Fred Smith on the NYSED’s Delayed Release of the 2013 Technical Report, Part I

 

photograph courtesy of the New York Daily News

Below is Fred Smith’s initial reaction to the long-awaited release of the Technical Report of the 2013 New York State Common Core Math and English-language Arts (ELA) tests. Smith, a NYS testing expert and statistician, has long been sounding the alarm on the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) 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 were administered throughout New York State in June 2014. Currently, Smith is scrutinizing the item analysis data contained in the overdue 2013 Technical Report and “will be parsing some of its fuzzy verbiage.” At first glance, Smith reports, “there are a number of serious questions regarding the ELA exams that add weight to the concerns of educators and parents about their composition and use.”

Fred Smith: The New York State Education Department (NYSED) just posted the 2013 Technical Report— seven+ months past Pearson’s deliverable deadline. All 339 pages of it, in which the NYSED and the publisher have continued to deny useful information that the technical reports contained before Pearson took over the state testing program.

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/reports/2013/ela-math-tr13.pdf

So now we can see what data they are showing us about the quality of the 2013 Common Core-aligned baseline tests three months after the 2014 exams have been given. The foundational 2013 Common Core ELA and Math tests were described last year as providing a “transparent baseline.” NYSED acts in bad faith and its words peter out in sheer derision.

No matter what the selective disclosure of the delayed data shows, this is an unacceptable way to operate and the antithesis of transparency.

Here’s one piece of clever obfuscation: Embedded Field Test Items (p. 8)

“In 2010, the Department announced its commitment to embed multiple-choice items for field-testing within the Spring 2012 Grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics Operational Tests; this commitment continued for the Spring 2013 administrations of the Common Core assessments. Embedding field-test items allows for a better representation of student responses and provides more reliable field-test data on which to build future operational tests. In other words, since the specific locations of the embedded field-test items were not disclosed and they look the same as operational items, students were unable to differentiate field-test items from operational test items. Therefore, field-test data derived from embedded items are free of the effects of differential student motivation that may characterize stand-alone field-test designs. Embedding field-test items also reduced the number of stand-alone field-tests during the spring of 2013 but did not eliminate the need for them.”

Yes, imagine if General Motors said: “And we are committed to selling cars with brakes, as it makes driving safer. But when we can’t do that as much as we’d like to, there are times we have to sell cars without brakes.”

Thank you, Fred, for your insights.  Stay tuned for Part II.

-KL

 

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Does Kindergarten-Ready Really Mean Common Core-Ready?

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Is she kindergarten-ready?

This is an embarrassing but necessary post for me to write. Writing helps me wade through the tangled – often muddy – weeds in my brain, and perhaps what I have to share will be useful to those participating in the early childhood education debate. For me, real personal growth comes with letting down my guard and being completely honest with myself.  So here goes.

Yesterday, I came across the following Tweet by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT):

7/23/14 @rweingarten: Americans know we need to help kids be kindergarten ready #InvestInKids #reclaimit http://t.co/g4rx0KOCCT

With my almost-five-year-old in mind, I pondered the meaning of the term kindergarten readiness. According to this 7/17/14 article published by the First Five Years Fund“An overwhelming majority of Americans from diverse political and demographic backgrounds support federal action on early childhood education,” said First Five Years Fund Executive Director Kris Perry. “They understand its return on investment. They demand that Congress fund programs that meet high-quality standards. And, they want to invest now.” The fund cites – albeit vaguely – the acquisition of “knowledge and skills” as necessary for ensuring kindergarten-readiness.

First today’s education reformers shoved college and career readiness down our throats, and now this? Is anyone else sickened by the return on investment analogy in talking about early childhood education? Where is the humanity? As a public elementary school teacher in New York City, I see firsthand how kindergarten has become first grade. I am a huge proponent of preschool but not for the purpose of preparing kids for an unnaturally “rigorous” kindergarten experience so that they can meet the needs of the Common Core, as demonstrated by its developmentally inappropriate and uninspiring testing program.

My spirited kid, N, will be starting kindergarten in September* and I’m fraught with anxiety, but not because she lacks “knowledge and skills.” On the contrary, N can decode anything from picture books to brochures. She can define the term instrumental (thanks to the Frozen soundtrack), and just yesterday N told me that the co. abbreviation stands for company. Monopoly is N’s favorite board game and her read-alouds, without any prompting from me, include higher order thinking questions.

What tightens the permanent knot in my stomach is the fact that N won’t poop in the potty. Last November she was diagnosed as a stool withholder. She takes Miralax and sees a child psychologist. For the past three years, N attended a private preschool. On average there were eight students and two teachers in her class. In true it-takes-a-village fashion, Ms. D and Ms. J, her teachers for two consecutive years, helped us with the arduous task of potty training N. On more than one occasion, I have given myself an ineffective rating in parenting (do I deserve a score of 1 in the teaching of grit?), and I often fantasize about living life as a Mongolian nomad, cut off from the pressures of the modern world. I envision N pooping off the side of a camel or in the grasslands. That’s all she would know.

In September, N will attend our zoned public school in Brooklyn, NY. There will likely be around 25 students and just one teacher in her full-day kindergarten class. With today’s academic demands, which include the regular administration of assessments to track student progress, combined with growing class sizes, N will not get the individualized attention that she benefited from in preschool. Her teacher will likely not tell her to go to the bathroom. How will the class respond to N when she is squatting in the corner of the room, refusing to participate? Will they tease her when she smells like urine or when a wet spot appears on the back of her pants? Our current public school learning climate does little to accommodate social and emotional learning, which is so critical, particularly in the early years.

We all know that children develop at different rates, however the First Five Years Fund’s report fails to acknowledge our multiple intelligences.  There is no mention of the whole child. The report’s tone is urgent, as if the authors felt pressured to ensure that incoming kindergarteners were ready for a “rigorous” Common Core education. If early childhood education does not include social and emotional learning, authentic and developmentally appropriate instruction as well as opportunities for play, compassion and love, then I don’t consider it high-quality.

*I will delete this post in the near future to spare N from any embarrassment my writing may cause her.

Teaching in Davonte’s Inferno: A Must Read Summer Book

Former New York City public school teacher, Laurel M. Sturt, tells it like it is. Refreshingly, she’s real with us in her no-holds-barred memoir Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years In The New York Public School Gulag, a heart-breaking and humorous exposé of the farcical – and often terrifying and depressing – working conditions in a Bronx public elementary school. Like Sturt, I have substantial experience teaching in a Title I public school located in a low-income New York City neighborhood. Luckily I’ve never worked for tyrannical principals – as was Sturt’s fate – but I did relate to much of what she describes in her book.

For my own personal growth as a teacher (dare I say ‘professional development’?), Davonte’s Inferno shed more light on the social and emotional problems facing a number of our kids in Title I schools: abuse of all forms, neighborhood violence, and chaotic, unstable homes, the most shocking Sturt calls “houses of horror.” Her scientific research details the ‘toxic stress’ associated with poverty that negatively impacts student learning. Reading it served, in part, as a reminder to offer my students more unconditional love and to provide them with a safe space in which they can speak freely without fearing any judgement on my part. Due to the lack of much needed wraparound services in our public schools and in our neighborhoods, combined with the dearth of individualized instruction as a result of overcrowded classrooms and cuts to academic intervention services, Sturt’s book motivated me to spend a few lunch periods each week with angry fifth grade boys I fret over. We teachers wear many hats.

For the wider audience, not only is Davonte’s Inferno a crucial read for those entrenched in the corporate education reform debate, but it’s also relevant due to recent anti-teacher tenure initiatives such as the Vergara v. California decision and, here in New York City, Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, which, among other efforts, has filed a lawsuit in New York to remove “poorly-performing” teachers from the classroom. The lawsuit cites low test scores as “evidence” that New York City students aren’t getting a sound education and claims that “far too many students every year find themselves stuck in classrooms led by ineffective teachers. It’s a problem that affects families in every corner of the state, but the sad truth is that the students who need great teachers the most—those who grow up in low-income communities—are often the least likely to get them.”

Sturt’s book acknowledges that ineffective teachers exist.  In fact, she describes the follies of one teacher who abused the system by faking an injury, among other misdeeds. She also tells on herself when she loses her cool with a student, something that EVERY teacher struggles with.  However, contrary to Campbell Brown’s argument, there are far fewer ineffective teachers in our schools. Similar to what I see at my Brooklyn elementary school, Sturt writes that, “Where I connected with everyone was my desire to help the kids.  I had never been around so many people who loved children as much as I did.”  “As vilified as public school educators had become,” Sturt remarks, many of the teachers in my school were in fact accomplished and committed:  I would have gladly put my own son in their care. Just like in the rest of the system there were, however, a handful of hacks, protected by favoritism, whose incompetence had never been questioned.”  Note ‘handful.’

What education reformers like Campbell Brown fail to fully consider are the exacting conditions in which we work.  In addition to the above-mentioned examples, New York City public school students and teachers are demoralized by excessive, high-stakes testing and the narrowing and standardization of pedagogy and curriculum as a result of the Common Core package and the NYC Department of Education’s application of Danielson’s Framework for Teaching for teacher evaluation purposes.  Some, unfortunately, also face vindictive principals like the four administrators detailed in Davonte’s Inferno: Cruella, Guido, Principal Dearest and Rosemary’s Baby. Countless administrator horror stories have been shared with me and I consider myself lucky to work at my school and to have due process rights as a tenured teacher.  Sadly, the capricious behavior of the principals at Sturt’s school led to the unjust firings of several promising new teachers.

If all stakeholders in public education could be honest with themselves and truly put children – not ego and profit – first, then perhaps we’d experience real progress in addressing the problems in our public schools, namely the achievement gap. Laurel Sturt’s authentic book moves us closer in that direction.