By Sandra Stotsky
The burning education issue facing most states at the moment is which tests should they give their K-12 students next year to satisfy the conditions of their waivers from the United States Department of Education (USED) or the commitments they made in their Race to the Top (RttT) applications, whether or not they received an RttT grant or other funds from the USED or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The two testing consortia funded by the USED – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) – for the purpose of developing common tests based on Common Core’s standards have experienced dwindling state commitments. SBAC is down to less than 20, and PARCC is down to possibly 9. Both consortia have been piloting test items across the states this past academic year to acquire the pool of items needed for computer-adaptive testing (by SBAC) and for gauging difficulty levels at all the grade levels participating in the assessments (K-11).
A new twist is the question of whether state boards, commissioners, and/or departments of education committed their states (i.e., the taxpayers) to particular testing companies and future technology costs without going through statute-mandated bidding procedures and cost-benefit analyses. New Mexico and Louisiana seem to be tied up in constitutional issues on contractual matters, while Arizona is trying to ensure it follows its own statutory bidding procedures.
What hasn’t been getting much attention from mainstream media, possibly because most reporters have no children in Common Core-based classrooms and don’t talk to parents of school-age children on a regular basis, are the problems students and teachers are encountering with the tests themselves and the similarities in the problems reported for PARCC and SBAC pilot tests.
The information on PARCC’s pilot tests comes from school administrators in the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District in Massachusetts, as reported on June 18 in Wickedlocal.com. The article was based chiefly on what took place at a school board meeting in June, during which the School Committee voted unanimously to stay with MCAS, the state test, for the next academic year. At the meeting, the school administrators explained why they wanted to stay with MCAS, based on the experiences teachers and students had with the PARCC pilot tests the school district gave in the spring of 2014.
“It’s like telling our teachers, ‘We’ll teach you how to drive.’ But then the test says you won’t be driving cars. You’ll be driving boats,” said Bridgewater-Raynham school Superintendent Jacqueline Forbes of the PARCC exam. “It’s not aligning with our curriculum or instruction.”
Based on pilot testing, school officials said PARCC did not match up with Bridgewater-Raynham’s teaching methods and also contained numerous technological flaws.
“The one word I’d use to sum up our experience is ‘frustration,’” said Brian Lynch, an elementary school principal. “First, there were a lot of problems administering the test, which is taken on a computer – and the snags weren’t on the district’s end.”
“Second, the test requires students to be familiar with software programs the district does not teach,” Lynch continued. “The district uses a lot of technology, but students still take basic math tests on topics such as number lines and graphing using a paper and pencil.”
“Are we testing math or are we testing a child’s ability to drag and type?” asked Forbes. “We don’t teach typing in third grade. It’s not developmentally appropriate.”
According to high school Principal Angela Watson, the district piloted the PARCC Algebra I test to randomly selected ninth graders.
“Unfortunately, what we found is our written, taught and assessed curriculum doesn’t match up exactly with the PARCC exam. … It puts kids in unfamiliar territory,” Watsonsaid. “It would take time and resources to make the switch to a curriculum that matches up with PARCC.”
Forbes, however, said that effort might turn out to be misdirected because other districts have articulated similar concerns about the PARCC test.
Regarding SBAC’s pilot tests, a recent letter by Fairgrounds Middle School Principal John Nelson to Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad provided a disturbing picture, wrote theNashua Telegraph in late January.
New Hampshire teachers had been asked by their local superintendent of schools to take an early version of SBAC in December 2013. According to the article, the teachers said the “new computerized test is confusing, doesn’t work well, and leads to frustration.”
In his letter to members of the Nashua Board of Education, Nelson said, “Teachers shared frustrations they had when they were taking the test and disappointment in test format and the difficulties they had trying to use their computer to take this test.”
His teachers agreed the test should not be used on Nashua students.
The FMS staff collectively believe that the Smarter Balance Test is inappropriate for our students at this time and that the results from this test will not measure the academic achievement of our students; but will be a test of computer skills and students’ abilities to endure through a cumbersome task.
Despite the teachers’ plea and support from Nashua’s teacher union, Conrad, the state board, and Department of Education refused to back down, leaving Nashua’s students with a test their own teachers think is meaningless.
As in Nashua and Bridgewater-Raynham, local reporters all over the country are likely reporting what is happening in their local schools as they pilot Common Core-based tests. But Congress, state legislators, governors, and other policymakers at the state and national levels are not getting an accurate picture of what is happening to the curriculum in our public schools or to the children in them.
Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D. is Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas. This article is posted with her permission and was first published at Breitbart.com
Dr. Gary Thompson is an African American Doctor of Clinical Psychology from Utah.
He doesn’t mess around.
He recently posted the following letter, which he wrote in response to the Common Core testing company, American Institutes for Research (AIR). The letter has to be shared. If you don’t have time to read it all, here’s the toothpaste-cap-sized serving of what he’s saying:
1. A.I.R., the testing company to which Utah has written out a check for $39 million to write Common Core tests, will not answer specific, professional, focused questions and lacks the professional qualifications to do what it has set out to do.
2. Dr. Thompson says that “The continued dissemination of non-data supported conclusions of Common Core by leaders in our education community, and specifically AIR, regarding testing and privacy issues, despite receipt of well documented concerns from educational, legal and psychology experts from around the country, is nothing short of malfeasance of duty.”
3. Dr. Thompson calls for the resignation of John Jesse, Director of Assessment for the Utah State Office of Education; Brenda Hale, Associate Superintendent of Public Schools; and Debra Roberts, Chairperson for the Utah State Board of Education.
Here is the intro.
Public Response Letter to Mr. Jon Cohen – American Institutes for Research
*Note: In light of Dr. Thompson’s recent appointment to the Board of Trustees at the Utah Law & Disability Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, it must be noted for the record that his opinions are independent, and do not represent the official positions of any one Board member or employee of the Center or their affiliates.
In early March of 2013, we as concerned parents of children in public schools in Utah, wrote a detailed letter upon the request of Utah State Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove regarding our serious trepidations about privacy and testing issues surrounding the implementation of “Common Core.” In it, we expressed strongly that our children would be pulled from Utah public schools unless these concerns were addressed, or in the alternative, at least acknowledge that they were “a work in progress”.
After I accepted a national television appearance, Dr. Menlove was kind enough to invite both Mr. Flint and I into his office where the conversation started out with him sincerely asking, “What can we do to ensure that your daughter Zoey will be enrolled in a Utah public school Kindergarten?”
We described our concerns verbally, but we were asked to write down our apprehensions, as well as appropriate suggestions for changes for the Utah State Office of Education to consider implementing prior to Common Core arriving at full speed in the State of Utah.
We both spent an entire weekend drafting our 12-page letter to the Superintendent and presented an email copy to him, as well as to the entire Utah State Board of Education. Dr. Menlove was kind enough to call my home three weeks later to let me know that our concerns “were heard”, our clinic was a “wonderful asset” to the community, and he appreciated all of the hard work that we do for the children in the State of Utah.
Apparently he forwarded the letter to AIR, and AIR responded to Dr. Menlove specifically about our concerns. The original AIR letter link in response to our concerns is cited below:
http://www.schools.utah.gov/assessment/Adaptive-Assessment-System/AIR-Letter-to-Superintendent.aspx. The following is our joint response to the letter:
Here is the whole letter.
Dear Mr. Cohen:
The Utah State Office of Education was kind enough to post your rejoinder to our inquiries into possible professional practices regarding AIR on their state webpage. Both Attorney Edward D. Flint and I have reviewed your letter. We would both like to thank you in advancefor the kind tenor of your response. In our state, apparently a titanic issue with parents is whenever many of them have questioned the accuracy or efficacy of issues surrounding Common Core, they are publically branded as “right wing, conspiracy theorists wearing tin foil hats.”
We both wish to thank you for your professional tone by not dragging political or religious ideology into an issue that is purely about science, law, parental choice, and common sense. Clearly, neither Mr. Flint nor myself have ever been accused of, or confused with being “right wing nut bags.”
The vast majority of your response letter dealt with Mr. Flint’s privacy concerns. I will cut and paste Mr. Flint’s direct response in the latter parts of this letter under the section titled “Privacy Issues”.
As for the issues regarding disability and learning disorders, you devoted a grand total of exactly 74 words (compared to my to my 8 pages of written concerns) regarding issues associated with Adaptive Testing and Common Core. Here is the exact quote from your letter regarding disability issues and the Common Core:
“On a final note, Dr. Thompson expresses concern about the tests appropriately serving students with disabilities. AIR has a long history of serving students with disabilities, and we have invested in making our testing platform the most accessible possible. In addition, we always advise our clients to design tests that adhere to the principles of fair testing outlined by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities guidelines for adaptive testing, which can be found at http://www.c-c-d.org/task_forces/education/CCD_Computer_Adaptive_Testing_final.pdf ”
Here are my professional thoughts regarding your paragraph:
1. You state that you have a “long history of serving students with disabilities.”
Yet you failed to provide a single reference or smidgen of evidence that you have designed adaptive tests/assessments for children of color, gifted children, or children with specific learning disabilities that are scientifically reliable or useful. Providing data links to pilot studies of successes you have had with these, and other groups of children with “learning quirks” in regards to adaptive testing would have been the appropriate professional response to a interested “shareholder” in your corporation. Whereas my tax money is funding this $39,000,000.00 endeavor, I indeed have the strong attitude that you work for the parents of public school children in the State of Utah. Your responses along these lines lacked intellectual rigor and were disingenuous at best.
2. You stated, “we have invested in making our testing platform the most accessible possible.”
Where is the data from pilot studies that support your claim? If is only accurate “as much as possible,” then certainly you are aware that certain groups of children will most likely statistically slip through the proverbial cracks with your adaptive testing design. Who are these kids? What have you done to encourage these children from avoiding potential emotional/psychological harm from opting out of this test you are designing? Your response along these lines again lack intellectual rigor and again was professionally affronting to me.
3. You stated in the paragraph, “we always advise our clients to design tests that adhere to the principles of fair testing….”.
Who in UTAH is designing this new adaptive common core test? What qualifications does this person have? I assume that Mr. John Jesse, Director of Assessment for the Utah State Office of Education, is not this person, whereas he does not have the training or experience to design such a complex, adaptive test for every public school child in the entire State of Utah.
If someone was found in our State to design this test, please tell me why a $39,000,000.00 check was written out to your company to design this test? Your attempt to conceptualize Utah as “design partner” is either a direct lie, or a mistake on your part. For $39,000,000.00, Utah taxpayers and parents expect a certain degree of honesty and/or accuracy from a company that is designing the most important test in the history of our state.
4. Speaking of accuracy, you referred us to link via this sentence:
“In addition, we always advise our clients to design tests that adhere to the principles of fair testing outlined by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities guidelines for adaptive testing,which can be found at http://www.c-c-d.org/task_forces/education/CCD_Computer_Adaptive_Testing_final.pdf. ”
The link in the letter you drafted and posted to the entire State of Utah to view as evidence of your concern for children with disabilities in Utah was THE CATALINA ISLAND CONSERVANCY.
I simply am speechless.
As far as the Washington D.C. based, non-profit special interestgroup, “Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities” is concerned, the guidelines on their webpage are bereft of any references towards specific practices regarding at risk children and adaptive testing. This may have something to do with the fact that it appears that absolutely none of their Board of Directors has any type of formal, graduate school level education or clinical training experience with children displaying disabilities in assessment settings. I could go on for days regarding my concerns about CCD, but time is a limiting factor.
In addition, you also failed to detail how AIR works specifically with CCD as such might concern the development of the pending $39,000,000.00 Utah adaptive test. How often have your test designers consulted with CDC? What specific advice did the CDC give you concerning our unique population of children? Did the CDC make your aware that Utah has the highest number of children diagnosed with Autism in the entire United States?
If so, what specific professional guidance did the CDC give to AIR in regards to designing test for children with Autism? Would you be so kind to share this information with my fellow parents in the State of Utah?
I will not rehash the vast majority of my concerns to you again. I do believe you have a copy of our last letter. In that letter I provided multiple avenues by which AIR and the Utah State Department of Education can alleviate our “paranoia” by at least considering the implementation of several transparency features into your $39,000,000.00 contract with the citizens and parents of the State of Utah.
Let me refresh your memory with a few nuggets of change to consider from our previous letter:
1. “Anyone who states that AIR does not have the capacity to input selected variables that measure “behavioral characteristics”, along with variables that measure language arts, science or math is sorely misguided. It would be relatively “easy” to design a language adaptive test that has behavioral characteristics embedded into the design of the test.”
2. “Someone, independent of AIR, MUST have access to every single item on the tests being designed in order to insure and that absolutely ZERO behavioral indicators are being measured on tests that parents in Utah believe are only measuring “reading, writing and arithmetic”.
3. “A truly independent review by three independent, Board Certified, joint Ph.D. level psychometricians and licensed clinical psychologist, of all of the test items developed by AIR to ensure that there are no line item variables that could be reasonable utilized to measure“behavioral characteristics” as such may be defined by the American Psychological Association, or Journals published by this group.”
4. Implying, as was done in the USOE Alpine Town Hall Meeting, that any disability group in the country has approved a test (that has not yet to be designed) for the valid use with these populations, is disingenuous at the very least, or a flat out, deliberate misrepresentation to the parents of Utah (and the rest of the country) at worst.
5. An “opt out option” for children with disabilities until data of validity and efficacy is published and disseminated to the public, which ensures fair and accurate measurement of academic achievement.
Your letter failed to even acknowledge reflection of these common sense suggestions and protections for our $39,000,000.00 investment with AIR.
Per se, as far as your response to our clinic’s concerns that were outlined to Superintendent Menlove, I find it to be nothing but a piece of disingenuous public relations rubbish that is affronting in its lack of clarity and references. In a nutshell, you have asked the entire State of Utah to simply “trust you.”
Perhaps you have not spent any recent time in our great state. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the vast majority of Utah citizens have become a little queasy regarding believing authority figures in politics and business regarding positions of fiduciary and moral trust. Common Core, good or bad, is undisputedly the largest experiment of academic and assessment change in the history of our country. With such a grand experiment, the word “trust” should never be uttered.
I strongly suggest that both AIR and the Utah State Office of Education step up to the plate with some real answers, as opposed to the public relations fluff that we as parents are tired of digesting. Your joint, continued efforts of quasi-deception by proxy might incite this highly intelligent, bi-partisan, independent group of Utah parents to descend 10,000 strong to have their voices heard on the steps of our Capitol. Outsiders may make fun of our dominant culture, may laugh regarding our Utah Jazz, however we draw the line where it comes to the health and safety of our children. Our children will not become your psychological and academic guinea pigs without reasonable pilot-study data, specific to our unique population of children and teenagers.
The vast majority of your letter was in response to attorney Flint’s concerns regarding data mining and related privacy issues. The following is a direct quote from Mr. Flint that I received this morning after he reviewed your letter to Dr. Menlove:
“AIR responds to our concerns about privacy, misuse of data and the protection of the database by re-stating that their contract precludes misuse or dissemination and would violate existing laws. I think we can all agree on that, however, it completely fails to answer the questions posed.
For example, in my letter to Superintendent Menlove, I cited a number of instances where both governmental and private agencies have lost or misplaced data while transferring it via flash drive, and the numerous instances of professional hackers obtaining the most sensitive and private information from medical and other databases.
The government agencies and companies that were “victims,” were also all required by law and contract to not disclose, disseminate or negligently lose the data, and to have sufficient firewall and other protections against hackers. They failed. Miserably.
AIR is in no better position than the dedicated public servants who have utterly failed us on a regular basis. They ignore the new 21st Century realities of data-mining and the veracity of how valuable data is sought after by many organizations for many, including nefarious, purposes. AIR dangerously skips past my concerns for the numerous exemptions to obtaining parental written consent, such as “academic surveys” or the oft-repeated abuses now being reported in other states that have implemented Common Core.
Like the Utah State Office of Education, they simply say “trust us, we’re professionals.” What they really mean is “screw you, we’re in charge here.”
It appears off hand that you failed to impress a trial lawyer with 26 years of litigation experience, as well as a father of a young son with Asperger’s Disorder.
The repeated refusal of education leaders in positions of trust to responsibly address privacy and testing concerns (as well as other well documented concerns regarding curriculum development) surrounding Common Core may ultimately result in potential academic and emotional harm to a significant portion of Utah’s public school children. The repeated refusal to even responsibly acknowledge the very possibility of potential harm to children in our communities borders on delusional thought processes.
The continued dissemination of non-data supported conclusions of Common Core by leaders in our education community, and specifically AIR, regarding testing and privacy issues, despite receipt of well documented concerns from educational, legal and psychology experts from around the country, is nothing short of malfeasance of duty.
In plain terms, you are experimenting with our children without our consent. Such actions are not acceptable to any parent in the State of Utah, regardless of political or religious affiliations. It’s time for some “new perspectives” to be heard in various education circles.
As such, I would deferentially request that Mr. John Jesse, Director of Assessment for the Utah State Office of Education; Ms. Brenda Hale, Associate Superintendent of Public Schools; and Ms. Debra Roberts, Chairperson for the Utah State Board of Education resign from their respective professional and/or political duties prior to the commencement of the 2013-2014 public school academic year.
(Superintendent Menlove is new to the political jungles associated with Utah, and appears to be making an active effort in trying to wrap his head around the massive changes he inherited from Washington D.C. and his predecessor. In addition, I believe that he is a man of integrity.)
As an alternative to resignations of the above named parties, I would respectfully request that both the Utah State Office of Education, as well as the Utah State School Board, discuss and objectively educate parents via their respective official websites regarding areas of Common Core that have not been vetted in a reasonable and proper manner via pilot studies (e.g.,testing issues), as well as acknowledge that potential exists for the misuse of private “educational” data. This new transparency and intellectual honesty will result in allowing parents to make individual decisions regarding either opting out of Common Core, or making arrangements for alternative educational instruction for their respective children.
Mr. Cohen, your role at AIR will be key to ensuring that USOE honors our request for more in-depth, and objective scientific and legal transparency, as well as building bridges of trust between you and the community of citizens who are paying for your services. I think I speak for and in behalf of tens of thousands of Utah parents who believe that trust must be earned when it comes to the process and execution of educating our children. The days of signing “blank checks of trust” are done in our state…especially when such involves $39,000,000.00 and our children.
This is all very simple: Prove your claims with scientifically reliable pilot data, or in the alternative, acknowledge potential deficits in a clear and concise manner so that parents, who are the true experts of their children, can make decisions regarding their unique kids and their continued involvement (or not) in Common Core.
One size does not fit all.
Gary Thompson, Psy.D.
Edward D. Flint, Attorney at Law
- Dr. Thompson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mr. Flint can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
Dr. Thompson’s appearance on The Blaze t.v. show with Glenn Beck is highlighted below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NjqOBEc3HU
The Greatest Assessments in the U.S.A.
(and other such nonsense)
guest post by Alyson Williams
During the first public meeting on anything Common Core related in Nebo School District it probably should not have come as a surprise to the USOE that there might be a number of intensely inquisitive or disenfranchised parents in attendance… or that their questions might extend beyond the bells and whistles of the new testing software that was being introduced.
This is, after all, part of a broader reform that was set in motion when former Governor Huntsman and Superintendent Harrington signed a Memorandum of Agreement to participate in the National Governor Association’s Common Core State Standards Initiative in the spring of 2009.
Mr. John Jesse, the Assessment Director for the USOE must have felt like he’d been fed to the wolves… or more accurately to bears of the mama and papa variety.
Perhaps feeling caught off guard by the unusual and poorly communicated standards adoption process that required this initial agreement of participation before the standards were even written (recently re-framed by the State School Board as an “exploratory” phase minus the ability to explore), parents were understandably critical of Mr. Jesse’s emphatic claim that these tests were the “best in the United States” and that Utah was a shining example to the rest of the country of all things assessment.
“But, you said these particular assessments haven’t even been written yet, or piloted anywhere, right?” one mother clarified in an attempt to point out the glaring credibility gap of showing the timeline of implementation that is just beginning while at the same time making this emphatic claim.
There were so many questions a decision was made to have parents write their questions on a white board, to be answered at the end, in order to allow Mr. Jesse to complete his presentation (or even complete a sentence) with some coherence.
The introduction to the testing company that Utah has contracted with included the disclaimer, or justification, that a company can be involved with a variety of projects or seek certain societal outcomes that one does not agree with, but it is still okay to use their products that are unrelated.
This was likely intended to pacify or pre-empt concerns about the mission of the testing company, American Institutes of Research (AIR), to promote global values as key supporters of the Clinton Global Initiative, or with their work on issues of mental health and sexuality as applied to children.
In other words, as long as the tests themselves meet the need, it shouldn’t matter that Utah tax payers are giving $39 million to a company whose mission they would not otherwise support.
The main advantages of this software, according to Mr. Jesse, are features to accommodate special needs, i.e. hearing or vision impaired, that it is adaptive (questions each student sees are determined in real time based on previous response) and that the results are instantly available.
He also touted the optional, formative assessment capability that is basically the ability to administer both mini-tests and mini-curriculum from an open source curriculum library that has been developed by AIR and comes pre-loaded with the system. After being pressed on the issue, Mr. Jesse confirmed that student activity while using the formative system is tracked.
A number of teachers attended the meeting as well, and one had to wonder what was going through their minds as Mr. Jesse pointed out at least three times that these tests were not high-stakes tests for children but that they were high-stakes tests for teachers and for schools. (A reference to a law passed in 2012 linking teacher pay and school grading to tests.)
What might an experienced teacher’s reaction be to his explanation of how, with the help of precise statistical analysis by a computer, a teacher could really know if a student was struggling or excelling?
Is there research that substantiates the claim that student-teacher interactions are enhanced and not disrupted by certain applications of technology? This would seem an important reference to offer along with this particular assertion. So often in education assumptions that seem sound based on anecdotal observations have unexpected outcomes or unanticipated side effects.
Mr. Jesse did not touch on the aspect of the tests that might be considered the specialty of AIR, the integration of psychometric predictors – a science that requires far more scrutiny when applied to statewide assessments because of its powerful ability, in combination with statistical data mashing enhanced by the existence of interoperable State Longitudinal Data Systems, to profile individuals and assess “dispositions” without it being apparent in the questions or content of the assessment itself.
Utah Child Psychiatrist Dr. Gary T. Thompson has publicly expressed that parents and students deserve a more thorough explanation of how this science will be applied in these assessments. http://www.earlylifepsych.com/common-core-note-to-the-community/
He, along with Edward D. Flint Esq. Special Education Attorney at Law, issued the following assertion as part of a longer article addressing this topic:
“Someone, independent of AIR, MUST have access to every single item on the tests being designed in order to insure that absolutely ZERO behavioral indicators are being measured on tests that parents in Utah believe are only measuring “reading, writing and arithmetic.”
As the question portion of the meeting began, Mr. Jesse reiterated his focus on assessments and his inability to answer unrelated questions. He took a head count of parents who expressed concern over the broader reforms related to the Common Core State Standards with the promise to report this to the USOE along with a request that there be another forum in the future for questions to be answered on a broader range of topics.
In response to the concerns related to content and the inaccessibility of the test questions to parents, or regarding the “use of behavioral indicators” (as specified in the section of 2012’s House Bill 115 governing computer adaptive testing) Mr. Jesse said that there would be nothing objectionable in the tests and that the audience should take his word for it, challenging those present to check his references if there were any doubts about his credibility.
This ironically was the straw that, in light of the circumstances already mentioned, broke the proverbial camel’s back in terms of credibility. “Trust me,” is not a phrase that any parent in the state wants to hear from anyone involved in the implementation of any aspect of Common Core right now… nor should it be sufficient regardless of the circumstances when it comes to a parent’s right to vet any program to which their child will be subjected.
As the tone of the meeting further devolved, insults and accusations of misinformation were exchanged leading to an abrupt end to the Q&A.
Mr. Jesse was admittedly put in a tough situation, and the meeting by any account was a disaster.
An informal survey of sentiment afterward garnered reactions that ranged from disappointment over the tone of both presenter and attendees in their remarks, to surprise that the audience had not been even more insistent that answers have some verifiable basis other than the word of the person whose job it is to promote the project.