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.

 

 

Replacing SBAC with Real Learning

Yes, of course, the SBAC tests must go.

All of the comments about doing away with SBAC made by teachers on the video produced by the Connecticut Teachers Association, called “Connecticut Teachers Share Concerns About SBAC”, are true. (Scroll down on CEA link for video.) The tests stress children out. The tests take too much time away from real learning and replace it with test prep. The data collected is useless. The SBAC use of technology as the testing format is inequitable because children use different kinds of devices to take the tests, some of which are more user friendly than others, and the children vary greatly in their familiarity with technology. The tests deplete many children, especially those with special needs or recent English speakers, of their confidence as learners and deprive them of their motivation. Teacher after teacher testified that the tests and the inordinate time given to preparing for them prove only one thing: how good a taker of the  test the student is.

The SBAC tests have established cut scores and are designed to fail between 56-68% of students, depending on grade level and subject matter. The SBAC tests are invalid and unreliable, as even the former Executive Director of SBAC asserted when speaking at the University of Connecticut on March 31, 2014, because there is no data to prove that success on SBAC tests merits “college and career readiness”. We also do not need SBAC tests to gather information about the achievement gap. We have NAEP, a test which accurately reports on the achievement gap, does not punish individual students, and costs districts and the state of Connecticut nothing, that does that for us. We also know that the high stakes of the SBAC tests which deem students competent or not, determine the fate of schools and the careers of school administrators, provide PR for school districts, and measure the competencies of teachers, determine what is taught. The SBAC test is the curriculum.

And that brings up the most pressing reason that the SBAC tests must go: The SBAC tests measure the wrong things. The SBAC tests do not measure the learning that students need.

What learning do students in 2016 need?

They need to learn to ask questions of their own and explore their questions in depth. They need to learn to collaborate with others in order to grow as broad and deep thinkers. They need to learn creative problem solving. They need to learn how to innovate. They need to learn how to express their thinking, using effective oral and written communication in a wide variety of forms and in both personal and academic voices. They need to be motivated. They need to be engaged. They need to love to learn.

The Common Core teaches none of these skills. The SBAC tests do not measure them.

Learning and the assessing of that learning do not have to be that way.

The first speaker on the CEA video, Paul Coppola who is a social studies teacher in Madison, CT, explained how educators in his district designed indicators of academic growth and development for their students and assess their students on their achievement of learning objectives, based on those indicators. The indicators are:

  1. creativity
  2. collaboration,
  3. communication
  4. problem solving
  5. global perspectives

Similarly, I have worked for many years with teachers to design assessments that require students to:

  1. Engage in a new challenge that is a learning experience in itself.
  2. Use critical thinking to identify and analyze the key concepts of a course.
  3. Apply and integrate knowledge and learning strategies developed in that course.
  4. Think creatively to explore ideas or problems that pull the course together.
  5. Collaborate to increase individual achievement by having their original ideas broadened and deepened through dialogue with others.
  6. Demonstrate effective written communication.
  7. Reflect upon and assess their own development as learners.

These are but two examples of conversations that have begun. There are as many conversations going on in Connecticut about learning and assessment as there are dedicated educators. We are ready to dialogue about what learning is and how we will measure it.

Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCAN, could not be more wrong when she said that we as a state should stay with SBAC because ” we’ve already invested millions into its implementation”. By that logic of not changing what we have invested in, we would still be fighting in Vietnam and would still have segregated school districts.

Revision is at the heart of learning. And growing. And getting things right.

Questions about SBAC have been raised. It’s time to explore those questions. It’s time to collaborate. It’s time for creative problem solving. It’s time for innovation.

It is time for real learning to take center stage in Connecticut.

Bring on the best people to lead the exploration of those questions. Bring on those who know what it is to teach and what it is to learn. Bring on the educators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Governors vs. Teachers

Some people know about K-12 education and some people don’t.

Governor Christie is one of the people who doesn’t have a clue about K-12 education or what it means to teach.  He thinks that teaching is just giving information to students.  He thinks that teachers stop working when the students leave on the school bus. He thinks that teachers are not spending the summer taking grad courses in their academic disciplines,  not writing curricula for their school district, not teaching other teachers, and not participating in professional development programs for themselves or conducting them for other teachers.

A person who does understand education and what it means to teach because she does it every day is a New Jersey English teacher who wrote a reply to Governor Christie. 

Things are similar in Connecticut.  Next to Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut are recognized as having the best schools in the country.  Secondly, we in Connecticut also have a governor who speaks about education without understanding education. We also have legions of teachers who work as hard and love their jobs as much as the English teacher from New Jersey does. Let’s raise our voices as educators. Let’s set the record straight. 

Watch the video to hear Governor Christie:

If you cannot see the video, here is a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Here is the teacher’s response. Full text is at: (https://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/appalled-and-disheartened-governor-christie-how-dare-you): 

Governor Christie: Let me start by getting something out of the way: I do not get paid a full-time salary for a part-time job. I am a teacher, not a leech on the rest of the state. How dare you?……..This is such a highly offensive conversation. I recognize the satire in the original speaker’s questions, but Governor Christie?

Feel free to follow me for a year. Follow my colleagues.

I am not “off for four or five months a year”. ln fact, my summer “break” this year is from June 23-Sept 2. That’s not four or five months; it’s approximately 10 weeks.

Secondly, during those hours after 3:30pm and during the summer? I’m often working. I plan, I attend PD on my own time and my own dime, I email parents, I teach PD, I purchase supplies, I update our class webpage, I speak with students over email and social media.

I grade. I grade a lot, Mr. Christie. A LOT. I just finished grading a set of almost 80 poems. I have 80 3-4 page self-evaluations to read and grade. I will have almost 100 exams to grade in the next few days. I have to complete the data analysis for my SGO. But I guess I have to make time to get all of that stuff done from 8:30-3:30 while I’m teaching and interacting with students.

And that long summer break you talk about? Not really a break. I will spend most of my summer working in order to continue paying my bills. I will also do the following:

  • take classes for my advanced degree.
  • teach other teachers and informal educators at the “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” workshop.
  • plan for my new schedule- next year I will change my freshman focus and take on two new senior units. That means rereading books, drafting assignments, writing assessments, setting up our online spaces, finding resources, planning Skype sessions with experts, rewriting my syllabi, co-planning with colleagues, and much more.
  • complete the summer-long Roots & Shoots Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education course offered by the Jane Goodall Institute.
  • organize and sort my thousand+ book class library (most of which I have purchased myself and continue to supplement on a monthly or even weekly basis).
  • read at least a book a day in order to be able to share new and exciting books and authors with my students next year.
  • pre-plan the first National Honor Society outreach with my student leaders so that they are ready in the fall.
  • organize and set-up my classroom, prior to the first teacher work day, as I will have meetings and mandatory professional development in the days leading up to the students’ first day.
  • meet with my state board for NJCTE to plan our fall conference, fall outreach, and spring conference in order to bring more PD to my colleagues who teach English across the state. complete my presentations (yes, multiple) for the NCTE National Convention in the fall.

I don’t know about you, but that seems packed to me. And many of my colleagues have similarly packed breaks, with professional commitments and learning engagements that run through the entire summer. Why? Because during the school year we are in the building for 7, 8, 9, 10, maybe even 12 hours each day. Then we bring work home with us to continue working on late into the night.

Please understand- I love my job. I love my students with a fierceness you obviously don’t understand. I can’t imagine not teaching every day, reaching out to students and guiding them. But I abhor the politics that now surround my profession. And I’m tired, we are all tired, of teachers being the sacrificial lamb at that altar of some politician’s attempt to climb to the top.

We are tired, Governor, but we keep working. We keep inspiring, motivating, and teaching our students while doing all of the other “stuff” that comes with teaching. Do you or your wife ever email your child’s teacher and get a reply that same night? That’s a teacher who is working outside of contracted hours. Have you had a child sit with a teacher during lunch, before school, or after school for extra help? That’s outside of contracted hours. And do you know what? Most of us do that almost daily because we love our jobs and our students more than we hate the system we are stuck in.

The good news is that I do agree with you on some points, Mr. Christie– many of our schools in NJ are doing well. In fact, we have some of the best students, schools, and teachers in the country. Consider my school, which is ranked #1 in the country. It’s right here in central NJ but it’s a school you have never acknowledged or visited during your tenure in office. That saddens me. That’s not fair to my students or my colleagues because you continue to say our students are not succeeding when outside sources disagree.

You and I also agree that some schools in NJ struggle. They do a disservice to the students they serve in some cases. That’s a fact that we can all recognize. Schools in Asbury Park, Camden, and Newark absolutely struggle and it’s wrong; the students in those schools deserve the best education possible. But guess what? All three cities you named, Mr. Christie, are state-controlled and/or monitored districts. Isn’t their “failure” a reflection of your tenure in office and your leaders and not the teachers in the trenches?

Also, the schools that are ranked the lowest in our state are ranked the highest in a few big categories. Where are they ranked #1? In poverty, Mr. Christie. Study after study has proven that the biggest hurdle for children is poverty. We will never “fix” a single school until we start to fix the cycle of poverty.

Also, stop citing that community college statistic. The vast majority of community college attendees are not traditional students. In fact, the mean age of students at Mercer County College, about 20 minutes west of me and the community college serving the Drumthwacket area, is 22 years old. This is true across the state! These non-traditional students have been out of high school for a number of years so yes, they might need remedial classes. Could you walk into an Algebra II class or a college writing class tomorrow and succeed without a bit of review? I doubt it. I doubt most adults could. Let’s be real- we all watch adults struggle to answer questions on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”! It’s not because they can’t do the work but rather because they haven’t done a trigonometry problem in a number of years. Mr. Governor, that statistic is nonsense so please stop using it.

You are not a teacher, Governor Christie. Stop speaking authoritatively about all the things wrong with schools and what you would do to improve them. It’s insulting to those of us who work with our students every single day. It’s insulting to the teachers you had, the teachers your children have, and the taxpayers in this state who trust their children to the care of schools each day. You talk about teachers standing at the front of the room and lecturing to students for hours at at time and that tells me just how out of touch you are. I haven’t seen desks in rows with a teacher lecturing in the front of the room for many, many years. That has not been a best practice for decades!

Oh wait, you know when I see that? When my students have to take the PARCC test! I see it when schools force their teachers to use a scripted curriculum, often endorsed by the state, in order to encourage increases in test scores. Stop mandating nonsense like PARCC and let us teach our students. We know more than you do, I can promise you that.

You know where else I see those dreaded rows? In charter schools. In fact, I see that in your friend Eva Moskowitz’s Success charter schools, where students are routinely humiliated and the teacher turnover rate is astronomical. You know what I do not see in her charter schools? Students with disabilities and students with behavior issues. Charter schools like Success usually achieve their test scores because they do not serve our neediest populations, while our public schools do.

Mr. Governor, I implore you to take a step back and listen to yourself. Listen to your constituents. Listen to the nation. You are tearing down our teachers on a daily basis and we are tired of it. We are exhausted. Eventually most teachers won’t have the energy to fight anymore or to teach anymore. Maybe that’s what you want, but it’s not what’s best for the future of this state. You might plan to flee New Jersey and head to Washington, DC the first chance you get, but I’m here for the long haul. Maybe you should start seeking out great teachers (they aren’t hard to find) instead of berating us, demeaning us, and embarrassing us. What will you do when no one wants to teach anymore?

Vermont Leads; Connecticut Flounders

Several days after I spoke in front of  the Education Committee of the General Assembly, I read an article (See below) in The Stamford Advocate, written by Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney. She explains how Vermont is taking the lead among New England states in opposing the SBAC standardized tests and criticizes the positions on SBAC testing of our governor and the former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

It is two months since the publishing of Lecker’s article, and those in power in Connecticut remain entrenched in SBAC testing.   The current Commissioner of Education, Dianna Roberge Wentzel, is unequivocally  in favor of the Common Core and the aligned SBAC tests. And as recently as Friday, May 8, 2015, Governor Malloy said, ” I think the Smarter Balance test is the right test. A lot of work has gone into developing that and, you know, I think that we are actually seeing success with it being given and making real progress.”  Also, Andy Fleischmann, the Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, said in a CT Mirror  article published on May 15, 2015, ” The (SBAC) test does show to be robust and valid.”

Given that we are still in the middle of the  first year of testing students (Last year’s tests were just to aid testing companies in creating future test questions.) and there are not yet any results  from the tests, it is difficult to figure out what Governor Malloy means by “seeing success” and “making progress” with the SBAC tests. Also, since the executive director of SBAC, Joseph Willholt, has admitted that there is a “large validity question” with the SBAC tests because no one  has any idea if success on the test equals success in college, it is difficult to figure out what Chairman Fleischmann means  by the test being “robust and valid”.

The elected and appointed officials who oversee education in Connecticut seem committed to continuing down a path that is increasingly recognized as the wrong path for our children. We in Connecticut need a thoughtful investigation, led by experienced educators, into exactly what are the skills that students need and what are authentic ways to assess those skills.   As citizens, educators, and parents, we must demand that our elected and appointed officials be educational policy leaders and not political followers. Connecticut must join Vermont in thoughtful inquiry about real learning and in concern for the welfare of children.

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Read what Vermont is doing:

The Truth About The SBACs by Wendy Lecker (March 20, 2015)

A New England state is leading the way on sane testing policy. Unfortunately for us Nutmeggers, that state is Vermont, not Connecticut.

There is a growing national consensus that standardized testing has deleterious effects on education. The National Research Council concluded that test-based accountability under the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) had “zero to little effect” on achievement. Evidence from around the nation proves the focus on standardized testing has narrowed curricula and resulted in significant losses in learning time. Anxiety is prevalent among public school students, as more and higher stakes are attached to these standardized tests.

There is also a growing realization of what experts have known for years — that the federal government demands that states overuse and misuse standardized tests. Experts know that standardized tests are of limited value, because they are unstable, unreliable and most importantly, do not measure the breadth of skills and experience that are the goals of education. Despite the well-known limitations of standardized tests, federal officials insist test scores be used to rank and rate schools, students and teachers, and impose real-life consequences, including sanctions on schools and possible school closures, firing teachers and even decisions regarding student placement and graduation.

When federal policy conflicts with a solid body of evidence, one would expect our state education officials, those charged with safeguarding the educational rights and welfare of our children, to provide guidance on sound testing policy.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s top education officials have failed to provide any useful guidance whatsoever. To the contrary, Connecticut officials willingly participate in damaging testing practices. Connecticut rushed to sign on to the federal NCLB waiver in 2012, without analyzing the costs or consequences. As part of the waiver, then Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor committed the state to implementing the common core tests known as the Smarter Balanced, or SBACs. These tests are longer than the CMTs, and must be taken on a computer or tablet, requiring a certain level of computer skill and literacy. Commissioner Pryor also agreed to “cut scores,” proficiency levels, guaranteeing that a vast majority of Connecticut students will fail the new tests. By agreeing to the waiver, Pryor also committed the state to evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores, even though the weight of evidence demonstrates that evaluating teachers on student these test scores is invalid and major organizations such as the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association oppose this practice.

Contrast Connecticut’s complete lack of leadership with Vermont’s. Because the NCLB waiver called for mandates that were contrary to good educational practices, Vermont refused to apply for an NCLB waiver in 2012. In an August 2014 resolution, Vermont’s State Board of Education called on the federal government to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states.”

Last week, Vermont’s State Board of Education unanimously approved a new resolution on the SBAC tests, which gives strong and informed guidance that Connecticut’s education leaders are unwilling to provide.

Vermont’s resolution declares that while the SBAC tests “purport to measure progress towards `college and career readiness . . . the tests have not been externally validated as measuring these important attributes.”

Accordingly, the state board resolved “until empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make normative and consequential judgments about schools and students.”

Vermont’s state board also resolved that until Vermont has more experience with evidence from the SBACs, “the results of the SBAC assessment will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance, and thus should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose.”

Finally, honest education officials admit the SBACs have never been proven to measure “college readiness” or progress toward “college readiness,” and in fact are unreliable to measure student learning. In other words, the foundation upon which the Common Core rests is an artifice, and our children are being subjected to unproven tests. Connecticut districts have been diverting resources and time toward a testing regime without any proof that it would improve our children’s education.

In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance, Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

Speaking Truth to Power

I contributed to the Connecticut conversation about standardized testing by speaking before the Education Committee of the General Assembly on March 19, 2015 because I think that legislators, like many citizens, believe the media spin about the Common Core and SBAC testing.

For example, they could believe that the Common Core standards are rigorous since that is how the standards have been marketed and believe that the SBAC tests are also rigorous since so many students fail them. In reality, the low pass rate is a pre-determined decision, and the standards are mundane.  Many of us, if we wanted to, could create tests in such a way that very few of our students could pass. But why would we want to?   Why does Connecticut want to?  The SBAC tests are not intellectually challenging; they are just very effective “gotcha’s”.

The truth is that SBAC tests measure the wrong things because they are based on the wrong standards.  They do not promote student learning and do not equip students for their future.

I tried to explain the harm in SBAC tests to the legislators by summarizing my opposition to SBAC (explained more fully in my prior post) and recommending a call to action.  I waited more than three hours for my turn to speak and spoke for the allotted three minutes.  And what did it change?  Exactly nothing – at least not at that time in that place.

However, I wholeheartedly believe that educators should keep speaking out, and someday we will make a difference. Tuesday’s rally in Hartford against SBAC testing was a hopeful sign. It would be great if the teachers unions become champions of real learning and authentic, curriculum-based assessments and keep their focus on speaking out against the damaging SBAC tests and the inadequate standards to which they are aligned.

Connecticut educators have the experience and the expertise to know the truth about what real learning is and what good assessments are. Educators must keep telling that truth to those in power.

Here are my remarks to the Education Committee::

Testimony of Ann Policelli Cronin

Before the Education Committee of The Connecticut General Assembly

Re: S.B. 1095 An Act Concerning Students Assessments 

Good afternoon Chairman Fleischmann and Chairwoman Slossberg and Members of the Education Committee. My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been a designer of nationally award–winning English curricula and a supervisor of English teachers in Connecticut for 22 years.

I am here to tell you that that the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the SBAC test for high school English lack rigor and will not make students “college and career ready”. If Connecticut continues with SBAC testing, all of Connecticut’s high school students will be harmed, and it will be impossible to solve Connecticut’s greatest educational problem: closing the achievement gap.

All students are harmed because the SBAC English test doesn’t measure what it means to read thoughtfully and write effectively. Not one English teacher, not one college English professor, and not one professional with expertise in adolescent cognitive development worked on the committee that wrote the standards on which the SBAC test is based. Instead the standards were written by test makers who decided what was good for students to learn was only what they could measure on a standardized test. That is not literacy.

The SBAC test hasn’t been field-tested and even the executive director of SBAC, Joseph Willholt, has said that, without field-testing, the test lacks validity. No one knows if a good score means a student will succeed in college, and no one knows if a poor score means a student will struggle in college. SBAC also doesn’t assess any of the key skills for the global workplace: questioning, collaborating, effective communication, and metacognitive (learning-to-learn) skills.

Students in schools with histories of low test scores will be hurt the most because, in an effort to raise test scores, much instructional time is spent on test prep. So the very students who need experiences of reading, writing, and collaborating the most will be denied them. The gap between these students and their more affluent peers in schools with traditionally high test scores and, therefore, less test prep time will widen. The rich will get richer as readers and writers, and the poor will get poorer without those literacy skills.

Also with the passing rate set at 40%, many labeled as failing will be students from poverty because scores of standardized tests always correlate with family income. How long will a student be motivated to learn and how long will that student stay in school if he or she fails the test each year? Not only are impoverished students receiving an inferior education, but also their dropout rate will increase.

So what is the solution?

I have three recommendations:

  1. Don’t spend money on SBAC. If we want to assess how we are doing as a state with standardized measures, use, without cost, NAEP, the most respected of standardized tests.
  1. Truly “level the playing field” not by testing and punishing students but by addressing the learning needs of those disadvantaged by poverty and racism.
  1. Empower Connecticut educators to design assessments to measure what students need both for their future in the global workplace and for developing their potential as learners and thinkers.

What we need to standardize in Connecticut is what we as educators, citizens, and legislators do to create opportunities for real learning for ALL Connecticut’s students. The first step is to stop inadequate and damaging SBAC testing.

Rigor Or Not

Bulletin: The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are NOT rigorous!

How can that be? Everyone says they are.

The truth is that what is called rigor depends on who has the power to say what rigor is.

David Coleman, the chief author of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts who, however, has never taught English, has that power. He says that a chief reason that the Common Core has rigor is that narrative writing is cast aside in high school and not tested at all on Common Core–aligned tests for high school. He makes fun of narrative thinking and writing by saying that in the work environment no one is going to say to you, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but, before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

David Coleman’s and, therefore, the Common Core’s, definition of narrative is that it is a story, either true or fictional, written to entertain. And entertainment is not consistent with being “college and career ready”. All of the emphasis, therefore, in the Common Core high school English curriculum is on writing arguments in which a thesis is supported with evidence and developed by linear, deductive reasoning. Arguments do not explore multiple ways to look at a question or explain the story of how the writer came to think about a topic or develop an idea.

The Common Core specifies that arguments must be written in an anonymous, impersonal voice devoid of any personal story. David Coleman repeatedly has said that high school students must realize before they get to college or the workplace that: “ No one gives a **** what you think and feel”.

The National Council of Teachers of English has a much broader definition of narrative. The theme of the NCTE annual conference in November 2014 was “Story as the Landscape of Knowing”. There were 642 presentations at the conference, and only 19 of them were about implementing the Common Core with its limited definition of narrative.

Presentations at the NCTE Conference were about narrative as a way of fostering student engagement and motivation, narrative as a way to understand other people’s cultures or environments, narrative as a way to create student voice, narrative as a spur to innovative thinking, narrative as a way to learn any academic discipline, narrative as a form of persuasion, narrative as a way to create personal meaning and new knowledge, narrative as an impetus for social change, narrative as a way to inspire creativity, narrative as the beginning of inquiry, narrative as an expression of imagination, narrative as a reflection on one’s own process of learning, and narrative as the basis of collaboration among those with multiple perspectives.

It is no wonder that NCTE did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core’s treatment of narrative does not come close to the concept of narrative expressed in hundreds of presentations at the NCTE conference. Those presentations explained narrative as a way of thinking and a way of knowing. Now that is real rigor!

Not only is narrative as a way of thinking and a way of knowing rigorous for high school students, it is precisely the skill needed for our future as a democracy and an economy. In his recent book, Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner of Harvard University points out that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. Fostering curiosity and imagination begins with students knowing their own stories and being able to tell them, engaging with a diversity of perspectives offered by the stories of others, seeing the stories implicit in theories and concepts, and envisioning new stories and new possibilities. We can teach students to be innovators, but we can’t do it without narrative thinking.

Human beings are hard-wired for stories. It is how our brains work. We think in stories. We are moved by stories. We create new ideas through stories. We need to unleash that brainpower in our students so that they live empowered lives and contribute to their society in meaningful ways.

Let’s begin here in Connecticut demanding real rigor for our students and not allowing them to settle for the limited education offered by the Common Core.