Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MA PARCC Update: "Nat'l Media Has Inaccurately Described MA as 'Abandoning the Common Core and PARCC'"

On Sunday the New York Times featured an article on the demise of the Common Core and PARCC assessments in Massachusetts. According to the Times, "the State Board of Education decided last week that Massachusetts would go it alone and abandon the multistate test in favor of one to be developed for just this state. The move will cost an extra year and unknown millions of dollars."

I wrote about it here, noting that whatever new test Massachusetts developed would look an awful lot like PARCC and, in fact, Common Core wasn't going anywhere.

Today PoliticoPro confirms that the state is, in fact, sticking with PARCC and Common Core. (Subscription only, so here's the summary from Collaborative for Student Success):
Massachusetts State Chief: ‘We Have Not Abandoned’ PARCC, Common Core”: Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ education commissioner, said Tuesday the state has not “abandoned” PARCC assessments or Common Core Standards, and that the decision to develop an hybrid test has been misconstrued by the media. In a statement, Chester said “national media” has “inaccurately described Massachusetts as ‘abandoning’ the Common Core and PARCC. We have not abandoned either one…In 2010, our state Board adopted the Common Core State Standards as a way to reinforce the importance of reading, writing and critical thinking skills, skills that we know our employers and colleges value…Educators have been teaching curricula aligned with the Common Core for several years, and...teachers will continue to do so and to build on the standards.” Massachusetts remains a member of the PARCC consortium and will incorporate PARCC material in its new tests.
The Gray Lady should run a correction, or at least a clarification. Public Editor, take note.

Cuomo Cries "Uncle" to Labor Lobbyists and Eviscerates NYS's Teacher Evaluation Reform

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo navigated an overhaul of the teacher tenure law last Spring, he took a moribund system – one in which 96% of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective—and fast-tracked a State Board of Education regulation that tied 50% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes.

During a speech in March in Rochester, Cuomo explained why New York had to move to a evaluation system with multiple measures, one of which was data on student growth:
We now have a teacher evaluation system that came back — 99% of the teachers are doing great! Only 38% of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99% of teachers are doing well. It can't be — 99% of no class does extraordinary!”
But now pedal-to-the-metal-Andy has slammed on the brakes. Today’s New York Times reports that  “facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”

That’s not an entirely accurate account, at least of Cuomo's motivation to comply with calls to eliminate data on student growth from teacher evaluations. Certainly, there was a “parent revolt": 20% of the state’s public school students “opted out” of Common Core-aligned tests last Spring, and rates were particularly high on Long Island and in Westchester.  According to EdWeek, these students weren’t the state’s neediest: they were white, not educationally-disadvantaged, and most likely to have not achieved proficiency on last year’s assessments. For comparison’s sake, in New York City schools, where 70% of student enrollment is black and Hispanic and 80% of student enrollment is economically-disadvantaged,  the opt-out rate  was only 1.8 percent in math and only 1.4 percent on English tests.

So there was a rich, white suburban “parent revolt” against testing.  And, with no disrespect intended towards suburban parental autonomy, this was a boycott instigated by teacher union lobbyists. Here’s Karen Magee, leader of the state AFT affiliate, during the show Capitol Pressroom last March:
“I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing,” Magee. (“Wow,” host Susan Arbetter replied.)

Magee’s remarks caused a stir. Then Randi Weingarten, whom Magee reports to, weighed in by tweeting that she understood “why @NYSUT and parents are calling for an opt-out” and added that if she had kids in the State she would opt them out of tests too.  Diane Ravitch, our ever-rabid anti-accountability maven, accordingly praised Weingarten for “personally endorsing” the opt out movement.”

So Cuomo was emasculated by what he had first disparaged as “political tactics.” If he succeeds in eliminating the link of  student outcomes,the entire accountability enterprise is rendered flaccid.

Now, let’s be fair. 50%, as I’ve said before, is too high. But Governor, what’s wrong with 25%? Or even 20%?

According to the New York Times, Mary Ellen Elia, the State Commissioner, proposed exactly that:
Ms. Elia said she discussed a possible compromise this month with the governor’s office and the Regents under which test scores would count for 20 percent of evaluations and any penalties based on test scores would not be imposed until 2019. But the governor’s office objected to that proposal, Ms. Elia and Mr. Malatras both said.
So the vehicle of accountability screeches to a halt in New York State. That will make union officials and suburban families (with kids who don’t do well on tests) very happy. But it will play less well in educationally-hit-or-miss cities like New York City and Yonkers, as well as  further upstate in  Binghamton, Syracuse, and Rochester where disadvantaged students require effective classroom instructional metrics in order to succeed.

There's nothing wrong with taking a deep breath and reconsidering options. There is something wrong with bowing to lobbyists and eviscerating a new system in favor of one already proven to be misguided and inaccurate. Cuomo's repudiation of common-sense teacher evaluation reform will, no doubt,  garner him support from labor leaders and wealthy parents. But by acceding to a political tactic by deploying one of his own,  he's throwing New York State's neediest schools and children under the bus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

QOD: Hillary Clinton's "Political Posturing" on Charter Schools; a Personal Story About a Special Kid

Beth Hawkins (whom I'm proud to call a colleague) at RealClearEducation on her struggles to meet the needs of her beautiful special needs son Corey who was pushed out of a traditional Minneapolis public school but welcomed at a public charter school:
Surely Hillary Clinton’s recent critical remarks about charter schools are political posturing--perhaps balm to soothe the roiling left flanks. 
“Most charter schools…don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” Clinton told a forum in South Carolina. “And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation because they do, thankfully, take everybody.” 
Let’s be honest. Any school—district or charter—can “push out” a student it views as a problem. Some discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message; some refer the student to an alternative school; some track students into isolated special ed programs for “defiant” behavior; some flat-out tell students, “This might not be the school for you.” 
It doesn’t just happen to disruptive kids. It happens to those whose needs are too big, too inconvenient or just not met by the services of the neighborhood school.
The relevant question is not whether the school in question is a charter or a district school. It’s whether the school sees it as the student’s job to conform to its programming or whether it’s the school’s job to see the “behavior” not as something willful, but as a signal of unmet need.

Call It What You Want, Common Core is Here to Stay

Today's Washington Examiner article, entitled "Tide Shifting Against Common Core," is a great illustration of  the failure of journalists to differentiate between  the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Here’s the lede:
The more people hear about Common Core, the more controversial it becomes.
Massachusetts would rather spend millions of dollars and delay testing by a year than stick with a test aligned with Common Core education standards, The New York Times reports.
No, that’s precisely wrong. Massachusetts has been implementing the Common Core-like standards for years; in fact, much of the Common Core was written and supervised by Massachusetts educators because the state has been widely regarded as a leader in integrating higher standards into public schools. (The high student achievement in the state validates this strategy).

The current political backlash isn't about the Common Core (although there remain pockets of resistance from Tea Partiers who maintain that the creation of the standards was some sort of federal conspiracy) but about the tests. These have been widely derided by teacher union leaders, who recoil at local efforts to link student outcomes to teacher evaluations, and suburban parents who think that their kids don't need standardized assessments.

A few examples: in periwinkle New Jersey (i.e., blue with a tinge of red) the State D.O.E.  has tiredly assembled a group of stakeholders to “review” the standards because Chris Christie, who once heralded the Common Core as “one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not and with [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan," felt the need to shamelessly genuflect to the GOP leadership.  N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe apologetically confided to NJ Spotlight that “this is more of a renovation, not a tear-down,” and that’s the same approach other states will most likely take.

And no wonder. N.J. students and teachers have been using the Common Core in classrooms for almost six years. By the way, N.J. is sticking with PARCC.

A true blue-state example: last month New York Governor Cuomo followed Christie's lead, and created a  Common Core Task Force even though  common sense educators praise the standards. In fact, material from the New York Department of Education’s Common Core resource called EngageNY has been downloaded by educators more than 20 million times.

Let's redden up. Crimson South Carolina triumphantly repealed the Common Core last March but Sheri Few, president of the South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, which describes itself as a group of “taxpayers and patriotic Americans committed to conservative education,” told Breitbart that  “[by] the state Education Oversight Committee’s (EOC) own admission, the ‘new’ replacement standards are 90 percent aligned with Common Core.”

So let’s get the facts straight. The Common Core is fast on its way to becoming a multi-tagged set of generally uniform school standards. Anyway, what's in a name? Call it the Christie Core, the Cuomo Core, the Conservative Core, the Randi Weingarten Core, the Patriotic Core; really, who cares? It's a name-change, not a standards-change. At worst, it's a standards-tweak.

Look: we’ll most likely have uniform standards. A child in South Carolina will have access to the same math content as a child in Massachusetts. What we won’t have is the ability to make comparisons state-to-state, not only because some states are fiddling with aligned assessments  but also setting their own cut scores. It's a political backlash to accountability, not course content, and that's the distinction missing from coverage at the Examiner and the Times.

Monday, November 23, 2015

StudentsFirstNY Calls for "Independent Audit" of NYC Schools' "Massive Grade Inflation"

From "The Hidden Truth: Massive Grade Inflation Conceals Underperformance in NYC Schools":
To hear Mayor Bill de Blasio tell it, New York City’s failing schools are few and far between, and improving quickly. Better yet, New York City’s students are passing their math, science, social studies, and English courses with flying colors. In reality, hundreds of schools – and the majority of students – are failing state tests, a truth that is masked by rampant grade inflation within NYC Schools. This report reveals that schools across the city are misleading parents by giving students high marks on school coursework even though the students are performing below grade level. The vast majority of students are passing their classroom work while failing state tests. The findings of this analysis underscore why state test results play a critical check and balance function – it’s only by reviewing both school coursework and state test results that parents have the full picture of how their children are performing. To address this across-the-board grade inflation, StudentsFirstNY is calling for an independent audit of school coursework in NYC public schools to ensure that it is on grade level. 

It’s not hard to understand why Mayor de Blasio would choose to obscure what’s really happening in New York City’s schools. Owning up to the extent of school failures citywide would obligate City Hall to address the issue in a meaningful way – something the de Blasio administration has shown no inclination to do. Improving school quality and genuinely elevating the quality of education in New York City is hard, and requires the courage to enact policies and practices that the United Federation of Teachers does not support. Things like making sure that students have access to the best schools possible – including charters – and are taught by the best teachers available are unpopular with special interest groups. 

Newsflash: New York Student Anxiety During Common Core tests Stems from Teachers and Parents, Not Tests Themselves

From the Union and Sun Journal:
ALBANY (AP) — A survey of school psychologists in New York suggests the statewide English and math tests given each spring make students more anxious than other tests.
The New York State School Boards Association released the findings Friday in a joint report with the state Association of School Psychologists.
The report says that fewer than half of all students are physically affected by testing. But about 60 percent of the psychologists surveyed believe anxiety has increased since the state tests were aligned with the Common Core learning standards.
Teacher and parent expectations were identified as the biggest source of the anxiety.

The Canard of Charter "Creaming," at least in New Jersey

A new editorial from JerseyCan examines the student body and student outcomes in Camden's hybrid district/renaissance schools. Here are some facts, unsullied by anti-charter propaganda.

Who they are:

  • During KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery's first year serving Camden students grades K-5, 99% of KIPP students, 97% of Uncommon students, and almost 97% of Mastery students qualified for free lunch.
  • 16% of KIPP kindergarteners, 17% of Uncommon kindergarteners, and 19% of Mastery kindergarteners were classified as special education students.
  • 5% of KIPP students and 10% of Mastery students are ELL, or English Language Learners.

How they did:

  • Uncommon Prep's students began in fall 2014 with only 19% of students hitting proficiency benchmarks. By June, 90% of students "were at or above end-of-year benchmarks" in language arts. In math, 36% of students hit proficiency benchmarks last September; by June, "84% were proficient."
  • KIPP kindergarteners began last year with 37% hitting proficiency benchmarks in reading and ended the year at 63%. "In fact, KIPP went from having 10% of its students in the top quartile to 41% in the top quartile in reading." In math, students demonstrated similar progress, moving over the year from 25% proficiency to 68% proficiency. In the beginning of the year, 5% of KIPP kindergarteners were tin the top quartile, while at the end of the year 51% were in the top quartile.
  • At Mastery, "the average student gained significantly more than a year, and third-graders actually grew by 1.8 grade levels in a single year."

For the complete report, see here.