Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reflections on the Common Core and High Stakes Testing from Change the Stakes Member(s)

Fred, you've got an oped here that needs to get wide circulation right now. One of the worst things Bloomberg has done is successfully portray the UFT as his opponent. Talk about convenient; you can score points by trashing the union while its leadership essentially does your bidding. The general public is oblivious to the fact that the union leadership not support teachers or parents or students in the face of the onslaught of destructive policies from the state. Your response to Mulgrew really brings this home.  ... Jeff, CTS
In defense of his controversial statement opposing the consequences of high-stakes testing, Michael Mulgrew, UFT President for Life, issued the following statement:
"I'm against the use of guns and rifles to kill people, but strongly believe we need to improve the design of Uzis and assault weapons. I wouldn't want to offend the NRA...  Fred Smith
The UFT loves the common bore. So does Bill Gates, Joel Klein, Dennis Walcott, Exon-Mobil. Here is some commentary by Rosalie Friend, a retired college teacher and a member of Change the Stakes.
Some parents in Change the Stakes raised questions about just what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) meant for our students.   I am spelling out my own take on the CCSS after a career as a reading specialist.  I have tried to avoid being technical or using jargon, and I hope I have something to contribute to the discussion.
    When the Common Core State Standards were first unveiled, the International Reading Association was supporting them.   I liked the idea of deeper processing and critical thinking.  Still, I was not sure: if children were not meeting the NCLB standards, how would it help to set higher standards??  In math the claim was that they would cover fewer topics in greater depth each year.  US math curricula have been criticized as being a mile wide and an inch deep.
     Standard procedure in education requires that a new curriculum or major change in instruction must be field tested on a small sample of students and then on a large representative sample to determine whether it works as planned.  It should be modified until it works well enough to be used.  The CCSS were never field tested, leading many to feel that our children were being subjected to something untried, untested, and unknown.

    When I read the ELA standards for middle grades in depth, they did not sound unreasonable.  These were standards, not curricula.  They listed examples of materials that might be used, not required materials.  They espoused writing and critical thinking instead of exercises and workbooks.
    As I saw how the standards were being implemented, and read the comments of others, I liked the CCSS less and less.  There is a consensus that the primary grade standards are terrible inappropriate for the developmental stage of the children.  If we are to raise achievement of the older children, we must start by improving instruction in the early grades, but introducing tasks that are not developmentally appropriate, does not improve instruction.
     To me, the notion of "close reading," not linking what is read to prior knowledge, is insanity.  For the last 20 years cognitive psychology has been based on the idea that learning requires the mental construction of webs of linked memories.  If memories are not linked with other ideas and processes, they cannot be retrieved!!  If what is learned can't be retrieved for use in new situations, it is worthless.  This outlook was central whole career and my research, so I am horrified at the idea that David Coleman and his CCSS crew would have us set it aside.  When I speak to other reading faculty who did not specialize as much in this aspect of reading, they are also horrified by "close reading."
     The idea of having children do more thinking and more writing is very dear to my notions of progressive education, so when I see the new tests still using multiple choice questions, I am flabbergasted.  How can you test critical thinking using multiple choice tests?  Isn't the point of critical thinking to teach children to wrestle with real questions that don't have a single right answer?
     If you want to teach children to write well, you must have small enough classes so that teachers can critique children's compositions.  Especially in middle school and high school, if you have 145 students, you cannot read and critique a composition by every student every week.
     Another horrifying problem is that SMART and PARCC, the two consortia creating the common core exams, intend to use computers to grade essay questions.  I cannot believe that computers will be good judges of coherence and rhetoric.  I am sure that they will not be able to recognize and reward originality.
     Thus, I have concluded that I cannot in good faith, support the use of the Common Core State Standards as they are being implemented.
Mike Schirtzer from MORE commented:
As a student of psychology, especially Piaget, Gardner, and Chomsky- I have to say this is an amazing analysis!
I teach high school psych and we always look at the cognitive process, why thinking critically is better for development than rote memorization. It is clear the common core and standardized testing stands against all cognitive research of what is most effective for a sound education.
 Here's some comments from Fred Smith and others on Mulgrew's new baby spawned by the activities of MORE -- a reso calling for a moratorium on the impact of testing - until Tweed gets materials into the hands of teachers --- a grubby little reso they pushed at the DA yesterday -- but I won't get into those weeds and wait to show you some video.

Fred Smith, Change the Stakes:
Wrong, Michael.

You need a moratorium not on the high-stakes consequences of the tests--you need a moratorium on the tests themselves. How convenient it is to now call for a thoughtful examination of the 2014 exams. What about the core-aligned 2013 tests? What about the past year that was wasted fighting about them and getting nothing of educational value in return. Where's the call for an investigation of a massive "core-aligned" testing scam--the results of which can't be compared to testing that came before nor provide a meaningful baseline for whatever surprises are coming next.

Yes, the DOE is to blame for senseless test-related policies. But get real. Where's your outrage at Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Education Commissioner John King and all the other SED operatives who perpetrated the Common Core fraud on all of us on your ineffective watch.

How long did it take you to come up with this tortured formulation, this mealy-mouthed moratorium on the consequences of something that is inarguably a disaster. We need an indefinite moratorium on ill-conceived tests for which SED will never have its act together, Pal--period, end.

We need to exalt teachers and their professionalism, nurture and develop them, foster the natural overpowering alliance they should have with parents (that somehow the UFT never forges), and dismantle the current testing regimen that you would rather refine than replace with authentic assessment of student progress over the school year, as observed and judged by teachers.

This will never happen by calling for a moratorium on the consequences of testing -- but not for a moratorium on the cause--the costly, defective testing engine that has driven education over the cliff.

As we used to say, Michael--Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!

Fred Smith

Loretta Prisco
Yep, Fred, the only way to go. As long as those tests are given there will be abuses and an incredible amount of money spent that would be much better spent on lowering class size and resources for the classroom.  And Mulgrew must know that - as does every teacher.  The most damaging aspect is that our kids are being denied the education they deserve.  They only get one bite of the apple and for many it is too late.

 Jeff, Change the Stakes
Fred, you've got an oped here that needs to get wide circulation right now. One of the worst things Bloomberg has done is successfully portray the UFT as his opponent. Talk about convenient; you can score points by trashing the union while its leadership essentially does your bidding. The general public is oblivious to the fact that the union leadership not support teachers or parents or students in the face of the onslaught of destructive policies from the state. Your response to Mulgrew really brings this home.

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