Archive for the ‘Stonewalling the public’ Tag

Update on Common Science Standards in Utah   2 comments

Utah’s state superintendent is unfortunately stonewalling the public on science standards.

I’ve sent my  letter  to her twice.  I’ve sent her direct twitter messages, twice.

No response.  Others report the same lack of answers.

Public stonewalling should kind of be an outrage.  Your paychecks and mine are garnished for taxes to pay Superintendent Dickson   over $300,000 per year –to serve the public.

I encourage you to continue to write to her, and call.  Here is the superintendent’s email address, the board’s address, and a few curriculum directors’ addresses:    Sydnee.dickson@schools.utah.gov   Board@schools.utah.gov  Diana.suddreth@schools.utah.gov  Rich.Nye@schools.utah.gov

We are compelled to use what the USOE/USSB put into place; our families are the public education consumers; we truly deserve transparency.

My letter  asked:  “To what degree does Utah maintain constitutional control over science education?”  and “Are we using a common core for science without public consent?”  Other people’s profoundly relevant letters, with deeper insights into the problems with NGSS common science, are posted below.

Perhaps this is the truth: maybe, as soon as Utah started buying common tests from American Institutes for Research (AIR) Utah might have forced itself to use the NGSS common science standards, since AIR writes tests for multiple, common core and common science-using states.

If that’s true, it’s a big a problem, because citizens and members of the legislature have been, on record, promised –by current and past superintendents –that Utah would not use common science standards.

The state office now has crossed off the part of the agenda that previously said “MOU  –  Various  –   Science assessment bank with other states”  and moved it, without explanation, to the finance committee for another day.  (Should we assume they are discussing paying for the common science before ok-ing it with us?)

Wendy Hart, a member of Utah’s largest school district’s school board, warned about the dangers of NGSS common science standards in a video made a few years ago, posted here.  She also gave permission to post her recent letter to the state school board.  (Below video.)

 

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January 3, 2018

Dear Finance Committee Members,

I am writing to ask two things regarding the MOU for sharing science test bank items, scheduled for tomorrow morning’s discussion.
1. Since an MOU is a formal, legally-binding document, I think it would be in the public’s best interest to view the terms of the MOU prior to discussion by the committee.  I would ask that you postpone discussion on this issue until the public has had a chance to view the actual language of the MOU and to offer comment.  I would suggest that board policy should dictate full disclosure of all contractual agreements prior to discussion, with proper notification.
2. I would also ask you to not rush into any adoption of the MOU until such time as the science standards are formally adopted for all testing grades, 3-11, and are shown to be compatible (or exactly the same as) those standards from the participating states.
What is tested is what is taught in the classroom.  David Coleman, President of the College Board and Lead Writer of the Common Core ELA standards, has said, “Teachers will teach towards the test.  There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent this…The truth is…tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePrXlPQdVDw  quote is at 1:26.  So, that means whatever those test items are, we will be teaching to them, regardless of what standards we may or may not yet have adopted.  Adopting this MOU would be a de facto adoption of the science standards most common to the states involved in the agreement.
That said, adopting what I presume to be test bank questions from other states with common science standards (arguably NGSS) would be an end run around the statutory process of standards adoption and your purview as elected officials.  I also wonder whether the parent panel would be reviewing those test bank questions as part of their charge.  If not, that would be another statutory concern.
It also seems there is a desire (I’m not sure by whom) to adopt the NGSS despite some very concrete concerns with their lack of rigor, uneven approach to body systems (completely lacking) and electric circuits and physics (almost non-existent) lack of applied mathematics in HS topics such as chemistry and physics.  I am unsure why there must be so much promotion of standards that are objectively inferior to what we have had on so many levels.  Utah’s current science standards (at least before the grade 6-8 adoption) were rated superior to NGSS by Fordham. (https://edexcellence.net/publications/final-evaluation-of-NGSS.html?v=publication)
I know many believe the opposition to NGSS is purely religious.  For me, it is purely scientific.  Our ACT science scores are better than the NGSS states who test all their juniors (and better than the national average, as well).  The math associated with physics and chemistry is currently taught and applied.  Fordham’s comment is that the NGSS “seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered.”  Also, integrated science is much more problematic than integrated math (and I promise you don’t want to get me started on what a nightmare integrated math is) since teachers don’t major in science, but in biology or chemistry or physics.
A full six months before the board received the grade 6-8 science draft, every school district in this state was given the opportunity to send representatives to a training at Weber State on the “new” science standards.  It looked as if the adoption of the NGSS was a foregone conclusion.  (And despite claims there are significant differences between SEED and NGSS, there is very little substantive difference.) After finding that out, it appeared that the public discussion and adoption was a mere formality.
This MOU signals something similar. I am not opposed to losing the debate on adopting NGSS as long as the process is done in the open, with full-disclosure, public comments, and an actual discussion of where our current science standards are lacking and how the NGSS fill that need.  I may disagree, but I am willing to concede when my position is not popular, as long as it is done in a transparent, fully-informed way.  I am opposed to putting the testing before the standards adoption and allowing the tail to wag the dog, as it were.
Please hold off on adopting the MOU for test bank items that may or may not fit with our current science standards, but will have the appearance of circumventing the standards adoption process outlined in state law and board rule.
For any of you who are interested in my concerns about the NGSS, you can read it here ( http://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2015/05/state-standards-burden-of-proof-rests.html).
As for the religious issue, I don’t think science standards should compel or repel belief one way or another.  It is not our role as public educational entities to dictate belief systems for the students in our purview.  True scientific inquiry does no such thing.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and to listen.  I would be happy to discuss this or any issue with you at any time.
If you will be attending the USBA conference, please make sure to say “hello.”
I know the time and energy that you put into serving us.  I am extremely grateful for your dedication and sacrifice on our behalf.
Sincerely,
Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
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Jakell Sullivan, a researcher and parent living in the same county that Wendy Hart and I share, wrote the following letter to the state board and superintendent:
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Dear Superintendent Dickson and State School Board,

On the State Board’s agenda tomorrow, I see Item 1:1 Science (Assessment) Item Sharing Memorandum of Understanding will be in the Finance Committee.
Can someone answer a few questions for me? They are:
1. Is this Memorandum of Understanding something that has already been signed?
2. If so, where can citizens read it, and see what this Memorandum of Understanding is costing taxpayers?
3. If not, why is this item already in the Finance Committee?
4. Were you aware that:
On its website, American Institutes for Research (AIR) makes it appear that Utah already entered into an MOU, as of August 2016, with 9 other states–to share assessment items that support Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
This is interesting because Utah is supposed to have its own, unique Science Standards. AIR lists Utah’s Science Standards’ writer, Brett Moulding–who is also a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) team lead writer–as an expert in helping them shift states into Next Generation Science Standards assessments. I note that Mr. Moulding’s organization, the Partnership for Effective Science Teaching/Learning (PESTL), received a federal grant under ESEA Title IIB (see page 5 hereand is working with 5 Utah districts to improve science teaching and learning. The National Science Teachers Association says that the 5-district collaborative supports the NGSS.
My conclusion, based on the above items, is that through AIR’s oversteps, and through federal teacher/learning grants, Utah may be ceding control of our science standards. And, that an assessments MOU with other states will ensure that reality.
I hope to hear from you about how the Board can ensure public confidence in Utah’s Science Standards and Science Assessments. Questar, Utah’s newest assessment company, was the first assessment company to meet global technology specs for interoperability of tests and test items between assessment platform vendors–as funded through Race to the Top:
This, also, appears to be an egregious overstep of state and local control over assessment content, and curriculum control, that I hope State Board members can address with each other, with legislators and the Governor’s office.
All the best, and thanks,
JaKell Sullivan
Parent – Highland, UT
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 In my next blog post,  I will respond to the question of “What’s wrong with NGSS common science?”

 

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