Archive for the ‘Testimony’ Tag

Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s June 2015 Testimony at Bridgewater State University – Public Hearing   16 comments

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Before I post Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s most recent testimony, I will tell you why I am a devoted fan of Dr. Stotsky and why I’m a tomato-thrower at the Common Core version of English Language Arts.

Despite its charming claims, Common Core deforms –not reforms– the English classroom.

Common Core stifles the joy of learning by limiting students’ exposure to imaginative literature, limiting students’ practice of imaginative writing, and pushing students toward utilitarian readings and informational writings.

It also closes what used to be a wide door to the treasure trove of the classics– now the trove is shut, to only a crack.  By their senior year in virtually every high school across this land, American students are only allowed to have 30% of their readings be imaginative or classical readings; 70% is “informational text” under Common Core.  It’s frankly stupid.  But why?

Why the change in focus?

Here’s a clue. Common Core standards were drawn up primarily by a businessman, David Coleman, at Achieve Incorporated.  This workforce and business-eye’s-view explains why Common Core standards focus on language as business, not as heritage. It may explain why Common Core’s centerpiece is imagination-less,  with a focus on teaching impersonal, non-narrative, (aka boring) writing skills.  It may explain why tests aligned to Coleman’s standards invite students to write only from narrow selections of pre-cut opinion samples.

Of course, getting a job is one facet of education; but the Common Core’s dogged focus on that alone, on making individuals into state-inventoried human capital whose purpose is to get skills and get to work, comes at high cost.  One of the costs is literature.

Common Core’s ravishing of proper English education, and its focus on utilitarian, workforce-centric skills above actual literary knowledge, has been amply expressed in white papers, scholarly articles, interviews, books and more, by top literature professors across the United States.  (Please study these professors’ wise words.  I won’t take the space now.)  Dr. Stotsky’s friend, Dr. Anthony Esolen, nutshelled it this way:

“It is rotten because its whole approach to education is wrong; it is based upon a wrong understanding of the human person.  That is why it has no real place for the humanities, reducing them to occasions for scrambling up “skills,” rather than for opportunities to grow wise, to learn how to behold and cherish what is beautiful, and to build up the intellectual / moral virtues…” 

Cheer as Dr. Stotsky stands in the ring, gloves off, representing me, you, and countless teachers and professors, whose dedicated scholarship and love are sunshine and water to sprouting, thriving student minds!  Know that Dr. Stotsky is not someone that America can easily ignore or dismiss: she served on the original validation committee for Common Core ELA standards– and after studying them, she refused to sign them off as being adequate or valid standards; for years thereafter, she has spoken and published on this subject, fighting for the free exercise of academic thought, access to good and proper English education, and meaningful, reasonable school tests.  

As a lifelong author of and professor of curricular standards, as editor of a premier research journal on English teaching, as one who truly understands why legitimate English education is a treasure worth defending, she can right the toppled applecart –if enough people hear what she’s saying.

Please share.  

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   Why Massachusetts Should Abandon the PARCC tests and

      the 2011 Coleman et al English Language Arts Standards

                               on which the MCAS Tests are Based

             Sandra Stotsky

              June 10, 2015

                                                                 

 

Acknowledgments:  I want to thank Chairman Paul Sagan of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for his invitation to testify at the public hearing at Bridgewater State University on whether the Board should abandon the MCAS tests and adopt the PARCC tests. 

Overview of my Testimony:  I first describe my qualifications, as well as the lack of relevant qualifications in Common Core’s standards writers and in most of the members of Common Core’s Validation Committee, on which I served in 2009-2010.  I then detail some of the many problems in the 2011 Massachusetts English language arts (ELA) standards, written by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, James Patterson, and Susan Wheltle (so the document indicates), in the tests based on Common Core’s standards (PARCC), and in the two external reports—one issued in February 2015, the other yet to be completed—comparing the PARCC tests with MCAS tests. I offer several recommendations for parents who want civically sound and academically rigorous standards and tests written and reviewed by English teachers and who want a form of accountability that doesn’t penalize their children’s teachers for results of tests based on either the Coleman et al standards or Common Core’s standards.

I.  My Qualifications: I am professor emerita at the University of Arkansas, where I held the 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality until retiring in 2012. I was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) from 1999-2003, in charge of developing or revising the state’s K-12 standards, teacher licensure tests, and teacher and administrator licensure regulations. I served on the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from 2006-2010, on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from 2006-2008, and on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-2010. I was one of the five members of the Validation Committee who did not sign off on the standards as being rigorous, internationally competitive, or research-based.

I was also editor of the premier research journal, Research in the Teaching of English, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, from 1991 to 1997. I have published extensively in professional journals and written several books. In recent years, I have testified before many state legislative committees and boards on the flaws in Common Core’s standards.

II. Lack of Relevant Qualifications in Common Core’s Standards Writers

The absence of relevant professional credentials in the two standards-writing teams helps to explain the flaws in Common Core’s standards. The two “lead” writers for the ELA standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have never taught reading or English in K-12 or at the college level. Neither has a doctorate in English or reading. Neither has ever published serious work on K-12 curriculum and instruction. Neither has a reputation for literary scholarship or research in education. At the time they were appointed, they were virtually unknown to English and reading educators and the public at large. They now earn large fees for Student Achievement Partners (their business) consulting to school systems trying to implement their ELA standards.

The three lead standards writers in mathematics were as unknown to K-12 educators as were the lead ELA standards writers. None of the three mathematics standards writers (Phil Daro, William McCallum, and Jason Zimba) had ever developed K-12 mathematics standards that had been used—or used effectively.  The only member of this three-person standards-writing team with K-12 teaching experience had majored in English as an undergraduate (although Phil Daro had taught mathematics at the middle school level for two years).

Who recommended these people as standards writers and why, we still do not know.  No one in the media commented on their lack of credentials for the task they had been assigned.  Indeed, no one in the media showed the slightest interest in their qualifications for standards writing. 

III. Lack of Academic Qualifications in Most Members of the Validation Committee

The federal government did not fund an independent group of experts to evaluate the rigor of the standards, even though it expected the states to adopt them. Instead, the private organizations in charge of the project created their own Validation Committee (VC) in 2009. The VC contained almost no academic experts in any area; most were education professors or associated with testing companies, from here and abroad. There was only one mathematician on the VC—R. James Milgram—although there were many people with graduate degrees in mathematics education or with appointments in an education school, and/or who worked chiefly in teacher education. I was the only nationally recognized expert on English language arts standards by virtue of my work in Massachusetts and for Achieve, Inc.’s American Diploma Project.

Professor Milgram and I did not sign off on the standards because they were not internationally competitive, rigorous, or research-based.  Despite our repeated requests, we did not get the names of high-achieving countries whose standards could be compared with Common Core’s standards. (We received no “cross-walks.”) Nor did the standards writers themselves offer any research evidence or rationale to defend their omission of the high school mathematics standards needed for STEM careers, their emphasis on writing not reading, their experimental approach to teaching Euclidean geometry, their deferral of the completion of Algebra I to grade 9 or 10, or their claim that informational reading instruction in the English class leads to college readiness. They also did not offer evidence that Common Core’s standards meet entrance requirements for most colleges and universities in this country or elsewhere.

IV.  Flaws in the 2011 Massachusetts ELA Standards (the document lists David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, James Patterson, and Susan Wheltle as the four lead writers)

 A. Most Coleman et al standards are content-free skills, not “content” standards. They do not address specific literary knowledge, specific literary history, or specific reading levels, i.e., they omit significant literary/historical content. E.g., there is no standard on the history of the English language, on British authors or texts, or on authors or texts from the ancient or classical world.

Examples of Coleman et al literature standards in grades 11/12:

  1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  1. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

Examples of authentic ELA literature standards

*In California’s pre-2010 standards for 11/12:

3.7  Analyze recognized works of world literature from a variety of authors:

a.  Contrast the major literary forms, techniques, and characteristics of the major

literary periods (e.g., Homeric Greece, medieval, romantic, neoclassic, modern).

b.  Relate literary works and authors to the major themes and issues of their eras.

*In Massaschusetts’ pre-2010 standards for grades 9/10:

16.11:  Analyze the characters, structure, and themes of classical Greek drama and

epic poetry.

 

B. The 2011 Coleman et al standards expect English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts. They contain 10 reading standards for informational texts and 9 for literary texts at every grade level, reducing literary study in the English class to about 50%. Pre-2011 Massachusetts English classes spent about 20% of reading instructional time on nonfiction (which included informational material). No research studies support increasing the study of nonfiction in English classes to improve college readiness.

C. The 2011 Coleman et al standards reduce opportunities for students to develop analytical thinking. Analytical thinking is developed when teachers teach students how to read between the lines of complex works. As noted in a 2006 ACT report titled Reading Between the Lines: “complexity is laden with literary features.”  According to ACT, it involves “literary devices,” “tone,” “ambiguity,” “elaborate” structure, “intricate language,” and unclear intentions. Thus, reducing complex literary study in the English class in order to increase informational reading, in effect, retards college readiness.

D. The 2011 Coleman et al standards discourage “critical” thinking. Critical thinking is based on independent thinking. Independent thinking comes from a range of observations, experiences, and undirected reading. The Coleman et al document contains no standards for writing a research paper like those spelled out in the pre-2011 Massachusetts ELA standards.

 

V. Why the MBAE and Fordham Studies Cannot Tell Us Much

As noted by the Commissioner of Education in his announcement of the five public hearings on MCAS vs. PARCC, the Board would review studies conducted by “outside organizations.”

The first outside study, commissioned by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), was released in February 2015.  It recommended abandoning MCAS, yet it did not indicate that current MCAS tests are based on the Coleman et al standards, while the PARCC tests are based on Common Core’s. Do the contents of the test items differ?  We don’t know. Nor do we know what test items were examined in this study.  Nor does the study give us a single clue to the contents of the test items in either set of tests at any grade level.

A second outside study is being undertaken by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The MBAE study had earlier indicated that “the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Human Resources Research Organization will conduct a full-scale evaluation of how well aligned PARCC, MCAS, and other national assessments are to the Common Core State Standards and the extent to which they meet the criteria for high-quality assessments established by the Council of Chief State School Officers.” It is not clear why CCSSO is qualified to establish criteria for high-quality assessments. All we know at present is that the Fordham Institute decided to use a portion of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds it regularly receives to compare MCAS and PARCC test items and to let BESE know what it would recommend as an organization dedicated to the Common Core project. Its report will be issued in time for BESE’s official vote to adopt PARCC in fall, 2015.

Nevertheless, we face the same problems in learning anything from the Fordham report that we face with the MBAE report. The test items for both the 2015 MCAS ELA tests and the 2015 PARCC ELA tests are test-secure and can’t be discussed in a public report. I have twice asked directors of both assessments for permission to examine under secure conditions all their ELA test items for 2015 but have not been given permission to do so. I have also asked DESE for a copy of all proposals or requests to DESE for permission to examine non-released MCAS test items, but DESE has not sent me a copy of this public information.

The public CAN examine “sample” and “practice” test items that PARCC has made available online (which I have done).  The public CAN examine all released test items for all MCAS tests from 1998 to 2007 (which I have done—see Appendix A for URLs to these test items). And parents and teachers CAN testify about what students say about the test items they have responded to on their computers or in their test booklets. But researchers cannot present either an evaluation of the grade appropriateness of PARCC test items or a comparison of the contents of MCAS and PARCC test items, two of the sub-topics that testifiers were asked to address at the Bridgewater hearing, because they are not allowed to say anything about the actual contents of the test items if indeed they examined them.

Until all the test items used by PARCC and MCAS in ELA in 2015 are available to BESE and all parents, legislators, and other citizens for inspection under secure conditions, BESE has no legitimate information on which to base an official decision. In fact, the entire process leading to a decision on which set of tests to use appears to be a sham, beginning with the fact that the Commissioner of Education chairs the Governing Board of PARCC, yet is to make the final recommendation to BESE, and ending with the fact that all local superintendents were told in 2014 that the decision had already been made (according to a letter from Superintendent William Lupini to the Brookline School Committee in June 2014, in Appendix B). The public, including the media, have been abused by a fake process.  Only a post hoc, pro forma vote for PARCC remains to be taken.

Yet there are significant differences between PARCC and MCAS for ELA tests that can be brought to public attention.  These differences have their source in the criteria established by English teachers in Massachusetts in 1997, as explained above, and in other sources.

VI. Problems with PARCC in 2014-15, based on the examples/test items given

* The overall reading level of PARCC sample test items in most grades seems to be lower than the overall reading level of test items in MCAS ELA tests based on the pre-Coleman et al standards—sometimes by more than one reading grade level. E.g., an excerpt from The Red Badge of Courage is an example in the 2015 grades 10 and 11 PARCC. But an excerpt from this novel was assessed in a pre-2011 grade 8 MCAS.  E.g., an excerpt from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an example in the 2015 grade 11 PARCC but appears in a 2010 grade 10 MCAS.

* PARCC doesn’t tell us who determines the cut (pass/fail) score, where it will be, and who changes it, and when. Cut scores on MCAS tests are set by Massachusetts citizens.

* PARCC test specifications do not indicate from what authors or kinds of text the literary passages are to be drawn, and how they are to be balanced. English teachers in Massachusetts have had higher expectations for MCAS than do test-developers at PARCC, it seems.

* PARCC 2015 grade 11 test samples are not aligned with Common Core’s standards; there are no passages from founding political documents.

* PARCC offers too many tests at each grade and across grades.

* PARCC requires extensive keyboarding skills and too much time for test preparation.

* PARCC plans to provide only a few released test items for teachers to use, it seems.

* The change to a grade 11 PARCC for fulfilling the requirement for a high school diploma hurts low-achieving students, who often need two years for remediation and retests before graduation.

* The PARCC tests are very long (see the chart in Superintendent Lupini’s June 2014 letter to the Brookline School Committee), even though they have been recently shortened.

* The writing prompts in PARCC in 2015 do not elicit “deeper thinking” because students are not given a provocative question about a reading assignment and encouraged to make and justify their own interpretation of an author’s ideas based on a range of sources, some self-chosen. They are almost always given the sources to use, beginning in grade 3: e.g., “Write an essay comparing and contrasting the key details presented in the two articles about how endangered animals can be helped. Use specific details and examples from both articles to support your ideas.”

* The two-part multiple-choice format in PARCC (and in SBAC) often requires students to engage in a textual scavenger hunt for the specific words, phrases, or sentences that led to their own thinking when answering the previous question. This two-part multiple-choice format is especially taxing and problematic in the early grades. E.g., in grade 3: “Part B: Which sentence from the story supports the answer to Part A?” “Which detail supports the answer to Part A?” “Which detail from X shows another example of the answer to Part A?” “Which detail from paragraph 14 best supports the answer to Part A?” “What phrase from paragraph 14 helps the reader to understand the meaning of thriving?” “Which section in X introduces how the scientists made wolves feel comfortable in the park?”  In sum, the questions are poorly worded, confusing, tedious, unfriendly to children, and cumbersome. 

 

VII. Criteria for MCAS ELA Selections Developed in 1997 by the State’s English Teachers

  1. About 60% of the selections should be literary.
  1. At least half of the literary selections should come from authors in a list of suggested authors or works reflecting our common literary and cultural heritage
  1. About half of the literary selections could come from authors in a second list of suggested contemporary authors from the United States, as well as past and present authors from other countries and cultures.

These criteria were enforced in two ways for MCAS ELA tests: by the Guiding Principle on literary study in the introduction to the ELA standards and by the use of texts by authors in the two lists. The Guiding Principle itself (“An effective English language arts curriculum draws on literature from many genres, time periods, and cultures, featuring works that reflect our common literary heritage.”) indicated that a “comprehensive literature curriculum contains works from both [lists].”  The two lists of recommended authors served as guides to choosing MCAS passages at all grades. MCAS ELA tests from 1998 on were dominated by literary selections because of these criteria, the Guiding Principle on literary study, and the two lists.

BESE voted to add the Guiding Principles and the two lists in the 2001 Massachusetts ELA curriculum framework to the Common Core standards adopted in 2011. But DESE altered the wording of the Guiding Principle on literary study to read An effective English language arts and literacy curriculum draws on literature in order to develop students’ understanding of their literary heritage” so that it no longer expected the school curriculum or literary passages on MCAS to feature works reflecting “our common literary heritage.”

 VIII. Recommendations for Massachusetts:

  1. Fewer grades tested (just 4, 8, and 10), as in the 1993 MERA and 1994 authorization of ESEA
  2. Paper and pencil tests; no computer-based tests
  3. All or most test items released every year, as MERA requires
  4. Retention of grade 10 competency determination for a high school diploma, required in MERA, for the benefit of low-achieving students
  5. Tests requiring less time for preparing for and teaching to the tests
  6. Test passages and questions chosen and reviewed by Massachusetts English teachers
  7. A Massachusetts-determined cut score

Appendix A.  URLs for locating all MCAS ELA test items from 1998 to 2007, plus some URLs for later items

http://www.edbenchmarks.org/schoolimprovement/stuach.htm  On MEAP 1992-1999

https://archive.org/details/massachusettscompr00mass (1998)

https://archive.org/details/masscomprehensiv00mass (1999)

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2000.pdf

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS_2001.pdf

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2002.pdf

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2003.pdf

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2004.pdf   (Grade 10 ELA includes an excerpt from Tartuffe)

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2005.pdf (grade 10 ELA includes excerpts from Macbeth and Pride and Prejudice; and Theodore Roethke poem)

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/TeachingLearning/MathResourcesK-8/MCAs-Questions/MCAS-2006.pdf

https://www.brocktonpublicschools.com/uploaded/DistrictDepartments/Assessment/mcas_2007.pdf

misterambrose.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/2009_Spring_MCAS.1244029.pdf (grade 10 ELA includes excerpt from Oliver Twist)

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/2010/release/g10ela.pdf (grade 10 ELA includes excerpts from Heart of Darkness and Love in a Time of Cholera; Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73)

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/testitems.html?yr=14  (Selected items from 2010 to 2014 available here.)

 

 

Appendix B:  Letter from Superintendent William Lupini to the Brookline School Committee in June 2014

 

THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF BROOKLINE

333 WASHINGTON STREET BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS 02445

TEL: 617-730-2401

FAX: 617-730-2601

Office of the Superintendent of Schools

William H. Lupini, Ed.D.

June 3, 2014

 

To: Members of the Brookline School Committee

From: William H. Lupini, Ed. D. Superintendent of Schools

Re: State Assessment for 2015

 

 

On May 22, 2014, I recommended that the Public Schools of Brookline administer the PARCC Assessment for grades 3-9 and 11 for the 2014-2015 school year. This recommendation was based on the following considerations:

• Our experience with the recent PARCC field test allowed our team to gain a deep understanding of all that is required to administer this assessment to support students’ success. Our learning was detailed in my presentation to the School Committee at our last meeting.

• The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will “hold harmless” the accountability status of Districts choosing to administer PARCC in 2015. Specifically, a school’s level will either stay the same or improve but cannot decline due to PARCC test results.

• MCAS will be phased out in favor of either PARCC or another new “next generation” assessment after the 2015 test administration.

• Administering PARCC in 2015 will allow all students tested the opportunity to get comfortable with the new expectations and testing environment, and will give us the opportunity to fine-tune its administration, which may reduce the risk of disruption in future years.

• The high school did not participate in the 2014 pilot. Administering PARCC in grades 9 and 11 in 2015 offers BHS a year to pilot the new assessment. Also, a score of 4 or 5 on the PARCC Assessment would allow an 11th grader to skip remedial courses at Massachusetts state colleges. MCAS will still be administered to all 10th grade students through the class of 2018 for competency determinations.

• In addition to being “held harmless,” DESE has mitigated other risks for districts that choose to administer PARCC in 2015, including:

-Pencil and paper tests will be an option for a number of years in order to allow districts to adequately prepare their technology to meet the needs of the online test; and,

-Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) will be calculated continuously; therefore, there will be no interruption in utilizing SGP in the educator evaluation system.

The purpose of this Memorandum is to provide you with additional information about PARCC testing, our revised recommendation for your consideration during the June 5th Public Hearing and your June 19th vote, and the reasoning for these revisions to our thinking. Additional Information One of the main areas of discussion during our May 22nd presentation involved the number of PARCC testing sessions at each grade level.

Following is a chart detailing the grade-by-grade and subject area testing sessions for both PARCC and MCAS (grades 3-8):

Grade Level                PARCC & Science                   MCAS                 Difference

 

3rd                                         9                                         5                               +4

(5 ELA; 4 Math)             (3 ELA; 2 Math)

4th                                          9                                        7                                 +2

(5 ELA; 4 Math)              (5 ELA; 2 Math)

5th                                         11                                        7                                 +4

(5 ELA; 4 Math)              (3 ELA; 2 Math)

(2 MCAS Science)           (2 MCAS Science)

 

6th                                          9                                           5                                 +4

(5 ELA; 4 Math)            (3 ELA; 2 Math)

7th                                           9                                         7                                   +2

(5 ELA; 4 Math)             (5 ELA; 2 Math)

8th                                          11                                        7                                   +4

(5 ELA; 4 Math)             (3 ELA; 2 Math)

(2 MCAS Science)          (2 MCAS Science)

 

These differences are somewhat governed by the addition of end-of- year (EOY) testing in PARCC, along with the inclusion of a writing composition component for grades beyond the fourth and seventh grade currently tested in MCAS.

The amount of time to be spent in testing is a much more complicated analysis. Students are permitted 50% additional time beyond what is recommended in PARCC, while MCAS is an untimed assessment. Below is a comparison of the “expected” times for both grade 3-8 scenarios described above:

Grade Level                            PARCC & Science                           MCAS                                     Difference

3rd                                      490 minutes (8.2 hours)      270 minutes (4.5 hours)             +220 minutes (+3.7 hours)

4th                                       530 minutes (8.8 hours)      360 minutes (6.0 hours)            +210 minutes (+3.5 hours)

5th                                       620 minutes (10.3 hours)    360 minutes (6.0 hours)            +260 minutes (+4.3 hours)

6th                                       570 minutes (9.5 hours)       270 minutes (4.5 hours)            +300 minutes (+5.0 hours)

7th                                       570 minutes (9.5 hours)        370 minutes (6.2 hours)            +300 minutes (+5.0 hours)

8th                                       660 minutes (11.0 hours)      370 minutes (6.2 hours)           +290 minutes (+4.8 hours)

These numbers are somewhat misleading in that the PARCC timing is probably much closer to actual for most students, given the “timed” nature of the assessment. Furthermore, given that factor, it would be possible to schedule multiple testing sessions in one day with PARCC, while this is not possible in our current MCAS assessment configuration.

The high school analysis is even more difficult, given the following factors:

• As noted earlier, current MCAS assessment occurs only in 9th grade with a Science test, 10th grade with the English Language Arts and Mathematics exams, and again beyond 10th grade for those students who did not initially meet the competency determination standards.

• The PARCC assessment system is designed to provide 11th grade students who score of 4 or 5 on the PARCC Assessment to skip remedial courses at Massachusetts state colleges.

• MCAS will still be administered to all 10th grade students through the class of 2018 for competency determinations.

• PARCC high school math assessments are based on courses aligned to the Common Core State Standards, not grade levels.

Assessments are available for Algebra I, Geometry, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Algebra II and Mathematics III.

Given these factors, it is more difficult to provide a comparison of numbers of testing sessions and total time devoted to assessment for PARCC v. MCAS. However, it is very safe to conclude that students would experience a greater volume of testing under the PARCC plan than is currently the case.

Revised Recommendation

After considering input from the Headmaster and her administrative team, as well as issues raised by School Committee members at our May 22nd meeting, we are now recommending that the Public Schools of Brookline participate in the PARCC operational test for grades 3-8 only during the 2014- 2015 school year.

High School testing would be limited to those MCAS tests required for the competency determination in 9th and 10th grades.

Reasoning

We do not come to any of these recommendations lightly. This new assessment will consume more valuable teaching time than the current program. The timed nature of the assessment for students who do not have an IEP is not in the best interest of any of our students and represents a significant change in beliefs for the Commonwealth. The PARCC assessment is still in development and, as such, will continue to represent a learning opportunity for all of us, even while students are receiving scores for their performance on the exams. Finally, we are not at present prepared to move to an on-line testing environment as a school system, meaning that some of our students will participate in a paper and pencil assessment and, therefore, we will have students being tested on somewhat different competencies and skills across our schools.

However, much of our rationale for this recommendation is, in our view, compelling and remains the same as discussed in May. We cannot recommend staying with MCAS for another year if this assessment is to be phased out in favor of either PARCC or another new “next generation” assessment. We believe that students should be given the opportunity to experience “next generation” expectations and testing environments, and that we need the chance to work with the administration of these assessments. Finally, we need to take advantage of having school accountability status held “harmless” while we work to support student, teacher and school success within this new testing situation.

While this same logic exists with respect to high school testing, we simply do not believe that it outweighs the issues for our students. As was discussed on May 22nd, eleventh grade students would be taking a PARCC assessment after most of them had already met the competency determination in their sophomore year, without the benefit of knowing up front that this was to be the case. Ninth grade students would be participating in a “next generation” pilot program, only to revert to MCAS as a competency determination exam. Therefore, we do not believe that the benefits of PARCC testing outweigh these concerns for our high school students in 2014-2015.

I am looking forward to continuing our discussion of this recommendation with you at our meeting on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

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Dr. Gary Thompson Testifies to Wisconsin Legislature: Common Core Test is Cognitive Child Abuse   17 comments

Dr Thompson

Dr. Gary Thompson of the Utah-based Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center traveled to Wisconsin to testify about the damages of Common Core to the Wisconsin Legislature.

You can watch his whole testimony by clicking here.

Below is a lively commentary by Dr. Thompson about his reasons for testifying boldly against Common Core both as a father and as a clinical psychologist.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Our Kids Are Bigger Than You: Final Thoughts on Wisconsin Common Core Legislative Testimony

by Dr. Gary Thompson

“All students are expected to participate in the state accountability system with only a few exceptions, as noted below. This principle of full participation includes EL students, students with an IEP, and students with a Section 504 plan…. The IEP, EL, Section 504, EL with disabilities, and EL on Section 504 team cannot exempt a student from the statewide testing requirements.”
-Utah State Office Of Education, 2013-14 Testing accomodations policy

Part I: Pre Hearing, or, My Motivations for Professional Suicide

On October 12, 2013, “a person in a position of influence” called from Wisconsin and asked if I would like to participate as an expert witness in the State of Wisconsin’s “War against Common Core.”

He obviously did not have that much influence, because my response was a quick, “Thank you, but hell, no.”

Education leadership, both at the local and national levels, is talented at turning any movements geared towards change into politically-based personal warfare.

I had already attempted to fight this battle in Utah and did not wish to engage in it any further.

But then an interview, featuring my teenage daughter and her battle to drop an AP class that was exacerbating her anxiety, appeared in our local newspaper:
Utah Father Had To Fight To Have Daughter Drop A Class“.

After reading over 50 ignorant and cruel comments directed toward my daughter —many of which were made by (alleged) current educators/administrators in Utah—I simply could not take it anymore.

Now, I generally have a pretty thick skin. Although I currently do not practice clinical psychology in any licensed form, I am a licensed – eligible trained clinician with over 5,000 documented clinical training hours (11,000 hours total). Part of that training revolves around maintaining a healthy professional distance from highly emotional situations. But these people were attacking my child. And they didn’t even know her!

andie thompson

Prior to my daughter’s situation with her school, I had given up all thoughts of future participation regarding Utah’s education reform. Politicians, educators, and parents had decided the current path of Common Core-based education was just fine for their constituents and their children. My response to that was basically, “Good for you. Have fun with that… I’m out.”

My focus would be on my work, my wife and my children. I felt relief.

To hell with the State of Utah.

To hell with the Common Core movement.

It was not my problem anymore. My kids were “safe.”

Wisconsin’s education issues? Not my problem either.

But after my daughter’s school decided to play hardball over what should have been a relatively simple decision and total strangers decided to weigh in with their opinions on my daughter’s character, my wife received the following e-mail from a professor at the University of Wisconsin:

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Dear Dr. Frances Thompson:

I write to thank you sincerely for understanding why it is imperative that Gary testify against Common Core in the state of Wisconsin on 23 October 2013.

Common Core will put our most vulnerable students at risk, and is especially destructive to special needs children. We have already seen the damage done to these students by programs like No Child Left Behind, which in reality left behind many of our poorest and most needy students, especially minority students.

The problems with No Child Left Behind are magnified significantly with Common Core, and the high stakes testing and one size fits all approach to education will wreak irreparable harm for a whole new generation of special needs kids.

We have invited anumber of specialists in Math and Science and English to testify about the data and explain to our state senatorial committee why Common Core is bad education, bad pedagogy, and bad for teachers and students in general These committed scholars will provide raw numbers and make academic arguments.

Gary’s gift –beyond his credentials and professionalism–lies in putting a human face on these kids for the committee, humanizing a problem that is all too often viewed in terms of statistics and dollars, and championing with great compassion those who have no voice of their own in this battle for our children’s futures. In the final analysis, this is what matters most, and without Gary our case is merely mechanical.

I cannot guarantee that Gary’s testimony will be the blow that turns back Common Core in Wisconsin. But I do know that without him, our case is weakened. I understand the hardship his absence will cause your family in the short term, but I also believe that Gary’s advocacy for thousands and thousands of school children in Wisconsin will bless them and his family in the long run. We would be extremely grateful to you for enduring his absence for a short period of time on behalf of the people of Wisconsin.

Thank you very much,

Dr. Duke Pesta
Professor of English
University of Wisconsin

——————

That simple, humble plea from someone who has dedicated his life to teaching our nation’s young adults affected me deeply.

I decided I had to go to Wisconsin.

I also decided that if I went, I wanted to be effective. I am not an effective public speaker. I speak slowly, and I stammer sometimes when my brain processes information faster than I can speak.

It is my disability, and going to Wisconsin would display it to the world. However, if my teenager had the courage to display her “disability” to the world, I did not care if I stuttered and stammered like an uneducated idiot on crack on live television for two hours for the world to see. I was going.

Part II: Preparation, or, Ensuring That My Professional Suicide Is Effective

That meant I had to condense a very complex issue down to a few key points and hammer them home with the force of my convictions. I also had to communicate in a way that would resonate with conservatives and liberals of all cultures.

I also had to prepare myself for those who seek to destroy reputations and self-esteem. People entrenched in the political and education machines of either party will go to great lengths to keep the status quo. I knew the facts of what I would testify to would be indisputable. However, I had to find a way to blunt the comments of those who would seek to make this about politics,religion, as opposed to what was in the best interest of the children or myself.

My theme was simply going to be this: “You are not bigger than the children.”

It was this thought that came to mind when what I feared the most occurred during the very first question of the hearing from a Senate Democrat Lehman. It was not about the issues, but about the money.

http://www.wqow.com/story/23774236/2013/10/23/core-inspection-eau-claire-public-hearing-about-education-standards.

Politics and money have to take a backseat to the best interests of the children in order for education to be effective. Ironically, the comments directed towards my family and my daughter in the Tribune served as a training ground for the upcoming testimony. I read every of those vile attacks in preparation. I was more than prepared for “straw man” attacks.

The “Core” Of the Issue: Testing — the Ultimate Trojan Horse

The November 13, 2013 issue of Wired magazine published an article titled, “How A Radical New Teaching Method Could Unlock A Generation of Geniuses”.
http://www.wired.com/business/2013/10/free-thinkers/

I found it by accident on the plane to Wisconsin. Here are some excerpts that hit home:

“…the dominant model of public school education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when work places valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else.” (P.159).

“…we don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate a master of narrow skill sets— doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed.” (P.160).

I found that I could not focus on research articles on the subject at hand, but was drawn to read the hundreds of letters and texts I have received from parents around the country whose children have been victimized, some permanently, by a education system that values conformity over the common sense and expertise of the parent.

I then made the decision to use these letters as my motivation, but to keep the issue simple. I have always advised “professional” activists to focus less on the political or religious aspects that may or may not be associated with the Common Core. Trying to convince a group of Democrat lawmakers that President Obama is a socialist from Kenya who is undergoing mind control from the Chicago Political Machine did not make sense to me as a Doctor. If the goal was to stop Common Core, then my plan was to relentlessly attack their “Trojan Horse,” which was the test itself.

So in the 20 minutes of… testimony, the following points were hammered home:

1. Despite misleading reports from State Superintendents from Utah and Wisconsin regarding how well Core Tests have been “pilot tested”, it was indisputable that the FINAL version of the Core test (complete with its most experimental component of “adaptability”) would never be properly tested, evaluated and “tweaked” in a transparent manner by independent experts prior to our children taking the tests in 2014-2015.

2. With that fact in mind, the only reasonable conclusion was that our children were being used as research guinea pigs under the direction and approval of our respective State Superintendents. (See Dr. Thompson and Attorney Ed Flint’s Letter To Utah Superintendent of Schools Dr. Martell Menlove: http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/dr-thompsons-letter-to-superintendent-menlove/)

3. We have over 50 years of peer reviewed data showing psychology’s struggles of measuring “achievement” as well as cognitive potential (I.Q.) of African American, Latino, ADHD, Autistic, Dual Exceptional, and children diagnosed with specific learning disabilities.

The SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the group that the federal government paid hundreds of millions of dollars to facilitate the production of these tests, proudly proclaimed on their web pages that they have basically solved this problem. My exact words were, “SBAC has just announced to the world that they have created the ‘Holy Grail’ of Achievement Tests.” That feat is kind of hard to perform if no validation studies have been performed.

4. I compared and contrasted the extreme difference between the ways children were tested/evaluated in the private clinical psychology sector, versus the current way proposed by the U.S. Department of Education via the SBAC. Professionals in clinical psychology have learned through a 100-year history of well-documented testing abuse in America to put into place restraints to ensure the safety of our children. Common Core testing policies arrogantly ignored each and every one of these.

5. We need to stop our obsessive focus on measuring WHAT our children havel earned and focus on utilizing neuropsychology technologies available that can now measure with great accuracy HOW a child’s brain processes information (PASS Theory, Naglieri, 2008).

6. Professional recommendation: Stop Common Core testing.

7. Recommendation as a father: Don’t let your kids take the test.

Part III: The Night Before: Fearless or Foolish?

I did not sleep the entire night before the Hearing. The enormity of what I was about the say to the entire country, and the probable consequences for engaging in this form of idiocy against the “machine” weighed heavily on my mind. It is one thing for a father to get ticked off at a local high school’s treatment of his daughter and have that anger on display in a mid-market newspaper.

It’s a entire different ballgame for a Black dude to get up in front of 17 of the State of Wisconsin’s lawmakers with cameras rolling and tell them that the most significant piece of the U.S. Department of Education’s signature education reform in the history of the nation… was simply made up.

If that was not enough, I was going to tell them this piece of legislation that came through under their watch, as currently constituted, has a very high statistical chance of harming millions of children while the “kinks” get worked out. Indeed, they would be initiating “cognitive child abuse.”

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, whose rocky start has been chronicled by both liberal and conservative media outlets, if Common Core displays similar problems, a generation of children will not be able to take advantage of the power that higher education bestows. Ironically, the group of children of Black and Latino descent stand to suffer at the hands of the nation’s first African American President. Even more ironic was the fact that I campaigned for the President with my daughter.

Mark Twain famously penned, “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.”

The education machine was caught without a significant form of statistical validity proof showing that the Common Core tests will actually work on a significant population of children.

The solution for the education machines problem? Make something up. Publish the imaginary statistics. Call the Doctor an idiot. Move on.

When Utah’s Superintendent of Schools Martell Menlove was confronted with the same exact proof that Common Core tests will be nothing more than an experimentation that will most likely harm tens of thousands of vulnerable children in Utah, he responded to the masses with a letter from the Test Designer (American Institute of Research) that is still posted on the Utah State Office of Education website.

After the powers to be from the powerful AIR test development group devoted a page-and-a-half of weak attempts to debunk solid concerns surrounding privacy issues of testing, my concerns were addressed in a single paragraph. The response from the V.P. of AIR can be roughly translated as, “Trust me.”

“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.

Sincerely,

Jon Cohen”

Part V: Aftermath, or, What’s Next?

…Suffice to say, I do not feel that I am a hero or a role model. Heroes and role models do the right thing, regardless of consequences, because of a well-formed sense of right and wrong based on well-developed principles.

Me? Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education sent down a bunch of unproven education policies that harmed not one, but two of my children over the past two years. I went to Wisconsin because I was a rage-filled dad. I was a father who was able to tap into a Doctoral level education as well as his “inner A-Hole.” The e-mail sent to my wife by Professor Pesta was influential in my decision, but it was not what fueled my passion. Nelson Mandela I am not.

A parent wrote me last night and asked if I was going to send a copy of this treatise along with the clip of my testimony to the very same Utah Board of Education that ignored my public pleas as a father. I did not respond at the time, but here is my emphatic reply: No.

With a few clicks of a mouse on Google, interested parties, parents, and activist groups can find close to 100 pages of my written opinions, multiple video testimonies, and radio/television interviews. There is nothing more to say.

I did, however, hire a publicist yesterday after my cell phone started ringing off the hook with media requests and my Facebook page filled up with everything from a marriage proposal, to a guy in Georgia who called me a “House Negro.” My days of putting myself out there via attempts to reform public school education are over. It appears from the size of her operation that Julie Jakob of Jakob Marketing Partners does not need a business plug from me, but perhaps it may save our clinic some money when the first invoice arrives (http://www.jakobmp.com).

In addition to answering inquiries and protecting the brand of my wife’s clinic that may come under siege because her husband “lost his mind”, I will be using this firm to assist those without means to obtain the state-of-the-art services my wife’s educational psychology clinic offers. Jakob Marketing Partners will be responsible for touting a future webpage/link that will solicit donations from this community to help children whose families are not otherwise in a position to help them.

In 2014, we will be proud to announce the formation of the “Booker-Dewey Early Life Scholarship Foundation” which will be the vehicle for securing funds for those children in Utah with unique learning disabilities to obtain services not offered in public schools.

The scholarship is named after two highly influential people in my life. The first is my recently deceased grandmother, Lizzette Booker. While living in the sticks of West Virginia without plumbing, she raised two African-American daughters who obtained college degrees. She also obtained one herself when she was 70 years old. John Dewey is a former classmate of mine who saved my life during a difficult time during my long journey to obtain my doctorate degree. You would not be reading this letter if it was not for either of them. Their legacy will ensure that the lives of at least some vulnerable children in the States of Utah and California will be able to take advantage of the talents of the next generation of clinical psychologists. I placed emphasis on the word “next” because my time at the clinic needs to come to an end.

I have a three-year-old that is (still) waiting for her dad to help her learn to “poop in the potty”.

I also need to contribute my time and talents to the “Booker-Dewey Foundation”. Someone sent me a message two days ago stating that there is a book about Common Core on Amazon that apparently is making profit off the fruits of my many interesting journeys as a reluctant “activist.” I figure I could probably do the book thing better, since they were my experiences. All proceeds will be donated to the Foundation. I would encourage you all reading this to “Like”the Clinic’s Facebook page so you can be informed of future developments of the foundation and the upcoming e-book.

Thank you, State of Wisconsin, for this opportunity. Please remember and practice the mantra, “Parents are, and must always be, the resident experts of their own children.”

Why? Because “They are not bigger than your children.”

Best Regards,

Dr. Gary T. Thompson

Director of Clinical Training and Community Advocacy Services

Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center, Inc.

———————-

Thank you, Dr. Thompson.

Video: Dr. Terrence Moore Testifies Against Common Core Readings and the Lack of Local Control   8 comments

Dr. Terrence Moore, professor of history at Hillsdale College, testified last month to the Indiana legislature. This is the video of his short, (ten minute) excellent testimony.

He describes in detail what Common Core robs from students, as it cuts classic literature and dramatically cuts the heart away from readings including the U.S. Constitution and Tom Sawyer. He describes the truncation that will happen to classic works of literature in favor of informational texts in new Common Core aligned ELA anthologies. He describes how Common Core robs charter schools of parental control with the piercing question, “Are you Common Core compliant?” He also describes how Common Core testing makes teachers and charters servile to the Common Core.

He also says:

The thing that bothers me more than anything else is found on page number one of the introduction. That says that Common Core is a living work. That means that the thing that you vote on today could be something different tomorrow, and five years from now it is completely unrecognizable.”

That’s the real issue. Whether politicians, teachers or school board members like it today is actually, totally irrelevant. Don’t ask them if they like Common Core; ask them if they know that it can change at any time, but they don’t get a vote or a voice in what happens to it. Ever.

Thank you, Dr. Moore.

Legislature Hears Expert Testimony: What Should Utah Do About Common Core?   Leave a comment

Ted Rebarber with James Stergios at Utah’s Capitol

James Stergios kindly provided this copy of the testimony he gave last month to education committee legislators in Salt Lake City.

Testimony to the Utah 2012 Education Interim Committee

by James Stergios

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I thank the co-Chairs of the Committee, Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Francis Gibson, for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Committee.

My name is James Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based think tank, Pioneer Institute. Pioneer Institute has produced the most analytic work on the Common Core in the country, with multiple peer reviewed published reports on their relative quality, cost, and legality. In doing this work we have taken no funding from interested parties, and we have commissioned the reports from the most highly qualified scholars and experts in the country.

Our motivation is the same as yours: We care deeply about our children and this country’s future, and want to prepare our students to compete internationally and to be citizens in a free society characterized by strong state and federal institutions.

My testimony presents four concerns about the Common Core national standards and assessments, which are fully derived from empirical analysis:

1. The quality of the Common Core standards is mediocre and aims for community college-level.

2. The implementation of national standards and assessments limits Utah’s ability to innovate.

3. The promotion of national standards and assessments by the federal government is illegal.

4. Utah has adopted the national standards and assessments without adequate deliberation.

It also makes suggestions for actions by the Utah legislature.

First, the quality of the Common Core is mediocre and aims for community college readiness. Pioneer Institute has conducted four independent evaluations of the national standards, comparing them to states that have or had high standards. In every case, our experts found Common Core to be of lower quality. The Common Core English Language Arts standards suffer from many technical shortcomings, such as their lack of coherent grade-by-grade progressions through high school. But the problems are larger than that. As Dr. Stotsky’s testimony underscores:

Common Core’s standards for English language arts are neither research-based nor internationally benchmarked… To judge from my own research on the language and literature requirements for a high school diploma…, Common Core’s ELA standards fall far below what other English-speaking nations or regions require of college-intending high school graduates.”

In fact, that is the main reason that [Stotsky] and four other members of the [Common Core] Validation Committee declined to sign off on Common Core’s standards.

Nor is there evidence to support the idea [embedded in Common Core] that having English teachers teach more information reading (or literary nonfiction) and less literary reading will lead to greater college readiness.

Let me underscore three points here:

  • First, the Common Core ELA standards are not authentic academic standards; rather, they are empty skills standards. I would be pleased to elaborate on this important issue later.
  • Second, Massachusetts’ remarkable rise on national assessments is not because we aligned our reading standards to the NAEP. Rather, it is because, unlike Common Core, our reading standards emphasized high-quality literature. Reading literature requires the acquisition in a compressed timeframe of a richer and broader vocabulary than non-fiction texts. Vocabulary acquisition is all-important in the timely development of higher-level reading skills.
  • Third, English teachers are trained not to teach Federal Bank reports, or computer and other manuals. They are people steeped in the love of language and literature. Asking an English teacher to teach one of Microsoft’s software development manuals is really not going to work out well.

Common Core’s math standards also suffer from a lack of coherent grade-by-grade progressions, but they too have deeper problems. Common Core’s standards for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II are not demanding and reflect a less than rigorous definition of “college readiness.” Common Core’s goal of teaching Algebra I only in high school makes it at least one year behind the recommendations of the National Mathematics Panel and current practice among our international competitors. Common Core alarmingly replaces the traditional Euclidean foundations of geometry with an experimental approach to middle and high school geometry that has not been widely or ever successfully implemented at the middle and high school levels.

Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram, well known to Utah during its revision of its state math standards and also a member of the review committee for the Common Core math standards, considers the material covered in Common Core’s math standards by fifth grade to be “more than a year behind the early grade expectations in most high-achieving countries” and by seventh grade to be “roughly two years behind.” He says that the national math standards “are written to reflect very low expectations.”

As Stotsky notes in her testimony: Jason Zimba, lead writer of Common Core’s mathematics standards, admitted at a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that passing a college readiness test in mathematics will mean that students in Utah or Massachusetts will only be qualified to enroll in a non-selective community or state college.

Former head of the Council of Chief State School Officers Gene Wilhoit’s insistence that Utah can add whatever it wants to the national standards is meaningless for two reasons: First, there may be no federal policing of the standards today, but there is ample evidence across many policy areas that the federal government often moves from “gentlemanly agreements” to mandates. Second, Common Core requires that states adopt the standards verbatim, with flexibility to add up to 15 percent to the content. However, the national assessments will not cover that additional material. As a result, no districts and no teachers will end up teaching the add-ons.

I know that Utah has removed itself from the Smarter Balanced consortium, but that begs the question: If you are not going to use the tests crafted by the national consortia and you are going to deviate as much as you want from the national standards, why have them at all?

Second, the implementation of national standards and assessments limits Utah’s ability to innovate. Any time a state education official seeks to change a strand in the standards or change the test, it will have to get support from the US Department of Education and 40-plus other states and jurisdictions. If a parent has an issue with the standards, you, as a legislator, will have no ability to help them. You will have to suggest that they call a federal 800 number and wait who-knows-how-long for an answer.

And just what does “innovation” mean when one actor (the federal government) controls the standards? What does innovation mean when there is no longer a competition to innovate among states?

States have led the way in education reform. We have made steady gains over time in a way that, frankly, is not seen from the federal government. Utah’s own state math standards were rated as at least as good as the Common Core math standards, as more clearly articulated and succinct by the Fordham Institute, one of Common Core’s biggest backers. You have done well with your standards—and you can do even better.

Third, the promotion of national standards and assessments by the federal government is illegal. Writing in a paper entitled The Road to a National Curriculum, former USDOE General Counsel Kent Talbert and Deputy General Counsel Robert Eitel write:

With only minor exceptions, the General Education Provisions Act (“GEPA”), the Department of Education Organization Act (“DEOA”), and the ESEA, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (“NCLB”), ban federal departments and agencies from directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials. The ESEA also protects state prerogatives on Title I content and achievement standards.

The Department has used discretionary grants to herd state education authorities into adopting national standards and tests. Talbert and Eitel contend that conditional waivers to NCLB offered by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have never been approved by Congress. Past secretaries of the federal department of education have granted waivers, but never with a unilateral, material change to federal law. Moreover, the recent announcement of a new round of Race to the Top for districts includes the advancement of Common Core. Finally, the two consortia receiving over $300 million in federal funds include in their funding applications explicit recognition that they would develop curricular materials and instructional practice guides.

These two distinguished attorneys note that the US Department of Education is therefore likely violating the aforementioned three federal laws.

While Secretary Duncan’s statement in a letter of March 7th to Superintendent Larry Shumway that the State of Utah has “complete control of Utah’s learning standards” may be true on paper (and given that date), Utah’s waiver from NCLB in June, potential impacts on future federal funding, and the announcement of a new round of Race to the Top for districts, all suggest that Utah’s complete control is much more tenuous than the Secretary’s good letter states.

Utah—and the country—are at a critical juncture, a decision point.

Finally, Utah has adopted the national standards and assessments without adequate deliberation. You, like legislators across the country, are only now debating this issue, after the fact, because Common Core was advanced as an end-run around state legislatures. When Race to the Top was announced in the depths of a recessionary 2009, the federal department emphasized that states adopting national standards would be viewed favorably in funding decisions. As Stotsky notes in her testimony:

… the Utah State Board of Education did not provide a full public discussion before it voted to move control of the curriculum from local school boards to a distant federal bureaucracy.

The USBE tentatively approved the standards two days after they were published (June 4, 2010) to make a U.S. Department of Education deadline of August 2 and then approved them on August 6, 2010.

They were not “thoroughly” vetted. Developing and vetting standards takes time. When states advance new standards, the process of holding public meetings and hearings, which includes developing and deliberating on various drafts, usually requires well over a year.

Not only did the federal government truncate its public comment and other important processes meant to uphold the public trust, but so did the Utah State Board of Education.

What the legislature can do.

The legislature has a role here because the board of education’s decisions on learning standards have an impact on the public purse. The legislature also has an interest in ensuring an open and public vetting of the standards. Our empirical work gives me confidence that, given a proper vetting, the legislature and the state board would agree that the Common Core is deficient in ways described above.

A handful of states have said “no” to Common Core national standards and tests. I urge you not only to say “no” to Common Core—which is a matter of prudence regarding the state’s future and its purse—but also to use the opportunity of this debate to move forward with positive improvements to Utah’s previous state math and reading standards and assessments. As Dr. Stotsky states in her testimony,

If Utah negates its adoption of Common Core’s English language arts standards, I volunteer to help Utah develop a first class set of ELA standards.

Her work helped guide Massachusetts from above average nationally to become the top-performing state in the nation. That is what Utah’s students deserve rather than mediocre national standards.

James Stergios is Pioneer’s Executive Director. Prior to joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where he drove efforts on water policy, regulatory and permit reform, and urban revitalization. His prior experience includes founding and managing a business, teaching at the university level and in public and private secondary schools, and serving as headmaster at a preparatory school. Jim holds a doctoral degree in Political Science.

James Stergios is Pioneer’s Executive Director. Prior to joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where he drove efforts on water policy, regulatory and permit reform, and urban revitalization. His prior experience includes founding and managing a business, teaching at the university level and in public and private secondary schools, and serving as headmaster at a preparatory school. Jim holds a doctoral degree in Political Science.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

85 Devonshire Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109 | T: 617.723.2277 F: 617.723.1880 | http://www.pioneerinstitute.org

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