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17698Common Core Hype Hypes New Style Tests as "Rigorous" Assessment Breakthru

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  • S. E. Anderson
    Jan 27, 2014
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      A Common Core “Wake-Up Call” Sounded

      by Melissa Bailey | Jan 27, 2014 - newhavenindependent.org


      Melissa Bailey Photo

      Melissa Bailey Photo

      Parent leader Muhammad: Parents “petrified” of new tests.


      NOTE: For those of you who are still confused about or supportive of these new battery of hi stakes tests and the "miracle" of charter schools, read the comment that folows the article... and then go on to read the suggested rethinkingschools.org link.


      Dacia Toll gave her board members a math quiz—and a heads up about a new kind of testing sweeping the nation.

      Toll, CEO of the New Haven-based Achievement First (AF) charter school network, issued the quiz to members of the four boards that govern the organization’s Connecticut charter schools in a meeting at Amistad Academy at 130 Edgewood Ave.


      The quiz came from a new test that’s set to hit schools this spring—computerized tests aligned aligned to new national standards called the Common Core, which sets benchmarks each kid should be able to reach in English and math from grades K to 12.


      The benchmarks—and the tests—demand much more of students. Connecticut, one of 45 states that have agreed to adopt the Common Core. They will require all school districts to switch to new Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Test by 2015; Achievement First and New Haven public schools have opted to make the switch a year early, in just a few months time. The new tests replace Connecticut’s legacy standardized tests, the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) for grades 3 to 8 and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for sophomores.


      In preparation, Achievement First has shifted its curriculum at its 25 schools in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, which include five in New Haven. The curriculum reflects tougher standards that ask kids to think more deeply and critically.


      Toll (at right in photo) said despite an effort to revamp AF curriculae and get ahead
      of the new tests, students are struggling.


      She passed out a handout showing average scores by grade, for each grade from K to 8, on practice tests that AF generated to prepare for the Smarter Balanced Field Test in May.

      AF’s Connecticut schools showed red across the board.


      “Red is not good,” Toll explained. It meant that no single grade broke 70 percent, which is considered passing.


      Achievement First kids aren’t the only ones bombing the Common Core tests: New York students’ scores dropped dramatically when they piloted the tests last year.



      An old-style question for 6th grade.

      To give board members a taste for why this is happening, Toll gave them a quiz. The first problem represented the old style of math questions that appear on CMT. The question (above), aimed at 6th-graders, asks students to take two numbers, figure out which should be the numerator and which should be the denominator, then reduce the fraction. The question is multiple-choice.

      Board members aced that question.


      A Common Core-style question for Grade 5.

      Then Toll offered a peek at a Common Core-style math problem. This question (pictured above) was aimed at the 5th grade. It asks kids not to fill in bubbles on multiple-choice, but instead to “make a visual fraction model” to solve the question.

      The question was harder. More complicated. And it tested conceptual understanding.


      “It’s not plug and chug,” Toll said.




      Toll also issued a quick English quiz. She handed out a sample 7th-grade English question. (Read it above.) The question asks students to write an essay on Amelia Earhart. In an old test like a CMT, Toll said, students might have had to identify which character trait Earhart embodied, and use evidence to support that claim. The new test assumes kids already know that Earhart was brave. Students have to read three essays, then “analyze the strength of the arguments about Earhart’s bravery in at least two of the texts.”


      The question asks students to think on a whole new level—analyzing the effectiveness of arguments instead of just writing arguments themselves.


      “This is a sea-change issue,” Toll said of the switch to Common Core. “Most people don’t realize” how big the impact will be.


      Toll offered a quick history lesson: States were basically forced to adopt the Common Core standards due to requirements attached to the competitive federal Race to the Top grants and then the waivers of No Child Left Behind. The swift changes are taking place for all grades at once in 2015.


      “It’s hard,” Toll said. “The Common Core is not being phased in” grade by grade. “What our guys are struggling with,” she said, is that “the 5th-grade standards assume they had Common Core in grades K to 4.” Students have “huge gaps” from past years, she said.


      “This is a wake-up call that we are not prepared for,” Toll said. “That’s why I’m worried, frankly, about the political response.” Toll said she’s worried that if test scores plummet, “we’ll grow weak in the knees at a time when we need to stand tall.”


      AF currently serves over 8,000 students in 25 schools in Connecticut, Providence and New York. Over the next five years, the organization aims to grow to support 35 schools serving over 12,000 students. AF is already facing some political pushback in its expansion efforts in New York, where a charter opponent just replaced a charter advocate in the mayor’s seat.


      AF plans to open three new schools in New York and one in Hartford in the fall of 2014. Then it aims to open another two schools in Connecticut in 2015—schools that might look radically different from the traditional K to 8 model.


      In a frank confession, Toll said she feels AF was previously too focused on teaching to the CMTs, which test basic literacy and math instead of deep understanding of concepts.

      “The biggest mistake we made as an organization was pitching to low-level tests,” she said.


      She welcomed the Common Core: “It’s so healthy and so good to be really focused on higher-level thinking.”


      But she acknowledged the challenge it poses for schools. School staff are feeling “anxiety,” said Toll, relaying a conversation she recently had with an AF principal.


      “This is going to be tumultuous. It’s going to be painful,” the principal told her, she said.


      Toll said she has been looking around for other schools that are doing well with Common Core. She said she has made several visits to Success Academy, a charter network in New York, which “blew it out of the water” on the tests. The schools feature lots of field trips and lots of science, she said.


      “We’re trying to embrace this level of rigor and make it fun for the adults and the kids,” she said. Staff need to reframe the pain and say: “Wow, this is beautiful.”


      Amistad High teacher Kate Stasik and board member Paul McCraven.


      Amistad High teacher Kate Stasik said she sees the beauty. Stasik, who teaches 10th-grade literature, said the Common Core is promoting “more exciting” problems than the CAPT. That presents an engaging challenge for teachers, she said: “We’re all nerds at heart.”

      Amistad Middle School Parent leader Khadijah Muhammad, meanwhile, said parents are “petrified” because they are not ready to support their kids on the new tests. Her own 7th-grade kid is “dealing with that challenging test right now.” But she welcomed the switch to more conceptual learning. The Common Core promotes teaching kids the same math concept in several different ways—concrete, pictorial and abstract. “Having the visuals” could help some kids grasp a concept they otherwise would not have understood, Muhammad argued.


      Muhammad later asked how prepared kids are with computer skills: Common Core-aligned tests will take place entirely on the computer.

      Toll gave a frank response.


      “Our kids’ typing skills range, but on the whole they’re on the ‘horrible’ range,” Toll said. “Thank goodness” the test is not timed, she said, because the typing is going to be hard. When you spend a lot of effort typing, it distracts your brain from more important matters—such as analyzing authors’ arguments about Amelia Earhart’s bravery—she argued. Now, in addition to literacy intervention, “some kids are getting typing intervention” at AF schools, she said.


      Common Core has prompted a brewing revolt among some public school teachers and parents, some of whom have formed a movement to “opt out” of the testing.


      Some of the backlash comes from moms who say the test is too “stressful” to kids, Toll said. She said that misses the point.


      The test is stressful to kids? she asked.


      “What’s stressful is they don’t know the math.”



      posted by: Threefifths on January 27, 2014  9:17am

      Here is the real deal.


      The Trouble with the Common Core.


      For starters, the misnamed “Common Core State Standards” are not state standards. They’re national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA).


      They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word “state” in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers. (This is one reason many conservative groups opposed to any federal role in education policy oppose the Common Core.)


      Written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to testing companies—the Common Core standards have never been fully implemented and tested in real schools anywhere. Of the 135 members on the official Common Core review panels convened by Achieve Inc., the consulting firm that has directed the Common Core project for the NGA, few were classroom teachers or current administrators. Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.


      The standards are tied to assessments that are still in development and that must be given on computers many schools don’t have. So far, there is no research or experience to justify the extravagant claims being made for the ability of these standards to ensure that every child will graduate from high school “college and career ready.” By all accounts, the new Common Core tests will be considerably harder than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates.


      Read the rest.


      s. e. anderson
      author of The Black Holocaust for Beginners
      If WORK was good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor. (Haiti)