Tag Archives: Common Core

Test makers should not be driving instruction

In a post about the difficulty of New York’s Common Core assessments, Robert Pondiscio said:

Test makers have an obligation to signal to the field the kind of instructional choices they want teachers to make

via http://edexcellence.net/articles/new-york%E2%80%99s-common-core-tests-tough-questions-curious-choices

I’m going to disagree with Robert on this one. I’m fairly certain that test makers should NOT be the ones driving instruction…

Data resisters aren’t Chicken Littles

Chicken in a pot

John Kuhn says:

The vocal opposition we see to data collection efforts like inBloom, to curriculum standards (which define the data to be collected) like the Common Core, and to tests (the data source) like the MAP can all be traced back, largely, to two things: (1) dismay over how much class time is sacrificed for the all-encompassing data hunt, and (2) a foundational mistrust regarding the aims of those who gather and control the data. If your dad brings home a new baseball bat, it’s a pretty happy time in the family – unless your dad has been in the habit of beating the family with blunt objects. Data is that baseball bat. A better analogy might be a doctor who causes his patients pain unnecessarily with his medical equipment. Patients are naturally going to resist going in for procedures that the doctor says are “good for them” if they know it will come with excessive pain. There is a vigorous campaign online and in the papers and political buildings to discredit opponents of school reform as just so many Chicken Littles “defending the status quo” and sticking their heads in the sand. A salient question, though, is this: has the sector-controlling school reform movement, going back to the dawn of No Child Left Behind, wielded data honestly, ethically, and constructively? If not, then yeah, there will be resistance. These people aren’t Chicken Littles. They’re Chickens Who Won’t Get in the Pot.

via http://atthechalkface.com/2014/01/03/johnkuhntx-the-tyranny-of-the-datum

Educators don’t trust the powers that be, and the powers that be don’t trust educators. And thus our dysfunctional systems and dialogues…

Image credit: 11.20.11 Every Sunday, Peas

Essay questions for education ‘reformers’

Robert Shepherd says:

As a member of the Billionaire Boys’ Club, or as one of the paid associates of the BBC, you . . .

1. believe that extraordinarily complex skills like reading and writing ability can be validly and reliably measured by simple, objective

Explain how that could possibly be so. Please draw upon your extensive knowledge of the relevant scientific literature.

2. believe that innovation comes about when free persons conceive of varied goods and services that compete with one another in a free market in which users choose the goods and services that they wish to purchase and use.

Explain how this belief can be reconciled with a) a single set of mandatory national standards for all students, b) a single set of mandatory high-stakes national tests, c) a single national database of all student test scores and responses, and d) scripted literacy lessons that all teachers must follow to the letter.

3. believe that all students should follow the same standards and take the same tests.

Explain how this belief can be reconciled with the fact that students differ enormously in their backgrounds, in their developmental levels, in their gifts and interests and propensities, and in the goals that they and their parents have for their futures.

4. believe that national standards do not narrow and distort curricula and pedagogy.

Please answer the following questions:

If standards do not drive (and so narrow and distort) curricula and pedagogy, why create them?

If they do drive curricula and pedagogy, how can a single set of predetermined standards be better than ANY alternative set that might be developed by ANY OTHER expert or group of experts in education and particular subject matter?

5. believe that our schools are failing.

Explain how can this belief can be reconciled with the fact that, when results on internationally norm-referenced exams in reading, mathematics, and science are corrected for the socio-economic levels of students taking the exams, U.S. students consistently score at the top or very near the top?

6. believe that a small group of persons appointed by a committee of politicians should be empowered to create standards that overrule and render irrelevant the judgments about desirable outcomes in particular courses of study made by professional teachers, curriculum developers, and curriculum coordinators.”


via http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/30/shepherd-an-essay-exam-for-reformers

Don’t blame the Common Core for local curriculum decisions

Kathleen Porter-Magee says:

While there is no shortage of programs that are emblazoned with a shiny new “Common Core Aligned!” sticker, the reality is that anyone can claim alignment. And while the Common Core is a convenient and politically expedient scapegoat for programs that lack coherence and rigor, it is up to school boards, principals, teachers, and parents to choose the curricula and the texts that will guide daily teaching and learning in the classroom. Indeed, parents have exactly as much input into the curricular decisions made at their children’s schools as they did prior to 2010.

let’s not forget that on the math side, prior to Common Core adoption, only 11 states required students to learn standard algorithms and only 7 states required students to memorize their basic math facts. Thanks to the Common Core, 45 state standards now require mastery of these essential content and skills. Indeed, the Common Core is unambiguous in its expectation that students learn arithmetic content and skills cold before moving on to more rigorous content.

Similarly, on the English language arts side, let’s not forget that there is no “required reading list” attached to the Common Core. . . . the standards themselves include only 4 “required readings”: the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and a Shakespearean play. Every other text selection is made at the state or local level. If your child is reading a text you don’t like, it’s not because the Common Core demands it.

Of course, this also means that parents … are right to be concerned about curricula that do not emphasize mastery of critical math content. And they’re right to try to push schools to assign appropriate reading that includes classic works of literature. But those are concerns that still need to be brought to local school boards, principals, and teachers. After all, even in the Common Core era, it is these local leaders and school-level educators who will determine the programs that get taught and the books that get assigned in schools across the country.

via http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-has-nationalized-our-curriculum-these-local-decisions

Will an emphasis on ‘close reading’ kill the joy of reading?


As most educators know by now, the new Common Core standards emphasize ‘close reading.’ It’s hard to argue with that as a necessary skill for understanding complex writing. As a professor I spent lots of time dissecting research articles, book chapters, blog posts, and legal cases with my students. Close, careful reading and discussion also have been a staple of English / Language Arts classrooms for decades, as have been the critical analysis of political arguments in Social Studies classes, of pseudo-scientific claims in Science classes, and so on.

BUT… I keep thinking back to some quotes from Kelly Gallagher’s phenomenal book, Readicide:

“What has gone wrong in our schools: the creation of readicide through intensive overanalysis of literature and nonfiction. Young readers are drowning in a sea of sticky notes, marginalia, and double-entry journals and, as a result, their love of reading is being killed in the one place where the nourishment of a reading habit should be occurring – in school”

“On my desk is a copy of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (2007) unit of study for teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. This study unit, a guide to teaching Harper Lee’s timeless novel, contains overarching questions, chapter study questions, essay questions, vocabulary lessons, activities for specific chapters, guided reading lessons, directions for setting up a writer’s notebook, literary analysis questions, collaborative activities, oral presentations, handouts, transparencies, displays, quizzes, and projects. It also comes with an almost incomprehensible unit guide. This guide is 122 pages long – almost half the length of the actual novel! … If I were to follow this curricular guide step-by-step in my classroom, there is little doubt my students would exit my class hating To Kill a Mockingbird forever. Worse, students who have been taught to hate To Kill a Mockingbird will find themselves much farther down the road toward hating all reading. . . . No student ever achieved reading flow from analyzing every nook and cranny of a complex work. Students in these reading situations are not coming up for air. They are coming up for life preservers. . . . The overanalysis of books creates instruction that values the trivial at the expense of the meaningful. . . . “As I look at the 122-page teaching guide for To Kill a Mockingbird, . . . the value in teaching this book is when we use this great book as a springboard to examine issues in today’s world. This opportunity seems to be largely missing in the district’s mandated curriculum. A golden opportunity for our children to read, to write, and to debate about relevant issues is buried under 122 pages of mind-numbing instructions.

“We would never buy a book at Barnes and Noble if it came with mandated chapter-by-chapter exams. We would never read a book so that we could tackle worksheets afterward. We would never begin a new read with the expressed goal of earning points. And we would never feel compelled to read if we had to complete a project after every book. Yet, as teachers, we do all of these things to developing readers. We subject them repeatedly to treatments that are counterproductive to developing book lovers. And we do it book after book, year after year. Worse, we rationalize our behavior by believing we must prepare students to perform well at test time. Shameful.” 

So I’m torn. I want students to be able to critically analyze what they’re reading but even more importantly I want them to love to read. When I taught 8th grade, a mom told me that she once found her daughter reading in the shower, one arm stuck outside of the curtain. Now that’s a love for reading! I’m worried that the more we emphasize the technocratic side of reading, the less we will celebrate and foster the pleasurable aspects of reading. It does us no good to teach kids how to read if at the end they don’t read because we’ve sucked the joy out of it.

I’m concerned that, like in so many other areas of educational reform these days, we’re going to tip way past what’s reasonable. But maybe I’m just making stuff up. Got any thoughts on this?

Image credit: Reading, Canon_Shooter

Text complexity in the early grades: Shooting ourselves in the foot?

Cozy reading spot

Here are some quotes from the most recent issue of Educational Researcher regarding text complexity in the early grades, one of the hallmark pushes of the Common Core State Standards:

the CCSS text complexity standards for Grade 3 appear to be aspirational, much like the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress targets (Shepard, 2008). The small set of studies that have examined text complexity over time does not show that text complexity at Grade 3 has deteriorated. Neither is there evidence that the accelerated targets in the primary grades are necessary for high school graduates to read the texts of college and careers. (p. 47)


Another potential indirect effect on students may be their motivation and engagement. The engagement of reading among American students is already low, as indicated by a 2001 nationally representative sample of fourth graders from 35 countries that ranked the United States 33rd in an index of students’ motivations for reading (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Kennedy, 2003) and 35th out of 35 countries in the revised index of attitudes toward reading (Twist, Gnaldi, Schagen, & Morrison, 2004). At present, there is research indicating that motivation decreases when tasks become too challenging and none that indicates that increasing challenge (and potential levels of failure) earlier in students’ careers will change this dismal national pattern of disengagement with literacy (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012). (p. 48)


Will the intended outcomes of higher levels of literacy for all students be realized by setting the bar arbitrarily at third grade? Our review suggests that the unintended negative consequences could well outweigh the intended positive outcomes. (p. 49)


Increasing the pressure on the primary grades – without careful work that indicates why the necessary levels are not attained by many more students – may have consequences that could widen a gap that is already too large for the students who, at present, are left out of many careers and higher education. How sadly ironic it would be if an effort intended to support these very students limited their readiness for college and careers. (p. 49)

Hiebert, E. H., & Mesmer, H. A. E. (2013). Upping the ante of text complexity in the Common Core State Standards: Examining its potential impact on young readers. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 44-51.

Image credit: “Cozy” reading spot

What does it mean to be ‘aligned to the Common Core?’

Now Common Core Aligned!

Did you know that…

As expected, with the advent of the Common Core we are seeing a lot of labeling and re-labeling of instructional materials, resources, and activities. Publishers are adding the Common Core designation to existing textbooks, resources, assessments, and professional development opportunities just as fast as they can. Educators are unpacking the Common Core and affirming to themselves that they’re already doing what the standards expect. Lots of Common Core hoopla. Lots of Common Core assurances. Lots of old educational wine in new Common Core bottles…

Plus, of course, lots of gratuitous Common Core labeling and hucksterism. Because if it’s not stamped ‘Common Core’ these days, hardly anyone’s going to look at it. 

We have the standards. And publishers’ criteria. And state and school district certification efforts. But we also have lots of confusion, including whether or not teachers are prepared or unprepared to implement the standards.

As we sort out that confusion – and as we work together to become better prepared for implementation of the Common Core juggernaut – we need to be critical consumers of both our own lessons and the vendor pitches that accompany the standards. Because if there’s anything that policy-level folks agree on, it’s usually that the Common Core is supposed to be different. Very different.

Of course if we absorb the Common Core into what we’ve always done without substantially changing anything – and this is extremely likely given our history – then things won’t be different at all. We know from past experience that standards usually don’t change instruction much. Neither do they change the day-to-day learning experiences of most children. Implementation always trumps wishes. Regardless of the rhetoric accompanying the Common Core, our historically high rates of reform assimilation indicate that what kids do in school on a daily basis is unlikely to be very different in most places. As Richard Elmore notes,

Internal accountability precedes external accountability and is a precondition for any process of improvement.

What does it mean to you for things to be ‘Common Core aligned?’ [Although Common Core chief architect / circus barker David Coleman believes that "people really don't give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think", I do.] Perhaps more importantly, what are you and your fellow educators doing to avoid old wine in new bottles?

P.S. Never fear. This blog post is Common Core-aligned℠. See ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8.

The oligarchs pushing Common Core don’t send their kids to schools that use the Common Core

the same oligarchs who have brought this insane Common Core to fruition do not send their kids to schools that use Common Core.

They send them to Waldorf schools.

Or Quaker schools.

Or Montessiori schools.

Or the Lab School.

You know, the kinds of schools that aren’t run like army drill camps, where the teachers aren’t graded using test scores, where the kids don’t take high stakes standardized tests all throughout the year, where students get to explore meaningful subjects and lessons rather than endless test prep and drills.

via http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-is-common-core-for-kindergartners.html

I don’t know if the Common Core is ‘insane,’ but it’s worth questioning the belief of many that it’s okay to impose a certain kind of education on others’ children that they’d never agree to for their own…

The Common Core standards are supposed to be about bigger ideas and fewer of them?

All of the Finnish National Standards for Math, grades 1-9, fit on just 9 pages. In contrast, our K-8 Math Common Core Standards fit on 70 pages along with another 145-page appendix of requirements for grades 8-12.

via http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/20/a-teachers-critique-of-the-a-common-core-standards

10+1 reactions to closing Iowa’s achievement gaps


Today the Iowa Department of Education (DE) released a report on achievement levels in Iowa compared to other states. The report also focuses heavily on closing the significant achievement gaps that exist in our state. Here are some very quick reactions that I have to the report…

  1. The emphasis on better meeting the learning needs of traditionally-underserved student populations is absolutely necessary. Educationally and otherwise, we often have neglected students of color, students in poverty, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities.
  2. It’s hard to argue with proposed educational solutions that are focused on instruction, proven effective, and scalable, but I think that there is an accompanying, unstated concern: How should we think about educational initiatives that need to occur but don’t have ‘significant bodies of evidence’ behind them yet? For example, we live in a digital world and we know that students need to be fluent with the technologically-transformed information spaces of our time. And yet the peer-reviewed research to support this move isn’t there yet. It’s just sort of common sense: all we have to do is look around and realize that this is a need. Given the lack of ‘research,’ however, does that mean we don’t do it?
  3. I wish that the report’s initial framing of the issues focused on the substantial changes that are occurring in the ways that we learn, citizenship needs in an increasingly-complex democracy, and other concerns related to life success beyond just economy/workforce issues. The latter are definitely important, but preparing future employees is not schools’ primary societal function.
  4. Raybake01If we’re going to work on raising scores and closing achievement gaps, let’s do our best to focus on assessments that matter. Right now we seem to be concerned mostly about average scores on assessments of primarily lower-level thinking. It’s also worth noting that our own National Research Council has found that decades of test-based incentives have done nothing to improve student learning outcomes. In fact, high school exit exams as configured in many states actually decrease graduation rates without concurrent increases in achievement.
  5. Despite the sturm und drang around Iowa’s NAEP scores, we must recognize that there are no objective criteria and/or research-based evidence behind the cut scores for the different NAEP proficiency levels. The cut scores are set by committee and thus are inherently political. The NAEP benchmarks have been vociferously criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Education, and many, many others. The designers of NAEP freely admit that the cut scores and levels are arbitrary.
  6. Is our concern merely about raising Iowa students’ academic performance levels or is it necessary that we also BEAT OTHER STATES AND NATIONS? The rhetoric that’s flying around about Iowa ‘slipping to the middle of the pack’ seems very concerned about the latter. It’s also worth noting that most of the countries to which we negatively compare Iowa also wouldn’t do very well on NAEP.
  7. ‘Rapid iteration,’ ‘living in perpetual beta,’ and other ideas related to quickly trying things, getting feedback to see if they worked, and adjusting course accordingly are all extremely important, particularly in a rapidly-changing world. As such, Response to Intervention (RTI) is a great process, particularly if feedback loops are short in time. But the RTI process also traditionally has been deeply rooted in notions of low-level cognitive work. Terms like ‘progress monitoring’ and ‘data-based decision-making’ are typically employed by educators in service of factual recall and procedural knowledge regurgitation. Turning those ideas toward higher-order thinking outcomes is going to be a lot of work in most school systems.
  8. We need to be careful that we don’t turn ‘fidelity of implementation’ and ‘best practices’ into cookie-cutter instructional recipes and/or scripted lessons (as has occurred in many districts across the country). The report says that we need to ‘eliminate variability in instruction.’ I understand the sentiment behind that phrase but we need to be very wary of simplistic, stupid solutions to this issue.
  9. The underlying premise of the report (and its accompanying policy proposals that we’ll see in the near future) is that education is a system amenable to fairly mechanistic solutions: put in place the right inputs, processes, and feedback loops and we’ll get the desired outcomes. Classic systems theory stuff. Learning and teaching are inherently messy domains, however, that often defeat externally-imposed procedures and expectations. As other nations show, we can improve student learning outcomes with thoughtful, purposeful changes, but we should be prepared for a lot of messiness along the way.
  10. There’s a difference between ‘differentiation’ (as proposed in the report’s description of RTI) and ‘personalization': see McClaskey & Bray’s chart on this. Differentiation is good, but a move away from primarily teacher-directed learning environments also is needed.

Final thoughts

Will teacher quality initiatives, the Iowa Core, and better deployment of RTI improve student learning outcomes in Iowa? Probably, at least somewhat. Are we going to see massive shifts in student learning outcomes in Iowa as a result of these? Probably not. These are school-focused interventions promulgated by the state department of education, and they’re all likely to have some positive impact. But they’re not enough. The research is very clear that roughly 80% of student learning outcomes is a result of NON-school factors. If we’re truly concerned as Iowa citizens and policymakers about improving student learning outcomes and closing achievement gaps, we’ll pay attention to the 80%, not just the 20%, just as most other ‘higher-performing’ nations have done. That means looking beyond the Department of Education for solutions.

Take some time to read over the report. What are your reactions?

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