Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Heartbreak of High Stakes Testing

This week the new ELA assessments are being administered in New York.  After two days the comments are pouring in, and they are heartwrenching and infuriating.  

(The following comments were excerpted from this article

A teacher offers insight on the physical stress of the students during the exams.

"I am a middle school teacher and proctored the 6th and 8th grade exams over these past 3 days. I have never seen so many children become physically ill, asthma attacks, full panic attacks, vomiting during the exam and generalized anxiety throughout the exams. Many children had to be removed from the classroom sent to the nurse or sent home."

And the same view from a parent's perspective.

"seeing my little girl not able to pull herself emotionally together, after leaving the test room has my blood boiling! She's a child that doesn't really struggle with academics but the way these exams are given and written are very stressful for even the average child. I can't imagine how it is for the children who are more challenged by academics. I really dread next weeks math exams. Math seems to frustrate her and I am scared it will actually make her sick."

Apparently the assessments' multiple choice questions were confusing and students were unsure of the correct answers.

"I am a third grade teacher in NY and I have administered these tests since they started giving them to third graders, about ten years ago. I have never seen anything like this. Usually the bubble sheets look pretty uniform when I stack them up and alphabetize them to hand in. 

There were no patterns to the bubbles on Tuesday - everyone's sheet looked different. Reading over the test, I could not figure out the correct answer to several questions. I am quite sure I would not score well on this test. Many questions seemed to have two good answers, and I had a hard time figuring out which was better. The questions are dry, often asking students to compare paragraphs."

A parent's perspective on the ambiguity of the assessments.

 "My 8th grader made Stuy and Townsend yet the test yesterday was unfair because on almost every question there were two sensible answers leaving the "best" response a subjective decision in the hands of Pearson. Who can ever epic heck them when the tests are secured for destruction afterwards and no one can ever see the questions and answer keys? Every multiple choice question is graphed on a spreadsheet and given a proficiency rating where a correct anger isn't necessarily a "4", it could be fit, but not right enough, so the student doesn't get full credit. In real life this doesn't happen. If we are preparing them for college and job readiness, then Pearson needs to spend some more time in the workplace!"

Again more vague test questions and inadequate time to finish the exam.

"8th grader going to Stuy in the fall felt awful because didn't finish the essay. Said the multiple choice questions frequently had two possible answers. ELA teacher went over the questions in class discussion and in many cases agreed that there were two equally valid answers. 

Honestly, this test makes me love the SHSAT, which at least is adequately field-tested. (And no, the kid didn't prep for years for the SHSAT.) 

What does this state-sanctioned child abuse say about us as a society?"

"No learning is taking place on the testing days."

"Proctored fifth grade test for students who got time-and-a-half. Half of the students used more than the regular time, which I have never seen before. Directions were confusing and wordy, and the need for two books for Day 2 was confusing. Today proctoring took 3 hours; spending 2 hrs 15 minutes each day. The amount of focus required is causing students to lose it afterward -- lots of injuries in the schoolyard at recess as kids try to get all their energy out. Serious ones, too - stitches, etc. The stress level among kids and adults in the building is incredible -- we all just sit afterward. No learning is taking place on the testing days."

One educator hits the nail on the head.

"A few observations from the trenches:

1. Had to look at a most intelligent reader and writer in the eye and tell him he had no more time to write. After 90 minutes of working so hard there was no time left to write the essay -- worth the bulk of the points. Will this "poor performance" indicate my poor teaching and/or his poor learning?

2. Pearson, the writer of the test, used content from its very own basal reader series that it sells to districts on one of the exams this year. This places purchasers of its series at an advantage. If students were familiar with that content before the test (as many were), we do not have all students starting at the same point. Is this measuring reading comprehension or prior knowledge? Or a district's ability to buy textbooks?

3. Last, an essay asked students, at the conclusion of reading two pieces, to write about "the story" without naming it. Kids had to go back and see subtle nuances in the introductions to determine which piece they had to discuss. Several students became angry that a question would be written in this manner. They felt defeated before they began.

This is not about stress and anxiety as much as this is about parents and teachers doing right by our kids. Tests should be fair. The writers of the test should not be using materials from their products on tests in order to serve as incentives for districts to buy their products. 

So happy my own children are not participating in this game."

Lastly, a scathing comment written by a teacher who is fed up with the assessments that are designed to make the children fail.

"To Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents:

Ok. I have to say it bluntly. Your hubris, MT JK and Co., will be your downfall.

Do not kid yourself. I proctored this exam and it was unfair. I feel as though the test was designed for the children to fail. I know I am right because you have admitted it in memos to us, the teachers, in saying that our APPR will not be damaged this year by falling test scores. 

So, you know the tests were designed for children to fail. YES, I said CHILDREN. 

Do not fool yourselves. This was not rigor. This was impossibility. The thorough readers who employed the tactics you paid for Expeditionary Learning to push down our throats (for free!) did not work on this exam. It was LITERALLY (yes, I know what it means) impossible for a grade-level reader (130 wpm or so) to read the passages and answer the questions.

In my class, the BEST readers did the fewest questions because the attacked they test with diligence. Diligence that handcuffed them and is forcing their failure.


Stop the lies. This is not Common Core. This is YOU, MT JK and State ED, declaring WAR on the children, families, and teachers of our great state! Worst of all? You admit it! You put it in writing. 

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is Pearson who has blinded you with their wealth and chicanery. Maybe you didn't even see the test or take it yourself. 

We know Pearson reviles engageny because it is free and cuts their profits. Maybe it is not you, but they who have prevailed with your heads being lobbed off. 

In any case, come down off the ivory tower. Your misguided, misconstrued and ill-willed attempts at educational reform will go down in the history books as a DEBACLE."

There are numerous other comments and I am sure that more will be added as the assessments continue.  We have to stop this insanity. Yes, insanity.  

Since when did a test score matter more than anything else? 

My child is more than a number.  So is yours.  My child has hopes, dreams and desires.  Those of which cannot be measured on a test.  Most which are not considered "necessary" for success. But is it success to grind away the very qualities that make our children who they are?

Our future encompasses more than a tiny bubble on a test.

Urge Your Senator to Support Grassley's Request to Halt Funding for Common Core

You can view the full request letter at Truth in American Education.  Please call or email your senators and urge them to support Grassley in his efforts.  Common Core is a dangerous federal overreach into American education and needs to be stopped!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Freedom Friday Vol. 1

*Edited to add:  Oh my, I have been up too many late nights reading about Common Core!  I apologize, I thought today was Friday!*

The purpose of Freedom Fridays is to give the public a voice about Common Core.  Every other Friday I will post a letter that you can send to your senators, representatives, school board members, etc.  I believe that the reason that most people don't speak up is because they don't know what to say or how to convey their feelings about it.  Freedom Fridays will give you that voice!

Please stop back when you receive responses to your letters.  I would love to hear them!

United we stand,


Dear Senator:
In this letter I wish to address the cost of implementing Common Core Standards in our state.

I guess I should start with the main question first: What is Common Core?

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSI) is a privately funded, federally pushed reformation of public education, and education in general.  The name is a bit misleading because the public of America via state legislation did not get to vote on Common Core.  (But that is a topic for another letter.)   These standards are purported to be ‘rigorous’ and ‘prepare children for college and career readiness.’  What could be better than the academic improvement of our floundering schools?  However, with CCSI comes a hefty price tag:

  • ·         Over a seven year period, costs are projected at $15.8 billion across participating states for Common Core’s implementation.
  • ·         Additional expenses to implementation are: $1.2 billion for the new assessments, $5.3 billion for professional development, $2.5 billion for textbooks and instructional materials, and $6.9 billion for technology infrastructure and support.
  • ·         Annual operations costs are estimated at $801,493,256.
  • ·         “We project that the annual cost of assessment for states participating in the consortia will increase by a total of $177.2 million each year.  These are not one-time costs (which are covered by the federal grants to the consortia), but ongoing operational costs that will be faced each year.”
  • ·         Professional development cost examples per state:  California-- $2,000 per teacher, Washington -- $3,087 per teacher, Texas (which since the writing of this report has rejected CCSI)-- $1,681 per teacher.
  • ·         “We project that states adopting Common Core will need to spend approximately $2.47 billion in one-time costs to obtain aligned English language arts and mathematics instructional materials.”

{All figures and quotes were excerpted from “National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards” Vol. No. 82, Feb. 2012, published by the Pioneer Institute Public Policy Research}

My question, as a taxpayer, is this:  Where is all this extra money going to come from?  The initial start-up costs will be covered by the grants so generously provided by the Obama Administration, but after that where will ongoing funding come from?  Our school districts are already struggling to meet fiscal goals and many have had to utilize “budget cut days” to stay in the black.  How can we possibly afford to implement a bloated program such as Common Core on our meager state revenue?

Please stop the implementation of Common Core in our state.  We simply can’t afford it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Common Core Costs

If money talks then we had better listen!

(Some money points taken from the "National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to Common Core" Vol. No. 82, February 2012)

"Over a typical standards time horizon of seven (7) years, we project Common Core implementation costs will total approximately $15.8 billion across participating states."

These cost projections over seven years do not include:

  • $1.2 billion for the new assessments
  • $5.3 for professional development (i.e teacher training)
  • $2.5 billion for textbooks and instructional material
  • $6.9 billion for technology infrastructure and support
"We project that the annual cost of assessment for states participating in the consortia (PARCC and SBAC) will INCREASE by a total of $177.2 million PER YEAR."

Estimated professional development costs:
  • California  $2,000 per teacher
  • Washington $3,087 per teacher
  • Texas $1,681 (Texas has rejected Common Core since the writing of these figures)
"We project that states adopting Common Core will need to spend approximately $2.47 billion in one time costs to obtain aligned English language arts and mathematics instructional materials."

"Implementing the SBAC consortium assessments aligned to the Common Core standards would increase California's state testing costs by approximately $10 per student annually, or $35 million each year.  Over seven years, the increase would total $245 million."

Where is all this money going to come from?  

Us, the taxpayers.  You can be sure your property taxes will increase along with the Common Core expenses.

"In light of these substantial costs, California would benefit from a broader and more vigorous public debate on the topic of adopting the Common Core standards.  At a time of extended financial hardship for many local schools, would time and money spent realigning to the Common Core standards constitute the most promising strategy for improving education and increasing student outcomes?"  {page 25 of National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to Common Core Standards}

Money talked and no one listened.