Gov. Jerry Brown, Assessment Control Freak

I don’t think anyone has accused California Governor Jerry Brown of being an advocate for local control, but here’s definitive proof that isn’t the case. He vetoed a bill, AB 1951, last week that would allow local school districts to substitute Smarter Balanced with the SAT or ACT for 11th graders.

Since the vast majority of students who plan to go to college take either one of those college-entrance exams (or both), it is a move that makes sense.

For the record, I believe there should be alternatives to those assessments (I’ve profiled a couple here), and we have also seen colleges drop the assessment requirement altogether

Brown’s answer to this is to require the University of California and California State University systems to accept Smarter Balanced as their college entrance exam.

In his veto message Brown wrote:

This bill requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to approve one or more nationally recognized high school assessments that a local school may administer in lieu of the state-administered high school summative assessment, commencing with the 2019-20 school year.

Since 2010, California has eliminated standardized testing in grades 9 and 10 and the high school exit exam. While I applaud the author’s efforts to improve student access to college and reduce “testing fatigue” in grade 11, I am not convinced that replacing the state’s high school assessment with the Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Test achieves that goal.

Our K-12 system and our public universities are now discussing the possible future use of California’s grade 11 state assessment for college admission purposes. This is a better approach to improving access to college for under-represented students and reducing “testing fatigue.”

This “better idea” of Governor Brown’s is not feasible as the author of the bill, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), EdSource reports:

Neither system currently does that, but at the request of Kirst, who is president of the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a UC administrator wrote in July that the UC would consider whether that would be feasible.

But O’Donnell said that even if CSU and UC were interested, it would take years for them to factor Smarter Balanced scores into their admissions criteria. His bill would have given districts the option of switching to the SAT or ACT in 2019-20.

He said that Brown’s veto message didn’t address his main reason for proposing his bill, which is to alert students of deficits in their skills before their junior year, in addition to encouraging more students to pursue college. Smarter Balanced tests students in 3rd to 8th grades and then 11th grade. It’s not given in 9th and 10th grades, creating a two-year gap. O’Donnell, a middle and high school teacher before his election to the Assembly, said that districts like Long Beach have used the Pre-SAT, starting in 8th grade, to fill in the vacuum of information by identifying what needs to be addressed before students take the SAT.

O’Donnell, who is the Assembly Education Committee Chair, told EdSource he plans to move the bill again next year when there is a new governor.

A Tale of Two Ohio Common Core Bills

Ohio State Capitol in Columbus, OH
Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

After I had written about HB 176, introduced into the Ohio House of Representatives in early April, I was informed there was a second bill. HB 181 was introduced five days after HB 176, It is sponsored by State Representatives Ron Hood (R-Ashville) and Thomas Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout) and has 13 co-sponsors.

You can read the text here.

In my opinion, this is a weaker bill. There is some great language. For instance, it bans the use of PARCC and Smarter Balanced:

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Revised Code or in any rule or directive of the state board of education, superintendent of public instruction, or department of education, on or after July 1, 2017, the department of education shall not use any assessment related to the partnership for assessment of readiness for college and career (PARCC), the smarter balanced assessments, or any other assessment developed by a multistate consortium, for use as any of the assessments prescribed under sections 3301.0710 and 3301.0712 of the Revised Code.

It prohibits officials from tying the state to any memorandum that would tie the state’s hands.

No official or board of this state, whether appointed or elected, shall enter into any agreement or memorandum of understanding with any federal or private entity that would require the state to cede any measure of control over the development, adoption, or revision of academic content standards.

Regarding academic standards, the bill says: “The state board shall not adopt academic content standards that are developed at the national level or by a multistate consortium.”

Great.

Here are the weaknesses of this particular bill compared to HB 176:

  • It does not explicitly forbid the Ohio State Board of Education from continuing to use Common Core. It just says the state shall “periodically adopt standards.” There is no deadline for new standards in math or ELA from what I can see.
  • While the legislation states that the state board “shall not adopt academic content standards that are developed at the national level or by a multistate consortium” there is nothing in the bill that would prevent the Board from just revising their current standards and then declaring them to be “Ohio standards.” We have seen this done in numerous states.
  • It does not require the adoption of quality standards in the interim. HB 176 required the implementation of the Massachusetts standards pre-Common Core.
  • The bill does not require the State Legislature to approve the new standards unlike HB 176. Sorry, state boards of education have proven themselves to be completely untrustworthy in repealing Common Core when review bills have become law.
  • It does not give school districts flexibility in how much they will utilize standards approved by the State Board of Education.

Is it better than nothing? Yes if they implement HB 181 in good faith. I have yet to see a state board or department of education operate in good faith when academic standards reviews are concerned. I should also note that HB 176 has twice the number of co-sponsors that HB 181 has. I would recommend that the Ohio House pass the stronger bill.

West Virginia to Move Away From Smarter Balanced

Another state pulls away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The West Virginia Board of Education last Thursday voted to discontinue its use in the Mountain State. They are also reducing the amount of testing they require.

The West Virginia Department of Education published the following press release:

The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) took several actions regarding statewide testing at its meeting today. The WVBE voted to eliminate English language arts and mathematics statewide assessments in grades 9 and 10. Beginning during the spring 2017 testing window, high school students will only be tested in grade 11. The change puts West Virginia in line with federal requirements to test at least once at the high school level. The WVBE also voted to move away from the Smarter Balanced assessment beginning with the 2017-18 school year and directed the West Virginia Department of Education to explore options to adopt another statewide assessment.

In response to comments received during a 30-day public comment period on assessment policy 2340, the WVBE voted to remove policy language which would have utilized end-of-course exams in selected high school courses. The public overwhelmingly did not support the use of end-of-course exams within comments received.

The WVBE also approved a change in grade levels for the statewide science assessment from grade 4 to 5 in elementary school and grade 6 to 8 in middle school. Mountain State students will now be tested at the end of each programmatic level in science, resulting in a more accurate depiction of how well students master science skills.

“As a board, we are committed to finding the best assessment solution for the students in West Virginia,” said State Board of Education President Tom Campbell. “With that goal in mind, our board will listen to the public and our state’s educators who always have students’ best interest at heart.”

Smarter Balanced is now down to 16 (14 governing, two advisory) states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bureau of Indian Education. Smarter Balanced at one time had 31 states that participated in its consortium.

It is unclear what assessment West Virginia will end up using next school year.

Update: SB 18 was introduced to change the tests to ACT and ACT Aspire. The U.S. Department of Education questioned whether ACT Aspire actually aligned to Alabama’s standards (which is Common Core) so it’s hard to see West Virginia who also implemented Common Core go that route. Another testament to the *flexibility* of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Foster Care Children Being Left Behind

bubblesheet

An interesting story out of California shows that while the state saw an improvement with their Smarter Balanced Assessment scores (if you can really get excited about less than 50% of students meeting or exceeding standards) there is a group that is lagging behind – foster care children.

Kristin DeCarr at Education News reports:

For the first time, the scores of the state’s foster youth have been separated by education officials, finding that these students are learning less than their peers.  As the scores for the 2014-15 school year show, the first year that scores of the new, harder exam were reported, 18.8% of students in the foster care system met or exceeded standards on the English exam in comparison with 44.2% of their non-foster peers across the state.  Results were similar in math, with 11.8% of foster students meeting or exceeding standards, while 33.8% of their non-foster peers did the same.

Foster students were also found to have a lower participation rate on the exams.  While 27,651 foster students, 89.8% of those enrolled, took the English exam, 96.1% of non-foster students participated.  Meanwhile, 27,475 foster students, or 89.3%, took the math exam in comparison to 96.3% of their non-foster peers, writes Joy Resmovits for The Los Angeles Times.

Experts believe the lower participation rates to be a reflection of the difficulty with which children move through the foster care system.  A study performed by the nonprofit educational research organization the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd found that just two-thirds of foster students remain in the same school each year.  In addition, it was discovered that one in ten have attended three schools over the course of just one school year.

According to the nonprofit Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, each move to a different school results in a loss of between four and six months of learning.

I worked with at-risk youth for 13 years, including children and youth who were considered CINA or Child in Need of Assistance. These kids were the ones who made up Iowa’s foster care system. From my experience what I can tell you is that there is nothing standards or assessments can do to help these kids achieve academically. That is not the answer. They need stability and they need support.

These kids also disprove the argument that having common standards will help students who change schools. Obviously that isn’t the case. Moving from school to school causes a disruption that no set of standards can address.

What Can You Do With 23 Additional Hours?

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The Newport (OR) News Times has a great quote from Newport High School Principal Jon Zagel about the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

“The average time was 23 hours to take the test. Twenty-three hours where our kids could be in the classroom reading another novel, learning more about math, learning more about science — we’re in a computer lab.”

Nice.

Unfortunately the article has a paywall so I haven’t read the rest, based on the title Mr. Zagel isn’t alone in his problems with Smarter Balanced. In this short quote Mr. Zagel raises an excellent question.

What can teachers do if they had an additional 23 hours (or so) with their students instead of taking a standardized test that frankly doesn’t help students? It doesn’t even help teachers considering how long it takes for scores to be released.

What a colossal waste of time.

Two More Smarter Balanced States Eye Making Changes

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

House Democrats in Delaware are calling for the state to stop requiring Smarter Balanced for high school juniors.  Delaware Public Media reports this week:

Ten legislators wrote a letter to Gov. Jack Markell last week, saying the SAT should be eleventh grade’s accountability exam, not Smarter Balanced.

Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-North Wilmington) was among those who signed that letter. She says too few juniors took Smarter Balanced last year — fewer than the 95 percent target at some schools.

Heffernan says that’s due in part to parent and student concerns over the test’s length and content. But she says it’s also because of the other college entrance exams, such as the SAT, ACT and AP tests, that juniors have to juggle.

“They have a big testing burden already,” Heffernan says. “And it would be a way to reduce their testing burden, but also to give us good data to be able to have educational accountability.”

Plus, she says the SAT is already required and aligned with Common Core standards, and takes half the time of Smarter Balanced.

I’d like to point out that I do not think this is an overall improvement other than it is one less assessment that juniors in Delaware would have to take. I think the new SAT is garbage, and will do nothing to break Common Core’s grip in the state. What we will see, however, is the further degrading of the argument that states are comparing apples to apples in terms of a common assessment.  I suspect we’ll see a bill drop when their legislature is in session, and I think it’s significant that Governor Markell is getting pushback from members of his own party.

In West Virginia they’re looking at ditching Smarter Balanced in favor of the ACT and ACT Aspire tests.  The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports:

Most members of the West Virginia Schools superintendent’s commission on testing want to move away from Smarter Balanced standardized exams, limit end-of-year testing in high school to only one grade and specifically explore using ACT tests as statewide assessments.

The recommendations came near the end of a nearly five-hour-long meeting that included commission members expressing worries about more students refusing to take tests this school year.

They also expressed concern about the state’s plan to give entire schools and counties A-F grades based largely on standardized tests.

The commission expressed complaints that Smarter Balanced, a Common Core-aligned math and English language arts test, isn’t an accurate gauge of student achievement, doesn’t give much reason for students to take it seriously and doesn’t provide information on what exactly students are struggling with.

Mountain State students had a 27 percent proficiency rate in math on Smarter Balanced last school year, the first year for the test statewide, and a 45 percent proficiency rate in English language arts.

“The No. 1 complaint I hear is a lack of prescriptive feedback,” said commission member Mickey Blackwell, executive director of the West Virginia Elementary/Middle Schools Principals Association. Fellow commission member Blaine Hess, superintendent of Jackson County Schools, noted that providing the ACT statewide would save families the cost of paying for the popular college entrance exam.

The commission — which has 26 members, although not all were present for the full meeting — is expected to meet a third and final time on Jan. 12. Final recommendations will be made to state Superintendent Michael Martirano, who will use them to advise the West Virginia Board of Education on whether to make any changes or not.

The ACT is not required by Mountain State schools, and West Virginia uses Smarter Balanced, instead of the ACT, to meet federal requirements to report test scores.

Read the rest.

Right now only Alabama and South Carolina use the ACT Aspire tests (which, yes are aligned to Common Core). There are 15 states that are still in Smarter Balanced with three affiliate members and it looks like they will continue to shrink.

Thomas More Law Center Challenges Common Core Constitutionality in West Virginia

westvirginiaflagpicture2(Ann Arbor, MI) The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, late last week, filed a lawsuit against West Virginia Governor Earl Tomblin and several state officials to stop the state’s implementation of Common Core and its participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC”). The lawsuit claims that West Virginia’s funding and participation in Common Core violates the U.S. Constitution, as well as federal and state laws that prohibit the federal government from usurping control over public school education. The lawsuit was filed in the Kanawha Circuit Court in West Virginia on behalf of two West Virginia taxpayers.

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is co-counsel in the case with D. John Sauer of the James Otis Law Group based in St. Louis, MO. Two prominent West Virginia attorneys, Jeffrey Kimble and Ryan Kennedy of Robinson & McElwee, PLLC, are assisting as local counsel.

TMLC’s lawsuit seeks to stop West Virginia’s payment of membership fees of over $1.5 million per year on the grounds that SBAC, to which West Virginia is a member, is an unconstitutional compact because it was never approved by Congress. The Compact Clause of the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o state shall, without the consent of Congress . . . enter into any agreement or compact with another state.”

West Virginia’s SBAC membership agreement forces West Virginia schools to align their curriculum with Common Core.

The two Plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Angela Summers and Fred Dailey, are prominent members of West Virginia Against Common Core and for over two years have voiced deep concerns about their state’s participation in Common Core.

Summers has five grandchildren. She began her battle against Common Core in 2013 over the new Common Core aligned math being taught to her grandchildren. Her concerns grew as she became aware of the federal government’s intrusion into local classrooms, federalized collection of student data, and the requirement of excessive testing. Summers says that the battle against Common Core is a battle “we cannot lose. If we lose, we will lose our children. If we lose our children, we will lose this nation.”

Dailey, who also has grandchildren, is an Environmental Engineer with a Masters degree. He worked as a Plant Manager for a major Chemical Manufacturing facility for 10 years prior to retiring. Dailey explains one of his reasons for getting involved in the lawsuit, “I strongly believe that the education of our children is best done locally with choices made by parents, teachers, and locally elected Boards of Education.”

The Thomas More Law Center and Sauer filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of state taxpayers against North Dakota officials five months ago. A decision in that case is still pending.

Both the North Dakota and West Virginia lawsuits follow the success of a previous lawsuit filed by Mr. Sauer that stopped Missouri’s implementation of Common Core. That case is currently on appeal. The Thomas More Law Center filed a friend of the court brief in support of upholding the Missouri district court decision.

Forty-three states initially joined either SBAC or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (“PARCC”), to implement Common Core under federal government oversight. However, several states have since canceled their membership due to growing opposition from parents and teachers.

Click here to read the full complaint.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented on behalf of the Law Center, “The unspoken agenda of Common Core is to undermine the fundamental right of parents to control the education of their children. It’s an insidious bureaucratic system in which the Federal Government takes control of what and how

American students learn. Teachers who complain about the Common Core are muzzled by threats of discipline or dismissal.”

In school districts across the country, administrators subject children, who obey their parents’ wishes and decline to participate in Common Core standardized testing, to unbelievable punishments. Students have been suspended, refused entrance into their classrooms, refused bathroom privileges, stripped of their academic and extracurricular honors and awards, removed from athletic participation, and punished with “sit-and-stare” policies. “Sit-and-stare” is a practice that forces students to sit at their assigned desk with no materials, books, or paper in silence for multiple hours during testing.

As a part of its efforts to help parents combat Common Core, the Thomas More Law Center developed a Test Refusal and Student Privacy Protection Form and a Common Core Resource Page as a general reference and guide.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. It supports a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign United States of America. The Law Center accomplishes its mission through litigation, education, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

We Need More School Administrators Like This Guy

geoff-thomasEast Idaho News reports on a local school superintendent, Geoff Thomas, who fought Common Core and Smarter Balanced being implemented in his local school district.  He also won the Idaho Superintendent of the Year award this year.  We really need more school administrators like Thomas who are willing to stand up and fight.

An excerpt:

Madison School District 321 got a taste of this first hand during the 2014-15 school year. Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas was awarded Superintendent of the Year for 2015 by the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

But Thomas also took some hits for taking an opposing position on Idaho Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s Idaho Standards Achievement Test. Thomas and the Madison School Board initially refused in March to offer the state mandated achievement test. However, the district reversed its decision a month later following significant state and federal pressure to offer the test or risk losing funding.

The district’s initial position on the Common Core-backed test resulted in a significant backlash from Boise leaders and other regional school districts. But it also generated a great deal of local support with some 40 percent of Madison students still being opted out of the test by their parents.

Jackie Rawlins, the founder of Madison Parents for Opting Out, told Idaho Education News in April it took courage for Thomas and Madison’s school board to fight state leaders on the test. Even though Madison was unable to prevent the test, she hoped the actions of parents would send a message to Boise.

Read more.

Thomas apparently was the lone dissenter on the Idaho Governor’s Improving Education Task Force who opposed the implementation of the Idaho Core Standards as well.

Letter From Mark Twain to Snake Oil Peddler: Modified for Petrelli and Pondiscio

Mark_Twain“Snake Oil Salesman.” The phrase conjures up images of seedy profiteers trying to exploit an unsuspecting public by selling it fake cures. Mark Twain had harsh words for a snake oil peddler when enraged by the peddler’s attempt to sell bogus medicine to Twain by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature, the peddler’s “Elixir of Life” could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had killed Twain’s daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which killed his 19-month-old son). A furious Twain dictated a letter of response to his secretary, which he then signed. What is a “snake oil salesman”? Why is peddling snake oil such a terrible thing?

A “snake oil salesman” is somebody that sells an item that claims to have some miraculous powers. This product is usually accompanied by a tremendous amount of hype. In an attempt to help push their products, the “snake oil salesman” will usually utilize planted accomplices who will claim that the product actually works.  Snake oil salesmen take advantage of struggling people willing to pay whatever they have to find a cure for their chronic problems. The snake oil peddlers know their promises of relief aren’t supported with well-designed research, but, pilot studies and longitudinal research will interfere with the agenda of salesman’s corporate and foundation sponsors. The “suckers” are not only cheated out of their money, but they forgo opportunities for authentic, locally developed solutions to their schools’ specific ailments. In other words, parents and taxpayers pay “opportunity cost” as well as financial costs. Hucksters hock hope. Twain lashed out at the peddler because he was grieved by genuine pain that the snake oil salesman disingenuously promised to relieve.

Mark Twain’s letter of fury unleashed on a snake oil salesman for fraudulent advertising conjures up similar images when thinking about Mike Petrelli and Robert Pondiscio’s “Missouri: Don’t shoot the messenger.” Petrelli and Pondiscio are the president and vice president for external affairs respectively of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A non-governmental organization frequently referred to as a conservative think tank. Why are Petrelli and Pondiscio likened to snake oil salesmen? Because they are using earned media to generate a tremendous amount of hype and push their untested, never-been-validated products – the Common Core State Standards and tests aligned to them. The Common Core peddlers repackaged a product discredited decades ago (slides 35- 44) with some new-fangled, untested software still under development; and banked (figuratively and literally) on the naiveté of a new generation of parents. Wanting relief from the fear that their children are being handicapped (a golf term) in a global race to the top (the top of what has not been clearly established), parents and other taxpayers are seduced into exchanging their hard earned dollars for Petrelli and Pondiscio’s “Elixir of Life” for American education.

Petrelli and Pondiscio  wrote the template for their ad, I mean article, when discussing the poor test results of students in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette, and then, about a week later, minimally altered it with a few changes of the statistics for Connecticut and Missouri publications – tailoring their “pitch” for the standards and tests to parents and taxpayers in those states.  Petrelli even billed himself with the “Missouri’s native son” spin in the author description of the STL Post Dispatch. He and Pondiscio used their parent status to identify themselves with readers in West Virginia and Connecticut. Clever, huh? What’s worse, like the classic snake oil scam, accomplices were on standby in the audience to claim that the products actually work. The West Virginia article was reviewed on the Common Core Fact Checker website on August 24, 2015, the day after Petrelli and Pondiscio’s article was published in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Here are the Common Core Fact Checker logo (note the underlining under honest in the logo) and excerpts of the article review:

Fact-Checker-300x128

Because parents, policymakers, and our kids deserve an honest debate.

News You Can Use:

Charleston Gazette-Mail, “Don’t Shoot the Test Score Messenger”: The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio write that states have “reached a critical milestone” following the first year of student assessments aligned to higher education standards. In West Virginia, …Common Core should help to boost college readiness – and college completion – by significantly raising expectations… Mountain State parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.”

What It Means: Petrilli and Pondiscio make a strong case that high-quality student assessments are a necessary step to ensure parents get an honest evaluation of how well their child is developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school college- and career-ready. For a long time, states systematically lowered the bar instead of adequately helping students to levels of college- and career-readiness. By holding students to higher expectations, states are taking the difficult step of improving student preparedness. ... [italics added]

Honest in my world means full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. Honest in my world also means test materials are demonstrated to be valid and reliable by independent external reviewers who present validity and reliability data before a test is administered as operational and cut scores are determined. My world has been shaped by the standards of ethical conduct of research writers published in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and the APA’s Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education. Clearly, full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and validity and reliability data published by independent external reviewers are not what you get when fact checking the Common Core Fact Checker website and Petrelli and Pondiscio’s article.

For starters, read the fine print in the lower left corner of the Common Core Fact Checker webpage to identify it as a project of The Collaborative for Student Success (CSS). Then, when you visit the CSS partners webpage, who should appear but the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (that is, the home organization of Petrelli and Pondiscio) along with other high profile Common Core developers and supporters such as Common Core architect, David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners, the workforce planners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and The Bill and Melinda Gates funded PTA. So, it appears that Petrelli and Pondiscio are rounding up insiders and accomplices to affirm their claims about the wonders of common core standards and tests. Conflict of interest abounds. I think I smell a funny odor, like essence of snake oil. 

While Petrelli and Pondicio scrutinize student scores in three states and pronounce that the percentage who have reached a proficient level of performance is woefully unacceptable, they warn readers to “. . .  resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests.” They fail sound the alarm against critics who might be holding the standards and tests to standards of professional review. As it turns out, the tests from which the scores are gathered, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), fail to meet even the most basic level of scrutiny for test selection and use – that is, scrutiny by independent external reviewers which holds the test developers accountable to professional standards of test construction. Even the U.S. Department of Education that awarded the grant to develop the SBAC required such basic criteria and stipulated in the April 9, 2010 Federal Register that,

An eligible applicant awarded a grant under this category must—

1. Evaluate the validity, reliability, and fairness of the summative assessment components of the assessment system, and make available through formal mechanisms (e.g., peer-reviewed journals) and informal mechanisms (e.g., newsletters), and in print and electronically, the results of any evaluations it conducts;

Ideally, the data should have been available before the assessments were administered as “operational” so that states exercising due diligence, could determine whether the assessments should be administered. The Smarter Balanced consortium published year 1, 2, and 3 reports to the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate accountability for funds awarded throughout a four year grant period. The purpose of the reports was to describe the accomplishments and challenges of developing a new generation of tests that meet expectations for valid, reliable, and fair assessments. The federal funds supporting the consortium expired in September of 2014, and since that time, the number of states that are governing members has reduced – including an exit from the consortium by Missouri. To date, a year 4 or final report has not been published on the U.S. Department of Education website.

Implicitly acknowledging the external validity data were not available prior to administering what was pitched as the operational test , a September 11, 2014 memo from SBAC to state leaders stated, “Once the Smarter Balanced assessments are administered operationally in spring 2015, it will be possible to determine “external validity,” which is the degree to which test results correspond to external indicators (consistent with expectations). It’s now over three months after the administration of the “operational” tests. To date – no external validity and reliability data have been published for public review. Without independent external evaluation of the SBAC, Petrelli and Pondiscio’s article is akin to peddling a product of unknown quality that can only yield useless numbers promoted as student scores, but, that doesn’t stop them from pitching promises to unsuspecting readers.

Not only do the SBAC assessments lack independent external validation, the common core standards to which they are aligned are of questionable validity as well.  According to Zeev Wurman, the standards were not validated before they were published. The Common Core State Standards were released on June 2, 2010; the validation committee report was published in the same month. According to Sandra Stotsky, a member of the ELA validation committee, “Any tests based on these invalid standards are also invalid, by definition. Issues of validity apparently did not concern members of the Common Core validation committee who blessed the standardsa and then went on to lead the development of the Smarter Balanced assessments that generated the student scores reported by Petrelli and Pondiscio. These include West Ed’s Stanley Rabinowitz, who went on to become the project management director for developing the Smarter Balanced assessments, and Linda Darling Hammond (yes, the same Darling-Hammond who was head of the Obama transition team and whose Aspire Charter High School, partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was closed for persistent low achievement) became the senior research advisor for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

In 2013, Bill Gates, the largest private funder of the Common Core State Standards Initiative and financial supporter of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” So, without having evidence that the Common Core State Standards and tests aligned to them are valid and with credible evidence that conflict of interest abounds, where did Petrelli and Pondiscio get the idea that Common Core Standards and tests set “dramatically higher expectations” for students? From the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s wish list, that’s where. In May 2002, the foundation’s five year report listed six essential elements of its credo that guides all its work in education reform. The first and fifth of the six elements is “dramatically higher academic standards” and “a solid core curriculum taught by knowledgeable, expert instructors.”[italics added]. The third element is “verifiable outcomes and accountability.”

Fordham’s President Emeritus, Chester Finn, has worked really hard for decades to make the Fordham wish list come true. The problem is that the motive to effect real change requires grounding in real processes that contrl for conflict of interest. It was the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that published the 2010 State of the State Standards, the document, partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and others was used to recommend that states abandon their state-generated standards in public domain and adopt the privately copyrighted Common Core State Standards. According to Jamie Gass at the Pioneer Institute,

A closer look [at the report] reveals the tortured path Fordham took to arrive at its conclusions. In previous Fordham reviews, English standards had to be presented either for every grade or for a two-year span to receive full credit for “organization.” This time, that definition conveniently disappeared. Massachusetts was marked down for a few two-year spans, but Common Core was not.

Fordham gave the Common Core mathematics standards an “A-” despite the failure to organize the high school standards by grade level, grade span, or course. Instead, they are listed in five unordered  categories of mathematical constructs leaving it unclear which standards belong to algebra and which to geometry.

What is interesting, but not disclosed in the document’s content, is that the lead author and primary examiner of the 2010 State of the State Standards, Sheila Byrd Carmichael, was a member of the Common Core English Language Arts feedback team. Additionally, what is not disclosed is that she enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, including having been employed as a paid consultant  in 2007 and having collaborated with Fordham on previous publications. Also not disclosed is that Byrd Carmichael launched the American Diploma Program, the forerunner of the Common Core State Standards, under the sponsorship of Achieve Inc. In sum, Byrd Carmichael hardly qualifies as an independent external reviewer of the standards.

Also not disclosed, is that promotion of the common core standards and general operating costs of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute are supported by the wealthiest private funder of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, Bill Gates.  Funny thing though, a 2015 grant from the Gates Foundation to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is not mentioned on the Fordham Institute’s list of recent funders webpage. Perhaps it’s my imagination working overtime, or perhaps Petrelli is avoiding disclosure of his institute’s financial relationship with Gates.

In the table below are the virtually identical articles Petrelli and Pondiscio placed in various news publications in Connecticut, West Virginia, and Missouri. The text that is common to all of the ads appears in red font; text that intersects between two of the three ads appears in green (Missoui and Connecticut), pink (Connecticut and West Virginia), or blue (Missouri and West Virginia). Words unique to each article are identified in black font. Do you see all the red? Petrelli and Pondiscio use a “cookie cutter/one-size-fits all” approach to standardize their articles about standardizing student performance on common core aligned tests. Why am I not surprised? Below are some points of interest as you contrast the content of the articles in the table:

  • Note the inconsistency in the language referring to state performance standards. Petrelli and Pondicio describe CT and WV as having set a low bar, but, not MO. That’s because Missouri  had the 2nd highest performance standards in the country. In fact, Missouri’s original ESEA Flexibility Waiver application stated that MO was adopting the CC standards because our standards were the top three in the country, but, “it was confusing that many of Missouri’s schools were already labeled as failing when schools of similar quality in other states were not due to differences in standards and the rigor of the assessments used from one state to the next,” (p. 18). (in other words, Missouri was making itself look bad by having such high performance standards.)
  • Note similarity of poor math performance scores – all three states report over 60% students in various grade groups not proficient in math, but nowhere is there a discussion about the lack of standardized testing conditions, instructional practices, or common core implementation across the states. In other words, the test score numbers are meaningless unless it can be proven that all of the conditions were standardized across the comparison states. Further, there is no discussion about the lack of rigor with which the math standards themselves were developed.  Nor is there any discussion about the questionable practices used to determine cut scores on the SBAC tests.   Petrelli and Pondiscio are accusing states of lying to parents, when they themselves are omitting very important information about the integrity and interpretation of the scores they use to argue their case for ignoring critics of the common core standards and the SBAC tests aligned to them.
  • Note the statement about students leaving community colleges without a degree or any kind of credential. What is not discussed are the reasons students leave formal postsecondary education, which includes starting a business. Petrelli should talk to Bill Gates about his college dropout experience the next time he picks up a check from Bill to cover Fordham’s operating costs.
  • Note that Petrelli and Pondoscio implicitly insist on privatization of education in through state’s “voluntary” adoption of copyrighted standards owned by non-governmental organizations rather than roll back NCLB’s 100% proficiency mandate or recommend model state standards in public domain.

Missouri – Sept 1

Found here.

September 01, 2015 12:00 am   

Missouri: Don’t shoot the messenger

By Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio

Five long years ago, Missouri and more than 40 other states adopted the Common Core standards in reading and math, setting dramatically higher expectations for students in our elementary and secondary schools. Now we’ve reached a critical milestone in this effort. Missouri parents just received for the first time their children’s scores on new tests aligned to the standards, and taxpayers got a look at results statewide. The news was sobering, and surely came as a shock for many. 

Middle school math, in particular, was a disappointment, with less than 40 percent of students scoring at the proficient level. English language arts wasn’t much better. Let us explain why parents and taxpayers shouldn’t shoot the messenger.

First, it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place. Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades 3-8 to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea. Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.

But it is left to states to define what it means to be “proficient” in math and reading. Unfortunately, most states set a very low bar. They juked the stats.

The result was a comforting illusion that most children were on track to succeed in college, carve out satisfying careers, and stand on their own two feet. To put it plainly, it was a lie. Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine, only to find out when you apply for college or a job, that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.

Connecticut – Aug. 31

Found here.

Posted: 08/31/15, 6:17 PM EDT

Forum: Don’t shoot the test-score messenger, Connecticut

By Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio

Five long years ago, Connecticut and more  than 40 other states a­dopted the Common Core standards in reading and math, setting dramatically higher expectations for students in elementary and secondary schools. Now we’ve reached a critical milestone in this effort, as parents and taxpayers just got to see for the first time the scores on the new tests aligned to the standards. The news was sobering.

Fewer than 40 percent of Connecticut’s students are on track in math; the results weren’t much better in reading and writing. Though the scores may come as a shock to many, let us explain why people shouldn’t shoot the messenger.

First, it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place. Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea. Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.

But it is left to states to define what it means to be “proficient” in math and reading. Unfortunately, most states, including Connecticut, set a very low bar. They “juked the stats.”

The result was a comforting illusion that most children were on track to succeed in college, carve out satisfying careers and stand on their own two feet. To put it plainly, it was a lie. Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine, only to find out when you apply for college or a job, that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.

West Virginia – Aug. 23 and Aug. 31

Found here and here.

Sunday, August 23, 2015 

Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio: Don’t shoot the test score messenger, W.Va. 

By Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio

Five long years ago, West Virginia and more than 40 other states adopted the Common Core standards in reading and math, setting dramatically higher expectations for students in elementary and secondary schools. Now we’ve reached a critical milestone in this effort. Mountain State parents just received for the first time their children’s scores on new tests aligned to the standards, and taxpayers got a look at results statewide. The news was sobering

Only about a quarter of middle school children are on track in math, and less than half are proficient in reading. The results were even worse for high school students. Though the scores may come as a shock to many, let us explain why parents and taxpayers shouldn’t shoot the messenger

First it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place. Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades three through eight and once in high school to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea. Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely. 

But it is left to states to define what it means to be “proficient” in math and reading. Unfortunately, most states, including West Virginia, set a very low bar. They “juked the stats.” 

The result was a comforting illusion that most West Virginia children were on track to succeed in college, carve out satisfying careers, and stand on their own two feet.

Conclusion

Had Fordham, a Washington DC-based, private non-governmental organization, sought to maintain the accountability of public school education to the public rather than use its position to sell snake oil, it would have recommended high quality standards in public domain as a model for all states, such as those developed by Massachusetts, which for a decade led the country in NAEP test scores. Instead, Fordham generated a report to launch a publicity campaign for its much wished for national standards and tests using money from its sister foundation and Bill Gates. Along with other Washington insiders such as Marc Tucker of the National Center for Education and the Economy and Lou Gerstner of Achieve Inc, Fordham Institute’s leadership has been working since the 1990s to seduce states to adopt a national set of standards designed for development of human capital rather than education of independent, self-governing and self-supporting citizens.

Petrelli and Pondiscio call out states for “juking the stats” which was actually an attempt by many states to meet the unattainable goal in the No Child Left Behind Act for all students score as 100% proficient in math and English in order to get Title I funding. Using student test scores derived from tests, which themselves have not been demonstrated to be worth the effort to complete them, to convince the parents and public that their children are not adequately prepared for college or career is the ultimate “juking” of “the stats.” Worse, it’s fear mongering to “nudge” the public into accepting the privately copyrighted standards to achieve another agenda – the transformation of the purpose of public schools to the development of human capital for the workforce.

Implicit in Petrelli and Pondiscio’s lament that students leave community college without a degree or a credential lies the dirty little secret. The real agenda behind the Common Core State Standards is not to raise the standards of education, but, to standardize data collected on children in school. Labor, that is, individual members of the workforce, will be tagged by government-tracked credentialing after a student is demonstrated to be fit for work via test and behavioral data collected throughout his or her education years. It is despicable that Petrelli and Pondiscio accuse states of lying to parents, when they themselves have been hiding the truth. Their “Don’t shoot the messenger” advertisement for the Common Core State Standards and tests aligned to them is indeed an example of snake oil marketing. As a demonstration of “dramatically higher expectations” of behavior, Missourians, who like Mark Twain, are furious with snake oil salemen will not shoot the messengers, but, will brusquely usher them to the exit doors. Below is a parody of the Mark Twain letter to Mr. Todd that summarizes our sentiments to Mr. Petrelli and Mr. Pondiscio perfectly:

Sept. 9, 2015

Michael Petrelli and Robert Pondicio
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Washington, DC

Dear Sirs,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The persons who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant persons now alive on the planet; also without doubt they are idiots, idiots of the 33rd degree, and scions of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the persons who have puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain

Scott Walker’s Veto on State Assessment Budget Language

Photo credit: Kelvey Vander Hart

Photo credit: Kelvey Vander Hart

I would be remiss not to point out a line-item veto that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made in the budget bill he signed.  He made 104 line-item vetoes in the bill and one of them had to do with assessments.

Walker stated he presented a budget which “(i)ncreases local control by affirming the authority of school districts to choose their own academic standards, provides a pathway to offering multiple student assessment options and prevents the mandatory application of the national Common Core Standards.”

In his veto message he said (pg. 3) he then vetoed language in the bill that would have prevented that.

  1. Statewide Assessment System

    Sections 3248b [as it relates to renumbering s. 118.30 (1) (a)] and 3248c

    These sections require the State Superintendent to review and adopt a summative examination system to be administered beginning in the 2015-16 school year to pupils in grades 3 through 10 in the subjects of English, reading, writing, science and mathematics. The State Superintendent must ensure that each examination adopted or approved under the system satisfies the assessment and accountability requirements under federal law. Additionally, the State Superintendent must ensure that the summative examination system adopted or approved meets the following criteria:

    (a) the system is vertically scaled and standards-based; (b) the system documents pupil progress toward national college and career readiness benchmarks derived from empirical research and state academic standards; (c) the system measures individual pupil performance in the subject areas of English, reading, writing, science and mathematics; (d) the system provides for the administration of examinations primarily in a computer-based format but permits examinations to be administered with pencil and paper in certain limited circumstances; and (e) pupil performance on examinations adopted or approved under the system serves as a predictive measure of pupil performance on college readiness assessments used by institutions of higher education.

    I am partially vetoing section 3248b as it relates to renumbering s. 118.30 (1) (a) and vetoing section 3248c in its entirety. This provision is unnecessary and would have codified assessment criteria in state law that are closely aligned with national standards I oppose and which local school districts should not be mandated to adopt. Ultimately, local school boards across Wisconsin should be able to determine what test they administer and what standards they adopt. 

The emphasis is mine.  It is important to hold elected officials accountable, but it is also important to point out when they have done the right thing.  He defunded Smarter Balanced, and now he is trying to make sure, within his power, that schools will be able to select the assessment they use.

I have to give him kudos for that.

This precedes a trip he made to Iowa last week where he railed against a “nationwide school board.”

During a speech at the grand opening of his Iowa campaign headquarters last Thursday, Walker appealed to local control.

“Going forward I believe in high standards, but I think those standards should be set at the local level – no Common Core, no nationwide school board. We need to take money and power out of Washington and send it back to our states and back to our schools where it is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the American taxpayers out there,” Walker said.

Has he done everything possible to rid Wisconsin of Common Core? I don’t know for certain. I do know, and it seems to be something his critics are unwilling to acknowledge, is that he does not have the final say over standards and assessments.  Dr. Tony Evers, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, does, but Walker can control the budget through the power of the veto pen and it appears he has done just that.

Update: First, I want to make it abundantly clear that this isn’t an endorsement or that I think Walker has done everything in his power to get rid of Common Core.

Second, I had the following point brought up in an email.

“If he doesn’t have any power how can he propose vouchers  and teacher accountability? To believe his statement would mean he has no control over multi-billion department. Further there would be no need for the Senate and assembly education committee.”

That is a good point. Vouchers, one could argue, is a budget concern which is part of the legislature’s and governor’s purview.  Teacher accountability on the other hand… if the legislature and governor can direct this there isn’t any reason they can’t impact standards and assessments.  If I were a Wisconsin resident I’d want the Legislature to challenge Evers on this even if it does mean a lawsuit.  As was mentioned in a different email, Evers is not an emperor.