Flint’s Precipitous Drop in Test Scores Caused By Lead?

Could an exposure to lead in Flint, MI’s drinking water cause a drop in test scores? Some are claiming that, and if any city could point to that as a possible cause it would be Flint. The data does not appear to back that up, however.

Governing reports:

In 2015, drinking water in Flint was found to have elevated levels of lead, which is known to impair cognitive development in children, especially children under 5.

“Even the very lowest levels of exposure, we know that lead erodes a child’s IQ, shortens attention span and disrupts their behavior,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and the dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told The New Republic. “We know when we do follow-up studies that children exposed when they were kids are more likely to be dyslexic, have behavioral problems and get in trouble with the law. There’s no question about that.”

The number of Flint children with elevated levels of lead doubled after the city in 2014 switched its source of drinking water from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money. In some neighborhoods, the number of children testing for elevated lead levels more than tripled.

But lead levels in Flint children have actually declined over the past 20 years, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In 1998, half of all children six years of age and under had elevated lead levels in their blood. At the peak of the 2015 crisis, roughly 5 percent of children in the city showed elevated lead levels in their blood.

Bilal Tawwab, superintendent of Flint Community Schools, says he isn’t sure the lead is the primary cause the precipitous drop in test scores.

Tawwab took over the school district in 2015, just as the lead crisis was coming to light, and one of his first actions was to “cut off the water” and begin distributing bottled water to drink in schools. But he says that shifts in how the state measures educational assessment — and a district that has struggled for decades — are both significant factors in the recent test scores.

“First of all the assessment changed, and you have to account for that. I knew that coming into Flint that the achievement in reading and math were challenges,” Tawwab says.

Michigan changed the exam used to test student reading in 2015 to an exam more aligned with national Common Core standards. Reading scores across the state fell as a result, from 77 percent proficiency in reading to 40 percent.

If there were a higher percentage of kids showing elevated lead levels in their blood I think the Flint school district could point to lead as the culprit. Flint, like the rest of the state, saw their scores drop like a rock. Instead of lead, the more likely culprit is a poor state assessment and poor standards.

The Scary Square Root Symbol

The square root symbol, in the past some high school students may have felt dread in the pit of their stomachs when they saw this symbol. Before it was due to a student struggling with math, but not anymore.

Last week I saw a story in the Miami Herald that I wished I read in The Onion. It reads:

A discussion among students at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, La., about a mathematical symbol led to a police investigation and a search of one of the student’s homes, according to the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office.

On the afternoon of Feb. 20, detectives investigated a report of terroristic threats at the school, where they learned that a student had been completing a math problem that required drawing the square-root sign.

Students in the group began commenting that the symbol, which represents a number that when multiplied by itself equals another number, looked like a gun.

After several students made comments along those lines, another student said something the sheriff’s office said could have sounded like a threat out of context.

Police searched the student’s home, where they found no guns or any evidence that he had any access to guns. Authorities also wrote there was no evidence the student had any intent to commit harm.

“The student used extremely poor judgment in making the comment, but in light of the actual circumstances, there was clearly no evidence to support criminal charges,” the department wrote, adding that the school board had been contacted to determine any disciplinary action for the student.

This says more about these students’ understanding of math than anything else.

What Are Gubernatorial Candidates Saying About Education?

The tan colored states represent gubernatorial elections in 2018.

There are 36 gubernatorial contests in 2018 with 269 declared candidates. What are they saying about education?

According to Rick Hess and Sofia Gallo at American Enterprise Institute, not so much.

They wrote on Wednesday at Real Clear Policy:

So, during the first half of February, we used the National Governors Association website and Ballotpedia to identify the 269 declared gubernatorial candidates and then visited the websites for each. There were 121 candidates who had no website (a tiny handful) or who offered no information regarding their education positions. For the 148 candidates who had something to say on education — including 63 Republicans and 85 Democrats — we examined their sites to see what topics addressed and what they had to say. What did this exercise reveal?

First, there’s been a marked shift from many of the concerns that predominated 4 or 8 years ago. Candidates devoted little attention to topics like school accountability (mentioned by just nine candidates), teacher evaluation (mentioned by just five), or the Common Core (mentioned by 17). When testing and standards do arise, candidates don’t have many good things to say. For instance, the mentions of academic standards and the Common Core are overwhelmingly negative — with more than 80 percent denouncing them. Similarly, just one candidate makes a positive reference to testing; the other 19 candidates who mention the topic all promise to reduce the number of tests.

Second, the only educational issue that registered support from a majority of candidates was career and technical education (CTE), which received enthusiastic bipartisan backing. More than 60 candidates — including 40 Democrats and 24 Republicans — endorsed expanding CTE.

He also noted that there was little attention paid to school choice either positive or negative. I can vouch for this in Iowa, beyond school spending, CTE was part of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State Address. She also mentioned school choice, but through accessing 529 savings accounts used for parents to save for college, not ESAs or vouchers. She also discussed STEM.

He did note that when gubernatorial candidates talk about CTE they all don’t mean the same thing.

By “career and technical education,” some mean vocational schools while others mean apprenticeships; some are championing more high school programs while others are thinking about community college systems.

Reynolds pointed to a new program called Future Ready Iowa that will implement pre-apprenticeships for high school students.

For the most part, it’s been pretty quiet on the education front on matters of policy (beyond spending which is always an issue). In terms of trying to find candidates who will challenge top-down reform and repeal top-down standards, it is challenging.

As you look for a candidate to support you’ll have to take the initiative to get candidates to talk about standards, assessments, and data privacy. It’s much easier to ask your questions during the primary process than it will be the general election. If there are opportunities to get to meet candidates and ask them questions, be sure to take advantage of it. Of course, talk is cheap, be sure to check out their record if they’ve been in elected office as an incumbent governor or as a legislator.

I plan to highlight those who are speaking out against Common Core and top-down standards here.

Incredibles 2 Trailer Has a Veiled Common Core Math Reference

I just watched the extended trailer for Incredibles 2 and laughed… HARD at a veiled Common Core math reference. They didn’t explicitly say Common Core, but it’s clear that is what they were talking about.

Mr. Incredible finds himself in the role of a stay-at-home dad while his wife, Elastigirl, is off doing her superhero thing. He is helping his oldest son, Dash, with his homework. Dash holds up a textbook that says “New Math for Life.”

Dash says, “That’s not the way you are supposed to do it, Dad. They want us to do it this way.”

Mr. Incredible replied, “I don’t know that way, why would they change math? Math is math.”

Dash replies, “Because, it’s ok Dad.”

Mr. Incredible continues to rant, “MATH IS MATH!”

This isn’t much different than what many parents have experienced at the kitchen table trying to help their kids with “the new way” of doing math.

Illinois To “Transform” Assessment

Add Illinois to the list of states that have either ditched PARCC entirely or plan to use some hybrid of it.

The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Illinois State Board of Education plans to modify the PARCC assessment for 3rd-8th graders on the heels of a recent standoff with Chicago Public Schools over the assessment, as well as, complaints from numerous school districts.

The Illinois State Board of Education plans to transform third- to eighth-grade state exams, the Tribune has learned, with a goal of shortening the tests, getting results more quickly and switching to a format that adjusts the difficulty of test questions as kids provide right or wrong answers.

“PARCC as we know it — it is obviously going to need to evolve,” said A. Rae Clementz, ISBE’s director of assessment and accountability.

PARCC, the acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had problems from the onset. School officials criticized the long hours of PARCC testing, and complaints from parents mushroomed into an opt-out movement that kept kids from getting tested. In 2015, Chicago Public Schools resisted PARCC testing and got into a standoff with the state, which threatened to yank hundreds of millions of dollars of funds from CPS. The district ultimately relented.

The state made changes to reduce time on testing and pulled PARCC from the roster of high school assessments following complaints from administrators who said the exams took away from instruction. Any PARCC changes will not affect high schools.

Meanwhile, scores on the third- to eighth-grade PARCC exams generally remained low statewide, with fewer than 40 percent of some 900,000 test-takers able to pass the reading and math exams in 2017.

PARCC’s membership has dwindled over the years to the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico. When New Jersey officially leaves PARCC only five states and the District of Columbia will remain in a consortium that once boasted 25 states and DC. Illinois has not made any announcement about leaving the consortium, and if they are still using PARCC in its entirety for the 11th grade they probably won’t.

Colorado recently left PARCC, but do still purchase some PARCC test items. Louisiana and Massachusettes offer a hybrid assessment. So when Illinois makes it change it will leave two states and D.C who use it in its entirety.

Trump’s FY19 Education Budget Proposes an $8.1 Billion Cut

President Donald Trump giving the 2018 State of the Union Address.

President Donald Trump released his proposed FY19 budget this week and it proposes cutting $8.1 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary spending compared to what the department received from the annualized FY18  continuing resolutions. $6.6 billion of those cuts come in the departments discretionary funding.

The budget proposes several program eliminations:

The second largest program to be eliminated is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers which accounts for just over $1.1 billion. They explain in President Trump’s FY19 major savings and reforms document:

The 21st CCLC program, authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, enables communities to establish or expand centers that provide additional student learning opportunities through before- and after-school programs, and summer school programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes. While research has demonstrated positive findings on the impact of afterschool programs overall, the subset of afterschool programs funded by 21st CCLC are not, on the whole, helping students meet challenging State academic standards. For example, on average, from 2013 to 2015, less than 20 percent of program participants improved from not proficient to proficient or above on State assessments in reading and mathematics. Additionally, student improvement in academic grades was limited, with States reporting higher math and English grades for less than half of regular program participants. These recent results are consistent with findings of the last rigorous national evaluation of the program, conducted in 2005, which also found the program had limited academic impact. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of students attend 21st CCLC for fewer than 30 days a year, suggesting that the majority of families with participating students do not use the program for childcare.

These data strongly suggest that the 21st CCLC is not generating the benefits commensurate with an annual investment of more than $1 billion in limited Federal education funds. Moreover, the provision of before- and after-school academic enrichment opportunities may be better supported with other Federal, State, local, or private funds, including the $15 billion Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program.

The largest program to be eliminated is the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants which was funded at just over $2 billion dollars. They said:

The Budget proposes to eliminate the Supporting Effective Instruction (SEI) State Grants program. While the SEI State Grants program authorizes a wide range of activities, in school year 2015-2016, 52 percent of funds were used for PD and 25 percent were used for class-size reduction. A Local Educational Agency that identifies either activity as a key strategy for responding to a comprehensive needs assessment may use Title I, Part A funds for the same purpose. Title I funds also may be used to recruit and retain effective teachers. In addition, PD as currently provided, has shown limited impact on student achievement. For example, a recent evaluation of an intensive elementary school mathematics PD program found that while the PD improved teacher knowledge and led to improvements in teachers’ use and quality of explanation in the classroom, there was no difference in student achievement test scores on either the State assessment or on a study-administered math test. Additional Department of Education-funded studies of PD have found similar results. While class size reduction has been shown to increase student achievement, school districts used SEI State Grant funds to pay the salaries of an estimated 8,000 teachers in school year 2015-2016, out of a total nationwide teacher workforce of roughly three million teachers. These data suggest that eliminating the program would likely have minimal impact on class sizes or teacher staffing levels.

They also eliminated $32 million for statewide longitundinal database systems, but, unfortunately, the only reason that was done was because the work it funded had been completed.

The U.S. Department of Education highlighted their priorities in the FY19 budget:

  • $1 billion increase for public and private school choice through the new Opportunity Grants program
  • $200 million dedicated to STEM education
  • More than $13 billion to maintain the Federal investment in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act State formula and discretionary grants
  • $15.5 billion to maintain the Federal investment in Title I grants to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs)
  • $43 million for School Climate Transformation grants to help States and LEAs mitigate the impacts of the opioid epidemic on students and schools

“The president’s budget request expands education freedom for America’s families while protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said. “The budget also reflects our commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level. I look forward to working with Congress to pass a budget that puts students first and returns power in education to where it belongs: with states, districts and families.”

Five Tips for Refusing the Test

Spring assessments are right around the corner so parents who want to opt their kids out should start that process now.

We wanted to highlight information found on our opt-out info page here at TAE.

1. Know your state’s law.

Each state is different, and school officials will sometimes say things to parents that are not true. In most cases, there is no state law requiring students to take an assessment (sometimes state departments of education try to give guidance that tells schools otherwise). If possible, speak with an attorney familiar with education law in your state.

Also, federal law requires schools to administer assessments, but it does not require students to take them.

If you receive push-back from your school, we recommend that you place the burden on school officials to cite the law that states that you can’t. In many cases, they will parrot guidance from their state department of education that provides their interpretation of the law, but not what the law actually says (or, just as important, does not say).

There have been school officials who have told parents that state and federal laws require every child to take the assessment. This is not true and parents should challenge this by asking the school officials to cite and provide a hard copy of the state and/or federal law requiring participation in state assessments. School officials directing parents to find the law for themselves is not adequate. Officials have also told parents there are no opt-out provisions in the law. This is often stated to make parents think it is not legal for them to opt out. While it is true most states do not have opt-out provisions in the law, that does not mean the law requires every student to participate in state assessments. Parents should put the responsibility on the school officials making such claims to cite in writing the state or federal law requiring every student to take the assessment. It is not good enough for the school official to say such laws exist; they must cite the law in writing so parents can verify it for themselves. If the school official says they are following a state directive, ask to see the directive in writing. If the laws don’t exist, they cannot produce and show them to you.

2. Request to opt your student out in writing.

Parents should opt out of named or described specific assessments. It is important parents clearly state what they expect.

Examples that are specific:

  • My child will not take or is not to be administered the (name of whatever assessment is used in your state).
  • My child will not take or is not to be administered any online assessments.
  • My child will not take or is not to be administered any assessment until I, as the parent, have had the opportunity to view the state assessment in its entirety to deem whether I feel the content is appropriate for my child.
  • My child will not take or is not to be administered any assessment or test that is not written in whole or in part by my child’s regular classroom teacher.

You have the authority to make decisions regarding your child’s education and well being.

If you wish that your student not take an online assessment, do not wait until assessment time to make such a request. That request should be made early in the year if possible. The request should also prohibit their child from using any online computer or device at school. This sets a precedent that makes your case stronger when it comes to assessment time. This way at assessment time the school officials can’t come back at the parent and say, “Well, gee, you let your kid do all kinds of other things online at school all year.”

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing offers some examples of opt-out letters here.

3. If the school requires or requests face-to-face communication, be prepared.

Some school officials request, maybe demand, to meet with parents regarding their desire to opt their child out of assessments.  If parents wish not to attend such a meeting, it would be prudent to check your state’s laws and possibly consult an attorney licensed in your state on your legal obligations to attend such meeting.  With regard to such meetings, here are some recommendations.

  • Be polite and non-confrontational.
  • Remember, school officials work for you, not you for them
  • You are welcome to take someone with you to the meeting, legal representation if needed
  • Also, record the meeting. A lot of smart-phones have voice memo apps pre-installed you can use to do this.
  • You have the power to end the meeting at any point. Just stand up and say, “This conversation is over,” and then leave.
  • Follow up with a written summary of the discussion

If communicating by phone, follow up by writing up a summary of the conversation and send, in writing, to the school official and others. Written communication should visibly be copied to other people—your lawyer, a family advocacy group, friends, family, known community members. This lets the school official know others are watching the situation and they will be less likely to bully you and more likely to treat you with respect.

Here are some things you might expect when you communicate with school officials. They may ask why you don’t want your child to take the assessment. You are not required or obligated to give a reason why. They may try to convince you to change your mind. They may tell you your child is required to take the assessment (this has been addressed earlier). School officials may try to convince you of benefits of taking the assessment. If this happens, ask specific questions about those benefits and ask them to provide evidence of the benefits they mention. You can always ask for evidence of how the assessment will help your child. Ask for evidence of how the teacher will use the results to further your child’s education. Ask how the results will show your child’s academic achievement/standing with regard to content knowledge. It is important to note, don’t just ask how but ask for the evidence of how.

If you are requesting your child not be administered a state assessment, you probably already have good reasons already.  Here are some reasons people object to their child being administered a state assessment.

  • Confusing questions
  • Complex format
  • Computer use
  • Religious reasons
  • Data collection on students and families
  • Assessments have no evidence proving validity or reliability
  • Misguided focus on assessments rather than academic content instruction
  • Teacher evaluations tied to assessments that are not valid or reliable
  • Assessments and preparation for them take away time from quality instructional experiences
  • ELA and Math are emphasized while other subjects are neglected
  • Developmentally inappropriate

4. Try to get as much information about the assessment as you can.

You may want to see the assessment before it is administered in order to see the content material prior to it being exposed to their child. That may help in making the decision to opt out. If you can’t see the assessment in its entirety, they may not want their child to take the assessment.

You may want to ask for a copy of the validity and reliability report for the assessment. If such a report is provided, please share it and look it over carefully, or have someone else look it over to determine if it is legitimate and reasonable. If school officials can’t or won’t provide you with proof the assessment is valid and reliable, why should your child take the assessment? You should insist a copy of a written report be provided rather than just being told where the information can be found or that it is available online. This may prevent you from being sent on a wild goose chase or as a tactic to send you on your way.

You should ask if and when you will receive test results for their child.  You should ask for a sample of a results report. If you are not going to be provided with a results report or can’t see a sample, why should you allow your child to take the assessment?

5. Prepare your child for the assessment days.

You should discuss with your student about what to expect if your child is going to be in school on assessment days. Parents should request their child be engaged in suitable and appropriate educational activities. The practice of having non-participating students sit and stare during the assessment is not acceptable and is seen as unreasonable and punitive. Non-participating students should not even be in the testing environment. The PARCC Test Coordinator manual states that non-testing students are “prohibited from entering the testing environment”. That prohibition should apply to other formal assessments as well.

If you choose to keep your child home on assessment days, you should make sure there are legitimate reasons so as not to run afoul of truancy issues or of being reported to a child protective services agency.  Will the school try to administer a make up assessment upon the child’s return to school? Also, beware of the window of time for the administration of the assessment.

You need to follow up on their request for opting out. Submitting a letter or opt-out form is not a guarantee the request will be honored. Prior to the administration of the assessment, you should remind the school officials of their request and ask what arrangements have been made for their child during the assessment.

Social-Emotional Learning for Educators?

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

I wanted to follow-up J.R.’s piece yesterday on social-emotional learning after seeing this article on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog – “Educator Self-Care Is Social Emotional Learning.”

This week is National School Counseling Week (I wasn’t aware) so they had a guest article from Christy Lynn Anana, a nationally board-certified school counselor and registered yoga teacher, who was Washington State’s School Counselor of the Year in 2016.

She writes:

As a school counselor, I help teachers understand the most important thing they can do for children is to keep their own mood stable. When I come into their classrooms to teach students about breathing strategies, mindfulness, yoga and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), it is not just for the students but also to offer time for teachers to connect with their own breath.

Addressing our own “caught-upness” and keeping our own mood stable

Emotional awareness, empathy, anger/anxiety management and problem solving are the backbone skills that make up Social Emotional Learning. These are highly honed skills that educators use every day and every minute. When teachers and educators embody compassionate strategies like breathing, stretching and tapping, they increase their capacity and provide safe haven for students to practice these skills.

We can be curious about a child’s behavior. What is the child trying to communicate? We can always pair our curiosity with compassion. There have been times I have felt the same way. How can we serve to help the child communicate his/her feelings more effectively without getting “caught up” in the behavior?

Can we be kind to ourselves when we do get “caught up”?

Neuroplasticity and hope

When educators feel like they belong in a safe, inclusive, and positive school, they are able to structure an environment where students feel safe, included and hopeful about their futures. This is the foundation for emotionally healthy youth and providing a culturally responsive and trauma sensitive world.

SEL proponents believe Members of Congress need social-emotional learning, and, no surprise, they feel the same about educators.

I’d love to talk about the exercises she does with students in classes in her school because, frankly, they are rooted in eastern religious tradition (just doing yoga stretches and exercises in gym class is one thing, but pairing them with meditation and “mindfulness” exercises in an academic classroom is another). Some people flip out when prayer at school is discussed, but they allow this?

But, I digress.

Back to the educators, as a person who worked with youth including high-risk youth for 20 years, I knew the importance of taking care of myself (not to say I always did a good job of doing that). This is not new. If you don’t, it’s easy to burn-out. The same is true with teachers. We need to get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, and learn what helps us reduce stress.

This is common sense and common knowledge. We don’t need to wrap it up in the social-emotional learning lingo and have it promoted on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

What Is So Great About Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) seems to be the rage in education these days. It sounds so great SEL easily seems to attract supporters and promoters, including legislators. Maybe it makes them feel good. Use your search engine and see what comes up when you search for “social-emotional learning.” Check things out for yourself. Dig into some of the hits that come up and see if there is any big money behind SEL. While I haven’t dug into the deep history of the SEL movement, as with many other ed reform issues, I wonder if this push has come from widespread parental request or from big money folks. Or have the parents been told to want this? Which comes first, feeling good about yourself so you can accomplish something worthwhile or accomplishing something worthwhile so you have something to feel good about? Which is it, the chicken or the egg?

I recently read an article from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine titled Accounting for the Whole Child. This article is very much promoting SEL and casts it, and some questionable practices, in a very favorable light. Here are two quotes that stuck out to me:

A growing number of districts and networks of schools are now administering social-emotional skill assessments, empowering educators to make informed decisions about how best to help students develop these capabilities.

A growing number of schools are making authentic, sustained efforts to collect data on students’ social-emotional skills.

Do you see any problem with this? ASCD and Educational Leadership apparently don’t. It would appear they fully support administering SEL assessments and collecting data on students’ social-emotional skills. This is sensitive and personal non-cognitive data being collected. No expression of concern for student privacy with regard to the collection of this data. Is there any reason to have concern about student privacy, either now or in the student’s future as a result of this data collection?

In case you aren’t aware of concerns about SEL that some people have, I want to provide you with a list before continuing on with this article.

Social Emotional Learning

  • Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.
  • Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.
  • The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.
  • Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.
  • Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.
  • Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.
  • SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
  • Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.
  • Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.
  • The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.
  • Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

This list of bullet points can be downloaded as a one-page pdf document by clicking here.

On Jan. 23, 2017, HB 1518 Improving student achievement by promoting social-emotional learning throughout the calendar year was introduced to the Washington state legislature. The Brief Summary of Substitute Bill in the House Bill Report HB 1518 says:

  • Requires that the Department of Early Learning contract for up to an additional 600 summer Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program slots at certain priority school buildings.
  • Directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a work group to build upon the social emotional learning (SEL) benchmarks developed in 2016, and provides a list of members and duties for the work group.
  • Establishes a competitive grant program to increase the number of summer learning programs that combine academics and SEL, and specifies application criteria and reporting requirements for the program.

In addition, the bill requires a report be submitted in 2019 to the governor the legislative education committees “that describes how many summer early childhood education and assistance program slots were funded, participant’s school readiness outcomes compared to children that did not receive the summer school programming, lessons learned in combining academics and social emotional learning in summer early childhood education and assistance programs, and lessons learned in funding meal programs during the summer using reimbursements from the United States department of agriculture or other nonstate sources; and that includes recommendations for continuing, modifying, or expiring the program.” (Emphasis mine)

It seems like data would be collected on an experimental group and a control group. Kinda sorta sounds like an experiment would be conducted without saying it is an experiment. Maybe it is a non-experiment experiment. There is no mention of this being submitted to an institutional review board as research involving human subjects. Does HB 1518 call for experimental research on non-cognitive skills to be conducted on low-income four and five-year-olds in Washington State without adequate informed parental consent? Boy howdy, this is something that sure seems to sound good to a lot of folks, especially the 24 state representatives that sponsored the bill.

This bill also calls for the formation of a Social-Emotional Indicators Workgroup to continue building on the work of the Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks Workgroup that produced a report called Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools. This report also tells us that in 2016, Washington state was chosen as one of eight states to participate in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) Collaborative States Initiative (CSI). See page 8 of the report for some brief info about the CSI. Three of the eight CSI states dropped out within a few months of their selection. Washington was not one of those three states.

Washington’s Social Emotional Benchmarks Workgroup developed SEL standards and benchmarks. The Indicators Workgroup is to develop indicators for the benchmarks. HB 1518 did not pass out the house committee and has been reintroduced for this session. As of this writing, it has not passed out of the house committee and may be dead after today. That this bill hasn’t passed has not stopped things from happening that it requires to start. ESSB 5883 did pass in 2017 and appropriated funds for a workgroup to be established to develop SEL indicators for the already developed benchmarks. A Social Emotional Learning Indicators Workgroup has been formed and hard at work since September 2017 developing SEL indicators by grade band for each benchmark. It may, or may not be, a comfort to know that a Bill & Melinda Gates representative has a seat in this workgroup. Hmmm, I wonder if this workgroup will be influenced to use SEL indicators to stack-rank public school students similar to one of Microsoft’s employee evaluation systems.  We could use that as an example of a real-world application in the classroom.

The indicators no doubt will be used to assess student SEL skills. That means data collection. Collected data is going to be stored somewhere, no doubt in an electronic database. Who will have access to the SEL assessment data and anecdotal notes regarding an individual student’s SEL? How long will such data be kept? Where will it be kept? What kind of assurances are there the data will be secure? Should parents be informed and required to give permission for such personal data to be collected about their child?  So many questions.  I wonder if the indicator workgroup members will give any consideration to such questions.  The authors of the Education Leadership article gave no indication of concern for such questions.

With all that has been said here, you really should look at Washington’s SEL standards and benchmarks. Initially, they may look great to you. As you look at them, consider whether you would like your child to be formally assessed on the benchmarks using indicators under development with records that may follow them into adulthood.

The above standards can be found on page three of Washington’s Social Emotional Learning Benchmark Workgroup’s report, Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools.

What will an SEL report card look like? What will the written comments look like for a student? What would they look like for you? I wonder if written comments on an SEL report card for a legislator might look like this:

Shows awareness of other people’s emotions, perspectives, cultures, language, history, identity, and ability by pretending to listen to and agree with expressed wishes of constituents and then responds “almost exclusively to the views of the wealthiest 10 percent of the population.”

Demonstrates a range of communication skills by responding to constituent questions with extended animated responses and displays of great oratorical skill but unfortunately fails to answer the questions asked. Has developed an excellent skill of answering questions that aren’t asked. Has a great ability to tell constituents one thing, usually what they want to hear, and then doing the opposite.

Demonstrates the ability to work with others to set, monitor, adopt, achieve, and evaluate goals provided the others will help with re-election funds and votes and has views aligned with and supporting those of the elite. Displays a conditional ability to work with others.

I bet you could come up with some great comments on a legislator’s SEL report card.  Can you state those comments in positive terms?  This is SEL after all and we want everyone to feel good.

If you don’t live in Washington state you may think you don’t need to be concerned about any of this. Before skipping off carefree, happy and content, you may want to check to see what similar SEL activity is already taking place in your state. There is a good chance SEL is already embedded in education programs across your state. Is it possible it is embedded in your state’s ESSA plan?

“People’s Views on Education Policy are Quite Malleable”

Photo credit: Cubmundo (CC-By-SA 2.0)

“People’s views on education policy are quite malleable.”

That was the conclusion of a study that Stephen Sawchuk wrote about at Education Week. The piece is called “Here’s One Way to Dispel Misconceptions About Common Core.”

This article does not reveal anything new. Common Core proponents have asserted this ever since the standards were first released. “We just don’t understand them,” they said.

Every negative thing written about them is “simply misinformation” they claim.

Sawchuk writes:

The respondents were given a set of six true-and-false questions on the common core, including these. (The answer to all three is false.)

  • Common Core requires more testing than previous standards.
  • The federal government required states to adopt the common core.
  • The Common Core State Standards were developed by the Obama administration.

They were also asked about whether they approved or disapproved of the standards.

Then, half of the sample were given a short refutation text created by the researchers; the other half, a control group, were given Education Week‘s own explainer on the common core, though in a significantly altered format—the researchers cut it from 1,400 words down to 360.

After reading these, the panelists were asked to take the quiz again. They took it a third and final time after a week.

Initially, the respondents were neutral on the common core and held a number of misconceptions. (Just 16 percent got the first question, on testing, correct.)

But upon reviewing the refutation text, the treatment group had a significantly reduced number of misconceptions and more correct conceptions of the standards; they were also likely to support the standards than before. The effects declined somewhat after a week but were still statistically significant.

The control group also improved, but the treatment group outperformed the control group on four of the six questions—a function, the authors believe, of the refutation structure explicitly built into the treatment text, but not into the modified Education Week article.

Congratulations, what Stephen Sawchuk discovered here is push polling and that it can be useful (which is why campaigns and political groups use it). What an earthshattering discovery.

We’ve had to deal with misconceptions from those pushing Common Core. Here’s a list I would include if I did my own “study.”

  • Common Core was state-led.
  • Common Core State Standards are more rigorous standards.
  • Common Core is internationally benchmarked.

All of the above statements are false even though Common Core advocates will claim that they are correct.

Common Core was special interest-led. Last I checked the National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers are special interest groups located in Washington, DC. They are not government entities even though it sounds that way. Governors did not develop these standards, workgroups selected by NGA and CCSSO did. Also, state legislatures, for the most part, did not vote on Common Core before the implementation of the new standards.

Common Core State Standards are more “rigorous”? First, what does that mean? Secondly, based on what? Certainly not California’s math standards or Massachusetts’ ELA standards.

As far as international benchmarking for Common Core is concerned, that talking point was later changed to “informed by international benchmarks,” and eight years later I’m still uncertain what country they compared themselves to.

Initial polling for Common Core was quite high until we and others started to challenge what proponents were putting out there.

Now have Common Core opponents provided inaccurate information? Yes, and I have challenged some of it at Truth in American Education. He gave two examples. The first being, “Kids won’t read fiction anymore.”

That’s hyperbole that points to a truth. Kids will still read fiction, but they will read much less fiction as the standards call for more informational text to be read. Also, how much of the fiction that kids read represents entire literary works or just excerpts?

By the time a student is a senior in high school, under Common Core, 70 percent of what they read is informational text. That is simply a fact.

The other example he gives “schools are scanning children’s irises.”

I agree with him that this is not Common Core because Common Core State Standards in and of themselves are just academic benchmarks. Common Core was part of a package of reforms that included aligned assessments and data collection. All of those things were requirements to be eligible for Race to the Top money and the federal government spent a lot of money on the assessment consortia and statewide longitudinal database systems.

As far as iris scans at schools, yeah, so unbelievable.