Kindly Wrong

Earlier this week, I wrote about an interview that Gwen Ifill conducted with Bill and Melinda Gates on the PBS NewsHour. She did another interview the same day with Bill and Melinda Gates at the Gates Foundation Education Forum. At both interviews, Bill and Melinda Gates said much of the same thing with much of the same attitudes.

I would like to share with you three reader/viewer comments about those interviews.

  1. Peter Greene, a teacher from Pennsylvania, wrote a biting satire about the interview at the Gates Foundation. He begins by writing…….

   “It’s been fifteen years since we started trying to beat public education into submission with giant stacks of money, and it turns out that it’s a hell of a lot harder than curing major diseases. Turns out teachers are not nearly as compliant as bacteria. Who knew? ”   Continue reading at his blog called Curmudgucation. 

2. Jackie, an English teacher from Connecticut, commented about the PBS NewsHour interview. She summed up Bill Gates in two words, two words that make me smile about the power of words because her choice of words to describe Bill Gates is so perfect. Jackie wrote:  “Bill Gates seemed kindly wrong. Melinda Gates was flagrantly misinforming and arrogant. Gah.”

3. Steven Singer, another teacher from Pennsylvania,  wrote the following comment about the Bill and Melinda Gates interview at the Gates Foundation:

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

These three responses to the interviews reminded me, once again, why I love being a teacher and a teacher of teachers:  I get to hang around with the best people. Most of the teachers I have worked with for my whole professional life are bright, funny, well-read, caring about kids, sophisticatedly literate, and living on the highest plane of dedication. They are critical thinkers. They love ideas.  They love being engaged with other people, especially the students they teach. They inspire me. They make me walk taller.

Too bad that Bill and Melinda Gates and Arnie Duncan and David Coleman and the president I campaigned for didn’t bring the teachers I know or any of the millions of good teachers around the country into the discussion of what makes a good education. If they had, we would have standards and ways to approach learning that we could speak about with pride.

Instead, we have standards and testing that harm kids. And we have disrespect for who we teachers are and what we do.

At worst, it is a unified attempt to destroy public education by those who can profit from doing so. At best, it is all kindly wrong.

Money Talks

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

If you cannot see the video, please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.
2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.
3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students. Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.
4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.
5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.
6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.
7. Melissa Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.
8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers. Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.
9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.
10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.
Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Money Talks

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour.  I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little.  I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

  1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited.  The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.
  2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.
  3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students. Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.
  4. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards eliminate the need of remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards does not eliminate the need for remediation. Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests.  According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.
  5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.
  6. Melinda  Gates said that the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.
  7. Melissa Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.
  8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers.  Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.
  9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores.  Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.
  10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for  K-12 education.  How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent  standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Teachers’ Opposition To Common Core Increases

It takes a lot to oppose the Common Core State Standards when they are said to offer:

  • reform!
  • rigor!
  • high academic standards approved by states and consistent with other nations!
  • a guarantee to close the achievement gap!
  • college and career readiness!

What red-blooded American could say NO to this promise? You might think none.

But 60% of American teachers and 51% of the American public do say no. This opposition has increased in the past two years. In 2013, just 24% of American teachers were opposed to the Common Core, and 35% of American citizens were opposed.  The increase in opposition is remarkable, given the tremendous amount  of money that has been spent to promote the Common Core. The increase of 36% in teacher opposition is particularly noteworthy because teachers  have come to know Common Core the best.

In the past two years, teachers have become familiar with the Common Core standards and implemented them in their classrooms. After almost 30 years of working with urban and suburban teachers, beginning and veteran teachers, brilliant stars of teachers and struggling teachers, I know for sure the one thing that teachers have in common is that if something helps kids to learn and to achieve, teachers are for it.  Teachers will learn new skills, change their ways, look at things differently IF their students learn better and achieve more.  Common Core has not offered that incentive  to teachers.

Plus teachers and parents probably have found out that reform!, rigor!, national and international acclaim!, closing the achievement gap!, and college and career readiness! are empty words. They are focus group tested words, chosen to “sell” the Common Core.

The promise of reform is an empty one. For example, 500 professionals in the field of early childhood education, including the most respected experts in the country, have written a public statement, claiming that the Common Core Standards are harmful to young children and should not be taught.  Changes that cause harm are not reform.

The most highlighted “new” Common Core practice for the teaching of English, labeled one of the six major “shifts”  of Common Core is using text evidence as students read and as they write. The problem with labeling it a “shift” and heralding it as brand new is that it has been the fundamental practice in English classes since I was in school and has been the daily practice in the many hundreds of English classes I have observed since 1985. Introducing something as new and different when it is already accepted practice by everyone in the field is not reform.

In addition, at the 2015 annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, there were 642 presentations. Of those 642 presentations, only 19 of them were about implementing the Common Core, and even those were largely about how to circumvent or add better teaching to that mandated implementation. The remaining 623 presentations were about authentic teaching and learning that scholarly research and/or teaching experience show is best practice. Advocating something not respected by experts in the academic discipline is not reform; it is just a plan of action recommended by people without the requisite knowledge. It was employees of testing companies, individuals without knowledge of teaching and learning, who wrote the Common Core; no English educators and no early childhood professionals were involved in writing those standards. Because people who are not educators call what they put together an educational reform does not make it so.

The standards are not rigorous. The tests to assess the attainment of those standards are “gotcha” enterprises with plenty of students receiving low scores, but that is because the tests are designed to fail 60-70% of the students who take them. Anyone who has taught knows that it’s easy to create a test to fail most students. Those failures don’t mean that the test challenges the students to reason clearly, to raise pivotal questions, to collaborate in order to problem solve or create new thinking, or to communicate effectively orally or in writing. That would be rigor. But that would require a totally different pedagogy than the pedagogy the Common Core mandates.

The states never approved of what we now call the Common Core Standards; appointed state officials simply agreed to the abstract concept of standards. In 2009, states signed on to that concept before any standards were written in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having the 100% proficiency specified by NCLB. No state officials ever reviewed the actual standards and decided they were good learning. Similarly, the Common Core Standards are not aligned with international standards. The writers of Common Core reviewed standards of other nations but did not match Common Core to them. For example, other nations have standards for the vital 21st century skill of collaboration, but Common Core does not.

No standards can close the achievement gap, especially when that gap is measured by scores on standardized tests. All standardized test scores are correlated with family income, not with how much or how little the standards are taught. For example, the school districts that adhere most assiduously to the teaching of the Common Core Standards are the impoverished, urban districts, and the schools in those districts have the lowest standardized test scores. Also, if standards could positively affect achievement, then all students who were taught them- those now proficient and those now failing- would improve, and the gap would remain the same.

Lastly, the Common Core Standards are untested for college and career readiness. No one has any idea if a high score on the tests aligned to the Common Core is a predictor of success in college or careers. It’s anybody’s guess. Even the Executive Director of SBAC has said that the Common Core aligned tests have a “huge validity problem” because they were never field-tested. It is unconscionable that we as a state mandate that all children and adolescents learn in prescribed ways that we don’t have any evidence are good for them. What we do know is that key skills for the future (questioning, collaboration, oral communication, and creativity) are not tested on the Common Core aligned tests so it is unlikely that the standards and the tests that measure them do make our students”college and career ready”.

Teachers, who are under pressure of job security to teach to the Common Core, often find it prudent to be compliant, yet they, in increasing numbers, are expressing their opposition to the Common Core. They seem to be looking closely at what reform, rigor, nationally agreed-upon standards, and international benchmarking, closing the achievement gap, and college and career readiness really mean. That critique is good news for the future of education. It is good news for the future of the country.

If those voices of opposition continue to increase, what will we do? What can move education forward in effective and healthy ways?  In 2009, maybe it seemed efficient to turn education over to non-educators who had money and political clout. But, as H.L. Mencken said:  ” For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, ………….    and wrong.

The right way to improve education is to ask educators to design standards and to make the decisions about how to teach students to learn. We will get it right.  We know when reform is needed and when it is not. We know what reform really looks like. We know what rigor is and how to motivate and engage our students in learning that is truly rigorous. We know how to address and minimize the achievement gap. We know how to prepare students for their future. Give us a chance and watch what happens.

Test Prep Vs. Learning

Which do you choose? It is either/or. You can’t have both.

A. A school in which students have a schedule dominated by Common Core-aligned test prep, such as the one described in the illustration above.

 B. A school in a district in which learning is the priority and in which parents and guardians could receive a letter stating that priority, such as this one from the Superintendent of Patchogue-Metford School District on Long Island.

SBAC: The Beginning Of The End

So what did we learn from the release of the SBAC scores? What did we learn after spending more than 2 million dollars of state money and countless millions at the district levels to get these scores?

Not much.

We did learn that the achievement gap has not been in any way affected by implementation of the Common Core. I have been in a position to analyze CMT and CAPT scores over many years, and the SBAC scores tell the same story as the CMT and CAPT scores. That story is that students in affluent communities score significantly higher than students in poor communities do. No administration of a test will ever change that fact. No set of national standards or standardized test on those standards will ever “close the achievement gap”. First of all, high scores depend on the quality of the lives children have outside of school much more than what happens in school. Secondly, if the national standards and aligned testing did raise scores, then all scores would go up, both those of the students in affluent districts and those in poor cities. So the “gap” would be unchanged.

We did learn that charter schools, even with their cherry-picked student bodies, did not do better than many public school districts which do not restrict their student populations of special education students, English language learners, or students with behavioral issues. For example, SBAC 8th grade math scores for charter schools ranked 63, 67, 71, 74, 100, 103, 107, 119, 123,130, and 133 out of 133 reporting districts and schools. Of course, many of those charter schools had better scores than the districts from which their students came and should be expected to have better scores than the students’ originating public school districts because the charter schools have siphoned off some students with drive and potential from those districts.

We did learn that the SBAC scores tell us nothing about the learning going on in Connecticut schools. We can’t tell what schools just paid lip service to Common Core Standards and what ones focused almost exclusively on the Common Core. Without a doubt, the schools with scores demonstrating under 20% proficiency on the SBAC spent more time on test prep than the schools in affluent districts with higher SBAC scores. Yet we are told that schools must limit their curriculum to Common Core so that the school’s test scores will improve. It makes no sense. Some districts which had curriculum dedicated to the Common Core and teachers who taught to it diligently had low test scores, and some districts that just about ignored the Common Core in curriculum and practice had good scores. High test scores and teaching to the Common Core had  zero correlation.

We also learned that SBAC scores tell us nothing about students’ real competencies. As anyone who has an understanding of how to teach students to be thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers knows, the more a teacher teaches to the Common Core ELA standards, the farther away those students will be from being thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers. So the actual achievement gap will widen between the students in the affluent communities and the students in the cities with their increased test prep due to the low 2015 SBAC scores.

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts lack any research base whatsoever and have no evidence that they will produce “college and career readiness”, yet we restrict our neediest students to that Common Core regimen due to our misplaced reliance on the SBAC scores. Just because a PR firm was hired to promote the Common Core Standards and that PR firm, through focus groups, determined that “rigor” was the word that would sell the standards to the American public does not make the standards or the SBAC test rigorous. Neither of them is. The Common Core ELA standards teach a discredited way of reading and an inadequate way of writing, and the SBAC test is an exercise in “Gotcha”.

We did learn from the 2015 SBAC test that opting-out is going to be an influential part of the narrative about assessing learning in the future. For example, in West Hartford, Conard High School had an opt-out rate of 5.5% and Hall High School had a 61.4 % opt out rate. What then can we tell about the two schools in the same town? Does Hall have more students who have applied to competitive colleges and do not want their excellent records of good grades and SAT scores hurt by a test designed to produce low scores? Does Hall High have parents who are more savvy than Conard parents and who are making a statement about their values and the kind of learning that they want for their children? Is learning richer and deeper at Hall than at Conard so that students and their parents seek other kinds of demonstrations of student achievement?

Also, are Westbrook High School, North Haven High School, Hartford Public High School’s Law and Government Academy, Daniel Hand High School in Madison, and E.O. Smith High School in Storrs places where the emphasis is on real learning because more than 85% of the juniors in those schools opted-out of the 2105 SBAC math test? School by school, parent by parent, district by district, those questions will be explored now that Connecticut has completed its first year of SBAC testing, and, if we can judge by what is happening in New York where implementation of the Common Core and the taking of a Common Core aligned test is a year ahead of Connecticut, it seems reasonable to believe that opting-out will increase.

Over this past year of SBAC testing, some told the story that we need SBAC to close the achievement gap. That story is wrong. Closing the achievement gap will never happen with standardized tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data in order to compare schools and districts. That story is wrong. SBAC data is same-old, same-old; we had it all along with our state tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data about individual students and the skills they need. That story is wrong. SBAC doesn’t address students’ learning needs; teachers do. Some told the story that SBAC measures what students need to learn, but that story is terribly wrong. Those telling it must not be educators. They must not know what real learning is or what students need to be prepared to do.

It is time to end SBAC. It is time for a new story. A true one.

Monkey Business: The Failing Of Connecticut’s Children

The Connecticut SBAC scores will be released by the State Department of Education any day now. The scores will be low. You will be told that the low scores are because the SBAC tests are RIGOROUS and our students don’t measure up.

Don’t believe it.

First of all, the test can’t possibly be rigorous because the Common Core Standards on which the tests are based are vapid. The Common Core English Standards do not teach students to be thoughtful readers, deep thinkers, or effective writers so the SBAC exams do not measure those competencies.

Secondly, we have no idea if what is tested has predictability for the students’ future success in the next grade or college because no one checked with teachers in higher grades or with college professors to see what competencies students will need. The Common Core English Standards were written by makers of standardized tests and are comprised of what can be measured by those tests, not comprised of what students need to learn.

Lastly, even though the Common Core has a low intellectual bar, most students will fail the tests because the passing grades have been artificially set. Last November, before any students had taken the 2015 SBAC tests, the Connecticut Commissioner of Education, representing Governor Malloy, signed an agreement that the 2015 SBAC tests would fail 59% of high school juniors in English, 67% of high school juniors in math, 56-62% of third through eighth graders in English, and 61-68% of third through eighth graders in math.

When the majority of Connecticut children are soon told that they are failures, it is not because some absolute measure with objective criteria determined that but because a test was designed to fail them.

By other criteria, Connecticut students are highly successful. For example, since 1992, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, has had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in the country, and Connecticut ranks 5th in the whole world, outranked by only three countries and the state of Massachusetts, in reading scores of 15 year olds on the international PISA test. And we as a state have accomplished all of that with the highest achievement gap in the country and without excluding our lowest performing students from participating in those tests. as some other competitors do.   Somebody, mostly our kids, are doing something right. Yet most of them will be deemed failures next week.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

I have worked with hundreds of Connecticut English teachers and am confident that they all could design tests that would fail 2/3 of their students. But I don’t know one teacher who would do it. That’s because they are educators and not politicians using manufactured test results to advance political agendas.

Those English teachers and I know how to design rigorous exams. We know how to teach so that all students who do what we ask of them and put out good effort each day in class will demonstrate competency on rigorous assessments. We also know that some of those students will perform in truly exceptional ways on the assessments and know that an occasional student will accomplish even more than we imagined and thrill us beyond our wildest dreams. We teach students the skills and then see how far they go with them. We teach for success.

Last January, I reviewed a midterm English exam with high school students who had just taken it. They had their graded exams on their desks along with a description of the competencies the exam asked of them. Those competencies were:

  • Asking their own complex and multi-layered questions as thoughtful inquiry.
  • Engaging in active and critical reading of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and films.
  • Thinking analytically as they independently interpreted challenging literary texts.
  • Thinking imaginatively as they made connections between a historical or fictional character and their own lives and creating a persona to write about that connection.
  • Engaging in narrative thinking as they told the story of their own learning.
  • Collaborating with others in order to strengthen their own interpretations and evaluations.
  • Writing essays which demonstrated their ability to revise and strengthen a piece over time as well as writing essays in a timed classroom setting.
  • Using correct grammar and usage.
  • Demonstrating focus, energy, and passion as they prepared for and participated in the two-hour exam.

Those students knew their exam was rigorous. Those students had been taught how to succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers. Those students, therefore, did succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers. After comparing their exams to the list of competencies, the students ascertained their strengths and determined what they needed to work on in the next semester. And, for sure, these students knew they were not failures.

Not so when the SBAC scores come out. Most students will consider themselves failures. Or, perhaps, the Connecticut State Department of Education will do what the state of Washington did and lower the passing grade to keep educators and parents quiet about the low test scores. Either way, the message of SBAC hurts kids. Either way, SBAC is not about teaching and learning. The truth is: The SBAC test is political monkey business.

It is our job as citizens and parents to tell students the truth about SBAC. It is our job as educators to keep teaching and assessing students in real and honest ways.

Otherwise, we adults are the failures.

Say No to SBAC

Connecticut currently mandates the testing of public school students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 with standardized tests produced by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). I am opposed to SBAC testing for English language arts because those tests neither measure authentic achievement nor foster students’ growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. Here are 10 reasons to STOP the harmful SBAC testing.

  1. SBAC tests are not rigorous.

The tests do not demand complex thinking. The tests are aligned to the Common Core standards, and the content of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts is inferior content which does not serve to develop students as motivated, engaged readers and effective writers.

  1. SBAC tests are not field-tested for college and career readiness.

No one knows if a good score indicates that a student will be successful in college or careers or if a poor score indicates that a student will struggle in college or careers. According to Joseph Willholt, executive director of SBAC, there is a “large validity question “ about the tests in regard to college readiness.

The SBAC tests do not measure the skills students will need for the global workforce. Those needed skills are: to pose and shape critical questions, to collaborate with others of different cultures and points of view, to communicate effectively orally and in writing, and to use meta-cognitive skills (learning how to learn skills) when facing new problems. Other countries with which we compare ourselves measure those skills because they have standards for them, but we have neither the standards to teach those skills nor the SBAC tests to measure them.

  1. SBAC tests are not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core English Language Arts Common Standards were not written by educators or those with knowledge of child and adolescent development. They were written by employees of testing companies. The content of the standards and of the SBAC tests is simply what test makers determined could be measured on standardized tests, not what is appropriate for students to learn or what fosters student growth as readers, writers, and thinkers. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core because of the content of those standards,  the content SBAC tests measure.

  1. SBAC tests are capriciously graded.

The passing grade on the tests is arbitrarily set. On the high school SBAC tests, the passing grade is set such that 70% of students will be labeled as failing the math portion and 60% labeled as failing the English portion. The passing grade on SBAC has been set at what the highly respected National Assessment of Educational Progress considers a B+/ A- performance. SBAC labels all those who score a B or lower as failures.

  1. SBAC tests serve to widen the achievement gap.

The more time students spend preparing for SBAC tests, the less education they will have in authentic literacy learning. Time spent in test prep for SBAC robs students of reading, writing, and collaborating experiences which develop literacy skills. Schools with a history of low test scores spend concentrated time on test prep; schools with traditionally high test scores do not spend time on test prep. Therefore, the gap between those graduates with genuine skills in reading, writing, and collaborating will widen with students of privilege receiving a notably better education than students in schools with historically low test scores.

  1. SBAC tests discriminate against Connecticut’s neediest students.

Since all standardized test scores correlate with family income, many children of poverty will fail. How long will students be motivated to learn and how long will they stay in school if they fail tests in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade? Not only are impoverished students receiving a poor education with Common Core but their dropout rate will also increase.

  1. SBAC tests narrow the curriculum.

Preparing students for  SBAC tests requires a high school English curriculum that strictly adheres  to the Common Core. That adherence severely limits  what students read, what thinking skills they learn as readers, what students write, and what kind of thinking skills they learn as writers.

Common Core limits the amount of literature read and totally eliminates teaching students the skills of questioning, making text connections to themselves and their world, and analyzing multiple and divergent interpretations  that reading literature offers. None of those skills are assessed on the SBAC test so are not part of the test prep curriculum many schools have adopted.

Similarly, that test prep curriculum  does not develop students as writers and thinkers. High school students are tested only on how they write formulaic arguments, graded either by computers or hourly employees hired through Craig’s List  and not required to have knowledge about the craft of writing.   Therefore, students do not have a curriculum rich in writing experiences  which develop their inductive, explorative,  and narrative thinking – all keys to success in higher education and the workplace.

  1. SBAC tests encourage poor pedagogy.

Because of the high stakes of the SBAC tests, English teachers, especially in schools with a history of low standardized test scores,, prepare students for the test by adhering to the pedagogy prescribed by the Common Core. It, however, is a flawed and discredited pedagogy prevalent in the 1940’s and 50’s and does nor prepare students to think complexly. Not only does that pedagogy severely restrict students’ development as readers and writers, it discourages many of them from even wanting to become readers and writers.

  1. SBAC tests will not “level the playing field”.

Connecticut is already doing well with literacy education.

Connecticut ranks higher than 62 nations in the reading performance of 15 year olds (according to the 2012 PISA- Program of International Student Assessment) and ranks highest in the country in reading performance of high school seniors (according to NAEP, the nation’s most authoritative measure of academic performance in reading and math). If standardized tests are thought to give us useful information, we already have that information.

We know that affluent areas of Connecticut provide an unparalleled education for their students, and we know that where students are impacted by poverty and racism, those students suffer. To level the playing filed, we need to provide for impoverished students what their more privileged peers have been given and standardize opportunities for learning for all students.

  1. SBAC tests teach the wrong values.

The tests teach children that competition, beating out other schools and other students, is what matters instead of the student’s own learning, the student’s own passion for ideas, the student’s own growth as a thinker, a reader, and a writer.

Connecticut educators can design assessments which measure the achievements students really need for their future. I have done considerable work with teachers in both affluent and impoverished districts to design assessments that measure critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and oral and written communication for students of all abilities. Student achievement always exceeds original expectations when teachers are invited to do this work.

We CAN improve achievement in Connecticut for ALL of our students but not with SBAC tests.