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

 

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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

 

Danielson 4a: A Moral Inventory of my Compliance Work

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In June, my Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates partner, Susan, and I created a 12-step recovery program for corporate education reform. For this reflection, I wish to elicit our Step 4, which reads:
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We determined that we had allowed corporate reformers to undermine our ethics and integrity. We searched and found we had participated in unethical scripted instruction, standardization, and high stakes testing out of fear and oppression that in turn caused fear and oppression in our students.
Excessive accountability should also be added to this list. One of my responsibilities as an ESL teacher/compliance officer (what an unsavory term, no?) is to write the LAP for my school’s CEP. The LAP is a 26-page  Language Allocation Policy that is incorporated into the school’s larger Comprehensive Education Plan.  In addition to providing data on the number of ELLs (English-language learners) in our building – their years of service, ELL programs, home languages, test scores and so on- we must also analyze the data by answering 41 questions in narrative format.  It’s worth emphasizing that this document is just one component of the comprehensive education plan.
Here’s my response to the question that has left me feeling like a fraud.
Part V: ELL Programming
B. Programming and Scheduling Information – Continued
Question 12: What programs/services for ELLs will be discontinued and why?

Answer: We are discontinuing the Journeys reading program and enVisionMATH because they do not match the level of rigor called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The new ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs are recommended by the NYCDOE and better reflect the demands of the CCSS.

This is what I believed was expected of me to write.  The reality, however, is far different. Teachers were largely satisfied with the Journeys program, which was purchased for two years only in grades K-2. Teachers in grades 3-5 collaborated to create CCSS (Common Core State Standards) curriculum maps and performance tasks.  ELA was mostly taught through the content areas, such as science and social studies.  They also had the freedom to select their own materials.

Compared to GO Math!, Pearson’s enVisionMATH program, which was used in grades K-5 for one year only, was the gold standard of math curricula.  The teachers in my building would happily return to using enVisionMATH and Journeys if given the choice.

In reality, we discontinued Journeys and enVisionMATH due to budget cuts and high-stakes CCSS testing.  NYC Title I public schools in particular feel they have no choice but to adopt the subsidized NYCDOE Core Curriculum programs and “free” NYSED engageny.org lessons.  Doing this spares them from having to use their limited funds to create and/or to justify the use of alternative programs. Also, in this era of school closings due to poor performance on standardized exams, there is relief in knowing that the state and city-approved materials, like ReadyGEN and GOMath!, are designed to prepare kids for the new high-stakes Common Core tests.  They are – in essence – test prep programs from kindergarten onwards.

I have yet to encounter a teacher who is satisfied with the ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs.  I haven’t worked with GOMath!, but I can tell you that ReadyGEN is cumbersome, confusing and uninspiring. Due to the demands of the program, we are having to devote more periods to teaching it, at the expense of other subjects such as social studies.  I am devastated that I must use this program with my fifth graders instead of the engaging and challenging social justice curriculum that my fifth grade co-teacher and I created, and have refined, over the course of three years of teaching together.

Because I cannot write this in the LAP, I share it with you here, a place where educators can speak the truth, a place where I can make amends.

Bill Gates – excessive accountability at the expense of teaching

5/29/13

Hi Bill and Melinda,

I have some good and bad news for you. The good news is that last Friday was my first day back in the classroom after having to abandon my teaching program on April 11 due to state testing. I’m excited to be finally doing meaningful work.

My second graders are doing an author study on Ezra Jack Keats, a fellow Brooklynite, and this may lead to a study of Cubist art since Keats used collage art in his illustrations. Because my fifth graders just completed a science unit on the human body, my fifth grade co-teacher and I are going to begin a unit on nutrition during the ESL/literacy block. Our students – many of whom feast on giant bags of potato chips washed down with Chubby kids soda that’s sold at the local C-Town supermarket for 5/$1 – will compare organic and processed foods. They will analyze processed food labels, which will then lead to a discussion of food chemicals. One of our vocabulary terms is Yellow 5 Lake.

Now for the bad news. Yesterday I was told that the NYSED (NYS Education Department led by Dr. John King) has required that we justify the ESL (English as a Second Language) program placement for our ELLs (English-language learners) not being serviced in a bilingual program. They are being serviced through freestanding ESL. The spreadsheets contain outdated (2011-2012) data and list students in grades K-5 who are no longer at our school because they either moved away or graduated. For each student listed, I must provide a copy of the parent program selection form, and I must give the state copies of the parent orientation sign-in sheets and orientation agendas. This is due by Friday, which means more lost instruction time as I’ll have to gather and photocopy the documentation -dating as far back as 2008 – during the school day.

When funding your next education project, please keep in mind the negative impact of excessive accountability. I will use my inferencing skills to conclude that a greater importance is placed on monitoring ELL program placements using outdated data than monitoring the actual teaching of ELLs, which is mandated.

Kind regards,

Katie Lapham
NYC teacher
Check out our Facebook page: Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates

Teacher or assembly line worker?

I am really struggling to balance the factory/assembly line part of my job with teaching children and addressing their individual needs. NYSESLAT – the state ESL test – listening and reading answer sheets are due at noon today and I have a lot more bubbling and grid organization to do before the deadline.

It’s also the last day of make-up testing and I have two students who need to take the writing test. They are fifth graders and their test includes multiple choice questions, a descriptive writing paragraph and a non-fiction essay.

One is an old soul; wise beyond his years. He has excellent listening comprehension skills but struggles to focus and is a slow reader and writer. This is why he hasn’t tested out of ESL (the NYSESLAT is the sole factor in determining whether a student is English proficient or not). He is not a true ELL (English-language learner). It is unlikely that he will finish the test, which means he will be pulled out of his sixth grade classes next year for ESL services.

While a colleague and I race against the clock to bubble and double-check 312 grids, an activity that requires undivided attention, I must also administer the writing test to these students. The other student has an IEP and gets directions and questions read and re-read. It should be noted that the NYSESLAT is administered right after the ELA and math tests (6 days of testing, 13.5 hours long in total for ELLs who get extended time). Their classroom teacher and I had to bribe the students with a pizza party to get them take the NYSESLAT seriously.

Fretting about what’s in store for me this morning is why I am awake at 4:00 am.

40 days of testing

By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, I will have spent at least 40 school days (there are 180 in total) doing standardized test-related work. In September, I had to administer the LAB-R to identify new ELLs (English-language learners). Because of my out-of-the-classroom teaching position, I also proctored the ELA and math exams (each test lasted three days plus I did make-ups), and I assisted with the testing materials organization effort (cutting labels to affix on booklets, bubbling and counting answer grids, counting rulers and protractors and other thrilling activities). There is no money to pay a sub to do this work. Right now I’m wrapping up the administration of the NYSESLAT exam to the 150+ ELLs in my building. The 2013 NYSESLAT reflects the Common Core State Standards and is comprised of four parts: speaking (administered one-on-one), listening, reading and writing. Next week my colleagues and I will score the writing part.

22% of my time at school this year will have been spent doing state test work, NOT teaching. That’s 40 days of lost instruction. Did I mention that ESL (English as a Second Language) is a mandated program? ELLs are among those most in need of academic support (scaffolding) and small group instruction. I cannot support national standards that encourage such excessive testing. The slogan “Children first. Always” should be removed from the NYC DOE’s website.