On tougher test, NY scores plunge

Reading and math scores dropped sharply in New York because the new Common Core-aligned tests are much harder.

In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the state exams in English, and 30 percent passed in math, reports the New York Times. On last year’s easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.

Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the exams in reading and math. Last year, 55 percent passed in reading, and 65 percent in math.

Achievement gaps are large: 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said higher standards will prepare students for college and the work force. “Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Mr. Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”

It’s a conspiracy to make teachers look bad and sell more stuff, writes Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal, on Answer Sheet.

Because of the Common Core, our youngest children are being asked to meet unrealistic expectations. New York’s model curriculum for first graders includes knowing the meaning of words that include “cuneiform,” “sarcophagus,” and “ziggurat.” . . .

If we are not careful, the development of social skills, the refinement of fine motor skills, and most importantly, the opportunity to celebrate the talents and experiences of every child will be squeezed out of the school day.

“There will be tremendous pressure to further narrow the curriculum and cut out all of the enrichment that can make young children smile with anticipation on Monday mornings,” Burris concludes.

New York State Stops Lying to Kids, and That’s a Good Thing, headlines RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Outside experts, exhausted educators

Schools are deluged with consultants promising to explain Common Core standards, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.

Greg, who now teaches in Australia, suggests schools should just say no to outside experts and professional development.

“I’d like to challenge any school to go “consultant free” and “PD free” for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I’d bet that school would do better than all the rest.”

Educators are trying to learn too much and do too much, writes DeWitt.

In addition to implementing the changes that are being forced upon us . . . some of us are flipping our parent communication and faculty meetings, researching ways to improve our leadership practices, or diving into old data to see what we need to change about our instruction.

At the same time we are doing our own learning . . . we have to engage in trainings and professional development to learn about the changes that are being forced upon us.

It’s exhausting. Greg’s advice — a holiday from consultants and professional development — might enable schools to get more done with less stress, DeWitt concludes.

Common tests lose support

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are moving forward on Common Core Standards, but support for common testing is eroding, reports StateImpact.

Georgia will use its own exam, instead of the costlier test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Two of Florida’s top elected leaders want Florida to leave PARCC, even though Florida is the fiscal agent for the testing consortium.

Already Alabama, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have left the consortium. Oklahoma plans to design its own test, and Indiana isn’t participating in PARCC governing board meetings right now. State education officials say they’re waiting until after a mandatory legislative review of the Common Core academic standards.

That brings the number of states participating in PARCC down to 18 plus the District of Columbia.

Pennsylvania, Utah and Alabama quit the other testing group, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which now has 24 members. (Some states had joined both groups.)

The crumbling of the testing consortia is a “disaster,” writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall.

Blinded by “technocratic hubris,” common assessment advocates “underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests,” writes Smarick. Governors and state chiefs will be reluctant to spend lots of money for a testing system that will make their schools and teachers look bad, he predicted six months ago.

The Common Core sky isn’t falling, responds Checker Finn, also a Fordhamite. This is “right sizing.”

The forty-five-state thing was always artificial, induced by Race to the Top greed and perhaps a crowd mentality. Never in a million years were we going to see forty-five states truly embrace these rigorous academic expectations for their students, teachers, and schools, meet all the implementation challenges (curriculum, textbooks, technology, teacher prep, etc.), deploy new assessments, install the results of those assessments in their accountability systems, and live with the consequences of zillions of kids who, at least in the near term, fail to clear the higher bar.

It’s “better for states to drop out in advance than to fake it, pretending to use the Common Core standards but never really implementing them,” Finn writes. “That’s long-standing California-style behavior (fine standards, wretched implementation), in contrast with Massachusetts-style behavior (exemplary standards and serious implementation—and results to show for it).”

Most of the drop-out states will keep the standards, but write their own tests or sign up with ACT. They’ll give comparability, “one of the major benefits of commonality,” Finn writes. Some may change their minds later “or face up to the fact that (like Texas and Virginia) they don’t really want to use the Common Core at all.”

Is it English? Or social studies?

Mark Bauerlein helped develop the Common Core standards in English. Now he fears the critics are right to say “high-quality fiction, poetry, theater and other imaginative texts” will be crowded out by non-fiction.

Only three literary works – Romeo and Juliet, T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men and a short poem about Gandhi by Langston Hughes — appear in the New York City Education Department’s 13 recommended units of study in English Language Arts/Literacy at the high school level, writes Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory.

Meanwhile, the site offers units on DNA and crime detection, “vertical farming,” digital media, European imperialism, great speeches and two on the civil rights movement.

The assigned texts include a speech by Bill Clinton, a Los Angeles Times story on teens and social media, the “Complete Personal Finance Guidebook,” photographs by Walker Evans and an entry on imperialism in the New Book of Knowledge.

Even when a topic is disposed to abundant and superb literary works, the Education Department has failed to include them. The unit on “Rites of Passage” — supposedly to be used in English classes — doesn’t opt for great tales of youth and adulthood such as “Jane Eyre,” “The Red Badge of Courage” or Richard Wright’s “Almos’ a Man.”

Instead, it chooses 10 pieces on teen rituals from The New York Times, USA Today, Fox Business, NPR and other news outlets.

The new standards’ framers wanted students to have “more general background knowledge, more broad familiarity with history, science, art and ideas — all of which would, among other things, enhance literary study,” writes Bauerlein. They called for teaching “foundational works of American literature.” Instead, he charges, New York City’s curriculum designers are turning English into a social studies class.

‘Proficiency’ means little in some states

States define “proficiency” very differently, write Paul Peterson and Peter Kaplan in Education Next.

Massachusetts, Tennessee and Missouri have the highest expectations, while Alabama and Georgia expect the least of their students. Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Illinois and Virginia also set a low bar.

Standards still declined in rigor in 26 states and D.C. between 2009 and 2011, while 24 states increased rigor, the study found.

The study grades the states for setting high standards, not on whether students meet those standards.

Having been graded an F in every previous report, (Tennessee) made the astounding jump to a straight A in 2011. . .  state tests were made much more challenging and the percentage of students identified as proficient dropped from 90 percent or more to around 50 percent, a candid admission of the challenges the Tennessee schools faced.

West Virginia, New York, Nebraska, and Delaware also strengthened proficiency standards, while New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Georgia lowered the bar.

Uneven at the Start, a new Education Trust report, looks at academic performance to predict how different states will meet the challenge of Common Core standards.

New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts show strong performance and improvement for all students — and for disadvantaged students, reports Ed Trust.  Performance is weak in West Virginia and Oregon. Ohio and Wisconsin do well for students overall, but poorly for “or or more of their undeserved groups.”

Education Trust also has updated its EdWatch reports, which analyze  college and career readiness and high school and college graduation rates for all groups of students in each state.  The state academic performance and improvement tool shows how each state compares with the national average and with other states.

How to defend Common Core Standards

Common Core Standards are under attack in a growing number of states and could “stall” over the next four or five years, writes Rick Hess. Defenders must get off the same old talking points and address critics’ legitimate concerns.

To start with, Education Secretary Arne Duncan should admit that “federal involvement and money played a nontrivial (and perhaps, in hindsight, an unfortunate) role in the early stages of the Common Core.”

Like Hess, I see potential for the new standards to improve learning in many states, but I also see lots of problems.

Thinking deeply about … um … what?

Students will read more short informational texts under the new Common Core Standards and have less time for complete books — fiction or nonfiction — writes Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review.

Among the suggested texts are The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers, but no history books, writes Fitzhugh.

In the spirit of turnabout, English teachers could stop assigning complete novels, plays and poems, Fitzhugh writes.  Instead of reading Pride and Prejudice, perhaps Chapter Three would do.  ”They could get the ‘gist’ of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, ‘grist’ for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.”

Teachers will have to “to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding” to offer “the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards,” Fitzhugh writes, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm.

In 1990, Caleb Nelson wrote in The Atlantic about an older Common Core at Harvard:

The philosophy behind the [Harvard College] Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so….

That’s the idea, writes Fitzhugh.

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students will learn that “ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking,” Fitzhugh predicts. “The current mad flight from knowledge and understanding . . . will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.”

Via Jim Stergios of Rock the Schoolhouse, a Common Core skeptic.

Among Common Core exemplar texts are Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star about The Battle of Little Big Horn and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, RiShawn Biddle points out.

Advocates call for ‘supports-based reform’

Instead of “top-down standards” and “punitive high-stakes testing,” we need “supports-based reform,” according to the Education Declaration to Rebuild America. Public schools are turning into “uncreative, joyless institutions,” the declaration states. “Educators are being stripped of their dignity and autonomy, leading many to leave the profession.”

By focusing solely on the achievement gap, we have neglected the opportunity gap that creates it, and have allowed the resegregation of our schools and communities by class and race.

. .. What’s needed is a supports-based reform agenda that provides every student with the opportunities and resources needed to achieve high standards and succeed . . .

Signers include education historian Diane Ravitch, writer Jonathan Kozol, Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel.

Ed Week summarizes:   ”They reiterated their call for more funding (and more equitably distributed), more early education, better teacher training, high-quality diagnostic tests, more-effective discipline, and parent engagement.”

The declaration was organized by the Education Opportunity Network, which is affiliated with the Institute for America’s Future, and by the Opportunity to Learn Campaign, funded by the Schott Foundation.

(I’ve learned from the opponents of education reform that philanthropy is “corporate,” sinister and self-interested, so I’m surprised to see the campaign taking foundation money. No, I’m not. That was sarcasm.)

Common Core pushback

Fox News looks at the federal push for Common Core standards and the pushback in some states.

Nine states that adopted Common Core are having second thoughts, reports the Washington Post.

Some states are seeking to slow implementation, while others are trying to repeal the standards altogether. Legislation pending in some states would prevent adoption of standards in other subjects, such as social studies or science.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia adopted the reading and math standards. Minnesota adopted only the reading portion and Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia are staying with their own standards.

AFT poll: Teachers unprepared for new standards

Most public school teachers say they’re not prepared to teach math and reading to the new Common Core standards, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers. While 75 percent of teachers surveyed by the union support the Common Core, less than one-third said they’d received the training and resources needed to teach to the new standards.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards and many have started implementation.

Two states — Kentucky and New York — have already tested students on the new standards. In New York, teachers, parents and students complained that the tests were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears. Like many other states, New York intends to use the test results in decisions about student grade promotion, teacher job evaluations and school closings.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has called for a testing moratorium for at least one year. Among teachers surveyed, 83 percent supported the moratorium.