Friday, August 23, 2013

Tisch Blames Adults for Kids' Test Stress - Some Common Core Test Double-think, Meeting WNYC's Lehrer, 8/15

*UPDATE: Toxic endorsement alert: Tisch in video interviwe discusses why Bill Thompson has the best temperament to lead New York City - scroll to end

Listen: audio link to Merryl Tisch's appearance on Brian Lehrer's show on WNYC radio

While conscientious educators support standards, critical thinking, the development of thoughtful reading and writing skills, a growing number of educators are expressing concern over how David Coleman's Common Core is achieving this and how the tests are being used against students and teachers.
Click the link to access the audio file of Lehrer's interview with NYS Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, on the Common Core State Standards and the tests, aired on August 15, 2013. After his introduction, he expresses his appreciation for Tisch's mother-in-law, "Billie and all she's done for WNYC." Yet, Lehrer's questions reflect a measure of independence and address some of the controversy around the new standards.
[For more on the Common Core, read my critique, "The Common Core and Gates' Education Commercialization Complex," of its Gates Foundation origins, the secretive, undemocratic manner in which it was created by non-governmental bodies and how it has serious pedagogical flaws for teaching English and teaching social studies.
For more on Dr. Tisch, Chairwoman of Thompson for Mayor, see "Who Is Destroying Public Education in New York State?" Under her leadership, the Board of Regents appointed Commissioner John King, who imposed the teacher evaluation system on New York City. At least she has Ed.D. degree, compared to the state-installed Camden, N.J. superintendent.]

NYS Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, with her appointee, NYSED Commissioner John King, at the historic 8/7/13 NYS Common Core-based test score announcement. Note her straight face, despite the context of being close to people ensconced in the Education Commercialization Complex.

[Tisch begins after Lehrer begins with a statement on the very low scores on the elementary and middle school New York State tests, in New York City, less than a third proficient, Yonkers 16 percent, 6 percent in Hempstead.]
Well obviously, this is a very stressful time in schools, school districts and believe me, all of us who are interested in education in teachers, principals, students, parents understand the stress.
I would want to underline the fact that it would be a mistake to interpret the decline in test scores as a decline in student learning or quite frankly, very importantly, a decline in educator performance.

The results of these assessments I think will give educators, parents policy makers and the public a more realistic picture of where students are in this pathway to becoming college and career-ready, to be well-prepared for a world that really awaits them as they graduate from high school.
We're at a moment of transition. I believe we are at the beginning of a generational change to make sure the students in the United States and for our particular region, New York State, are prepared to be competitive in the 21st century economy.

[Lehrer spoke to the implementation of the tests before the curriculum was fully implemented.]
The preparation across the state has been uneven. Two and a half years ago, New York State announced that we were shifting to the Common Core. In some districts there has been a magnificent amount of capacity building around professional development to teach to the Common Core, other districts not so much.
I would like to remind your listeners that New York State spends over a billion dollars a year, over a billion dollars a year, towards profession development. It is going to be our ability to target those dollars to make sure that every teacher in every school district gets the preparation that is required in order to teach to this higher new standard.

As for curriculum, for Common Core, Commissioner John King, with whom the Board of Regents works, Commissioner King often says you cannot deliver Common Core curriculum in a box, that's not what this is. This is about being able to teaching students to read challenging texts, We're going to support teaching them to support their arguments with evidence drawn from the text, to write from sources, to achieve deep conceptual understanding. For all of those parents listening out there would say one thing: for years we have been hearing intently to people saying that so much classroom time is wasted on drill and kill, in other words, just teaching kids something that they can spin back in a standardized test. This is a move away from that. If this movement is successful and I hope it will be, we will be moving away from classrooms that drill students just for the purpose of regurgitation.

[Lehrer asked whether the tests were "based on that deeper standard of comprehension and that ability to think . . ."]
It's been uneven, I go to schools across the state. I went to a school, very high needs school, very large comprehensive high school, with a lot of immigrant students, students from varying backgrounds and I sat through a professional development hour with teachers, where they were producing curriculum in line with Common Core. It was fantastic to see. I'm not going to name the school.
I went back and I checked in with the principal of the school. I said I know you're getting all these kids from middle school coming into your high school. Tell me what you're seeing. He said from the middle schools I'm seeing a lot of preparation on Common Core. Unfortunately from surrounding middle schools, very little.
It is been the unevenness of the preparation that we are seeing that is contributing to the plummeting of the scores.
I would say every time a new test is given, scores go down. There's no question about that. It's a format, it's a new way of doing things.
I would say with targeted professional development, with educators, parents and students getting used to the formatting, the new requirements, you're going to see a steady rise.

I would say one thing to your listeners, I would urge you all to look at what happened in Massachusetts, undertook this hard work 15, 17 years ago, where they decided Massachusetts was going to lead the pack in terms of high standards. It was a very painful few years, very like what we're going through in New York. Massachusetts emerged as the gold standard in terms of achievement across economic spectrum, across ethnic spectrum for the country. We have something to learn from, we've seen this play out before. But I would urge every to understand that this decline should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or in educator performance.

{Ed.: Rather, see this testimony of Sandra Stotsky, the Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education, from 1999 to 2003, a major designer of the education standards to which Tisch referred. She was involved at the validation stage of the Common Core, but she refused to sign the validation statement for it. In her testimony to the Michigan State Legislature she made a point to say that she is not a libertarian or opposed to the idea of national standards per se.}

I would urge everyone that the decline does not mean a decline in student learning or educator performance.
[A caller mentioned the three days in a row of 90 minute tests in English, then a week of the same in math. Students were unable to finish the test. His own third grade son was getting sick just from the tests. Some of his students were unable to finish the test, weeping, students that had scored 4, the highest level, in previous years.]
It stresses me beyond anything you can imagine that children felt so upset with the testing.
I would say first of all, the highlighting of the testing, in terms what's been going on in the press, in terms of what parents are reading in their local newspapers, that added to the stress. I would say teachers were well aware that this was the first year in New York State where student test scores were going to be used as a barometer for teacher performance.
I think that all of those factors, coupled with the new format of the test and the new requirements of the test have added to an unusually stressful situation. Anyone who that thinks that we are out there to stress children, I would say, then you don't know us. I would say one more thing, in New York State 80 percent of the youngsters graduate from high schools, when they go on to two year colleges, they need to be remediated in math and English. That means they are paying the are paying college tuition for high school credit. What happens is, when you look at the completion rates, after six years in a two year college, the graduation rates hover between 22 and 24 percent. Which means our young adults are not prepared to do college level work where they leave our high schools and are leaving these programs in huge amount of debt. I would say the urgency is clear in the numbers.

[The caller interjected about his students' low scores, and his own son getting sick.]
I would say, that [the low test scores] is a challenge for the adults. Students will perceive a message from us. If we set this out as a new baseline, as a place where we all feel need to go, in order to not only ensure the future of our state, for the future of our country, their future, in order to be able to educated to participate in the greatest democracy in the world and not to be left out. If adults are going to pass their stress along to students, I would urge them not to.
As I said, this was an unusual perfect storm of events. I am expecting as this first wave of data comes across our desks, I'm expecting that the level of the rhetoric will change to an intense focus on professional development around curriculum development and instruction.

[A teacher favored the Core but commented on the professional development as focusing on test scores and convergent thinking.]
You know, I would remind your listeners, Brian, that we took a lot of this into account as we designed the system. We went to the federal government. We said that New York State was going to be probably the first state, with the exception of Kentucky, to move to the new Common Core assessments. And the one thing we don't want to do is identify our schools, our teachers or our students as failing. Our waiver requirement to the federal government we sought and got permission not to identify any schools or school districts as failing, based on this new set of tests. We're kind of holding schools and school districts harmless [sic]. Additionally, one of the things that we did, knowing that teacher evaluation was going to kick in across New York State, with the exception of New York City, we created the algorithm about teacher evaluation, where we said, based on this new test, we would effectively have the same number of teachers performing in each of the categories, the bottom category to the top category, and ultimately, that is what we did create.

We worked closely with the teachers' union in the design of evaluation. We worked very closely with the state, with the legislature, very closely with the governor's office. In New York State there is a law. The law says that state tests are going to align with Common Core standards, that there will be an evaluation system based on student performance, but we were very clear, very clear in New York State that we were not going to overly count student test scores to evaluate teachers.

[Lehrer then paraphrased Dr. Diane Ravitch's contention that the tests "reflect the the National Assessment of Education Proficiency, NAEP, standards, which really measure if the student is doing work that will get them an A, proficiency equals an A. So, when we say 70 percent of the students in New York City tested not proficient on the new state test so 70 percent failed the test, Diane Ravitch says, that's misleading . . . Does she have a point?"]
You know I always-- I never comment on what Diane says, she's obviously a great scholar and very thoughtful, we just have a divergent opinion here. I would say, however, that over the years, Diane has changed her mind about testing, first she was for testing, then she was against it. I would also remind everyone that she did sit on the NAEP board and so she is very knowledgeable about the use of testing, et cetera, et cetera [sic]. I don't discount discount anything Diane says but I would say to your listeners one thing, New York State is committed to educating every student, no matter where they live, no matter what their socio-economic background is, to a standard, and that standard is to align them with the possibility that when they graduate from high school and have a high school diploma in New York State they actually have a choice: do they want to pursue a career or do they want to pursue higher education. Right now, across this great country and this great state, many youngsters and we can visualize where those youngsters live, graduate high school with no choice at all. Now we can sit back and be complacent about that or we can have really tough conversations about it.

[Lehrer asked about the passing grades of 3 or a 4, about whether they measure A level work or did that measure merely grade level work.]
In my opinion, it measures grade level work.
I would say that this new push to Common Core will change the paradigm of testing. For a decade testing has been driving instruction and curriculum...this obsession with "drill and kill" has been driving what kids are exposed to in the classroom and how classroom time is used. If we start to focus on critical thinking and the development of critical thinking, I believe that instruction and curriculum and best practice will drive the test. That is a paradigm shift, and that is why we are taking this on.
[Lehrer asked whether a better test can co-exist with not teaching to the test.]
Tisch: absolutely.
[Lehrer: "Let's hope it works out that way. NYS Board of Regents chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch thank you for coming on and answering our questions."]

* * *
See "6 Insulting Things NYSED Keeps Repeating" at Stop Common Core NY's News page.
[See also, the other Stop Common Core in New York State page.]
Tisch's criticism that parents are to blame for passing their stress onto their children is an echo of the line that the NYSED Associate Commissioner is pushing, as Stop Common Core NY reports:
Ken Wagner, Associate Commissioner of NYSED, told the New York Times that he was worried that the concerns of parents were rubbing off on their children, causing kids to suffer anxiety about the state tests. He’s then quoted as saying, "My heart goes out to any kid that’s suffering stress or anxiety, but we have to think very strategically about the messages that students are getting from the adults they are around."
Two major problems with this: (1) the parent concern was a direct result of kids’ anxieties and fears, not the other way around; and (2) who gets to make the “strategy” regarding what messages kids get to hear from their concerned parents? If there’s one thing that’s getting very tiring around here, it’s listening to state officials trying to tell parents how to parent. It’s especially tiring because the parental “advice” they’re offering has nothing to do with kids–it has only to do with not making their corporate buddies mad.
Of Tisch, Stop Common Core NY wrote of her cold response to reports of children getting sick from the tests:
Merryl Tisch, who is also not technically part of NYSED, is the Chancellor of the Board of NY Regents. She was seen in a recent Wall Street Journal piece responding to reports from principals, teachers, students, and parents of kids breaking down crying during and after tests, vomiting during tests, and not wanting the leave the bathroom–all due to the anxieties and stress of the overwhelming English-Language Arts testing during the last three days. Her response was that she visited several schools and only saw one kid crying. The Wall Street Journal then goes on: But she called it a “healthy problem.” It would be worse, she said, if tests were described as unfair or poorly done. Last year, for example, the state had to toss out questions related to a passage that was widely ridiculed for being confusing. “I would be so bold as to say they were better than most people expected them to be,” she said.
So, it’s healthy for our kids to suffer this way, according to the obviously out-of-touch and basically stone-hearted Tisch. And we’re going to go ahead and join the growing camp of people with test design experience who suggest that this year’s tests are not just poorly done and unfair (which we can only assume from the stories we’ve heard, since we can’t see the tests for at least another year). They are a flat-out disaster. They are, as Chris Cerrone has written, a #fail–with a hashtag!
Likewise, it is evident that the Common Core curriculum and test prep are stressing out the children and then the parents in this story from the Staten Island Advance, "Culture of testing takes a toll on Staten Island pupils and their families," and this is further evident in this video:

Teachers and parents alienated by the tests might interested in the issue of the tests and profiteering would find Alyssa Figueroa's "8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests" enlightening reading.
The privatizers love to rant about how the parents are not involved or are not protesting in the cities. Well, when you have state education executives lecturing down to parents as you see above from Wagner and Tisch, when you take away elected school boards, when you have puppet Panel for Educational Policy and when you have sham local democracies in the Community Education Councils (CECs) you weaken the political culture for parent engagement.
* * *
Some WNYC listener comment gems; note the doublethink (the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory beliefs as correct) that JHC notes (10:38 AM):

A listener commented:
Brian thank you for this segment. There is so much to say...I don't know where to start!
First, I find it ironic that Tisch cites Massachusetts as the "gold standard". Brian did you know before this segment that Mass actually rejected the Common Core curriculum as inadequate and will not be participating? Did you know that NYS adopted the Common Core BEFORE it was released...basically buying a product sight-unseen?
OF COURSE, all children should graduate from HS "college or career" ready. However, there is nothing to indicate that extensive standardized testing, administered year after year, does anything to enhance student learning. So, my first question would be...why do we need to test so frequently? Why not just test at benchmark years? Could it be because Pearson stands to make so much money from this increased testing? Who in NYS is going to benefit from Pearson donations...we've got to follow the money!
Brian we need to follow the money on the Common Core and it's mandatory testing component. There are just 2 or 3 corporations who are going to be selling these products to us, at whopping profits. THAT is the real story here...we are about to privatize education, removing all local control and even national control...handing the reigns of our educational system to Pearson, inBloom and PARCC. THAT is the story!
Another listener commented:
I was disturbed by Chancellor Tisch's responses to the teacher who spoke about the impact testing was having on his students. Either she was patronizing him or she really didn't understand his point at all. . .She speculates that over time has everyone will become accustomed to the tests and every one will feel more comfortable with them. This is absurd and shows her obvious lack of concern for the sensibilities of our teachers and the children and their families.
Testing has it's place but there are many other, less stress inducing ways to do evaluations and assessments. Testing is just less time consuming and more cost effective over time and more profitable for the companies that produce them and whose Boards of Directors have the ear of the Chancellor.

Another listener commented on the cut scores and how parents will only learn of their children's test scores on August 26: 

I also want to hear about the "cut scores." Were they determined (4 being highest, 1 the lowest) after scores around the state came in? Is the "proficient" rating equal to the NAEP's "proficient" rating, which experts say is equivalent to an "A"? Parents deserve much more transparency from the State Education Department. It is disgraceful that we find out our children's individual scores starting August 26. Our schools pay out of their own budgets to implement the testing program, which is equivalent to a mass experiment across the state. Parents across NY state, via CECs, school boards, and other means, are coming together to ask questions about the New York state regimen, and we are entitled to more answers. For residents and parents who are interested, please go to

dba from nyc
Since these scores will ultimately be tied to teacher evaluation with Danielson, then most teachers would have been judged ineffective on the testing component of the evaluation. So let's say we get a pass this year. What will happen next year when test scores -- I am certain -- will not increase? Will all of these students' teachers be fired when they get 2 consecutive ineffectives as required by the evaluation? And why didn't the students of all of Bloomberg's new schools, with young energetic teachers who replaced the old "deadwoods" who were pushed out when schools were closed, perform better throughout all these years he's controlled the schools? The main problem underlying this "reform" movement is that these "reformers", including King and Tisch have no classroom teaching experience and wouldn't last 5 minutes in a typical high needs school.
Aug. 15 2013 11:20 AM

Rocco P. Hill from NYC
Brian thanks for holding her to that Diane Ravitch question. It is absurd that, as the Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents, Tisch "will never comment on anything that Diane says!"
 . . .
Three questions that I wish were asked:
1. Why are some states pulling out of CCSS?
2. What happens to NYS when RttT money runs out?
3. Is it true that parents are split down the middle on the entire premise of the testing associated with Common Core?
Aug. 15 2013 11:03 AM

As a college teacher, I absolutely disagree with Tisch that tests will help make my students more ready for plenty of reasons.
But, even more fundamentally than that, doesn't she just SOUND like a total phony speaking a party line?
Aug. 15 2013 10:48 AM

Jennifer from Westchester
Has Ms. Tisch read over the NY State workbook materials herself? They are frought w/errors an questionable answers. These kids are not being taught the humanities anymore-very poor history, politics, social studies, arts etc....and a bunch of math and grammar drills. I think the regents are in bed w/the testing companies and their very lucrative constant changing of the curriculum and the materials the schools keep having to buy or else funds will be cut. Ms. Tisch-the kids are suffering from your politics. You are insensitive.
Aug. 15 2013 10:45 AM

Bob from Huntington
This is not a "higher standard," as your guest maintains, this is a different standard that comports with the desires of industry leaders and their political allies to create a population of workers more attuned to their needs. So kiss
social studies and history good bye. We don't need a population of disgruntled workers capable of discerning where the political and economic developments of the last 40 years have placed them--less well off than their parents and grandparents.
A recently retired teacher writes here about the deficiencies of students educated entirely under Bush and Obama education policies:
Aug. 15 2013 10:39 AM

JHC from NYC

In the last 5 minutes, Dr. Tisch has said "The drop in test scores should not be read as a drop in educator performance." Also, "This is the first year these tests are being used to gauge educator performance." (Paraphrases, but accurate ones.) Which is correct?

Aug. 15 2013 10:38 AM

Tisch has tried to separate herself from the issue of whether she has authority over New York City schools. But Peter DeWitt, writing in Education Week, and noting her role leading Bill Thompson's mayoral campaign, stressed that her statewide authority sets the parameters for what happens in New York City schools.
"Run" the city's school system is such an ugly word. It's easier to control all the schools in New York State by setting policy that will force them to comply. With increased accountability and mandates that control every move that schools make, as Chancellor she certainly does run schools.

Regents Chancellor Tisch explains why Thompson has the best temperament to lead New York City. She makes it clear that implementation of "roll-out" of the Common Core is the paramount objective of teachers and schools. "The reason to test to the Common Core is because the Common Core is being rolled out." What circulatory logic!from City & State site. Yes, we need to practice close reading, but we also need to employ logic in expository writing. Whoops! That might lead us to personal narrative, which de facto national commissioner of education David Coleman says is a no-no.: