Stotsky: Common Core Writing Standards Not Linked to Appropriate Reading Standards

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, wrote a piece for the Indiana Policy Review that critiques the Common Core ELA Standards and called Indiana to re-adopt the standards they had before that were superior to the Common Core.  She also pointed out a problem with the Common Core’s writing standards that very few are talking about – they are not linked to appropriate reading standards.  Reading and writing go hand in glove with one another.  I had written before that I was concerned how a dependence on informational text would impact writing as one learns to write well by reading great writing, but Stotsky points out a problem that is even more basic than that.

The standards are not age-appropriate, nor do the elementary standards adequately prepare older students for what the standards require of them later on.

She wrote:

Common Core’s English language arts standards don’t have just one fatal flaw, i.e., its arbitrary division of reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for “informational” text and nine for “literature” at all grade levels from K to 12. That’s only the most visible; its writing standards turn out to be just as damaging, constituting an intellectual impossibility for the average middle-grade student — and for reasons I hadn’t suspected. The architects of Common Core’s writing standards simply didn’t link them to appropriate reading standards, a symbiotic relationship well-known to reading researchers.  Last month I had an opportunity to see the results of teachers’ attempts to address Common Core’s writing standards at an event put on by GothamSchools, a four-year-old news organization trying to provide an independent news service to the New York City schools.

The teachers who had been selected to display their students’ writing (based on an application) provided visible evidence of their efforts to help their students address Common Core’s writing standards — detailed teacher-made or commercial worksheets structuring the composing of an argument. And it was clear that their students had tried to figure out how to make a “claim” and show “evidence” for it. But the problems they were having were not a reflection of their teachers’ skills or their own reading and writing skills. The source of their conceptual problems could be traced to the standards themselves.

At first glance the standards don’t leap out as a problem. Take, for example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades six, seven and eight (almost identical across grades): “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.” This goal undoubtedly sounds reasonable to adults, who have a much better idea of what “claims” are, what “relevant evidence” is and even what an academic “argument” is. But most children have a limited understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.

So I explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational text in grades three, four and five (and then in grades six, seven and eight) and discovered nothing on what a claim or an argument is, or on distinguishing relevant from irrelevant evidence. In other words, the grades six, seven and eight writing standards are not coordinated with reading standards in grades three to eight that would require children to read the genre of writing their middle-school teachers are expecting them to compose. Middle-school teachers are being compelled by their grade-level standards to ask their students to do something for which the students will have to use their imaginations.

Be sure to read the rest.

Private Schools… Take a Look at Louisiana

Full disclosure, I’m an advocate of school choice.  I’m also an advocate of no strings being attached to school choice initiatives.  I pointed out how Florida’s private schools were being impacted by the Common Core.  Now we are seeing this in Louisiana.

While again, I liked the Louisiana school voucher initiative, I expressed some concerns since the accountability system requires the same testing for voucher students as they would receive in public schools.  It looks like my concerns are being realized as Louisiana shifts its testing standards to align with the Common Core.

This shouldn’t be a surprise as they recently shot down textbooks not aligned with the Common Core.  Private schools take note.

Technology Requirements for Common Core Assessments Released, But Not Costs

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) released their technology requirements last week.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)  released theirs earlier this month.  Both are noticeably quiet on the costs.

Here are the five recommendations made by SBAC:

  1. Move away from Windows XP (which is currently used by more than half of schools today) to Windows 7.
  2. Upgrade computers to at least 1 GB of internal memory.
  3. Make sure that all screens being used for the assessments have a visual display of no less than 9.5-inches, with at least a 1024 x 768 resolution.
  4. Make sure the student testing site operates on secure browsers.
  5. The assessment requires about 5-10 Kbps of bandwidth per student.

EdWeek reported last week on the PARCC requirements:

The new PARCC guidelines are “very similar” to the Smarter Balanced requirements, said Susan Van Gundy, associate director for assessment technology at Achieve, an organization that is managing the partnership consortium’s work.

One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to “lock down” and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, e-mail, and instant-messaging, the requirements say.

Some of the PARCC requirements are still to come. Minimum bandwidth requirements won’t be determined until next year, according to PARCC. But the group is setting the recommended bandwidth for external connections to the Internet at 100 kilobits per second, per student or faster, and the minimum for internal school networks at least at 1000 kilobits per second, per student.

Desktop and laptop computers, netbooks, thin clients are among the allowable testing devices. Smartphones will not be allowed for 2014-15, because they do not meet the minimum 9.5-inch screen size, Van Gundy said. Tablets that meet the standards will be allowed. (Smarter Balanced has also said a 9.5-inch screen should be the standard.)

Standards for operating systems vary. The minimum standards for Windows, for instance, is Windows XP/Service Pack 3, though looking ahead, Windows 7 or newer is recommended.

Now it would be great if we’d see some information on how much the technology will costs schools who may not meet the minimum requirements.

Glenda Ritz’ Opposition to Common Core Highlighted

Since Glenda Ritz is now the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction-Elect she’ll need to be reminded of what she wrote prior to her election on November 7th.  This is one of the primary reasons Tony Bennett lost.

Erin Tuttle at Hoosiers Against Common Core highlighted her position statement:

Common Core Standards must be re-evaluated.
Indiana had exceptional standards before Common Core. The Indiana Department of Education, and its Board, must re-evaluate Common Core Standards to determine what parts of Common Core we will accept or reject and determine which of our current Indiana standards should be retained to create the best K-12 standards for our children.

We must end our relationship with PARCC.
Dr. Bennett and Governor Daniels signed a contract that obligates Hoosier taxpayers to a consortium of twenty-three states, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. PARCC will determine the high-stakes student assessments for the Common Core and impact the accountability and performance of our educators, schools and our communities. Our students must not be forced into a regimented curriculum and assessment system that PARCC determines.

A return to local control of our schools.
Hoosiers, not a consortium of twenty-three states or the Federal government, must determine the vision for our students’ learning opportunities so that they are better able to compete in the global marketplace.

I know she holds other positions that I personally disagree with, but the three points she laid out here is the path that every state that has embraced the Common Core State Standards should take.  Re-evaluate the Common Core, and I would add let the State Legislatures do it.  End the relationship with the PARCC or SBAC depending on what state you live in.  Return to local control.

Now when Ritz takes office Hoosiers will have the opportunity to hold her accountable to take steps in the that direction.

President Obama Makes a Call….

Here is a strange story out of Idaho.  Julie Nawrocki, who teaches math at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls, ID, was called by President Obama to ask her help develop the new testing standards and teaching strategies for schools in the states that are part of the Idaho’s consortium.  Apparently this will take place for three weeks in Park City, UT.

Three questions.

1. Who is Julie Nawrocki that she’d be selected for this?  She could be a fabulous math teacher for all I know, but I find it rather curious.

2. The second, but more pertinent question is why was President Obama making this phone call?  If this is a “state-led” effort as Common Core advocates like to say isn’t it odd that President Obama would be making these phone calls?  Especially when they are going to discuss testing standards and teaching strategies?!?!?

3. They mention having 35 states as part of their consortium.  SBAC only has 25 and PARCC has 23.  Idaho is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Was this faulty reporting or are we seeing a merger?

Opaqueness and Closed Government

Jay P. Greene’s Blog “Head Start Manipulating Scumbags” starts off with an excellent video clip that has more global applicability than just addressing Head Start.

Jay P. Greene says:

I should repeat that the researchers have done an excellent job evaluating Head Start in this case.  It is the bureaucratic class at the Department of Health and Human Services who have cynically manipulated, delayed, and misreported this research.  The pending report is already delayed several years and has been around for a long time.  The decision to release it on the Friday afternoon before Christmas is completely calculated.

Does this sound familiar to you—“cynically manipulated, delayed, and misreported this research”?  When the unsuspecting general public gets no other information, they tend to believe the information that has been sanitized and put through a government sieve and approved for public manipulation…   err, consumption.

With regard to Transparency and Open Government, President Obama says:

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Rather than build a bypass, our federal and state governments seem to want to bypass the public and only open public participation to those who won’t lie in front of the bulldozer.  Our governments have made it about as easy to find out about things like Common Core State Standards, the CCSS related assessments, Race to the Top, State Longitudinal Data Systems, and ESEA/NCLB reauthorization as Arthur Dent’s government made it for him to find out about the bypass.  The information may be available but it doesn’t inform the public if the public knows nothing about it to begin with or where to locate available information.

Beware the leopard!

In practice, does Transparency and Open Government really mean Opaqueness and Closed Government?  A quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide is appropriate here, “Reality is frequently inaccurate”.

Common Core’s One Goal: To Create Common People

This is from a teacher in Indiana North Carolina, Kris Nielsen, who was an avid supporter of the Common Core State Standards. He made a presentation on the Common Core for parents to ease their concerns.  Now he apologizes for that and says they should be concerned:

First, I want to offer you my apologies.  It wasn’t long after my presentation that I had a crushing realization that the entire thing (minus the hands-on stuff) was completely misguided.  I felt like a flip-flopper, but I’ve always valued the truth more than feeling good.  So, I’m here to clear the air.  The truth hurts and it should start scaring the hell out of you, because your children are your most precious gift and you will do anything to protect them.

The whole reason I was part of the team that put those presentations together was to ease your worry about the changes that were coming.  I’m here to retract everything I said.  You should be worried.  Very worried!

I was wrong.  The Common Core State Standards is a sham, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an instrument of devastation…

…Now, the Common Core State Standards has one goal: to create common people.  The accompanying standardized tests have one purpose: to create standardized people.  Why?  Because the movers and the shakers have a vested interest in it.  It’s about money and it’s about making sure all that money stays in one place.

Read the whole thing.

Ladner’s False Choice

Matthew Ladner wrote a guest post at Jay P. Greene’s blog today that lays out a false choice either support the Common Core State Standards or support status quo where in some states their standards were a joke.

He wrote about his experience in Arizona when he was asked to oppose Arizona’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards:

I had deep misgivings regarding Common Core at the time, the most serious of which was the governance of the standards over time. At the time I was of the opinion that unless Ben Bernanke took up the task of governing the standards that it would inevitably follow that Common Core would eventually result in the Great American Dummy Down.

Nevertheless in the end I decided not to oppose Arizona’s adoption of Common Core standards.  Regardless of how bad Common Core started out or later became, Arizona simply had nothing to lose.  Arizona had just about every testing problem you could imagine- dummied down cut scores, massive teaching to test items, and something at least in the direct vicinity of outright fraud by state officials regarding the state’s testing system. Our state scores had “improved” substantially through a combination of lowered cut scores and teaching to the test items, but NAEP showed Arizona scoring below the national average on every single test and precious little progress. The status quo was worse than a waste of time.

He then suggests we adopt a “vote of no confidence” and then challenge our state to adopt better standards.  I know personally I’m not in favor of status quo for bad standards.  My state has the Iowa Core which could have been strengthened if they were deficient, but frankly I don’t see where the improvements are.

I briefly mentioned this in my post yesterday – Ladner, as well as many other Common Core advocates, seem to ignore is that the process in which the Common Core State Standards were brought about stunk.  No state legislature voted on these.  Congress never voted on their inclusion with Race to the Top money included in the Stimulus bill.  There was little feedback given and they hadn’t been field tested.  Also the Federal government has zero business, Constitutionally, to involve itself in promoting educational standards.

So it really shouldn’t matter how bad or how good your state’s standards are.  We have a constitutional process that should be respected and followed.  Instead it was ignored amidst numerous back room deals in State Departments of Education and the Educrats decided, not our elected representatives that these were good for us.

Ladner writes later on:

Mind you, it would be a struggle to adopt MA standards in AZ, and we might not prove up to the task. The same it true of Common Core. Plus the MA standards are battle tested and I would prefer to have a group of people running the show that I can actually talk to, beat up in the press and vote against. Democracy has it’s faults, but I’ll take my chances with it.

Exactly!  Nobody got the chance to do that before these were implemented.  He could have advocated this back then, whey didn’t he?  Because they were better than what they had?  If he knew they were going to be a train wreck and adopted without legislative approval then he should have opposed them.  Instead he stood by silent for the “Great American Dummy Down.”  Where was today’s *brilliant* revelation back then?  He accuses those of us who oppose the standards of championing the status quo, but in reality we’re the ones who have advocated what he now suggests.

Thanks for joining in Matthew, I guess it’s better late than never.

Bigger, Better and Beyond the Book?

I was introduced to Dr. Rozlyn Linder’s blog today by a friend.  She’s the K-12 District Literacy Specialist in Douglasville, GA and an avid advocate of the Common Core State Standards.  Today she opined that those of us who are critics of the Common Core, in particular, the ELA standards are uninformed and we need to read the standards.

She wrote:

As a proponent of the critical analysis shift demanded by Common Core I regularly speak out about the divergence from teaching the canon and centering all instruction on works of fiction. As I read blogs and posts I have finally come to realize that there is a serious misconception about what it means to teach skills rather than text. Battle lines are being drawn that demand that teachers get on fictions side or the oh, so, awful side of informational text. This fierce call to battle is misguided and ironically built on a failure to read—the actual Common Core standards.

I agree.  Read the standards.

The topic of concern for many of us is the chart on pg. 5 of the ELA standards.


It’s in the standards.  It’s certainly being misinterpreted, and unfortunately it is being applied to literature classes.  Something that Common Core folks fail to understand is that kids get plenty of informational text in all of the other classes.  Almost 100% of their reading is informational text.

I’m not against reading informational text – we all do it every day.  What I’m not thrilled about, and Dr. Linder does nothing to alleviate my concern, is the introduction of more informational text into Literature class of which she makes a passionate defense:

I love literature because informational text taught me how and why. I did not just curl up with the Scarlet Letter because I was told to. In fact I never read it in high school. Oh, I pretended to. I aced that test with the best of them, but I did not love it or like it. I was reading Sidney Sheldon and Malcolm X at my desk instead. It wasn’t until I became a teacher and I looked out at faces like mine, holding cell phones, and readily accessing information with the twitch of a thumb that I knew I needed to find out why Scarlet Letter mattered because I was told that for six weeks I should probably teach it. How? Our class read the Harold Bloom critical analysis first (informational text). We read the reviews of Demi Moore’s version of the book and searched IMDB for the risque’ photos and summary, again reading sometime scathing reviews of the film.. We even read comparisons to the pop culture version the Big A. We knew the full story before we ever opened the book. We read why this was significant and we read with critical eyes, challenging assumptions, and questioning as we went. At the end, some rewrote the ending; others wrote essays defending the book as a classic, while some crafted narratives about the characters back stories or lives after the end. Others created Prezis showcasing two different ways to view the protagonist. We laughed, we argued, we complained that these word choices ‘sucked’ and why they seem that way to us, but why they could be interpreted as exquisite. My kids may not love the Scarlet Letter but they know it, understand it, and ‘get’ why it matters. Would they get that through literature alone? Doubtful. Common Core is just asking teachers to think bigger, better, and beyond the book.

Is it just me or is she advocating for kids to read informational text that teach them what to think rather than how to think?  Unfortunately when you read a critic or a review you are coming to a piece of literature (or anything really) with a presupposition.  If a teacher wanted to guide students to learn about the context of a piece of literature, for instance give an introduction to the life and times of Puritans prior to reading The Scarlet Letter or a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne I could understand that.  What she’s advocating I can not.  By the way I’m not a fan of The Scarlet Letter either for a variety of reasons that don’t pertain to the subject matter we cover here.

I don’t want teachers to think bigger, better and beyond the book because I want them to teach the book.  I want them to educate, not indoctrinate.  Teach kids how to think, not what to think.  I would hope Dr. Linder would want the same.

Putting that aside there’s the whole matter about how they were written and implemented avoiding local input and the democratic process, but that’s a whole different blog post.