Common Core, The Great “Leveler”

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

This is getting tiresome. Every new round of test scores, whether from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or some other vehicle, shows either stagnation or decline in reading and math performance of American students. Every time this happens, we write about the now undeniable connection to the Common Core national standards, which began to be implemented in most states in 2010. The recently released and utterly predictable scores from ACT require yet another commentary on the decline of academic performance and college-readiness under Common Core. 

How many times must this cycle repeat before someone in power is shamed into doing something about it?

Let’s look first at ACT’s college-readiness. According to Education Week, ACT correlates scores with students’ likelihood of earning Bs or Cs in credit-bearing college coursework. This year, only 40 percent of test-takers met the benchmark in math – the lowest level since 2004, and down from 46 percent in 2012. Significantly, unlike today’s students, the higher-scoring 2012 students had had little if any exposure to the glorious reforms of Common Core. As for reading, only 60 percent of test-takers met the college-readiness benchmark – the lowest level ever in the 16-year history of the benchmark. 

As for the straight scores, Education Week breaks the news: “The average math score for the graduating class of 2018 was 20.5, marking a steady decline from 20.9 five years ago, and virtually no progress since 1998, when it was 20.6.” And reading? “[T]he scores in English didn’t offer much cause for celebration, either. The average score for the class of 2018 was 20.2, the same as five years ago, and down half a point from the English-score high in 2007.”

But the hits just keep on comin’. Average composite scores fell in all racial and ethnic groups except Asian-Americans. So Common Core has been a great leveler – just not in the way it was promised. 

ACT’s chief executive officer was in a gloomy mood. “We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining,” he predicted.

So what should we do? Anyone with no Gates funding and two brain cells to rub together would conclude that a good start would be ditching Common Core lock, stock, and barrel – every “informational text,” every “close reading,” every “deeper conceptual understanding,” every “Lexile” measure, every “alternative algorithm,” every “real-world problem-solving,” every “rigorous” standard, every delay in standard algorithms, every delay in algebra, every “collaboration,” every “consensus,” all of it. Surely this will happen now.

Or maybe not. The progressive-education reformers have a lot invested in this experiment, and they’re guarding their interests. The immediate past-president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an organization that bears much blame for pushing the kind of ridiculous math enshrined in Common Core, isn’t giving up the national standards without a fight. As reported in Education Week, this educrat “said that states have made solid progress adopting the good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.”

Ah yes, that’s the ticket – the standards are great, so if we only improve “curriculum and instructional practice,” our kids may once again learn to read and work math problems.  This is certainly Bill Gates’s position, and after all he’s very rich and so knows of what he speaks. And this is basically the position of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which recently released a report singing the praises of Common Core. Rarely does such a report get disproven in only a few months. Unfortunate timing for Fordham.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the evidence of the raging success of Common Core:

  • From the 2015 NAEP scores: for the first time in over 20 years, declines in math performance across the board, stagnation or declines in reading performance, and decline in college-readiness benchmarks in both areas.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: no improvement from the dismal 2015 scores.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: increased “achievement gap” between white/Asian students and other minority groups.
  • From the 2017 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test: U.S. students tumble from 5th in the world to 13th.

The protective edifice that has been erected around Common Core – by the federal government, state education establishments, private foundations, corporations, education consultants, and individual megalomaniacs – has got to go. If these defenders refuse to acknowledge the truth staring them in the face, they are elevating their own interests over those of American children. 

Wild Common Core Spin Over Federal Report

Photo credit: carrotmadman6 (CC-By-2.0)

I have to applaud the spin over a federal report I just saw. A headline over at The 74 Million states: “Driven by Common Core Rigor, States Are Raising Proficiency Bar for Reading and Math, New Report Finds.”

Since news over Common Core has been bad, and NAEP scores have demonstrated that it has done nothing to raise student achievement I can understand why Common Core advocates want to grasp at anything resembling good news.

Kate Stringer wrote:

That’s according to a comparison of state proficiency standards released today by the National Center for Education Statistics that looks at 2015 data. But more states than ever, including Louisiana, are raising their standards closer to the proficiency bar set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress — commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card.

Over the past 15 years, NCES has been tracking how each state defines proficiency and comparing that to NAEP’s benchmark. NAEP is the only common national test taken by students in every state, and it is generally considered to have rigorous standards for defining proficiency (although some have argued that the standards are too high).

The reason for this move toward higher academic standards for reading and math comes from a national push over the past decade for common, rigorous standards, like the Common Core, Peggy Carr, associate commissioner for NCES, said during a call Wednesday with reporters.

States kept proficiency standards low because it made it seem like more students are proficient. Richard Phelps with Nonpartisan Education Review pointed out yesterday on Twitter why this really isn’t something to celebrate:

“Cut scores are set subjectively or, in the worst cases, arbitrarily. They do not necessarily have anything to do with test quality, rigor, or alignment. Moreover, tests can be more difficult precisely because they are of lower quality, e.g., poorly written, convoluted,” he tweeted.

Just because PARCC and Smarter Balanced raised their proficiency standards does not mean they are good assessments. There are serious validation concerns with both assessments.

All that raising proficiency standards has done is to demonstrate how much states were trying to pull the wool over parents’ and taxpayers’ eyes.

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.

DeVos on 2017 NAEP Results: “We can and must do better for America’s students.”

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Committee
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos responded to the stagnant nationwide scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) but touted Florida who saw gains in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math scores as a bright spot.

Here is her statement in full:

The report card is in, and the results are clear: We can and we must do better for America’s students. Our nation’s reading and math scores continue to stagnate. More alarmingly, the gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite billions in Federal funding designated specifically to help close it.

One bright spot in today’s report is Florida, where Sunshine State students are bucking the national trend, showing significant improvement in 4th and 8th grade math and in 8th grade reading. Both low and high performers in Florida demonstrated that improvement, again bucking the national trend and narrowing the achievement gap.

Florida leaders, administrators, and, most importantly, teachers are to be commended for their continued efforts on behalf of students. Florida has been at the forefront of bold, comprehensive education reform for decades. From accountability, to literacy, to teacher certification and recognition, to providing parents more freedom to select the learning environment that best fits their students’ needs, Florida is rethinking education.

Florida’s results show what is possible when we focus on individual students. This Administration is committed to working with States and communities across our country to bring about the much-needed change our students deserve.

Many thanks to the professional staff at the National Center for Education Statistics and the members of the National Assessment Governing Board for their work and for their commitment to continually improving NAEP.

Florida saw an improvement from 227 to 228 on the fourth-grade reading assessment. The average score is still below 240 which is the score students need to receive to be deemed “proficient.” 41 percent of Florida’s 4th-graders are considered proficient or above up from 38 percent in 2015.

Florida saw a bigger jump with eighth graders on their reading assessment. They jumped from an average score of 264 to 267. A score of 280 is considered proficient. 35 percent of Florida’s 8th-graders are considered proficient up from 30 percent in 2015.

Florida’s 4th graders saw a larger jump in math with an average score of 243 in 2015 to 246 in 2017 which is a new high for the Sunshine State. Fourth graders are considered proficient if they attain a score of 250 or higher. 47 percent of Florida’s 4th-graders attained that score or higher, up from 42 percent in 2015.

Florida’s 8th graders saw a smaller bump from 281 in 2015 to 282 in 2017. This is still two points below their historic high of 284 attained in 2013. The proficiency benchmark is 300 for the 8th-grade math assessment. Only 29 percent of Florida’s 8th-graders are considered proficient or above up from 27 percent in 2015.

 

2017 NAEP Results Show Little Change

The 2017 results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) in Mathematics and Reading have been released and there has been little change.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Compared to 2015, there was a 1-point increase in the average reading score at grade 8 in 2017 (still below the 2013 score of 268), but no significant change in the average score for reading at grade 4, or for mathematics at either grade.
  • A growing achievement gap: NAEP scores are reported at five selected percentiles to show the progress made by lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students. In comparison to 2015, the 2017 mathematics and reading scores were higher for eighth-graders performing at the 75th and 90th percentiles and lower for fourth-graders performing at the 10th and 25th percentiles.
  • Across the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense schools, and Puerto Rico (in mathematics only), average scores for most states were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and at both grades.
  • In Florida, average scores increased in both grade 4 and grade 8 mathematics. Average scores for students in Puerto Rico increased in grade 4 mathematics and for the Department of Defense schools in grade 8 mathematics. Scores decreased in 10 states in grade 4 mathematics and in three states in grade 8 mathematics.
  • In reading at grade 4, average scores did not increase in any state/jurisdiction, and scores decreased in nine states/jurisdictions. In eighth-grade reading, 10 states/jurisdictions had score increases, and one state, Montana, had a score decrease compared to 2015.
  • Most changes in scores across districts were seen in grade 4 mathematics, where four districts (Duval County (FL), Fresno, Miami-Dade, and San Diego) had increases, and four districts (Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cleveland, Dallas, and Detroit) had decreases in scores compared to 2015. In grade 8 mathematics, Philadelphia had a decrease in its average score. In grade 4 reading, San Diego had a score increase, and in grade 8 reading, Albuquerque and Boston had increases in scores compared to 2015.
  • Fourth graders who are eligible for National School Lunch Program (NSLP), attend a city school or have a disability saw a decrease in mathematics scores from 2015.
  • 8th-grade students in public schools, suburban schools, with disabilities, ELL, and non-ELL saw an increase in reading scores.
  • Catholic school students outperformed public school students.
  • The performance gap between 4th grade white and black students widened in Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana in mathematics compared to 2015. No state saw the performance gap narrow in mathematics. In reading, Arizona saw the performance gap widen while the District of Columbia saw their performance gap narrow.
  • Among 4th graders, the white-Hispanic student performance gap widened in mathematics in Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico compared to 2015. Kansas saw their gap narrow. In reading, Tennessee saw their gap widen while Kansas saw their gap narrow.
  • Boys’ average scores are slightly higher than girls in mathematics, they trail girls in reading.

Read the rest of the key findings here.

Louisiana’s State School Chief John White Worries About Upcoming NAEP Results

 

The 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results will be released on April 10th and it seems as though Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White got an advanced look and he is worried.

Matt Barnum with Chalkbeat reported on a letter that White sent to Dr. Peggy Carr, the Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, who administers NAEP, that questions about how the switch to computer-based testing will impact student scores.

White wrote:

The 2017 NAEP administration marked a significant transition from paper-based testing to computer-based testing. NCES found that, consistent with research on the NAEP (Bennett et al., 2008; Horkay, Bennett, Allen, Kaplan, & Yan, 2006), this shift in the mode of testing contributed to lower performance on NAEP forms among the general U.S. sample population. Using the small sample of paper-based testers, NCES calculated a baseline level of performance and adjusted nationwide scores to maintain the longitudinal NAEP trend. Based on this mode effect adjustment, NCES has preserved the integrity of its effort to report trends in nationwide math and reading over time.

I understand that NCES may have found disparities in the mode effect on different subgroups of students. However, any disparate effect found was not significant. Thus NCES did not include any difference from one group of students to the next in its calculation of the mode effect. The adjustment NCES made in order to preserve the national trend is the same for every student.

It is my understanding that, though NCES maintained a consistent longitudinal trend at the national level, there remains the possibility that the mode effect in a given state may have been greater than the nationwide mode effect. This could be attributable to a disproportionately large population of a subgroup that experienced a greater mode effect than the national effect. It also could be attributable to the relative capacity of 4th and 8th grade students in a given state to use computers.

As a potential illustration of this point, no Louisiana student in 4th grade or 8th grade had ever been required to take a state assessment via a computer or tablet as of the 2017 NAEP administration. This fact, coupled with a variety of social indicators that may correspond with low levels of technology access or skill, may mean that computer usage or skill among Louisiana students, or students in any state, is not equivalent to computer skills in the national population.

The first problem, as Richard Innes with the Bluegrass Institute pointed out is that NAEP may have some validity issues. He wrote, “Certainly, the possibility White raises that NAEP might have performed differently for different states could be a real concern. Could the comparability of NAEP data between states and across years have been compromised?”

To that end White asked Carr for additional information to which Chalkbeat reports Carr said she would provide. White wrote:

I am therefore writing to request that the following information be made available to state chiefs as soon as possible:

  1. The mode effect adjustment applied to each grade and subject nationally
  2. The average mean scores for students taking the paper-based test and for students taking the tablet-based test, at the state level and at the national level, in each grade, subject, and subgroup
  3. Evidence of the random equivalence of the groups of students taking the paper-based testsand students taking the tablet-based tests, at the state level and at the national level
  4. National subgroup performance trends, reported by performance quintile, quartile, or decile.

The second problem, that White concedes, is with using computer-based tests to begin with. He wrote, “I would like to be assured, as soon as possible, that when NCES reports math and reading results on a state-by-state basis over a two-year interval, the results and trends reported at the state level reflect an evaluation of reading and math skill rather than an evaluation of technology skill.”

This is why I don’t favor computer-based assessments.

This, of-course, could be spin. Barnum writes, “Even though researchers warn that it is inappropriate to judge specific policies by raw NAEP results, if White’s letter is a signal that Louisiana’s scores have fallen, that could deal a blow to his controversial tenure, where he’s pushed for vouchers and charter schools, the Common Core, letter grades for schools, and an overhaul of curriculum.”

White contends that he’s not concerned about Louisiana scores. “I doubt that any mode effect would have radically vaulted Louisiana to the top or dropped Louisiana further below,” White told Chalkbeat. “The issue is from a national perspective.”

Jay P. Greene, Chair of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says that it looks like “pre-spin” to him. He wrote on his blog, “Maybe it’s just a remarkable coincidence that White has suddenly developed these technical concerns about the validity of NAEP at about the same time that he was briefed on his state’s results.  How much do you want to bet that there is a decline in LA?”

I’m not a betting man.

Considering the Council of State School Chiefs also expressed concern, Louisiana is probably not alone.

Belittling Parents and Ignoring Evidence Won’t Work

The Collaborative for Student Success (CSS) recently posted a particularly snarky piece blasting the moms who have been fighting back against the miseducation to which their children are being subjected under Common Core (CC). CSS is a propaganda outfit created by Common Core proponents such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ExxonMobil to push the national standards. The anti-mom piece (along with a new article repeating the false talking point that the new fed-ed law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), does away with CC) sheds no new light on the debate. In fact, it could have been written five years ago, as it ignores mountains of information that refutes its claims – but it does suggest that the moms’ success on social media is getting under the centralizers’ collective skin.

The CSS article contains so many flat-out deceptions that the most efficient way to address them is in bullet-point form. Here goes:

  • CSS repeats the discredited claim that Patriot Journalist Network (PJNET) is a “bot” that manufactures anti-Common Core tweets. Nope. Every tweet issued via PJNET comes from a human, not a bot. It must really annoy Mr. Gates that the moms are using technology to outsmart him and his well-paid troops.
  • CSS claims CC is merely a set of academic standards that some states have “chosen to adopt.” In fact, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) pushed the standards onto the states by tying their adoption to billions of dollars in federal Race to the Top money, during a time of deep recession when states were desperate for cash.
  • CSS denies CC is a “data mining scheme,” but CC is, in fact, a large part of exactly such a scheme. In their rush to qualify for Race to the Top grants, states had to agree not only to adopt the standards but also to build out invasive student-data systems. CC also ushers in “digital learning,” through which corporations and the government collect the millions of data points students emit merely by using a sophisticated interactive software. This data can be used to build personal algorithms that have the potential to map a child’s brain and even dictate his future. When the government first standardizes education through CC and then joins with corporate Big Data to tag and collect every data point from children throughout their K-12 careers, the scheme is much larger and much more nefarious than CSS’s anodyne description of just “English and math standards.”
  • CSS claims federal and state laws “ensure that only parents or a legal guardian can access their (sic) child’s academic records.” This one is a whopper. Even the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as traditionally interpreted wasn’t this protective, and since the Obama administration rewrote FERPA by regulation, the government may disclose personally identifiable student data to literally anyone in the world as long as it uses the right language to justify the disclosure. Parents need not even be informed this is happening. And parents have no idea that the interactive software promoted by CC is collecting billions of data points on their children’s performance and even on their personalities.
  • CSS describes CC as “higher standards.” Wrong again. Among many other critics, the top two standards-content experts in the country (Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram) refused to sign off on the standards because they were so deficient. The standards dumb down English language arts (ELA) by diminishing classic literature and replacing it with less-demanding nonfiction “informational text” that teachers aren’t trained to teach. They dumb down math by, among other things, 1) requiring failed “fuzzy math” pedagogies, 2) delaying the teaching of Algebra I until 9th grade, thus making it impossible for most students to reach calculus in high school, and 3) stopping with only a partial Algebra II course, thus admittedly preparing students only for a non-selective community college.
  • CSS claims “there’s not much President Trump can do about Common Core,” saying “nobody wants” him to issue a federal mandate that states ditch the standards. But “nobody” is saying he can or should do that. There are many actions his USED could take to relieve the federal pressure points that operate to lock states into CC. And because ESSA contains many of those pressure points, he can work to change or better yet repeal ESSA.
  • CSS claims that students with CC training are making “significant improvements” in ELA and math on state tests. This claim is misleading. In the first place, in many states, such as Kentucky, the state-test scores are mixed, with slight improvement in some areas but decline in others. And as former USED official Ze’ev Wurman points out, even the modest improvements on the CC-aligned state tests may be attributable to students’ and teachers’ becoming more familiar with these relatively new tests. Second, the reality is that Common Core incorporated many of the discredited, progressive fads that many states already had embedded in their standards.  Rather than adopting excellent, proven standards like those of Massachusetts, many states simply continued down the path of low-level standards by adopting Common Core.
  • It’s obvious why CSS focuses on data from state tests rather than from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test that hasn’t yet been corrupted by aligning it to CC training. Math scores on NAEP have actually declined for the first time in 25 years. In fact, of the 26 states and D.C. that CSS praises for improvement on the state tests, fully 17 showed declines on NAEP scores for 4th-grade math. Only one of the CSS-cited states showed improvement on NAEP in this category. And the NAEP scores get worse the longer students are exposed to CC training. By senior year of high school, students in 2015 (compared with 2013) scored lower in math, about the same in reading, and lower in college-preparedness in both subjects.

An honest observer would at least acknowledge this negative trend, if only to try to explain it away. Could it be that CSS isn’t an honest observer?

  • CSS scoffs at the correct statement that CC requires 50 percent of reading in elementary school, and 70 percent in high school, to consist of nonfiction “informational text.” CSS trumpets that the 70 percent figure refers to reading across all subject areas, rather than only in English class. It’s not clear what CSS is objecting to here, since the tweet CSS complains of is completely true. But CSS fails to note that CC requires at least 50 percent of reading in high-school English class to consist of nonfiction rather than classic literature. It’s beyond dispute that CC diminishes the study of the world’s finest literature and requires teachers to focus instead on newspaper articles, government regulations, etc.
  • CSS bemoans the “completely false narrative” that CC “pushes learning at the expense of fun and playing” in K-2. Our youngest students, CSS implies, will thrive under CC’s workforce-development training. Tell that to the more than 500 early-childhood-development professionals who published an extraordinary statement decrying the developmental inappropriateness of the standards. Could this developmental mismatch be because the identified drafters of CC included not one K-2 teacher or specialist in early-childhood development? And CSS’s claim would come as a surprise to kindergarten teachers across the country, who are forced to push academic drills on little ones who are still learning to tie their shoes. Gotta get the kiddies ready for their entry-level jobs.
  • Defending the indefensible, CSS lauds CC math for “encourag[ing] multiple approaches so that kids can how (sic) to find the answer, not just what the answer is using methods they don’t fully understand.” CSS claims “kids are definitely still learning math the way their parents did” but are privileged to learn other methods as well. World-renowned mathematicians Dr. James Milgrim and Dr. Marina Ratner disagree, pointing out that CC teaches the standard algorithms (the techniques that work first time, every time) at least two years later than they’re taught in the highest-achieving countries. Until then, children are forced to grapple with cumbersome “made up” math strategies that do nothing but confuse them and drive their parents to distraction. By the way, this is exactly the type of progressive math that was tried, and that failed miserably, in California during the 1990’s (after which Dr. Milgram was brought in to clean up the mess). To understand the scientific evidence about why this type of math “teaching” doesn’t work, read Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths about Education.

CSS finds it appropriate to make fun of parents who want the best for their children’s education and who are struggling every day to wrest it from the talons of the Common Core centralizers – “experts” who just know this will all work if parents will only shut up and stop interfering. But belittling parents and ignoring the wealth of well-founded research that supports their arguments is a pretty poor method of persuasion. We’re not sure Mr. Gates is getting his money’s worth from CSS.

In the meantime, moms will keep using technology to outsmart the technocrats’ well-funded mouthpieces. Cosmic justice.

Using NAEP Proficiency for Accountability Sets Florida Students Up for Failure

From the beginning, the marketing of the Common Core and other progressive education schemes has been brilliant. The PR guys seized on words and phrases that sounded good to the uninformed public and then painted all opposition as manifestly unreasonable. Why would anyone not want “rigorous” standards that teach “critical thinking” and make our children “college- and career-ready”?

Now Jeb Bush and his minions (including his Foundation for Florida’s Future, or “FFF”) are doing the same thing in Florida on a related topic – assessments and school accountability. This time the popular terms are “proficiency” and “honesty gap.” But the real honesty gap yawns between what FFF claims to be doing and what it’s really up to.

As Karen Effrem of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition explains, all this has to do with school-accountability ratings included in the state plans required by the recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (you know, the statute that supposedly eliminated federal requirements). FFF is pushing legislation imposing school accountability ratings that are linked to whether students are deemed “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “the nation’s report card” – rather than whether they score at grade level on the state tests.

As Dr. Effrem observes, another Bush foundation website – “Why Proficiency Matters” – “makes it appear that these two achievement levels are completely equivalent and that anyone who opposes this idea is against honesty and raising student achievement.”

But like so much else in the “education reform” universe occupied by FFF and its co-advocates, (such as Achieve, Inc., which helped develop the Common Core national standards), this simply isn’t so. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution states flatly, “Equating NAEP proficiency with grade level is bogus.” Why? Because the NAEP proficiency score is “aspirational” – it was set significantly above what most students could be expected to achieve (as Loveless reports, even some education organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences objected to NAEP’s achievement levels from the outset as “fundamentally flawed” and “consistently set too high”).

Even the NAEP governing board warns against conflating the NAEP proficiency level with grade-level achievement. From the board’s “myths vs. facts” brochure: “Proficient on NAEP means competency over challenging subject matter. This is not the same thing as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to performance on local curriculum and standards.”

This misalignment seems particularly apparent in math. The 2007 Brown Center Report on American Education projected that even in Singapore – with the world’s highest-scoring math students – over a quarter of students would fail to achieve proficiency on the 8th-grade NAEP test.

The irony here is that Bush and his cohorts nationwide are largely responsible for imposing the subpar Common Core standards on most public schools – thereby practically guaranteeing diminished student performance on any genuine achievement test, and especially on a test such as NAEP with elevated proficiency scores. Recent flatlining or declining NAEP scores have borne that out. Bush’s foundations, in keeping with their longtime enthusiasm for Common Core, refuse to acknowledge the connection between those standards and poor academic performance. But while downplaying this negative trend with NAEP scores, they push the bizarre notion that academic achievement can be improved merely by requiring higher scores – without fixing the underlying “Core” problem that depresses achievement in the first place.

Maybe there’s a larger plan in the works. Dr. Effrem outlines the devastating consequences of saddling Florida’s public schools with inferior standards and curricula and then subjecting them to the NAEP proficiency standard rather than a more realistic grade-level standard: “[T]he passing rate on the fourth-grade reading test would be cut in half from 54 percent to 27 percent. . . . The costs to local districts would skyrocket . . . . These costs would include remediation, progress monitoring, more summer school, and make-up exams . . . .” As she sums up, “the public schools would implode.”

Could this be designed to drive education in a different direction? One possibility would be increasing the number of charter schools (with, perhaps, their politically and financially connected management companies). In fact, the Florida House is proposing an increase in charter funding of $200 million and a school-turnaround plan that accelerates converting schools into charters. Whatever their possible benefits, charters are less accountable to the public and in direct competition with private schools that seek to provide an alternative to Common Core (charters, as public schools, teach Common Core).

An alternative direction would be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s favorite project, private-school choice programs. The obvious problem here is that once government money begins flowing into private schools, government regulations will almost inevitably follow. Indeed, when the nationwide anti-Common Core movement originated in such states as Missouri, Utah, and Indiana, the Indiana parents were battling the national standards in Catholic schools –which were forced to administer the state Common Core test, and therefore to teach the inferior Common Core standards, because they accepted voucher students.

While it’s laudable to raise the bar on meaningful academic achievement, that won’t be done by setting the passing scores unreasonably beyond grade level while simultaneously imposing standards and curricula that practically ensure failure. In Florida, this failure will then be tied to high stakes such as 3rd-grade retention, graduation, teacher pay, and school accountability grades. Labeling so many students, teachers, and schools as failures — when they probably couldn’t meet the new requirements even without the downward pull of Common Core — is simply deceitful.

Whatever the motive of the proponents of this plan, Effrem warns about the negative personal and financial “accountability” consequences of holding students, teachers, and schools to an unreasonable standard. “Raising the bar to a level that is quite simply unattainable,” she says, “is just not fair.” If Mr. Bush and his foundations really want to improve schools, they should advocate freeing them from the snare of Common Core. That would be the honest thing to do.

Collaborative for Student Success Needs to Close Its Own Honesty Gap

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary

According to the Collaborative for Student Success website, NAEP – not state assessments – is the better gauge of student performance. They call the difference between the two test results the “honesty gap.”

Parents deserve the truth. Historically, states have exaggerated the percent of students who are proficient – as demonstrated by the huge gaps that have existed between state NAEP scores and what states report as their proficiency rate. (see Honesty Gap explained here)

I couldn’t agree more. Yet, this argument is currently being used (along with other misleading data) to sway states into keeping Common Core, or “higher” standards, after implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. This is funny seeing how scores declined on NAEP since Common Core implementation and the state assessments are so screwed up one can barely decipher what they mean. Nonetheless, the pre-ESSA implementation spin by Common Core supporters is that states would be going “backwards” if they switch from CC, and this is the spin we must combat:

We can’t go backwards. Opponents of Common Core and high quality tests want to take states and the country backward. Yet they offer no alternative plan to ensuring that parents have the right information and that we are graduating kids that are prepared for success in life. Standards and assessments may not be popular terms – but opponents owe parents a plan for ensuring student success without them.

Yet, they step on their own “honesty gap” argument in a dishonest attempt to claim that Common Core has improved math proficiency rates for third graders available on their website. They use the 2015 state assessments as the gauge while ignoring the 2015 NAEP scores.

Six years after the majority of states adopted higher K-12 academic standards, new data suggest proficiency among students is improving. Among the more than 40 states that have adopted and maintained high standards, the vast majority have seen proficiency rates improve. Among third grade students – students whose entire academic careers have been guided by high standards– math scores increased by more than three percentage points. All but a handful of states saw improvements.

They use the 2015-2016 state assessments as their “proof.” Yet, students in 3rd grade that year started kindergarten in 2012, right? What about the students who started school six years ago when they claim most states adopted the standards? As we all know, kindergarten was the earliest grade to implement. In Indiana, by at least 2011, even the Catholic schools had already implemented Common Core in grades K-5.

The 2015 NAEP scores showed an overall decline in the percentage of 4th graders (under Common Core since at least 1st grade depending on implementation year) scoring proficient in math. Only the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and the DoDEA showed a gain. 16 states had declines and 33 had no change. see results here.

The dishonesty and spin is so obvious. If we start hearing the same “keep high standards” don’t “go backwards” spin from incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, it will be very telling. We need the argument to be made that the Common Core is academically inferior to prior standards and state should seize the opportunity with ESSA and the new administration to repeal and replace Common Core with better standards.

Alabama Elects to March Toward True Progress in Education

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On August 11, 2016 the Alabama State School Board selected Michael Sentance of Massachusetts for State School Superintendent; September 8, we approved his contract. One of six finalists, Sentance won my support during his 55-minute interview on August 4. I don’t think anyone in the crowded room was expecting what he said. Sentance gave us a brief but clear outline for his vision of education, modeled on the highly successful reform effort he had been part of in Massachusetts back in the early 1990s.

As he answered our questions, I looked around the room and saw the expressions on people’s faces and noticed a light of hope in the eyes of fellow board members. When the governor passionately asked him, “Why hasn’t anyone else told me this before (regarding AL’s assessment system),” it dawned on me this man from Massachusetts had a real chance of being selected. For the first time in my 13 plus years on the state school board, I believed Alabama could be successful in turning around our educational system and improving students’ lives as Massachusetts had done. As Sentance had explained about Massachusetts’ success, I knew an endeavor this massive would require years of close cooperation among k-12, 2 and 4 year institutions, colleges of education, pre-k, business and industry, and of course parents, the Governor and the Legislature. I wondered hopefully would we in Alabama be willing to join together to take advantage of this unique opportunity, one that might not come along again for a long time?

As I researched his work in Massachusetts, I really liked what I learned. For example, in the fall of 2001 when Sentance left his position as senior education advisor to the governor, the state’s upward trajectory had begun. It culminated by 2007 when Massachusetts ranked first on the NAEP scores on all four assessments – a status never previously attained. Called one of the nation’s most competent K-12 leaders and a Federalist, Sentance has since 2010 valiantly objected to the misguided Common Core regime. He argued for rigorous, proven standards that are developed by teachers and academics in a state. He believed “the states should be doing this work as it allows for creativity and the pioneering innovation that states can provide…. It’s why we were able to introduce engineering into our science standards in 2000—something still lacking in any depth in the Next Generation Science Standards. So I believe that standards should always be established by states without the coercion from the federal government.”

I read that Mr. Sentance also recognized that while the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act focused on the academic aspect of school improvement, the career-tech sector was largely ignored. As he worked through the issue of improving career-tech programs, there was pressure from some sources to set up something like the European model for determining a student’s work future. but he resisted such moves and they did not accept that model. He said, “The focus was to provide a strong academic education for all students. While there was initial resistance to increasing the academic requirements in career-tech programs, eventually a group of career-tech superintendents courageously embraced the challenge of our standards and significantly improved their programs. And, this was done without tracking or pre-determining the destiny of any student.”

In an interview with AP after the vote, our new superintendent explained, “My goal is to raise the achievement of students in Alabama so whatever people think about Alabama, they know that their schools are good and improving…. I’m excited about the challenge… It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take the trust and faith of educators to work with me. So that is something I have to earn. I understand that.”

The AP article quoted Gov. Bentley: “I am not excited that we are 40th in 4th grade reading…46th in 8th grade reading and 50th in 8th grade math.” I join with the governor who asked the public to give Sentance a chance because our school scores must improve.

As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

I have faith that Alabamians will indeed work together and turn our schools around. Our students don’t deserve the status quo. We must turn back to the time when we were progressing in order to march toward true progress.