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.

South Dakota Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh-In on K-12 Education

(From Left) Democrat Billie Sutton and Republicans Kristi Noem and Marty Jackley

The Rapid City Journal asked the three leading candidates in South Dakota’s gubernatorial race about education. The candidates are State Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton (D-Burke), Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD), and South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley who is a Republican.  I wanted to highlight a couple of the topics that are of interest here: Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Universal Pre-School. After that, I take a look at what the candidates tout on their websites about K-12 education.

Career and Technical Education

All three candidates were supportive of CTE. Jackley focused on post-high school, but Noem and Jackley addressed what happens before college:

Both Noem and Sutton responded by emphasizing what happens prior to college.

“I think we try to connect students who have an affinity for technical trades at a younger age to apprenticeships and training,” Noem said.

Sutton pointed to a bill he introduced last session to create a grant funding schools that share technical education resources, such as a mobile lab for engineering or manufacturing classes for high school students in Gregory County.

“Sioux Falls has a CTE high school, and that’s great,” Sutton said, “but our rural communities don’t have the resources to do it on their own.”

Universal Pre-School

South Dakota currently does not fund pre-school, and we’ve noted that education reformers pushed early childhood education.

Said Sutton, “There’s just a lot of kids in South Dakota who don’t have access to Early Childhood Education,” repeating a common pledge to provide a pathway for publicly funded preschool.

“Last session I introduced a bill just to study the impact of pre-K because so often we hear fellow legislators dismissing all these studies that suggest it’s a great return-on-investment,” he said. “But even that was killed in committee.”

Noem agreed of the importance of educating children prior to kindergarten. Yet, the state’s budget doesn’t have a “lot of extra money” rolling around.

“We need to go in with our eyes wide open,” she said.

She also suggested a bigger philosophical question at play.

“We should not have the government doing the job that parents and families should be doing.”

In an education initiative released Friday morning, Jackley called for expanding ECE to “under-resourced communities.” On the phone, he also framed the question in personal terms, saying he and his wife chose to have their children benefit from preschool.

“There’s no disputing that early childhood education is critical to brain and social development.”

But he also noted that as a low-tax conservative, he would work with the legislature to prioritize education funding while “remaining fiscally responsible.”

Noem’s comment that it is the parents’, not the government’s job to provide early childhood education is spot on.

What they promote:

I was curious what the candidates promoted on their campaign websites.

Billie Sutton:

Sutton’s website addressed CTE in K-12 education:

One of the most important elements of economic and workforce development is education. It is through carefully designed educational experiences that students find their fit in the workforce. Our high schools offer great opportunities to present career and technical exploration earlier, and the need is especially strong in rural South Dakota. In Billie’s hometown of Burke, the school district partnered with three others to buy four mobile units with a grant from the Future Fund, each offering a career & technical class like manufacturing, engineering, biomedical engineering, and welding. This is the kind of innovation we can bring to all our schools, urban and rural, so all our students get exposure and experience to job opportunities before making post-secondary decisions.

Billie’s plan for a stronger economy includes developing CTE grant programs to encourage schools to be collaborative and innovative in creating these opportunities for students and in connecting them with the post-secondary options that put them on the path to jobs. We must give schools the resources to build partnerships with tech schools and industries to give opportunities to students of all interests. Billie will work with educators to develop tech experiences for our students and explore more ways students can earn high school and college dual credit while gaining work experience in the community.

I should note that Legislative Democrats in South Dakota have been opposed to repealing Common Core. I don’t have Sutton’s voting record in front of me, but I doubt he stands for local control in education in any meaningful way.

Kristi Noem:

Noem had more to say on her website about K-12 education:

South Dakota students consistently produce good test scores, graduate on time, and meet college readiness benchmarks. But many schools struggle to make ends meet, jeopardizing the long-term success of South Dakota’s K-12 education system. As governor, I will be committed to balancing the needs of families, teachers and administrators, and taxpayers as we prepare students for college, the workforce, and citizenship.

Empower families. When it comes to raising kids, family is better than government. As a conservative, I will protect the rights of parents to choose the educational path that’s best for their child, whether it’s homeschooling, public schooling, or a private education. Regardless of a family’s decision, I will work to ensure all students have equal opportunity within the education system.

Do more with every taxpayer dollar. Public education policy is too often evaluated by expenditures, rather than student success. That’s a mistake. We need to focus on creating a better system, not a more expensive one – a goal that can and should be accomplished without taking necessary resources out of classrooms. As governor, I would:

  • Work to centralize and standardize purchasing, giving local schools more options to cut costs by taking advantage of the state’s massive buying power;
  • Encourage schools to share resources and expand long-distance learning opportunities;
  • Assist local school districts in pursuing private funds to mitigate the cost of capital projects;
  • Continue leveraging the state’s AAA bond rating to help schools borrow at a lower cost;
  • Reform the Department of Education, adopting a model that promotes much closer collaboration with locally elected school boards; and
  • Improve transparency in school district budgeting, as proposed in my Sunshine Initiative.

Create a culture of performance. From teachers and administrators to school board members, South Dakota is fortunate to have many talented people dedicated to student success. I want to elevate high-performers while expanding continued learning opportunities for those running our classrooms and school districts. As governor, I will pursue public-private partnerships to financially reward rockstar teachers. For instance, I’d like to collaborate with local businesses to sponsor a robust “Teacher of the Month” program. Additionally, my administration will explore opportunities to improve overall performance through evidence-based school board training and teacher mentorship programs.

Reject Common Core and federal overreach. In the U.S. House, I helped get legislation signed into law limiting the federal government’s role in our education system. As governor, I will take advantage of those flexibilities, continuing to reject Common Core and seeking appropriate waivers and grants to customize South Dakota’s education system.

Promote civic education. Our republic only works if citizens are active and informed. The next generation of South Dakotans must understand the foundations of our nation, the tremendous sacrifices made to protect our constitutional rights, and the freedoms, liberties, and responsibilities we have as citizens. In collaboration with school districts, I will work to expand civics and U.S. history programs and encourage schools to include the citizenship test as part of their graduation criteria.

Encourage kids to explore in-demand jobs early. South Dakota already faces severe labor shortages, and even greater demands for a skilled workforce are on the horizon. As governor, I would work to:

  • Provide career counseling and information regarding in-demand jobs beginning at the middle-school level;
  • Inspire students by expanding experience-driven learning opportunities before college;
  • Coordinate resources to identify and help at-risk children plan for their futures; and
  • Dramatically increase shared-learning opportunities among high schools, technical schools, universities, and employers to better manage the transition from home to post-secondary education to the South Dakota workforce.

Noem’s support of public-private partnerships, workforce development, and CTE are dog-whistles for education reformers. Also, her support of the Every Student Succeeds Act and falsely claiming it provides flexibility for states is unfortunate.

Marty Jackley:

Here’s what Jackley had to say about education on his website.

  • Work side-by-side with educators, administrators, parents, school boards, and students. My primary opponent has announced opposition to collaborative task forces such as the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Teachers and Students that was convened in 2015. A Jackley administration, however, will welcome these stakeholders to the table. These voices deserve to be heard, and volunteer task forces do not grow government—they bring expertise to government and make it more efficient.
  • Equip South Dakota educators and institutions with adequate funding to ensure competitive salaries and safe, secure learning environments so every learner has a highly trained, well-prepared, skilled adult guiding them along the educational journey to reach their maximum potential. We will support educational institutions with flexibility to customize systems and processes to best serve a broad spectrum of education needs necessary for entering a modern, vibrant workforce. As your attorney general, I have already brought $28 million in education funding to the state through the tobacco settlement—without raising taxes—and I am committed to expanding education funding opportunities without raising taxes.
  • Expand South Dakota’s K-12 system to include adequate early childhood educational opportunities for the most under-resourced communities by working with both public and private entities to support our youngest, most vulnerable learners. Putting learners on a path for success early in their journey reaps rewards for the individual as well as economic stability and sustainability for communities.
  • Provide equitable educational experiences for Native American students. This is paramount to sustaining a vital aspect of our state culture and heritage. As a board member of Jobs for America’s Graduates I am dedicated to preventing dropouts among young people who have serious barriers to graduation and/or employment. As Governor, I’ll work with our public and federal education systems to break the gridlock on best serving students in under-resourced communities. I will also reach out to leaders of the nine tribes to listen and learn about how we can work together to best serve all children.
  • Engage our entire pre-kindergarten to graduate-level education community to create a pipeline of opportunity that propels our citizens toward increased economic opportunities. Students must be exposed early to employment options that both leverage their unique talents and capitalize on their personal interests. They must be counseled during their K-12 experience to efficiently access the advanced training and educational opportunities that make best use of state and personal financial resources. For students to appropriately access employment opportunities that boost our workforce and economy, we must continuously improve the educational experience by pairing the most effective instructional methods with modern technologies to support a more personalized, competency-based learning experience that powerfully engages learners and sets them on a path for success both personally and professionally.
  • Empower our institutions with partnerships that capitalize on our strong South Dakota work ethic and can-do nature. By working together, we can empower people, streamline resources, and ensure relevant and meaningful learning opportunities successfully launch our learners to appropriate secondary learning institutions in our technical institutes and university systems.
  • Create incentives that encourage in-state placement. Our Opportunity Scholarship and Build Dakota programs are strong. We should continue to provide financial aid to South Dakota students who are committed to remaining in the state after receiving their postsecondary education.
  • Reduce barriers to teacher innovation. I will work with the South Dakota Department of Education to reduce the negative impact of ineffective mandated programs that don’t work well for rural states (ex. school improvement regs, Smarter Balanced testing) and to creatively, but appropriately, leverage federal dollars for programming that benefit our educational community.
  • Defend the rights of parents to educate their children on an even playing field. I support higher education opportunities for homeschool graduates, including SB 94 which would have expanded Opportunity Scholarship eligibility for homeschool students. In addition, students who need access to additional educational tools, such as the South Dakota Virtual School or classes offered by the e-learning center at Northern State University, should not be turned away because they are homeschooled.
  • Partner with local law enforcement to keep our schools safe. As your attorney general, I have seen firsthand the meaningful relationships our resource officers have formed with teachers and students. I will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure our schools are adequately protected and our students have methods to report potential threats to their safety. These kinds of decisions will be made together with administrators, teachers, parents, and students.

So Jackley promotes a preK-12 “pipeline”… just wonderful… His comment about reducing regulations on school districts is encouraging however.

Conclusion:

Sutton, suprisingly for a Democrat, has the least to say about education. All of the candidates have bought into the workforce development model of education. Noem and Jackley at least appear to support parental rights. Noem says she’s anti-Common Core, but support of ESSA tarishes her record. Jackley seems to understand that state mandates on local school districts is problematic.

I’m writing this to inform our readers, especially those in South Dakota, about where the candidates stand, not to make an endorsement. Each candidate holds a position or has a record regarding K-12 education that is problematic for me (however like most of you I’m not a single issue voter). I would encourage our South Dakota readers to meet the candidates and ask questions as you get an opportunity. I would be curious to hear what Jackley has to say about Common Core, how Noem plans to address Common Core, and why Sutton supports Common Core. All candidates still need to weigh in on parental opt-outs and student data privacy.

If you live in South Dakota and receive additional information, please feel free to send it to me at info@truthinamericaneducation.com.

Education Policies Gone Bad at Our Children’s Expense

Below is a guest post from John Walker. He is a research and design software engineer with 18 years of experience doing contract work for NASA air traffic management tools.  He is also an elected member of the Modesto City Schools Board of Education since 2015 and currently its Vice President. He is also the father of 2 high school students in public schools.

Education Policies Gone Bad at Our Children’s Expense

By John Walker

In 2012 the Governor signed AB 1246 cementing Common Core as the K-12 standards in California. In 2013 the Governor signed the bill enacting the “Local Control Funding Formula”. The State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Department of Education (CDE) have struggled for 7 plus years to convince the public there is a plan to lift student achievement and close achievement gaps. The results have been far from stellar. When one looks at SBAC assessments California has not only failed to succeed, but by any measure it has been a dismal failure.

What is the plan to rise from the ashes of categorically lowering the K-12 math and English language arts standards in the state? What is the plan to take experimental teaching philosophies which have shown little or no positive effect to become the end all be all for educating our children?

One in four California school districts will be required to get assistance due to students with disabilities not succeeding, and over 600 school districts will need assistance when all students are accounted for. The results would have been worse if the SBE did not change the rules.

The argument made is it will take time because the standards were raised. This is normally followed by a myriad of descriptions that imply that California has taken on the greatest educationally rigorous challenge ever. California junior colleges have dropped intermediate algebra requirements for most students. The California State University system is poised to begin teaching high school math and English for college credit. Meanwhile in 2013 the state passed legislation categorically moving Algebra 1 from 8th grade to the 9th grade. How do any of these facts square with raising the bar? They don’t but facts aren’t important in Sacramento.

The California accountability plan was rejected by the department of education. The response was to blame local school districts and throw the complaints downhill to the local governing school boards. Fast forward and the CDE for the 3rd time is remodeling the LCAP and LCFF to force more compliance on school districts.

They are calling it the “Test Kitchen”, but let’s be honest it’s the next step in defending failed policies by throwing the kitchen sink at local governing boards. We have endured the failed annual SBAC test. We have expended 100’s of millions of dollars building web based networks and purchasing computers to meet testing mandates. The required local funding of pension liabilities continues to rise. By 2024 districts will be contributing 28.2 cents for CalPERS and 19.5 cents on every dollar for CalSTRS. Historically California continues to underfund education. California ranks 45th in the percentage of taxable income per student, 41st in per pupil spending, & 48th in pupil staff ratios.

The problem is not local school districts being held accountable. The problem is the public and the state legislature have not held the appointed (unelected & unaccountable) SBE & CDE accountable for their failed policies. So, keep throwing the kitchen sink at us, keep blaming us for not making failed policies work, & keep letting the privately funded nonprofit think tanks make & defend failed policies.

California education policy is an unmitigated disaster, and when it’s over the blame will rest in the hands of the SBE led by Michael Kirst and the State Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson. If the legislature cannot find the courage to act, they are just as much to blame.

Facts matter and policies that hurt children and families should never be tolerated, but we live in a state where accountability is only used to push problems downhill.

An Open Letter to New Hampshire Education Commissioner Edelblut

Commissioner Edelblut:

Please take a look at an article that was recently posted in regard to the Smarter Balanced Assessment  (SBA) : https://www.realcleareducation.com/articles/2018/01/04/is_the_smarter_balanced_national_test_broken_110243.html

As you can see, serious allegations have been made against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

It is quite unlikely that the 2017 Smarter Balanced declines, based on roughly six million students tested, reflect actual performance declines for students and schools across all those states. This is, after all, the third year of this national testing program. Those who watch testing results would expect slight gains, not a drop or a plateau.

Smarter Balanced is stonewalling efforts to figure out what has occurred. It refuses to acknowledge that the 2017 scores are highly unusual and, instead, claims the scores are just normal year-to-year fluctuations of gain scores. That argument is hogwash. It is totally inconsistent with the actual 2017 consortium-wide gain data.

Others agree with us. For example, Ed Haertel, a Stanford University professor and a member of the Smarter Balanced Technical Advisory Committee, told EdSource.org, “These are not merely random-chance fluctuations.” He’s doubtful that “there was some slight overall decline in students’ overall proficiency.”

I have been an outspoken critic of the Smarter Balanced Assessment since it was chosen by our former Education Commissioner, Virginia Barry.  I have testified before the N. H. House and Senate  Education Committees requesting that the SBA be replaced with an “achievement test” versus a “psychometric assessment.”

New Hampshire State Law: RSA 193-C, requires statewide assessments to be valid, appropriate and objectively scored.http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/XV/193-C/193-C-mrg.htm Where were the INDEPENDENT validity studies on the Smarter Balanced Assessment that show it is in compliance with state law?

A study from the testing company that administers the assessment is not an independent study.  For instance, testimony from Scott Marion on the PACE assessment does not provide what we should be able to access– independent studies.  I continue to ask how PACE or any other assessment described as one that measures “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intra personal resources> can be objectively scored?  This is why the grading system is changing in New Hampshire.  It was difficult to score these behaviors when it was done under the Outcome Based Education model.  A model that was eventually abandoned years ago.

According to this letter http://www.fosters.com/article/20150407/NEWS/150409532 from education researcher Jayson Seamon,  Ph.D., the Smarter Balanced Assessment was not validated. Does this mean that administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment violated state law?

Dr. Seaman goes on to explain the ethical standards required when administering psychometric assessments : “it is required practice to secure consent from research participants and to let them opt out at any time with no penalty. Smarter Balanced is such an assessment and should be held to the same ethical standard as all research on human subjects.”

Parents have never been required to consent to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, PACE or the SAT.  This isn’t a matter of state law. It should be a matter of ethical practice followed by the New Hampshire Department of Education and EVERY public school administrator in the state of New Hampshire.

Parents deserve to have complete confidence in the tests that are administered in their local public schools.  The “opt-out” movement began for various reasons.   One reason some parents refused to let their children take the SBA is that the parents had no confidence in the test itself.  In the past, partisan legislators and bureaucrats ignored concerns from parents over these assessments. It is good to see that New Hampshire will no longer be using children as guinea pigs with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Since N.H. was part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium for several years, will you add your voice to those who are demanding answers and transparency from the SBAC?  It is important that the SBAC answer the concerns raised by Douglas J. McRae & Williamson M. Evers.

These scores are used in as an accountability tool.  They are used to rank schools and, if schools are ranked at the bottom, the New Hampshire Department of Education steps in with remedies.  Faith in the rankings of schools, reporting on the proficiency of students, current and future assessments, is further diminished when there is a lack of transparency and when testing experts see a disturbing trend.

I am also requesting that the Department of Education analyze the current law and ethical practices in testing.  I’ve heard from other testing experts that they would be required to seek written consent from parents before they could administer a psychometric assessment on their patients or subjects.

From my prior testimony on HB 538 (2015): Dr. Gary Thompson, clinical psychologist in Utah, cited in his testimony before the Utah legislature …… Common Core state standards will authorize the use of testing instruments that will measure “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intra personal resources.

In other words, this assessment will measure exactly what legislators serving on the House Education Committee in the prior session said they did not want measured.

He stated that, “The level of information these provide about a particular child is both highly sensitive and extremely personal in nature. In a clinical setting these mental health records are strictly protected by multiple federal state and professional association regulations, including HIPAA.

Parents want to know that their children can compute math problems.They are not sending their children to school for mental health evaluations, especially without parental knowledge or consent.  If a Child Psychologist would lose professional licensure in a private practice for doing what our public schools do routinely, that should concern all of us.

I hope you, the State Board of Education Members and our elected officials will begin taking this issue seriously.  From some of the proposed legislation on privacy and parental notification, I can see that some legislators are just as concerned.  My hope is that as you move forward, you will take this information under consideration and make better- informed decisions on testing companies and practices.

Sincerely,

Ann Marie Banfield
Education Liaison, Cornerstone Action

New Hampshire Sees Decline in Math and ELA Proficiency

The New Hampshire Department of Education released last year’s Smarter Balanced and SAT scores which showed a decline in math and ELA proficiency.  New Hampshire’s students take Smarter Balanced in grades 3-8 and grade 11 they take the SAT.

Each grade that took the Smarter Balanced Assessment saw a decline in math and ELA proficiency. The lone bright spot was with 11th-graders taking the SAT who had a three percent gain (44 percent) in math from last year. Even so, less than half of the Granite State’s juniors are proficient in math.

“We are obviously concerned about the decline in student performance and will be working closely with schools to understand the underlying drivers,” commented Frank Edelblut, Commissioner of Education. “It is interesting that all of the states that participated in the Smarter Balanced consortium for 2016-2017 saw a similar decline in their English language arts results, except California, which stayed even.”

“Now that the data has been certified, we will do some deep analysis to understand the results, looking at how our districts, schools, and subgroups performed,” stated Sandie MacDonald, the administrator for the Bureau of Instructional Support and Student Assessment. “While schools and families have had individualized student information to assist in supporting students since last spring, this is the Departments first opportunity to look at the aggregate state and district data we need to support our schools.”

I suspect what they will probably find as they do “deep analysis,” as other states have seen, is that they have a widening proficiency gap with their minority students.

Something that jumped out at me looking at these scores is how New Hampshire lacks California’s “hope.” In California, educrats were latching onto hope because of their third graders, who started kindergarten under Common Core, saw a slight increase collectively than previous third graders.

It is a false hope as I wrote:

Some are getting excited about less than one-half of California’s third graders meeting and exceeding standards. Also, apparently the definition of “relatively high” has changed. These students have been under Common Core since the beginning and still, only 47 percent meet or exceed the standards.

In 2016, 46 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards. As fourth-graders this year only 40.45 percent do. In 2015, 40 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards, but as fifth-graders this year only 33.83 percent do.

So the only thing I see here is that students’ collective scores worsen the longer they are under Common Core.

New Hampshire can still point to a higher proficiency rate, but they also have fewer ESL learners, fewer minority students, etc. who historically have not performed as well on standardized assessments. What New Hampshire can’t point to is collective growth in their proficiency rate among third graders.

Indiana’s Assessment Woes

Photo credit: Steve Baker (CC-By-ND 2.0)

Today’s editorial in The Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette highlights the testing woes that Indiana currently faces.

An unsuccessful bidder is crying foul over the state’s award of a three-year, $43.5 million contract to the American Institutes for Research. Data Recognition Corp. claims the state’s assessment director, Charity Flores, had a conflict of interest. Between posts at the Indiana Department of Education, Flores was deputy director of content for Smarter Balanced, a partner to the winning vendor.

Chalkbeat Indiana reports that Data Recognition Corp. has protested the Indiana Department of Administration contract award, also challenging its validity on the grounds it violates the state’s prohibition on use of Common Core State Standards. Smarter Balanced is a state-led consortium created to develop the tests aligned to the Common Core standards. AIR serves as the testing platform for questions developed by the consortium.

The charges offer more evidence of a testing culture gone awry, with entanglements in the so-called “education reform” community compromising well-intentioned efforts to ensure school accountability. The time and money involved are growing along with the frustration for educators.

Data Recognition Corp brings up a good point. For a state that supposedly rejected Common Core (they rebranded it instead), it’s telling they select a vendor who will use questions from the Smarter Balanced test bank to develop Indiana’s new assessment.

So much for the repeal.

They offer a suggestion.

Indiana doesn’t have the option of eliminating testing because the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, requires a statewide assessment. Nor would it want to eliminate testing, which serves as a check on school performance. But there’s tremendous flexibility with ESSA: States don’t have to administer a major summative test each spring – they can use smaller interim assessments and also evaluate students through portfolios or projects.

I can’t think of a state that is doing that. It would be interesting to see a state take that recommendation and put it in their ESSA accountability plan to see what kind of feedback they receive from the U.S. Department of Education.

Less Than Half of California 3rd Graders Being Proficient in Math is Hope?

I just read some remarkable spin today over at EdSource. I originally pointed to an article they published warning California policymakers and parents to use the Smarter Balanced scores “with caution.” As expected the scores were stagnant.

But there’s a bright spot! 3rd Graders scores are improving!

From EdSource:

Third-graders’ relatively high scores on the statewide assessments, administered in the spring of 2017 and released last week, indicated that the Common Core standards — which those children have been learning since kindergarten — may be having a positive impact on math education.

Nearly 47 percent of 3rd-graders met or exceeded the math standards, the highest number of any grade level. By comparison, only 32.14 percent of 11th-graders — who spent most of their school years studying the old standards — met or exceeded standards.

Third-graders have shown steady improvement since 2015, when the Smarter Balanced test was first introduced. In 2015, 40 percent met or exceeded standards, and last year 46 percent did.

Some are getting excited about less than one-half of California’s third graders meeting and exceeding standards. Also, apparently the definition of “relatively high” has changed. These students have been under Common Core since the beginning and still, only 47 percent meet or exceed the standards.

In 2016, 46 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards. As fourth-graders this year only 40.45 percent do. In 2015, 40 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards, but as fifth-graders this year only 33.83 percent do.

So the only thing I see here is that students’ collective scores worsen the longer they are under Common Core.

But sure, cling to that “glimmer of hope.”

Smarter Balanced Dwindles

With Iowa’s departure from Smarter Balanced as a participating state, the Smarter Balanced Consortium dwindles even further.

Mercedes Schneider notes the decline.

Smarter Balanced started with 31 states when it launched. In 2014, It had 20 governing states and two participating states. In 2017 it is now down to 12 governing states, a U.S. territory, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It now has just one affiliate state.

Here’s the current list:

Smarter Balanced Governing Members:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • US Virgin Islands

Smarter Balanced Affiliate State:

  • North Carolina

Smarter Balanced is certainly better off than PARCC that only has five governing states and the District of Columbia.

States being on the same playing field when it comes to assessments is just another broken promise from Common Core advocates.

Also, I should note that while Smarter Balanced and PARCC membership has dwindled, the new assessments most states that have left offer are Common Core-aligned.

California Bracing for Disappointment?

California is set to release their Smarter Balanced scores for this year. It’s the third year the state has administered the Common Core-aligned assessments. The spin machine seems to be in full effect before the release evidenced by an article in EdSource cautioning reading to use California’s test scores “with caution.”

State Board of Education member Sue Burr, a close advisor to Gov. Brown and who was involved in drawing up the new accountability system, noted at the board’s recent meeting that under California’s old system “test results were the be-all and end-all” as to assessing whether the state’s students were making sufficient progress.

She said that in the future it may make more sense for California to release results on performance on all measures simultaneously, not just test scores. That way, Californians would have a better idea of “what the whole picture looks like,” instead of making “a big whoop-de-do about test results.”

It is also the case that in a state with close to 1,000 school districts and 10,000 schools, test scores are a blunt instrument in telling us what is going on. The statewide averages are just that— averages. They mask how well individual schools and students are doing, and similarly, how poorly others are doing.

“There is a risk that people will pay too much attention to the magic numbers, because they are easy to understand and to compare across the system” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates, a public interest law firm that has been heavily involved in promoting better education outcomes in California’s schools. “It is incumbent on policy makers and educators to communicate that California education is about a lot more than the numbers of students who score at a certain level on a test.”

There is also a danger that parents, advocates and others who are understandably impatient to see rapid improvements will be tempted to declare the current reforms a failure if the tests scores don’t improve over last year’s scores.

It is like they’re expecting people to be disappointed with the test scores. Spin…spin…spin…

South Dakota’s Public Colleges Promise Admission for Good Smarter Balanced Scores

South Dakota’s public university system has promised that students earning a level 3 or 4 on their Smarter Balanced Assessment will be guaranteed a general acceptance to one of the state’s six public universities or four technical schools.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports:

High school seniors in South Dakota may receive an acceptance letter for college before they ever apply.

In an effort to boost enrollment, South Dakota public universities will be sending out what they call “proactive admissions” letters to qualifying students later this month.

These letters will go to students who score well in English and math on either the state standardized tests or on the ACT. Students who receive letters will be guaranteed acceptance into the state’s six public universities and four tech schools.

“This now is the first criteria that our institutions will use to determine a student’s admission,” said Paul Turman, vice president for academic affairs for the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Students who earn an 18 on their ACT will also receive a general acceptance letter.

This news provides more motivation for teachers to prep the state’s high school juniors for the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Oh goody.