Telling NYSED Commissioner Elia to Trash the NYSESLAT: My Testimony from the Brooklyn ESSA Hearing

Last night a large crowd gathered at Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Educational Campus to hear feedback on the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) proposed plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Speakers were each given three minutes to testify.  I ran out of time and Luis O. Reyes, a member of the NYS Board of Regents, summoned me to the front table to ask for a copy of my speech.  NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was sitting next to him so I used the opportunity to share with her this message: “Get rid of the NYSESLAT. It’s horrible!”  Here is my June 6, 2017 testimony.  

The current Common Core package of high-stakes testing, developmentally inappropriate standards and dull curricula is unsustainable.  Unfortunately, the state’s proposed plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not improve the learning and teaching conditions of our schools.  In fact, it further penalizes schools, particularly those located in areas of concentrated poverty. With regards to high-stakes testing, which is the focus of my testimony, we have not been fooled by the state’s so-called revisions; the state continues to insult our intelligence. Thus the most effective way for us to fight back is to boycott state tests.  There has been much (justified) denunciation of the state ELA (English-language Arts) and math tests, but few people speak out publicly against the Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT, the annual state English as a Second Language (ESL) test that all English-language learners (ELLs) in New York State must take.  In fact, many parents are in the dark about this grueling assessment that is given right after the state ELA and math tests.  Tonight I wish to highlight this lesser known test because it is yet another example of a wrongheaded state test, and its administration shows just how over-tested our children are, particularly our ELLs. 

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The NYSESLAT is tedious, dense, long, boring, developmentally inappropriate, poorly constructed and confusing, and it is comprised of four testing sessions, which means four days of testing.  The kindergarten NYSESLAT has 57 questions and the assessments taken in grades 1-12 each contain 66 questions, which are a combination of multiple choice and constructed written responses. The passages are largely non-fiction, containing social studies and science content, and some of the topics are obscure, outside of the students’ everyday life experiences.  The NYSESLAT is more of a content assessment rather than a true language test.  It’s also excessive in its use of close reading.  The listening section, for example, requires students to listen to passage excerpts over and over again ad nauseam.  Many teachers bemoan the NYSESLAT, claiming that native English speakers would struggle to test at the proficiency level, which is the primary way an ELL can exit the ESL program.   I have students, already overburdened by state testing, that will remain at the advanced (expanding) level on the NYSESLAT because they don’t score well on standardized tests.  To subject them to this poor quality assessment year after year is abusive.

New York State administers the NYSESLAT to comply with federal law, but it’s the state that creates this developmentally inappropriate and highly flawed test.  I often wonder if any of the decision-makers at the state level have actually looked at the test.  Anyone who signs off on the NYSESLAT should be required to sit down and take this arduous four-part assessment (as well as the math and ELA tests).  At the local level, why aren’t more district leaders publicly condemning the state testing program?  We are past the point of using fear as an excuse to remain quiet.  We can no longer shrug our shoulders and say yes this is a horrible test but we have to give it. What can we do? We can refuse, is what we can do, in spite of the state’s increasingly threatening tone.  How can the state penalize schools for refusing tests that are toxic?  I’m not talking about a fringe group of educators that feels this way.  The tests are widely derided by working educators: teachers and school leaders alike.  If ESSA gives states more leeway in designing their own accountability systems, why not honor assessments that are truly holistic, meaningful and developmentally appropriate? U.S. labor leader Emma Tenayuca once said, “I was arrested a number of times.  I never thought in terms of fear.  I thought in terms of justice.” The opt-out movement seeks justice for all students.  Every child in this state is deserving of a rich and well-rounded education.  The state’s accountability system – centered on high-stakes testing – robs our children of this.

You can send your own comments on the proposed plan through June 16 by emailing ESSAComments@nysed.gov

Here are some additional resources that look critically at the state’s proposed plan:

Leonie Haimson’s (Class Size Matters) Testimony on the state’s proposed accountability system under ESSA

Rally held to express concerns over ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ plan – News 12 Brooklyn

Another Squandered Opportunity: Parents, Students and Educators Slam NYSED’s Flawed ESSA Proposal on NYC Public School Parents

Nicholas Tampio’s LoHud OpEd  

Test Refusal = People Power

In recent months, social media has been ablaze with talk of regular folk taking action to resist the Trump agenda.  Protests are a daily occurrence, and even those who previously paid little attention to politics are now hitting the streets with cardboard signs to express their outrage.  I see girls as young as 6 years old scurrying into brownstone Brooklyn public schools with handmade, mauve-colored pussy hats atop their heads.  I would even argue that more than half of the adult population in the United States knows who Betsy DeVos is and what she stands for.  While I wish more people had been ‘woke’ under Obama, this new wave of activism – with the message of #PeoplePower at its heart – gives me hope.

Since 2013, I have been strongly encouraging residents of New York State – and beyond – to refuse the Common Core-aligned grades 3-8 state tests in math and ELA.  I still have nothing positive to say about them, and at this point – in my weary, I-give-zero-you-know-whats state – I have escalated to practically demanding that you opt out this year.  Even Betty Rosa, the new chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said she’d refuse the tests.  Here’s what Kate Taylor of The New York Times reported in March 2016:

“Dr. Rosa has criticized the new, more difficult tests that the state introduced under her predecessor, Merryl H. Tisch, as part of its transition to the Common Core standards. She has suggested that the tests were designed so that many students would fail, giving policy makers a chance to point to a crisis in the state’s schools. On Monday, she said that if she had children in the grades taking the exams, she would have them sit out the tests, as the parents of more than 200,000 students did last year.”

People, we have power.  Refusing the state tests sends the message that we reject the further privatization of public education in this country.  Under this umbrella, we:

  • say NO to the over-testing of our youngest learners, particularly English-language learners who must also take the grueling four-part NYSESLAT assessment AFTER the state ELA and math tests.
  • say NO to school segregation and the argument that a school is “bad” because of low test scores.
  • say NO to fear and threats! NYC students ARE getting into competitive middle and high schools without test scores, and schools are not being defunded.
  • say NO to a one-size-fits-all education.
  • say NO to poorly constructed, highly flawed and developmentally inappropriate standardized tests.
  • say NO to test scores being used to label schools, students and teachers as “failing.”
  • say NO to uninspiring test prep curricula.
  • say NO to the lack of art, music and culturally responsive curricula in our schools.
  • say NO to data-mining.

Opting out is not just to protect your own child.  It also sends the message that we are looking out for ALL children.   Peter Greene, a highly respected educator and blogger, recently published a piece on test refusal in The Huffington Post.  It gives even more reasons to opt out including “the value of non-compliance,” my personal favorite.  Greene writes, “In this day and age, it is never too early for a child to learn that sometimes people in authority will demand that you comply with dumb actions. Unthinking compliance is unwise. It’s good for all citizens to learn to say ‘no’.” 

The New York State tests begin two weeks from today.  Please visit these websites to download your opt out letter.  It’s not too late to say NO, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t refuse the tests.

NYS Allies for Public Education 

NYC Opt Out

 

Dignity for my Yemeni Students & the Inhumanity of Trump’s Anti-Muslim Immigration Ban

The majority of U.S. citizens do not support the current predator-in-chief.* He does not speak for us or represent our views.  We condemn his racist and xenophobic actions, most recently the executive order he signed yesterday that temporarily bans citizens – including refugees –  of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran from entering the United States.

In the past seven years, I have had the privilege of working with a growing number of English-language learners from Yemen.  Their families are not terrorists.  My current students – aged five to ten – trade Pokémon cards and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  They play soccer and make drawings of purple horses and flowers.  They cry when they fall on the ice and bleed.  Last year, one student broke my heart when she regularly interrupted me to tell me that her cousins in Yemen had no food and were starving.  And in November, a truly perplexed fourth grader asked me, “Why does Trump think we are terrorists?”

While the horrors in Syria have been widely reported, mainstream media barely makes a peep about the bloodshed in Yemen.  According to UNICEF, one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen.  Children there are severely malnourished and lack access to clean water, food and medical care.  This is due – in large part – to a civil war that has been raging in Yemen since 2015.  Not surprisingly, the United States is involved in the conflict as an arms supplier to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which, through its attacks on Houthi rebels, has indiscriminately murdered thousands of Yemeni civilians, including children.

Zaid Jilani, in his January 25, 2017 article in The Intercept, said Trump’s Muslim immigration executive order is “…like a twisted version of the you-break-it-you-buy-it Pottery Barn rule: If we bomb a country or help destabilize its society, we will then ban its citizens from being able to seek refuge in the United States.”

Next week, my Yemeni students may want to discuss this weekend’s events with me.  They may wonder why Saudi Arabia is not included in Trump’s Muslim ban.  Or they may just want to tell me about Pokèmon trainers.  Whatever awaits me, I will continue to rage inside. My newcomer kindergartener will reach for my hand, as she always does, and I will think about how lucky she is to have arrived here before 2017.  I will continue to wonder about the safety and well-being of her relatives in Yemen.  Through gestures and individual words, she will tell me the names of the shapes she’s learned and will ask to borrow one of my books.  The humanity I experience in my school on a daily basis is comforting, and, I believe, reflects the decency and compassion of most U.S. citizens.  Trump’s actions and rhetoric, on the other hand, are vile and inhumane.  He must be stopped, for as we are witnessing, he is an impediment to our ability to become a more tolerant, democratic and caring society.  Trump appears to want the opposite and will lie to get it.  I vow to protect all of my English-language learners as best I can, and will use this space to voice my opposition to the Trump agenda and to continue to tell the truth about what is happening in New York City public schools.

*I am crediting Winona LaDuke for this term

 

Sunset Park Fifth Graders Hold a Human Rights Fundraiser

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“I have been through a lot in my life. This painting represents a time in my life when I changed and became a new person…It also represents when you are in your deepest pain you still have that place in your heart that tells you there is still HOPE and NEVER GIVE UP.”

As the 2015-2016 school year comes to a close, many students and educators nervously await the release of scores that, according to state and local education departments, tell us our worth as teachers and learners.

But these numbers do not rate us on our humanity and on our ability to love and add beauty to our troubled world.  Official data such as test scores and teacher evaluation ratings cannot capture the spirit of our classrooms. 

In celebrating our meaningful – and largely unsung – work, I wish to highlight an amazing project conceived by a fifth grade class in a Title I public elementary school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Inspiration for the project, which is called From Artistic Inspiration to Education, came from two main sources: the students’ study of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and stories told to them by their teacher, Maria Diaz, who recently visited an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic.  In promoting Article 26 of the UDHR, which states that “everyone has the right to education,” Class 5-502 decided to raise money for the school in the village their teacher visited.

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Here’s what the students of class 502 wrote on their fundraising webpage:

We are so lucky to have a school that provides us with all the educational supplies we need. Buying school supplies and uniforms is a challenge for all of the 13 kids that attend that school and we want to be able to provide those basic supplies for them. 

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To date, the students have raised a little more than $1,375.00.  This week, class 502 is inviting the school community to visit their classroom, which they’ve converted into an art gallery to showcase their UDHR-inspired artwork as well as to provide more information about the school they are supporting.  On Thursday, June 16, the students of class 502 will auction off their paintings.  The silent auction will take place at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn from 3:30 – 7:00 pm (427 38th Street between 4th and 5th Aves.).  Please come (or donate online).  Witnessing the students’ enthusiasm and empathy will give you hope for the future.  Their words of wisdom – whether intentional or not – will also move you.  One student wrote this about her painting: “I enjoyed creating it even though it looks messy and a bunch of curvy lines.  That is what art is all about.  That is what education is all about.”

Here is a sampling of their creations.

house

“I am from the Dominican Republic. A lot of people there are really poor. Ms. Diaz showed us a village called El Aguacate, there are mountains there. Article 25 states that you and your family are entitled to having basic necessities, like a house. This is why I chose to draw a house.”

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“I was inspired to paint Divided Colors because of my love for division in math. It represents how unfair life could be and how some people are divided. For example, children’s education is divided. In the Dominican Republic and in other parts of the world like Yemen kids don’t have the right to a proper education.”

horse

“My piece represents equality for all human beings and animals. If you only have an eye, you can still be friends with someone who has two eyes.”

flowers

“These flowers represent us helping a school in the Dominican Republic. I put the flowers far from each other because the Dominican Republic is another country.”

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bomb

“What inspired me to paint this is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because Article 3 says “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In a lot of places people don’t have that. Also a lot of people suffer so much. BOOM represents the evils that destroy things and harm innocent people.”

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—”To me a parrot represents all the languages spoken in the world. The colors represent happiness and freedom. In Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says that, “Everyone should live life with freedom.” Some people see a bird as a sign of freedom and we can all believe that someday we will all have world freedom.”

 

 

 

 

 

Recognizing Effective Teaching Without Danielson’s Rubric

Where in Charlotte Danielson’s 2013 Framework for Teaching rubric, which is currently being used throughout the United States to measure teacher practice, is the component for teaching empathy, for inspiring students and for giving them tools, as well as the motivation, to keep from giving up on life?

When I was in high school, as far as I know, administrators did not use a rubric to evaluate my teachers.  I became a college and graduate student of history, and a social justice educator, because of Dr. Rick Chase, my high school history teacher at the The Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia. Through Dr. Chase, my interest in politics blossomed.  I discovered that I gravitated towards candidates who strived to be of service to the poor and working class. I felt deep compassion for Paul Tsongas whose dream of becoming U.S. president in 1992 was cut short due – in large part, as I recall – to his health problems.  Like Tsongas, I was a swimmer and took pride in my butterfly stroke.

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from The Lovett School’s Fall 2015 magazine

Dr. Chase’s selection of My Enemy My Self by Yoram Binur pulled at my heartstrings as I read, in horror, Binur’s firsthand account of the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories.  Fighting discrimination and hate became a mission for me. I sought to understand the origins of genocide and, as a 21-year-old, traveled alone to Poland to contemplate human history from the railroad tracks of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

Recently, the talented film editor Michael Elliot produced a four-minute-long film honoring Eileen Daniel Riddle and James Gilchrist, two retired theater arts teachers from Agoura Hills, California who changed his life and those of many of his classmates. 40 years later, we are moved by the testimonials of Riddle and Gilchrist’s former students.  “I love this man so much,” exclaims one woman as she hugs James Gilchrist.  “They were the spark that set my life in motion,” remarks Michael Elliot who also credited Eileen Daniel Riddle with helping students find beauty through pain.

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Film editor Michael Elliot with his former theater arts teacher, Eileen Daniel Riddle

Please share with Michael your story of a teacher who inspired you.  Visit shoot4education.com/teacherproject.  

While these lifelong teachers, now retired, had different teaching styles, interests and personalities, they all taught with passion and instinct, traits not measurable by a rubric. They also had freedom and autonomy, conditions that motivate teachers and boost their morale.  The current path that we are on – the standardization of teaching and learning and the narrowing of curriculum – is short-sighted and unsustainable.  It unfortunately deprives students of experiences that Michael Elliot touchingly describes in his short film.  Eileen Daniel Riddle, James Gilchrist and Dr. Rick Chase are teachers who not only inspired students to expand their learning but also created spaces in which students could feel alive.

What rubric measures that?

 

NYS Parents: REFUSE Pearson’s Field Tests

Beginning tomorrow, May 23, elementary and middle schools across the state of New York will begin to administer Pearson’s stand-alone field tests in English-language arts (ELA) and math.  Science field tests in grades 4 and 8 are also being given.  Today, the New York Post published this article about the upcoming field tests.  According to its author, Susan Edelman, the NYC Department of Education said it would inform NYC parents of the administration of stand-alone field tests.  So far this hasn’t happened and the vast majority of NYC parents are unaware that this extra testing is going on in our public schools.  Teachers, too, are in the dark. 

Edelman quoted Fred Smith, a fellow Change the Stakes member, who pointed out that these stand-alone field tests are given in addition to the trial items embedded in the April 2016 ELA and math tests that were just administered to students in grades 3-8.

“Children are being used and classroom time given to a private vendor so it can make marketable tests,” said Fred Smith, a former DOE test analyst. He said the official math and English exams given in April and May had 328 hidden trial items. Kids had no idea which items counted or not.”

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As I’ve done in past years, I compel you to find out if your school was one of 2,300 chosen by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to administer stand-alone field tests in the coming weeks.

Go to http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/fieldtest/2016fteirev2.xls for a list of all NYS elementary and middle schools signed up to field test.  Click here for a list of NYC schools by district. If so, urge your principal to refuse to give these tests and/or submit an opt-out letter to spare your child from being used as a guinea pig by for-profit testing companies and the NYSED.

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For more information, please read the following.

from Change the Stakes and NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE):

What are field tests?

Testing companies often pay subjects to get feedback on experimental test questions. The information they get is used to produce and sell future exams. Since 2012, NYSED has allowed the testing company Pearson to use NYS children FREE OF CHARGE to try out test questions for the following April’s statewide exams.

In fact, your taxpayer money covers the cost of administering these tests. Field tests for grades 3-8 will take up to 50 minutes to administer. For your information, field test questions were also embedded in the April grade 3-8 ELA, math and science state assessments. This, of course, increased the length of the ELA, math and science exams.

Are parents informed about field tests – what they are and when they are administered?

In most cases, no. Many districts administer field tests to students without informing parents. You can call or email your school to find out when the tests are being administered this year.

Are field tests graded?

Field test results have no bearing on your child’s report card grades, teacher evaluations, or school rankings. The testing company and NYSED provide no feedback or information of any educational value to districts. Refusing these tests is a must.

Can we refuse field tests? How?

Of course. If you did not already check off field tests in your state test refusal letter simply send in a letter stating you do not want your child taking ANY field tests. Instruct your child not to take the test if anyone in their schools attempts to administer them.

How are schools selected for field tests?

Each year NYSED generates a list of districts, schools and specific grades within them that are assigned to administer field tests. Field tests are then shipped to them. This year, districts were asked to participate in computer-based field testing. If your school is on the computer-based field test list, it is because your child’s services have been volunteered for this latest giveaway.

Are districts mandated to administer field tests?

No. Every year dozens of districts send back field tests unopened to protect their students from the excessive and unnecessary additional testing. Last year the Board of Regents sought a regulation that would make field testing MANDATORY. The proposed regulation never came to a vote because sharp public resistance rose against it. It has not come up again.

Please send in your refusal letter for this year’s field tests TODAY and request that your district join the growing list of districts refusing to administer these meaningless assessments.

Thank you for your continued advocacy to save public schools and ensure all children receive a quality public education.

 

The PARCC Test – EXPOSED!

In my efforts to reform corporate education deform policies, I have written at length about Pearson’s flawed NYS Common Core tests in English-language arts (ELA) and math.

In solidarity with other U.S. educators who are forced to administer equally poor quality assessments and “an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy”, I am reposting an anonymous teacher’s critique of a 4th grade PARCC exam.  This is the original version of the critique, which first appeared on Celia Oyler’s blog.  Professor Oyler has since altered it after facing legal threats from PARCC.

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The PARCC Test: Exposed

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.
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
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.