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.

 

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Dear New York Times: Why I Oppose the Common Core

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meme courtesy of Susan Dufresne, teachersletterstobillgates.com 

Here is my response to last week’s New York Times editorial on the Common Core

Re: The Common Core in New York, published by the New York Times Editorial Board on 2/14/14

I am an elementary ESL teacher in a Title I public school in East New York, Brooklyn. First and foremost, I am an advocate for English-language learners. I take my role as a mandated reporter very seriously. After administering the 2013 NYS Common Core state tests, which I feel constituted child abuse, I decided to start speaking out. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in all things Common Core and have connected with many thoughtful and experienced education activists from around the world. I am against the Common Core because it is an instrument (weapon?) of corporate education reform, and it does not put children first. Please read my recent letter to Carmen Fariña, NYC schools chancellor, in which I describe the problems in our schools that I feel are most pressing. I also offer recommendations.

I grew up in communities that were hostile towards unions. I had not been an active UFT member until now. My father would roll over in his grave if he knew I was a member of the steering committee of the MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) caucus of the UFT. I joined MORE this summer because they are committed to the ideals of democracy and social justice, which are being threatened by the Common Core package.

Has the editorial board spent any time in our public schools? Do the members have school-aged children? I invite you to come visit my school.

-Katie Lapham, Brooklyn

Dear Carmen Fariña: NYC Schools Need Joy and Democracy

Dear Chancellor Fariña,

Welcome back! I am encouraged by your message of bringing back joy into the classrooms. But what about democracy? Here in New York City, curriculum and pedagogy are narrowing in order to prepare students for high-stakes tests that, in my professional opinion, are invalid. The Common Core (CCSS) state tests do not accurately measure what students know and how they have grown both academically and socially/emotionally. In my opinion, the corporate education reform agenda, together with its Common Core package of standards, curriculum and testing, is whittling down the purpose of public education to “college and career readiness,” with a focus on English-language arts and math instruction. At the NYS Senate’s January 23, 2014 Common Core hearing, NYSED Commissioner John King reiterated that the Common Core is needed for the US economy, arguing that it’s what US corporations want. However, any teacher will tell you that they are in this job to make a difference in the lives of children, to show students how to avoid the mistakes made by our predecessors in the hopes of improving the state of the world. We see the critical importance of helping students develop life skills, such as civic-mindedness, empathy and resilience, in addition to teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic.

I wish to draw your attention to the issues in our public schools that currently are most troubling to me. I am a push-in ESL teacher at a Title I elementary school in East New York, Brooklyn, however I started out, in 2006, as a bilingual classroom teacher.

1.) Over-testing – English-language learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 are particularly encumbered with standardized testing. The NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test) is administered to ELLs right after the grueling Common Core ELA and math state assessments. The NYSESLAT is a lengthy, four-part assessment that tests students’ proficiency levels in the speaking, reading, writing and listening of English. Contrary to what the NYS Board of Regents says, students in grades K-2 are indeed taking standardized tests. For the listening, reading and writing sections of the NYSESLAT, ELLs in grades K-2 are required to answer multiple choice questions by bubbling their answers directly into student test booklets. As an out-of-classroom ESL teacher, my instructional program is, for the most part, cancelled for two months in the spring. From April to June, my days are spent preparing, administering and scoring state assessments.

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In addition to April’s Common Core ELA and math high-stakes tests, NYC students are currently taking ELA and math baseline assessments that resemble the content and format of the actual CCSS state tests. Two weeks ago, my 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) used over four class periods to complete the math baseline. One boy shut down in the middle of the assessment and a girl broke down in tears and ended up in the nurse’s office. While change must occur at both the federal and state levels, you and Bill de Blasio have the power to lower the stakes of these burdensome tests in New York City. A recent Teachers Talk Testing petition asked the mayor to:

1. End promotion tied to test scores.
2. End middle and high school admissions tied exclusively to test scores.
3. End school report cards based primarily on student test scores.

In fact, on December 10, 2013, the City Council unanimously passed Resolution 1394, which calls upon the state of New York to replace high-stakes testing with multiple forms of assessment. Fred Smith, a statistician who worked for the NYC Board of Education as an administrative staff analyst until 2001, is a wealth of knowledge on NYS’s flawed standardized testing program. In a letter to Diane Ravitch, Smith called the 2013 NYS Common Core assessments “…failed, unreliable instruments incapable of serving as a baseline or foundation.” Smith currently advises Change the Stakes, a local group that opposes high-stakes testing, and is an excellent resource.

2.) Undemocratic learning climate – Our freedom to teach is eroding. Teachers had little (if any) meaningful participation in the development and review of the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core package was imposed on us in top-down fashion, and in many NYC public schools, particularly those receiving Title I funding, there’s little wiggle room in applying the standards to learning. In other words, we cannot simply use the standards as we see fit. They are tied to an accountability system (testing) and scripted curricula that ostensibly address the so-called instructional shifts. Teachers increasingly lament that they feel they aren’t giving students what they really need and deserve.

Similarly, many NYC teachers feel they had little input in selecting the new Common Core-aligned curriculum. Pearson’s ReadyGEN ELA Core Curriculum program is particularly unpopular, not because of its disastrous rollout, but because it’s an uninspiring and developmentally inappropriate test prep program. While I mostly like the 5th grade anchor texts – the only part of the program my 5th grade co-teacher and I currently use – I had no say in choosing the books. When will my co-teacher and I squeeze in Rickshaw Girl, a culturally relevant chapter book we read every year that explores the struggles of a young girl in Bangladesh? Also, the ReadyGEN-selected texts are challenging for my ESL students, and from what I can tell the program offers no differentiation in terms of materials. Pearson instructs teachers to expose all students, regardless of reading level and English-language proficiency, to the same rigorous text.

Here’s a sample page from Coming to America: The Story of Immigration, a text that’s being used in the ReadyGEN ELA first grade program.

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First grade close reading – ReadyGEN

Will a first grader find joy in closely reading this text and in answering questions in ReadyGEN’s bland Reader’s and Writer’s Journal which, to me, is nothing more than a test prep workbook? What about my special needs ELL who still doesn’t know all of his sounds and letters but is expected to follow along in the text while the teacher reads it aloud? The ReadyGEN first grade journal asks students to write sentences using vocabulary such as gazes, barrier, blended and unique. It also instructs students to explain in writing why America is called a “melting pot” and to rewrite sentences from the text in order to replace proper nouns and nouns with pronouns. In a reading analysis lesson, the written response directions in the first grade journal are worded as follows: What is the central message of A Picnic in October? and Retell three details that teach the central message.

The ReadyGEN ELA program has yielded so few moments of joy in our first grade ESL class that my co-teacher and I have decided to take a break from it during our literacy block. We are currently teaching an ELA unit on monsters, and the classroom has come alive. We selected a variety of engaging monster books, and each day students complete a writing and/or art activity. Why are the monsters called Wild Things? What does it mean to be ‘wild’? Describe the setting of the book. Describe the nightmare in your closet. What makes it scary? How does the mouse trick the forest animals in The Gruffalo? Are all monsters bad? What are the different names (synonyms) for monsters in the books we’ve read? Create your own monster and use adjectives to describe its features. From this, I envision a social emotional learning unit in which we discuss our fears and students describe a time when they were brave. I’m doing something similar with my 5th grade newcomer ELLs who are currently studying the Underground Railroad.

3.) Misuse of funds and inequity– While we are using what we can of ReadyGEN, the student journals are largely being unused. How much money did the NYCDOE spend on this program? 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 so spares them from having to use their limited funds to create and/or to justify the use of alternative Common Core-aligned programs. Also, schools with low test scores find comfort in reasoning that the content and tasks in these programs might appear on the actual CCSS tests. It should be noted that Pearson is the publisher of both ReadyGEN and the NYS ELA CCSS assessment.

Harris Lirtzman recently penned an eye-opening opinion piece on NYCDOE spending for WNYC’s SchoolBook. He called the DOE under Michael Bloomberg “a sinkhole of wasted money.” My understanding of the NYCDOE’s budget is not as deep as Lirtzman’s, but I can think of so many other ways to use the funds. Class sizes are rising, AIS services are being cut and after school test prep sessions have replaced enrichment programs. Wraparound services are also in demand. We need more initiatives to genuinely fight poverty and to provide students who are hurting with counseling. So many of our kids don’t have a safety net and look to school for emotional support. With the emphasis currently on addressing  “instructional shifts” and on preparing students for high-stakes testing, the needs of at-risk students are not being met.

4.) Lack of meaningful professional development (PD)Why is Pearson telling us how to teach? Teachers report that the ReadyGEN PD sessions they regularly attend are ineffective. In addition, teachers are being asked to analyze tests that they themselves didn’t create, and collaborative planning time is being sacrificed so that teachers in grades 3-5 can score the above-mentioned baseline assessments using a non-teacher created rubric. I have lost count of the number of PD sessions I’ve attended on Danielson’s Framework and on the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers would rather spend time working together to create lessons, gather materials and share resources. We learn best from one another. Outside of my school, I look at Boston’s Mission Hill School, which was founded by Deborah Meier in 1997, for alternative techniques to the ones imposed on us. After watching the inspirational video series A Year at Mission Hill, I started writing a column on teachersletterstobillgates.com in which I showcase the school’s rich project-based, collaborative curriculum and inclusive community-building practices. I call my project Freedom to Teach, Freedom to Learn: A Year at Mission Hill.

Here in New York City, I recently attended the More than a Score: Talk back to Testing forum that was organized by Change the Stakes and the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) of the UFT. I left feeling inspired and hopeful. Participants feeling demoralized by high-stakes testing found the day to be soul-cleansing; one even declared that we should “…walk out of here and start a new school system.” Jia Lee, a teacher/parent at Manhattan’s Earth School, shared with us the 4th/5th grade immigrant study curriculum that she and her colleagues designed. I learned from Jia that through socially and culturally relevant pedagogy, her school, which is part of the Children First Network 102, creates their own project-based curricula and portfolio-based assessments. The Earth School has also effectively eliminated the ranking and sorting of kids by using written narrative reports to convey student performance rather than traditional report cards.

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Those of us saddled with test prep curriculum, like ReadyGEN, and the NYC Performance Assessments, which exist solely to satisfy the Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) component of the new teacher evaluation system, do not have sufficient space in which to collaborate in authentic, meaningful ways. We have fewer opportunities to put our own stamp on the learning taking place in our classrooms. It breaks my heart that students in my district are not getting the same kinds of educational experiences that have existed long before the reign of the Common Core era at the Earth School and at other CFN 102 schools like the Brooklyn New School (P.S. 146) and Park Slope’s P.S. 321.  Many NYC educators are unaware of the autonomy that these NYC public elementary schools enjoy.  In designing quality curriculum and assessments that address the whole child, we should reject what corporate education reform is peddling and instead draw from our most valuable resource: our schools.

Kind regards,

Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher

Forbes’ 30 Under 30: A Showcase of Corporate Ed Reformers, not Education Stars

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In its third annual 30 Under 30 special report (1/20/14), which celebrates the professional achievements of a diverse group of 20-something game changers, Forbes Magazine refers to the young, ambitious entrepreneurs in the education field as “stars.” This is a misnomer. They are not education stars for not a single one is a working classroom teacher.  As a business publication, Forbes should have instead referred to them as stars of corporate education reform.  28-year-old Dan Berkowitz, of Youth Orchestra LA, may be the only exception.

Here’s some telling data that I extracted from the information presented in the report. 15 attended Ivy League universities (five Harvard grads are among the bunch), two went to Stanford and one is employed by MIT. Of those boasting classroom teaching experience, five are Teach for America alumni. If I were to conduct extensive research on each organization on the list, I’m sure these numbers would be significantly higher.  To me, 30 Under 30 smacks of privilege and self-righteousness and lacks empathy.  Unlike working educators, who are the real experts, the men and women on the list do not spend 40+ hours a week in a school building teaching diverse learners. These “stars” lack the experience and knowledge needed in order to fully grasp the complexities of public education today. Thus, how viable are their products?

Forbes refers these entrepreneurs as “prodigies reinventing the world right now.” But is it for the better? And whose world are they reinventing anyway? Who is truly benefiting from their innovations? Are their offerings going to give our kids what they really need in order to become healthy adults? As a teacher in a Title I elementary school in Brooklyn, many of these so-called solutions seem gimmicky – “easy” fixes – and fail to get to the heart of the fundamental problems in our society that are negatively impacting social/emotional and cognitive learning: namely poverty and inequity.

27-year-old Caryn Voskuil of Rocketship Education, a controversial charter school network, is among those listed.  Forbes writes that “she began her career as an English teacher in Washington, D.C. public schools, but swiftly became a trainer of teachers.” So with just two or so years of teaching experience, she is deemed expert enough to train teachers? Forbes continues by saying, “She is charged with managing all digital curriculum and instructional technology that appears on more than 5,000 student screens, including replacing old hardware with over 3,500 Chromebooks.” Ok, that makes sense now.  She’s not instructing teachers on how to teach; rather, she’s training them to use computers to teach students.  In my opinion, Ms. Voskuil is missing out on the best part of teaching, which is forming relationships with students.  At my school, located in a low-income neighborhood of Brooklyn, some kids could care less about online instruction. Instead, they crave meaningful interactions with caring adults.  They want to be heard, and they benefit from connections made with both their peers and with the adults in the building. Excessive online learning is isolating and interferes with community-building. Darcy Bedortha describes this disengagement in her recent exposé on K12 Inc., a corporation that operates online schools.

In terms of instruction, can the new educational sites profiled in 30 Under 30Khan AcademyInstaEDU, mSchool and Udemy, for example – glean what motivates and inspires a struggling and/or reluctant student? Do they know that M, who “failed” both the math and ELA 2013 Common Core state tests, offers insightful commentary during class discussions on topics related to social inequality? It was M’s teacher, not an online program, who thought to assign him a research project on homelessness.  Today M is an expert on the Coalition for the Homeless and even persuaded my school’s Penny Harvest committee to donate money to the charity.  And when M, who is restless and impulsive, becomes disruptive in class, does the computer think to send him to a lower grade to tutor newcomer Spanish-speaking ELLs (English-language learners)? Experiencing these kinds of real life – not virtual – successes can be empowering for angry students with low self-esteem.  Recently a 40-year veteran teacher who subs at my school shared with me a new strategy he came up with to get M, who hates math, to do his work. His technique may or may not work again with the capricious M.  As every teacher knows, some days are better than others (today was exasperating with M), and what works for one child may not be appropriate for another.  Even with decades of teaching experience under his belt, Mr. D acknowledges that everyday is a learning experience and that he doesn’t have it all figured out.

What I’ve described here are just a few examples of authentic personalized instruction that address the needs of the whole child, not just a student’s “academic deficits” that ed reformers argue hinder “college and career readiness.”  Software programs do not offer social and emotional intervention strategies that teachers develop through experience and intuition. Learning is a process that ebbs and flows.  Some moments are ugly; others poignant.

I wonder how M would do with ClassDojo’s software, which tracks student behavior and boasts “45%-90% increases in positive behavior and 50-85% decreases in negative behavior”? The company was founded by Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, both 27.  How do they define negative behavior? Do they, or their software, know what drives students to misbehave?  Jeff Bryant recently described disturbing discipline practices in charter schools in this Salon article.  Are these charters among ClassDojo’s clients?  I haven’t seen the product, but like the Common Core package of scripted curricula, standards and testing, I am skeptical.  I’m picturing a one-size-fits-all, prescribed solution that fails to take into consideration human vagaries.  Students are sentient beings, not outputs.

According to this CB Insights graphic, which appears in Forbes’ special report, in a single year, 2012 – 2013, ed tech startups received $1.1 billion in funding.

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If Forbes’ article listed the real stars of education, working educators, the ideas put forth would be far different.  Imagine if that money had been used towards lowering class sizes or to hire educated adults to work with individual or small groups of students in a classroom? Both M’s teacher and I agree that M would benefit from a one-to-one paraprofessional. What if that money paid for much needed social services and counseling that students like M are not getting?  What if that money funded inspiring social emotional curricula that schools either don’t have the money for or reject because they are seen as not preparing kids for the state tests?  With $1 billion, I would make sure that every teacher had a working printer and extra toner cartridges. I would also ensure a robust supply of SmartBoard bulbs, which cost around $200 each.  Every school would have multiple copy machines that work. Teachers would be given the freedom to choose their own books and supplies, and quality after-school enrichment programs – not test prep – would be available to all students. I would also invest more money in healthy school lunch programs.

Teachers aren’t miracle workers; neither are virtual academies.  Yes, teachers make a difference in the lives of children, but some things – like home life factors – are beyond our control.   Until we properly address the socioeconomic factors that affect learning, the problems facing our public schools will continue.

Testifying at John King’s Common Core Forum in Brooklyn 12/10/13

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NYSED Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch brought their Common Core “listening” tour to New York City last night. Tisch was stationed in the Bronx while John King attended the Brooklyn forum at Medgar Evers College.  Tonight (12/11/13) the two will appear together at Spruce Street School/P.S. 397 (12 Spruce Street) in Manhattan from 5-7 pm.

Unlike previous Common Core forums held in New York State, the Brooklyn forum was dominated by Common Core supporters, namely representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst movement, including teachers, and members of Families for Excellent Schools.  Former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown, whose husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of StudentsFirstNY, was there as well.  What was most striking to me was hearing parents praise high-stakes testing.

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Specials interests descend on Brooklyn’s Common Core forum 

I arrived at the Medgar Evers auditorium shortly after 4:30 pm.  I wanted to get there early to get a speaking slot and to edit and practice my speech.  In fact, I was the first speaker to sign up.  While I was working in a different location, the Common Core supporters showed up en masse and secured the remaining 44 speaking slots.  Even though a significant number of Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing critics were in the audience, I ended up being the only critic who spoke.

Here is a copy of my speech, which I had to deliver in two minutes.

The Common Core is undemocratic and has been implemented in top-down fashion. The Common Core puts corporations, not children, first. It was written secretively by 60 individuals representing a variety of non-profits funded by the Gates Foundation. Only one participant in the entire writing process was a teacher. Not only has the Gates Foundation spent nearly $200 million on the Common Core, but it sent consultants to Washington, DC to help Arne Duncan draft Race to the Top legislation. Here In New York, the Regents Research Fund, which supports the controversial Regents Fellows think tank, received $3.3 million from the Gates Foundation.

Furthermore, teachers did not play a decision-making role in reviewing the standards. A Florida teacher recently said the following about the process:

“As the review unfolded, it became apparent that we were not working with a holistic, integrated application of standards… It began to look instead like a checklist forming a platform for standardized testing” (Florida Teacher: “I Was Among Those Who Reviewed the Common Core in 2009” by Anthony Cody, 11/6/13)

As you’ve “heard” again and again, the Common Core has led to scripted curricula that do little more than prepare students – beginning in kindergarten – for high-stakes Common Core standardized tests. The content, format, and length of the exams, combined with instructional and enrichment time lost to test prep, constitute child abuse and deprive students of a meaningful education.

Do the right thing. End high-stakes testing. Look at model schools – like Mission Hill in Boston – that have experienced great success in teaching the whole child and in using authentic, portfolio-based assessments. Invest in smaller class sizes, especially in Title I schools like mine that have a high number of English-language learners and students with disabilities. We need educated teaching assistants, not an influx of technology, in our overcrowded classrooms. We need autonomy and the freedom to use the standards as we see fit, to best meet the needs of our diverse learners. The Common Core, in my professional opinion, will NOT close the achievement gap.

Doin’ Core Curriculum Our Way (cue the Laverne & Shirley theme song)

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The purpose of this reflection (Danielson 4a) is to further highlight the maddening waste of resources and lack of common sense that I’m seeing on a daily basis as a result of corporate education reform and its Common Core troika of nationalized learning standards, scripted curriculum and high-stakes testing.  Last week, Pearson’s ReadyGEN program, a “recommended” NYC Department of Education ELA (English-language arts) curriculum, particularly irked me.

In complying with the ReadyGEN script, my 5th grade co-teacher and I were instructed to read to students chapter seven of Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology. I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor and push-in to my colleague’s class during the literacy block.  The chapter’s title – Fourteen Dead Robins – intrigued me. Rubbing my hands together in excitement, I imagined a powerful, real world conversation we’d have with our students about the health effects of DDT and people’s unwillingness – due to fear – to speak out against injustices.

Instead, the ReadyGEN reading skill assigned to chapter seven was craft and structure, specifically analyzing figurative language and word choice.  We did attempt to practice this skill with our students using the ReadyGEN Student Materials workbook, but quickly decided to pull the plug on the task because we found few examples of figurative language, and we felt that the chosen ReadyGEN skill was ill-fitting in light of the chapter’s content.  It was as if the people who created ReadyGEN had randomly selected reading skills without first considering the content of the individual chapters. Chapter four’s reading skill was main idea and details while in chapter six – the previous day’s lesson – the students practiced cause and effect. Shockingly – given the NYC DOE’s constant use of Common Core-aligned – the standards themselves are not even cited in the ReadyGEN Teacher’s Guide, which is still in the pre-publication stage.

Below are the alternative questions that my colleague created midway into ReadyGEN’s chapter seven lesson. The students first discussed the questions in small groups, while we circulated, and then worked individually to respond to them in writing. We felt that this was a more suitable (and more meaningful) task that better reflected the main idea of chapter seven.

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The next day, ReadyGEN never saw the light of day.  Instead, I led a lesson about cancer clusters that are appearing in farming regions of Argentina as a result of the country’s increased use of pesticides and herbicides.  I was inspired by a Mother Jones article I saw recently on Twitter.  The high-interest, real world content in this article tied in nicely with Rachel’s reaction to the effects of DDT as seen in chapter seven. The SmartBoard presentation I created included many visuals – photographs, graphs, charts – to aide students in digesting the challenging content. Genetically-modified and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready were among the vocabulary terms in the lesson.  Students were engaged and moved by the topic.  Below is one English-language learner’s wondering about pesticides.

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I know of no teacher – including one in Ohio – who is satisfied with ReadyGEN’s ELA program.  The anchor texts (literature) may be authentic, but the reading and writing tasks are not.  Pearson’s ReadyGEN is a poorly and hastily designed test prep program to get students ready for next year’s high-stakes Common Core ELA assessment.  The NYC DOE could have saved a lot of money if they had instead provided schools with just the copies of the anchor texts, class sets of titles such as Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology. Sample reading and writing questions and suggested performance tasks could have been posted online. From what I’ve observed, the Student Materials workbook (see below photo) is being used minimally.

I don’t know how much the NYC DOE has spent on producing this program and on providing professional development to teachers.  However, I’m outraged that ReadyGEN has priority over other, more pressing initiatives like ensuring smaller class sizes and providing AIS services to students. The Common Core standards, unfortunately, do not stand alone. As I am experiencing, they are not an innocuous set of student learning objectives that teachers can use to shape their own instruction.  Here in New York State, the adoption of the Common Core has led to the wasteful spending of millions of dollars on the development of inferior math and ELA programs that are scripted and threaten teacher autonomy.  The overarching goal of such curricula is not to inspire students or to address their individual needs, but instead to train them for meaningless high-stakes tests.

Measures of Student Learning Performance Assessments: Grade 1 Report of Information

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This past week my public elementary school, like many others throughout NYC, administered Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Performance Assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math to students in grades K-5.

WHY? NYC teachers have a new teacher evaluation and development system called Advance. 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating comes from a local measure of student learning or MOSL (another 20% of our rating is based on a state measure such as the NYS CCSS ELA and math assessments). Here is the NYC DOE’s definition of “local measure”:

      • Local MeasureRecommended by a school committee appointed by the principal and UFT Chapter Chair and approved by the principal*, each teacher’s local measure will be based on student growth on assessments and growth measures selected from a menu of approved options for each grade and subject (from the NYC DOE website).

My school chose the new K-5 NYC Performance Assessments in ELA and math as our local measure. The recently administered September Performance Assessments will be used to establish baseline scores for our students who will be assessed again at the end of the school year to determine their growth in these two subject areas. As per MOSL, students’ growth on this task – or lack of – contributes to 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating.

It is important to note that the local measure (MOSL) is separate from the state measure, which also counts towards 20% of our overall rating. This means that in the spring of 2014, our students in grades 3-5 will have to take these new NYC ELA and math Performance Assessments IN ADDITION TO the controversial state CCSS ELA and math exams (state measure). I am not taking into consideration teacher-generated tests based on content learned in the classroom.

WHAT are the NYC Performance Assessments? This past week, I helped administer the ELA NYC Performance Assessment to the ELLs (English-language learners) that I service. The first grade ELA Performance Assessment was particularly disturbing and anguishing to administer, so much so that I tossed and turned all last night. Here’s why:

1.) The NYC DOE recommended length of the task was 85-120 minutes over two consecutive days (remember: THIS IS FIRST GRADE!)

2.) After the teacher modeled the task, students had to independently read a non-fiction text that was different from the one the teacher used to model. The title that was pre-selected (not by teachers) for our first graders to read independently was Sea Turtles by Carol K. Lindeen. The age range for this title is preschool – 8, however I believe that for the younger kids, this book is meant to be used as a read aloud and/or for pleasure reading, NOT for use as an assessment. Sea Turtles, which our beginner first grade ELLs were required to read independently, is a level J book, according to Fountas & Pinnell.

3.) The assessment script instructed teachers to encourage first graders to take notes – in their own words – while independently reading Sea Turtles. Note-taking was modeled to the students prior to the start of the assessment. By note-taking, students were instructed to generate two text-based questions while independently reading Sea Turtles. They then had to use the text to answer the questions that they came up with on their own while independently reading a level J non-fiction book. In case you missed it the first time, I reiterate that these are new FIRST GRADERS.

4.) On day two, our first grade students used their notes (student-generated questions and answers) to write their own informational text about sea turtles. They were required to name the topic, include facts and vocabulary words from the text (perhaps migrate or mate?), use writing conventions and write a one sentence conclusion.

To satisfy my Danielson requirement – the remaining 60% of my effectiveness rating as per the new NYC teacher evaluation and development system – here are my reflections/wonderings (Danielson 4a) on the ELA NYC Performance Assessments:

1.) What’s the point of report cards and teacher-generated assessments based on content taught in the classroom if our students’ academic worth is now determined by these official state and local measures? We are teaching to the test more than ever, particularly in schools in low-income areas (Title I schools) where students have more catching up to do and where test scores are lower.  If test scores remain low for too long, a school becomes at-risk for closure.

2.) Our rating for this part of the NYC teacher evaluation plan is based on student growth. Low scores on the September assessments are actually advantageous to teachers as students will very likely score higher (showing growth) on the June assessment. Also, these are not teacher-generated assessments. For the ELA Performance Assessment, first grade teachers were handed a five-page assessment script and materials and were told to administer it. This, to me, is a farce. I am hard-pressed to find any meaning in these non-teacher created assessments that test students on skills they do not yet possess. They are a burden to students, teachers and administrators as well as a waste of time and money.  I’m not even describing here the resources and time spent on scoring the assessments.  The scores will be entered into a database for tracking purposes.

3.) How can anyone still believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) stand alone and can be separated from standardized testing, curriculum and teacher evaluations?

4.) In NYS, teachers are losing their freedom to teach and students are being deprived of their freedom to learn. These NYC Performance Assessments are the latest example. As I have noted previous posts, choice is an illusion.

5.) How can seemingly intelligent Tweed decision-makers like Dennis Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky truly believe that these Performance Assessments are of any value? I want them to explain to us why they believe in these particular assessments. Beth Fertig, WNYC education reporter, recently tweeted that “Walcott says he’s not serving the mayor but students: “I’m a true believer in what we’re doing.”

6.) What is the true purpose of these Performance Assessments? To measure student growth or to hold accountable teachers who either aren’t in a testing grade (K-2) or who teach a subject that’s not formally assessed by the state (music and art, for example)?

6.) Isn’t elementary school supposed to be fun, meaningful and engaging? Teachers, students and administrators should not have to suffer like this.

These are our students. This is Race to the Top and Common Core. These are our students under the influence of Race to the Top and Common Core. Any questions?