A Case of Assessment Season Opt Out Bullying

bullying hurtsMost parents requesting to opt out would be shook up and intimidated if they received the following letter and form. It likely would affect their judgment to the point they wouldn’t check facts for themselves.


In this case, the parents let the school know their child was not to take the state assessment. The school informed the parents they would send a paper home with the child letting them know what activities the child could be doing during the testing time. Sounds okay so far. The paper that was sent home was the letter and form featured above. Not okay. While this took place in W. Virginia, similar things have taken place in other school districts in other states.

Let’s examine the letter and what it says. The letter refers to W.Va. Code 18-2E-5. The entire code is here:

I do not see anything in W.Va. Code 18-2E-5 that addresses opting out or refusal, either allowing or prohibiting it. This Deputy Superintendent needs to held accountable and asked to show where in the code it requires every student to be assessed or does not allow for opt out or refusal. Please do not take my word on this—-read this section of code for yourself and see what you think. The letter does quote a State Superintendent’s Update, March 25, 2016 saying, “There is no exception allowing parents and students to refuse to participate in the statewide assessment.” This apparently is an interpretation provided in the Update. This is not stated in the Code. From reading the actual Code, I would agree with this interpretation. It is incomplete. In the Code, there is nothing prohibiting parents and students from refusing to participate in the statewide assessment. This is either not in the Update or was selectively left out of this letter. My hunch is that it was not in the Update at all.

“There is no exception allowing parents and students to refuse to participate in the statewide assessment (General Summative Assessment) program.”   This is stated to make parents think it is not legal to opt out or refuse the assessment. The letter goes on to say, “Though there is no right to opt-out of our statewide summative assessment…”. Again, this is stated to lead one to believe it is not legal to opt out or refuse the assessment. The code has no provision for opting out or refusing, but as important, it does not prohibit opting out or refusing.

18-2E-5(3). I would use this clause as the foundation to ask how the Interim Assessment Block (IAB) results will be used “to determine when school improvement is needed”. Will enough students be taking the IAB to be able to actually use the results in a meaningful way to determine anything?

The letter also indicates the WVDE “has given the county board the authority to create a plan for students who refuse to participate in the assessment”. Someone should ask for the documentation of such authority being granted. These people should be held accountable—the WVDE, the county board, and the Deputy Superintendent. The board should be asked to provide a written copy of the plan they were supposedly authorized to create. The IAB needs to be questioned as to what makes it a meaningful, alternate academic assignment. Does meaningful mean “commensurate to the amount of rigor and time as a student that would be engaged in the General Summative Assessment (GSA)”?

Reading a book might be a meaningful, alternate academic assignment. Why the IAB? Who charged the county with the responsibility to have students that refuse to test to complete a meaningful, alternate academic assignment? Can they provide the charge in its original written form? Why can’t parents have a say in what they think is a meaningful, alternate assignment? The only say they are being offered is to choose from an online format or a paper pencil format. In other words, no say.

Neither the PARCC nor SBAC have been proven to be valid and reliable. Has WV’s state assessment been proven valid and reliable? (I think they are using SBAC, so the answer would be no). NCLB requires states to administer assessments that are valid and reliable. NCLB also requires states to administer a statewide assessment. It does not require all students to participate in the assessment.

If they were trying to use the IAB as a substitute for the state assessment, I would ask if the IAB has been proven to be a valid and reliable substitute for a state assessment that is not valid and reliable. In this case, they are not trying to use the IAB as a substitute for the state assessment. It sounds more like they are using it for punitive purposes. If they can’t control parents and students in the manner they want, they will impose something upon them that will be equally unpleasant or objectionable.

The letter also says the “results from the IAB tests would be used at the school level only to check student progress”. Sounds good but I think this is lame. A fifteen minute chat with the child’s teacher(s) should yield better information about the student’s progress.

What if parents just presented their opt out request in writing and left it at that? Presented with this letter and form, what if parents simply presented the request in writing that their child is not to take or be administered either the state assessment or the Interim Assessment Blocks? The form forces one to choose between two things, neither of which is a satisfactory choice for some parents. What if a parent crossed out the two printed choices and adds and selects a third choice which would read something like this: My child will not take and is not to be administered any state assessment or Interim Assessment Blocks online or in paper/pencil form.

The school officials, up and down the line, should be ashamed of the approach they are taking with parents and students. Are the state and local school officials completely to blame here? Probably not. Bullying begets bullying. Like the majority of the education reform movement, bullying has been a top down approach, with the top being at the level of our federal government. Reform measures have been top down and bullying is being used from the top down to impose those measures on down the line. I fail to see how this bullying and intimidation approach is going to serve well for our education system, school officials, communities, parents, and students.

stop bullying. seriously, just stop

Bullying graphics courtesy the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at http://www.stopbullying.gov/image-gallery/.


High School in Seattle says “No!” to the Common Core SBAC Assessments

In January last year, we reported about teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle taking a stand and refusing to administer the MAP test.  Now, a year later, another high school in Seattle file0001849487704 is taking a stand against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments.

Yesterday afternoon the Nathan Hale Senate (functions as Building Leadership Team) voted nearly unanimously not to administer the SBAC tests to 11th graders this year.

The Senate also recently voted not to administer the PSAT test to 10th graders at all in the future.
Reasons for refusing the SBAC for 11th graders included (summary):
1. Not required for graduation
2. Colleges will not use them this year
3. Since NCLB requires all students pass the tests by 2014, and since few if any schools will be able to do that,  all schools will therefore be considered failing by that standard. There is thus no reason to participate in erroneous and misapplied self-labeling.
4. It is neither valid nor reliable nor equitable assessment. We will use classroom based assessments to guide next instructional steps.
5. Cut scores of the SBAC reflect poor assessment strategy and will produce invalid and unreliable outcomes.
6. Student made this point: “Why waste time taking a test that is meaningless and that most of us will fail?”
7. The SBAC will tie up computer lab time for weeks.
8. The SBAC will take up time students need to work on classroom curriculum.
This is an important step. Nathan Hale is asserting its commitment to valid, reliable, equitable assessment. This decision is the result of community and parent meetings, careful study of research literature, knowledge of our students’ needs, commitment to excellence in their education, and adherence to the values and ideas of best-practice instruction. 

This resolution does not mean NHHS will refuse the 10th grade SBAC assessments, sorry to say.But the way the school went about the decision is a powerful model for other schools, and means that anything is still possible in that regard.


Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Does It Add Up or Down? Part 3

Standards for Mathematical Practice

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Table of Contents includes two types of standards. First listed are Standards for Mathematical Practice. Second listed are Standards for Mathematical Content. Before we explore the Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP), let’s make a distinction between the SMP and Content standards. The SMP are process standards. They are a part of the CCSS. Most states have had similar process standards. As process standards, the SMP are probably as good as any others.


This table comes from slide 43 of a presentation at the Washington State School Directors Association conference in Nov. 2011. There are over 300 content standards in K-8. This above table presents one content standard and one of the Standards for Mathematical Practices.

Here are the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice.

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The US Coalition for World Class Math provided Comments on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics June 2010 K-12 Final. The introduction to those comments starts off:

  1. Introduction

The Common Core State Standards lead off with Standards for Mathematical Practice.

The introduction to the Standards reads:

The standards for mathematical practice rest on important “processes and proficiencies” with longstanding importance in mathematics education. The first of these are the NCTM process standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections. The second are the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy).

To the casual observer, these words sound reassuring. For file00075958287those who have been involved in the debate over how best to teach mathematics for the last two decades, this paragraph is extremely disturbing. NCTM’s process standards have been interpreted and implemented so as to downplay the importance of procedures and algorithmic involved in the debate over how best to teach mathematics for the last two decades, this efficiency in the name of “understanding”. It also favors finding more than one way to arrive at an answer that usually can be arrived at very simply in one way, and of eschewing word problems that provide the data that students will need to solve the problem in the belief that finding the data by themselves builds better problem solvers. We believe that the allegiance to the principles of the NCTM standards and ideology in Adding it Up will manifest itself in a student-centered, inquiry-based approach to math. We set out below attributes of the standards that are particularly weak and which lend themselves to such educational philosophy. As such, these standards in our opinion will diminish, not enhance, the mathematical proficiency and knowledge of students in K-12.

Possibly a little too esoteric but the concerns expressed regarding these standards manifesting in more student-centered, inquiry based approach to math are being realized.

Let’s take a close look at one of the SMP.

SMP 6. . Attend to precision.This sounds like they are calling for computational accuracy. One needs to look further and detect the nuance of emphasis in the narrative that gives more information about the meaning of this standard. Here is that narrative:

Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context. In the elementary grades, students give carefully formulated explanations to each other. By the time they reach high school they have learned to examine claims and make explicit use of definitions. (bold and color added for emphasis)

GW618H496I have bolded the only phrase addressing accurate calculations. This does not come until the fifth sentence of the narrative. In the first sentence, “try to communicate precisely” is given a position of greater importance. While I am glad the writers thought to add “calculate accurately” into this standard, this standard appears to have more to do with attending to communicating with precision than calculating with precision or calculating accurately. Seven sentences… six related to communication, one about calculating accurately. How important is calculating accurately? What if the process of an inaccurate calculation is communicated precisely? And are you comfortable driving over that bridge or flying in that plane knowing that the engineers had great ability at communicating precisely about their inaccurate calculations?

The focus on communication was a problem with the old Washington math standards andfile0002103082411 other state standards influenced by the NCTM standards. This looks much the same, just a tad more sophisticated. Hey, it sure does sound great though. I’ll take a dozen… oh, there are only 8… that’s okay, I’ll still take a dozen.

Write or Wrong?
The focus on communication in the SMP may, in part, be the source or justification for the emphasis in asking students to explain the process they use. The ability to explain may be given greater importance than getting the right answer. For many math problems, the work students show should be explanation enough and is a great indicator of understanding. There has been a shift in math it seems. Answers to straight-forward math problems used to be either right or wrong based on their being a correct answer to the problem. That no longer seems to be the case and an answer is deemed to be right if a group of students reach consensus about it.

Publishers of poor math textbooks/programs, professional development programs, and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium are emphasizing the Standards for Mathematical Practices (SMP) rather than the content standards. This emphasis on the SMP will influence local school district math textbook adoptions. The misguided but deliberate emphasis on the SMP rather than the content standards simply renders the CCSS as set of complex standards akin to the NCTM standards. The SMP flew in under the radar and few people were concerned about them. This emphasis will not serve the students across the country well.

The emphasis placed on the Standards for Mathematical Practice supports a constructivist approach. This approach is typical of “reform” math programs to which many parents across the country object. Programs like Investigations and Everyday Math are able to claim they address the CCSS SMP. Publishers of reform programs are aligning their programs with the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice. The adoption and implementation of the CCSS will not necessarily improve the math programs being used in many schools.

The emphasis on the SMP is driving professional development, textbook development, textbook selection and adoption, and assessment development. As a result of this emphasis, the SBAC may resemble a super sophisticated WASL rather than an actual assessment of student math skills.

Many math professional development programs for school administrators and teachers are focusing on the SMP. What is taking place in your local school district?

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting of math teachers at a middle school. None of the teachers had yet heard of the Common Core State Standards. The school principal was in attendance and was excited to share information about a seminar he attended the previous week. This principal distributed a one-sheet handout with the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice to the math teachers. He told the math teachers that these were the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and this is what the school and the district will begin to focus on for math instruction. He gave no mention or indication of any awareness of content standards. These Standards for Mathematical Practice are what the school leadership has been told are the math standards and it is what leadership is telling teachers. Furthermore, administrators will evaluate teachers’ ability to deliver instruction on the SMP. Are the administrators in your local schools receiving similar training?
file231263245813For those who find the CCSS math content standards to their liking, and possibly an improvement over their old or current state math standards, I urge you and everyone else to beware of the deliberate emphasis on the Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Here are links to a couple of articles related to the emphasis on the SMP.




Here are hotlinks to:

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics:  Does it Add Up or Down?  Part 1

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics:  Does it Add Up or Down?  Part 2



An Early Look at Smarter Balanced Assessments

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium just released a practice test to give administrators, teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders an early look at a test that will be implemented in partner states in the 2014/2015 school year.

You can read up on it here to see the technology requirements.  You can go here to enter the practice portal.

SBAC Assessments Sneak Through Republican-Led Iowa House

I wrote back in January that there would have to be a statutory change in Iowa before the Iowa Department of Education could implement the assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium.

Well that took one step forward last night when it was approved on a voice vote no less in the Iowa House.  It was an amendment to an amendment to the original education bill (House File 215) and wasn’t filed until Monday.  Nobody saw it coming.

Here’s the pertinent language:

…for the school year beginning July 1, 2014, and each succeeding school year, the rules shall provide that all students enrolled in school districts in grades three through eleven shall, within forty-five days of the end of the school year, be administered an assessment that at a minimum assesses the indicators identified in this paragraph “b;” is aligned with the Iowa common core standards in both content and rigor; is developed by a consortium in which the state of Iowa is a participant… (emphasis mine)

Iowa is a governing member of SBAC.  Nobody seems to want to claim ownership of this particular language however.  Hmm… I wonder why?

SBAC Assessments Will Require Statutory Change In Iowa

Iowa jumped on the Common Core State Standards in 2010.  They joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  The Iowa Department of Education can’t mandate assessments.  Statutorily they are legally allowed to align the Iowa standards with other “accepted” standards.

Iowa Code 256.7 subsection 26b says:

Continue the inclusive process begun during the initial development of a core curriculum for grades nine through twelve including stakeholder involvement, including but not limited to representatives from the private sector and the business community, and alignment of the core curriculum to other recognized sets of national and international standards. The state board shall also recommend quality assessments to school districts and accredited nonpublic schools to measure the core curriculum.

We can argue how a set of standards that haven’t been field-tested are “recognized,” but that can be interpreted different ways.  Personally I believe that when the Iowa Legislature passed the Iowa Core in 2006 they made a mistake given the Iowa Department of Education that much authority to literally change standards.

The only way to fix that is through additional legislation, but the code is also confusing because it basically reverses itself in subsection 28 when it says:

Adopt a set of core content standards applicable to all students in kindergarten through grade twelve in every school district and accredited nonpublic school.  For purposes of this subsection, “core content standards” includes reading, mathematics, and science.  The core content standards shall be identical to the core content standards included in Iowa’s approved 2006 standards and assessment system under Tit. I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq., as amended by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110.  School districts and accredited nonpublic schools shall include, at a minimum, the core content standards adopted pursuant to this subsection in any set of locally developed content standards.  School districts and accredited nonpublic schools are strongly encouraged to set higher expectations in local standards.  As changes in federal law or regulation occur, the state board is authorized to amend the core content standards as appropriate.  (emphasis mine)

They can align the Iowa Core with other standards, but it makes it sound like they are only authorized to make changes when there has been a change in federal law or regulation.  Color me confused on that, but it seems that all that can be done to stop the alignment to the Common Core is to have specific legislation.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition assessments however can only happen in Iowa if there is a statutory change (see Iowa Code 256.7 subsection 26b cited above).  Right now all that the Iowa Department of Education can do is recommend assessments, they can’t mandate them.  Jason Glass, the Director of Iowa Department of Education confirmed this for me on Twitter and said it wasn’t something they would pursue this year.  It’ll likely be brought up in legislation in 2014, from what I have read so far, even though Governor Terry Branstad, hasn’t released his education agenda yet they’ll be busy enough.

We’ll keep our eyes open.  It’s fascinating that they jumped in with SBAC when they aren’t legally allowed to do anything with it yet.

S.C. State Senator Mike Fair Warns About Common Core Testing

South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville) wrote an op/ed for The State where he warned that South Carolina could regret their new student testing scheme via the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) that accompanies the state’s adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

He writes:

We belong to a consortium of states called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which the federal government is paying to develop computerized tests aligned with the national standards. An examination of the Smarter Balanced scheme suggests that our students, our teachers and our pocketbooks may be in for hard times.

The person directing the tests’ content development is Linda Darling-Hammond, a longtime proponent of politicized education (with the emphasis on teaching for “social justice” and “multiculturalism”) and Barack Obama’s education advisor during the 2008 campaign.

Perhaps because she strongly opposes traditional standardized tests, the Smarter Balanced tests will be “innovative” and “computer adaptive.” This means that depending on the student’s answers to the first questions, the computer will feed the student either easier or harder questions as the test goes forward. Correct answers result in harder questions; wrong answers generate easier questions.

This computer-adaptive feature diminishes a primary argument made by Common Core proponents: that we must be able to compare student performance across states. Because students will be given different questions depending on their previous answers, they will essentially be taking different tests. The performance of Sarah in Easley can’t be compared to that of Mary in Topeka; it can’t even be compared to that of William at the next desk. Smarter Balanced may devise some rubric to allow rough comparisons, but a meaningful one-to-one comparison won’t be possible.

Another feature touted by Smarter Balanced is “performance tasks,” which will involve a student’s extended time, either individually or as part of a group, on multi-step problems that result in completed projects. Every parent of bright, motivated children has heard them complain about being stuck in a project group with slackers and having to do all the work. Now, that scenario will be repeated on national high-stakes tests.

He also cites the cost of testing due to the technology requirement necessary for implementation.  Not many people are really talking about the testing involved so it is great that he’s bring this up in his state.  Be sure to read the whole article.

Breaking News: Utah State Board of Education Votes to Pull Out of SBAC

The Utah State Board of Education’s meeting today had common core testing on the agenda.  Sources tell me that the Board has voted to pull out of their testing consortium – the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  SBAC had received Race to the Top funding in order to provide assessments based on the Common Core State Standards.

Their governance document says any state wanting to leave the consortium can do so without cause, but they must comply with the following exit process:

1. A state requesting an exit from the Consortium must submit in writing its reasons for the exit request,

2. The written explanation must include the statutory or policy reasons for the exit,

3. The written request must be submitted to the Project Management Partner with the same signatures as required for the Consortium MOU,

4. The Executive Committee will act upon the request within a week of the request, and

5. Upon approval of the request, the Project Management Partner will then submit a change of membership to the USED for approval. (emphasis mine)

My question is what kind of approval is needed?  Is this just a formality or can the U.S. Department of Education deny a state from exiting SBAC?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Update: I was told that the measure to withdraw from SBAC was 12-3 in favor.  In February the measure to withdraw failed on a 4-10 vote.

New Standards, Familiar Problems

The following op-ed is the John Locke Foundation’s Daily Journal for Friday, October 28, 2011:

If you thought the federal No Child Left Behind law was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Next year, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will introduce new curriculum standards for all public school students. This will include Common Core State Standards in K-12 English and mathematics. North Carolina’s adoption of the Common Core standards is a testament to the growing influence of the federal government in matters that traditionally (and constitutionally) have been state and local responsibilities.

Unlike No Child Left Behind, the Common Core State Standards are the product of two independent organizations: the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. While these groups coordinated the standards’ development, neither had the financial or political influence to convince states to sign on. After all, education officials in North Carolina and elsewhere had little incentive to adopt standards created by two Washington outfits. Enter the feds.

The federal government joined forces with these organizations and made states an offer they couldn’t refuse. The U.S. Department of Education declared that a state officially adopting the common standards would receive “bonus points” toward its application for a piece of the $4.5 billion federal Race to the Top fund. In June 2010, the State Board of Education unanimously approved Common Core English and math standards. Three months later, North Carolina won a four-year, $400 million Race to the Top grant. In fact, all 10 states that received round-two Race to the Top grants adopted Common Core standards.

The federal government is also bankrolling the development of common tests. Predictably, most states are falling in line. The Education Department will distribute $360 million in grants to members of two state consortia. North Carolina became a member of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. In its role as a governing state in this group, North Carolina will work with public education agencies from 28 other states to shape test-design policy.

Of course, the burden of implementing common standards and tests will fall on North Carolina’s English and math teachers. They will have the difficult task of quickly turning a catalog of new standards into sound classroom instruction. And research indicates that the shift to Common Core standards will not be easy. In a study published in Educational Researcher, a University of Pennsylvania research team concluded that the Common Core standards represent considerable change over existing state standards and tests. Researchers also found that the proposed standards are no better, and likely worse, than academic standards created by state education agencies.

While researchers disagree about the English standards’ quality, there is a growing consensus that the Common Core math standards are abysmal. In fact, few academics, policy analysts, and education officials have been willing to defend the math standards publicly. For example, the executive editor of Education Next recently complained that, after three months and numerous rejections, he has been unable to find anyone willing to write a short defense of the math standards for his widely read journal.

Parents, public school teachers, and school board members throughout North Carolina have joined a growing number of opponents of the Common Core standards. During a recent school board meeting in Durham, two board members publicly voiced their concerns about the standards. They worried that the implementation of dramatically different standards has the potential to harm struggling students. Durham Public Schools superintendent Eric Becoats warned them that delaying implementation of the Common Core standards would prompt state education officials to punish the district. He responded, “I’m not sure if we would receive funding from the state.”

In other words, Becoats suspects that the state would employ the same kind of “carrot and stick” strategies employed by the federal government to get North Carolina to adopt the Common Core State Standards, as well as No Child Left Behind, in the first place.

Dr. Terry Stoops is the Director of Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation