New Jersey Seeks Input for New Assessment

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has said that it is time for the Garden State to get rid of PARCC. To that end, the New Jersey Department of Education announced last week they will solicit public input in May to “inform” the next statewide assessment.

“We will be visiting communities throughout the state so we can hear recommendations from parents, students, teachers, school administrators, and other key stakeholders,” New Jersey Acting Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet said. “We invite New Jerseyans to share their insights in-person and online, so we may establish priorities for change moving forward.”

The department said stakeholder input will play an integral role in the NJDOE’s short- and long-term plans for, and improvements to, the statewide assessment program. The NJDOE is particularly interested in perspectives on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is the current statewide assessment for math and English language arts/literacy. Specifically, they said public input is needed to determine what elements of the statewide assessment program work well, and what areas need improvement.

They announced that the Department has a process of securing contractual partners that are able to meet the design needs informed by the stakeholder feedback gathered over the coming months.

They also said the new assessment has to conform to legal requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. “Federal law requires all states to assess students in grades 3 through 8, and again in high school. As our assessment system continues to evolve and improve, we must adhere to these laws, implement change in an innovative, deliberative and cost-effective way, and build on the high standards we have for all New Jersey students,” Repollet said.

Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on New Jersey’s assessments through multiple options, including:

  • Submit interest by May 8 to join a Statewide Assessment Collaborative by following this link.
  • Watch an online recorded webinar and complete a feedback questionnaire (details will be forthcoming on the NJDOE Assessments webpage).
  • Contact with comments or questions regarding the statewide assessment program. Specific recommendations to enhance the current program or support for elements of the current program are encouraged.

In addition, the Department announced they will partner with schools and other stakeholder organizations to take part in roundtable discussions and will also reach out to statewide education associations representing school superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, and parents.

The Department said that feedback and recommendations generated by the first phase of outreach will be collected through June. They also asserted that all input will be considered as they plan for the future of statewide assessments in New Jersey and make initial enhancements to the statewide assessment program in the 2018-19 school year.

“New Jersey’s statewide assessments have been a constantly evolving process ever since they were first instituted in the 1970s,” Repollet added. “With that in mind, we will continue to receive feedback and recommendations, and expect to be able to make additional improvements in coming years.”

A couple of things to note with this announcement last week. First, since the assessment has to be aligned with the state’s academic standards the assessment will still be Common Core-aligned. Second, it appears that the state will at first tweak PARCC so I’m not sure there will be much of a change. Also, they could do what Massachusetts has done and offer some sort of PARCC-hybrid assessment.

I’m not optimistic that the assessment landscape in New Jersey will be significantly changed.

NY Assembly Introduces Bill to Bar Using Assessment Scores on Teacher Evaluations

Photo Credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

A bill was introduced Thursday in the New York Assembly that would bar schools from using standardized assessment scores on teacher evaluations.

The New York Post reports:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie introduce the bill late Thursday and Cuomo’s office released a statement indicating the governor was on board.

“We have been working the Legislature and education community for months to address this issue and would like to reach a resolution this session‎,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

The announcement came hours after Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s Democrtic primary opponent, called for a repeal of the evaluation system.

Eliminating the mandate would be a victory for the teachers’ union, which has long opposed the use of state English and math exams for grades 3 to 8 exams to rate teachers.

“It has become increasingly clear that standardized tests do not fully account for the diversity of our student populations,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.

Read the rest.

Common Core is still present in New York State regardless of the recent revisions of their state standards. In 2016, The New York State Education Department adjusted their statewide assessment to encourage “opt-ins” as the state has seen the most student opt-outs of any in the nation and that did not change in 2016 as some deemed the 3rd-grade assessment to be age-inappropriate.

This bill will, at the very least, ensure teachers that they won’t have to teach to the test in order to help their standing with evaluations. Also, it is true that some students just don’t test well. That does not mean they are not learning. I also hope that it will reduce potential pressure parents may receive from their local school districts if they decide to opt their student out.

We are still waiting for a bill from the New York Legislature that affirms a parent’s right to do just that.

How Much Does Common Core Misery Cost?

How much does misery cost?

“About another $12.1 billion over the next few years. Nationally exceeding $80 Billion since 2010.”

That should be some first-class misery. And it’s on you. Your treat! Enjoy!

The vulture capitalists can smell your misery from miles away … and they’re so ready to pick your wallets clean.

Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Banks were just warm-up routines for Big Education.

Your own schools … the ones you actually own … will be the investment oases of this new century … with a renewable stream of your own tax dollars until … until we all come to our senses. Or go broke.

Common Core is mutating before our very eyes.

Tutoring shops are popping up like nail salons … poised to teach your children the mathematics no one understands. And to teach them how to read a whole book … as you once learned.

Think of them as educational repair shops where the madness of public education can be undone … or at least mitigated.

There are subject-matter tutorial sites … and review books … and videos. Even tutoring enterprises … with fanciful names … to do what ordinary parents used to do way back when … in normal times.

But these are not normal times.

In some cases, elementary parents have hired specialized tutors to deal with the Common Core weirdness and the homework chaos that has ruined family evenings and frayed parent-child relationships.

“I tried to help—but it was just too much and I had to find a tutor,” one mom confessed.
That little mea culpa costs her $300 a week. Do the math … the old way. Nice chunk of change, eh? What’s childhood without a dose of anxiety, right?

“I work with a lot of frustrated moms and dads who can’t seem to help their 6th grader with their math homework,” said the owner of Bright Kids. Bright Kids?

I’m not touching that irony … at all. Just don’t forget your credit card.

These are money-making ventures with handsome returns on investment. Private tutors boast of Common Core expertise as well as SAT talents. There’s even an online search engine just for “affordable tutors.” Misery tutors. A profession is born!

Psssst! … and the lawyers haven’t even packed their carpetbags yet.

So … pony up for tutors and tablets and software and tech upgrades. Don’t forget those Common Core texts and workbooks. Testing isn’t free, you know? … even if it’s asinine.

And teacher-training costs big bucks, too … so the blind can lead the blind. This, folks, is the cost of misery … and failure … and incompetence. The cost of reform gone absolutely wild.

This is the price we’ll pay to nuzzle up to our Third World pals … who some insist are our academic equals … all in the hope that one day … because of the miracle of Common Core … we might find our nation firmly wedged between Gabon and Borneo in some meaningless rankings that have the same glamour as twerking.

When did we become such sheep? And then gladly pay for the privilege?

When is enough … enough?


Many Students Can’t Read A Traditional Clock Face

The Telegraph reports that British schools are getting rid of analog clocks because students don’t know how to read analog clocks. It’s not the end of the world, but it amazes me that something that is relatively straightforward is not common knowledge anymore. I find this sad.

Schools are removing analogue clocks from examination halls because teenagers are unable to tell the time, a head teachers’ union has said.

Teachers are now installing digital devices after pupils sitting their GCSE and A-level exams complained that they were struggling to read the correct time on an analogue clock.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said youngsters have become accustomed to using digital devices.

“The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face as older generations,” he told The Telegraph.

“They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone, on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere.”

I know this story is from the United Kingdom, but I doubt the existence of this problem is limited to across the pond. I’m sure a large number of schools now use digital clocks, but my local school district, Des Moines Public Schools, classrooms still use analog clocks.

Just as it is important to learn cursive, students should learn how to tell time on an analog clock. You may not always have the ability to type and you may not always have a digital clock available.

Explicit Instruction in Math Can Reduce the Achievement Gap

A retired math teacher says he knows how Seattle Public Schools’ achievement gap in math can be reduced.

The Seattle Times published a guest op/ed by Ted Nutting who taught math in the school district for 17 years. He writes:

In mathematics, American students do poorly by international comparison. This has been true for decades, and it is due in large part to the weakness of math instruction here.

If Seattle Public Schools ever hopes to eliminate its gaps in achievement between students of different racial backgrounds, it must address that problem.

I taught math in the Seattle schools for almost two decades. In my experience, what works is explicit instruction. That means explaining concepts in a clear, straightforward way, showing each student how to use them and following up with lots of practice – including rigorous tests.

Some may find this method old fashioned. But you can see explicit instruction at work in three Seattle middle schools where the achievement gap is shrinking. Mercer International, Aki Kurose, and David T. Denny International — where students of color are the majority — post solid math scores and are narrowing the achievement gap much more than other schools.

A study, “Middle Schools that Narrow the Opportunity Gap in Math,” prepared last year by district staffers Anna Box and Marni Campbell, points this out. Seventh graders at each of these schools have shown continued progress on the state test, sometimes surpassing citywide proficiency rates. Until recently, all three schools scored well below the city average.

What a surprise! Teaching kids the straightforward way to solving problems and then drilling it until they know it works? I mean I’m utterly shocked that works because we’ve been told the exact opposite of that from those who have pushed reform math into the classroom and then doubled down on it with Common Core.

Now, I just wonder if this could possibly work anywhere else other than Seattle?

Read Mr Nutting’s entire piece here.

Paper and Pencil Test Administration Is Not Impacted By Cyberattacks

Last week, seven states who contract with Questar for their statewide computer-based assessments were subject to a cyberattack.

The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle reported:

New York was one of seven states earlier this week whose student tests were hit by what was reportedly a “deliberate attack” on the computer system operated by Questar, an outside vendor.

On Tuesday, New York was one of the states whose students in grades 3-8 were taking computerized English tests, but were interrupted by what the Tennessee education commissioner called a “cyberattack.”

New York education officials confirmed Thursday that its computerized exams suffered the same problems Tuesday as other states, but Questar — the Minneapolis-based company that administers the tests — has yet to detail the cause of the problems.

The latest issues came after computer problems with the tests last week.

“The same issue that affected other states caused the system in New York to experience sporadic technical issues at a small number of schools on Tuesday morning,” Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said in a statement.

“Questar confirmed that the origin of the issue was external to its servers. Questar reports there is no indication that any data from New York was accessed at any time. Testing resumed Tuesday after the system was reset.”

We’ve been concerned about computerized testing and its accompanying data security issues. Paper and pencil tests are simply more secure. They also will not face the possibility of disruption because of a cyberattack. Now if they upload scores and student information in an online database they still pose a data security risk, but they don’t have to.

Simply put there are far, far fewer problems with pencil and paper tests.

Pearson’s “Social-Psychological” Experiment Should Make Us Wary

Screenshot of the MyLab Program from YouTube.

Education Week reported that Pearson recently tested ‘social-psychological’ messages in their learning software on unwitting college students with “mixed results” and the privacy implications of this should make us wary.

Pearson presented a paper entitled “Embedding Research-Inspired Innovations in EdTech: An RCT of Social-Psychological Interventions, at Scale” at the annual conference of the American Association of Educational Research.

The experiment included over 9,000 students at 165 two-year community colleges and four-year universities in the United States. The students who used the MyLab Program were divided into three groups. One group received “growth-mindset” messages (stressing the importance of effort and building skills over time), another group received “anchoring of effect messages” (ex. “Some students tried this question 26 times! Don’t worry if it takes you a few tries to get it right.”), and the third group was the control group who received no messages.

Pearson then randomly assigned different colleges to use different versions of the software. They tracked whether students who received the messages attempted and completed more problems than those who did not.

The experiment appears to prove the opposite of what they had thought to be true. Those students who did not receive any messages attempted more problems (212 problems) than students who received a “growth-mindset” message (178 problems), and those who received an “anchoring of effect” message (156 problems).

There are already significant privacy concerns with learning software and other ed tech tools. Gizmodo pointed out overlap one of the privacy issues with Facebook, namely, the criticism they received after experimenting on 700,000 users in 2014 by changing what they saw in their newsfeeds and then recording the impact on their moods.

Pearson’s paper was not without critics. Ben Williamson, who studies big data in education and lectures at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom told Education Week that there is little evidence that mindset-based inventions will help students. He also pointed out public anxiety over how different companies collect data and use it for psychological profiling and troubling.

Williamson also noted, and I agree, that it is extremely troubling that Pearson did not seek informed consent from students who were the subjects of this experiment.

“It’s concerning that forms of low-level psychological experimentation to trigger certain behaviors appears to be happening in the ed-tech sector, and students might not know those experiments are taking place,” Williamson told Education Week.

Even though Pearson’s experiment backfired, Education Week notes that the idea of placing these messages in education software is “gaining steam.”

Parents take note.

Coalition Calls on Congress to Rewrite FERPA

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

On Tuesday, American Principles Project and individuals from more than 100 organizations including Education Liberty Watch and Eagle Forum called on Congress to rewrite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee, they implored Congress to recognize that citizens have a property interest in their personal data and that Congress should protect that interest.

“Personal data collection without consent is an affront to freedom,” said Emmett McGroarty, senior fellow at American Principles Project and co-author of the new book, Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. “The federal government has no right or authority to vacuum up mountains of personal data on its citizens without their consent, with only the vague intent to “help” them or others make decisions. This is especially true for children.”

The APP-led coaltion submitted five recommendations for the FERPA rewrite:

  1. Do whatever is possible to decrease the amount of data collected on students, especially social-emotional learning (SEL) data. Collection of such data should be eliminated or at the very least a) not collected without informed opt-in parental consent and b) be treated as medical data.

  2. Treat whatever mental health, social emotional, or behavioral data collected for special-education evaluations or any other related program, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), as medical data that cannot be housed in longitudinal databases.

  3. Use aggregate rather than individual data to the greatest extent possible.

  4. Obtain parental consent if data collected for one purpose is to be repurposed or shared with another federal agency.

  5. Eliminate the current language in FERPA allowing predictive testing.

Read the letter below:

Disclosure: Our editor, Shane Vander Hart, is a signatory of this letter.

Malkin’s Right: Silicon Valley’s-Beltway Ed Data Mining Has Been Ignored

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Writing for National Review, Michelle Malkin points out the gaping hole in Senators’ questioning of boy billionaire Mark Zuckerberg last week. The politicians vented their outrage about Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, censorship of conservative content, etc., but “not a peep was heard about the Silicon Valley-Beltway theft ring purloining the personal information and browsing habits of millions of American schoolchildren.”

Few if any members of Congress, of either party, seem concerned about what Facebook and the other tech companies are doing to the nation’s children in public schools – with the active complicity of the federal government. From Malkin:

Facebook is just one of the tech giants partnering with the U.S Department of Education [USED] and schools nationwide in pursuit of student data for meddling and profit. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Pearson, Knewton, and many more are cashing in on the Big Data boondoggle. State and federal educational databases provide countless opportunities for private companies exploiting public schoolchildren subjected to annual assessments, which exploded after adoption of the tech-industry-supported Common Core “standards,” tests, and aligned texts and curricula.

Malkin recites the sorry litany of tech-based threats to our students and their privacy: the workforce-development model of education that uses student data to align kids’ learning (or rather training) to “skills” and “competencies” desired by politically connected corporations; Facebook’s partnership with USED in the federal Digital Promise program to grant adult students “microcredentials” that will benefit, coincidentally, Facebook; Facebook’s Messenger Kids app designed to hook young children on the technology; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which seeks to “personalize” each child’s training experience by using reams of his most highly personal psycho-social data; and the scam of “free” education products that allow companies such as Google to build brand loyalty, use teachers as marketing representatives, and relentlessly compile highly personal data on each student, beginning at the toddler level, for the benefit of the companies and the government’s longitudinal data systems.

And Malkin identifies an aspect of the most recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that should shame all the “conservative” members of Congress who voted for it: 

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act enshrined Government collection of personally identifiable information including data collected on attitudes, values, beliefs, and dispositions – and allows release of the data to third-party contractors thanks to Obama-era loopholes carved into the Family Education (sic) Rights and Privacy Act.

Malkin didn’t uncover all this information by breaking a code or surreptitiously reviewing classified documents. Instead, she simply listened to what parent activists have publicized widely for years now. Those activists have sent the same information to members of Congress, repeatedly and relentlessly, and begged them to pay attention. 

Will anyone in Congress – and in the Trump administration — take notice?

Jane Robbins is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School. Emmett McGroarty is Director of Education with American Principles Project and an attorney with degrees from Georgetown University and Fordham School of Law. They, along with Erin Tuttle are co-authors of Deconstructing the Administrative State.

NAEP Scores Stagnant After Years of Common Core

I highlighted the key takeaways from the 2017 NAEP scores as mentioned on the Nation’s Report Card. What they don’t say is that this demonstrates stagnation after years of having Common Core in the classrooms. As a reference, Common Core was first approved by most states in 2010 but was not fully implemented in most states until one to two years later.

A couple of things to note:

1. 4th-Graders who have been under Common Core for their entire education are stagnant.

Look at the national trendlines in math:

While one can’t argue from NAEP scores that Common Core has hurt 4th-graders, you also can’t argue that it has helped. There has been a slight since the average score high in 2013.

You see similar stagnation among 4th-graders with reading.

2. 8th-Graders overall have shown the same stagnation.

Here’s the trendline for 8th-grade math.

And the national average trend in 8th-grade reading:

3. A widening gap between high performing students and low performing students.

This is something we warned about as Common Core was being implemented and now we see it with the NAEP results. It is more pronounced in the 4th-grade math assessment than the reading assessment. It’s more pronounced among 4th-graders in general than 8th-graders. Among 8th-graders there is a bigger gap in math than reading where the trends show stagnation among all percentile groups.

Here are the trendlines for the 4th-grade math assessment:

Here are the 4th-grade reading assessment trendlines:

Here are the 8th-grade math assessment trendlines:

And for the 8th-grade reading assessment:

Blame it on a computer-based assessment?

We noted that Louisiana State School Chief John White was concerned about scores dropping as a result of the switch to computers rather than pencil and paper, but that does not tell the whole story.

Richard Phelps noted in his write-up on the NAEP scores:

According to NAEP Commissioner Peggy Carr, the 2017 test administration contained “very innovative tasks,” but she also asserts that the widening achievement gap is “absolutely not” caused by the digital transition (because the trend data was calculated from students taking the tests with paper and pencil).

She added that the international Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) have also shown widening achievement gaps among US students, and those tests’ administration remain solely paper and pencil.