Common Core Review Committee Rated “Ineffective”

It has been almost three months since I first set foot in Albany. I had the best of intentions – to dump the Common Core Standards in New York State and draft standards that are based upon what teachers’ classroom experiences indicate are best practices, supported by what parents know are developmentally appropriate for their own children. Anyone who has followed the process, and reviewed the revise standards will tell you that my mission was a complete failure.

I was warned. Don’t go. Your name will be attached to their “reform” efforts. My answer was the same over and over and over, “If I am invited, how can I say no?”

Twice this summer I went to Albany, with my family in tow, with the goal of doing everything I possibly could to eliminate these standards. I learned two very important things:

  • I was chosen to be on the committee because of my anti-Common Core and anti-state assessment position. They did want to hear from all perspectives.
  • Most committee members share my perspective, but most are unable to speak their true positions.

Think about it. There are seven hundred school superintendents in New York State. Five have had the courage to take a stand to protect students from fraudulent assessments and developmentally inappropriate standards. That number reflects .7 % of superintendents. This means that the vast majority of educators have been silenced. This is reflected in the committee’s lack of significant action to replace the Common Core in New York State.

What were people like me left to do? I came to the conclusion that we could only do two things:

  1. Fight where we could and pick our battles. We fought hard to eliminate the “text complexity” and “grade level text” from the standards. Districts were using this language to restrict children’s access to text, as well as force children to read texts that did not meet their needs. We were adamant about moving play back into the standards for younger children. We also removed examples from the standards so that districts could no longer force teachers to teach the standards in specific ways, regardless of students’ needs.
  2. Keep fighting on the outside. People need to BOMBARD the survey. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) claims that the vast majority of people who responded to its initial survey indicated satisfaction with the current standards – that they were only looking for modifications. They used these results to hold the committee to these standards – rather than throwing them out as they should have been.

If you have looked at the recommended changes, and you believe they are largely the same you, are right. If you believe that the state had no intention of making significant changes to them via the Review Committees, you are right. But please keep in mind, the vast majority of teachers in New York State have been silenced by administrators who lack the knowledge, experience and/or fortitude to do what is right for this state’s children.

Those of us who work in the .7% of districts where children come first, and parents who are able to serve as advocates, we must remain strong in our resolve to tell New York State no thank you.

We do not accept revisions to standards that are simply wrong for our children.

We do not accept assessments that do not support the growth of children in our classrooms.

We will bombard the survey so NYSED understands the standards are wrong.

We will refuse all New York State grade 3-8 assessments that fail to drive instruction.

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Dear Governor Cuomo, …

Here is a letter I mailed to Governor Cuomo following this week’s work on revising the Common Core Standards:

I spent this week working on the New York State Education Department’s Standard Review Committee. It was an intensive week for a number of reasons.

First, I need to commend the remarkable efforts of members of the New York State Department of Education (NYSED). The work of reviewing the current New York State Standards was organized incredibly well. Operationally, the team that NYSED assembled for this work did an exceptional job grouping committee members by specialty and position (teachers, parents and administrators). In addition, the leadership team provided superb technological and human resource support for all aspects of the task we were given. It is important that this outstanding performance be recognized, especially in light of the challenge the team was assigned.

As a teacher of New York State, I believe in my heart that every single child in this state has a right to a rich and thoughtful educational experience that will prepare him or her for a life long capacity for learning. Our current standard and assessment program makes this an impossible dream. It is clear that socioeconomic status directly impacts the level to which teachers are forced to adhere to these standards and align instruction to the assessment. This is widening the gap between rich and poor in our state. Spending the week with teachers who are from all areas of New York State provided time to think deeply about what the disparate impact of poverty and state pressure to perform on state assessments that measure a narrow slice of the curriculum has on the educational experiences of children in our classrooms. What children experience in their classrooms is directly tied to their own socioeconomic backgrounds. We cannot allow this to continue.

It was evident from the discussions that transpired that the poorer a school district is, the more the teachers are required to teach to the test, the less rich quality instruction the students are receiving. This week I heard stories where teachers have not had students write in journals for years, cases where books have been removed from a child’s hands because it was not on his or her level, situations where teachers have to sneak appropriate books to children, accounts of children who made remarkable gains in reading and writing only to be broken by the assessment and times where English Language Learners have to sit with text they cannot construct meaning of. Teachers are finding themselves in the unfathomable quandary of teaching their students OR protecting their jobs.

We were asked to write standards and ignore the assessments for the time being. We cannot ignore the impact of the assessment, now that we are tying that assessment to teachers’ jobs, and in many cases, student promotion.

In looking carefully, you will see a correlation between poverty and scores on state assessments. Increased poverty is linked to lower scores on state assessments. The lower the students’ scores are on state assessments, the more the school is forced to focus on the limited number of standards that are tested on state assessments.

To help close the achievement gap between rich and poor, we need to close the instructional gap between rich and poor. The only way this can be achieved at this point is by removing high-stakes assessments from the equation. Teachers can use the revised standards that are being developed to provide rich and rigorous instruction for all children. We met Dr. Kyle Snow this week who shared his research that indicates when you craft standards, as they are implemented, they need to be continually assessed to ensure developmental appropriateness. We need to finish revising all the standards. This is going to take time. Upon acceptance by the public and the Board of Regents, only then should they be rolled out to our students without the pressure of teaching to a test. Then can we get back to the purpose of public education — teaching children.

Governor Cuomo, your Common Core Task Force found that we need to engage “New York educators, not a private corporation, to drive the review and creation of State standards-aligned tests in an open and transparent manner.” I urge you to work with our state legislature, the Board of Regents and NYSED to put the brakes on state assessments while the standards are ironed out. At every level of public education, stakeholders will tell you that assessment is driven by curriculum. What we have right now is the reverse. No changes to our standards will be evident, until we remove the current assessment program.

Our existing system is harming the educational process for our children. The premise behind NCLB and ESSA was to close the achievement gap between rich and poor. It is evident that both have only exacerbated the gap while wreaking havoc on all students. Allowing this to continue indicates your consent to widening the achievement gap among children based upon their socioeconomic statuses.

Please keep the momentum of your task force moving forward. NYSED has done an exceptional job beginning the process you requested – revising the standards and assessments. Stop the assessments now so teachers can teach to meet their children’s needs, not the needs of the assessment. They work in opposition to one another right now.

I understand the high-stakes assessment pressure stems from the federal government. But you, as the leader of our state, have a responsibility to protect the children in your state. That responsibility needs to be tantamount to any law passed in this country.

Thank you for moving the task force recommendations forward. Let’s not lose momentum.

The Elephant in the Room

“When there is an elephant in the room introduce him.”

~Randy Pausch

Elephant

Today was the fourth day of the New York State Standard Review Committee. I began the day, with a little tap on the knee from a fellow teacher deeply committed to ensuring her entire school refuses state assessments so her students can keep learning all year. “We don’t have time in our curriculum to stop for those” she said.

I am still not permitted to share any specifics about the committee’s work this week. What we have are incomplete recommendations that will have to be reviewed by the public, modified where necessary and approved by the Board of Regents. It has has been directed to us that we can’t get rid of the current standards. I can be honest and say that every minute has been spent contemplating how to modify the standards we have, in ways that support learning and protect children and their teachers on state assessments – the elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room is the state assessments’ impact on our children. It absolutely cannot be ignored. Each of us here, in a variety of ways, has made it very clear that state assessments have had a monumental, detrimental impact on children.

How? These are experiences teachers and parents have described this week:

  1. State assessment scores used by the state to threaten school teams, causing all instruction to be test-driven not student driven.
  2. Multiple episodes where a teacher has to sneak a developmentally appropriate text into a child’s hands because the test driven culture in his school demands that all students read texts that are deemed “at or above grade level.”
  3. A parent who is told that her son cannot read more complex books because he has maxed out at his grade level.
  4. Schools that no longer teach narrative writing because “it is not on the assessment.”
  5. Children with special needs who have worked hard the entire year, only to be “broken” when they have to take an assessment that contains passages whose text complexity is nowhere near where these children are in motivation, knowledge and experience.
  6. Situations where English Language Learners (ELL’s), in their first year in the United States, speaking no English, are required to work with grade level texts that they can make no meaning of.

We must remain steadfast in our mission. We will not rest until teaching serves children not publishers, financiers  nor politicians. It is time to show the elephant where the door is and get back to teaching…

 

 

 

 

Fearless advocates, this is for you!

“Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

Chinese Proverb

         Today was the third day of the New York State Standard Review Committee. It is late. It has been a struggle to determine what to say. I wanted to discuss the tension between going narrow and deep to support learning and going an inch deep and a mile wide to protect students and their teachers from being harmed by state assessment. Additionally, I contemplated the true root of our woes in teaching English Languages Arts – instruction that has been so decimated by ninety-one different “learning strands” and ill-conceived, grossly mismanaged assessments. I began to review the side conversations I had with teachers throughout the day and into the evening. In the hours since I sat down to write, something startling has transpired.

The work we have done over the last several years is beginning to pay off. Those of you who have given hours, weeks, months and quite possibly years of your time to fight the harmful reforms to public education need to rest assured. Your work is getting noticed. Teachers all around me here are speaking up. Teachers working on this committee are deeply passionate about teaching, and the children they teach. The vast majority I have spoken with fall into one of two camps: teachers who are fiercely advocating for their students in the open, and those who are fiercely fighting behind the scenes because they have been silenced.

To protect teachers, I do not want to get into specifics. But teachers are rising — from beginning to ask why we are doing what we are doing, saying no to administrators when what the state “wants the school to do” is on opposition with what the student needs, to advocating for their entire schools to opt out of state tests for years. It is extremely evident to many teachers that the standards and the assessments to measure student progress have nothing to do with learning. It is clear, that this understanding resonates with a great number of people.

Those of us who can speak candidly need to keep doing so with whoever will listen.        We have made tremendous headway. We have a large army of teachers who are fighting every day in a myriad of ways to advocate for their students. These teachers are supported by a growing body of families who realize something is terribly wrong. Many more are open to join this fight knowing that they are not alone.

Thank you so much for standing for our children in any way you can. This is a monumental task where every piece matters.

The Cycle of Standards, Instruction and Assessment

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” 

~Jonathon Kozol

         Today was the second day of the New York State Standard Review Committee. In total, sixty-eight people responded to my survey. This feedback is combined with a letter Stronger Together Caucus (ST Caucus) sent to the Board of Regents and the New York State Department of Education regarding the need for clear concise standards that included assessment limits for students and teachers. Once again, I sat with this feedback before me, as my grade level band and sub-group looked at specific standards.

We have been asked to refrain from sharing specific details of our work because right now it is all a work in progress. Ultimately, our recommendations will be made public for comment before these recommendations are brought to the Board of Regents (BOR) for review.

There are big ideas that are swirling around in my mind. I am eager for feedback from parents and colleagues.

First, as a society, what do we want the standards to do? I am genuinely curious about what people think of standards. What do they mean to people? What do we expect standards to accomplish?

Second, how do we ensure that assessment of progress toward reaching those standards remains directly connected with instruction? Do we seek a narrowing of standards that will streamline assessment? Do we maintain more holistic standards that leave more room for instructional freedom?

Finally, and most importantly, how much do we trust the teachers in our children’s classrooms? If we agree that standards, instruction and assessment are parts of a continuous cycle through which all learning takes place, then who do we trust to craft and implement these pieces?

NYSED Standard Review Committee

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

Today was the first meeting of the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) Standard Review Committee. The committee is touted as the brainchild of the governor’s office, in response to recommendations that came from its Common Core Task Force. The task force held hearing and surveyed the public over the last year. It found that the public was asking for changes to New York State’s Common Core Standards for grades k – 12.

It is important that I begin by thanking everyone who completed my survey. This committee is limited to 138 members. I feel privileged to represent as many stakeholders as possible as I sit here. Those of you who completed my survey, or provided feedback in other ways, are with me at the table. I kept all of the feedback open with me on the table. When a topic came up that related to a particular concern that was raised to me, I made sure it was shared with the group.

We spent the first portion of the morning hearing from representatives from NYSED. The repeated directive we heard from them was that we “must go as fast as we can and as slow as we must.” The procedure in revising the standards begins with this committee. We are split into two groups: English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. Within these two groups, members are split into grade level bands. I have been placed in the ELA Grade 6-8 band. We will spend this week looking at the standards and looking at whether they can be observed and measured, while being developmentally appropriate.

The balance of the morning was spent hearing from early childhood development consultant, Dr. Kyle Snow. What can be taken from his discussion is that what matters most is how children experience their world around them. Children’s experiences are based upon what is closest to them – their teachers. Their teachers are entrenched in standards and assessment. He spent a considerable amount of time pressing the point that we have to empower teachers to know what is best for the students in their own classrooms, and to be able to advocate for their students at the local level with their administrators. Dr. Snow concluded by sharing the results of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K). The standardization of teaching, learning, and assessment implemented by our governor refuses to recognize the diverse needs of students in our classrooms.

Overall, this committee, comprised of teachers, parents, administrators and college faculty, has tremendous latitude to advocate on behalf of children and make any changes necessary. This is a daunting task to accomplish in five days. We are working in small groups — when in the end, everything must connect. I need to be clear, that NYSED appears to be doing everything humanly possible to be transparent. We were repeatedly encouraged to share and get feedback. I also believe strongly that NYSED has made every attempt to organize this work in the best way possible.

There is still the elephant in the room. We can craft the best standards anyone has ever seen. As feedback indicates, the standards need to be clear, concise and recognize the diverse students that grace our classrooms. And perhaps this might be accomplished in a week. But then what? Our state will continue to give assessments tied to old standards until 2019 or 2020. Then? Our students will take “new “ assessments that the state has “crafted” to somehow measure some part of the standards (since most even currently cannot be measured by a standardized test). Those assessments will continue to be manipulated to describe children and their teachers.

So, the big idea I take away today is this: I will work hard, and share all of the feedback I have received. Maybe all of the work the committee does will make fantastic changes to the standards. But none of this takes away from the hard work we must continue to do. No student should participate in assessments until it can be demonstrated that those assessments measure our instructional practices AND are scored using metrics that have reliability and validity AND those assessments are for the singular purpose of guiding instruction.

I hope to get into the meat and potatoes of this work in days to come.

 

 

 

 

Teacher evaluations are only a tiny fraction of what is wrong…

Matt Bodkin

Bodkin, M. (2016, February 6) Opt-out. [Cartoon] Newsday. Retrieved from http://www.newsday.com

Matt Bodkin’s editorial cartoon that was published on Saturday, February 6, 2016, depicting a teacher telling parents who are opting their children out of state testing that they are on their own is a gross misrepresentation of my position as an elementary school teacher. Furthermore, I am quite certain that I speak on behalf of many of my colleagues across Long Island and the state of New York when I state quite emphatically that the parent AND teacher opposition to state assessments has very little to do with teacher evaluations. On the contrary, our opposition to these assessments stems from the fact that they do nothing to support learning for the students in our classrooms, and our children at home. I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Newsday editorial board would continue to spew misinformation about state assessments because this has been par for the course over the last two years. I must set the record straight.

I love my students, and my four children who attend New York State public schools here on Long Island. I want nothing more than rigorous instruction that helps all of them reach their greatest potentials. I believe the sky is the limit. And I will never turn my back on a rigorous teacher evaluation system that challenges me to reach the sky with my instruction. I am not perfect. This year, I am a better teacher than I was last year. Next year, I will apply what I learned this year to be better. I seek feedback from students, parents, colleagues and administrators wherever possible. As do my colleagues. I am not special.

Why is the message in Mr. Bodkin’s cartoon undeniably false?

We will, under no circumstances, stop protecting children from harmful assessment practices, whether they are used for our evaluations or not.

Why?

  1. Now, more than ever, we must support parents in saying no. Our governor and our New York State Board of Regents have unanimously said that the standards these tests claim to measure are problematic at best. How on earth can we ask our children to take a test that alleges to measure their progress toward meeting standards we all agree are in question?
  2. We have unequivocally stated that ten or more hours of testing is too much for an eight year old child? The answer, to now give unlimited time for testing. The MCAT’s to go to medical school are approximately six and a half hours.
  3. These assessments provide teachers with absolutely nothing that would support a child’s instruction in the classroom.

I could go on an on about the tests’ lack of reliability and validity to measure what they claim to measure, the fraudulent ways they are scored or the fact that they detracts from us teaching reading and writing as the meaning-making processes that our children need for life. But I will stick to the point. Once again, Newsday, you have it all wrong. We will not leave parents to fight this battle alone. We are in this for our children. Make no mistake about it.