Required Reading on Common Core

One of the most calm, well-thought out op-eds on Common Core that I have read from Elizabeth Phillips, principal in NYC's PS 321.  Read the entire thing but here are highlights:

So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

We want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools.  We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.

In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards.  And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph.

Teachers and administrators at my school have spoken out against the overemphasis on testing for years, but our stance is not one of “sour grapes.” Last year we were one of the 25 top-scoring schools in New York State. We have implemented the Common Core standards with enthusiasm, and we have always supported the idea that great teaching is the best test preparation.  We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. 

But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.

I am really glad that Seattle School students are not the guinea pigs for this grand and expensive experiment.  However, if Pearson is getting feedback from teachers and STILL doesn't change the tests, then our kids will have this experience.  That we hear this from top performing schools and they are will to march in protest over this should tell you something.


Anonymous said…
Melissa, you may not believe me, but not all testing companies are like Pearson. More to the point, Pearson does not have a testing contract in Washington and is unlikely to receive one again. There is a lot of ill-will toward Pearson at OSPI and across the state. Pearson has no involvement in Smarter Balanced.

--- swk
Anonymous said…

It really doesn't matter to me much as a teacher whether or not companies are like Pearson. The problem is the time taken away from learning, the cost/benefit ratio, the use of tests to rate and compare teachers, the linkage of many of these tests with potentially life-long student databases, and the message that we are giving children about learning, i.e. you are a commodity.

For me, debating the intricacies of the testing world is like arguing over what to have for dinner in the middle of a tornado.

The good news, as I've stated, is that this ship has sailed. States are not going to put up with this any longer. Our dear Washington is just coming on board late, as usual.

--enough already
Anonymous said…
enough already, please note for me the states that have abandoned their state testing.

Let me take another tact --- if in fact standardized tests are going to be used for the things that you note, then isn't it better to in fact debate the quality of testing companies to ensure the highest quality standardized tests possible?

In other words, if standardized testing is going to be used for school accountability, I do want to ensure the highest quality tests. Therefore, it is worthwhile IMO to demand quality from these commodities, as you call them.

And if you, as a teacher, have better things to do than to debate the quality of testing companies (and I do imagine that you do), others will engage in this debate in your stead. As a matter of fact, Washington has very recently released its RFP for the next assessment contract and people will be debating this very issue.

--- swk
Benjamin Leis said…

While better assessments are worth worrying about I also think the usage model for them matters. So to borrow your language while OSPI proceeds farther down the SBAC etc. path others will be pushing to limit their importance and how often they are given.

There has been a reasonable amount of movement recently away from the Common Core and the 2 testing consortium with I think it was up to 9 states leaving either PARCC or SBAC but its mostly a conservative phenomena and does not mean as you correctly note that there won't be state specific replacements.

SWK, well yes, because Smarter Balanced is just being field-tested.

Will it be shorter than PARCC?

Probably not.

From the DOE assessment of how SB is doing:

"Recognizing the importance of having strong quality control measures, the consortium revised its processes for monitoring and reviewing alignment to the CCSS and quality throughout future item development cycles. In order to provide a focus on alignment and quality, and to increase the percentage of machine-scored items, the consortium reduced the number of items developed for the pilot test from 10,000 to 5,000"

Yes, those strong quality control measures.

"During the item review process in fall 2012, the consortium recognized that the review process for ensuring the quality of the items was not sufficient. As a result, the consortium revised the number of items that were developed for the pilot test (from 10,000 to 5,000) so that an additional review could occur to provide a clearer focus on quality and alignment to the CCSS. Moving forward, the consortium is going to be developing 38,000 items in year three for the field test in spring 2014."

As one blogger said, they got 5,000 done in two years but will have 38,000 done at the end of spring this year?

So I have my doubts. Sorry.
Anonymous said…

It all started in Texas and it will probably all end in Texas.

BTW, Ben: Washington jumps on the bandwagon at the end on educational matters. Thinking we are too "liberal" to follow suit misses the point. We follow the "conservative" states. We get on board, but after the other "less progressive" states (we have copied) have already jumped ship, which is what is happening how.

--enough already

Anonymous said…
Melissa, my earlier point was not to debate the quality of the Smarter Balanced assessments per se but rather to suggest that the debate and monitoring itself was worthwhile. If I read enough already correctly, she/he was suggesting that the debate itself over the quality of the tests and testing companies was futile.

I'm certainly not disagreeing with your conclusion regrading the quantity (and potential quality) of items to be developed, especially given the timeframe necessary. You, I think, rightly demonstrate that debate and monitoring are certainly necessary and worthwhile.

--- swk
Anonymous said…
Ben, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I don't think we are in disagreement.

--- swk
Greenwoody said…
As we saw earlier this year, it's a very open question whether standardized tests will be used for teacher and school "accountability." We do not need to accept it as a fait accompli. The problems with those tests, including those that Melissa describes, compel us to ensure that testing remains used merely for diagnostic purposes for individual students and not for any other broader purpose. That includes determining whether teachers keep their job, how much they get paid, whether schools stay open, how schools are ranked, and how much funding schools get.

The resistance to standardized testing is growing. Let's unite behind that effort rather than quit while we're getting ahead.
Anonymous said…
enough already, Texas has not abandoned its state testing program in any way. They had an extremely excessive amount of testing and uses for those tests and the state has reduced those significantly. But, rest assured, testing-based accountability is still alive and kicking in Texas as well as every other state in the nation.

--- swk
Anonymous said…
It's not about futility but utility.

You are on a bandwagon whose time is up, SWK. Look at the evidence. Tests will become localized. There will still be money in it, no doubt!

This is the conservative anger outlet to Obamacare and the progressive's anger outlet at experimenting on children hitting the perfect storm.

The time is up. Start focusing on test sale approaches to local school districts. That's where the money is about to be made.

--enough already
Anonymous said…
enough already, what bandwagon am I on? Never mind. Please provide evidence that "Tests will become localized." I asked you to provide evidence of states abandoning their state testing programs and you post a URL to an article about Texas reducing its far-flung state testing program -- an article that doesn't in any way suggest Texas is abandoning its state testing program.

You tell me to "Look at the evidence." I'm still waiting for some.

--- swk
Teacher said…

Common Core and SBA are also about linking test scores to teacher evaluations and product development:

High School teachers have been informed that SBA may be used for college entrance exams and I am upset that such a new test will have such high stakes.

What does swk think about Knewton and their relationship with Pearson and Microsoft??
Charlotte said…
I certainly hope SBA will not be used to rank students.
Watching said…
swk states: "my earlier point was not to debate the quality of the Smarter Balanced assessments per se but rather to suggest that the debate and monitoring itself was worthwhile."

Are you suggesting that it is ok to put our children through new tests and "monitor"? Use our children for guinea pigs?
BS said…
Is swk willing to admit that Common Core and SBA should NOT have been a nation-wide roll out? That our children deserve better.
Anonymous said…
Well here's a use for it:

From the video commentary, have to say, there's something to be said about the art (and understanding) of passive aggressive writing, especially in this town.


Watching said…
I'm sorry, swk. My comments were mean spirited.

I used to be a believer in state tests. However, SBA and Common Core have me greatly concerned, and I am upset that my children are in the middle of this mess.

I am also greatly concerned about implementation and I am afraid many of our state's most vulnerable children are being put at-risk. What will SBA and Common Core mean to these children?
Anonymous said…
@ "Watching"
What they will mean to the vulnerable children is this: The teachers have clearly failed those students. Better teachers mean those students wouldn't have failed. We'll just have to get rid of these bad teachers and bring in a new crop. And charters.

It's predictable and pathetic.

Also - yes - the scores are absolutely going to go down. Any new test regimen brings this result for a few years. But in this case, it will also bring a political talking point about how Public School Has Failed Our Children.

What a farce.

Anonymous said…
Here - feedback on the SBC practice tests from

This Test is Too Long!

Author: Anonymous, Teacher | State: CT | Test: Smarter Balanced - pilot | Date: April 8 at 2:59 pm ET
The ELA test had 44 questions. It took some of my strongest students over 2 1/2 hours to complete. I teach in a rather affluent community. I was extremely disappointed in how long the test was and what they were asking of students to do. There was quite a bit of writing in the ELA test, enough (in my opinion) to get rid of the ELA performance task. I understand the point of the PT; they want students to use articles to craft their writing. However, students did quite a bit of writing in different genres in the ELA test. This test is just way too long. I have two students who still haven’t finished and they have been working on it for 2 40 minutes.

I also do not like the way some of the questions are worded. They almost seem written to assess students on how well they read a set of directions or a question. I was confused at times.

My poor special ed students were totally confused. They finished quickly because they couldn’t answer any questions. I feel like my students are being used as guinea pigs on a test that really is above all my students’ heads."

Anonymous said…
And more feedback on SBAC pilot from


Author: Michelle Mallonen, Teacher | State: WI | Test: Smarter Balanced - pilot | Date: April 8 at 8:24 am ET
I question the validity as the type of questions and what is required changes within a section. When I attended courses to create assessments with sound validity and reliability, it was required to create questions that did not have superlatives (more, less, …) or negative words within the question statement. This test does not follow that rule. We were also taught that questions should follow similar formatting within a section. The eighth grade English test has a section where one questions requires you to choose a multiple choice answer, highlight some sentences, and pick a sentence from a list. This does not agree with sound assessments.

Anonymous said…
One more:

The 5th grade questions were written, in my opinion, for 7th graders. The math tasks had multiple steps where any slight miscalculation would invalidate the following 3 or 4 steps. Determining area with high improper fractions and mixed numbers, incorporates area, improper fractions, multiplication and double digit division. While training with SBAC to item write, I was asked over and over to reduce the words in my questions, simplify, and not distract the students with extraneous information. It appeared that those guidelines were thrown out the window. A special education student called me over, "Does this mean solve?" she asked. The question read: Determine the value of the expression. Unfortunately, there were many concepts tested that I will be teaching in the next 3 month of school. A young man started crying as he struggled to write an animal story (with dialogue) after reading three nonfiction articles on marine animals. Having teachers preteach marine animals for 1/2 hour prior to testing does not help a student in North Dakota who has never seen the ocean or been to an aquarium. There were over 40 questions on the math with multiple steps. The ELA had over 30 with many essay responses. As a teacher, I can help my students "close read" a difficult text but if they are not motivated by a thirst to learn they will not reread a rigorous passege three times. Some of the Common Core curriculum is pushing my students in amazing ways but it is not normal for a 10 year old to hold this stamina and preform in a pressured testing environment. My kids were troopers. I gave out treats daily and we will be celebrating the end of testing. A student who was sick all week is home worried about all the make up tests he will have to take. I just found out I won't get results until the fall. I thought we were to have the scores in months. I was told parents will get results and that we shouldn't expect over 40% mastery. I will miss my state test results that showed where the students were in multiple areas and allowed me to see the growth they had after being with me a year. My kids told me they dislike the computer based tests and wish they had the old state tests back. Students like to write and I often print out online articles I have to read and study. If a student can type 35 words a minute and another 10 words a minute how is that fair?I honestly believe the Common Core can not be accurately tested and that testing will show a widening of the achievement gap. Struggling students, ESOL and our special education population will be hurt by the current education trends.

CT, that we hear the same issues, over and over and over, says something.

No kid should have to read a test question over and over.

We will look back at this time and wonder what anyone was thinking (or who was in charge).
Wondering said…
Will students be ranked?

I'm also concerned about cognitive development in relation to these tests.
Anonymous said…
Wondering - the standards were not written by people fluent in the cognitive development of children. Since the tests are built to match the standards, it holds to reason that they will not developmentally appropriate either. So far, all that I've heard and read has verified that. Kids spend so much time reading/deciphering complicated instructions written in verbiage much higher than they would be exposed to in grade level text that they often don't have time to finish their response, or they get to the response part and have forgotten the question. I've read numerous posts about the complicated directions, and the fact that the directions interface isn't very clear and kids are clicking to the next question thinking they're going to a different page to answer the question they are on, etc. Furthermore, many of the tools provided that are supposed to "help" kids (highlight, etc) are actually a hindrance, if they work at all. One of the special ed forums I was reading discussed how some of the special ed kids stimmed off some of the tools - repetitively clicking and were rewarded by whatever it was the tool did - plus it enabled them to escape the pressure of the test. And this is just the pilot...


PS - if anyone needs a job, Kelly Services is hiring temp workers to score tests!
But if you'd rather just respond via Craigslist and avoid the hassle of a temp service, you can do that too.

Anonymous said…
Wondering, the Common Core standards drafting process included a number of people fluent in the cognitive development of children. In fact, the Validation Committee included several people who would be considered experts in the cognitive development of children, especially as it pertains to literacy and mathematics.

--- swk
Wondering said…
CT and swk,

What do you know about linking Common Core to Title 1 funds?

I still think CC/ SBA should have been a pilot--not a national roll-out. Washington State had a couple of years to get ready for CC, but I am hearing a significant amount of teachers having concerns regarding the lowest quartile of students. This is a big problem.
Wondering said…
CT and swk,

Do we know if students will be ranked?
Anonymous said…
Wondering, Common Core and Title I funds are definitely linked. Title I funds are the funds that states and districts receive under Title I of ESEA/NCLB. NCLB as well as the NCLB wavier that our state currently has (but might not have for much longer) requires that the state adopt academic content standards and test students on those standards and hold schools and districts accountable to the results.

In Washington, the state's academic content standards are the Common Core State Standards. Beginning next school year, the state will administer the Smarter Balanced assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, aka Washington's academic content standards. Depending upon how schools and districts perform on the SBA, they may have to expend some of their Title I funds to address the needs of struggling students.

Also, the state/OSPI uses its Title I funds on the current state testing program and will use their Title I funds on the SBA.

--- swk
Lynn said…
I'm wondering what you mean by ranked. Any time students take a standardized test it's possible to rank them by their scores. What is the outcome of that ranking that you're concerned about?

It seems to me that we're ignoring a major cause of the stress children in New York are experiencing - they are told that their scores are a major factor in determining whether they're required to repeat a grade. That is why they're so stressed out before the tests even begin. I can't see most students in Seattle getting worked up over how well they do. (The tests themselves sound horrible and I imagine we'll see more parents opting out - I just don't think we'll see the anticipatory stress.)
Anonymous said…
Wondering, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by ranking students. Do you mean like 'class rank'?

The Common Core State Standards and the SBA are replacing the state's previous standards --- the EALRs and GLEs --- and the state's previous state tests --- MSP and HSPE (the EOCs will remain for a number of years). The MSP and HSPE were not used in the past to rank students, so I don't believe the SBA will be used to rank students.

--- swk
a number of people fluent in the cognitive development of children.

I can only say - that after the writing of the questions - this issue of the developmentally appropriateness of Common Core - comes up time and again.

I believe that for K-2, it's not good and I predict that it will be revamped.
Anonymous said…
Good piece, IMHO, about common core on KUOW with comments from a kindergarten teacher at a school in Redmond:

Anonymous said…
Melissa, I would hope that developmentally inappropriate test items would be revamped, if not entirely eliminated. That, though, is the purpose of fielding testing items.

On a slightly different topic, what bothers me about many of the comments on and other sites is that apparently teachers are reading the test questions and commenting upon them. Teachers are not supposed to be viewing the questions. These items currently being field tested are going to be on the operational test, except for those that turn out to be bad items. That is the purpose of field testing. The field test is not a practice test. And, I imagine that these teachers who are proctoring the field test signed an agreement that they wouldn't view the tests other than reading directions. If so, they have violated their signed agreements. I know there are people, maybe many, who want to get all Edward Snowden on Common Core and the consortia assessments, but there could be real consequences for these teachers. I don't get it.

--- swk
Yes, Chris, that was a good piece.

As teachers, we’re dumbfounded by the fact that [Common Core] research is telling us they shouldn’t be doing patterning, but reality is showing us in our classrooms daily that patterning practice, and working with patterns is crucial for their next steps in math,” Zellers said.

And those teachers will have little in the way of being able to give feedback. I have not seen on place for teachers to give feedback on how the standards play out in reality.

"In addition, a lot of kindergarten programs are only half-day, not full-day. In Washington state, 40 percent of kindergartners attend for just a couple hours a day.

That will make it challenging for them to stay on track with Common Core, Snow said."

Yes, there's yet another reality.

"I think what’s being given up are really developmentally-appropriate things, like projects with cutting and gluing and coloring," Zellers said. "Even just observing kids doing a regular playtime, maybe with blocks or a kitchen area, and using that time to teach social skills.”

Snow said despite many teachers’ frustrations, it’s still too early to tell whether the Common Core standards are a good fit for kindergarten."

Yes, I remember fine motor skills being important.
Anonymous said…
As most of you already know, SPS is thru 4/25 inviting review & comment on the pending choice of new elementary math curriculum - down to three now:

Go Math!
Math in Focus

Being a new-be transfer into SPS in the next year, I'm trying to get up to speed on many fronts (the hard work of these bloggers, combined with the thoughtful, specific, fact-infused and civil commentators is a civic treasure) - and I'm not there

EnVision Math (aka enVision MATH Common Core) link for review is ...Pearson - I cannot seem to get to the home company - does anyone know if this is indeed the same company at the root of what is shaping up be the CommonCore ill-conceived beyond the high-level theoretical and developmentally inappropriate testing debacle? (!?)
Yes, Pearson IS Pearson.

"Although the largest stockholders are a British investment firm called Legal & General Group PLC which controls 32 million shares or 4% of the company and the Libyan Investment Authority with 24 million shares or 3% of the company. According to the Financial Times of London, the Libyan Investment Authority was founded by Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam, his heir apparent until the regime's collapse, in January 2007."

The company you keep.


"Amplify, the company owned by Rupert Murdoch, won a $12.5 million contract to develop formative assessments for Common Core tests. The award was made by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups funded by the Obama administration to create national tests, administered online. Joel Klein runs Murdoch’s Amplify division.

When Murdoch purchased Wireless Generation in the fall of 2010, he said:

“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

There's money to be made off your children. (Real money, not teacher salary money.)
Benjamin Leis said…
I believe most of the comments on places like are coming from New York where they are not doing field tests but actually replacing their exams with associated high stake outcomes. Yes the teachers are not supposed to disclose the tests but in this case I'm more sympathetic to the teachers. Everything is pretty much stacked against them there.

Wondering said…

It just isn't New York:

Common Core is a run away train that needs to be slowed down--NOW!

Wondering said…
swk, Regarding ranking..will Wa. State students be listed from highest to lowest performers?

Did Common Core come into Washington as a result of Title 1 dollars, NCLB or what?
Wondering said…
Interesting. Diane Ravitch writes:

The first question is, what this will mean for Washington State, should Duncan withdraw the waiver? If the state reverts to the requirements of NCLB, then very likely every school and every district will be a "failing" school or district and therefore subject to draconian punishments, such as state takeover, takeover by a private management company, takeover by charter operators, or closure. In short, the entire state public school system would be privatized, subject to state control, or closed. The utter absurdity of NCLB would be on public display for all to see. That might be a valuable lesson for the nation, helping to hasten an end to a failed law.

Another interesting question that the Washington State issue raises is where Arne Duncan got the authority to set the terms of waivers from the law. Did Congress say he could do it? I don't think so. Is it legal for him to create conditions that mirror Race to the Top requirements but without RTTT funding? Congress might want to know the answer to that question, especially Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who will not be happy to see her entire state branded a failure. Senator Murray is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.
Wondering, Common Core came into Washington State because Randy Dorn, like 40-odd other states signed up for it. That you heard little about it points to my belief that all these governors and superintendents thought they would just slip this by and get it all rooted and in place before anyone would notice.

And get upset.

And ask questions.

And fight back.

And get called names by Arne Duncan.

And get told by Bill Gates flunkies NOT to put any CC homework up on Facebook or send via e-mail because "it's just not true."

They were all hoping to get away with a lot.
Anonymous said…
Cognitive development experts?

Wondering, what will it mean? I believe, in the end, very little.

Randy Dorn told me he was very worried about what the public would think if 95% of our schools were declared failing. He thought they wouldn't actually pause and say, "Wait a minute - how can that be?" They'd ask teachers, their district and their friends who have kids in school who would tell them, "NCLB is the reason."

And they will all shrug and move on. Why? Because by now, NCLB is mostly a joke that no one takes seriously. Congress can't even be bothered to renew it.

Duncan has done an end run around laws and rules a couple of time and he may get burned this time.

As I wrote to Diane Ravitch, sure some entities (see all the ed reformers in WA State via the Gates Foundation) will declare our districts need to be taken over.

Would all of us stand by and let that happen? No, because Washington State is not some patsy state that doesn't pay attention and would let them.

We would fight back.
Wondering said…
Ravitch makes some very good points about Duncan's authority and implications about many many schools being labeled as failures.

Stay tuned.
Anonymous said…
Wondering, as Melissa mentioned, the Common Core State Standards were adopted by Superintendent Randy Dorn in July 2011 as the state's academic content standards, replacing the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) and Grade Level Expectations (GLEs). The state superintendent has the statutory authority to adopt content standards as well as develop the state assessment program. The state legislature gave Dorn the authority to "provisionally" adopt the CCSS in July 2010.

IMO, the catalyst behind Washington's adoption of the CCSS was the first Race to the Top state grant competition, which gave states significant points for adopting the CCSS. Washington, like 40+ states, adopted them to be competitive for the grant. By the way, only 15 states received the grants.

And just FYI - Title I and NCLB are synonymous. Title I means Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. ESEA was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

--- swk
Unknown said…
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