Maryland Schools Bomb PARCC



The Baltimore Sun reported over the weekend that students, schools and parents in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland found little to celebrate when PARCC scores were released.

Overall the pass rates are still low on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a test that has been given for the past two years to third- through eighth-graders in reading and math. High school students have to take the 10th-grade English and Algebra I test to graduate.

The Baltimore Sun recently averaged the math and reading test scores to produce a single passing percentage for each elementary, middle and high school in the region. In Baltimore City, half the elementary schools had 6 percent or fewer students passing.

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises has acknowledged setbacks in trying to improve academics. But she has said that she believes the city’s children have suffered because low expectations have been set for them, and that she plans to hold them to higher standards.

It is not just city school students who scored poorly. Of the 232 high schools in the state, only 51 had more than half their students passing the Algebra I and English tests.

At 360 of more than 400 middle schools in the state, fewer than 20 percent of the students earned a 4 or 5, which is considered passing. In Baltimore County, 12 of 27 middle schools have a pass rate of less than 20 percent. The county’s top-scoring school was Hereford Middle School, which had an overall pass rate of 57 percent.

Of course this is typically dismissed by Common Core advocates pointing to the supposed “rigor” of the Common Core. It will never occur to these believers that the reason the students are doing poorly is because their reforms don’t work, PARCC is a lousy test, and Common Core is subpar.

What this should demonstrate is that the standards and testing education reform is not the silver bullet answer some where looking for.

The Absurd Defense of National Standards Post-Common Core


Common Core hasn’t done much for student achievement, but it has spawned a plethora of well-funded groups to push the national standards come hell or high water. One of these groups is the Collaborative for Student Success. The Collaborative is in a spitting contest with Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute in Kentucky, and it’s losing.

The Collaborative is funded by all the usual suspects who’ve poured money into the Common Core scheme from the beginning: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, ExxonMobil, etc. In the early days of Common Core, the Collaborative just spouted evidence-free claims about how wonderful the national standards would be for students. Now that test results are coming in, though, and are showing that every day in every way, things are getting worse and worse, the Collaborative has pivoted to explaining why there’s nothing to see here and we should all move along.

The Collaborative’s latest sally was in response to Innes’s post about the disappearance of several ACT tests that had long been used in Kentucky to assess college-readiness. As Innes pointed out, the discontinuance of those tests severed a number of trend lines that would provide valuable information about Common Core’s effect on college-readiness.

The Collaborative would have none of it. They shot back that Kentucky is doing very well with Common Core, thank you, and the data from the non-ACT tests show it. They even had a graph! But Innes quickly pointed out that the graph was misleading at best, reversing two of the data bars so that the casual reader would think Kentucky test scores have gone up when in fact they’ve gone down. As Innes observed, the decline in scores “isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Common Core.” He continued, “I don’t know and won’t speculate about whether this was a conscious attempt to mislead, but it certainly isn’t good data presentation.”

The misleading graph also showed something that, as Innes suggests, the Collaborative probably doesn’t want to highlight: Kentucky’s state test scores “do look inflated compared to the [National Assessment of Educational Progress – the “nation’s report card”]. That doesn’t agree with the Collaborative’s closing comment that: “States like Kentucky are headed in the right direction by setting expectations high and evaluating progress toward those goals.”

Innes noted other problems with the Collaborative’s analysis, including its mistaken claim that Kentucky had replaced PARCC with the Kentucky state test (in fact, Kentucky dropped out of PARCC before the test was developed) and the claim that states could avoid disruption and turmoil by sticking with PARCC or SBAC (the two federally funded tests, both of which are themselves in turmoil).

Former U.S. Department of Education official and Common Core critic Ze’ev Wurman responded to another claim made by the Collaborative in its response to Innes:

[The Collaborative said, “This year, most states administered tests aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year. Overwhelmingly, student proficiency in math and reading increased.”

Perhaps, but rather unlikely. The much more likely reason is the well-known “test familiarity” effect, where teachers and students get to know the test over time and also frequently adjust their test-taking skills. The fact that there was a very sharp drop in the NAEP scores across the nation in 2015, first time in over a decade, suggests that students’ achievement has not increased but just the opposite – that achievement dropped with the introduction of Common Core.

The exchange has been entertaining. It also shows that asking the Collaborative to assess Common Core is rather like asking John Podesta to assess Hillary Clinton. It’s good to have honest brokers such as Dick Innes and Ze’ev Wurman in the conversation.

A New $5 Million Study into Impact of Common Core

The Spencer Foundation and William T. Grant Foundation are spending $4.9 Million for a study, led by researchers from the University of Michigan, Stanford University and Brown University, into how Common Core has impacted classroom instruction.

eSchool News reports:

Based at U-M’s Institute for Social Research, the project, “Under Construction: The Rise, Spread, and Consequences of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the U.S. Educational Sector,” is being led by principal investigator Brian Rowan, research professor at the institute and the Burke A. Hinsdale Collegiate Professor at U-M’s School of Education. Co-principal investigators include David K. Cohen, a public policy professor and the John Dewey Collegiate Professor at the U-M School of Education; Susan L. Moffitt, associate professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University; and Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at the Stanford University.

“The Common Core is a watershed in American education—the first time the vast majority of states have committed to common standards for all children,” Rowan said. “Our research will look at a wide range of data to determine whether the effort to organize instruction around common standards is, in fact, improving academic performance for all students.”

The Spencer Foundation is contributing the bulk of the funding for the research—nearly $4.4 million—with the remainder coming from the William T. Grant Foundation.

“We are pleased to be funding this set of interwoven research studies to help understand the implementation of this controversial endeavor,” said Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation. “Although the ultimate outcome will not be clear for years to come, we are convinced that these studies of the evolution of this effort, in the context of an extraordinarily complex and decentralized educational system, will prove highly instructive.”

“Educational inequality is one of our nation’s greatest challenges, and some view the adoption of common standards as an important step towards fostering greater equity,” said Adam Gamoran, president of the William T. Grant Foundation. “This study will help us understand how trends in achievement levels and achievement gaps may be related to patterns of adoption and implementation of Common Core. In doing so it will also help us to understand the limits and possibilities of large-scale standards-based reform to achieve greater equity in educational outcomes.”

It will be interesting to see what they determine. Looking at NAEP scores, what’s going on in Kentucky with their student achievement, etc. I think the answer is obvious. We’ll see if they draw the same conclusions.

California Pushes Back Against Feds With Science Test


The state of California will move forward with their new assessment aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards regardless of the U.S. Department of Education’s letter telling them they must stick with the old test. This is the “flexibility” that the Every Student Succeeds Act provides. While I think California’s move to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards and a subsequent assessment is wrong headed I am encouraged to see the state push back.

The Federal government has no business dictating to a state what assessment they use or mandating that they should use any for that matter. California appears to be doing what every state should be doing when it comes to federal overreach into education – ignore them. We’ll see if they stand firm or if they end up caving.

EdSource reports:

California education officials have decided that students will take only one statewide standardized test in science this spring, a pilot test based on new standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards.

The decision, made in recent weeks, pits state education officials against the U.S. Department of Education, which told California officials in a Sept. 30 letter that they must continue to administer the older science based on standards adopted in 1998, and publish the scores on those tests.

California has been administering the multiple choice, paper-and-pencil California Standards Tests in science to 5th8th and 10th graders until as recently as last year, as required by the No Child Left Behind law.

But the State Board of Education adopted the new science standards in 2013, and educators had planned to administer a pilot version of a new online test aligned with those standards this spring. It had requested a federal waiver from having to give the old test as well, but the U.S. Department of Education denied its request….

….The department has given the state until Dec. 1 to resubmit its waiver request if it meets conditions outlined in the letter. Barr said that California intends to submit another request for a waiver. On Saturday, she told EdSource that the resubmission of the waiver appeal “may or may not include some of the options” outlined in the Whalen letter, but did not offer details.

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said that California can submit an appeal of the department’s decision as outlined in the Sept. 30 letter. However, she said, “the department has not received an appeal and cannot speculate on what steps CDE will take to correct the issues identified in the letter.”

Read the rest.

Common Core Proponents Leave Parents, Policymakers in the Dark


From the beginning, deception has shrouded the Common Core national standards scheme. Proponents claim the standards were developed by state governors with the input of teachers and educators across the country, but they in fact were created in secret, by unknown people pursuing unknown agendas. The standards were touted as “voluntary,” even though any state hoping to receive Race to the Top bribe money during a deep recession had to adopt them. They were marketed as a means of increasing college-readiness, even though the developers admit the “college” in mind was merely a non-selective community college, and experts pointed out that students trained with Common Core would not be prepared for authentic college coursework in any area, including STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Like any deception, this one requires elaborate schemes to keep it going. A potential Achilles heel of Common Core has always been legitimate tests – not those funded by the federal government to align with Common Core, but those that actually measure student achievement and college-readiness. The real tests, of course, would likely destroy the illusion that Common Core improves either. Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute reports that those “real tests” are now disappearing.

Innes writes about the situation in Kentucky, which was the first state to adopt Common Core and therefore has been implementing the standards longer than any other. In a recent post, Innes discusses the discontinuance of several tests offered by ACT, Inc. that Kentucky had used for years to measure students’ progress toward college-readiness (EXPLORE for 8th-graders, PLAN for 10th-graders, and COMPASS for older students who didn’t score well enough on the ACT college-entrance test). Over the past two years, ACT has announced discontinuance of all three tests.

Having used EXPLORE and PLAN since 2006-2007 and COMPASS since 2011-2012 (some Kentucky universities used COMPASS longer than that), Kentucky had compiled significant trend information from the scores. But those trend lines have now been cut. (Read Innes’s entire post for his dissection of ACT’s excuse for abolishing the tests.) As Innes writes, “Kentucky’s assessment trend lines have been vanishing left and right at precisely the time we badly need such trends to assess what Common Core is really accomplishing.”

“How convenient,” he notes, “for Common Core supporters who might be worried about what those discontinued tests might reveal.”

The disappearance of the ACT’s suite of tests isn’t the only testing change that masks the real situation under the national standards. Common Core architect David Coleman has revised the SAT to align with Common Core since he took over the College Board, so current scores can’t be compared meaningfully to pre-Common Core scores. And because Common Core-trained students have been scoring poorly on the “nation’s report card” – the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – Common Core proponents have suggested changing that test as well.

Another aspect of NAEP indicates that the stops are being pulled out to hide the failures of Common Core. As Innes explains, one part of the NAEP testing program is the Long-Term Trend (LTT) assessment – “the only long-running assessment program in the US that allows us to see how educational performance has trended over an extensive period of time for a valid random sample of students.” The NAEP LTT has been given roughly every four years since the 1970s, most recently in 2012. So we’re due for another administration of the test.

Except . . . NAEP’s governing board has now decided not to give the test in 2016, or in 2020 – maybe they’ll get back to it in 2024, but maybe not. As reported by Education Week, the excuse given for the remarkable delay is lack of funding (we know how the federal government reveres budgets). NAEP managed to find funding for a new Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, but somehow it couldn’t scrape together the pennies to administer LTT.

“[LTT] could shed valuable light on how Common Core is performing,” Innes says. “Instead, yet another important trend line is cut.” Commenting for Education Week, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute agrees: “’During a time when we’re engaged in this project called Common Core, during which we really do need alternative data and measures of how well kids are doing in reading and math, we’ve poured resources into these other assessments [such as TEL]. . . .’ Loveless said he worried some of the so-called 21st century skills assessed on the TEL, like communication and problem-solving, are more nebulous or ‘faddish’ compared to the fairly concrete reading and math tests.”

If Common Core were what it’s cracked up to be, its proponents should welcome assessments that showcase academic improvements. But step by step, the Common Core establishment is whittling down those objective measures, leaving parents and policy-makers in the dark. It almost seems like deception.

The Education Legacy Obama Is Not Talking About

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Valarie Strauss at The Washington Post before the weekend reported on a speech that President Barack Obama gave at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC noting that the President did not really put a spotlight on his actual education legacy.

He did not mention by name the Common Core State Standards initiative, another big priority for the administration during Duncan’s seven-year tenure running the Education Department, during which he wielded more power than any previous education secretary while also attracting more opposition than his predecessors.

Adopting common standards was also on Race to the Top’s list of preferred reforms Duncan sought from applying states, and the administration spent some $360 million for two multi-state consortia to develop new Core-related standardized tests. Duncan himself promised that the new tests would be “an absolute game-changer” in public education.

It didn’t work out that way. The tests were nowhere as sophisticated as originally promoted. The rush to get them into schools led to computer troubles in some states, some of them severe. One of the tests, known as PARCC, was abandoned by most of the states that had agreed to use it, and the overall idea behind the standards and aligned testing — that test results would be comparable across states — has not been accomplished.

The Education Department’s ties to the Gates Foundation, which funded the creation and implementation of the Core, also sparked criticism that the administration was too close to wealthy philanthropists who were intent on driving their own personal vision of school reform.

He also isn’t talking about his feeding education reformer’s standardized testing obsession.

The administration’s obsession with standardized tests led to a rebellion by parents, students, teachers, principals and even superintendents. Many spoke out against testing policies — and many parents refused to allow their students to take exams mandated by states for federal accountability purposes. In New York, with the most active movement, 22 percent of students “opted out” of at least one test, and opt-outs were reported in numerous other states. It was only after the “opt out” movement began to grow that the administration conceded that kids were being tested too much.

The New York State commissioner of education who pushed the test-based teacher accountability system — which has been crashing and burning for years — was John King Jr., who left the job early after 3 1/2 years, essentially getting a public shove by Gov. Andrew Cuomo not only for the teacher evaluation fiasco but for a botched implementation of Common Core. The reason this is worth mentioning is that King — who has an inspirational personal story — is now Obama’s second education secretary.

Read the whole thing.

Emmett McGroarty Testifies on Student Data Collection

Emmett McGroarty, education director at American Principles Project, testified today before the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking about student data collection.

You can watch his testimony below (it should be queued up, but if not go to 2:45:48).


Long Live the Liberal Arts!


With a workforce development model our students are just seen as cogs in a wheel.

Since before the development and implementation of Common Core we have seen a shift in education from classical education towards a workforce development model. The emphasis has been placed on STEM at the expense of the liberal arts. Common Core was introduced to help prepare students for STEM (failed in that record) in order to prepare students for 21st century jobs of the 21st century economy. If there isn’t a job for it in the future, so the argument goes, then we should not be investing our time there.

So you have the reform math push by Common Core that tries to get kindergarteners to think algebraically to cutting the amount of literature a student reads while in school in lieu of informational text as student won’t get paid to read fiction don’t you know?

David Whalen, provost at Hillsdale College, wrote a piece that pushes back against this trend. Please take some time considering it. Here are a few relevant excerpts:

The value and importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects have been elevated as worthy of study over and against the rather insubstantial and ideologically shrill humanities.

In fact, however, these arguments constitute a persuasive and powerful argument for the very education they attempt to dismiss. However unwittingly, it fairly demonstrates the need to study things enduringly human and humane, artful and wise.

For example, an essay by G.W. Thielman published in June 2015 attempts to argue in favor of a STEM education (as do many), and demonstrates the inescapable importance of the study of rhetoric and logic — liberal arts as venerable as they are essential. In his essay, Thielman argues that Edison has illuminated the world more than any of its sages, and that Tesla (the engineer, not the auto) has “contributed more power to the public” than all of history’s revolutionaries. This offers a fallacy of equivocation that no doubt is intended to amuse more than to persuade.

But it is a fallacy, and both its deployment and discernment depend on the liberal art of rhetoric for their fullest grasp and even enjoyment.

A sound liberal arts education aims precisely to sharpen readers and thinkers in their use of such arguments and amusements. It aims to prepare minds and hearts for a world loud with all manner of persuasion, much of it good, much more of it not-so-good.

Common Core advocates with their alleged desire to help students to think critically short circuit their own stated goal when liberal arts is diminished.

There are problems within liberal arts education, but is liberal arts education really the problem?

Sadly, the objection to the liberal arts — as currently taught — carries a good bit of weight. Censorious, radicalized ideology has become such an orthodoxy in the humanities that dissent is rarely tolerated, and the extremity of its commonplace views renders parody virtually impossible.

But to reject the liberal arts misses the point. “Abusus non tollit usum,” the old adage goes: “The abuse of a thing tells not against its proper use.”

The liberal arts are not the problem here; poor “practitioners” of them are the problem, and it is no correction simply to despair of the arts and wander off into precincts where numbers are thought never to lie and the root of happiness can be found in laminar airflow.

Put another way, if one’s doctor suggests treating a sprained ankle by shaking a dried gourd at the full moon, one does not give up on medicine; one finds another doctor.

Also Whalen points out the fact that we engage in liberal arts education because it is a reflection of who we are.

The economic, political and social consequences of this or that kind of education, the cost of investment in disciplines given to self-indulgent theorizing, the needs impressed upon us by technological developments, military conditions and social necessities — all these matters matter, and all their arguments count.

What’s more, rarely does one find acknowledgment that the sciences and math are liberal arts and essential components of a sound liberal arts education. But the liberal arts do not derive their importance from our educational policy or our individual preferences. They derive their importance from our nature (dare one say it).

It is a problem that the humanities are so often captive to poor teaching and corrosive intellectual fads; it is the “problem” that they are, after all, inescapable. That is, the humanities and the other liberal arts (even science and math) arise out of, and force upon us, reflections about what is to be desired, what is to be pursued, what is to be done.

We cannot help but think about these things. We cannot choose to jettison or abandon the fact that we are philosophical, aesthetic, ethical beings who think about what is, what ought to be, how we ought to live, and why all this matters. The disciplines that take up this inescapable facet of our humanity are the liberal arts. To do without them is to leave uncultivated an essential aspect of ourselves (namely, our selves).

Be sure to read the whole piece.

Smarter Balanced Needs a New Fiscal Agent

After this school year UCLA will no longer be Smarter Balanced's fiscal agent.

After this school year UCLA will no longer be Smarter Balanced’s fiscal agent.

UCLA has decided it will no longer act as a fiscal agent for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium when its current three-year agreement ends on June 30, 2017.

EdWeek Market Brief reports:

UCLA made the decision to not renew its contract with Smarter Balanced after the current three-year deal ends on June 30, 2017, both entities said in a joint statement.

Neither side offered Marketplace K-12 specifics on why UCLA made the decision, though they both indicated decision was the university’s.

“The joint work was mutually beneficial,” the university and consortium said. “UCLA notified Smarter Balanced on Sept. 28 that it would not renew the agreement at this natural ending point.”

Kathryn Kranhold, associate vice chancellor for UCLA’s communications and outreach, said in an e-mail that some links between the university and the testing consortium would remain in place.

Apparently if they find another fiscal agent within the University of California system they won’t need to issue another RFP as the memorandum of understanding is with the system, not just UCLA.

I would love to know why UCLA wants out.

Cardinal Newman Society Releases K-12 Catholic Curriculum Standards


The Cardinal Newman Society released new Catholic School Curriculum Standards. Dan Guernsey and Denise Dohohue, the developers of the standards, explain that the standards are supplementary and are meant to be a resource to Catholic schools. “The Cardinal Newman Society offers these Catholic Curriculum Standards as a resource for educators to help keep focus on what is unique about Catholic elementary and secondary education: its evangelizing mission to integrally form students in Christ and transmit a Christian worldview,” they wrote.

They further describe the standards:

The standards cover English language arts, math, scientific topics, and history, focusing on unique Catholic insights into these curricular areas and complementing the Church’s standards for religious instruction. They are broadly grouped into two grade levels, K-6 and 7-12. They express student outcomes of learning, inviting educators to assign or develop materials and choose subject matter that serve the unique mission of Catholic education.

We built the standards on the solid foundation of Church documents, the educational philosophies of faithful Newman Guide colleges, and many writings on Catholic, liberal arts, and classical education. We consulted with many leading Catholic scholars, school leaders, and standards experts to ensure the highest quality resource.

Consultants that helped with the development of the standards are:

  • Joseph Almeida, Ph.D. (Franciscan University of Steubenville)
  • Dominic Aquila, D.Litt et Phil. (University of St. Thomas, TX)
  • Christopher Baglow, Ph.D. (Notre Dame Seminary)
  • Anthony Esolen, Ph.D. (Providence College)
  • Joseph Pearce (Aquinas College, TN)
  • Chad Pecknold, Ph.D. (Catholic University of America)
  • Andrew Seeley, Ph.D. (Thomas Aquinas College)
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. (The Magis Center)
  • Ryan Topping, D.Phil. (Thomas More College of Liberal Arts)
  • Gregory Townsend, Ph.D. (Christendom College)
  • Michael VanHecke (The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education)
  • Susan Waldstein, S.T.D. (Ave Maria University)
  • Christopher Zehnder (Catholic Textbook Project)

Unlike the Common Core State Standards, teachers and schools are allowed to adapt the standards how they see fit.

The release of the standards follow a white paper published by American Principles Project and the Pioneer Institute that found Common Core is incompatible with Catholic education.