Ten Reasons Why NO Child Should Take the NYS Common Core Tests

Dear parents and educators of New York,

I teach elementary school in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York.  In 2013 and 2014, I administered Pearson’s New York State Common Core tests to English-language learners (ELLs). There is nothing meaningful about these assessments; no teacher I know supports them and I will not allow my child to take the tests when she enters third grade (even if the high-stakes are removed).  Here are ten reasons why Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests should never see the light of day.

1.) They are too long, especially for students in grades 3-5.  Over the course of six days, my 5th grade ELLs spent a total 13.5 hours sitting for the ELA (English-language arts) and math assessments. Here is what the 5th grade ELA assessment looked like last year (2014):

Day ONE: 27 pages long, 6 unrelated reading passages, 42 multiple choice questions

Day TWO: 3 unrelated reading passages, 7 multiple choice questions, 3 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Day THREE: 3 reading passages, 5 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Additionally, the below graph – created by Lace to the Top – shows that the third grade Common Core tests are twice as time-consuming as the SAT.

1521228_10202796253365339_1970773454_n2.) They are developmentally inappropriate.  Lace to the Top recently analyzed third grade Common Core test samples and determined that Pearson’s NYS Common Core test questions are 2-3 grade levels above the grade being tested.  The reading passage used for third grade was shown to have a readability average of 7.3 (7th grade)!

3.) Pearson’s NYS Common Core standardized tests, which are costing the state $32 million, are not teacher-created, nor do they accurately reflect the contextualized skills and knowledge that students gain in the classroom.  The tests are poorly constructed and uninspiring, and they contain ambiguous questions.  557 New York State principals signed this letter denouncing the tests.

4.) With Pearson’s Common Core state tests at the center of K-8 education in New York State, curriculum has narrowed, particularly in schools in low-income areas whose test scores tend to be low.  Fearing increased scrutiny and potential closure, raising test scores has become the main focus in many schools.  Some schools are little more than test prep factories with diminishing enrichment and project-based learning opportunities. Beginning in kindergarten, students are being taught test-taking strategies, most notably through the context-lacking close reading technique used in Common Core-aligned English-language arts.  Pearson’s developmentally inappropriate and poorly constructed scripted reading program – ReadyGEN – is test prep for the NYS Common Core ELA test.

5.) The Common Core’s testing program encourages standardized testing in grades K-2. Title I schools in particular feel pressured to show – through periodic data collection – that students are learning the skills needed to perform well on the grades 3-8 Common Core state tests. This is what the standardized testing program looks like in my Title I first grade classroom this school year:

  • Sept/Oct 2014 Common Core-aligned NYC Baseline Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).
  • Running Records administered one-on-one 4-5 times per year (they test reading levels).
  • 12 Common Core-aligned end-of-unit GO Math! assessments (each comprised of 24 multiple choice questions and a multi-step extended response question).
  • Monthly Common Core-aligned ReadyGEN writing assessments testing students’ understanding of narrative, persuasive and informative writing.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in ELA – End of unit 2 ReadyGEN test comprised of 5 multiple choice comprehension questions, 5 multiple choice vocabulary questions and 1 written response.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in Math – GO Math! test comprised on 40 multiple choice questions; 15 questions on skills not yet learned.
  • May/June 2015 Common Core-aligned NYC Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).

6.) The New York State Education Department (NYSED) lacks transparency and ethics.  In upholding the corporate education reform agenda, which seeks to privatize public education, the NYSED’s intention is to perpetuate the false narrative that our schools are failing.  Fred Smith, a NYS testing expert and statistician, and Lace to the Top have reported at length about Pearson’s poor quality tests and the NYSED’s unreliable test data, specifically its delayed release of technical reports, which evaluate the Common Core tests, missing test questions and predetermined test scores.  The NYSED manipulates cut scores in order to legitimize its above-mentioned agenda; not only are cut scores constantly changing but the NYSED sets them AFTER the tests have been scored. Thus, the NYSED’s claim that 70% of our students are failing is invalid.  

7.) 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 spent 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.”

8.) English-language learners (ELLs) must take Pearson’s NYS Common Core ELA test after just one year in the system.  Students with IEPs are also required to take the tests unless they qualify for the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA), which too is flawed. For a variety of reasons, it is misleading, insulting and grossly irresponsible of the NYSED to claim that 97% of ELLs and 95% of students with IEPs in grades 3-8 are “failures” in ELA.  These figures completely disregard the growth students make in our classrooms.

9.) Our students are suffering. I’ve heard countless stories of kids who are sickened – both physically and emotionally – from New York State’s toxic Common Core testing program. I’ve personally witnessed students’ tears, anger and despair, and it’s heartbreaking. There is nothing humane, nothing redeeming about these tests.  Morale is plummeting as teachers and administrators feel complicit in the state’s abuse of our children.

10.) Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed basing 50% of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores from these highly flawed Common Core state assessments.  Not only are these test scores unreliable but the American Statistical Association has warned against using the value-added model (VAM) to rate teachers and schools.

As you can see, the negative impact of NYSED’s punitive Common Core testing program is far-reaching. But we – as parents and educators working together – can take back power by refusing these tests.  In order to save public education, a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, we must start thinking communally rather than individually.

Taking these tests is not “good practice” for our young learners; in fact, administering the tests is bad pedagogical practice.  In addition, high test scores do not guarantee admission to selective NYC middle schools.  Contrary to popular belief, opting-out does not hurt schools.  With regards to opt-out’s impact on teachers, Change the Stakes, a NYC-based organization that opposes the NYSED’s testing program, writes,

It is not helpful to speculate about which students should or should not opt out in order to protect teachers’ evaluations. The bottom line is that the current teacher evaluation system is flawed. Opting out in large numbers is the most powerful way for parents to let policymakers know that we do not want our children, teachers and schools evaluated based on standardized test scores.

Our students and teachers are not failures; rather the NYSED has failed us.

– Katie

Here are some useful resources about the Common Core testing program:

 

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Day 2 – NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA Exam

3rd grade ELA example

reading passage sample courtesy of @ The Chalk Face and engageny.org 

Today I administered DAY TWO of the 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time (time and a half) on state tests. Like yesterday, they sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes).

Today’s ELA booklet (there are 3 in total) was comprised of three unrelated reading passages, seven multiple choice questions, three short response questions and one extended response question.  As is the nature of these standardized tests, the students were not necessarily emotionally invested in the subject matter of the reading passages.  The students may or may not have had prior knowledge of the topics, and there may not have been opportunities for them to make text-to-self connections.  This is NOT the style in which I teach.  My teacher-created assessments relate directly to the teacher/student-selected material and topics covered in class, which students find more engaging and inspiring than scripted test-driven curriculum.

Here are some student and teacher reactions to the DAY TWO ELA test:

1.) The constant rustling of test booklet pages was a distraction.  For nearly every multiple choice question, students were instructed to refer back to specific paragraphs of the text in order to answer text-based and inference questions.  This technique is called close reading, a hallmark of the Common Core.  It can be a tedious exercise, especially for test prep and standardized test-taking purposes.  The Common Core calls this “critical thinking.” I find it formulaic and lacking in creativity and big-picture, open-ended thinking.

2.) Some 5th graders found one passage in particular to be confusing.  They struggled to write the extended response because they felt they did not have a good understanding of the story.

3.) The vocabulary was not grade appropriate.  Some words were archaic and stumped students; this tactic felt deliberate on the part of the test makers, as if they were purposely trying to select the most challenging passage(s) they could get away with.

4.) The special education students particularly struggled despite being entitled to double time (three hours for a 5th grader).  Students fell asleep, cried and shut down.  One girl – a strong reader – was immobilized by the exam, refusing to proceed after getting stuck.  Another student had an emotional breakdown and refused to take the test.

5.) Students appear to be more emotional and angry this week.

As I was leaving school today, a 5th grader told me that he’s going to toss the DAY 3 exam into the garbage tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Katie

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

measurementsUnknown-2

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?

NYC Teacher: The Common Core Standards Are Broken and Can’t Be Fixed

Intelligent letter written by a NYC SpEd teacher to Michael Mulgrew, UFT president.

Diane Ravitch's blog

This letter was written by a New York City teacher to his union president.

“I am writing as a loyal union member and as a special education teacher in a middle class ethnically diverse neighborhood who knows a lot about testing because I spent nearly two decades assessing disabled children as part of a school assessment team.until this Mayor deemed my psychometric skills to be worthless Nevertheless, under my belt is a lot of graduate level coursework as well as thousands of hours of field experience in administering and analyzing valid and reliable norm-referenced educational assessments.

“Therefore, based upon a lot of research and reading, I have to respectfully disagree with your statement that the Common Core Standards were developed by educators and that these standards represent a valid instrument to determine if a student is college or career ready.. The Common Core Standards were not developed by educators. Many…

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