So much for revising Ohio’s standards

Back in April of 2016, I received a message from the Ohio Department of Education asking for input into the revision of Ohio’s Learning Standards in English Language Arts and Math.  I gleefully clicked the link to do my part to remedy the ELA portions, which I, like so many other teachers, have found to be woefully lacking in substance and utility.

I was quickly disappointed: The survey was difficult for even educators to complete. It was tedious as best, as we were asked to examine Every. Single. Standard. per grade level. I soon believed it to be a publicity stunt, not done sincerely. See NY example of the same: http://www.lohud.com/…/fix-common-core-disaster/81211306/

I communicated these concerns to a state board of education member, who responded that they shared my concerns, especially since it was communicated at a BOE meeting that the intent was “not to throw out the standards and not to listen to the ‘hype’ that is going around about the standards.”

Here is the hype:

Most parents and teachers in the U.S. don’t support the Common Core standards:

(CNSNews.com) – Less than half of Americans (49 percent) and only 40 percent of teachers now say they support Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Public support has dropped 16 percent since 2013, when 65 percent of Americans were in favor of the Common Core standards, according to the ninth annual Education Next poll released Tuesday (http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/poll-only-40-teachers-support-common-core)

I’ve seen the stats repeated over and over again. The explanations are numerous and the support for the Core is shriveling up. I don’t think I’d call that “hype.” I think I’d call it “fact.”  But I digress….

The Revision Process

There are 963 Common Core standards:
  • K-8 Math (229)
  • HS Math (156)
  • K-12 ELA (32)
  • K-5 ELA (250)
  • 6-12 ELA Literacy (296)

ODE asked for feedback standard by standard. Each piece of feedback entailed answering the following questions:

  1. Type of Suggestion Select the type of edit being suggested for the standard above. —Clarity—Grade Level Appropriate—Content Error—Other
  2. Claim. Provide a description of your content-focused issue or concern with the standard you identified.
 Characters 0/1000
  3. Resolution. Provide a description of a possible resolution to the issue that you claimed above.
 Characters 0/1000
  4. Research/Rationale* Provide research, information or data that supports the claim made above concerning this standard. Characters 0/1000 If you have none, enter “None” into the box.

I am licensed to teach 7-12th grade English. One grade level = 73 standards to review x 4 questions to answer per standard = 292 responses to provide for one grade level.

Who has the time to give 292 thoughtful responses? Multiply that by the number of children you have or the number of grade levels you teach. I am passionate about public education and even I don’t have the “grit” or time to spend giving feedback at that level of minutia.

ODE deliberately designed a “survey” with an astounding level of specificity and complexity. They knew that most people would not answer ALL of those questions, or even half of them.

Results

And surprise! Only 328 people in the entire state of Ohio responded to the ELA survey. That is not remotely statistically significant. Did ODE declare their survey to have a design failure (strikingly reminiscent of the PARCC debacle)?  Did they redesign the survey or solicit feedback? Did they create a different survey that was more user-friendly?

No! They made a report about it! And they emailed and tweeted about it proudly!

Revision Phase II

And then they acted on it. Yesterday I received a message from ODE asking me to examine and give feedback on the first round of revisions to the standards.

There are 578 total ELA standards.

ODE only revised 53 of them.

Here are highlights from these revisions:

  • 2 revisions were word transpositions, i.e. sounds (phonemes) is now phonemes (sounds)
  • 6 standards now include activating prior knowledge to make connections (which is impossible when you have no prior knowledge about a topic)
  • 6 standards had “content” deletions such as
    • deletion of “its”
    • deletion of “Bible” as an example of a religious work
    • Deletion of typing requirements in the standards for grades 4 (W4.6 can type one page in one sitting), 5 (W5.6 two pages in one sitting), and 6 (W6.6 three pages in one sitting)
  • 7 revisions added a single word or phrase such as:
    • grapheme
    • mood
    • idiom
    • changing “recognize” to “by recognizing”
  • 8 standards now have a retell or summarize component (to meet the demands of DIBELS screening, I presume)
  • 8 standards were revised by changing a word or two. Here are some of ODE’s changes in word choice:
    • unwasteful –> frugal
    • word –> language
    • beauty –> appeal
    • point of view –> perspective
    • point of view –> point of view or perspective (depending on the standard)
    • themes or topics –> themes and/or topic (because choice is important!)
  • The most common revision made is…. 17 standards are now broken down into

a. part a

b. part b

I am sure many teachers were confused by the complex sentences in the standards. This revision is sure to advance scores on the AIR tests. (/sarcasm)


Ironically, ODE revised other standards to delete a & b and rephrase the entire thing in a much more complex sentence. And some  of the changes ODE made are so convoluted as to be incomprehensible.

Example 1:
RI.3.8
Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text
(e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).
is now
RI.3.8 Describe the relationships between the reasons and points an author uses throughout a text.

What in the world is a point? And what’s the point behind decoupling the standard from the academic terminology that would give a teacher more clarity? Looking at the same standard for 4th grade, I see that it morphs into:

RI.4. Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

And I am even more confused.


Example 2:

RL.11-12.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on
meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.
is now
RL.11-12.4
Determine the connotative, denotative, and figurative meanings of words and phrases as they are used in the text; analyze the impact of author’s diction, including multiple-meaning words or language that is particularly evocative to the tone and mood of the text.

Word chowder to word soup. Wouldn’t this be a great place for the a/b treatment?


Example 3

Surprise! I found this standard revision and a whole bunch more in the Proposed Standard Revision Comparison document on ODE’s site.

This is not the link ODE furnished educators to provide feedback.

L.11-12.10
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
 is now
RL.11-12.10
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and
proficiently, building background knowledge and activating prior knowledge in order to make personal, societal, and ethical connections that deepen understanding of
complex text
I actually like this change. It’s substantial. It’s clarifying. But that’s not the norm with what I saw, and since I don’t get paid a dime to evaluate ODE’s work, I’m done.

So yeah, ODE made more than 54 changes to the standards. We are only invited to comment on those select 54, though.

 What’s up with that, ODE?

Wouldn’t you think ODE would want educators and parents to be able to review and comment on all of the revisions? Why just these 54? It makes zero sense — which is the new normal from a state education department that is more interested in promoting for profit charter schools than it is with helping helping students actually succeed.

ODE also added hyperlinks to some resources, and they put a few words in the glossary. I didn’t count those, since ODE doesn’t see fit to include the glossary terms, definitions, or URLs for the hyperlinks.

What’s Missing

Nowhere in the revisions does ODE include adding creative writing or poetry back into the mix of required writing.

Nowhere did ODE add a standard for out of the box thinking or innovation.

Perhaps most important of all, these revisions do NOTHING to address the developmental inappropriateness of the K-3 reading standards.


Given that most Ohio teachers do not support the standards, given the abysmal response rate to the “survey,” and given the lack of meaningful revision to the standards, one can do nothing but conclude that this “revision” is really publicity stunt done to generate the illusion of buy-in.

Tweaking the standards isn’t enough. They need to be jettisoned completely, along with the tests. Go back to the old standards or adopt the pre-CCSS Massachusetts standards. Just get rid of anything that CCSS has touched. The brand itself is contaminated beyond redemption.

 

 

Surrender, Dorothy: OTES and the District Behind the Curtain

Like Dorothy in the Emerald City, I had hope.  My district’s teacher evaluation committee, comprised of district higher-ups and teacher association members, had a chance to make things right by VAM teachers. We all know VAM is unfair. So like Dorothy’s wish to go home, maybe fairness and equity would be returned to the OTES process, at least for a little while, by evaluating teachers based on their teaching, not Reform City test scores over which we have zero control.

Surrender, Dorothy. Surrender, indeed, because in this world, fair isn’t always equal, even when the yellow brick road to fairness was easily available to the committee. The state took away the PARCC, but The Committee gave us the impossible task of using the equally egregious MAP test to measure student growth and, by proxy, our effectiveness.

MAP is yet another witches’ broom we are supposed to chase, one more standardized test over which ELA and Math teachers have no control: We cannot see the tests, we never see graded results, and the student growth measures and thus our “value added” are calculated by some Great and Powerful Algorithm of Oz that will never be revealed.

So while SLO-based colleagues in the middle and high schools will be giving pretests with results that they can actually use to improve their student growth measures and keep their jobs secure, VAM teachers will be giving MAP tests in the dark and praying for positive outcomes.  Once again, we will see SLO teachers (who are *supposed* to trade and grade but not all of them do) rated accomplished and skilled, while VAM/MAP teachers will have to prove their worth with Pinterest-inspired evidence binders to offset potentially harmful and damaging MAP scores.

But it wouldn’t have been “fair” to those teachers who write SLOs if VAM teachers get a pass on student growth measures, even when those measurements have been proven to be worthless and without statistical merit.  And just like we tell our students, fair isn’t always equal.

I sure hope my ruby slippers work.

One Student Responds: Dystopia, Standardized Tests, and Failure

After reading dystopian novels, students were asked to create their own dystopia that speaks to a criticism they are making about their school. This is one student’s response. Names and other identifying features have been removed or changed.

“I mean I don’t necessarily agree with today’s tes-” Mr. Winters stopped mid-sentence, and looked over at the classroom overseer who stared at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Ahem.” Mr. Winters cleared his throat. “Everybody please grab a chrome  book and begin today’s weekly pre-test. When you’re finished you can either finish up Friday’s weekly post test or graph last week’s scores if you have already finished it. If you didn’t reach at least a 5% growth, please see the classroom overseer for today, and she will escort you. Please remember that if you falsely enter scores, or incorrectly graph your data, you will be immediately escorted and taken to the reconstruction facility. We don’t want that now do we?” he asked.

“No, Mr. Winters,” his class responded in unison.

He looked down at his feet and sighed. He was especially disappointed in himself, and what words he had just allowed to escape his mouth. He knew what education was meant to be, and he knew what he was capable of teaching his students, and this wasn’t it.

“What is the date today, Mr. Winters?” Nerissa asked, raising her hand.

“It’s Monday, July 6th, 2062,” he replied.

Nerissa sighed. She looked over at Thalassia and whispered, “Can you believe we go to school all year long? My grandma said that her mom used to have something called ‘summer break.’ They got two whole months off!”

Thalassia hushed Nerissa, for the classroom overseer was gazing upon them.

Mr. Winters is an 8th grade teacher at Goose Mere Middle School. The education system took a big turn in the year 2017, as the first controversial test known as the “PARCC” was expanded and given 4 times a year, against everyone’s wishes.

It was, and still is believed, that repetitive testing will ensure that the information will stay in the mind of a child or teenager. Children who do not make constant progress on their tests or don’t at least show minimal improvement get “escorted” from their classroom by its overseer for that day.

They are then taken to what is known as a “reconstruction facility.” The official name for this place is called “Pupils Corrective Residence” (most commonly referred to as PCR).

Parents must sign a 25 page contractual agreement stating that in the event their child does not show at least minimal progress through their test scores and their graphed data proves it, the overseer on that day has full authority and permission to “escort” their child to the PCR. There the child will stay day and night for 10 months straight with no contact with the outside world, except for the text they are permitted to send their guardian letting them know that they have been escorted.

Parents rarely refuse to sign this contract, because without doing so, their child is not permitted to attend public school, and private schools have either been banned by the U.S. Government or are very selective and expensive places where only people such as the president’s children would attend.

In the current year of 2062, job interviews are far different than they were a long time ago. The unemployment rate is almost 0% due to the new process. It seems glamorous, but it’s not. In order to apply for a job, you must take a series of five tests, then prepare for an oral speech. It’s almost like a school assignment, yet it’s in the real world. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Once a person has passed the six tests, they are required to be hired, as long as the company, workplace, or facility was in fact looking to hie somebody.

Children who do not make constant improvement or fail more than one test in 365 days are considered to not be able to pass job interviews in the future, meaning that they will end up homeless and useless to society.

In its entirety, this is the reason behind PCR.

…to be continued?

PARCC It Somewhere Else

A colleague came to me today, outraged over our refusal to subject our freshman daughter to PARCC testing. She seemed to believe that I am willing to “hurt teachers” over my objection to the toxic testing rage that’s sweeping the state and our country.

She is so, so wrong. While I have my daughter’s best interests at the heart of my decision-making, the last thing I want to do is harm the very teachers who are teaching and nurturing my children, and my kids have some amazing teachers in their lives.

What I want to do is help break the cycle of testing abuse. My hands are tied right now as a teacher, but not as a parent.

Personally, I don’t see how any teacher would allow their child to be subjected to PARCC testing. We know how much learning time is being wasted on something that is utterly useless to teachers. We know that ranking and sorting children is bad. We know so many lies about standardized testing that I could go on for days about it. We’ve discussed these very things at meetings.

So it isn’t that my colleague believes the propaganda about how wonderful PARCC is or how much it will improve education.

Nope. It’s all about VAM.

Not testing means potentially negative Value Added Measures get factored into my child’s teachers’ evaluations. My colleague has fallen prey to the scare tactic that this VAM drop will lead to poor evaluations for my child’s teachers, could cause those teachers to be put on professional improvement plans, and may even result in those teachers losing their jobs.

So in essence, my colleague believes that I could cost a teacher their job by refusing a worthless test that is designed to fail 60% of the students who take it and will label schools and teachers as failures.

Either way, the result is the same: VAM scores everywhere are going to fall like mercury in a Polar Vortex, and baby, it’s gonna get cold in our classrooms.

I honestly cannot understand how any teacher could support this game of Extreme Test and Punish and still be able to sleep at night. To encourage harmful test-taking because of VAM gives professional credence to VAM. If you know that VAM is a faulty measure of teacher performance and you insist on playing the VAM card anyway, you are feeding the monster that wants nothing more than to eat your teaching license and discard your continuing contract in the trash.

It was suggested that I voice my objections through reasonable methods like contacting lawmakers to let them know what I think. Seriously? It really doesn’t matter how many letters I write or phone calls I make. The state doesn’t want my opinion, and neither do the feds. If they wanted to know what teachers really thought about PARCC assessments or Common Core, they’d have asked, and my phone hasn’t rung even once, even though I always include contact information in my letters.

What I do know is that money talks, and I don’t have enough capital to buy myself a lobbyist.

So instead I join with thousands of other parents to voice our objections to these tests with our refusal to participate in the charade. We refuse to allow our daughter to test, thereby withholding the data that the state, the feds, and Pearson so badly wants. We, along with thousands of other parents, must gum up the industrial-education machine that our politicians and businessmen are creating as their way to privatize our public education dollars.

But because I was worried about how my daughter’s teachers would react to our refusal to test, I contacted them so I could explain my thinking first-hand and get their feedback. I spoke directly with the teachers who may see VAM dips.

They completely support our decision to refuse the tests.

Like me, they are willing to take one for the team, because they know that this system is harmful to students and they believe that it needs to change. We agree that it will take action, not words, to force this change to materialize.

They also know that their students are more than a number.

And teachers are more than VAM.

We refuse.

Hello world!

Where to begin…

I am not technologically backwards. I am tech-resistant sometimes, though, because I’m not a joiner. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was worried about my kids being able to reach me. I didn’t sign on to facebook until a friend told me about all of the friends I could be hearing from and all of the photos I wasn’t seeing. I avoided Twitter like the plague, until Senators Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren became champions of annual standardized testing, and then I joined Twitter so I could tweet at them like one of Hitchcock’s birds.

Now, you’d think that as a writer and a woman with strong opinions, I would have been blogging my heart out for a long time. Nope… I really didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say to the entire world.

That changed today.