Moving The Goal Post

How do we measure student achievement?  By standardized test scores or by something else? And what is the relationship between student achievement and the economic strength of a nation?

Arne Duncan, when he was Secretary of Education, spoke about the achievement of South Korean students, as measured by standardized tests, and advocated that the United States follow the South Korean approach to education so that our students can achieve as the South Korean students do on those standardized tests. A recent (March 15, 2016) letter to the editor in Education Week described how the South Korean students achieve those high test scores. Here is that letter:

South Korea’s ‘Top Performance’ Numbers Should Not Be Applauded

To the Editor:
As a student from South Korea who is now studying in the United States, I find it surprising that many people here applaud the South Korean education system. The Center on International Education Benchmarking lists South Korea as a “top performer,” and even Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, has asked why the United States can’t be more like South Korea. As a recent Commentary argued, the United States should not blindly applaud and emulate countries that perform well on international assessments.

I want to share what South Korea’s high performance on these assessments is not telling you.

First, beyond South Korea’s impressive scores on international exams, there are unhappy, sleep-deprived, and suicidal South Korean students. South Korean students report levels of happiness that are among the lowest for youths in developed nations. High school students report sleeping an average of 5.5 hours per day in order to study. Alarmingly, slightly more than half of South Korean teenagers reported having suicidal thoughts in response to a 2014 poll conducted by the country’s Korea Health Promotion Foundation; over 40 percent of the respondents listed academic pressure and uncertainty over their futures as their greatest concern.

Second, South Korea’s high scores are a reflection of private tutoring rather than the public education system itself. About 77 percent of South Korean students participate in an average of 10 hours of private tutoring a week. This percentage is more than double the average rate of private tutoring in countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2013, South Korean parents paid the equivalent of $18 billion for private tutoring in order to give their children a competitive advantage.

Moreover, in the education system where high performance is all that matters, struggling students as well as students with disabilities are often neglected and left behind.

Thus, no matter how high the country ranks on international tests, our seemingly impressive test scores come at too high a price.

As a South Korean, I call on the world to see what is beyond my country’s high scores on international assessments. Until South Korea addresses its pressing educational issues, such as student well-being, reliance on private tutoring, and support for students with disabilities, the country should not be considered a model system for the United States.

April B. Choi
Cambridge, Mass.

I would bet that most of us are not willing to pay the price that the South Koreans are paying for their children to get high scores on standardized tests.

The good news for the United States, which never scored at the top of the pack in the 50 years there have been international standardized tests, is that standardized tests are not important. Standardized tests measure only one thing: the ability to take a standardized test. And that is a skill rapidly going out of vogue because that skill does not equip students for the world of work they will enter. The world of work in our postindustrial era demands other skills. This current time in history and the decades that stretch ahead are described in the report as the Conceptual Age. That age requires skills such as designing, making meaning, creativity, problem-solving, and developing new ideas and artifacts.

The even better news for the United States is that the kind of education that our students need and which will engage their minds and touch their souls is exactly the kind  of education that will make our country economically strong in this Conceptual Age. They need to learn to question and to explore those questions. They need to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to collaborate so that they deepen and broaden their individual thinking through interaction with others. They need to learn to tell their stories of how they developed their thinking and arrived at new knowledge and to tell their stories of what has not yet been imagined. The need to learn to tap into their own creativity and their own passion.

Arne Duncan was wrong. John King is wrong. U.S. education policy is wrong. High standardized test scores are not a worthy goal.  We will harm the minds and deplete the souls of our precious children if we stick with emulating South Korea. We will head for economic peril as a nation if we do not create a different kind of education, one that can never, ever be measured by standardized tests.

It’s time for a change. Let’s get on it.

 

 

Not One Step Further: Stop Now

Here is your holiday gift from this blog which advocates for real learning. Your gift is: The magnificent use of the English language. And a call to action.

In The Hartford Courant (December 18, 2015) piece below, Gina Barreca beautifully and pointedly uses metaphor and imagery to show how  the Common Core, with its invalid and unreliable claims of “college and career readiness” and its hugely expensive and equally unreliable standardized tests, destroys learning for all children and adolescents in K-12 schools and dooms the underclass to remaining the underclass. She argues persuasively against bringing that injustice to the young adults in Connecticut universities. Hooray for Professor Barreca!

As Connecticut parents, politicians, and educators, let’s take her message into the new year and act on it. Opt out of standardized testing. Rescind the Common Core. Evaluate students as learners, not as test-takers.

But first, enjoy this wonderful piece of writing:

Universities Teaching To Test: A Disaster
by  Gina Barreca

Achieving accountability through testing is like achieving truth through waterboarding, achieving affection through bribery or achieving beauty through plastic surgery: You can’t actually trust the results.

To emphasize metrics and measurement at the expense of learning and understanding is to marginalize what can’t be measured. It puts pressure on precisely the wrong points and, like a chiropractic adjustment gone terribly wrong, can cripple rather than cure.

Connecticut is considering implementing a new version of outcomes-based funding for universities and colleges, thereby bringing policies already shown to have some disastrous effects in K-12 schools to a new level.

As someone who has taught at a state university for almost 30 years, I have a horse in this race.

I choose my words carefully: The language of gambling has pervaded the vocabulary of education, especially when it comes to standardized testing, and that should make us jittery.

The thousands of articles and hundreds of books on testing, both pro and con, regularly refer to “high-stakes testing,” and “gaming the system.” Most recently, when reading Connecticut’s task force notes, I was struck by the fact that the consultants hired to advise the politicians and other committee members suggested offering “momentum points” when students in colleges reached certain milestones. Our local casino offers “momentum dollars” when you put enough money into the machines and pull the handle enough times. It was tough to avoid the comparison. Isn’t assessment by outcome a version of waiting to see whether you can get three lemons in a row and thereby judge yourself a winner?

While it’s fine at the race-track or the roulette table, it’s corrosive to talk in binary terms about winners and losers when it comes to learning. It’s deeply misguided to evaluate students, teachers and educational institutions by seeing how profitable they can be when they cash-out on their returns for the lowest possible investment.

Part of the movement toward “outcomes-based” support is an emphasis on preparing graduates to enter jobs where there are “workplace shortages.” Yet as my friend Barbara Cooley put it, “Teaching to the corporate demand is not exactly a recipe for original and independent thinkers.”

While vocational training is an important and vital mission of some distinguished institutions, they are usually proud to identify themselves as such. To make all educational institutions into training grounds to meet the immediate needs of in-state corporations or large-scale employers has never been the mandate of any great university or college, whether public or private.

According to Timothy A. Livengood, a research astronomer at the University of Maryland, perhaps the greatest error of standardized testing is “The insufficiently scrutinized belief that the test evaluates the thing it is advertised as evaluating. Resulting in [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia believing that African-Americans who score poorly on such tests are actually less capable, or less genuinely well prepared than people who score highly. And Larry Summers ignoring decades of research to argue to a bunch of women that the reason they weren’t all math professors is that they just aren’t up to the task.” Test results can be rigged, too, in their interpretations.

According to a 2014 Gallup-Perdue Index, three of the most important factors in educational success are excitement, encouragement, caring. These are not delivered by teachers who whip their students into crossing finish lines. If we extend policies that fail in schools to colleges — teaching to the test, teaching so that everything can be “measured” by some useless standardized grid devised by the impoverished minds of egregiously overpaid consultants — we’ll usher in a new level of diminished possibilities for students who do not attend private, expensive universities.

To do so will add to what’s called the “education gap” — except that the division is not a gap; it’s a moat, a separation constructed and vigilantly maintained so that the poor and underserved will not be able to cross over into the territories held by the rich and privileged.

How much do you want to bet that Ivy League schools are not teaching to test? How much do you want to bet that they’re not adopting the short-sighted goals of performance-based funding? Why should the ambitious, dynamic and intellectually driven students at public universities be offered anything less than their more privileged counterparts?

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.

Put Education In The Hands of Educators

Right now, we in the United States have put education in the hands of people who have no understanding about how children and adolescents learn and what children and adolescents need to know and be able to do in order to have productive, fulfilling futures. We have put education in the hands of people who have either unlimited money, inordinate political power for a democracy, or uncontrolled arrogance. Or all three.

If we, instead, put education in the hands of educators, then we will have solutions and innovations that actually make a positive difference. Here is an example of an educator setting worthy goals for student achievement and putting students in the position to be successful. Please watch this video in which a principal talks about the learning that matters.

If you cannot see this video, please click here. 

 

The Common Core State Standards: A Thing Of The Past

The Common Core State Standards, which promise to make all students college and career ready are way behind the times and will not give our students what they need for their future. At the end of the two-minute video, which I invite you to watch, the competencies that will really make students “college and career ready” are quickly flashed on the screen. Not one of those competencies is a Common Core Standard for English Language Arts.

The competencies are:

  • Exploration
  • Creativity
  • Responsibility
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Accountability
  • Problem Solving
  • Innovation
  • Civic Engagement
  • Productivity
  • Communication
  • Initiative
  • Leadership

We English teachers know how to develop those competencies. Let’s do it. Reject the Common Core.

If you cannot see the video,  click here.

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.

Real Learning and Not-Real Learning in Kindergarten

In a prior blog post, I wrote about real learning and not-real learning in high school English classes. In writing about real learning and not-real learning in kindergarten classes, I found the intellectual processes for both age groups to be remarkably the same. Children in kindergarten and adolescents in high school are either asked to construct their own knowledge and create their own personal meaning or they are not. When either five years olds or fifteen years olds construct their own knowledge and create personal meaning, they are engaged in real learning. When they are told information and expected to remember it, they are recipients of not-real learning.

Here are two checklists you can take with you when you visit a kindergarten class of your child or of another child you love:

CHECKLIST FOR REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

Children are active, involved participants in the classroom community. Children are encouraged to ask their own questions and explore possible answers. They are taught, through their play, to problem-solve, to think divergently and innovatively, to broaden and deepen their thinking by being in conversation with others, and, most of all, to learn how to learn as new situations and problems present themselves. Children create personal meaning and construct their own knowledge from meaning-making, interactive activities.

 If you can check all of the following boxes, this classroom is a good place for young children to grow and learn.

☐ Children are engaging in hands-on learning experiences.

☐ Children are learning through their play.

☐ Children are surrounded by and immersed in rich literature.

☐ Children are learning through activities and projects with others.

☐ Children are demonstrating social and emotional capabilities.

☐ Children are questioning, exploring, and following-through on their curiosity.

☐ Children are asked to stretch their imagination.

☐ Children figuring things out and drawing conclusions.

☐ Children are deeply involved in activities they find relevant to them.

☐ Children are using skills of literacy and numeracy in authentic learning experiences.

☐ Children are wondering about lots of things.

☐ Children are taught to persist in their learning challenges.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

CHECKLIST FOR NOT-REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

The teacher conveys information to the children. Children answer the teacher’s questions. Children work by themselves and demonstrate individual mastery of specific skills. All the children in the class are expected to learn the same content and skills in the same way at the same time. Children are not asked to create their own personal meaning or construct their own knowledge.

If you check all of the following boxes, children in this class will need other kinds of learning experiences in order to grow as learners and thinkers.

☐ Children are practicing discrete literacy and numeracy skills with worksheets.

☐ Teachers are asking children questions for which the teacher has the answer.

☐ All of the children are being given reading instruction with the expectation that all of them will read by the end of kindergarten.

☐ Children are working individually to master skills.

☐ Children are listening to the teacher and gaining information.

☐ Children are having more “seat-time” than active, hands-on learning.

☐ Developing children’s social and emotional skills is limited or absent from the curriculum.

☐ College and career readiness is the purpose of instruction and the focus of the curriculum.

Common Core Squashes Early Learning

On April 25, 2015 at Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University, spoke passionately about the need for real learning for young children. She is co-founder of Defending the Early Years (www.DEYProject.org), which is an organization dedicated to promoting vibrant and healthy education for young children.

She said that love of learning is being squashed in young children due to current practices in many schools. In those schools, teachers are pressured by the demands of the Common Core State Standards to help four and five year old children to be “college and career ready” instead of engaging these young children in learning experiences which develop their minds and foster their love of learning.

Professor Carlsson-Paige is one of 500 early childhood educators who have authored a position statement entitled ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative” (here) in opposition to the Common Core because they believe that those standards will harm young children. A mother in the audience at the conference spoke for many others in attendance when she said: “My kindergartener is NOT college and career ready because…….he is a child.”

In ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative”, the most notable professionals in the country in the fields of child development objected to the Common Core State Standards because:

  • The didactic instruction the Common Core mandates is antithetical to how children learn.
  • The Common Core leads to inappropriate and unreliable standardized testing of young children.
  • The Common Core content crowds out other important areas of learning for young children.
  • There is little evidence that Common Core standards for young children lead to  later success in literacy and numeracy.

This four-minute video defines real learning as Professor Carlsson-Paige and the other signers of the statement against the Common Core standards  for young children define it. If you are not able to view the video here, you can access it at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM%5B/

You also may want to read the fuller definition of real learning for young children that is on the DEY website (here).