‘Common Core’ test market gets crowded

The Common Core testing market is getting crowded, reports Education Week.  College Board is aligning four testing programs to the new standards, adding “yet another player to the list of companies seeking to take on new roles in a shifting nationwide assessment landscape.”

In addition to the SAT, College Board will redesign ReadiStep, aimed at 8th and 9th graders, the PSAT, typically taken by 10th and 11th graders, and Accuplacer, used to determine whether incoming college students take remedial or college-level courses.

David Coleman, who took over as the College Board’s president last October , was a chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts.

States could use College Board’s tests to track students’ progress toward college readiness by 2014-15,  Coleman said.

He wants the tests to play other roles, too: as an early-warning system, facilitating interventions for students who are behind; and as door-openers, identifying promising but under-recognized students and connecting them with more-challenging coursework and with supports that will aid them in applying for college.

College Board will be competing with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which are using federal funds to design standards-aligned tests.

ACT also is developing ”common-core tests that will span elementary through high school, include not only math and literacy but science, and be ready to use a year earlier than the consortium tests, which are slated for debut in 2015,” notes Ed Week.

Common standards were supposed to allow states to see how their students were doing compared to other states, but if core adopters are split between PARCC, SBAC, ACT, College Board and state exams, comparability will remain elusive.

Prepare for new SAT, digital ACT

College admissions tests are changing, reports the New York Times.

Say farewell to vocabulary flashcards with arcane words like “compendious,” “membranous,” “mendacious,” “pugnacious,” “depreciatory,” “redolent,” “treacly” and “jettison.” In the new SAT, to be unveiled in 2015, David Coleman, president of the College Board, wants to get rid of obscure words that are . . . just SAT words, and replace them with more common words like “synthesis,” “distill” and “transform,” used in context as they will be in college and in life.

And the math? “There are a few things that matter disproportionately, like proportional reasoning, linear equations and linear functions,” Mr. Coleman said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re going to concentrate on.”

“And it shouldn’t just be about picking the right answer,” he said. “It should be about being able to explain, and see, the applications of this math.”

Coleman, a principal architect of Common Core standards, wants the SAT to align with what students learn in high school instead of trying to measure “aptitude.”

The ACT, which already is more curriculum-based, will be given on computers and will include “more creative, hands-on questions,” the Times reports. In addition, ACT will offer yearly testing as early as third grade to “help guide students to college readiness.”

Coleman plans to change grading for the SAT essay, which lets students “get top marks for declaring that the Declaration of Independence was written by Justin Bieber and sparked the French Revolution, as long as the essay is well organized and develops a point of view.”

 “We should not be encouraging students to make up the facts,” Mr. Coleman said. “We should be asking them to construct an argument supported by their best evidence.”

Over and over, Mr. Coleman returns to the need to prod students into marshaling their evidence. “The heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence,” he said. “The College Board is reaching out to teachers and college faculty to help us design questions that, for example, could ask students to use math to analyze the data in an economics study or the results of a scientific experiment, or analyze the evidence provided within texts in literature, history, geography or natural science.”

In 2005, the SAT dropped analogies and added more advanced math. However, the test is losing market share to the ACT, which last year was taken by more students.

Collegebound can’t opt out of Common Core

Common Core Standards will affect homeschoolers when their children apply to college, writes Paula Bolyard in PJ Lifestyle. Without traditional academic credentials, homeschooled students need strong SAT or ACT scores.

David Coleman, a “lead architect” of the Common Core, is now president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) tests. He plans to “redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core,” reports The Atlantic.

The ACT, which describes itself as “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative,” also plans to revamp their tests, notes Bolyard.

If your homeschooled children plan to go to attend college some day, the way things currently stand, they will be tested on Common Core “achievements and behavior.” That means you may need to consider altering your curriculum to align with the standards.

Alignment of the SAT, ACT and GED exams to Common Core “poses new questions about the extent to which states, private schools, and homeschooled students will be compelled to accept national standards and tests,” writes Brittany Corona on Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry

Even in states that do not sign on to Common Core, schools could find themselves having to align content with Common Core material in order to ensure student success on the SAT or ACT—something that could affect private schools.

The GED is “sometimes used by homeschoolers to demonstrate content mastery,” Corona writes. The new version of the test “could pull homeschoolers into the Common Core web.”

Michael Farris, co-founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, told Coleman (in a polite conversation): “Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”

Who will teach informational reading?

Students should read more non-fiction and “informational text,” say Common Core State Standards adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. The new standards say half of elementary school reading assignments should be nonfiction, growing to 70 percent by grade 12. Who should teach informational reading?

Already, English teachers are cutting literature units to make room for recommended texts, which include Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration, reports the Washington Post.

But David Coleman, who co-authored the standards, say educators have it all wrong.

Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

Social studies teachers, for example, could have students read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” while math students could read Euclid’s “Elements” from 300 B.C.

. . . The standards explicitly say that Shakespeare and classic American literature should be taught, said Coleman, who became president of the College Board in November.

. . . The specifics are spelled out in a footnote on page 5 of the 66-page standards.

Across the country, English teachers say their principals have told them it’s their job to teach students to read non-fiction. Social studies, science and math teachers are not sharing the responsibility.

From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)

No time for stories?

Under the new Common Core Standards, students would spend half their reading time on “informational” texts in K-5 and 70 percent in middle and high school. This will weaken the public school curriculum, writes Sandra Stotsky, who directed the development of Massachusetts’ English Language Arts standards.

Standards writer David Coleman overstates the percentage of the elementary school day spent on literary stories and misunderstands why teachers use stories, Stotsky writes. It’s easier for poor readers to understand narratives.

If anything, elementary teachers reduced reading instructional time after the 1960s to make more time for writing and revising experience-based stories. Over the years, sales of history, science, grammar, and spelling textbooks declined for a variety of reasons. Education schools stressed hands-on science (which most elementary teachers were not trained to teach) and “more engaging” history materials, much of which came to be written in story form for the sake of struggling readers. Reading instructional series (A.K.A. basal readers) then integrated spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and composition study as part of their programs to make the language arts cohere with what students were reading.

Schools didn’t eliminate science, history, and geography; they just eliminated the means by which these subjects could be taught systematically and accurately by teachers who knew little about these subjects. In addition, struggling readers couldn’t read (or didn’t want to read) history and science textbooks, no matter how much publishers lowered the reading levels of these textbooks.

As tracking fell out of favor in middle schools, English teachers “began teaching more literature written at an elementary school reading level and fewer challenging or even grade-appropriate literary texts,” Stotsky writes.

An elementary teacher can make time to teach students to read literary stories and understand informational texts, she writes. A secondary-school “English teacher has only 45-60 minutes a day . . . to teach everything assigned to the English curriculum.”

Teacher: ‘Cold reading’ is boring, shallow

Common Core Standards’ recommended English lessons are shallow and boring, writes teacher Jeremiah Chaffee on Answer Sheet.  Along with colleagues at his upstate New York high school, he spent a day on an “exemplar” lesson that calls for “cold reading” the Gettysburg Address. Teachers are told not to introduce the speech or discuss the Civil War, he writes.

Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.

The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”

. . .  it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.

Teachers are told to read the speech aloud, pronouncing the words clearly, but not dramatizing it.

That’s not good teaching, writes Chaffee, a 13-year veteran. He thinks Common Core’s stress on just-the-words reading is designed to prepare students for tests.

David Coleman, who co-wrote the English Language Arts standards, demonstrates a close-reading lesson on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail here via EngageNY on Vimeo.  Is this good teaching?

 

Report: Education failure puts U.S. at risk

Educational failure threatens our economic prosperity, global leadership and national security, according to a report by a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state.

Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

“Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security,” the report states. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

Among other policy suggestions, the report calls for expanding Common Core Standards to include “the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country’s national security,” including science, technology, foreign languages, creative problem-solving skills and civic awareness.

Update:  History, science and art are “truant” from school, said panelists at a  Common Core discussion. Common Core will be creating Common Core State Standards-based curriculum maps in history and geography. David Coleman, one of the lead writers of the new English Language Arts standards, said it’s impossible to teach K-5 reading “without coherently developing knowledge in science, and history, and the arts.”

 And that is why NAEP scores in early grades can improve slightly but collapse as students grow older. Because it is the deep foundation in rich knowledge and vocabulary depth that allows you to access more complex text.

Let’s not get confused here that [the CCSS] are adding back nice things [history, arts, science] that are an addendum to literacy.  We are adding the cornerstones of literacy, which are the foundations of knowledge, that make literacy happen.

There is no greater threat to literary study in this country than false imitations of  literature which do not deserve to be read.

Coleman told states not buy mediocre materials with a “Common Core” stamp.  Wait for the good stuff to be available, he said.

Fifth-grade reading in high school

High school students need to read challenging books to prepare for college and informed citizenship, writes Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas in response to to Renaissance Learning’s 2012 report. High school students’ top 40 books average a 5.3 (just about fifth grade) reading level, according to the company, which makes Accelerated Reader. That’s down from 6.1 in the 2008 report, notes Stotsky.

This republic cannot flourish in the 21st century, no matter how much time English or reading teachers spend teaching “21st century skills” . . . if the bulk of our population is reading at or below the fifth-grade level.

Accelerated Reader software quizzes students on their reading and awards points based on difficulty. The report doesn’t count books without a quiz. But AR now includes a very large number of books.

It’s not just that students choose easy books, Stotsky writes. According to the report, librarians are recommending books of interest to high school students that are written at the fourth- to fifth-grade level.

Readability formulas don’t tell us about the literary aspects of a literary text, but they do provide objective measures of vocabulary difficulty and sentence complexity. And why no serious historical nonfiction?

The list of most frequently read graphic novels shows many high school students are reading “classics” reweritten at a second-, third- or fourth-grade level, Stotsky writes. Examples are: Harriet Tubman and the Underground
Railroad, A Tale of Two Cities, Romeo and Juliet, The Time Machine, A Midsummer Night’s DreamJane EyreDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Scarlet Letter and A Christmas Carol.

Only Romeo and Juliet is on the top 40 list for all high school students. “In a few years, struggling readers may be more familiar with the “classics” as rewritten than regular readers are with them as written,” Stotsky fears.

Common Core Standards writer David Coleman also sees a problem: “If you examine the top 40 lists of what students are reading today in sixth–twelfth grade, you will find much of it is not complex enough to prepare them for the rigors of college and career.” The reports includes Common Core Standards’ “exemplars” of nonfiction and fiction books recommended at different grade levels.

Teaching reading: Who’s an expert?

Dive right into reading without much “pre-reading” prep. Ask students questions about the text, not about their personal experiences or feelings.  Education consultant David Coleman, architect of Common Core reading standards, wants instruction to stress close reading of complex texts, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee on Fordham’s Common Core Watch.

Reading strategies should not be taught as “an end unto themselves,” Coleman believes.

Reading strategies should work in the service of reading comprehension . . . and assist students in building knowledge and insight from specific texts. . . . Additionally, care should be taken that introducing broad themes and questions in advance of reading does not prompt overly general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specific ideas and details, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning and knowledge from it.

Coleman also advocates re-reading complex texts for deeper understanding.

To that end, Coleman suggests spending three days on the Gettysburg Address—a three paragraph speech. And he thinks Letter from a Birmingham Jail should take six days.

Frankly, that sounds boring.

Teachers reject Coleman’s ideas because he has no classroom teaching experience, notes Porter-Magee.  But perhaps an outsider is needed.

In fact, research suggests that a fresh perspective is exactly what’s needed to solve seemingly impossible problems. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights growing evidence that “big breakthroughs often depend on the naive daring of outsiders,” not the conventional wisdom of the best and brightest in the field.

Did classroom teachers develop the current method of teaching reading? Or did it come from an earlier generation of experts?

Even more important, is Coleman right?