The NYS Common Core Task Force Report Taken to Task

chalkboard

Some have made the case that Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force Report conveys sweeping recommendations, and that once these recommendations are  implemented by the Board of Regents we will see substantial change in New York’s public education system. This is a pipe dream. A sample of quotes from the Common Core Task Force Report reveal just how far off the mark the report is in addressing the concerns of parents and educators. It creates more smoke and mirrors than change.

“By giving great weight to the foundational skills required in today’s job market, education advocates believe that the Standards have the potential to begin to close the performance gaps that exist largely based on socio-economic differences.”

The Task Force Report does nothing to address the difficulties faced by under-resourced schools that have been labeled “failures” (based on flawed and socio-economically biased test scores). There is no evidence that high standards alone can close the achievement gap, or that arbitrarily more difficult standards without equitable school funding will have any positive effect. It is time to examine the impact of poverty on student learning rather than push experimental standards as a cure-all.

“The Kindergarten Standards could be revised……to provide pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers with the flexibility to differentiate instruction for students whose brains are rapidly developing.”

Standards are a progression. Each grade level set of standards is built on the ones from the grade before. While is it laudable that that the Task Force Report recommends revising the grossly inappropriate Common Core kindergarten reading standards, this will require a shift in every subsequent grade level reading benchmark as well.

“We know that students develop at different rates, and we want to ensure that teachers can differentiate and individualize instruction given to our youngest [kindergarten] students that is developmentally appropriate for each individual child— not linked solely to the child’s age.”

At what age is it appropriate to disregard the fact that all children develop at different rates? At what age is it OK to deny children developmentally appropriate instruction? Recommending changes to meet the needs of some children and not others conveys an unwillingness to create meaningful change, as well as a disregard for a research-based approach to elementary education.

“New York State was recently highlighted by the United States Department of Education as being a leader and model for other States in reducing the amount of time spent on testing, including the administration of local assessments.”  

By boasting of New York’s past performance in reducing time spent on testing, the Task Force Report reveals that Task Force members have completely missed the point.

A 2015 study conducted by KT Tobin and Robin Jacobowitz of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz found that:

“The time for 3-8 testing in NYS, including the test itself and the fixed costs consume approximately 2 percent of the “required annual instructional hours.” This exceeds and is already double the 1 percent standard that was passed by the legislature.”

New York state’s 2014 ban on standardized testing for students in grades K-2 is a similar farce. These banned tests (including NWEA, Aimsweb, Star, and any multiple choice test) are actually permissible if they are for “diagnostic or formative purposes.” Since ANY assessment used for teacher evaluations can also be claimed as diagnostic and/or formative, there really is no ban on subjecting 5,6, and 7 year olds to inappropriate testing. In fact, NYSED lists several K-2 standardized tests as approved assessments for use in teacher evaluations.

Bubble tests

“The new standards must help prepare students for a future that requires workplace and analytic skills, reading non-fiction, and new learning in technology applications. However, the standards must guide curriculum to fulfill these needs while still allowing for other texts that focus on creativity and cultural competency.”

Despite an overwhelming outcry against the prescribed ratio of nonfiction to fiction found in the Common Core, the Task Force Report doubles down on the practice of foisting informational texts on young children with the notion that they will need to read similar texts as adults. Any parent or educator would argue that developing a love of reading and a love of learning trumps all, and furthermore that this is developed by allowing children to select texts based on their interests. Creativity and cultural competency should not merely be “allowed” for young learners; it should be the focus of instruction.

It should be noted here that the Task Force Report fails to address any of the significant parents and educator concerns regarding the appropriateness of the Common Core math standards. Here is an example from Engage NY of an expected response on a 2nd grade Common Core math assessment.

math explanation

 

“(the problem with) Kindergarten Standards is that they fail to include all of the domains of the Pre-Kindergarten Standards such as social and emotional development or approaches to learning….As part of its review, the State should work to incorporate these components into the Kindergarten Standards to encourage curiosity and creativity in our youngest students.”

Teachers do not need standards to encourage curiosity and creativity in their students. A focus on social and emotional development is just as important in 4th grade as it is in kindergarten. At what age is it appropriate to stop educating the whole child? Never. If we do not emphasize social and emotional competencies at every grade level, our children will emerge from school lacking the empathy, self-esteem, and collaborative abilities that they will need to be successful in life.

“Parents repeatedly raised concern over the third grade test being longer than the Regents exams.”

“The annual 3-8 ELA and Mathematics exams are too long….in some elementary-level schools students take between 360 and 540 minutes of tests whereas the SAT is only 225 minutes.”

“New York should follow the pattern set by these states (Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina) and shorten both the number of days and duration of testing sessions for all students in grades 3-8. The State should also formally study whether to further reduce the number of test days and duration of testing sessions for students in grades 3-5.”

North Carolina, Texas, and New Mexico are hardly positive role models for reduction in testing. In North Carolina, testing has been “reduced” to a 1 day, 3-4 hour exam. In Texas, testing has been capped so that the average student sits for 120 minutes of testing with no administration lasting more than 8 hours. And in New Mexico, testing has been reduced by a paltry 15%. In New York, that would reduce 9 hours of testing for 10 year olds to 7.5 hours. For a 5th grade student with special needs, a testing reduction from 18 hours to 15 hours is hardly a relief. The recommendation for yet another  formal study to determine if it is appropriate for children to take tests that rival the SATs in length is ridiculous, and will only delay a significant reduction in testing.

“The State must draft new standards that recognize the balance between encouraging the development of the whole child while maximizing instructional time in school.”

The Task Force Report does an excellent job providing significant evidence that the past three years have been spent focused on harmful and flawed assessments at the expense of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, their recommendations will only lead to superficial change.

How many children will be able to recapture the joy of learning? After three years of ignoring the needs of the child, New York State must focus on restoring the health and wellbeing of our children and our schools, with no “balance” required.

In short, there are no recommendations contained within the task force report that will change the experience of children asked to sit for inappropriate, flawed tests this spring, or that of their teachers, who will continue to be evaluated by test scores (albeit different tests). Without real change, test prep will remain the norm, the curriculum will continue to narrow, schools and students will be labeled failures, and our children will be denied the education they deserve.

Advertisements

Once Again, NYSUT Is Effectively Ineffective

ar12631400089688

In December of 2015, NYSUT released a white paper entitled, “NYSUT White Paper on College, Career & Civic Readiness.” This excellent paper is a shining example of what our union can do. Through research and a thorough examination of the issue, this paper exposes the grossly inappropriate manner in which test scores have been interpreted in NYS and have led to a false narrative of failure. This paper is also an example of the crippling ineffectiveness of the current NYSUT leadership and their failure to act on behalf of educators and students.

According to NYS, if our children are not on track from the age of 5 to achieve a 1630 on their SATs, they will not be “career and college ready” (the College Board itself cites a score of 1550 as “college and career ready.”) This benchmark is used to determine proficiency on state tests. In other words, this is the benchmark that has falsely labeled our students, teachers, and schools as failures. It will likely prevent many students from graduating. This was first exposed by Dr.Carol Burris in 2014, and has been written about extensively by Lakeland physics teacher Michael Lillis.

In NYSUT’s white paper, the union finds:

“…serious deficiencies in the state‘s methodology that are promoting developmentally inappropriate test questions and creating a false narrative of failure about New York state‘s students and schools; and recommends actions to establish new, developmentally appropriate standards for college and career readiness.”

During the time this paper was authored and published, NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and AFT President Randi Weingarten presided over Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, whose report was released on December 10th, 2015. Yet despite NYSUT’s well-researched and evidence-based paper regarding NYS’s damaging “career and college ready” benchmarks, not a single word can be found in the Task Force report regarding these concerns. Perhaps it is not surprising that this white paper (crafted in response to a unanimous vote to oppose the NYS “career and college ready” benchmarks at the 2015 NYSUT RA) was never publicly released nor given a press release. In fact, it is only accessible on the NYSUT website through a secure login.

Not only is the union committing a sin of omission, it appears that they are actively spending member dues to hoodwink educators and quiet the parent-led opt out movement. The UFT recently spent 1.4 million dollars on an ad campaign aimed at convincing educators that all is well, going so far as to say that “test scores won’t be used in teacher evaluations.” NYSUT is actually boasting of its’ recent expenditure of 1 million dollars on a media campaign touting the “sweeping changes” recommended by the Common Core Task Force. Perhaps both the UFT and NYSUT are unaware that by law, 50% of teacher evaluations are still required to be based on test scores (A different, additional test must be used for teacher evaluations while still compelling students to take the flawed state tests) and that Governor Cuomo has refused to amend this law. It is hard to imagine any other justification for over 2 million dollars worth of member-funded false advertising.

Despite the fact that the education law passed last spring must be repealed or amended in order to reduce or eliminate the use of test scores in teacher evaluations, NYSUT has failed to campaign for ANY changes to this law. As of today, NYSUT’s Member Action Center (MAC) includes calls for the Governor to sign a funding provision for CUNY/SUNY and an invitation to screenings of Education Inc, yet there is NO mention of any action calling for an immediate amendment to the Education Transformation Act.

A strong union is what stands between boots on the ground teachers and those who would dismantle public education with little to no regard for educators or, more importantly, students. Unfortunately, the current leadership has shown a commitment to effective ineffectiveness time and time again. Why?

In the spring of 2014, as a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), myself and several others travelled to Albany to meet face to face with most of the NYSUT officers to identify any common ground that would allow us to coordinate our efforts to push back against high stakes testing and the assault on public education. During this meeting, I posed a simple question: Is NYSUT philosophically opposed to the use of test scores to evaluate teachers? As a parent and a dues paying NYSUT member, I was shocked when the NYSUT leaders seated at the table did not answer with a resounding “yes.” We were told that the issue was “complicated” and that according to NYSUT’s scientific polling, “rural areas like the testing.” On that day, NYSAPE declined to form any kind of coalition with NYSUT. It was not until one year later, in the spring of 2015, that NYSUT finally began to support the parent-led opt out movement that has garnered the attention of the media, the legislature, and the Governor.

Why draw attention to these issues now? In light of the looming Friedrich’s decision, what is the wisdom in exposing NYSUT’s effective ineffectiveness? To put them on notice that they must do better and use their influence to effect real change before it is too late.

If our unions are to survive aggressive efforts to destroy them, they can not render themselves ineffective during a time when educators, public schools, and students are under attack. If the union is to survive the current onslaught, its’ members must WANT to pay the dues required to keep them in business. This requires inspired leadership that is not afraid to speak the hard truths and take a stand for those they represent, even when it costs them a seat at the table. And that table is one at which many would argue that they are the ones being served up for dinner.

These are exciting times. The opt out movement has made strong headway, capturing the attention of policymakers and reframing the conversation about public education in New York State. But do not be fooled. The “sweeping changes” being lauded by union officials are nothing more than half-measures aimed at quieting and appeasing parents and educators while doing nothing to change the current “test and punish” system. This spring, students will not experience any relief from tests that are now universally known to be flawed, developmentally inappropriate, and too long. Impoverished schools still face privatization at the hands of biased and inappropriate testing benchmarks, and teachers will still face a 50% test based evaluation. We must continue to opt out, speak out, and hold NYSUT accountable.