Core tests spark revolt

Common Core testing revolt is spreading across the nation, reports Politico.

The Obama administration put more than $370 million in federal funds into the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing consortia. Forty states signed on — but at least 17 have backed out, including New York, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Louisiana, Missouri and New Jersey may go too.

Opposition is coming from all directions. Even Common Core supporters aren’t happy about the tests.

PARCC estimates its exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and nearly 10 hours for high school students — not counting optional midyear assessments to make sure students and teachers are on track.

PARCC also plans to develop tests for kindergarten, first- and second- graders, instead of starting with third grade as is typical now. And it aims to test older students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades instead of just once during high school.

The new tests will cost more and the online exams will require states to “spend heavily on computers and broadband,” notes Politico.

Meanwhile, teachers in many states don’t know what sort of test their students will face.

In Michigan, second-grade teacher Julie Brill says she and her colleagues are expected to spend the coming year teaching Common Core standards — while preparing kids for a non-Common Core test that measures different skills entirely. “It’s just so crazy,” she said.

And in Florida, which broke with PARCC last year, third-grade teacher Mindy Grimes-Festge says she’s glad to be out of a Common Core test she believed was designed to make children fail — but she has only the most minimal information about the replacement exams.

“We’re going in blind,” Grimes-Festge said. “It’s like jumping from one frying pan to another. Just different cooks.”

Only 42 percent of students are slated to take PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests — and that’s certain to drop as more states go their own way.

Good riddance to Common Core testing, writes Diane Ravitch.

All accountability testing is at risk, writes Jay Greene. “The Unions are using Common Core not only to block new tests, but to eliminate high stakes testing altogether.”

RIP, close reading

Close Reading passed away last week, writes Dave Stuart, Jr. on Teaching the Core.  The cause of death was buzzwordification.

The death of “close reading, one of the most ubiquitous terms of the Common Core literacy era, is mourned by the very teachers (myself included), administrators, coaches, consultants, and authors who killed it through overuse,” writes Stuart in the obituary. “In classrooms, blogospheres, publishing houses, and convention centers,” close reading’s name will live on, “if not its actual meaning.”

Moats: Core fail

Common Core standards are appropriate for the “most academically able” students, says Louisa Moats in a Psychology Today interview. At least half of students will not be able to meet the standards. A nationally known expert on teaching reading, Moats helped write the standards.

Students doomed to “fail” core-aligned tests need a “range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship,” says Moats. Notice she doesn’t mention college.

The standards call for the use of “more challenging and complex texts,” which will benefit older students, she says. But that may hurt younger students.

Novice readers (typically through grade 3) need a stronger emphasis on the foundational skills of reading, language, and writing than on the “higher level” academic activities that depend on those foundations, until they are fluent readers.

Teachers aren’t prepared to teach the new standards, says Moats.

Classroom teachers are confused, lacking in training and skills to implement the standards, overstressed, and the victims of misinformed directives from administrators who are not well grounded in reading research.

. . . The standards treat the foundational language, reading, and writing skills as if they should take minimal time to teach and as if they are relatively easy to teach and to learn. They are not. The standards call for raising the difficulty of text, but many students cannot read at or above grade level, and therefore may not receive enough practice at levels that will build their fluency gradually over time.

Teachers have received no sensible guidance on how to teach students with learning disabilities, she adds.

  What little time there is for professional development is being taken up by poorly designed workshops on teaching comprehension of difficult text or getting kids to compose arguments and essays. This will not be good for the kids who need a systematic, explicit form of instruction to reach basic levels of academic competence.

I’ve been around a long time, and this feels like 1987 all over again, with different words attached to the same problems. When will we ever learn?

This is a devastating critique.

Via DCGEducator.

Fifth who drop out face tougher GED

High school graduation rates are up to 80 percent, writes Terry Salinger on The Quick and the Ed. But the 20 percent who don’t earn a diploma face a much tougher — and more expensive — GED.

The General Education Development test (or GED) “now requires a new level of help that too few studying for the GED can get.”

The old test was a pencil and paper affair that took eight hours. The new one, the first update in more than a decade, streams in online and takes a couple of hours less. The old GED had familiar item types, like multiple choice and essays. The new one has new names: hot spot (graphic images with virtual “sensors” to plot coordinates or create models), drop-and-drag, short and long writing tasks, and cloze items (fill in the missing word).

Like the old one, the new GED assesses test-takers’ content knowledge but it also emphasizes their ability to reason in mathematics and language arts and to analyze and write about primary and secondary documents in social studies.

The new GED is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to measure college readiness. (Career readiness too, but that’s an afterthought.) That sets the bar very high.

At $120, the new GED costs about twice as much.

Adult learners “need systematic, intensive, and sustained instruction by teachers with adult-learning expertise,” writes Salinger. But there’s a shortage of adult-learning teachers, classes — and dollars.

Adult charter schools offer one promising way to help more adult learners. Some of the 11 adult charter schools in Washington, DC, combine English language instruction with GED content. Two have child-development centers attached, so adult learners have close-by daycare and those aspiring to childcare careers can get some experience under their belts. In a few others, like Indianapolis and Austin, adult charter schools link to local career-training programs and colleges.

These programs offer “wraparound” social support needed by low-income students, Salinger adds. But few GED students get this kind of help.

If community colleges start turning away low achievers, there will be even more demand for adult learning centers for the 20 percent. And for the high school graduates who never really mastered high school skills.

Is this a good Core lesson?

NPR highlights a “good Common Core lesson” designed for the first day of ninth-grade English.

Students review the day’s standards: citing textual evidence and determining meaning of words in context, and how they contribute to tone.

Then they read a short story, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves. It’s a magical realist coming-of-age tale.

It meets the Core’s call for complexity and contemporaneity (written in 2007), says Kate Gerson, a former teacher and EngageNY research fellow. It also is in the “canon” because author Karen Russell was a Pulitzer finalist. And she’s young and female, checking the diversity box.

The teacher reads a short excerpt aloud. Then students read to themselves, drawing boxes around unfamiliar words and writing definitions on Post-It notes.

Teachers are told to “get out of the students’ way” and let them struggle through on their own. Eventually students will pair up to “tease out the meaning” of words such as “lycanthropic, couth and kempt.”

Speaking from her own experience as an English teacher, (Gershon) said, the tendency all too often has been to instead spend class time “performing” literature — spelling out the subtext, defining tough words before students have a chance to puzzle over them, and advertising key plot points like the voiceover on a Bravo reality show.

Students finish the day with a “quick write.” They “use evidence from the text to relate the story’s epigraph to its first paragraph.”

Commenter Ajax in Charlotte is unimpressed. “Introducing the state standards and then having kids read silently, circle unfamiliar vocab words, and complete one short answer question is not exactly the most world-shattering, paradigm-shifting lesson plan I have ever seen.”

Doesn’t it sound boring?

“Underlying this lesson is a misunderstanding of intellectual work, writes Diana Senechal. It assumes that “if the teacher is explaining the literature, the students are doing no work.”

Thinking should be the essential work of the classroom. Students can and should look up words at home; in class, they come together to hear the teacher and each other, to pose questions, and to test out ideas. Of course, this can vary: there may well be days when the teacher has students write or work with unfamiliar vocabulary. But it takes discipline and concentration to listen, think, and speak in a whole-class discussion–and the classroom is the best place for such work and leisure.

. . . Can the Common Core really claim to prepare students for college and career when it equates “hard work” exclusively with visible physical activity–such as annotating a text in class? What about the hard work of listening to the teacher and forming a question or challenge?

The lesson also misrepresents teaching, writes Senechal. In the Common Core caricature, “the teacher stood at the front of the room and yakked, while the students passively took in plot points and didn’t learn to read.”

For many years, teachers have been told to be a “guide on the side,” not a “sage on the stage.”

I started ninth-grade English in 1966.  It was a Level 1 class, so everyone read the assignments at home, figured out the new words and came to class ready to discuss the ideas. Our teachers rarely lectured for more than a few minutes, as I recall. (It has been awhile.)  They asked questions and guided class discussions. We did all our writing at home too.

Common Core? What’s that?

Only 53 percent of Americans have heard of Common Core standards and only 20 percent have heard a lot about them, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

When told about the standards, 59 percent are supportive, while 31 percent are not, notes Neal McCluskey on Cato@Liberty. But the description is so biased it’s amazing the support isn’t 99 percent. Pollsters said:

The Common Core standards are a new set of education standards for English and math that have been set to internationally competitive levels and would be used in every state for students in grades K through 12.

What’s not to like?

It’s “highly debatable that the Core is set to top international levels,” writes McCluskey. Furthermore, the description ignored the “massive federal role in pushing state adoption.”

It’s like failing to tell people pufferfish are poisonous, saying, “pufferfish are delicious and nutritious,” then asking, “would you like to eat some pufferfish?”

I don’t think Common Core standards are as dangerous as pufferfish, but I’d agree that the only useful information in the poll is that most Americans know little or nothing about the new standards.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to pull his state out of the Core, but it’s not clear he has the authority to do so.

Remembering the old new math

peanuts

Common Core isn’t the first attempt to teach students to understand mathematical concepts, writes Mark Palko, a former math teacher, in the Washington Post. If we remember the old new math, perhaps we can learn from its mistakes. But Core reformers suffer from collective amnesia.

A 9-year-old faces the Core

Chrispin Alcindor was a star student in the early grades, but he fell way behind in third and fourth grade, reports the New York Times in Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes.

Is it the new curriculum’s shift from rote learning to understanding concepts? (The Times assumes that no teacher tried to teach understanding in the pre-Core era.) Or is it the Haitian-American boy’s subpar reading skills?

A pet store has 18 hamsters. The shop owner wants to put 3 hamsters in each cage. How many cages does the shop owner need for all the hamsters?

Math had always been Chrispin’s favorite subject. Wherever he went, he was counting: Jeeps, pennies and basketball scores. He liked the satisfaction of arriving at a neat, definitive answer and not having to worry about things like spelling and grammar.

But as he worked on practice questions one day, the hamster problem stumped him:

Draw a model using equal groups or an array to show the problem.

Write a division equation for the problem.

Write a multiplication equation for the problem.

How many cages does the shop owner need?

Chrispin scribbled aimlessly in the margins. He hated word problems, a hallmark of the Common Core. Ms. Matthew had once told him to act like a detective and look for “clue words.” If a question referred to a “border” or “outside,” for example, it was asking for its perimeter. “Math is very, very, very, very logical,” she had said.

But Chrispin did not see any clues before him. After a few minutes of intense reading, he settled on an answer: 6. But he still did not fully understand the question. He could not remember what an array even looked like.

At Chrispin’s school in Brooklyn, producing the right answer isn’t enough. Students “had to demonstrate exactly what three times five meant by shading in squares on a grid.”

The Times prints Chrispin’s letter to Carmen Fariña, New York City’s schools chancellor, about standardized testing. If he only he really wrote this well . . .

Gates: Don’t use Core scores for 2 years

Common Core-aligned tests shouldn’t be used for  teacher evaluations and student promotions for two years, writes Vicki Phillips for the Gates Foundation. “The standards need time to work.”

Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests, and offer their feedback.

. . . A rushed effort to apply the assessments could punish teachers as they’re trying new things, and any hiccups in the assessments could be seen as flaws in the standards.

That makes sense. But it comes a few days after a Washington Post story on the foundation’s support for the development and promotion of Common Core Standards — and its extensive links with the Obama administration.

The foundation backed off on high-stakes testing after “calls for congressional investigations” into the foundation and its administration allies, writes Susan Berry on Breitbart.

How Bill Gates sold the Common Core


Bill Gates put $200 million into Common Core standards.

Common Core State Standards were the brainchild of Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, reports Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post. The godfather was Bill Gates, who put more than $200 million into developing the Core and building support for it.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

President Obama’s Education Department, “populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates”  used $4.3 billion in “stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.” Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, though some have jumped ship.

Even Catholic schools have adopted the standards, if only because it’s hard to find classroom materials or training that’s not aligned to the Common Core.

The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “States saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The Gates Foundation has put $3.4 billion into trying to improve K-12 education, reports the Post. (My other blog, Community College Spotlight is funded by the Hechinger Institute, which receives Gates Foundation grants.) It has enormous influence.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” said Jay Greene, who heads the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform.

Gates “sees himself as a technocrat” funding research in “new tools” to improve education. “Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Diane Ravitch wants Congress to investigate Gates’ role in the creation and marketing of Common Core standards.

The idea of “common national standards and tests goes back a long long way before Gates,” points out Alexander Russo. If the idea hadn’t already had broad appeal, Gates’ millions wouldn’t have been effective.

Most education philanthropy supports the status quo, adds Eduwonk. “In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure.”

Personally, I think it’s crazy to suggest that Bill Gates has given $3.4 billion to education causes — and billions more to public health — because he wants to make more money. His policy ideas may be wrong. His motives are good.