The Cost of Smarter Balanced for One Iowa School District

A local radio station did a story on one Iowa school district’s move from the Iowa Assessments to Smarter Balanced. The Iowa State Board of Education approved Smarter Balanced and has mandated that schools change over by the 2017/2018 school district. The Iowa Legislature approved a delay so, presumably, they could reconsider the BOE’s decision. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad vetoed that measure.

Carroll Community School District is a school district in Western Iowa who has an enrollment of 1773 students. District Superintendent Rob Cortes told KCIM 1380 AM that the change represents an increase of $25,000 to the district’s assessment costs. This is an increase the state of Iowa has not set money aside to cover. Cortes noted that in order to pay for Smarter Balanced they will discontinue other assessments they used along with the current Iowa Assessments.

This represents a significant increase, consider what this is costing larger school districts.

Here are hard cost estimates to Iowa’s districts based on 2013-2014 enrollment (see spreadsheet of district breakdown):

  • SBAC summative: nearly a $5.5 million increase (500% increase)
  • SBAC summative, interim, digital library: over a $6.8 million increase (nearly 700% increase)
  • Next Generation Iowa Assessment: over a $3.2 million increase (300% increase)

Soft costs to each district:

  • Common Core assessments are online-only assessments. They will require significant increases in both technology (computer equipment, software and maintenance) as well as internet bandwidth in all school districts just to accommodate that many students taking these tests. These costs are unknown and were not considered by the assessment task force.
  • The SBAC assessment does not include science. The additional costs for adding a science test are unknown and were not considered by the assessment task force or the Iowa State Board of Education.
  • The SBAC assessment only measures the Common Core State Standards – it will not measure any of the required additional state standards that still remain as part of the Iowa Core (approximately 10-15%), nor any standards that local districts may be allowed to add (15%)

The Iowa Legislature can still address Smarter Balanced again this session in order to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for invalid, costly test.

Only One in Nine New Jersey Seniors Used PARCC to Graduate

Photo credit: Cliparts.co

The Press of Atlantic City reported last week that very few New Jersey seniors took PARCC in order to graduate last school year.

Only one of every nine high school seniors in the Class of 2016 met the New Jersey graduation test requirement by passing the state PARCC exams in language arts and math, according to data released by the state Department of Education.

Almost half of the 96,300 seniors met the testing requirement by taking a state-approved substitute test, such as the SAT, PSAT, ACT or Accuplacer.

….“The data shows that the NJDOE’s new graduation policies are educationally unsound and need to be revised before they undermine New Jersey’s high school graduation rate, which is currently the second highest in the nation,” said Stan Karp, director of ELC’s (Education Law Center) Secondary Reform Project. “If these rules had been in full effect last year, over 80,000 students would have needed portfolio appeals to graduate in addition to taking multiple layers of standardized tests.”

The PARCC test is scheduled to be a requirement for graduation starting with the Class of 2021, although state education officials have said they will monitor the test’s progress and adapt as necessary.

Some students did not take the PARCC because they knew they could meet the requirement using a substitute test. Students won’t have to pass the Algebra I and English Language Arts 10 tests to graduate until 2021.

As this mandate rolls out, I agree with the Education Law Center it is going to start causing some problems for New Jersey students.

Cardinal Newman Society on Betty DeVos’ “Conversion” Away From Common Core

The National Catholic Register recently quoted Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 programs at the Cardinal Newman Society, about President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education – Betsy Devos.

“Her position seems to be that Common Core seemed like a good idea at the time, but that, according to her statement, ‘along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.’ This is the default position of virtually all former and even current Common Core supporters, including Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush!” said Guernsey. “Her position should have been from the start: ‘Do not let the national government, businessmen, bureaucrats and billionaires (she now represents all four of these) design a national education program, and let the states decide on their own.”

Well put. Cardinal Newman Society also added in their recent report card. “As Catholics, we welcome all converts. Let’s hope DeVos’ conversion away from Common Core is genuine. And, to be clear, Common Core didn’t get boondoggled along the way. It was a federally supported bureaucratic know-it-all one size fits all boondoggle from the beginning,” they wrote.

Agreed. Common Core didn’t become a boondoggle, it was always a boondoggle. Top-down reforms never work.

As far as her conversion I also hope that it was genuine. I sincerely hope she is asked more about this during the confirmation process.

New Arizona Standards?

Activists on the ground are calling the new Arizona standards just approved by the Arizona State Board of Education a rebranding of Common Core.

They are also concerned about the lack of transparency since they had the understanding there would be another month to review standards.

The Common Core has been revised in Arizona, and unfortunately whenever Common Core is the starting point for new standards what you will get is a rebranding. That’s not to say there are not significant changes, as there were with New York’s rewrite. Unfortunately New York’s changes appear to be more comprehensive than what we see in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic reports about some of the changes:

Cursive writing appears to be the biggest change in terms of what things kids will be required to learn. There’s been unanimous support for making cursive writing a requirement.

Beyond that, many of the revisions had to do with changing the phrasing of the actual standards that, while unassuming to the average person, are meant to give teachers more freedom over how to teach their students.

Some phrases that appear to instruct teachers how to teach a certain standard were changed. As were phrasings that appeared too vague or unclear.

For example, one phrase in the first-grade reading standards that said students should know how to ask and answer questions about key details in a text was expanded to include the “who, what, when, why and how about key details in a text.”

Educators who worked on the revisions said parts of them have been restructured so that parents can clearly see how the reading and math skills learned in one grade are expanded on in the next.

The revisions will be reflected on AzMERIT, the state’s standardized test, in 2018.

Most of the actual requirements in the standards remain unchanged.

Standards to learn time and money, the high school standards are ordered differently to reflect Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. There are also additional standards added to the high school standards that are not required for graduation so I assume they will not end up on AZMerit.

So there has been some technical changes, but as far as I can see most of the foundational problems still exist. The early elementary standards are still age-inappropriate. There is still an over emphasis on informational text. The math standards still do not adequately prepare students for STEM programs in college.

It’s unfortunate that Superintendent Diane Douglas, who campaigned on ending Common Core, put her stamp of approval on this process and these standards. It is also disconcerting that these standards were voted on instead of allowing an additional month of review and public comment. Arizona can do better than this.

Read the final draft of Arizona’s ELA and Math standards.

2017 Will Bring More Opportunity to Repeal Common Core in Iowa

It looks like there will finally be some opportunities in Iowa to pass legislation that will roll back Common Core and Smarter Balanced in my home state. Three events have taken place that are promising.

1. Republicans win the Iowa Senate and now control the Legislature.

We’ve had a split legislature that for the most part guaranteed status quo. That will not be the case for the next two sessions at least. Republicans not only won the Iowa Senate, but they won big flipping the Senate to a 29 to 19 majority (there will be a special election at the end of the month to replace State Senator Joe Seng who passed away). Not only that, but Iowa House Republicans expanded their majority in the House by two seats and have a 59 to 41 majority.

So while that doesn’t guarantee positive action it, at the very least, makes it a possibility.

2. Anti-Common Core legislators now chair the legislative education committees.

This is huge news because before any good bill was pretty much guaranteed to be assigned to a subcommittee to die. That should change in 2017.

State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), who was a co-sponsor on all of the anti-Common Core legislation in the past, is now the chair of the Iowa House Education Committee. Complementing him State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) will chair the Iowa Senate Education Committee. Sinclair also was involved in the anti-Common Core and Smarter Balanced legislation in the Senate.

This is an exciting development.

3. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been appointed U.S. Ambassador to China.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who is pro-Common Core, has been appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President-elect Donald Trump. He is likely to be confirmed. Branstad has been a significant roadblock to legislation addressing Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards and Smarter Balanced. In fact the only related bill to make it to his desk, a delay to Smarter Balanced that was included in an appropriations bill, he line-item vetoed.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds who will be his successor when he resigns has not taken a public stand for or against Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, or Smarter Balanced.

On education policy there is certainly some uncertainty, but she has the chance to make her mark and differentiate herself from Branstad. There is promise she will be a more conservative governor than Branstad was. Let’s hope that includes education policy.

The timeline for Branstad’s departure is uncertain. He has said he will wait to resign his seat until he confirmed so we could be well into the new legislative session before that happens. If that is the case the 2018 legislative session may provide a greater opportunity than 2017.

David Coleman’s SAT Fail

David Coleman announces the SAT redesign.

Reuters just released an investigative report that does not paint David Coleman, architect of the Common Core ELA standards and now CEO of the College Board, in a very good light.

In a nutshell his decision to rush a new “top to bottom” redo of the SAT college entrance exam has been a disaster. Reuters writes:

Internal documents reviewed by Reuters show pitched battles over his timeline to create the new test and whether the push to meet the deadline could backfire.

The documents, which include memos, emails and presentations, reveal persistent concerns that aligning the redesigned SAT with the Common Core would disadvantage students in states that rejected the standards or were slow to absorb them. The materials also indicate that Coleman’s own decisions delayed the organization’s effort to offer a digital version of the exam.

Today, less than a year after the new SAT debuted, the College Board continues to struggle with the consequences of Coleman’s crash course to remake the SAT and its companion, the PSAT, a junior version of the exam.

“It was a bad year, and I’m sorry,” Coleman said in September, at a conference of university admissions officers and high school counselors. “It is no good to have vision if you don’t deliver.”

As Reuters reported in March, the College Board has struggled to stop cheating rings in Asia that exploit security weaknesses in the SAT and enable some students to gain unfair advantages on the exam. A massive security breach earlier this year exposed about 400 questions for upcoming SATs. And College Board officials went forward with the redesigned test even though they knew it was overloaded with wordy math questions, a problem that handicaps non-native English speakers and reinforces race and income disparities that Coleman has vowed to diminish.

Read the whole thing.

11 Questions for Betsy DeVos


Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, appeared at a “thank you” rally in Grand Rapids, MI last Friday with Trump. At the rally both Trump and DeVos said it was time to end Common Core. DeVos specifically said, “This means letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

While there is mounting opposition to her nomination both from the teachers unions and from some of my compatriots in the fight against Common Core I highly doubt her nomination will be derailed. Even if it is derailed I have to wonder at what cost?

Despite my doubt about an effort to block her nomination, I don’t feel our skepticism is misplaced. While I personally have chosen to be optimistic, I’m cautiously so. DeVos’ only track record on Common Core until she was nominated was funding and serving on boards that advocated for it, including one organization that was part of a collaborative effort to fight against the repeal bill offered in Michigan. Yes we’re told that she was just a part of those groups on behalf of school choice, but for those of us who have been in the trenches fighting Common Core it leaves a bitter taste in our mouth that is not easily lost.

The ball is in DeVos’ court. Talk is cheap and the only true way to gain trust is through positive action. In the meantime, as she goes through Senate confirmation hearings and spends time meeting with individual senators, it would be helpful to have the answers for these questions especially since she is not doing any interviews beforehand.

  1. Is it the role of the U.S. Department of Education to mandate states to have “higher standards” even if they don’t dictate what those are?
  2. What constitutes “higher standards”? If the Feds were not involved with Common Core would you have seen those as “higher standards”?
  3. Since each state had to adopt Common Core what does “putting an end to the federalized Common Core” look like?
  4. Should the Federal government mandate assessments?
  5. What is your view of the Every Student Succeeds Act? Did that legislation go far enough to return local control?
  6. How will you shrink the U.S. Department of Education? Do you believe the Department should eventually close?
  7. Do you plan to rescind many of the “Dear Colleague” letters sent during the Obama administration?
  8. What is the purpose of education?
  9. Should the federal government mandate school choice programs?
  10. What strings would/should federal money for school choice have?
  11. What do you plan to do to protect student data privacy? How will you strengthen FERPA?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, what would you add?

The Problem with An Interstate Test Item Bank Cooperative

Nat Malkus at American Enterprise Institute floats the idea of moving away from common assessments, such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and instead move to states developing their own assessments using  test items from a shared interstate test item bank.

The concept of sharing test items from an interstate test item bank cooperative isn’t a bad one if states continue to be required to give and report on assessments as it would provide cost-effective flexibility.

As with anything, however, the devil is in the details.

He writes:

Despite these obstacles, the next administration could take a bold step that will return sovereignty over education—including standards—to states; recoup some of the withering federal investments in the consortia; create a sustainable, long-term basis for state accountability systems; and do all this without resorting to new federal mandates or additional burdens for states. Federal accountability requirements under ESSA will remain, and the administration has limited direct authority on Common Core, but changes to how assessments are constructed could pull the lynchpin from the policy knot in which many states still find themselves.

I propose an Interstate Test-Item Bank Cooperative (ITBC) as that way forward. An ITBC would give states sole authority over their assessments, while still providing the economies of scale and comparability of results that the consortia promised but did not deliver. It would provide the flexibility states currently lack to make marginal changes to their assessments, and by extension their state standards, allowing those that wish to leave the Common Core to do so without totally overhauling their standards or assessments. Structured properly, the ITBC could allow changes to assessments without disrupting states’ ability to measure performance over time. Better still, the ITBC could leverage existing state and federal resources, including the investments in the SBAC and PARCC consortia, without substantial new expenditures or federal pressures.

Read his full report here to see how this would work, but in a nutshell it largely depends on PARCC and Smarter Balanced test items. States can’t move away from Common Core by using Common Core-aligned test items. Also it would utilize common data which is something we need to get away with. It also keeps the federal government in the assessment mandating business which is unconstitutional.

Does it have to be that way? No, but it would require a commitment from multiple sources to start from scratch and develop test items that are not aligned to Common Core. Secondly, the U.S. Department of Education can’t have any involvement with it – funding or otherwise. Without this it would just allow states flexibility to develop their own Common Core-aligned assessments.

I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

Heritage Foundation: Six Things Betty DeVos Should Do In Her First 100 Days

Photo credit: School Choice Week

I’m sharing this short video that the Heritage Foundation shared on Facebook highlighting six things they say Trump’s Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, should do in her first 100 days leading the U.S. Department of Education.

I know there will be mixed reaction among our readers on some of these ideas. I’m just putting them forward for further discussion.

  1. Support states as they work to exit Common Core.
  2. Call on Congress to pass the A-Plus Act returning power to the states. (Read Lindsey Burke’s explanation of the bill here.)
  3. Reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship
  4. Cancel the Department of Education guidance on transgender bathrooms.
  5. Rescind the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed education regulations.
  6. Create Education Savings Accounts for children at Bureau of Indian Education schools.

Watch the video below:

Home Is a Better Place to Teach Kids Self Control

A new federal report recommends that schools include self-regulation skills in their curriculum to help children manage their thoughts and feelings, control impulses and solve problems.

Seriously? Schools struggle with teaching math, literacy, civics and science and now some researchers believe that schools are the ideal place for kids to learn self-regulation skills. I don’t deny some of that is learned through the school process anyway, but to do so intentionally with the premise that students are not being taught these things at home.

Well, at least not in the way they think it should be done anyway.

The report was the final addition to a four part series on self-regulation and toxic stress. The paper was written by Desiree W. Murray, Katie Rosanbalm, and Christina Christopoulos on behalf of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. The report was commissioned by the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Murray, who is the associate director of research at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Futurity why schools were ideal.

“Self-regulation affects well-being across the lifespan, from mental health and emotional well-being to academic achievement, physical health, and socioeconomic success,” she said. “Unfortunately, prolonged or pronounced stress and adversity, including poverty and trauma, can delay children’s self-regulation development.”

“For optimal self-regulation, a child or adolescent needs to have a full bucket of skills and supports on which to draw,” Murray says. “There are two crucial periods when children are developing their self-regulation skills the most—in early childhood and early adolescence—when teachers and parents can help them build the skills they need for the rest of their lives.”

“Schools are an ideal place for interventions because there is opportunity to build skills in a cohesive approach from preschool through secondary school and because of the potential power of shared learning with peers. Interventions in schools can impact the culture and climate in a way that benefits all students,” Murray added.

Home, not school, is the ideal place for students to learn these skills.

Having worked with high-risk youth for 13 years I am fully aware of kids who have challenging home lives so I don’t want to pretend that every home is a wonderful, nurturing place where a child has all of his or her needs met. There are ways to address this from a community and faith-based perspective without dumping it onto a school.

Like I mentioned before schools are already struggling to teach the basics, and one of the reasons for that is that they are looked to be the be all and end all when it comes to social, physical, and psychological needs of the child. Schools are not 24-hour social service centers, they were never intended to be such, but for some that is the dream…. The schools do, in their minds, what the parents cannot and apparently that territory is growing.

We need to reject that mentality or we are going to see more reports like these whose ideas will eventually trickle their way down into policy.