Our Top 10 Posts in 2017

As we head toward New Year’s Day, and the fact this will be my last post here in 2017 I wanted to highlight our top 10 posts written in 2017 based on our website traffic.

10. Computer Science Makes The Case For Less Computer Use in Schools by Anne Gassel
9. The Only Way Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Can Be Stopped by Shane Vander Hart
8. 20 PreK-12 Education Programs Trump’s Proposed Budget Eliminates by Shane Vander Hart
7. Betsy DeVos, No ESSA Did Not End Common Core by Shane Vander Hart
6. What The College Board Does With Data Collected From PSAT & SAT by Cheri Kiesecker
5. Schools Implementing Government-Sponsored Personality Manipulation by Jane Robbins
4. Trump’s Questionable New Education Team by Erin Tuttle
3. Is President Trump Being Played by Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush? by Jane Robbins and Erin Tuttle
2. Embedded Assessments: An End Around Parental Opt-Outs by Jane Robbins
1. With DeVos News Blackout, Conservative Media Mimic Liberal Media by Jane Robbins

Thank you so much for reading in 2017!

As we head into 2018 I want to feature more contributors (obviously Jane Robbins needs to write more here), branch out covering more aspects of education reform, track federal K-12 education bills, and be a one-stop site for state-by-state legislative action in 2018.

If there are stories and bills in your state that you think we should cover please do not hesitate contacting me at info@truthinamericaneducation.com. We’d also love to hear your suggestions for making Truth in American Education a better resource.

Happy New Year!

The Assessments Are Rigged

We all know that polls can be skewed and that ‘what everybody knows’ may not be so. Similarly, assessments and assessment data can be gathered, used, and presented in various ways to feed an agenda.  Just because a child is said to be proficient on a state assessment doesn’t mean he or she actually is ‘proficient’ in the way parents want him or her to be.

When I was in school, my teachers would give us tests to help figure out how much of what they were teaching we had actually learned.  Then, the state stepped in and started giving assessments to make sure teachers were teaching what the state wanted them to teach.  And now?  We’re told the assessments are great, but we are just supposed to trust.  We can’t see the assessment questions.  The algorithms (mathematical formulas) determining which questions come next or whether you have a higher or a lower score are kept secret. The State Boards of Education or the assessment vendors, themselves, can move and change the ‘proficiency’ levels at will.

We take it on faith when a student passes a math assessment it means the student is proficient.  Is it possible to rig an assessment?  Not only is it possible, but it’s also being done all the time.  I have four examples of how the assessments are and have been manipulated to provide different results than most people expect.  This is being done without oversight, without insight into what is occurring, and certainly without permission from parents.

The first example is assessing not just what a student is supposed to know but making them do the problem in a particular way. Ask yourself, does this create a disadvantage for a child who knows the math facts but hasn’t been shown a particular way of doing things?

This problem is an example of a Common Core Math Standard from First Grade:

Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).   

This question doesn’t just assess whether a student knows how to do an addition word problem, but it assesses whether a student has been trained on the Making Ten Strategy as outlined in the standard.  Could a student solve 8+6 without knowing the Making Ten Strategy?  Yes, of course.  Does using the Making Ten Strategy indicate critical thinking?  Or does it simply indicate a student has been instructed in this strategy?  Would you be able to succeed as a mathematician without learning this Making Ten Strategy in First Grade? Have you successfully used addition in your life without thinking about the Making Ten Strategy?

Many parent complaints about Common Core Math come from having to show the various methods for getting the answer or having to explain why an answer is correct.

Parent:“When I was in school, we did it this way.”

Child: “I have to do it this other way or it will be marked wrong.”

One mother asked her child’s teacher if he could simply do the standard algorithm on all his math homework because the multiple strategies were causing him stress.  The teacher said if he didn’t learn the strategies, he wouldn’t do well on the state assessment.  Once the mother indicated her child would not be taking the assessment, the teacher readily agreed to give credit for just the standard algorithms.  The reason for the multiple methods?  To do well on the assessment.

A review written in 2011 by Dr. Stephen Wilson of Johns Hopkins University states the following about the Common Core SBAC test (then under development).  He says, “It appears that the assessments will focus on communication skills and Mathematical Practices over content knowledge.”

Furthermore, “Mathematical Practices, or what was usually called ‘process’ standards in most states, do little more than describe how someone pretty good at mathematics seems to approach mathematics problems. As stand-alone standards, they are neither teachable nor testable. Mathematics is about solving problems, and anyone who can solve a complex multi-step problem using mathematics automatically demonstrates their skill with the Mathematical Practices, (whether they can communicate well or not).”

In short, we see Dr. Wilson’s concerns demonstrated in the above example: the process of getting the answer is of greater importance than the actual mathematical abilities most people think the assessment should be assessing.

A second example comes from Utah’s SAGE (end-of-year) sample assessment for Third Grade. This question is supposed to assess a deeper understanding of division than simply asking if a child knows the answer to 12 ÷ 4. Unfortunately, in creating a more convoluted problem, the assessment question can be solved without knowing anything more than how to count and how to write a division problem. Division facts, themselves, are not necessary.

There are lots of kids who can divide things equally by putting them in different boxes without knowing 12 ÷ 4 = 3.  Supposedly, by dragging the stars and dragging the numbers, you are assessing higher-order thinking.  But what you are really assessing is the child’s familiarity with the software interface, the format of the problem, and whether they can count and relate counting to division.  But they don’t have to know 12 ÷ 4 = 3.

Would a child who knows her division facts be able to do this problem anyway?  Most likely.  However, it is also true this question doesn’t distinguish the child who does know her math facts from the one who does not.

A third example has to do with reading comprehension.  It dates back to the 1980’s but illustrates that what is on an assessment and how it is asked can be used to manipulate and ‘direct’ a student’s thought processes.  I quote Dr. Peg Luksik who worked for Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.  From her video :

‘A sample question said: “There’s a group called the Midnight Marauders and they went out at night and did vandalism. I (the child) would join the group IF…”

“…my best friend was in the group.”

“…my mother wouldn’t find out.”

There was no place to say they would not join the group. They had to say they would join the group.’

Dr. Luksik states that while this was listed as a citizenship assessment, the internal documents stated, “We’re not testing objective knowledge. We are testing and scoring for the child’s threshold for behavior change without protest.”

Additionally, Dr. Luksik discusses another state’s Reading Assessment question: “If you found a wallet with money in it, would you take it?”

She asked, ‘Do you read better if you say “yes”? Or do you read better if you say “no”? Or were they assessing a child’s honesty on a state assessment with their name on it…?’

Clearly, these are examples of assessment questions that were not assessing either citizenship or reading as you and I would define them.

And finally, before a single Utah student took the state’s SAGE assessment in 2014, the head of state assessments warned local school board members that student test scores were going to drop by 10 or 20 points.  He also stated there was no way to correlate the previous test results with the SAGE results.  So, how did he know this?  The point was they knew what the target proficiency rate was.  Utah was looking for a proficiency rate in the 40’s.  And as they went through the process of setting those proficiency scores, they did so after the first round of testing. Then they modified the scoring to make sure the result fell within that 40% range*.  So, in one year, did Utah kids lose 20 points of knowledge?  Or does it simply mean the Powers That Be decided only 40% of the kids got to be labeled ‘proficient’ regardless of what they actually knew?

The only sure way of knowing an assessment is truly measuring academic content and grading it appropriately requires transparency with the assessment questions, the assessment methodology, and independent verification procedures.

Instead of wondering how kids are doing on state assessments and whether a school is “good” based on the assessment scores, we need to be asking what are these assessments supposed to be measuring and how do we know they really are measuring what they claim?

*Alpine School Board Study Session Audio September 23, 2014, Additional Media->Study Session @ 45 minutes. http://board.alpineschools.org/2014/09/18/september-23-2014-board-meeting/


Personalized Learning’s Impact on the K-12 Classroom

Photo credit: Brad Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

The Atlantic featured a sponsored post called “The K-12 Classroom Experience in the Age of Personalized Learning” and it is rather eye-opening (in a disturbing way). This features an interview with Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank that researches “disruptive innovation.”

Here are some excerpts:

Open spaces, workspaces…

Today most classrooms are compartmentalized by grade level and subject, with rows of desks facing a teacher. They’ll be replaced by flexible, open spaces where you’d be hard-pressed to find a door. As students pursue more personalized objectives, they will move freely around interconnected work spaces optimized for different learning styles rather than divided by subject.

Classroom seating isn’t a sacred cow to me, I’m not a fan of rows of desks facing a teacher either. What this excerpt implies though is the shift of teachers facilitating learning rather than teach. That’s not an improvement in my book.

Oh, the open model for classrooms is not new by the way. I attended an elementary school with open spaces and it was distracting.

Data… Data… Data…

In a world where our every click, swipe, and step is tracked and analyzed, it may come as a surprise that the typical school does not do much data analysis. “Whereas a lot of industries are awash in data, education is just getting there,” Fisher explained. Because data from disparate education technologies doesn’t always integrate, education lacks the sophisticated analytics of other industries. But increased integration of technology will allow for more data tracking, which could help educators tailor their instruction to individual students’ needs. Well-analyzed data could help teachers identify struggling pupils and catch theirconfusion and frustration long before a graded evaluation.

Beautiful, classrooms as data collection tools.

Spin… Spin… Spin….

Some worry that the rise of online learning will threaten the role of teachers. But proponents insist that online learning will enhance their role by freeing them of rote tasks like grading and paperwork, leaving them with more time and bandwidth for students. Fisher and her team believe that tech innovations will allow educators to shift mundane tasks to a computer and thereby specialize more than they presently can. “In a traditional school, your role as a teacher is very much a jack-of-all-trades,” Fisher said. “In these new, more flexible designs of school, the possibility to be a teacher who works with a particular group of students or specializes in curriculum design or mentorship—all of that becomes potentially more feasible.”

What they are promoting is facilitation, not teaching.

Networking over knowledge.

Though much of the discourse around K-12 education focuses on content, experts think that the next big wave of disruption will be less about what students know than about who they know. Future developments will connect learners with mentors and industry experts. “We’re really tracking the rise of online mentorship models, of out-of-school learning opportunities, and of tools that actually bring experts into a classroom over video and the like,” Fisher said.


Technological Opium Dens at Home and at School

Photo Credit: Lexie Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

Our entire universe is probably in a tiny glass jar somewhere, placed on a shelf in some alien child’s room as a science fair project that got a C minus …”

Leave it up to a meme … the new technological bumper-sticker … to tutor us about our probable insignificance and immaturity.

It’s smart to be reminded of how dumb we are.

It seems we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Chugging down this technological speedway … and some of the most fragile passengers haven’t any seat belts at all.

At the moment “… it’s hard to know how many of us in this perpetually plugged-in society have a serious problem.”

Well, at least that’s a start. But that hasn’t slowed us down one bit.

We’re outfitting kids with technological gizmos we don’t even understand. Giving them super-powerful thingamajigs we think of as toys. But they’re not toys at all.

Our homes are rigged like technological opium dens. High-tech paraphernalia everywhere, doing everything. We command it all by voice or touch. And it conveniences our lives. A point-and-click existence pre-programmed almost thoughtlessly.

And therein lies the danger.

Kids are famous for finding new uses for usual things. They turn pots into drums, dogs into horses, and curtains into capes. Why shouldn’t they do the same with these whatchamacallits? Why wouldn’t they partner them with their own imaginations?

But are they mature enough for all of this? Ripened enough to slot it into their lives as it should be? Lots doubt that … and our own experience makes us doubt it, too.

Some professionals are candid with parents … “I tell them, you’re the drug dealer … You need to understand what you’re modeling to this child.” And parents nod … and agree … and then okay the latest smart-phone upgrade. For the whole family.

Hmmm … old advice for new sins … ignored again. Not much different than the teenage beer lecture while sipping a Martini.

And then there are the schools.

Teachers will soon function more like R2D2 … and file cabinets have been replaced with data dump-sites. Lessons are downloaded from some far-away curriculum depository. Quizzes, tests, and on-line involvements are assessed and clumped together to form digital student profiles of the “guinea pig generation”.

There are some who even want body language recorded and inspected for this or that. And others are now scanning lunch-trays for data crumbs.

And students … “kids” in real-life speak … are provided with finger-print access to a never-ending array of screen-challenges. Programmed adventures they’re sure to flip away from their intended purposes … because that’s what kids do.

But whether at home or at school, reality will be further blurred as these escapades morph into escapes … separating kids from the usual human experiences that round out a person.

Those interactions that grow a personality and refine a temperament and a personality.

They just might become that “Lost Generation” who will shrink the universe so that it does fit in the jar on the shelf … and then inflate their own significance way beyond reality. And that is an unhealthy place with scary consequences.

All of this should make for some especially uncute kids. And an unbeautiful society. A nightmarish cosmos of thumb-pressing Pavlovian proteges unable to break free from their absorbing screen-world.

We know the short-term effects. It’s the long-range outcomes that will transform this society into some freaky, asocial, anti-interactive collection of creepy adolescent gamers and cyborgs on their way to droidhood.

In the years ahead … as screen time increases and more gadgets appear at home and at school … it will presage a cultural change not many have envisaged carefully enough.

We’re largely flying blind because we’ve done so little research…” that “… it’s hard to know how many of us in this perpetually plugged-in society have a serious problem.” Oh, boy!

Homes will become isolated islands surrounded by technological moats. Unique will be the child who exhibits even the slightest social grace and poise. Owning a personality might become a status acquisition … likely nurtured by academies specializing in such mysteries as conversation, charm, and passable witticism.

And social status may be measured by one’s fearlessness in the face of large gatherings of people that might require dinner-speak, archaic table-manners, and synchronized choreography syncopated to live music … that dying art of “dancing” … which will be as rare as a meteor fly-by.

Perhaps we should S.O.S. Rod Serling and fetch him back from his Twilight Zone resting place … so he can script a less frightening climax than what now seems inevitable.

So the future is under construction … and too few actually understand what the hell will emerge. But it’s going to make some already old authors … think Huxley and Orwell … seem like a modern-day Nostradamuses.

In the meanwhile, double-think your own choices as we all hyper-speed through this queer age of progress. And forgive yourselves. Your parents once jostled your world with electric typewriters, princess phones, and blaring eight-track tapes … and you turned out alright. Didn’t you?

I so wanna be wrong about this. Real wrong.

Massachusetts’ New Standards Are Still Inferior to Pre-2010 Standards

The Pioneer Institute released a report co-written by Mark Bauerlein, R. James Milgram, and Jane Robbins this week that reviews Massachusetts new academic standards. You don’t have to guess at their general opinion when you see the title – Mediocrity 2.0: Massachusetts Rebrands Common Core ELA & Math.

The report outlines how K-12 education in Massachusetts declined after they replaced their superior pre-2010 academic standards with Common Core:

How has the move from excellent standards and tests to Common Core and its aligned tests worked out? One of the best ways to answer that question is to rely on the NAEP assessment (the so-called “nation’s report card”), which is administered every two years in reading and math to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders in every state. Between 2011 and 2015 (the Common Core era), Massachusetts was one of 16 states in which NAEP reading scores actually fell, and one of 39 states in which NAEP math scores fell. From 2013 to 2015 alone, Massachusetts scores declined in three of the four testing categories.

Evidence of a decline in the performance of Massachusetts students is also observable on the SAT. Since 2006, those scores have dropped by nine points in reading, 10 points in math, and 15 points in writing. Thee writing decline, especially, suggests that the reorientation of English class from classic literature to the “informational texts” of Common Core may be bearing bitter fruit.

Massachusetts in 2016 changed its assessment to an MCAS-PARCC hybrid. They also started on a review and revision of their standards which included Common Core.

They note the new language arts and literacy framework still has the same weakness that Common Core had, it lacks domain knowledge:

Apart from the verbal skill deficiencies that high-school students in Massachusetts fail to overcome during their years in the classroom, the great danger of the current English Language Arts curriculum is that students leave high school with meager domain knowledge. If the standards that are to guide the curriculum do not broach the actual, specific subject matter of the discipline, then the education of students in English falls short. Students may acquire certain skills—the current standards are broken up into Reading, Writing, Language and Speaking/Listening, which each have their skills side— but their knowledge of literature, language, and criticism never develops.

We raise the issue because this is what we see in the 2010 standards and even more so in the new ones. The skills elements in the four areas are solid, but not the knowledge areas.

They note there are four major drawbacks to the new standards:

  1. There is an absence of philology (and therefore of phonetics, lexicology, and references to historical events).
  2. The new framework lacks English and world literary history.
  3. The new framework displaces important civic-literary historical writings
  4. It denies of one of the prime instructions that English used to claim, namely, the recognition of the great, the good, and the mediocre.

They then looked at the math standards:

This analysis focuses on the two major areas that students need to learn in grades one through eight: basic arithmetic, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, ratios, rates, percents, and proportions…

….The finding was that—aside from a tiny number of added phrases that do not impact the mathematical content in the arithmetic, ratio, rate, percent, and proportion standards in any way—the new document is identical to the, clearly failed, previous one.

Before they provided an analysis they wanted to state that there is no such thing as 21-Century Mathematics:

Before the main analysis can be presented, it is necessary to discuss the idea promulgated by proponents of the Common Core that there is such a thing as 21st- mathematics, such that the mathematics learned by students even 30 years ago is now obsolete. Their claim is that this 21st-century math is focused on problem-solving so that the main focus of instruction should be on the generalized subject of problem-solving.

The truth is radically different. ere is no such generalized subject, and the main objective of math has always been on its use as a crucial tool in solving problems not only in mathematics but in the sciences and any other precisely de ned subject of human endeavor. But in practice, one finds that before problem-solving can begin in any area, the person attempting it has to know as much as possible about that area and the mathematics that most likely will be necessary….

….Even the mathematics that was developed over 2,000 years ago is as essential (and correct) today as it was then. But there are two subjects in mathematics that have become far more important today than they were previously: 1) algorithms and computers, and 2) statistics and data analysis. therefore, these subjects should be covered adequately in the current document—which, of course, is not only not the case, but is as far from actually happening as possible.

Their analysis of the new math standards came to a troubling conclusion:

By eighth grade, the new Massachusetts math standards are at least three full years behind actual expectations in countries such as Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, and the other highest-achieving countries in the world in the most important mathematics the students are expected to learn. Further, if these standards continue to be faithfully followed for the rest of these students’ K–12 experience, the students will be even more than three years behind.

Read the whole report below:

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Education Reform Is Moving Too Slowly?

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was a keynote speaker at the 10th Annual ExcelinEd Summit in Nashville, TN late last month where he told the audience gathered that education reform is encouraging, but moving too slowly.

After highlighting the changes in technology that have happened rapidly – i.e., smart phones and apps, Bush pivoted to education.

“We’ve seen dramatic, dramatic changes, and yet sadly, our education system in spite of the success we’ve made (he mentioned a list of reforms states had adopted earlier in his speech) has made incremental change,” Bush said.

He then compared education to the evolution of the “global economy.”

The global economy is developing at warp speed and at a rapid pace of change that is far, far outpacing the adoption and implementation of education reform.

In the ten years since our last summit, Apple has released 13 versions of the iPhone…13 versions in 10 years. By comparison, our education system, and even with the progress that you all have made, virtually remains the same as it did fifty years ago and even a hundred years ago in some ways.

By comparison, this gap and this growing gap is what we need to deal with. The fact is that the economy isn’t waiting for education to catch up. If we really care about student success we need to significantly accelerate the pace of reform. Frankly, good policy doesn’t need a pilot program anymore. It needs relentless leaders with the courage to advance bold and transformational reform now.

Look, this is probably the place in the speech where it is important to say that the political arguments we have… What we need to do is get beyond that and recognize whether you think our schools are great, and some people do, and whether you think our schools are failing our kids, we need to put that aside and recognize they have to get better and they have to change to the world we are moving toward.

It’s like a quarterback throwing into the end zone. You don’t throw it to where the receiver is, you throw it to where the receiver will be. And that is exactly what we have to do in education. Perhaps rebuild the coalition of the willing to make transformational change happen.

Here are some thoughts I had as I listened to his speech.

  1. Education will never keep up with technology because policymaking is not nimble. It will never be nimble. It is not supposed to be nimble. We have a deliberative process in our legislative bodies, and that is a good thing. One has to make a compelling argument for a policy and persuade people. When there is a bug with an updated version of iOS on our iPhones, they can release another update with the fix. When there is a bug within an education policy implemented in a rush, we won’t recognize it for years. Since public schools are funded with taxpayer money, the taxpayers through their elected representatives must have a say.
  2. Attempts at accelerating “reform” have failed. I was told by a friend who attended the conference that Common Core was barely mentioned if at all. The silence isn’t a surprise since Common Core has been an absolute failure and ExcelinEd and Jeb Bush were some of the top cheerleaders for it. That was an accelerated reform pushed onto the states through Race to the Top, bypassing most state legislatures and the deliberative process they have, and we suddenly had dataless reform in our schools.
  3. “Progress” is not always good. The fact Bush said schools have not changed much in the last 50-100 years (I’m not sure what schools are supposed to look like in his mind because learning styles haven’t changed that much) is ludicrous. We’ve seen countless fads come through our public schools at the expense of tried and true methods that work.
  4. Pilot programs are always needed. Back to this deliberative process. How do you convince a group of people who may be skeptical about a particular education reform? Let them see it work in a controlled environment. Instead of launching widespread change, make sure that said reform works before unleashing it upon the entire K-12 education system. That wasn’t done with Common Core, and we’re paying the price for it now.
  5. We can agree schools need to improve, but what does that improvement look like?  I think most people understand that schools need improvement, but we disagree on how, this goes back to my first point – the deliberative process – circumvent it at your peril.
  6. Want change? Think local. Our schools are tied up with so much state and federal red tape that real innovation and change in education is difficult. Unfortunately Bush and his allies have pushed nationalization of education policy which ironically slows down the very process he wants to speed up.

Alabama State Senator Proposes to Replace Elected State School Board

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

A bill to be considered in 2018 may be well-intentioned after the debacle with how the Alabama State Board of Education handled Micheal Sentance’s tenure as State Superintendent of Education, but replacing an elected state school board with an appointed “board of counsel” is a colossally bad idea.

That is what Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) proposes to do next legislative session (I’m not sure of his motivation in writing the bill not that it would affect my opinion of it). Truth in American Education was provided a draft of a bill, SB 25, he sponsored that will be considered in the Alabama Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee.

Here’s what the bill does:

  • Replaces the State Board of Education that consists of the Governor and eight elected members with an appointed 13 member Board of Counsel.
  • The Governor would no longer be an ex-officio member of the board.
  • The Board of Counsel members would be appointed by the appointed Director of Education who is appointed by the Governor and with the advice and consent of the Alabama Senate.
  • The Director of Education would replace the State Superintendent of Education position that was filled by the State Board of Education. This post would be a cabinet position, and the person would serve at the pleasure of the Governor.

If you want to guarantee that the Alabama Department of Education is never responsive to parents and grassroots activists, then this is the route to go. This move would ensure that the state keeps Common Core.

Right now those who oppose Common Core have had few allies on Alabama’s State Board of Education. In fact, Betty Peters who represents District 2, one of the members out of 2-3 who has opposed Common Core, is not running for reelection (her term is up in 2019) (Edited: I originally said that Betty was the only member who consistently opposed Common Core, but I was informed that there are at least two others who also oppose Common Core. I apologize for my error.) Hopefully, a strong Common Core opponent will follow her.

An elected board is closer to the people. This bill, if passed, only helps educrats.

4th Graders Scores Drop with International Literacy Assessment

Another day, another failed promise from Common Core. Education Dive reports that U.S. 4th-graders scores have dipped on a recent international literacy assessment.

In the years since most states have adopted the Common Core standards, reading achievement has declined among America’s 4th-graders, both in terms of the average score as well as in comparison to their peers in other countries, according to the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced today.

U.S. 4th-graders scored an average of 549, which is still close to a “high” score of 550 on the 0-1,000 scale, but is seven points lower than in 2011, the last time PIRLS results were released. The average U.S. score was behind 12 other countries, ahead of 30 countries, and about the same as 15.

Moreover, excuses are plentiful, such as, the controversy has hampered our efforts!

But Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the authors of the standards, says even though the standards are in effect in 42 states, the ongoing controversy surrounding them has hampered efforts to make the changes in curriculum, assessment, teacher preparation and other areas of education needed to see a jump in reading performance at the national level.

Also, we need better curriculum!

“We have yet to see any kind of concerted national or federal effort towards improving curriculum and instruction in ways that are aligned to these new standards,” he added. “There definitely have been moves towards this locally, but those are piecemeal and sporadic and given that, it will take a while before you will see any kind of national movement in performance due to them.”

Followed up with the shallow promise that “quality curriculum” is on the way… THEN we will see results!

Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the CCSS for ELA and a founding partner at Student Achievement Partners, added that high-quality curriculum materials aligned to the standards are just now reaching the market and that teachers are still learning how to change their practices to help students meet the standards.

Excuses, excuses….

These 4th-graders, for the most part, have been under Common Core since Kindergarten. If Common Core is all that it is cracked up to be, we should have seen an increase in scores, not a decline.

However, it is not, it was a dataless reform, and the current data is showing us it is a miserable failure.

PISA 2015 Findings: American Students Work Better In Groups

The OCED Programme for International Student Development (PISA) released their 2015 findings on collaborative problem-solving. 2015 was the first year they assessed this, and their results show that American students perform better when working with a group.

U.S. News and World Report cited the difference:

The United States may be known for its rugged individualism. But it turns out American teens are, surprisingly, much better at group collaboration than at individual academic work. That’s according to a new, unusual version of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tested collaborative problem-solving skills among 15-year-olds in more than 50 countries and regions around the world in 2015. Those results were released last week.

The PISA is known for its testing of high school students around the world, especially in math and reading. In general, nations with high math and reading scores also tended to do well on this new collaboration test. Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea topped the new social skills ranking, and they’re also among the top 10 for individual student achievement.

But for some countries, there was a big deviation. For example, the United States ranked 39th in math on the 2015 PISA test. But in collaborative problem-solving, the U.S. ranked 13th. For China, it was the opposite. Four regions in mainland China, including Beijing and Shanghai, collectively ranked sixth in math and in 2015. But these Chinese regions ranked 26th in collaborative problem-solving.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which administers the PISA tests, is assessing group collaboration because it believes that’s what employers will want more of from workers. However, PISA officials found that very few students in 2015 could collaborate with sophistication. Only 8 percent of students tested around the world could handle problem-solving tasks that require them to maintain awareness of group dynamics, take the initiative to overcome obstacles, and resolve disagreements. Even in Singapore, the highest-scoring nation, just one in five students could do this.

So basically what we see here is that students in the United States collaborate better than students in many other countries, but that few at home or abroad collaborate with sophistication.