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.”

6th graders seek pay for field-testing exams

After spending 5 1/2 hours field-testing new Common Core exams, Massachusetts sixth graders want to be paid for their time, reports the Ipswich Chronicle.

Ipswich Middle School teacher Alan Laroche’s A and B period math classes tested the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam. Students told Laroche that “PARCC is going to be making money from the test, so they should get paid as guinea pigs for helping them out in creating this test.”

Student Brett Beaulieu wrote a letter requesting $1,628. He calculated that’s minimum-wage compensation for 37 students for 330 minutes of work.

He then went on to figure out how many school supplies that amount could buy: 22 new Big Ideas MATH Common Core Student Edition Green textbooks or 8,689 Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils.

“Even better, this could buy our school 175,000 sheets of 8 ½” by 11″ paper, and 270 TI-108 calculators,” Beaulieu wrote.

He gathered over 50 signatures from students, as well as from assistant principal Kathy McMahon, principal David Fabrizio and Laroche.

Beaulieu and Laroche sent the letter to PARCC and to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, reports Reason’s Hit & Run. “Regardless of ideology, it seems like nobody—not teachers, not parents, not local officials, and certainly not sixth graders—likes being a guinea pig in an expensive national education experiment.”

Confused by Core tests

Kids have been field-testing new Common Core exams — and parents have been trying practice tests posted online. The verdict: The new tests are much harder — partly because of poorly worded questions.

Carol Lloyd, executive editor at GreatSchools, is a fan of the new standards, but worried about the test. She went online to try practice questions for both major common-core assessment consortia—Smarter Balanced and PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)—for her daughter’s grade.

Many of the questions were difficult but wonderful. Others were in need of a good editor.

A few, however, were flat-out wrong. One Smarter Balanced question asked students to finish an essay that began with a boy waking up and going down the hall to talk to his mother. Then, in the next paragraph, he’s suddenly jumping out of bed.

A PARCC reading-comprehension question asked students to pick a synonym for “constantly” out of five possible sentence options. I reread the sentences 10 times before I realized that no words or phrases in those sentences really meant “constantly,” but that the test-writer had confused “constantly” with “repeatedly.” Any student who really understood the language would be as confused as I was.

If these are the test questions they’re sharing with the public, “what are they doing in the privacy of my daughter’s test?” asks Lloyd.

Natalie Wexler, a writing tutor at a high-poverty D.C. high school, took the PARCC English Language Arts practice test for 10th-graders.  A number of questions were confusing, unrealistically difficult, or just plain wrong,” she writes.

Question 1 starts with a brief passage:

I was going to tell you that I thought I heard some cranes early this morning, before the sun came up. I tried to find them, but I wasn’t sure where their calls were coming from. They’re so loud and resonant, so it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Part A asked for the meaning of “resonant” as used in this passage:

A. intense B. distant C. familiar D. annoying

Looking at the context — it was hard to tell where the calls were coming from — Wexler chose “distant.”  The official correct answer was “intense.” Which is not what “resonant” means. 

Another passage described fireflies as “sketching their uncertain lines of light down close to the surface of the water.” What was implied by the phrase “uncertain lines of light.”

She chose: “The lines made by the fireflies are difficult to trace.” The correct answer? “The lines made by the fireflies are a trick played upon the eye.”

Wexler did better on a section where all the questions were based on excerpts from a majority and a dissenting opinion in a Supreme Court case about the First Amendment. “But then again, I have a law degree, and, having spent a year as a law clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, I have a lot of experience interpreting Supreme Court opinions,” she writes.

The average D.C. 10th grader won’t be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills, Wexler fears.

. . .  if a test-taker confronts a lot of unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary words, she’s unlikely to understand the text well enough to make any inferences. In just the first few paragraphs of the majority opinion, she’ll confront the words “nascent,” “undifferentiated,” and “apprehension.”

Most D.C. students “will either guess at the answers or just give up,” Wexler predicts.

Common Core tests may not pass

The two Common Core testing groups — Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — made big promises when they bid for $350 million in federal funding, notes Education Week. The vision has “collided with reality.” Due to “political, technical, and financial constraints,” some ambitious plans have been scaled back.

. . . most students will take the exams on computers, rather than use bubble sheets, for instance. The Smarter Balanced assessment will adapt in difficulty to each student’s skill level, potentially providing better information about strengths and weaknesses.

In addition, students taking the PARCC test will write essays drawing on multiple reading sources. And to a level not seen since the 1990s, students taking both exams will be engaged in “performance” items that ask them to analyze and apply knowledge, explain their mathematical reasoning, or conduct research.

Performance-based assessment requires “longer, more expensive exams,” reports Ed Week. That’s a tough sell. Both exams have reduced the length or complexity of some test elements.

Both groups will continue to use some multiple-choice or machine-scored questions, but many of those items have been enhanced — allowing students to select multiple answers, for instance, or to drag and drop text from reading passages to cite evidence.

Both exams will hire teachers to score written answers after deciding that robot scorers aren’t yet up to the job.

Both consortia promised to develop tools and supports for teachers, but help for teachers has “lagged,” reports Ed Week.

PARCC test is ‘stupid, impossible’ and ‘weird’

As a big supporter of Common Core standards, literacy consultant Rebecca Steinitz asked her seventh-grade daughter to take a practice test released by the PARCC consortium. It’s a “stupid, impossible test” filled with “weird questions” that “make no sense,” reported Eva.

Eva aced Massachusetts’ old exams, her mother writes on the Huffington Post. (It’s an open letter to President Obama, whose private-schooled daughters won’t take core-aligned exams, but that’s just a gimmick.) Next year, Eva will take a PARCC-designed exam in school.

Here’s one of the “crazy” questions on the practice test:

You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.” In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.

Seventh graders “know how to compare and contrast, and they know how to provide evidence,” writes Steinitz. But “unpacking this prompt, let alone accomplishing it,” would feel “impossible” to most as it did for Eva.

Eva missed 10 of 45 multiple-choice questions scoring in the C range. That means most of her classmates would fail.

Steinitz, who earned a PhD in English, has trained and coached high school English teachers. She missed seven of 36 questions on the 11th-grade practice test.

She thinks ninth graders aren’t ready to read a passage from Bleak House and third graders would be stumped by the abstraction in this essay prompt:

Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.

Steinitz believes Common Core standards could help bring a rigorous, challenging, engaging curriculum to every classroom. “But the standards won’t succeed if the tests used to assess them are confusing, developmentally inappropriate, and so hard that even good students can’t do well on them.”

Teaching question: Can teachers prepare students to tackle questions like these?

Political question: If the parents of good students see them earning C’s on new tests, will support for Common Core collapse?

Core testing: ACT beats PARCC

Following seven other Common Core states, Colorado should withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) “until the state has a chance to publicly review, evaluate, and critique Common Core standards and PARCC,” argues Teacher’s View blogger Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. If Colorado needs standardized testing and decides its own test isn’t good enough, the state should use ACT’s Aspire, he writes.

PARCC is an unproven standardized test created by a private consortium that has provided very little information or transparency on what their tests will look like.

. . . ACT is a known entity with a proven track record, and ACT’s tests actually mean something to parents, students and, perhaps most important, colleges.

ACT testing is cheaper at $20 per student than PARCC at $30, writes Mazenko.

Colorado requires high school students to take the ACT and uses the scores to rate high schools on college preparation.  Colleges use ACT for admissions. No college plans to rely on PARCC scores.

Common Core conflict “spiked” yesterday at the state Capitol, reports the Denver Post.  “Moms” protested the standardsSen. Vicki Marble promoted her “Colorado Moms’ Bill” to delay new tests for a year pending a review of the standards. Common Core “was pushed onto Colorado with too little debate and no parental input,” said Marble.

Meanwhile, Common Core backers sponsored a panel discussion to persuade legislators to move forward.

Common Core testing has created chaos nationwide, reports the Washington Post. In California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and elsewhere, there are second thoughts.

‘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.

Georgia balks at Common Core exam costs

It may be money, not politics, that undermines Common Core standards in Georgia, writes Maureen Downey in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Georgia now spends $25 million to test students in five subject areas. If it uses the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, the state would spend as much as $52.5 million to test only English and math. Yet without common tests there’ll be no way to know if Georgia students are keeping up with performance in other states.

Algebra 2 exam will test ‘college readiness’

Passing an Algebra 2 exam (or Math 3 for integrated math) will show college math readiness in 23 states that belong to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, or PARCC.

In PARCC states, students will be forced to take Algebra 2 or Math 3 if they want to avoid remedial classes in college.  That’s controversial, reports Ed Week.

Richard Freeland, Massachusetts’ commissioner of higher education, said he was reluctant to base a college-readiness determination on Algebra 2 or Math 3, noting that many students who don’t plan to major in science, technology, engineering, or math may not take such classes in high school.

But James Wright, the director of assessment for the Ohio education department, cautioned against going down that road. It’s a “dangerous slope to differentiate” among different types or levels of college readiness in math, he said, when the aim is to assess students against all the common-core standards in math. He noted, however, that the group’s math tests will not gauge mastery of the so-called “plus standards,” which are designed for students aiming to take more-advanced math courses in college.

All but five states have adopted Common Core State Standards in math; all but four have signed on to the English Language Arts standards.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which has 25 members, plans an 11th-grade “summative” math test.

No agreement on what’s ‘college ready’

If a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in college English, does that mean she’s college ready? College and K-12 leaders couldn’t agree at a Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers ( PARCC) meeting. One of two federally funded state assessment consortia, PARCC is working on tests linked to the new Common Core Standards.

The draft discussed at the June 20 meeting would deem “college ready” students who scored at “Level 4” or above on a five-level test. Level 4 would be pegged to the “proficient” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and be set so that 75 percent of students who reached that level would earn Cs in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in English composition and literature, or college algebra and introductory statistics.

For the 11th grade test, scoring at Level 5 would mean that students are “very likely to succeed” in those courses, and scoring a 4 would mean they are “likely to succeed,” according to the draft statement. Those who score 3s “may succeed,” while 2s are “unlikely to succeed and 1s “very unlikely” to do so.

Some argued C is not a measure of college success.  Others want to eliminate the “may succeed” level.

PARCC hopes colleges will use the test instead of placement tests to determine whether students can start in college-level courses.