Day 1 of the 2015 NYS Common Core ELA Test

I’m not administering the tests this year, but I did receive feedback from NYC teachers and it’s not pretty.

The 3rd grade ELA (English-language arts) test contained FIVE long and dense reading passages – one teacher called them “impossible”- and 30 multiple choice questions. Third graders without testing accommodations had just 70 minutes to complete the test. Many students either didn’t finish or rushed to finish with seconds remaining. One child repeatedly hit the side of his head with the palm of his hand. Others shed tears and some felt ill.

The 5th grade test contained SIX reading passages (no poems) and 42 multiple choice questions. The passages were long and cumbersome and students without testing accommodations had 90 minutes to complete the test.

Tomorrow the students will take day two of the NYS ELA test followed by day three on Thursday.

I told my first graders that for homework they had to be nice to their older, test-taking siblings and that they had to tell their sibling (s) something that he or she is good at.

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Prioritizing Social & Emotional Learning at C.A.S.A. Middle School in the Bronx

Sanise Lebron, an 8th grader at Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (C.A.S.A.) Middle School in the Bronx, stands poised and confident before her peers, teachers and principal as she tearfully shares with them the pain she experiences as a fatherless teenager. Watching her in this video by Brooklyn film editor Michael Elliot, I was reminded of one of my first grade girls who – in the middle of a lesson – put her head down and cried.  I do not know what triggered my student’s feelings of despair.  Although I work in a rigid environment that stresses the importance of maximizing instructional time, at the expense of social and emotional learning and snack time, for example, we took a break so that I could address her emotional needs.  Without my prompting, the classroom became quiet and two boys tried to comfort her by offering her their snack.  It turned out that my student was upset because she had no relationship with her father who lived in a different country. Her classmates  – six and seven-years-old – were compassionate and respectful, and I felt successful as a teacher.

There have been other moments when we’ve had to suspend instruction to address an accusation or incident where the majority of students felt an injustice had occurred. Yes, my first graders know the meaning of the word injustice.  It is not part of the ReadyGEN curriculum; it is part of my own curriculum to improve humanity.  During the shares, there’s only one voice.  Whoever is holding Pete the Cat (I learned this from another teacher) gets to talk.  Pete is then passed on to the next individual who wishes to talk.

PeteTheCat

Pete the Cat is an important member of our classroom community.  He’s perched atop the SmartBoard along with models of the Watts Towers that my first graders created collaboratively during a unit on public art (not part of ReadyGEN). 

I recently spoke with Michael Elliot about the good work C.A.S.A.’s principal, Jamaal A. Bowman, is doing to cultivate a school community in which middle school students feel valued and safe to express themselves; their fears, their triumphs, their regrets, their joy. In his principal’s message, Bowman writes,

Our student and staff culture is rooted in love, support, being responsible, and improving what we do each and every day. We have counseling and mediation services for students, and follow a progressive discipline model to support students behaviorally. We have a community circle meeting every Friday in which we reinforce our positive school culture through inspirational videos and speeches, public apologies, and student-to-student and staff-to-student shout outs.

Michael Elliot had the opportunity to observe one of C.A.S.A.’s community circles and he wrote about the powerful experience in You Can’t Measure This, an article co-authored by Kemala Karmen, Deputy Director and Co-founder of NYCpublic.org, which appeared on Huffpost Education’s The Blog on April 7, 2015.  Elliot writes,

I recorded many of the student testimonies given on that initial trip to C.A.S.A., but for me the testimony of Sanise Lebron, an 8th grade student, best revealed the depth and power of what is happening at this Bronx middle school. She shared her story with her entire school. They watched her deliver the anguish in her life with such grace and beauty. Jamaal and his staff, and the students themselves, have created a compassionate space for children, fully aware that real learning cannot happen in the absence of empathy.

Please watch the amazing Sanise Lebron.  In this era of standardization and excessive testing and accountability, Jamaal Bowman’s commitment to teaching the whole child is laudable.  His work restores my faith in the true meaning of public education.

-Katie

 

Responding to the Cavalier and Condescending Merryl Tisch

I could barely get through Merryl Tisch’s interview on yesterday’s The Brian Lehrer Show. Either she has no clue what teaching in the trenches is like – and therefore is truly ignorant – or she just doesn’t care. After all, Tisch said she is tuning out dissent.

I am deeply disturbed by Tisch’s implication that the NYS Common Core tests are valid and reliable.  No NYS educator I know feels this way; they are of no value to us. Also, in objecting to the growing opt-out movement and reducing it to “political noise,” she bizarrely argued that NYS might end up having to administer national Common Core tests instead of the state’s version.  I don’t understand why this is of concern to her. Both the NYS Common Core tests and PARCC’s national Common Core tests, which New York was supposed to administer beginning this year, are created by Pearson. Aside from one being administered online (PARCC), I’d imagine the content and skills tested are very similar.

But what really made me start shaking was when Tisch responded insincerely to the Long Island teacher’s concern about the stress students experience in preparing for and taking the NYS Common Core tests.  How can we take Tisch seriously if she truly believes that rhetoric, not the tests themselves, causes the stress?

-Katie

Here is what former NYC teacher, Harris Lirtzman, had to say about Tisch’s interview:

*JP Lee refers to Jia Lee, a NYC Teacher of Conscience who has refused to administer the NYS Common Core tests.  In addition, Jia recently testified against high-stakes testing in a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing on the impact of NCLB’s testing and accountability. 

The Lunacy of Education Reform–New York State Style and the Need for Non-Violent Direct Action JP Lee*-Style

by Harris Lirtzman

I listened to Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents, yesterday morning on the Brian Lehrer show while I was driving into the City. Among other lunacies, she openly admitted that it would take at least a decade for the State to figure out whether its Common Core-based curriculum and the high-stakes testing regimen connected with it was “going to work,” meaning improve student achievement.

Truly, Tisch knows that she is dead-woman walking in next year’s Regent election now that her protector, Sheldon Silver, is going off very soon to Club Fed. Truly, she knows that she has no ally anywhere in the state beyond a few senile co-Regents who will soon be booted off the Board along with her. She has been reduced to babbling and making-shit-up on the spot: untimed testing, releasing high-performing schools from testing, calling down the terrors of a PARCC national test upon the wee little children of the state….

I was at an opt-out information and planning meeting last night in Tuckahoe with Dave Greene and Lisa Rudley sponsored by NYSAPE (NYS Allies for Public Education). Fifty people in the back room of a pizza joint. Even Westchester folks from Scarsdale and Bronxville have watched enough about what’s going down in Long Island and upstate and have seen the education-wars up-close-and-personal during the state budget battle to figure out how rigged the whole thing is.

Mothers from Hartsdale and fathers from Dobbs Ferry ready to commit what for them is the equivalent of “non-violent civil disobedience.”

Scarsdale matrons are starting to climb onto the barricades.

Tisch says it will take a decade to figure out whether any of this monstrosity works?

Tisch won’t last the year and the whole rigged system will collapse in on itself within two or three years, falling in on the governor and the Heavy Hearts Club members of the Democratic Assembly Caucus in the Legislature who voted all this stuff in with this year’s budget.

I only hope teachers will watch what the parents of their students are doing and have the courage to engage in some NVCD of their own, Jia Lee-style.