Thursday, August 21, 2014

Common Core Losing Teacher Support

Peter Greene of the blog Curmudgucation explains why teachers no longer love the Common Core. Here are some of the main points made by teachers who have had a chance to really study the CCSS up close and personal.

 Why Did the Core Have a Bad Year?

Today's big headline from the new Education Next poll is "Teachers No Longer Love CCSS."

Support for the Core among teachers dropped like a stone, from 76% in 2013 to 46% in 2014. That's a lot of love lost. Now, as we move from the "Holy schneikies!" phase into the "Got some splainin' to do" phase, we'll start to ask the big question.


Here is what one teacher wrote:

Let's think back to May of 2013. Personally, I'm a fine example of what teachers were like at that point. I didn't know a lot about the Core, and what I did know didn't sound all that bad. As far as I'd heard, a bunch of important people had called together a bunch of teachers to write some standards that could be used across the country to bring a little coherence to the higgledy-piggledy crazy-quilt that is US education. I'm not really a fan of national standards, but as long as they came from educational experts and were largely voluntary, it couldn't hurt to look at them. Heck, if you had asked me in May of 2013 if I supported the Common Core standards, I might very well have said yes. And though there were teachers out there who had already caught on, there were plenty of teachers like me who were perfectly willing to give the whole business a shot.

So how did the reformsters lose all those hearts and minds?

I think it's a measure of how detailed and painstaking and inch-by-inch this massive debate has been that it's easy to lose track of the big picture, the many massively boneheaded things that CCSS supporters did along the way. Let's reminisce about how so many teachers were turned off.

The lying.

Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they've stopped saying that? Because it's a lie, and at this point, most everybody knows it's a lie. The "significant" teacher input, the basis in solid research-- all lies. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn't and they have to switch to, "Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor's office"-- it just reduces your faith in the product.

The Involuntariness

In many places, it took a while for it to sink in-- "You mean we're not actually allowed to change ANY of it, and we can only add 15%??!!"

It quickly became clear-- this was not a reform where we would all sit around a table at our own schools and decide how to best to adapt and implement to suit our own students. Session by session, we were sent off to trainings where some combination of state bureaucrats and hired consultants would tell us how it was going to be. We were not being sent off to discuss or contribute our own professional expertise; we were being sent to get our marching orders, which very often even our own administrators were not "important" enough to give us (or understand).

Shut up.

Particularly in the latter half of 2013, we all heard this a lot. Phrased in diplomatic language, of course, but on the state and federal level we were told repeatedly that this was not a discussion, that our input was neither needed nor wanted, and that if we were going to raise any sorts of questions, we should just forget about it.

This was particularly true for public schools. After all, the narrative went, public schools were failing and covering it up by lying to students and their parents about how well they were doing. It became increasingly clear that the Common Core were not meant to help us, but to rescue America's children from us. "Just shut up and sit down," said CCSS boosters with a sneer. "You've done enough damage already."

The slander.

Arne Duncan told newspaper editors to paint core opponents as misguided and misinformed. Then he portrayed objectors as whiny white suburban moms. Opposition to CCSS was repeatedly portrayed as coming strictly from the tin hat wing of the Tea Party. If you opened your mouth to say something bad about the Core, you were immediately tagged a right-wing crank. There was no recognition that any complaint about any portion of the Core could possibly be legitimate. It had to be politically motivated or the result of ignorance.

The Money.

The longer the year went on, the more it seemed that every single advocate for the Core was being paid for it. I've been wading into this for a while, and I'll be damned if I can name a single solitary actual grass-roots group advocating for the Core. Instead, we find a sea of groups all swimming in the same money from the same sources.

And at the school level, we also see lots of money-- all of it outbound. Suddenly, with Common Core, there's a long list of things that have to be bought. Can't get new books-- we have to buy computers to take the PARCC. And let's watch a parade of consultants, all making more money than we are, come in and tell us how to do our jobs.

The child abuse.

Many of us just finished our first year of Core-aligned curriculum, and in many cases it was awful. We were required to force students to operate at or beyond frustration level day after day. We watched school stamp out the spirit of the smallest students, whose defining characteristic is that they love everything, including school. While CCSS boosters were off sipping lattes in nice offices, we were there at ground zero watching 180 days of exactly how this reform affected real, live students.

The testing.

You keep saying that the tests are separate from the CCSS. We keep telling you that there is no daylight visible between them here on the ground.

The plan for failure.

There was a moment, even a day for the strong-hearted, where it looked like the Obama administration was going to release us from the educational malpractice that is NCLB. But no-- it soon became clear that we were still trapped in the same terrible movie. Our fates would still be linked to high stakes tests, just in more complicated and stupid ways. You did not have to be terribly cynical to conclude that the goal was for public schools to fail, so that reformsters could "rescue" the students "trapped" in "failing schools."

The backpedaling

As support has crumbled, Core boosters have retracted some of their pronouncements. "We have to build the airplane as we fly it" becomes "we have to take our time and fix these implementation problems." This has the effect of confirming what we suspected-- that they didn't really know what they were doing in the first place.

The implementation dodge was particularly telling. Teachers have heard "That resource/program/widget will work great. You're just using it wrong" a gazillion times. It translates roughly as "This won't help you complete that task, but if you do some other task, it might be useful."

But the thing about CCSS implementation is that Core boosters got to everything that they said they wanted to. So if the implementation messed things up that either means 1) they don't know what they're talking about or 2) the Core really are that bad.

Location location location.

Politicians have understood for at least several decades that you can convince people if you lie deliberately and sincerely, but sometimes (like this one) they forget an important detail. It is easy to lie to people about what is happening in a faraway place like Iran or Siberia. It is much harder to pull off lies about what is going on right in front of their faces.

Core boosters can tell stories all day about what's happening on the business end of their pride and joy, but teachers are actually at ground zero, and they have eyes and ears and brains and professional judgment.

This was a big field test year for CCSS as it spread into more schools than ever before. The drop in teacher support is one more clear indicator that, in the latest phase of rollout, the Core is failing. And as more and more teachers become entangled in this mess of botched national standards, things are only going to get worse. The Core lost support for the same reason that liver seems like a great thing to eat until you actually take a bite of it.

In short, I believe the Core lost teacher support because so many teachers spent the year face to face with it, looking it right in its beady little eyes. They don't love it because they know it so well. I'm willing to bet that by next May, when it's survey time again, the Core is not going to be awash in a new wave of teacher love.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

LEAP Scores Manipulated

Public Records Request Reveals Significant Lowering of the 2014 LEAP Passing Requirement

On June 10 of this year, following release of the 2014 LEAP test scores, I filed a public records request to Superintendent John White as custodian of public records for the LDOE in an effort to find out how student passing scores were determined for the new Common Core aligned tests given this Spring. This press release from the LDOE had claimed that even though the new Common Core partially aligned tests were more difficult, the percentage of students passing the test (students who scored at the basic or above level) had remained steady.

After more than 2 months of stalling by the LDOE, I received an email from Barry Landry of the LDOE on August 14 providing me with the minimum percentage scores needed for students to pass the ELA and math portions of the 2014 LEAP test for 4th and 8th grades compared to previous years. The LDOE has still not provided me with the cut percentages for the mastery ratings I requested. Coincidentally, my lawsuit on this violation of the public records law was also filed Thursday, August 14. It is my hope that the court will order John White to also produce the minimum percentage results for the mastery level rating. The press release referred to above announced that more students were achieving a level of mastery in ELA and math than the year before. I am anxious to examine the basis for that alleged improvement. Meanwhile, the suspicions expressed in my post of July 27, have been confirmed.

It turns out that the number of correct answers required for a passing score (or a level of basic) was significantly reduced for three out of four categories of the LEAP high stakes testing. Once one knows how the passing scores are routinely manipulated it's no surprise that the percentage of students scoring basic or above remained steady. The test grading scale for LEAP was adjusted or "equated" (to use the lingo of testing experts), apparently to make certain that the perceived performance of students on the new Common Core aligned tests remained steady.

For example, in 2013, 4th grade students taking the ELA test needed to get 51.54% of the answers correct in order to get a scale score of 301 for a level of basic, but in 2014, after the annual "equating of test forms", students only needed to get 44.62% of the answers correct in order to get the minimum scale score of 301 needed for the level of basic.  So the members of general public who don't know the obscure workings of the testing industry, were given the impression that students did just as well on a harder test. But this only happened because students got a rating of basic on the 2014 ELA test by answering fewer questions right. The excuse used by the LDOE and the testing company for lowering the percent of correct answers needed is that since this year's test was harder, an equating calculation was applied which resulted in a lower percent of correct answers needed for passing. Okay, we get the picture. But you can't have it both ways. If you lowered the cut percentage score to adjust for the harder test, then you can't claim that the students performed just as well on the more difficult test!

There is another issue here in setting these cut scores in this manner that begins to strain credibility. It is well known that on a multiple choice test with 4 choices, a student who knows absolutely nothing can get 25% correct answers just by guessing. Teachers who prepare these kids for their tests advise them to guess at any questions they do not know so as to maximize their score. But the lower the equated cut percentage gets, the more that guessing can figure into the passing score. For example on this ELA example above, Herb Bassett (a highly qualified math teacher), calculates that a student could pass on the average by just really knowing only 26.2% of the material and getting the rest of his right answers by guessing. So is this where the new Common Core standards are taking us? Is it really a rigorous standard when a student can get a passing score in English Language Arts by knowing only 26% of the material.

Here is the table supplied by the LDOE as a result of my public records request:
Percentage of Total Raw Score Points Required to Earn “Basic”
Social Studies

Notice that for 4th grade ELA, 4th grade Math, and 8th grade Math, there was a significant lowering of the percentage of correct answers needed to get a rating of basic. The Science and Social Studies percentages were changed very little from 2013 to 2014.

Would you like to know why such a high percentage of our students (64%) were able to reach the level of Basic this year on a more difficult 8th grade Math test? Herb Bassett calculates that using the same method of guessing described above, 8th grade students this year on the average would need to know only 20.2% of the math material on the test to reach the level of Basic.

John White has said he is certain that our student test scores will improve steadily as Common Core is implemented in the next few years in Louisiana. I wonder how he knows that? Readers this is a test of your critical thinking skills. How do you think John White knows that our percentage of basic and mastery level students will go up in the next few years? Please send me your comments on this.

Here is a post recommended by Diane Ravitch about how the New York testing scores are being manipulated.  Do you get the feeling, as I do, that we are all being taken for a ride by the con men of the testing industry and our "Rainmaker" superintendent borrowed from New York?  Is there any validity to the claim that the new Common Core tests are more "rigorous" than the old standards if the testing company systematically lowers the cut score percentages to a level so low that students can come close to passing by guessing?

We know only one thing for sure about adopting new standards and this constant testing and "test equating". As long as we allow our children's education to remain in the grip of the testing companies and the corporate reformers, those companies will continue to make millions off of our students and taxpayers.