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

Battling the High-Stakes Testing Beast: from NPE to NYS

To borrow from the lexicon of my students, I’m MAD and sad at the same time, particularly with regards to the New York State Common Core tests that begin on April 1, 2014. At the same time, though, I’m energized and inspired thanks to the many thoughtful and dedicated public education advocates I met at the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) first annual conference, which was held in Austin, Texas on March 1 and 2, 2014.

The conference ended with a call to action; Diane Ravitch led a press conference requesting a Congressional hearing on high-stakes standardized testing.  Here are the details.

NPE

Ever since I administered the NYS Common Core tests last April, I have been a vocal opponent of the Common Core testing program, which is indeed harmful not only to students with disabilities, but also to English-language learners (ELLs). These tests also fail to inform instruction, which is the purpose of assessments, right? Of the 2013 tests, all I know is that my ELLs received a score of 1 or 2 – 1 is considered ‘failing’ – and that few (if any) are among the 3% of ELLs in NYS who “passed.” Where is the $75,000 Pearson technical report that was supposed to be released in December? How can the state’s ever changing cut scores be considered reliable? This post doesn’t even touch upon the inherent flaws of multiple choice testing, and the fact that these Common Core state tests are not teacher-created. Much has already been, and continues to be, written about this.

When I returned from Texas, I discovered that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) had released its School Administrator’s Manual for the 2014 Common Core Math and ELA tests for grades 3-8. It is a whopping 86-pages long, and its treatment of ELLs is  particularly draconian.  Here’s an excerpt.

page 9 – Testing English-language learners

  • Schools are permitted to exempt from the 2014 Common Core English Language Arts Tests only those English language learners (including those from Puerto Rico) who, on April 1, 2014, will have been attending school in the United States for the first time for less than one year.
  • Recently arrived English language learners may be eligible for one, and only one, exemption from the administration of the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests.
  • Subject to this limitation, schools may administer the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) in lieu of the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests, for participation purposes only, to recently arrived English language learners who meet the criterion above. All other English language learners must participate in the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests, as well as in the NYSESLAT.
  • The provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) do not permit any exemption of English language learners from the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core Mathematics Tests. These tests are available in Chinese (traditional), Haitian-Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. The tests can be translated orally into other languages for those English language learners whose first language is one for which a written translation is not available from the Department.

That’s right niños, only ONE exemption is allowed from the ELA. After just 12 months in our school system, you will be subjected to the same horror show as the rest of the state’s public school students in grades 3-8. Don’t worry, the state has generously offered to give you extended time (time and a half) on the tests; instead of 90 minutes per day for six days (3 days for ELA, 3 days for math), 5th grade ELLs, for example, are entitled to 135 minutes each testing day. That’s a total of 13.5 hours! As for the Common Core math test, there’s no getting off the hook the first year you are here because state provides translation services! And after all that, in May we are going to assess your English-language proficiency level by giving you a lengthy, four-part test in speaking, listening, reading and writing. NYSED has been hard at work aligning the NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test) to the Common Core State Standards. It’s now more rigorous than ever before!

In 2011, I read a fascinating article by Clifford J. Levy, a New York Times foreign correspondent who relocated his family to Moscow for five years. Instead of sending his kids to an international school, he decided to ‘experiment in extreme schooling’ by enrolling them in a local school where they would – presumably – be classified as RLLs (Russian-language learners). Levy writes, “to throw our kids into a Russian school — that seemed like child abuse.” Child abuse? What would he call a mandate, if such a policy exists in Russia, of forcing newly arrived expat kids to take Russian high-stakes tests? My Brooklyn elementary school gets around 30 newcomers with no English every school year, and many come from countries that use a different alphabet. In the article, Levy describes his kids’ struggles in their first year, from bouts of insomnia and depression to despair. After a mere 12 months, were his three kids mandated to take a nearly seven-hour long Russian-language arts exam over the course of three days? If so, did they opt-out? Prior to moving to Moscow, Levy’s children attended P.S. 321, a well-regarded, progressive elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Less than 2% of its student body is comprised of English-language learners, yet a significant number of its kids will likely refuse to take to 2014 NYS Common Core tests. UPDATEa P.S. 321 parent does not expect the opt-out numbers to be significant.  It is not certain at this time how many P.S. 321 students will refuse the tests this year. In contrast, my Title I school, with roughly 150 ELLs, will have no students opt-out.

I echo Fred Smith, NYS testing expert, who testified in December 2013 that New York State “… has acted in bad faith by administering a dishonest testing program for over a decade. This shows no signs of changing with the rush to make the flawed 2013 “core-aligned” exams the new baseline. Therefore, nothing short of a moratorium on these tests is acceptable.”

NYS should cancel this year’s state tests no transparency = no test and I hope that Congress will prioritize an investigation of this destructive assessment practice. Our kids are human beings, not exploitable ‘outputs.’  They deserve better.

-Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher

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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