Where are the 2013 Technical Reports?: A Call for Transparency at John King’s NYSED

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photograph courtesy of Susan Watts/New York Daily News 12/13/13

On April 14, 2014, sociologist Aaron M. Pallas posted an illuminating report on the lack of transparency at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) with regards to its controversial standardized testing program.  It’s posted on his blog  A Sociological Eye on Education.  I was struck by Pallas’ mention of the missing technical reports of the 2013 NYS Common Core assessments that Pearson was contracted to deliver to the NYSED in December 2013.  At present, the reports have yet to appear on the NYSED website. Did Pearson fail to deliver the reports, which is costing the state $75,000, or is the NYSED sitting on them the same way it sat on the 2012 technical reports, which weren’t made public until July 2013? Click here to read the 2012 English-language Arts technical report and here to view the 2012 Mathematics technical report.

In his latest blog post, Pallas writes:

New York sent teachers’ Mean Growth Percentile scores to its 700 school districts in August 2013, which enabled teachers to receive their overall evaluation scores and categories by September 1, 2013. But no one—neither teachers, parents, journalists nor researchers—has had access to the information necessary to evaluate either the quality of the tests or the quality of the Mean Growth Percentiles. That’s because the technical reports that tell us about last year’s state assessments have yet to be released to the public.

Let that sink in for a moment.”

Fred Smith, NYS testing expert and statistician, has long been sounding the alarm on the NYSED’s lack of transparency.  He is also an active member of Change the Stakes and has launched a campaign to Say “NO!” to Pearson stand-alone field tests, which are to be administered throughout New York State in June 2014.  Smith sent me the following note:

Aaron Pallas gives a powerfully succinct explanation about why the lack of transparency here is intellectually dishonest and beyond objectionable from a scientific perspective.

In simple terms, the failure to produce or make the report available in a timely fashion has been calculated to give SED and Pearson after-the-fact wiggle room to shade its presentation in order to make poorly designed and constructed tests appear less glaringly bad. Even worse, absent the report, researchers and analysts cannot examine the quality of the test instruments.

The entire performance here is another example of SED and Pearson acting in cahoots — with SED running interference for Pearson in order to make the Common Core a fait accompli. Together they have spared no effort to preserve, protect and defend a “sloppy roll-out.”

Parents and educators in New York must continue to put pressure on the NYSED to release the 2013 technical reports.  Use #PearsonTechReports and #BoycottPearson on Twitter.  Please also read and share Fred Smith’s fact sheet on opting-out of Pearson field testing this June.

Thanks, Katie

Carmen Fariña’s Visit to District 19: A Call to Boycott Pearson Field Testing

The evening of April 10, 2014, I attended the District 19 (East New York, Brooklyn) Community Education Council (CEC) meeting with Carmen Fariña, the new chancellor of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). Chancellor Fariña spoke for about 20 minutes before community members took turns voicing their concerns at the microphone.  Here are the parts of her speech that stood out to me:

1.) Chancellor Fariña acknowledged that she invited herself to District 19 after noticing that the district wasn’t included on her tour of NYC school districts.  She stressed the importance of visiting “underserved and underheard” communities such as East New York, Brooklyn.

2.) Right away, Fariña asked if there were any educators in the audience. She reiterated her pledge to bring back respect to NYC teachers and principals, and she encouraged us to speak up at the meeting. This put me at ease until I got no reaction from her after delivering my speech (posted below).

3.) Fariña assured us that the NYCDOE would rely less on outside consultants for curriculum and professional development. She sang the praises of the wonderful work already being done in our schools and called on schools to share ideas and best practices.  I believe she said that she’d reward schools for doing this.

4.) Fariña declared that she believed in the Common Core.  Her view is that “it’s not a curriculum; it’s a series of strategies.”  She said memorizing information won’t get our kids good jobs. This statement reminded me of last year’s NYCDOE pro-Common Core ad that tormented me on my daily subway commute.  The ad – posted below - implied that schools just taught basic skills in the pre-Common Core era. This is false and misleads the public.  Critical thinking and higher order thinking questions are not new concepts and have long been practiced in our schools. Did Fariña not see this happening in her schools? I don’t think so. It’s worth noting that, contrary to Fariña’s interpretation, last year’s NYCDOE ad referred to the Common Core as a curriculum.

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5.) Trailers are a big issue in District 19.  Fariña said that in five years, trailers would be gone from New York City public schools.

After addressing the remaining issues of chief concern to District 19, the public was invited to speak. I only got halfway through my speech because we were given just two minutes each to speak. My intention was to raise awareness of excessive standardized testing in NYC public schools and to inquire about the feasibility of a citywide opt-out of Pearson’s stand-alone field tests, which are to be administered in June. Here’s my speech:

My District 19 elementary school is my second family. My English-language learners are like my own kids; I’ve taught their siblings, I know their families and I help newcomers adjust to both a new language and to a new culture. I’m here tonight as an advocate for them, and also for my own daughter who starts kindergarten this fall in District 13.

The current Common Core testing program is unsustainable and developmentally inappropriate, and it must be stopped. The Common Core state tests are meaningless to me as a teacher. They are also unreliable measurements of student learning and achievement. They do not reflect my students’ knowledge and how they’ve progressed over the course of the school year.

Sadly, standardized testing is far from over for the year. Here’s what’s coming up on the 2013-2014 NYC testing agenda:

1.) NYS Common Core Math assessment: Wednesday.  April 30 – Friday, May 2

2.) The four-part NYSESLAT assessment for English language learners (ELLs): speaking, listening, reading comprehension passages and multiple choice questions and writing, which is comprised of 2 essays: 1 fact-based and 1 picture description. April 9 – May 16.

3.) New York State Science Performance Test (grades 4 & 8). May 21 -30.

4.) New York State Science Written section (grades 4 & 8). June 2.   

5.) MOSL (local assessments) used for teacher ratings (at many, but not all, schools). Grades 3-5 students will complete a reading and writing performance assessment, and a math Scantron online Ed performance will also be administered. May 5 – 12. 

6.) Pearson field testing. June 2 -11. 

The New York City Council has already unanimously passed a resolution calling on the State Education Department to cease fielding testing. Chancellor Fariña, I call on the NYCDOE to opt-out of Pearson’s upcoming field tests. At the very least, can you please ensure that NYC parents are notified in advance that Pearson field tests will be administered. It would be helpful to send principals a form letter that notifies parents of the date, grade and subject area of the field test. It should also state that the field tests are not mandated, and it should ask parents whether or not they consent to having their children participate.

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Please read this field test fact sheet produced by Fred Smith of Change the Stakes. You can print out copies here. Please spread the word that this is happening!

Our students deserve authentic, teacher-created assessments that can be used for instructional and diagnostic purposes. These NYS Common Core tests don’t do that; rather they exploit children for political and economic gain.

Thank you,

Katie Lapham 

 

Day 3 – 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam

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Photograph of 4/1/14 P.S. 146 rally courtesy of pix11.com

Today I administered DAY THREE of the 2014 NYS Common Core English-language arts (ELA) assessment to fifth grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time on state assessments. For the third day in a row, my kids sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes). This week, my group of 10-year-olds tested in ELA for a total of six hours and 45 minutes.

Today’s 5th grade test was comprised of three reading passages, five short response questions and one extended response question. The questions were tricky and confusing, and the vocabulary and content were far from being grade-appropriate.  As the educators at P.S. 321* noted in their 4/3/14 condemnation of the 2014 ELA test, “…we have never seen an ELA exam that does a worse job of testing reading comprehension. There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages.”  The kids I tested stared into space while struggling to make sense of the questions. They also had less stamina today. Many needed to take a break after answering the first two short response questions. The students were fidgety and less focused, and many asked to go to the bathroom. Two kids complained of stomach pain. A few kids met my gaze throughout the test, pleading with their eyes for me to rescue them.  It broke my heart.  With more than a hour left in the test, one boy, slumped over in his chair, summoned me over to his seat and said, “I don’t want to do this.”

The behavior I witnessed today was not due to lack of “grit” on the part of my students. They tried their best and didn’t give up. Whenever I proctor these exams, I’m always amazed by my students’ resilience. They make me proud, but it’s disheartening to see them suffer on a test that they don’t realize is completely meaningless and, in no way, reflects the beautiful classwork they’ve done this year.

Here are some NYC elementary student and teacher reactions to the DAY THREE test

1.) The veteran teacher I most admire, a compassionate, energetic and intelligent woman, called the 3rd grade test, “so over the top…the questions were unlike anything we’ve seen.” Furious at having to administer this exam she decried, “You are asking me to be complicit in abusing kids.  I abused kids today and my penalty is a rating.”

2.) Third grade students called the tests “horrible,” “too hard” and “boring.”  They complained of being sleepy and felt worried and frustrated.  One student said, “I thought my brain was going to shut down.”

3.) Many students were scared that they would be “left back” if they didn’t finish the test.

4.) One fifth grader said the test was “exhausting”; another remarked, “my head hurts.”

5.) A fifth grade class reported that the questions were unfair. One question, they said, “has to be thrown out.”

6.) Kids cried at drop off today.  Some cried during the test and a few vomited.  One general education student had a nervous breakdown and had to take the test in a separate location.  This student’s anxiety was so intense that the teacher thought the child would run away.

7.) There were numerous reports of students answering the questions by simply copying random sentences from the reading passages.

7.) A very hard-working and capable third grader didn’t finish the test and asked her teacher, “Does this mean I’m going to fail?”

What is wrong with the NYSED? Do they realize that so-called college readiness DOES NOT mean college-level work in elementary school? Are they punishing our students, educators and parents because of the growing test resistance in New York State? The Board of Regents and John King must be held accountable for their gross mismanagement of our public schools which has, among other disasters, resulted in the unnecessary suffering of our students.

-Katie

*P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn will be protesting this year’s ELA exam tomorrow (4/4/14) from 8:15 – 8:35 am. It will take place outside the school.

Day 2 – NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA Exam

3rd grade ELA example

reading passage sample courtesy of @ The Chalk Face and engageny.org 

Today I administered DAY TWO of the 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time (time and a half) on state tests. Like yesterday, they sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes).

Today’s ELA booklet (there are 3 in total) was comprised of three unrelated reading passages, seven multiple choice questions, three short response questions and one extended response question.  As is the nature of these standardized tests, the students were not necessarily emotionally invested in the subject matter of the reading passages.  The students may or may not have had prior knowledge of the topics, and there may not have been opportunities for them to make text-to-self connections.  This is NOT the style in which I teach.  My teacher-created assessments relate directly to the teacher/student-selected material and topics covered in class, which students find more engaging and inspiring than scripted test-driven curriculum.

Here are some student and teacher reactions to the DAY TWO ELA test:

1.) The constant rustling of test booklet pages was a distraction.  For nearly every multiple choice question, students were instructed to refer back to specific paragraphs of the text in order to answer text-based and inference questions.  This technique is called close reading, a hallmark of the Common Core.  It can be a tedious exercise, especially for test prep and standardized test-taking purposes.  The Common Core calls this “critical thinking.” I find it formulaic and lacking in creativity and big-picture, open-ended thinking.

2.) Some 5th graders found one passage in particular to be confusing.  They struggled to write the extended response because they felt they did not have a good understanding of the story.

3.) The vocabulary was not grade appropriate.  Some words were archaic and stumped students; this tactic felt deliberate on the part of the test makers, as if they were purposely trying to select the most challenging passage(s) they could get away with.

4.) The special education students particularly struggled despite being entitled to double time (three hours for a 5th grader).  Students fell asleep, cried and shut down.  One girl – a strong reader – was immobilized by the exam, refusing to proceed after getting stuck.  Another student had an emotional breakdown and refused to take the test.

5.) Students appear to be more emotional and angry this week.

As I was leaving school today, a 5th grader told me that he’s going to toss the DAY 3 exam into the garbage tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Katie

Day 1 – 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam

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Photograph courtesy of CBS New York: “Uptown parents announce their kids are opting out of upcoming Common Core tests (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)”

Today I administered DAY ONE of the 2014 New York State/Pearson Common Core English-language arts (ELA) assessment to grade 5 English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs. Because they are entitled to extended time on state assessments, my 5th graders sat in the testing room for a total of 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes). They all finished in that allotted time, however half would not have completed the exam had they not been given time and a half.

Today’s ELA test booklet was 27-pages long and contained a total of 42 multiple choice questions. There were six reading passages, divided equally between fiction and non-fiction. The reading passages were dense and the questions were highly analytical.  From what I saw, neither the length nor the content of the 5th grade test was developmentally appropriate.  Why was today’s test so lengthy, especially considering there are TWO more days of ELA testing? Was it because Pearson field test questions are embedded in the exams? 

Here are some student and teacher reactions to the DAY ONE ELA test:

1.) A few third graders fell asleep during the exam. One very capable student lamented, “It’s just too much.”

2.) A student confessed to his teacher that he “just sees the passages and chooses an answer.” He doesn’t actually read them.

3.) 5th graders complained that the reading passages were boring and uninspiring.  As a result, comprehension was a struggle and they had to re-read the lengthy passages in order to answer the multiple choice questions.

4.) In one 5th grade class that received 90 minutes to take the test, six to 10 students either didn’t finish or rushed to finish.  In this class, over half of the students received a score of 3 or 4 on the 2013 test.

5.) A 5th grader quit reading the test after finishing the first passage.  He randomly bubbled his answer grid while muttering “F*$k this sh*#!”

6.) Some students remarked that test prep and the previously administered benchmark assessment prepared them for today’s test.  They knew what was expected of them.  Tragically, these students have come equate academic success with satisfactory performance on these state assessments.  Unlike their teachers, these students aren’t seeing the larger picture and give less weight to classroom work.  I believe that this is due, in large part, to the message they are getting from their parents and as a result of the test-driven culture that exists in today’s public schools.  Some 5th graders expect and even demand test prep.  A teacher noted that they like the thrill – the instant gratification – of answering a question correctly.

I wish every student in New York State had refused the test.  It is unconscionable that we are subjecting our children – as young as eight years old – to developmentally inappropriate and meaningless assessments.  

Katie

 

Twas the night before testing…

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photograph courtesy of Common Dreams  

and I’m too exhausted to be clever.

Tomorrow, April 1, 2014, marks opening day of year two of the New York State Common Core assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math. Like last year, I will be administering the tests to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and to former English-language learners who are entitled to extended time (time and a half).

But I do so grudgingly – with a heavy heart – as I strongly oppose these invalid tests.  They are meaningless, exploitative and cruel.  As a proud member of MORE UFT, I stand in support of NYS parents and educators who are doing the right thing by refusing the 2014 tests, thereby starving the beast.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting testimonials of the administration of this year’s tests.  Parents, educators and students across New York State – please share with me your own testing experience and I will include it on my blog (you may choose to remain anonymous).

With thanks,

Katie

 

On NYS Testing: What John King Isn’t Telling Superintendents

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On March 24, 2014 New York State Education Commissioner, John King, published a memo to NYS superintendents regarding the administration of this year’s Common Core state tests. In true Race to the Top fashion, King opens by claiming that New York is leading the country “…toward a more rigorous and challenging system of public education that better prepares our children for college, work, and life.” Note the addition of ‘life’ as a goal. In case you are mourning the omission of the ‘readiness’ bit, worry not; it appears on page two in this paragraph:

“As we all learned last year when we first administered the Common Core assessments, the test is harder, and the proficiency rates will be lower than on the old tests that did not reflect the higher standards. This does not mean our teachers are any less effective or our students are any less prepared. It simply means we have set higher aspirations as we work to help our students be truly college and career ready.”

My favorite part of the letter, though, is when John King condescendingly tells the superintendents that:

“It is especially important that you communicate now to help correct misinformation that can cause anxiety and frustration among students and teachers. When everyone understands how the assessments help us better identify student strengths and needs and better support the growth of classroom teachers, the anxiety will lessen and the students will feel more comfortable.”

Here’s what John King ISN’T addressing in his letter on New York’s Common Core standardized testing program:

1.) From NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE): “Excessive standardized testing is consuming 25% of our children’s academic year. It forces teachers to “teach to test”, costs millions of dollars, teaches children there is only one right answer, takes the joy out of learning, and creates major cheating in school districts.”

2.) The lack of transparency addressed by NYS testing expert Fred Smith: “By contract, Pearson is obligated to produce two reports each year. It is responsible for delivering a Technical Report that includes an analysis of all items—their difficulty levels and how well they functioned, including omission rates. The report is due in December. The 2012 Technical report was not posted until July 2013 (although it bore a 2012 date). This prevented scrutiny of 2012’s operational tests until after April 2013’s core-aligned exams had been given. Whatever knowledge might have been gained from the report pertinent to construction of the 2013 exams was rendered useless. This is consistent with SED’s effort to write off the 2012 exams as being transitional and not comparable to 2013.”

As of 3/24/14, the NYSED has not – to my knowledge – released the technical report of the 2013 tests that was due in December 2013. This Pearson-produced report is costing the state $75,000. Of the 2013 tests, all I know is that my English-language learners (ELLs) received a score of 1 or 2 – 1 is considered ‘failing’ – and that few (if any) are among the 3% of ELLs in New York State who “passed.” I have not seen an item analysis so the test results are completely meaningless to me. In no way do the overall scores reflect what my ELLs know and how they’ve progressed academically. I only have use for my own teacher-created assessments.

Similarly, the state’s ever-changing cut scores are unreliable.

3.) An inordinate amount of planning and organizing time is devoted to preparing for the state tests. Giving the state tests is an administrative and logistical nightmare at the school level. Out-of-classroom teachers are pulled from their regular teaching program to administer and score the tests. Countless hours are spend bubbling testing grids and organizing them alphabetically by class. IEPs (individualized education program) are examined closely to ensure that students with special needs receive the correct testing accommodation(s). These include directions read and re-read, extended time, separate location, on-task focusing prompts, revised test directions, questions read and re-read. ELLs and some former ELLs are pulled from their regular classrooms for testing because they are entitled to extended time in a separate location. Also, there is professional development for teachers on testing policies and procedures including “reporting prohibited conduct by adults, student cheating, and other testing irregularities.”

4.) ELLs with just 12 months in the system are mandated to take the ELA (English-language arts) exam. This is just wrong. Inhumane, really.

5.) The tests are developmentally inappropriate, especially for students with special needs. Here’s what I reported on the length and format of last year’s 5th grade ELA test:

Over the course of three consecutive days, they were asked to answer a total of 63 multiple-choice questions on two different answer grids, and eight short-response questions and two extended-response questions in two different booklets. In order to do this, they had to first carefully read and re-read a large number of reading passages.

The following week, my 5th grade ELLs spent three days taking the math exam. These elementary students were subjected to a total of six days – 13.5 hours – of testing in ELA and math.

John King appears to be nervous about the growing resistance to Common Core standardized testing here in New York. He should be.

Katie Lapham