Heritage Foundation hosted a panel this month to inform and update the public about Common Core. The introduction by Lindsey Burke of Heritage Foundation includes her story of New Jersey homeschoolers who are being told by the state that they must conform to Common Core, even in home school. Burke also cites the rapid decline of teacher support for the Common Core, from 76% down to only 46% according to the latest poll. Enjoy.
Stanley Kurtz, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, and contributing editor, National Review Online
CEO and Founder, AccountabilityWorks
Neal McCluskey, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom, The Cato Institute
Director of Federal Relations, Home School Legal Defense Association
Williamson M. Evers
Research fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University
This is the second in a series of posts to be added by members of Utah’s Common Core SAGE test’s parent review board. Parent Molly Foster spoke out previously and is joined now by fellow mom Christine Ruiz as a SAGE parent review committee member who also wishes to set the record straight and to expose the objectionable aspects of the tests.
SAGE Parent Review Committee Member Speaks Out
By Christine Ruiz
In 2013 the Utah Legislature mandated parental review of SAGE test questions and established what is now called the SAGE Parent Review Committee. It was a response to concerns that the computer adaptive tests could include biases or agendas that are objectionable to Utah family values.
Much has been written about the committee and unfortunately some of it has been misleading. Consequently many Utah parents are misinformed about the review committee and are making decisions with that ‘bad information’; decisions that affect their children.
I am one of those committee members and I’d like to correct the record.
The statute, 53A-1-603, is vague as it relates to our duties; “…a committee consisting of 15 parents of Utah public education students to review all computer adaptive test questions.” Yep, that’s it. Talk about your nutshell.
So, here’s what we did and didn’t do.
WE DID review all questions (about 1500 each).
WE DID flag questions for a variety of reasons (grammar, typos, content, wrong answers, glitches, etc.).
WE DID sign nondisclosure statements (agreeing not to discuss specific test questions and materials).
Now the important part …
WE DID NOT ‘approve’ the test. We were neither tasked to nor qualified to approve the test in any aspect.
It has been erroneously suggested that “…we all feel comfortable with the test” in an article by the Deseret News (Nov 2013). That’s a misleading quote from only one member of the committee. That statement was actually contradicted by another member later in the same article. But it’s no surprise here; we expect that from the media.
However, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) perpetuated that myth when it plastered that same quote all over its SAGE informational brochures. We/ I expect more due diligence from USOE.
I never received a phone call to verify that I concurred and I suspect the same is true for the rest of the committee. It was either an act of deliberate deceit or jaw-dropping negligence to tell parents across the state that the Parent Review Committee gives its blanket approval of the test. Neither option comforts me in the slightest.
I shudder to think that some parents may have decided to let their children take the SAGE because ‘we’ said it’s okay. That’s on me and every other committee member that feels the same as I, and didn’t speak out sooner.
This myth and any others perpetrated in the future will no longer go unanswered by this committee member. That’s a promise.
state statute 53A‐1‐603
(a) The State Board of Education shall establish a committee consisting of 15 parents of Utah
public education students to review all computer adaptive test questions.
(b) The committee established in Subsection (8)(a) shall include the following parent members:
(i) five members appointed by the chair of the State Board of Education;
(ii) five members appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives; and
(iii) five members appointed by the president of the Senate.
(c) The State Board of Education shall provide staff support to the parent committee.
(d) The term of office of each member appointed in Subsection (8)(b) is four years.
(e) The chair of the State Board of Education, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and
the president of the Senate shall adjust the length of terms to stagger the terms of committee
members so that approximately 1/2 of the committee members are appointed every two
(f) No member may receive compensation or benefits for the member’s service on the committee.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
According to Utah law, a 15-member parent committee must be assembled to review the test questions on the Common Core SAGE test prior to the test being administered statewide.
Members of the committee now report that, contrary to what was reported by the Utah State Office of Education and the media, there was no consensus of approval on SAGE by the parent committee. Several members want to set the record straight. Here is the first of what will be a series of parental testimonies that all was not well with SAGE tests. This comes from committee member Molly Foster, with her permission.
Email from Molly Foster (written to the other members of the 15-parent committee to review SAGE test questions)
… In the spring when I was made aware of the USOE putting words in my mouth I contacted Judy Park several times, through email and phone messages to no avail until I sent a more honest email to her one day, she immediately responded. I will enclose our emailed conversation.
…The results of the SAGE test across the state were not surprising for the 5 Supers I spoke to in southern Utah. Judy Park herself told them in training that the students would fail until they got all the curriculum aligned, this could take years, and quite frankly by then they will have another mandatory program they are shoving down each district’s throat, keeping everybody busy testing instead of teaching, and most importantly nurturing human relationships within their own schools and communities… Let’s not forget that the test scores are also tied to school grades, and teacher performance pay.
As a teacher, I believe formative and summative assessing is best done at district level. An antiquated idea, I know. While our law makers spend their time passing bills with the impression they are providing a little vehicles for educators in their state to produce “college and career ready” students, even “globally” ready for life I have to laugh (in order to not cry).
Last I checked, this is America! The rest of the world is trying to come here to work and live. Remember? We have the liberty and freedom to work and educate people as we so desire. Comparing test scores to kids in Scandinavia or Singapore does nothing. Their kids in the end have no choice of whether they will pursue arts, science, technology, this is decided for them before many have even hit puberty! I love that American kids get to choose. Some may really like science through high school but when they begin college they may find a new love for the arts and find a degree in that pursuit. In America you may even decide NOT to go to college (gasp!). Isn’t this the greatest country?!
The state is not going to get rid of a 38 million dollar exam anytime in the next few years. The parent committee is nothing but a political move they will continue to use to their advantage as long as ya’ll stay quiet and polite. Best case scenario for me would be to administer it only at the end of the year, just like the old state tests.
Cut any ties it has to teacher performance pay, and school grading. If they think this is silly you should tell Judy Park and the rest of the USOE staff and all the legislators to take it themselves three times a year, tell them they will be fired if they don’t score at an appropriate global level. Tell them not to get nervous when they sit down in front of a computer for 2-4 hours a day, for 5 days, 3 times yearly. They might have to start “working to the test” but in the end it will all be worth it, I am sure they will immediately understand why this multi million dollar test is the only way to make them college and career ready. They will see how easy it is to judge their workday hours on a CAT exam, they can grade each employee and determine pay scales on their scores.
You were all a great bunch of parents and I urge you to each speak. Share your personal opinions with the parents, teachers and administrators in your communities, that is why you are there! Be honest with the USOE. Best part…..you don’t have to all have the same opinion!
But you do have the obligation to the people you represent to be their voice. Teachers and administrators cannot safely voice personal opinion. I have a lot of family members and loved ones working in Utah that need more parents to make a stand for education. Lucky for them there are some real smart, delightful people on the committee that will do just that!
Enjoy another round of tests!
Best to each of you!
I am very disturbed at what you said in a recent letter sent to districts across the state:
“There are also concerns that the test questions contain inappropriate content of a social or political nature. Every question on the SAGE assessment has been reviewed by the 15 member parent committee last fall. Every parent on the panel (including the parents that do not support the common core) agreed that there was nothing in the questions that was inappropriate.”
I am on your 15 member parent committee and you know we agreed there were questions that were inappropriate.
It is unfortunate that I have to tell people that the USOE is not a trustworthy entity. I did not intend my participation that week to be a blanket validation for your political purposes.
From Utah State Office of Education’s Dr. Judy Park to Molly Foster:
Molly, I am so sorry that you misunderstood my comments. I am regularly receiving concerns that the questions have inappropriate language and are pushing a social agenda. When we held the parent debrief panel the last day of the parent committee review, when asked if the test questions had inappropriate words or pushed a social agenda (I don’t remember exactly how it was worded), all 15 parents responded that the questions did not. There is no doubt that there were many questions that were flagged by the parent committee. I have freely shared the information you received from John Jesse that showed the number of items that were flagged by the parent committee and the resolution of those items. I am also in the process of preparing the items that were dropped from the test due to the input from the parent committee, for public release. I think it will be very helpful for any interested persons to see the actual items that have been eliminated. I have tried in all of my comments about the parent committee (written or verbal) to honor the great work of the committee and appropriately portray the views and opinions that were shared. I will try to be much more specific in the future to hopefully prevent misunderstanding.
Judy W. Park, Ed.D.
Utah State Office of Education
Student Services and Federal Programs
Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.
- Leo Tolstoy
With gratitude to Joy Pullman, whose long version of “Top Ten Things Parents Hate About Common Core” article, with photos and videos, is posted at The Federalist, I’m sharing this extremely condensed two-pager, which can be printed out as a one-pager, front to back, on neon colored paper.
Top Ten Things Parents Hate About Common Core
By Joy Pullman – Condensed from: http://thefederalist.com/2014/09/24/top-ten-things-parents-hate-about-common-core/
This is the year national Common Core tests kick in. It’s also the first year most people heard of Common Core, four years after bureaucrats signed our kids onto this complete overhaul of U.S. education. Why do 62 percent of parents think it’s a bad idea?
- The Senseless, Infuriating Math
Common Core deforms elementary math. Even simple addition takes inordinate amounts of time.
- The Lies
Common Core’s lies and half-truths include talking points essential to selling state leaders on the project, such as that Common Core is: “internationally benchmarked,” (“well, we sorta looked at what other nations do but that didn’t change anything we did”); “evidence based” (“we know there isn’t research to undergird any standards, so we just polled some people and that’s our evidence“); “college- and career-ready” (“we meant community-college ready“); “rigorous” (as long as rigorous indicates “rigid”); and “high-performing nations nationalize education” (so do low-performing nations).
- Obliterating Parent Rights
Parents are frustrated. When they go to their school boards they get disgusted looks or thumb-twiddling or worse. A New Hampshire dad was actually arrested for going over his two-minute comment limit in a local school board meeting that was packed with parents complaining about graphic-sex-filled literature assignments.
- Dirty Reading Assignments
Objectionable books on the Common Core-recommended (not mandated) reading list include called “The Bluest Eyes,” by Toni Morrison. “Make Lemonade” by Virginia Euwer Wolff, “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell, and “Dreaming in Cuban” by Cristina Garcia. There are so many excellent works of literature available that schools can’t possibly fit all the good ones in. Why does Common Core recommend trash?
- Turning Kids Into Corporate Cogs
The workforce-prep mentality of Common Core focuses on the materialistic benefits of education, and is not concerned with passing down knowledge, heritage, and morals. The workforce talk certainly tickles the ears of Common Core’s corporate supporters, but why do corporations get to dictate what kids learn?
- Data Collection and Populace Management
Common Core enables the theft of kids’ and teachers’ data, furthering businesses’ bottom lines and governments’ populace-control fantasies, at the expense of private property and self-determination.
- Common Core tests are the key instrument of data collection.
- Common Core architect David Coleman admitted special interests packaged data mining into Common Core.
- Common Core classifies enormous amounts of data, like as an enormous filing system.
- States that use federally funded Common tests have given control of collected data to private organizations which have promised the government access to kids’ data.
- Common Core and data vacuuming are philosophically aligned—they both justify themselves as solutions to problems. The goal is to use data to “seamlessly integrate” education and economy. In other words, we learned nothing from the USSR.
- Distancing Parents and Children
A recent study found that the Common Core model of education results in parents being less engaged in their kids’ education and expressing more negative attitudes about schools and government.
- Making Little Kids Cry
It’s one thing to teach a child to endure life’s suffering for a higher purpose. It’s another thing to inflict suffering on children because you’ve got a society to remake. Psychologists and teachers say Common Core inflicts poorly designed, experimental instruction and testing on children.
- The Arrogance
Imagine you’re a mom or dad whose child is sobbing at the table trying to add two-digit numbers. Then you hear your elected representatives talking about Common Core. And it’s not to offer relief. It’s to ridicule opposition to Common Core. Florida Senate President Don Gaetz said of Common Core: “They’re not some federal conspiracy.” Wisconsin state Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) told an audience state hearings on the topic were “crazy”. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) called opponents a “distract[ing]” “fringe movement.” Well-paid “experts” say parents don’t get what’s going on because this is above parents’ ability to understand.
- The Collectivism
Common Core supporters admit that several states had better curriculum requirements than Common Core. Then they say it’s still better for those states to have lowered their expectations to Common Core’s level, because that way the US has more curricular unity.
Tech companies are uber-excited about Common Core because it facilitates a nationwide, uniform market for products. But the diversity of the unregulated private market far, far outstrips the diversity of the Common Core market. That variety is one of substance, not just branding. In other words, it’s true diversity, not fake diversity. Which would you rather have: fake freedom in education, where others choose your end goal, but “let” you decide some things; or real freedom, where you pick goals and how to achieve them, and you’re the one responsible for the results? Whoops, that’s a trick question. The overlords have already picked fake freedom for us. It’s Common Core or the door, baby.
Joy Pullmann is managing editor of The Federalist and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.
I sat in the Early Life Child Psychology and Education center this week, watching Dr. Gary Thompson’s presentation about Common Core testing, thinking that Dr. Thompson is the fearless kid in the tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Dr. Thompson stands armed with honesty, science and evidence, pointing out that the Emperor of SAGE/Common Core tests is stark raving naked. All around Salt Lake City, meanwhile, people play along with the wealthy emperor, pretending that nothing’s wrong with what the whole world seems to have been paid to agree are such smashing, new –dare we call them rigorous— clothes.
What does Dr. Thompson see as he analyzes the Common Core SAGE test in its birthday suit?
He points out foremost that there is such a thing as a code of ethics for the psychological testing of children.
“Wait, wait–” says the State Office of Education– “We’re not doing psychological testing on your kids.” But this does not placate Utahns who fact check for themselves. SAGE/Common Core tests –in addition to being tests of academic subjects– are psychological tests. We know this because:
1) Utah law demands it. HB15, passed in 2012, required Utah’s public and charter schools to administer computer adaptive tests aligned with Common Core. It specified “the use of behavior indicators in assessing student performance.” Behavior indicators are not math, science or language arts data points. They are psychological data points.
2) The SAGE tests are created by Utah’s test contractor, American Institutes for Research (AIR) which is primarily “one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research organizations.” Its stated mission is “to conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation.”
3) The federal Department of Education –which shouldn’t, but does, call shots for the Utah State Office of Education– openly encourages psychological profiling of students via tests, calling it “data-driven decision making,” “a data quality campaign” and other positive-sounding terms. See any of its initiatives, reports and recommendations which do depend on/openly promote psychological profiling of children by testing.
Here’s how Dr. Thompson says that SAGE violates the code of ethics for psychological testing:
Standard 9.03 from the Ethical Principles of Psychologists states that “psychologists obtain informed consent for assessments. SAGE does not do this. The ethics for informed consent include telling the client (in SAGE’s case, the student and parents) what the nature, purpose and anticipated course of services will be; using clear language; allowing the client (student and parents) to ask questions; telling them about involvement of any third parties who may have access to the information gathered via the test; disclosing whether experimentation will be used; informing the client whether the test administrator is a trainee or fully qualified to administer psychological testing; obtaining consent in advance of recording or observing; potential risks; potential limitations; and more.
Each of these codes of conduct were broken by the USOE in implementing SAGE tests on Utah schools.
Standard 9.02 states that “Psychologists use assessment instruments whose validity and reliability have been established…when such validity or reliability has not been established, psychologists describe the strengths and limitations of test results and interpretation.”
There have been no independent validity and reliability studies done on SAGE tests, whatsoever, as Dr. Thompson pointed out. Another enormous principal of all scientific forms of testing– broken.
While it is clear that SAGE tests are psychological in nature, and that the tests do not adhere to the code of ethical conduct for psychological testing, there’s even more at stake.
Dr. Thompson pointed out that the future is very close to already here: Game-based assessment, also known as Stealth Assessments, are secret tests embedded in video games for schools that are further eclipsing parental rights and knowledge about what data is being collected while children are at school. Even teachers would not know what exactly is being collected or analyzed when stealth assessments are used in classroom settings.
In a scholarly journal entitled “District Administration” Dr. Thompson read, and shared, that now, in an attempt to lessen student stress, Gates-funded groups are telling us that video games are the education of the future. “District Administration” journal writes that because “complex thinking skills can’t be measured by traditional standardized tests, educators are turning to stealth assessments hidden in video games.” The article continues, “stealth assessments are seamless, so the distinction between learning and assessment is completely blurred. Kids are playing, they are learning, and they are being assessed all at the same time.” Further: “testing companies are working on ways to integrate formative assessments into daily instruction.” Children will be tested all of the time. How does a person opt out of that?
Dr. Thompson’s presentation also touched on many other issues of great importance. He spoke about the vulnerable populations that are forced to take Common Core SAGE tests (unless parents opt them out). These include children with any of a host of learning disabilities, children with depression and anxiety, children with autism and Asberger’s, children with historically poor test taking scores due to cultural bias in testing including African-American and Latino children, children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, children from high-stress poverty homes, children with psychotic disorders, ADHD, and dual exceptional (gifted and learning disordered) to name a few.
He shared from academic journals many ethical considerations associated with Common Core’s pushing of the very young into “rigorous” and age-inappropriate standards. He shared research he’s collected, too, about the use of children’s data for marketing purposes, (quoting from the academic journal article, “Children as Consumers.” This is relevant and troubling because the SAGE test creator, AIR, has open partnerships (and data sharing policies) with numerous corporations that have no restraint on accessing SAGE-collected student information.
Thompson further discussed harm to the brain of a child using Common Core testing practices on every type of child, and using Common Core styled math on every type of learner. He spoke of the brain’s disorganization response to Common Core-styled math pedagogy and to high-stakes tests like SAGE.
This brain-analyzing portion of the presentation must be explained in detail in a separate post. Briefly: the neurological (brain-affecting) Common Core issues raised by Dr. Thompson’s research are extremely important in light of the fact that both Bill Gates (Common Core funder) and our federal government are highly focused on studying and applying research about the neurology of children, right now. The federally approved Fattah Neuroscience Initiative, also known as the White House Neuroscience Initiative, was granted federal funds to invest in brain research and drug development, and not just to prevent Alzheimer’s. Its stated aims: “optimizing interactions between the environment and the brain across the lifespan,” “applying the brain’s information processing capabilities” and “enhancing communication among federal agencies”. Congressman Fattah wrote that he is “a major proponent of brain mapping… understand…the role of individual neurons in controlling our thoughts, movements…”. –Recall that Secretary Duncan mocked the idea that the federal government was involved in this, when it was accused of collecting student data using Common Educational Data Standards. He said, “Let’s not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping.” Yet that is exactly what the federal Fattah Neuroscience Initiative aims to do. Congressman Fattah has made it clear that brain mapping is the aim of the White House Neuroscience Initiative. Now, let’s use our brains. Who is the only huge, captive group of guinea pigs they have under their control upon whom they can do brain mapping research (call it education) for hours and hours every single day?
Dr. Thompson’s full presentation was long, and I will post it when I get a link to the film. You’ll want to see the whole presentation and discuss it with your local and state representatives on the school boards in detail. Each of the issues touched on in Dr. Thompson’s presentation deserves a chapter or a book written on it.
But to keep it simple, digestible, and close to home, let’s focus on one thing: the thing Dr. Thompson focuses on; the SAGE test. You’ll want to opt your children out of every type of SAGE test: summative (end of year), formative and interim (year round SAGE tests.)
It is the enforcer of Utah’s Common Core and the primary vehicle for massive student data collection right now. We need to get rid of it, or opt individual children –by the thousands and thousands– out of it, so that its data collectors cannot do what they aim to do, and so that Common Core experimental standards cannot take deep root in our schools, cannot dictate teacher salaries, cannot narrowly define and narrowly present what is “education” to our children.
Somebody will look out for students’ mental health, privacy, and happiness, even in this age of politically motivated high-stakes SAGE testing –and soon, in this age of stealth testing. Somebody will look out for the parents’ rights to know about and to guide psychological treatment or analysis of children. Someone will pound on the door of the USOE, the governor, and the legislators’ offices, demanding the end of SAGE tests in Utah schools, demanding answers to the questions that Dr. Thompson and other child psychologists, such as Joan Landes and Dr. Megan Koschnick (video below) have raised.
That someone is that person in your bathroom mirror or it’s nobody, because everybody’s so busy.
Legislators are busy. Teachers are busy. Board members are busy. Reporters are busy. Common Core technological implementers and teacher development conference producers are busy. Everyone is so busy being busy that the busy-ness that matters most of all— our children and our liberty-- have lost precious ground.
It is not too late.