Friday, May 3, 2013

Daily News publishes a few leaked NYS high-stakes Pearson test questions; illustrates travesty of Common Core -And an analysis of what News story portends for teachers

'You might as well just put ‘failure to students’ at the top of the exam,' said one concerned parent. The tests, designed to better prepare students for college and careers, are aligned with a Common Core curriculum students will not begin receiving until September.
Kudos to the New York Daily News. Today, Friday May 2, 2013, it ran, "With fifth-grade test now revealed, New York's tougher new reading exams set students up to fail, critics warn" by Corrine Lestch and Ben Chapman, with Juan Gonzalez.


For those concerned with the civic sphere, the imposition of the Common Core illustrates the faults of allowing non-educators and privateers to design curriculum. And those aware of United States government and the constitution recognize that there are prohibitions against the federal government from defining a national curriculum. But, as how it took Republican Richard Nixon to open China, it took Democrat Obama to finagle this merging of federal policy and mass privatization of curricular design. Sure, the Common Core State Standards or Common Core Learning Standards are pitched as standards, but not curricula. But let's be real: they narrowly define the standards to the extent that the essentially set curriculum.

For parents, the release of some of the questions suggest why Pearson and New York State are so adamant about secrecy: they are deeply flawed. The questions are vague; they are grade level inappropriate: the reading level is a few grade levels above the fifth grade level. In fact, these questions pose difficulties for adults with college degrees. These questions will show why some of their children were so anxious, and why they will be labeled failures. So, of course, the invested players forbid exposure of the questions and answer choices. Parents could get incensed to the point that they begin flexing their democratic rights. (In New York City, these rights are only held by the mayor, but across the rest of the state, the Daily News' expose should be of great use to school boards in local school districts large and small.)
The reader comments at the Daily News site touch on additional problems with the tests, such as the time youngsters are subjected to. All of these problems point to the flaws in placing unlimited blind trust in self-appointed education "leaders" such as Common Core architect David Coleman. Like U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, Coleman has no certification in education courses such as curriculum development.
These tests have multiple problems. In addition to developmentally inappropriate question, the third, fourth, and fifth grade tests are longer than SATs (3.75 hours), LSATs (3 hours), MCATs (5 hours), and the Series 7 (6 hours).
In 2011, the third graders had only 4 hours of testing over 4 days. Now it's 7 hours over 6 days. Fourth graders have 7.33 hours. Fifth graders have 9 hours. This is outrageous.
Field test questions "don't count" in student scores. They are "dummy questions" (that's another headline in the Daily News) being tried out by Pearson. That is completely unfair. LSAT test takers go into that test knowing one-fifth of exam doesn't count. But 3rd-8th graders across NY state have not been told how many questions don't count!!
The NY State Department of Education thinks the rights of Pearson to create the test outweighs the rights of citizens to know what is in them.
If these tests are so great, show us taxpayers, parents, and teachers the tests. What is there to hide?
For educators, these questions show the absolute failure of leadership of Michael Mulgrew. The United Federation of Teachers president has endorsed the Common Core in principle. His only complaints have been about the lack of a better-defined curriculum, inadequate preparation for teachers and its connection with an overemphasis on test-prep, not that the Common Core is a fundamentally deeply flawed policy. He cheerily argues that most teachers support it. Other than this, it should be noted that these are the high-stakes tests that will be the value-added measures by which teachers will be evaluated. Remember that Mulgrew has repeatedly, insistently, said that this sort of evaluation is a fair objective measure. When teachers feel the whiplash of these tests after the release of the results this September, they should keep in mind who they have to blame for cheerleading their use in evaluations. (This was the evaluation system that the Movement of Rank and File Educators fought so hard to put to a membership vote.) No wonder Mulgrew is relieved to have state education commissioner King impose an evaluation system in a few weeks. (Note that this puts Mulgrew at apparent odds with his mentor and former UFT president and current American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. She says that there should be a moratorium on using them to asses students and evaluate teachers until they are better understood. This is preferable to Mulgrew's general endorsement of such tests; but she should be categorically rejecting such tests. The release of these questions should make it more evident that these tests are fundamentally flawed. The more they are "understood" the clearer it is that Mulgrew and Weingarten should reject these tests out-right.)
UPDATE: Lindsey Christ's report in NY1 suggests that AFT president Weingarten is looking to save a the program from the backlash that it is creating, rather than making a principled critique against the use of the tests as high-stakes tests for students and teachers.
"These standards, which hold such potential to create deeper learning, are instead creating a serious backlash as officials seek to make them count before we make them work," Weingarten said. . . . .
"We're talking about a moratorium on consequences for these transitional years," she said.
Weingarten actually devoted much of the speech to praising the new standards and their potential, a position she shares with the Bloomberg, Cuomo and Obama administrations.
The Common Core eschews fictional literature. It is in fiction where we often develop critical thinking, and where we have essential parables for many epochs, such as the present. For there is no better instance than the present in showing the importance of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes." The story could have been written for the twentieth or twenty-fourth century. In the story, some jokester weavers weave non-existent clothes for a vain king. Their line to him is that these are special clothes that are invisible to people that are stupid, lazy or incompetent. The people surrounding the emperor are too frightened to speak the truth that there are no clothes. It takes an impulsive child to blurt out that the emperor is wearing nothing.
This story gets to the heart of the crisis of the present moment: people expressing the conventional thinking on the Common Core and much of current education "reform" are not exercising critical thinking. Hundreds of voices in opinion framing circles are repeating the flawed, deceptive, illogical points that are rooted in dogma and not in socio-economic realities. So we have in the same issue of the Daily News one of the editorials repeating the talking points that New York State Education Commissioner John King and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott have been saying. As with so much of current education reform dogma, few are willing to exercise independent, critical thinking, to question the policies, and to speak out and point out that nearly every plank of the education reform program is based on deceptions and fictions.

Of the leaked Pearson test questions for this April's fifth grade English Language Arts state test, the Daily News authors wrote:
It’s full of long, dense, off-the-wall nonfiction passages on making wind tunnels, soil formation and studying whales. There are two short stories, both set overseas. And there’s a vague selection from a poem about loneliness that students must interpret before choosing among four answers that contain two arguably correct selections.

Students got 90 minutes to complete the 32-page test, which contained 42 questions based on six written passages.

The News asked testing experts, teachers and parents to analyze the test, which state and city education officials have kept under lock and key. Everyone who saw it was left dumbfounded by the killer questions.

“You might as well just put ‘failure to students’ at the top of the exam,” said Tracy Woodall, a stay-at-home mom whose son is a fifth-grader at Public School 1 in the Bronx. “There’s no way they’re going to pass this.”
The roll out of Common Core tests in New York State is momentous. While forty-five states got pressured into succumbing to adopting the tests, New York is among a very small number that are actually using the Common Core tests at a state-wide level. When politicians and concerned citizens in various states want to point to this flawed national education policy's actual implementation, they will look to New York for clues as to what they are in for with the Common Core tests.