Archive for May, 2016

The proponents of 21st Century Learning (aka digital learning, aka competency-based education, aka personalized learning) claim that those of us who stand up for public education are little more than fossils clinging to the status quo. Further, through slick bait-and-switch advertising techniques the proponents of “innovation” disguise the facts that they are profiteering and privatizing education; using clever language to cast anyone NOT on board with their agenda, as being stuck in the past. Worse yet, we (anyone opposed to their 21st C framework) apparently want to trap kids in existing “divides” of race, culture, economics and geography, divides which they, the benevolent technologies of 21st century policy makers, will remediate.

Yeah. Sure.

So here’s something to consider. 21st century reformers are NOT new. They are NOT cutting-edge. They are nothing they propose to be. In a world dominated by digital services and programs, and in a time in which Silicon Valley is home to the new robber barons, how can selling our education system out to their corporate interests really be “cutting edge”? It’s what we have always done.

Let me explain:

Public schools (since their inception in the United States) have been a mirror reflection of the historical moment in which they are created. Really, we could argue this has ALWAYS been true of education going back to the Greeks and Plato, and the Monastic influences of literacy during the control of Europe by the Pope.

But let’s fast-forward a little bit. During the 1800’s when the United States was still largely made of agrarian communities, our schools reflected the agrarian lifestyle (think Little House on the Prairie). This is why we created summers off; so that (“back in the day”) children could work the family farms during the months when crops were ready to be harvested.

Then, during the early 1900’s we evolved from an agrarian society to an industrial society. The industrial paradigm pervaded not only the modes of economic production but also reflected the manner in which we developed social systems including hospitals, prisons and yes…schools. It was the era of mass production and institutionalization. The effects of the industrial model of schooling are still felt today (ringing bells, lining kids up, standardized testing).

And now, the 21st Century reformers want to claim that THEY are the solution to our industrialized woes.  I am sure that the proponents of factory model school had as much to say to the agrarian model as well.

So really there’s nothing new to see here, folks, move along.

It’s merely one era mimicking the behavior of the one that preceded it. And the one before that. What’s new? Nothing. It’s a scientific and economic framework for a “new” world imprinting itself upon the existing social systems, most notably of course: education. Digital shopping, digital economy, digital….everything, is merely a new version of industrial-everything. So naturally the digital paradigm imprints itself upon the models of schooling which claim this time to REALLY will be solution to all our world’s problems. Except that…it won’t.

Why? Because this process is merely Groundhog Day. The same narrative. The same arguments. The same patterns. The same methods of using schools to merely REFLECT societal shifts…not to CHANGE them. Oh sure, they claim to be change agents: through disruptive innovation. But it’s not innovative or disruptive to merely usher in digital learning in a digital age any more than it was “radical” to usher in factory models of schools in an age of factories. Such models of schooling (all that have preceded us and including the current paradigm) are framed NOT to serve the children but the rulers of the economic empire of their times. This time around its 1) global 2) private (free market), 3) corporate 4) CEO’s.

What WOULD be disruptive?

Disentangling schools and education from profiteering. That would certainly disrupt the cash flow to corporate interests.

What would be radical?

Putting CHILDREN’S needs first. Why? Because that is not something we have ever tried in this country, on a large scale and in earnest. Sure we’ve been doing it for centuries for the children of the elite. But children in public schools have always been fodder for larger social and economic designs crafted by others for others. Despite the promises made by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and Brown v Board, we have never truly provided equitable funding to all children and desegregated schools.

Let’s try designing schools to benefit the developmental and social and emotional needs of the children they serve. This would mean using real research that shows what works for children: culturally relevant curriculum, small class size, positive relationships WITH TEACHERS (not computers), wrap around services, ameliorating the effects of poverty, and arts/music/library (as a few examples). Now THAT would be something NEW we have never tried.

Dismantling public schools and eliminating teachers in favor of “digital services” is merely exemplifying what some of us call the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Given who is crafting our current education policies one can only conclude that that is precisely what they want: the same old, same old. The rich get richer, the poor stay poor, de facto segregation carries on its legacy…and the corporations laugh all the way to the bank.

Let’s break the cycle: WE DEMAND MORE FOR OUR COMMUNITIES AND CHILDREN THAN THIS. Let’s be more than consumers of someone else’s narrative of school reform and become creators of our own images of the real changes we believe can be possible.
also read “Changing the Status of the Status”

 

The PARCC Test: Exposed

Posted: May 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

The PARCC Test: Exposed

the corporatizing of public education?

Original blog post can be found here.

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).

Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.

  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”

Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2

Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.

 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.

However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3

  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.

Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.

httpsbotd2wordpresscombotdgifblog88525059post34langendate1462657281ip662496573urlhttpsceliaoylerwordpresscom20160507the-parcc-test-exposed

httpsbotd2wordpresscombotdgifblog88525059post34langendate1462657281ip662496573urlhttpsceliaoylerwordpresscom20160507the-parcc-test-exposed

 

 

The following is a letter written by a Maryland 5th grader sent to me by her mom. Do you suppose Ms Slover or any of the self-serving privatizers will listen? Maybe we should all send a copy of this letter to Ms. Slover to get her attention.

what if

LETTER;

May 4, 2016

Ms. Laura McGiffert Slover and PARCC Administrators
PARCC Inc.
1747 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Dear PARCC administrators,
I am a fifth grade student who just recently completed the Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test. I have taken this test since I was in third grade and I feel that this test is unnecessary and unfair to students and teachers across the country.
I believe, despite politicians, test designers and experts, that this test is completely inaccurate and erroneous .This test cannot possibly measure our knowledge or predict where students will be in twenty years. Therefore, each individual will learn at their own pace, suggesting the PARCC cannot anticipate when a student learns. Students will decide how much they learn, who they learn it from and when they learn the curriculum; the government should not decide that.
Another reason I feel PARCC should not be considered as part of the educational system is because the PARCC is an unfair and unjust test. I believe this because this test is biased against disabled and mentally/physically ill children. We should be focusing more on testing that, doesn’t challenges the abilities of a student, but gives the student opportunities to complete the test as they wish (this does not meet the standards of standardized testing). I feel this way because no matter how ill or disabled a child could be, by law, the child is required to complete this test within the time given; this could be a major struggle for a child.
Third, I feel like this test is a waste of instructional time. We are required to complete at least 2 sessions of testing a year, each lasting as long as ninety minutes each. The opportunity for students to get a good education is taken away as they complete this test as directed. This test not only takes the time away from students, but also complicates the responsibilities for a teacher. Teachers are not meant to give nor advise tests; the common role of a teacher is to educate students.
Lastly, I feel that the quality of this test is atrocious and it is put together with second rate quality. From previous experience I found that this test includes various errors such as punctuation mistakes, unclear questions and poor test design and content on the test was unfamiliar as well.
I appreciate the effort that the PARCC administration puts into the test each year, and the efforts of teachers and staff that cooperate with PARCC, but I do not feel as if this test is necessary in our society today. I hope you take my opinion into account and hopefully revise this test in the future. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Claire Doran, age 11

This is a RE POSTING of a blog I wrote four years ago during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Seems appropriate to re-post it now. Please comment on the question: How much has changed or not in last four years?

ORIGINAL:

I felt an urgency to write this post before Friday in order to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week because this quasi “event of recognition” must remain close on our radar well past this Friday.  Never mind that this gesture is being erased by the first annual…gag…National Charter School week … gag again.

On Monday Mark Naison shared a post that reads:

“Having Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States of America, at this historic moment, is like having Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season.”

After reading this I laughed out loud for a while, and then quietly chuckled to myself for days after that. Why? Because what is happening to public education and to public teachers is so not funny that sometimes I have to laugh to stave the tears and massive waves of despair. And although the deer population may not be considerably reduced during hunting season (no offense to my animal rights activists friends intended), I worry that teachers, real live teachers, are becoming an endangered species.

If you haven’t already shown your appreciation somehow for the public teachers in your life, past or present, do it now. Why? Because chances are, sooner than any of us anticipate, we won’t be sending our flowers, cards, candy, or well-wishes to teachers anymore.  We will have to send them directly to education profiteers like Pearson, Carpe Diem Schools, Connections Academy, and Bill Gates, all of whom are advocating to replace public school teachers with online learning and other in-school online technologies.

Just this week I smiled as my son walked gleefully through his school, passing out homemade muffins to his teachers  for teacher Appreciation. Soon he’ll have to be screaming “thank you” to a computer screen.

The lobbying power behind this movement is astounding because so are the profits to be made. Profitable for corporations, not children of course.  Michelle Rhee through her (Rosemary’s) baby StudentsFirst,  “pledged to spend more than $1 billionto bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.”

And pretty soon every child in Philadelphia can sit in front of a computer and succumb to online “learning” since their community schools have been shut down. Why is this? According to City Paper:

The pro-voucher funding stream appears unstoppable, with sources like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. So it goes: The same political forces that have bled Philly schools for decades now decry their poor performance. The solution, of course, is the private sector.”

Conveniently, the billion-dollar-online-learning companies are touting rhetoric that “all children deserve a great teacher.” Duh. How much did they spend to find that out? However, they claim is that in order to deliver on this proclamation, we need to infuse technologies such as online charter schools, and billions of dollars of technology to public schools to make it happen. They claim that we must free up the “best” teachers by using technology more. Convenient. According to theWashington Post, Gates recommends:

“Lift(ing) caps on class sizes and get(ting) more students in front of the very best teachers. Those teachers would get paid more with the savings generated from having fewer personnel overall.”

Those of us who have been in education for more than a few decades already know how to maximize the strengths of “great teachers!” It’s called: resources, reduced class size, having more teaching assistants per classroom, and NOT demanding endless batteries of high stakes testing, test preparation, and data keeping of those tests all of which wastemeaningful instructional time.

Duh. But … there’s no profit in those solutions.

No.  What Gates and company recommend (in their infinite pedagogical experience and scholarly wisdom on child development) is to:

“Eliminate or reduce “seat time” requirements for students to be with licensed staff, focusing on student outcomes (read: tests) instead. This will allow, for example, unlicensed staff to monitor digital labs, freeing funds to pay more—within budget—to the excellent teachers in charge.”

They call this “seizing opportunity.” Seizing opportunity indeed.

Speaking of seizing opportunity, let’s look at Carpe Diem (or “seize the day”),  a “blended learning” model school spreading like a bad case of herpes across the country, and Indiana in particular. As Peg Robertson  writes:

“Six Carpe Diem schools are indeed headed to Indiana. ALEC loves them. See chapter five of their latest report card.  Six schools will soon arrive, focused on ALEC’s love of technology and lack of teachers. This isn’t innovation – this is mind-numbing education delivered via computer with a few teachers (4) left to fill in the regimented gaps.”

How do these new online learning communities get so much political favoritism? Go ask ALEC.

Connections Academy is a national for-profit online learning corporation, and whose co-founder and executive VP is Mickey Revenaugh, who is also the co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force.

It’s no coincidence that Pearson acquired Connections (Academy) Education, establishing a leading position in the fast-growing virtual school segment and the opportunity to apply Connections Education’s skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets. 

And even if your community has not yet been sucked into the vacuum of a corporate charter model, even if you still walk your child everyday to a public school, your Teacher Appreciation tokens might as well go straight to Pearson. Why? Because Pearson has also acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, SAT testing, GED testing, and was the central player (through Achieve) in the design of the National Common Core Standards. Pearson can now micromanage the Common Core, as well as all teacher-related materials needed to teach the Common Core, and all required testing materials to test the Common Core.  And more of Common Core will be going online, via courtesy of Pearson. Convenient.

Need I go on? The teacher has become an inconvenient and costly middleman who needs to be removed from the equation, because they get in the way of corporate profit.

More and more classes, k through 12, are being held online in schools across America. And the numbers of online delivery are increasing. From an article by Trip Gabriel, I offer a few highlights:

* “More than one million in the United States, by one estimate are taking online courses. Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier.”

* “In Memphis, where 7,000 high school students were assigned to study online in computer labs this year because there were not enough teachers to comply with state class-size caps, every student must take an online course to graduate, beginning with current sophomores.”

* “In Idaho, the state superintendent of education plans to push a requirement that high school students take four or more online courses, following a bill that passed the Legislature last week to provide every student with a laptop, paid for from a state fund for educators’ salaries.”

But this last statement really drives the issue home for me:

“K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice, including Jeb Bushs’ Foundation for Excellence in Education which has called on states to provide all students with “Internet access devices” and remove bans on for-profit virtual schools.”

So I want to take a moment to thank the teachers in my life who have influenced me.  And none of them worked for a textbook company or were presented to me via a computer portal.

Mrs. Belafatto from 5th grade. Thank you for inspiring my creative writing. I remember the great free-writing time we had, and the smiley face feedback that encouraged me to write. I do what I do today in large part because of you.

Mr Dever from 4th grade. Thank you for allowing us as a class to build a real reading loft out of wood and nails in our classroom. We collaborated together, measured, problem-solved, and created. You remind me that teaching and learning are embodied and hands-on experiences that cannot be measured on a standardized test.

Mr. Barlow from 9th grade. Sure, you were categorically insane. Rumor had it you lived in your car. You made me cry at the blackboard. But you taught me to believe in myself, never to back down, and to face challenges head-on. I take my memory of you with me today into this battle for education.

Dr. Ball from my graduate school statistics class. Thank you for staying on the phone with me that Sunday afternoon during the football play offs, when you took over an hour of your time away from the game to walk me through the computer-based exam, while I sobbed hysterically in a panic. You taught me that the qualities that matter most in being a teacher are patience, empathy, and dedication. I don’t remember what was on that exam -but I remember what you did for me.

So, thank a teacher. Unless we appreciate them enough to fight for them, they will become an endangered species. And since no one with any real policy making power in education seems to be doing much about this, maybe we need to get the Wildlife Federation on the case. Anyone got their number?