK-12 education finance system.  It is because of her singular and indefatigable efforts that the work of CCJEF will continue.”

Additional media reports on losing Diane can be found in the following recent news stories.

CT Newsjunkie – School Funding Advocate Dianne Kaplan deVries Dies of Cancer

Hartford Courant – Education Activists Say Director’s Death Won’t Stop Funding Lawsuit

CT Mirror – Kaplan deVries, leader of school-funding coalition, dies

Wendy Lecker’s latest column – The importance of listening to students

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In a commentary piece entitled Heeding the lessons of teenagers, fellow Education Advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker used her latest article in the Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media Group outlets to remind us that when it comes to the so-called “education reform” agenda it is critically important that student voices be heard above the din of politics and the greed of the corporate education reform industry.

The Corporate Education Reformers and their allies in the charter school industry are so desperate to hijack the voices of public schools students that they actually create front groups with names like Students For Education Reform.

Calling themselves SFER, the group claims to be a “student run” organization but turns to the power elite for money and guidance.  An early member of the SFER Board of Directors was none other than Connecticut’s own Jonathan Sackler, the man behind the education reform groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN, as well as a key funder in the large charter school chain, Achievement First, Inc.  Sacker is also among the largest funders of Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2014 campaign for re-election.

Present members of SFER’s Board of Directors includes a Chief Growth Officer from the  gigantic KIPP charter school chain, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, a major hedge fund, the Deputy General Counsel of Unilever, the President of the major education reform consulting company called Mass Insight Education, that got a lucrative contract from the Malloy administration,  and the list goes on.

Although Students For Education Reform has yet to file their IRS forms for this past tax year, in their first three years of business the group collected at least $6 million from corporate education reform groups, including a major start up grant form Democrats For Education Reform, an anti-union, anti-teacher, pro-charter group that have run attack ads against the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups speaking out for the rights of teachers and students.

Claiming to have chapters on 100 college campuses, SFER is among the organizations that joined in the record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform agenda.

In 2012 the group dropped $15,000 in support of a pro-Malloy student rally.  However, following an ethics complaint it was later revealed that the money appeared to actually come from StudentsFirst, a national corporate education reform group that was headed, at the time, by Michelle Rhee.

By comparison there are the very real and very genuine voices of students, students who aren’t being paid to parrot the phrases of corporate executives like Jonathan Sackler.

And when you listen to real students, you hear a very different set of opinions and concerns.

As Wendy Lecker writes;

Although reformers and pundits like to pretend the interests of teachers are at odds with children’s best interests, those who know understand that their interests are aligned. Teachers know teaching conditions are learning conditions. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for, among other things, smaller class size, art, music and wraparound services for children. In their recent victorious strike, Seattle teachers won mandatory recess for elementary school children.

Students also know that they and teachers want the same things. A fine example is the recent, unprecedented filing by Houston high school students of an amicus brief in the Texas school funding case now on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

In researching their brief, written entirely by them, the students visited schools across Houston, and spoke to students, teachers and administrators. They also drew on their own experience. As they point out, by the time they graduate, they will have spent 16,000 hours in public school. These kids are the experts.

Their research and experience led them to the same conclusions that courts across the country found: Schools need certain essential resources for kids to succeed, including: small class size, teacher training and support, extra-curricular activities and a rich curriculum.

The students stressed the need for small class size to help English Language Learners (“ELL”), a large population in Texas. The authors point out that individualized attention is necessary because for these students, “every class is a language class.”

Small class size is vital for all students. The authors remark that in large classes, teachers cannot provide feedback that is essential so students learn from their mistakes. As one student said, “it’s demotivating for us to spend hours on an assignment knowing that the teacher can only afford to spend a few minutes (if even that) checking for completion before putting a grade on it. It’s also demotivating for teachers to spend hours grading assignments that don’t require any of their expertise.”

Small class size is also essential to develop a personal bond with a teacher. This need is especially strong for disadvantaged students who face trauma in their daily lives. The personal connection prevents “children from falling through the cracks.”

The students note that private schools advertise their small classes. “This factor is a selling point for well-off parents who want the best for their kids, but isn’t available for those less fortunate.”

The authors stress that they need trained teachers, not novices. They show how teacher training is vital to help ELL teachers navigate the different cultures they encounter, and how the lack of funds for training hurts students and teachers alike.

Enrichment activities are often the first resources to be cut in a budget crunch, as they are viewed as extra. The authors here provide real-life examples of how these “extras” provided a vital outlet for students experiencing personal crises, enabling them to stay in school and focus on their studies.

The students’ authentic voice shines through in their writing. They confess:

“Most of us do not wake up in the morning excited to attend school and learn math. Many of us attend school because we look forward to ROTC, band, or orchestra, and while we’re there, we might as well learn math too. That mindset is useful to understand arts education as a pragmatic method of retaining students, boosting grades, and improving education for all.”

The students recognize how the absence of support services affects the futures of disadvantaged children. They note that the lack of guidance counselors deprives impoverished students of information about “four-year residential colleges, two-year associates degree programs, or even summer internships and academic camps.”

These students illustrate with real-life examples how teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that cannot be reduced to one data point. Thus, schools need comprehensive services and programs.

The authors do not blame teachers. They know that school personnel care about them. Rather, they call out the state, which communicates to children that it does not care by ignoring the severe lack of resources in schools.

The brief is also remarkable for what it omits. These students do not ask for choice. They do not want teachers to be rated on their standardized test scores, or replaced by untrained recent college graduates, a la Teach for America. Current fashionable education reforms are irrelevant to these real students.

Politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of these teenage experts, who know what’s best for them and their teachers.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  You can read and comment on her full piece via: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Heeding-the-lessons-of-teenagers-6545659.php

Adequate resources, not more testing, is the way to improve public schools

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The challenges associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are the factors leading to the educational achievement gap between the haves and have nots.  The Corporate Education Reform Industry, with the help of elected officials likes of Dannel Malloy, Andrew Cuomo, Jeb Bush and others, have used the problems facing public schools in poorer communities to institute an agenda of more standardized testing, inappropriate teacher evaluation programs and the privatization of public education through the creation of privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

In yet another powerful commentary piece, Wendy Lecker goes to the root of the problem with the Common Core SBAC testing scheme and strategies being foisted on public school children, parents and teachers.

Wendy Lecker writes;

The SBAC results are out. With them will come recriminations about how our students, teachers and public schools are failing. Those who make these accusations hope the public has a short memory. They do not want us to remember that the SBAC has not been externally validated and therefore, according to the Vermont State Board of Education, does “not support valid and reliable inferences about student performance.” They hope we forget that the arbitrary SBAC proficiency levels set in Washington, D.C., guaranteed ahead of time that the majority of Connecticut students would fail.

Standardized tests are universally recognized to be unreliable and unhelpful in determining how well students learn. Experts routinely caution to therefore never use test results for any consequential decisions about schools, teachers or students.

Decades of testing evidence show that the only stable correlation that exists, whether it is the CMTs or the SATs and likely the SBACs, is between test scores and wealth. Researchers such as Sean Reardon at Stanford note that wealthy parents not only can provide basic stability, nutrition and health care for their children, but also tutoring and enrichment that gives affluent children an edge over poorer children.

The wealth advantage extends beyond test scores. Two studies, by St. Louis Federal Reserve and by the Boston Federal Reserve, demonstrate that family wealth is a determining factor in life success. The St. Louis report, published in August, revealed a racial wealth gap among college graduates. A college degree does not protect African-Americans and Latinos from economic crises as it does for whites and Asians. Employment discrimination figures into the disparity, but a major role is played by family wealth. Without a safety net of family assets, graduates of color must make more risky loan and other financial decisions. Last year’s Boston Fed study noted that wealthy high school drop-outs stay in the top economic rung as often as poor college graduates remain in the bottom economic rung. As a Washington Post article put it, rich kids who do everything wrong are better off than poor kids who do everything right. These reports, coupled with the fact that most job openings in the United States are for low-skilled workers, expose the uncomfortable truth that education is not the great equalizer.

These truths should inform education policy. To attempt to level the playing field, we should at least be equipping schools to provide supports to needy children that affluent parents provide their children.

Instead we spend billions on testing that tells us what we already know — rich kids are better off than poor kids; without addressing that inequality. Education reformers deflect attention from the supports poor kids need and tell us that all kids have to do is develop some “grit” to succeed. In his best-selling book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough claims there is “no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths” like grit. Connecticut policy makers are trying to develop tests to measure the degree of “grit” our kids have. We are even told that if students have enough “grit” to get high test scores, our economy will be more competitive.

This is American individualism taken to its absurd extreme. Not only are children supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they have to bootstrap the entire national economy. The Fed studies show us that grit does not determine success in today’s highly stratified society — privilege does. And our nation’s economic health — surprise! — does not depend on test scores. The United States has remained competitive while our international tests scores have always been middling. Moreover, former U.S. Department of Education analyst Keith Baker compared 40 years’ worth of nations’ per capita gross domestic product and international test scores and found that test scores actually dropped as the rate of economic growth improved.

Those who push this false narrative of individualism also fight efforts to fund schools in order to give poor kids the support they need. Last month, the Washington Supreme Court held the state’s legislature in contempt, fining it $100,000 a day, for failing to adequately fund the state’s schools. Interestingly Microsoft, whose chief Bill Gates is a major player in test-based education reform, lobbied heavily against state taxes that would have helped finance the public schools.

Robber-baron education reformers such as Gates fight to protect their wealth to pass on their success to their children. For other people’s children their message is clear, as teacher/blogger Joe Bower remarked: “Let ’em eat grit.”

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her complete commentary piece can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Education-is-not-the-great-6487019.php

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