Archive for the ‘Massachusetts Education’ Tag

Dr. Stotsky Exposes MA Supreme Court’s Stopping of Voters From Opportunity to Repeal Common Core   1 comment

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, published with permission from the author;

article was originally published July 8, 2016 at New Boston Post.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky

       Dr. Sandra Stotsky

 

Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts stopped voters from weighing in on a citizen-backed initiative to repeal Common Core.

In her opinion, Chief Justice Margot Botsford blocked on a technicality the petition to let voters decide whether to keep Common Core or revert to the state’s own educational standards. Her reasoning? The measure, she wrote, was unconstitutional because the portion of the ballot question that required the state to release used test items is unrelated to the transparency of state tests.

Got that? Justice Botsford thinks that release of used test items is unrelated to the transparency of state tests and standards as a matter of coherent public policy.

It was an oddly-reasoned decision since any classroom teacher in Massachusetts could have told her that the annual release of all used MCAS test items in the Bay State, from 1998 to 2007, was clearly related to the transparency of the state tests and very useful to classroom teachers. Among other things, the information allowed teachers to find out exactly what students in their classes did or did not do well and to improve their teaching skills for the next year’s cohort of students.

Botsford could have asked test experts as well. Any test expert would also have told her that the transparency of an assessment begins with an examination of the test items on it, followed up first by the names and positions of the experts who vetted the items on all tests at each grade level, and then by information on how the pass/fail scores for each performance level were determined, and the names and positions of those who determined them.

Botsford could also have found out from the testimony of those involved with the state’s tests from 1998 to 2007 that the cost of replacing released test items is negligible. It is not clear if her unsupported belief that there is a high cost for replacing released test items was what led her to conclude that the petition addressed matters that were unrelated to each other. As Botsford indicated in her ruling, “the goal of the petition…

… comes with a significant price tag: as the Attorney General agreed in oral argument before this court, implementing section 4 will require the development and creation of a completely new comprehensive diagnostic test every year, which means a substantial increase in annual expense for the board — an expense to be borne by taxpayers and to be weighed by voters in determining whether increased transparency is worth the cost.

In 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey certified the petition for placement on the November 2016 election ballot. But the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) was not content to let the democratic process play out, so they brought a lawsuit — seemingly paid for by grants to the MBAE from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — to stop the matter from ever reaching the voters.

Both Botsford’s decision that the petition was unconstitutional and the unanimous agreement by the other justices as part of a “full court” session are puzzling, given the thorough review the petition had received from the Attorney General’s office. Here is how one of the pro bono lawyers who wrote the petition for the organization collecting signatures to place it on the November 2016 ballot described the vetting process to me (in a personal e-mail):

The process for an initiative petition has a series of check points. The initial draft is reviewed by the staff in the Government Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). They look at the proposal to identify whether the proposal meets the threshold of the Constitutional requirements. The Government Bureau is made up of the best attorneys in state government. This review raised no flags.

After the collection of the signatures and submission to the AGO, the language is published and offered for public comment. It was at this point (in 2015) that the MBAE weighed in and opposed the petition (in a Memorandum of Opposition), using arguments that were dismissed by the AGO but that were later used in 2016 with the Supreme Judicial Court (as part of the MBAE’s lawsuit). In 2015, the review includes the staff attorney who oversees the petitions, the chief of the Government Bureau, the chief of the Executive Office (the policy-making administrative part of the AGO) and the Attorney General herself. This is a strictly legal discussion on the merits. … In my opinion, she decided it on the legal issues alone. And she and her staff decided that the petition passed the Constitutional requirements.

Now there can be legitimate differences on legal issues. But we structured the petition with the advice of a former U.S. attorney and his staff at his law firm. We passed several reviews at the Attorney General’s Office, including a contested review. The AGO’s brief on behalf of the petition was strong.

We had a petition that was complete, parrying threats that would have undermined the repeal of Common Core. The Attorney General understood that and supported our desire to bring it before the public.

To date, the parent organization that collected about 100,000 signatures for the petition has received no explanation from the lawyers who wrote the petition for them about why there was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Judicial Court that the petition was unconstitutional (on the grounds that there was a lack of connection among its sections, even though all the sections were in the original statute passed by the state legislature in 1993—a statute that was never criticized as incoherent). Nor has there been any word from the Attorney General’s office.

By preventing the voters from having their say, the Massachusetts court did a disservice not only to our public schools – which were better off under Massachusetts’ own rigorous academic standards — but even more to the institution of democracy itself.

 

Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.

Dr. Stotsky: How to Maintain the Massachusetts Education Miracle   Leave a comment

        

   

by Dr. Sandra Stotsky

Not by using Common Core-based standards and tests, for sure, or anything that looks like them.  As anyone can see, the English language arts and mathematics standards dumped by the Governor Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July 2010 are nothing like Common Core’s standards. Unlike Common Core’s standards, which are not designed to prepare American high school students for authentic college coursework, the Commonwealth’s previous standards accelerated the academic achievement of minority groups in the state and did prepare our grade 10 students for authentic college coursework.  Yet, Massachusetts parents, legislators, and teachers have been regularly told for five years that standards cleverly labeled “college and career ready” are better than those they replaced because the old ones didn’t prepare our students for authentic college coursework, just for a high school diploma.  The facts tell otherwise.

 

We know that achievement on the grade 10 MCAS was related to authentic college readiness from a report relating our high school students’ performance on their grade 10 MCAS to the type of public college they enrolled in after graduation in 2005 and the extent of remedial coursework they needed.* Almost all the students at the Advanced level and about 80% of the students at the Proficient level who had enrolled in four-year public colleges and universities in the Bay State in 2005 needed no remediation in mathematics or reading.  They were college-ready as well as high-school diploma-ready, whether or not they took a mathematics course in their senior year of high school (which the report doesn’t tell us).  That is exactly the way the system should work.

 

On the other hand, about half of the 2005 high school graduating students who had enrolled in a Massachusetts community college in 2005 and had earlier been placed at the Needs Improvement level on a grade 10 MCAS test needed remediation in mathematics, reading, or both.  (Again, we don’t know if they had taken a mathematics course in their senior year of high school.)  Sounds completely rational.

 

Yet, the Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decided in July 2010 that students enrolling in a state college after graduation from high school should not be required to take any college course without college credit if they passed a grade 11 test deeming them “college ready.”   In other words, no placement test or enrollment in a non-credit-bearing developmental course in reading or mathematics.  Instead, students needing improvement must be given credit for the courses they take, whether or not they are academically ready for them.

 

Clearly, their readiness depends on the academic quality and rigor of this grade 11 “college readiness” test, about to be given in Massachusetts high schools in 2015.  Yet, we know from many mathematicians (e.g., R. James Milgram of Stanford, Marina Ratner of Berkeley, Jason Zimba of Bennington) that Common Core’s mathematics standards do not prepare students for STEM careers—the jobs of the 21st century.  And it is obvious to anyone who compares the reading passages used over the years on the grade 10 MCAS with the sample reading passages for the grade 11 Common Core-based reading test that the overall reading level of the passages on the latter test is not higher than the overall reading level of the passages on the grade 10 MCAS test.

 

So who are the chief victims of this gross public deception?  Minority students, especially African-American students.** They are the students for whom Common Core’s standards and tests were created in order to label them college-ready when they aren’t. In the 2005 report, they were featured as having lower “persistence” rates than most other demographic groups, as having a lower Grade Point Average than Asian/Pacific Islanders (2.5 to 2.8), and as earning a lower number of credits on average during their first year of college than Asian/Pacific Islanders (22.7 to 27.1), even though more than 80% of all students in the 2005 school-to-college cohort remained enrolled for a second year of college in 2006.

 

Instead of finding commendations for their persistence and their college-going rates, readers are left to infer that they are so hopeless that the only solution to the “gaps” in demographic performance between African-American students and Asian/Pacific Islanders is to reduce the academic demands of the high school curriculum for all students. Why not restore the standards that actually turned out to help make all Massachusetts students better prepared for high school and for college?  Why do Massachusetts legislators and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education want to believe what they have been told by organizations funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when these organizations seem to be the only ones who have benefitted from states that have committed to the use of Common Core’s standards.

 

*Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and Massachusetts Board of Education. Massachusetts School-to-College Report: High School Class of 2005. February 2008. http://www.mass.edu/reports

 

** http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/

 

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For more by Dr. Stotsky on this, read this Pioneer Institute article.

For more on the Massachusetts education miracle, read this article.

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