Common Core Is Testing

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On Wednesday of this week, the Alabama State Senate’s Education Committee “delayed indefinitely” consideration of a SB190, the bill to revoke common core standards in the state. It seemed that that was the end of the discussion concerning Common Core (or as Alabama has labeled CCSS “Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards”). But the House also has a bill, HB254, that it needs to deal with, and it seems that they will be considering it on Wednesday, March 20th.

Perhaps it is still possible to bring an end to our districts insane obsession with testing after all.

Cause you see, that is what the Common Core State Standards (or Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards if you prefer) is actually all about.

Common Core Is Testing

We’ve seen it here in Huntsville, where we’ve already spent, according to Dr. Wardynski, $40 million implementing CCSS. If you don’t believe me, listen to Wardynski and take a look at the report that the district offered to the board at the last board meeting.

It seems that something weird is happening about the testing schedule these days. The report that you see above is the only publicly available report from that meeting, but as you can see in the video below, the report that they shared with the board on March 7th was far more extensive. So much so that at the end of Dr. McNeal’s presentation Mr. Birney actually had to ask for a copy of the presentation to be sent to board members.

If this data and this plan is so important to the superintendent’s plans for the district (as you’ll hear him say in a moment), why isn’t this data readily available on the board’s website?

 

Here’s what Wardynski had to say in defense of the Common Core Standards:

Wardynski: Cathy while you’re on this topic, you know there’s this bill that still under debate down in Montgomery about Common Core Standards. The key word in quality core is core. These assessments are fully aligned with Common Core, and there’s a great deal of rigor in them. And so, uh, if the state took a direction other than parallel with the common core, that would upend this sequence of testing we’re actually undertaking in a matter of months. So our kids have been brought to this standard this year. We’re working towards it; our teachers are working towards it. And, uh, that would be a massive step backwards for this school system. Um, what we will have learned is never get ahead in Alabama. Uh, we’re working pretty hard to get our kids launched into the future, and so, I think the state is going to take about five years to work in all these assessments. Uh, we’re prepared this year to begin working them in so our kids have that option. Uh, they’re working to that level of rigor. And so this system’s moving pretty quickly to move our, uh, kids to the national standards. And uh, a step away from this an is certainly one that will preclude us from keeping data, as that law would. Or that would preclude us from aligning with common core would undo all this work, and undoubtedly millions of dollars of investments we’ve already made in teacher development, uh, preparing for these assessments, training.

Uh, of course, the other key word in there is ACT. To get on to college in this are of the country, uh, you take the ACT. And when we go to the ACT, um components of that are 100% aligned with the common core. The minimal alignment is 66%. So if we’re off training, uh educating our children to some standard other than the common core, I just don’t understand that when we’re trying to get our kids ready to pass the ACT and get great scores to get into college. It makes no sense to head in one direction and then give us our kids a test that heads in the exact opposite direction. Um so uh none of this debate about moving away from common core makes any sense to me. It makes no sense economically, either, because whatever we do that’s unique to us, we’re going to have to pay for as a state. And right here the quality core, the ACT, common core, um, materials, those costs are spread by those who develop them across 47 states. Uh, Alabama doesn’t have enough money right now to educate our kids the way we need to, and I certainly don’t want to divert any money to creating some kind of unique Alabama curriculum that wouldn’t align with college readiness, things businessmen have told us kids need to know, assessments we know, uh, are going to incorporate a lot more rigor. Um, and, and things we’ve already made investments in to help move education forward. So, these assessments here are entirely part of that common core debate. Thanks.

In Wardynski’s own words, “So, these assessments here are entirely part of that common core debate.” (Notice that he again claims that CCSS and the tests that are aligned with them “are going to incorporate a lot more rigor,” and yet again he offers no evidence of any kind supporting this claim.)

Our elementary students will spend the final month of school taking standardized tests. Our high school students will take the end-of-course exams in April so that they will have time to take all of their other tests during the month of May. And spending a month of testing, on top of all the other testing that our students have already done, is how Wardynski believes we should “launch our kids into the future.”

Honestly, if the future is entirely testing without education, that future is a bleak one at best.

No Transparency

As an interesting aside, you’ll note that the material that the district is posting about testing has been purged from the district’s website of late. The link to the spreadsheet showing the testing dates for 2012-2013 that I pulled information from for the “Star Testing A District to Death” post last month is for some reason no longer working. I wonder if they’ve had a computer problem, or something. Well I wouldn’t want the district to lose files, so I’m pleased to share with them a copy of the file that I downloaded last month. I share it here (Test Dates 2012-2013 FINAL HCS Testing Dates (4).xlsx) with the district in a show of good will. I hope they’re able to fix their computer issues soon.

Why is the district being so coy about when and how often they’re testing our children?

Could it be that even they now realize that the testing they’re requiring our district to complete is excessive? Dr. McNeal’s opening comment, that this seems like a lot of testing, would certainly lead one to believe that even she thinks this test schedule is excessive.

But if that’s not enough evidence that Common Core is testing, perhaps this will convince you.

PARCC Common Core Tests Add Ten Hours

This week, Education Week, published a report entitled, “Common-Core Tests to Take Up to 10 Hours.”

Just so you don’t think I’m reading some other conspiracy theorist here, please note that this report is based entirely on information from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. PARCC is one of two primary groups who are developing tests in math and English that are aligned to CCSS. In other words, this organization is 110% in support of CCSS and their implementation.

They are not, as some have called me and others who oppose CCSS here in Alabama, a part of the “black-helicopter” crowd. This information is coming from those who support CCSS.

Even the other primary group developing CCSS assessments (or tests), the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium estimates that their tests will take up to eight and half hours.

PARCC is also mandating that its tests will be administered during a 20 day window when school is 75% complete and then an additional 20 day window at 90% completion.

You may read these details for yourself in PARCC’s “Guidance Document.” This document calls for third graders to spend 8 hours taking the math and English tests and for twelfth graders to spend 9 hours and 55 minutes taking these tests at least twice a year.

In other words, third through eighth graders will have approximately 44 days for testing and ninth through twelfth graders will be looking at 61 days of testing if these new assessments were added to the list this year. While it is possible that some of the current tests would be removed from the test schedule (as Dr. McNeal says, the graduation exam is being phased out), there can be no denying that one of the central purposes of the Common Core State Standards is to increase the number of hours spent and the importance of standardized testing in our district.

Oh, and one other important admission can be found in article about these standards and the testing that will follow:

PARCC documents say that testing times and windows could change, in the wake of research and field-testing, but that “major changes are not anticipated.”

In other words, like the standards themselves, none of these new tests have been field-tested. We have no idea if these tests will be effective in assessing student learning at all. We have no idea if the standards themselves will increase student learning and their “college and career readiness.”

Testing isn’t education. It is a crucial component of the educational process, but it isn’t education. Every day spent evaluating what a student has learned is one less day in which they can learn something new.

Best Practices: Finland

If those responsible for pushing these standards and these tests onto our students actually cared about students and education, you would think that they would look around the globe to see what all those countries who are out performing American on those international rankings were doing. This is known as basing our educational pedagogy and curriculum on the best practices around the world. Finland regularly scores at the top of those rankings, and they do so without any standardized testing. As Partanen writes:

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

Testing isn’t education. And anyone who claims that it is, is usually trying to sell you something.

Ask Your House Member to Support HB254

If you think that your child is being tested too much, please, please contact the Alabama House members who will be involved in a hearing to decided what to do with their version of the bill to revoke the CCSS Initiative (HB254), and tell them to support the bill. Tell them that our students are tested too much as it is, and that CCSS isn’t about a set of curriculum standards nearly as much as it is about testing.

You may contact the House members here:

Rep. Lesley Vance (R), Chair: (334) 298-0668 (office), (334) 298-4948 (home)
Rep. Elaine Beech (D): elainebeech83@gmail.com, (334) 242-7702 (office), (251) 847-2604 (home)
Rep. Mac Buttram (R): mbuttram@att.net, (334) 242-7775 (office), (256) 297-2286 (home)
Rep. Ed Henry (R): (334) 242-7736 (office), (256) 260-2146 (District)
Rep. Thomas Jackson (D): (334) 242-7738 (office), (334) 636-0094 (home)
Rep. David Sessions (R): d.r.sessions@att.net, (334) 242-0947 (office), (251) 865-4275 (home)
Rep. Phil Williams (R): philhouse44@gmail.com, (334) 242-7704, (256) 489-5471 (home)

Common Core is testing. Even the supporters admit this. As Wardynski says the “rigor” found in Common Core is found entirely in the testing that goes along with CCSS. If “rigor” means “testing,” then I suppose that CCSS is more rigorous after all.

It certainly does increase standardized testing.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

30 Comments

  1. We have been told no field trips will be approved after April 15th due to the testing schedule. This means we will have to cancel several meaningful trips since we take most of our field trips at the end of the school year.

    1. I’ve heard similar things from most schools in the district. I’ve also heard that if a class’s Star test results aren’t showing whatever standard the superintendent wants them to show at the moment, that field trips will be cancelled for the whole class.

      1. While your concerns ring true in other states, they don’t in Alabama. I know your intentions are pure, but I really wished folks would not generalize states’ use of the Common Core standards. We only use them in our courses of study. That’s it…

        You are asking to repeal the CCRS for reasons that aren’t even related to the CCRS. As a conservative teacher who values the CCRS, I take offense to that. If I sent this link to a teacher in our state, he or she would laugh. It’s really absurd. I’ll explain….

        STAR testing has nothing to do with the Common Core. We’ve been doing it for several years now. It’s not actually “testing”; it’s called “progress monitoring.” We progress monitor children to ensure instruction is improving learning in English and/or math. We use this tool mostly for at-risk students or those who are are behind grade-level. It’s actually a really good formative assessment, much like the Finland assessment you addressed.

        Alabama did not adopt a Common Core assessment. For grades 7-12, we will use the ACT suite, which includes the ACT+ writing for all 11th graders, something Dr. Bice has been talking about for at least five years. It’s a very smart move, and because of his leadership, students will now be eligible for scholarships they would not have been otherwise b/c the ACT was too expensive.

        There isn’t a conspiracy. We work for your children, not the AEA or NEA. Have a little faith in those of us in the trenches. We have your back. We are not mindless robots. If any of the claims you’ve mentioned were true, I’d be the first to revolt.

        1. Melissa,

          Thanks. I appreciate your insight, but I do disagree with your assessment of CCRS and CCSS, and frankly, your generalization that what is happening in your district is happening statewide including here in Huntsville. There are many teachers in this state who have already read this post and shared the link with their friends and other teachers. It’s certainly possible that others in the state see this as absurd. Trust me when I say, I too see what is happening in our district the same way. Respectfully, until you’ve walked in our shoes here in Huntsville, I would suggest that you save your offense for something more deserving.

          STAR Enterprise testing by Renaissance Learning may be used in your district to provide “progress monitoring” (nice euphemism, by the way) for primarily at-risk students in your district, but it is not being used that way here. Here it is being used as a tool to allow the superintendent to claim his abuse of good teachers is based on data. As it is completely aligned with CCSS standards, the STAR enterprise tests do seem to have more than “nothing to do with the Common Core” as you claim.

          Just because Alabama did not adopt a Common Core assessment (as they are just now being released, I’m not sure when this was supposed to have happened), does not mean that the CCSS or the CCRS are not leading to a dramatic increase in standardized testing as we’re seeing here in Huntsville.

          If my concerns “ring true” in other states, and if the value of CCSS or CCRS is that it aligns all the states to one standardized curriculum, then why wouldn’t it “ring true” here as well. Is CCRS aligned with CCSS or not? They appear to be in my reading of the two standards. According to the CCRS site, the two sets of standards are aligned.

          The Alabama State Board of Education approved the adoption of the internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards along with selected Alabama standards in November 2010.

          My assessment of CCSS as they are being implemented here in Huntsville is that CCSS and standardized testing go hand in hand. If you have evidence that they do not, please feel free to share it.

          And finally, I have not claimed that there is a conspiracy. (I do so love the way people attempt to dismiss ideas by just dropping the “conspiracy” term.) I fully understand that our teachers work for my children. (Your comment about AEA and NEA is fairly telling, however. The last time I checked both AEA and NEA support CCRS and CCSS. http://www.nea.org/home/46653.htm). I have tons of faith in those who are in the trenches. If you will take a look at some of the other, non-Common Core posts, I think you’ll see that I am fully aware that teachers are not mindless robots.

          My concern is that CCSS, as it is being implemented here in Huntsville, is seeking to turn our teachers into mindless robots.

          I’m glad to know that you view things differently in your district. That gives me hope. But as I have asked, please take a walk for just an hour in the shoes of our teachers here in Huntsville before you begin taking offense at my words.

          Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

          1. Didn’t mean to sound condescending. My resolve is wearing down about this whole issue, b/c there is so much misinformation out there. That being said, I still feel as though you’re off the mark at bit.

            First of all, the entire state calls it “progress monitoring,” as it is a requirement of RTI (Response to Instruction). Every school must do this. This came before the CCRS – they have nothing at all to do with one another. Ask your teacher friends.

            Remember one thing: a course of study is not a curriculum. It merely provides the standards to be addressed. Our teachers will still design their own curriculum, their syllabi, and their instruction. They will still select the texts and resources (along with parental input).

            The AEA and NEA mentions stemmed for the repeated use of them I’ve seen in anti-CCRS posts – that we teachers are slaves to them. Many teachers I know aren’t even members of these organizations.

            I can only speak for my district, but this last year has been the most exciting year to teach. We have more freedom to explore, we are collaborating more, and the morale seems to be higher than it’s been in years. The CCRS may be a factor in that, but honestly, it’s not the driving force. Until three weeks ago, we were on a roll. I feel as though this whole debate has thrown a wrench in our progress. Just my opinion….

            1. That’s great to hear (well everything except that your progress has been hindered by a debate–which frankly seems a bit strange to me). That’s what education should be like. I would suspect that your district has good, sound leadership from someone with an education background or at a minium someone who actually cares about education more than pleasing the chamber of commerce and developers. We do not have that here.

              Wardynski brought STAR testing to our district, and it has been directly tied to CCSS here (as well as to punishing teachers he wishes to punish.)

              I wasn’t questioning if teachers refer to this method of evaluation as “progress monitoring,” and I understand that it is a part of RTI. What I was attempting to point out with my snide (my apologies as well) remark was that this is still a method of evaluation or testing. It is still using a standardized test (in reading and math) to evaluate how well a student is responding to instruction in those areas. While NCLB and RttT may require RTI to be evaluated by a standardized test, that is not the only way to evaluate response to instruction. It can be evaluated by classroom participation and discussion. It can be evaluated by student writing. It can be evaluated by homework and other project based assignments. It can be evaluated by a test designed by an individual teacher. It can be evaluated even by the quality of the questions that a student asks. There are a plethora of ways of evaluating a student’s reading and mathematical abilities other than a standardized test. When we limit our evaluation methods to a single method, we will overlook the learning accomplished by those who may not perform well on that single method of evaluation.

              That’s why the best teachers I’ve ever had, and those that I attempt to model myself after, use a wide variety of evaluation methods to assess if her students are responding to instruction.

              While the concepts of RTI and progress monitoring certainly did precede CCSS or CCRS, standardized testing is being given precedence under CCSS and CCRS. In Huntsville, all that truly matters right now is showing growth on the Star test. Dibels is insignificant. ARMT+ is as well. And all of the non-standardized forms of evaluating RTI have fallen aside simply because there isn’t time left once Star is completed. We have students in the district who are taking the Star test practice exams every week, and at times multiple times a week. There isn’t time for other forms of evaluation anymore.

              I’m not entirely sure that I understand that distinction you’re drawing between a “course of study” and a “curriculum.” Are you claiming that CCRS is a “course of study.” According to the CCRS website, CCRS is referred to as a “curriculum.” You seem to be claiming that there is wide latitude for teacher discretion under CCRS. Again, while that may be true for your district, it isn’t true here. Every teacher is given specific and direct marching orders for their classroom and even for how their students must respond if a observer enters the classroom and asks a question. Again, the teacher is evaluated based on how well the students read from the script. While this may not be specifically tied to CCSS or CCRS, the superintendent regularly expresses the view that every one of these responses directly connects to CCSS (he never refers to CCRS, by the way.)

              I know of no teacher who is designing her or his own curriculum (unless they are willing to risk Wardynski’s wrath) without specific district level input and oversight. Again, this may not be specific to CCSS, but that is the defense that Wardynski is offering for this level of micromanagement.

              Education reform, which holds at its heart CCSS, is not a left/right or liberal/conservative issue. CCSS has support and opposition on both the left and the right. If those who are opposing CCSS or CCRS are using a left/right dichotomy, they are doing so from ignorance. For example, you have described yourself as a conservative teacher who supports CCRS and yet it is the conservatives in the House and Senate who have introduced the bills to repeal CCRS in Alabama.

              I am a liberal who is opposed to CCRS despite the fact that it is supported and pushed by moderate organizations like AEA/NEA and President Obama and his Department of Education.

              In other words, I am not opposed to CCSS simply because a Republican has tried to convinced me that everything that NEA supports must be evil. I am opposed to them for what I believe are fairly sound reasons. I’ve detailed them here and here.

              I know teachers who aren’t members of AEA and NEA as well.

              If you have specific evidence that CCRS won’t lead to an increase in standardized testing, I will be happy to run it as a separate blog post. But all the evidence that I’ve seen here in Huntsville and nationally as well has convinced me that it has already lead to an increase in standardized testing and that it will continue to do so once CCRS/CCSS is fully implemented.

              I sincerely hope that I am wrong as I’m convinced that Alabama and the nation will implement CCRS/CCSS. So far all I’ve seen is “the two aren’t connected” despite the evidence I’ve offered to the contrary.

              Thank you again for your comments and especially for your work for the children of our state. As a parent, as a citizen, and as an educator myself, I appreciate it.

              Russell

              1. Yes, of course, the math and English CCRS ARE our courses of study, replacing the 2003 and 2007 we had before: http://www.alsde.edu/html/CoursesOfStudy.asp

                Pretty much agreed on the progress monitoring. As I mentioned in my response to someone else below, I conferenced with my 7-12 English students each week, and we would review their portfolios together. I taught in a very rural school, and I’m pleased to say my “test scores” were the highest in the district and rivaled those in the state. In my last school, my kids were 5th out of 6th in middle grade schools when I started. Moving them to 1st was a personal victory to me, and I DID NOT teach to the test. I managed this not because I’m a great teacher, but because I taught each student individually, as best I could. That was how I progress monitored, and I have 17 years to prove its effectiveness. Not every teacher will do that though, which is why we have the mandated “progress monitoring,” in my opinion….

                100% of our teachers create their own curriculum and/or syllabi. Some self-contained elementary teachers do it collaboratively, and that’s perfectly fine. I work with a lot of districts, and mine is not alone in this respect.

                As for the testing, I specifically heard Dr. Bice say he wanted less testing and more teaching. He’s done away with the grad exam and ARMT+. He’s replacing them with smart assessments, like ACT and its new early grade model, ASPIRE. We have a “waiver” this year for testing, so that we can transition into the new assessments and courses of study. IMO, he’s moving things in the right direction. That’s the only proof I can give you. I will say this. Had we not refined our courses of study to include the CC, we still would be doing the testing you’ve addressed b/c of NCLB.

                Sorry for any typos – typed fast! 😉

                1. There’s no need to apologize for typos. I respond quickly as well.

                  As I’ve said, I’m glad to know that there are still districts that respect teachers and allow them to teach. Huntsville City Schools is not one of them.

                  I’m also glad to hear that Dr. Bice is saying that testing should be reduced. However, replacing one test with another isn’t actually reducing anything, is it?

                  Concerning the defense that these tests were established in NCLB: I’m sure that the majority of the tests that our students are having to take here in Huntsville were established in NCLB. But the STAR test wasn’t. That’s the primary testing tool that has been added since Wardynski arrived, and as I’ve mentioned it’s being used as a tool to abuse teachers. And he defends the use of this test by appealing to common core, as I’ve demonstrated with the quotes above and elsewhere.

                  Did CCSS require this: probably not, but CCSS is being used to defend it.

                  Either way we were not doing STAR testing because of NCLB.

                  Furthermore, I still stand behind the title of this blog that CCSS is testing. Many of the tests that we’re administering here may be a result of NCLB, but CCSS further “normalizes” the testing is education mantra that NCLB began.

                  Testing has increased in our district. The superintendent specifically attributes this increase in testing to common core. As a part of the common core standards, two testing organizations PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are in the process of creating additional tests for implementation in the states that have adopted CCSS, like Alabama. You haven’t called any of these facts into question for me yet, Melissa.

                  Now, will the states be allowed to decide on their own whether or not they adopt the PARCC and SBAC tests? I would suspect that they will have as much choice in that as they do in adopting CCSS: the states that adopt the tests will be eligible for additional funding, while the states who don’t, won’t.

                  I’d be astonished if Alabama did not adopt these additional tests in the near future.

                  1. Just discovered you are a teacher, as I read your blog bio. Sorry about spelling things out for you before. I just thought you were a really smart parent or concerned citizen. 🙂

                    Sounds like you guys are doing something much different than other districts I know about, including my own. The SDE has given no mandate about assessing the CCRS with progress monitoring. So, I’ll just leave it at that.

                    Yes, I’m curious about the PARCC and SBAC as well, but I’m hopefully optimistic (a character flaw) that the SDE will do (or did) the right thing. My understanding is that we chose the ACT suite instead.

                    1. No need to apologize at all. I’m a post-secondary teacher with zero educational education (English – although you wouldn’t know it from my lack of proofreading, philosophy, and religion), so feel free to give me any information you have at all. I am first and foremost a parent who cares about the education that my children are receiving.

                      Unfortunately, we are doing a lot that is different from other districts. I accept that ALSDE hasn’t mandated an assessment regime at this time, and that they haven’t mandated the STAR test either. I hope that they don’t, but it would surprise me if they didn’t at some point in the future (once they overcome what I would suspect they see as their current obstacle in House Bill 254.) I hope that I’m wrong, but as CCSS has been directly tied to at least potential funding, I’m not terribly optimistic.

                      (And no, optimism isn’t a character flaw in a teacher; it’s a job requirement.)

                      Thank you very much for all your comments. Please feel free to tell me that I’m completely off base any time you think I am. I don’t care at all about “seeming” right. I’m not running for office, and I’m not trying to organize a political movement. I simply want what’s best for my kids, and I’m sad to say that I’m convinced that CCSS or CCRS isn’t it.

                      Thanks again, Melissa, especially for all your hard work educating our children. I wish our district were more like yours.

                    2. I do a little work in the English department at the nearby university, so I hear you…

                      I will continue to fight for the CCRS. I really do believe in them. Things are going so well in my district; I’m sorry to hear otherwise for you. I’m excited that our history and science are encouraged to embed reading and writing literacies in their classes, something good teachers have always done. I think the emphasis of informational texts is a good thing. For too many years, we’ve sent our kids to the workforce or college, unprepared for those literacies. As long as our teachers have control of their curriculum and syllabi, I’m good. I pray that our SDE makes the right decisions, and we retain our “sovereignty” over the standards. If testing takes a turn for the worse, or if I’m mandated to teach a certain way, then I’ll raise Cain. What I see now, I like.

            2. Melissa wrote: “Our teachers will still design their own curriculum, their syllabi, and their instruction. They will still select the texts and resources (along with parental input).”

              Melissa, that may be true where you are, but I can assure you that it is not true in Huntsville. I am a teacher and we had ZERO input as to what textbook to use. We were informed, not asked. In addition, I know of no parent that was asked for input on textbook selection, either. We also didn’t know what our textbooks would be until the week before school started.

              1. I’ve worked in several different districts, and perhaps I wrongfully assumed everyone followed the same protocol. Actually, I thought it was an SDE mandate to do it that way. I’ve been in education 20 years, and I’ve always had a “say” in the texts and curriculum. We have “textbook committee” meetings, where each school sends one teacher. We also invite business leaders and parents. We give them copies of each potential text and resources, to be shared with their colleagues. We meet several times and ultimately vote. We are currently going through a language arts adoption (I’m guessing all districts are), and I’ve been in multiple meetings this month. One of our parents couldn’t attend the last meeting, so I videoed the presentation for him. When I visit schools, I see the samples all over the place, so I know teachers are sharing them. The CO would NEVER select a text for our schools, without involving teachers from each school.

  2. Melissa Shields stated, “We have more freedom to explore, we are collaborating more, and the morale seems to be higher than it’s been in years.”

    As an HCS teacher, I can state without hesitation, this is not the case here. There is no freedom for exploration in our classrooms anymore. There is no reaching out and grabbing that teachable moment when you see the light bulb come on in a student’s mind, because you might get off schedule with your lesson plan and be written up and threatened with not having a job next year.

    Also, you can call it “progress monitoring” or you can call it “crap”, I don’t care what you call it, it is still testing and we are doing too much of it. I am already seeing my students begin to shut down from over testing. Only because of the incentives I give my students on Friday’s for the efforts they have made all week, my students would not have tried on the Open End Practice Quiz last week.

    Yes, we are testing too much and I fear it is going to come back and bite up in the proverbial butt!

    1. HCS teacher, I’m really sorry to hear that. I don’t know that I could teach in an environment where my style of teaching and self-created curriculum were not valued. I’ve taught in several school systems, and that has never been the case. Our system superintendent really has a “teacher’s heart,” as does Dr. Bice, in my opinion. That helps a lot. Our own “best practices,” featuring teachers across the county, are posted on our district FB page every day. We celebrate their new ideas and innovative approaches. We want our parents to know everything that’s going on in the schools, more than ever.

      I hear great things about Huntsville schools, especially with Advanced Placement and Distance Learning. It’s surprising to hear otherwise.

      Remember, I didn’t say I was a fan of progress monitoring…at all. But…if we have to do it, I feel like the STAR test is a good tool for at-risk “checkups.” I conferenced with my high school students each week to ensure progress, and that worked really well for me. Just made the statement that RtI is not connected to the CCRS…at least not in any system I know of. And if it is, it’s not b/c the SDE asked them to.

      Agreed on the testing too much. Won’t argue with you there, but I go back to the point that our new courses of study are not responsible for that.

      Hope things get better for you. I really do.

    1. Thanks for the link. I hadn’t actually seen it before. My first response is there’s not much in the way of evidence in this document. There’s no linking to specific sources (except a link to CCRS). This is, in other words, basically a list of talking points. That’s fine, but it isn’t terribly reassuring.

      Can you tell us who developed and is distributing this document? This basic detail isn’t clear from the document or the link.

      Concerning the statements about testing, the document claims:

      The US Department of Education is funding the creation of national assessments based on the Common Core standards, which creates a national testing system.

      States can voluntarily select their own assessments. Alabama has chosen to work with ACT, the existing college and career readiness test provider.

      That’s all well and good, but what it doesn’t tell you is that ACT is, according to ACT, “successfully aligned with CCSS.” It also doesn’t say that ACT is “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards initiative.”

      It also doesn’t mention the PARCC and SBAC groups that are working to develop “national assessments based on the Common Core standards,” does it?

      There are many, many other issues raised by this document, but in an effort to stay on topic (which is something that I sometimes have troubling doing), I’ll leave it there. One last thing concerning the costs associated with adopting a new curriculum: this document lists as a myth that CCSS or CCRS will cost “many millions of dollars.”

      On Feburary 21, 2013, Dr. Wardynski stated that if the bills before the House and Senate to revoke CCSS in Alabama were to pass, that it would cost about $40 million dollars for our system alone. His actual statement was, “we’ve made about a $40 million dollar investment in our curriculum in the last two years, and that would all be for naught. We would have to undo everything we did because we would not be allowed to have materials that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards.” There’s a video on that link if you want to listen to it for yourself.

      He’s using these numbers as a defense for keeping CCSS in Alabama. He is a huge supporter of CCSS.

      If both Wardynski and the document are correct, are we really spending $40 million every 6 years throwing out the old and ringing in a new curriculum, per district? Assuming I counted correctly, there are 135 separate districts in the state of Alabama. Let’s further assume that Wardynski was overstating the costs by a factor of 4 (this isn’t at all unlikely. He regularly fudges numbers when it suits him). So if it costs $10 million per district to adopt CCSS, that’s $1.35 billion dollars for Alabama alone. I think I know a place where we can find some additional funding for giving teachers a cost of living raise for the first time in five years.

      So which is it? Has CCSS cost us $40 million or not? (And yes, I know that’s a question for our wonderful superintendent, but as he actually brags to the board about ignoring questions from the public, I thought I’d ask you instead. :))

      Thanks for the link. Knowing who wrote the document would be a good bit of info toward establishing its credibility.

      1. I received that document from the SDE. I’m guessing it came from them. I agree, links would be helpful. I’ll look into that.

        As for ACT being a partner with Common Core, so is Advanced Placement and Pre-AP (LTF) and dozens of other educational organizations. Having said that, I recently created a correlation document between the ELA and Math CCRS with ACT Quality Core. The standards are not the same….at all. Yes, they may “align” to some degree, but they are different. I’d be glad to send you the link of the document. I imagine most national ed organizations will partner with CC because 44+ states have adopted them, and they are “common” standards.

        My district (made up of 20 schools) spent $600,000+ for new CCRS math texts, to replace the old ones held together with duct tape. Other than sub costs for CCRS training, that’s the only expense we’ve had. However, we’re a very low locally funded district. To be told we couldn’t use our math texts would be devastating financially to our district, as the old books are long gone. We hope to buy new CCRS ELA books soon too.

        Dr. Bice did a line item cost analysis of the CCRS implementation at the State House hearing (I was there – quite an experience). The math and ELA CCRS (COS) actually cost less than the COS 10 years ago (likely because of SDE webinars and train-the-trainer PD). So…I don’t know how to respond to the cost mentioned in your system….other than “holy cow” … What other expenses could you possibly have beside texts and PD?

  3. From EdWeek:

    One of the two consortia developing tests for the Common Core State Standards has awarded a $12.5 million contract to Amplify Insight to develop a digital library of formative assessment professional learning tools for educators.

    The award from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, announced Tuesday, will come from a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, given to support the group of states’ efforts in crafting the exams.

    The consortium estimates that it has given out $90 million in contracts so far, and that it plans to award about $70 million more, a Smarter Balanced official told Education Week.

    Amplify Insight is a division of Amplify, an ed-tech company whose chief executive officer is Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor. Amplify is the education arm of the media conglomerate News Corp., led by Rupert Murdoch. Last week, Amplify received a blast of media attention when it unveiled a new tablet device, loaded with classroom management tools and interactive lessons, at the South by Southwest education gathering.

    This will be the second contract awarded to Amplify Insight by Smarter Balanced, with the first one being granted last year to what was then Wireless Generation, in partnership with ETS, to develop software to report and analyze results from the assessments.

    http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2013/03/amplify_insight_wins_contract_from_common_core_testing_consortium.html

  4. Russell,

    I just got around to reading this post. Just a note regarding your commenter, Melissa. She was all over al.com during the Common Core debate heavily supporting CCRS. I’m not sure what her angle is, but the reason she went out of her way to stress that she is a conservative is because her baseline assumption on al.com was that only conservatives oppose CCRS. What her actual political views are is anyone’s guess.

    Either she is just really passionate for CCRS, or there is something else going on. Given the number of other very passionate CCRS supporters on al.com and the fact that it is known that Dr. Bice used a mass e-mailing to successfully sway an al.com poll in favor of Common Core, I have to wonder if all this passion is actually part of a coordinated effort to influence public opinion.

    Anyway, you guys are having a productive back-and-forth and that’s cool, but just wanted you to understand that she isn’t just some teacher who casually stumbled upon your blog. She’s a hardcore apologist for this stuff.

    1. Ben, my angle? Seriously? I have no angle, other than to support the CCRS. After seeing the Tea Party’s ridiculous claims that our new standards were anti-patriotic, anti-Christian, and Communist, I got mad and I got vocal, responding any CCRS propaganda I came across. It’s laughable that you think someone asked me to comment. I’ve never posted on Al.com or any random blog in my life, but I felt someone in the schools needed to speak up. So…I guess I’m “really passionate”?

      I’m curious what “else” you think is going on. Hardcore apologist? Nice term, but you’re the first to ever label me that.

      I actually did “stumble” upon Russell’s blog when doing some CCRS research, and I quickly found that districts are addressing the CCRS differently. In my district, things are going extremely well. I have received many emails, thanking me for “fighting for the CCRS.” I’m not political at all, but yes, I am rather conservative. I quickly found on Al.com, if one is for the Common Core, he/she must be a flaming liberal. After a few days, I gave up. You can’t rationalize with irrational people.

      Russell is informed and articulate, and I’ve enjoyed the conversation. Even learned a few things and gained a new perspective. I apologize for being an outsider or an “activist,” as you seem to think I am. I’m just an educator in a tiny town who is “passionate” about what I believe to be the best thing for our kids.

      1. Melissa,

        Touchy, touchy, touchy. I never accused you of anything, merely pointed out that there is, in fact, an effort out there to marshal support for CCRS and that some of your comments seem to fall right in line with that. If everything is as you say, then I guess you have no reason to be upset, right?

        By the way, “hardcore apologist” doesn’t have to be an insult. C.S. Lewis was a noted apologist for the things he believed in, too. Cheers.

        1. Ben, of course there are many teachers and administrators standing up for the CCRS (Math and English Courses of Study). We believe in them, and we think they are a step in the right direction for our math and English classrooms. We’ve been training for two years and purchasing necessary resources to support the CCRS. We’re already seeing progress made, and we don’t want to step backward. We don’t have ‘back-up” math and ELA courses of study.

          Check out this 4th grade math teacher’s (from my district) blog excerpt: http://thinkshareteach.blogspot.com/2013/02/in-support-of-common-core-standards.htm She describes the transformation in math better than I could. She’s also one of the best teachers I know.

          The SDE has made no mandate about CCRS texts or progress monitoring. Individual teachers and districts still have control of the curriculum, instruction, and resources utilized. We are phasing out the AHSGE and ARMT+ and replacing them assessments that will truly help students for college and careers (ACT and WorkKeys). We’ve been told we didn’t have to “Dibel” anymore in our early grades, which has been wonderful. Our teachers have more time to ….teach! Your district may be doing something different, but our state’s use of the Common Core standards in our new courses of study have nothing to do with that, at least not from an SDE directive. That was the only point I was trying to make.

          And yes, I posted as myself b/c I felt my words were without merit if I posted under an alias.

          1. Melissa,

            Just please be aware that one of the issues we face here in Huntsville is that we don’t have textbooks at all thanks to the adoption of the laptops and accompanying digital (Core-aligned) curriculum. In order to make that work, Huntsville purchased a complete package — every subject, every grade — from Pearson (one of the big backers of CC, by the way, for this very reason). Gone were the days of choosing the best text for each course and grade. Teachers had no input.

            As you can imagine — and quite aside from the problems created by the laptops themselves — taking this approach means that many subject areas/grades end up with sub-par teaching materials.

            Now here is the scary part for you and your school system: The state BOE, like just about everyone else on the outside, is just wild about our superintendent and the job he is doing. The state BOE is actually encouraging other school districts to follow our lead. So while it may not be your problem yet, you might wake up to find that it has just arrived at your doorstep.

            It’s easy to say that this has nothing to do with Common Core, but that would be a mistake. Everything that is going on in Huntsville is a logical extension of Common Core (and in the case of Pearson, there is a direct connection). It’s also easy to say that Huntsville can only go to laptops because of its relative affluence, but considering how expensive textbooks are these days, our school system was able to use the savings from not buying books, throw in some grant money, and offset most of the cost. This can and will spread to other school systems in the state.

    2. Ben,

      Thanks for the praise about the back and forth being productive. I thought so too.

      To be honest, AL.com is so polarized, I’ve never really found any of the comments sections to be particularly helpful discussions. I rarely take the time to look at them, and I comment on them even less frequently.

      If Melissa is commenting under her own name, she has my respect, even if I happen to disagree with what she says. Very few people use their own names on that site, and anonymity is a big part of the problem there. (The lack of a clear moderation guidelines is another.)

      Anyway, who she is or isn’t on that site doesn’t concern me. Here she has been passionate, considered, and clear. I don’t agree with all that she says, but I do appreciate her voice.

      If nothing else, like yours on occasion when we clash, it gives me the opportunity to refine my argument.

      And it helps me learn when I am wrong just as you did in pointing out that my initial statement about how teachers are being treated by students and administrators was unclear.

      Unless comment degenerate into ad hominem attacks, I’m glad when people oppose my ideas regardless of their motivation.

      Rational opposition isn’t something I fear, but rather crave. Anyone wishing to provide that is welcome.

      Both you and she have done this this week, and I thank you both.

      You may both post anything you wish at any time. You’ve both earned my trust. That’s why your comments are not held for moderation (unless you post under a different name, of course.)

      I’m serious when I write that I want to “seek truth.” Anything less is a waste of time. (And yes, I know how silly that makes me sound. :))

      Thanks y’all.

  5. As a teacher I’m not worried about the Common Core standards for the subject I teach. They are the standards I have been teaching for years anyway. Nothing new there. It’s the testing I’m worried about. The test date is a full month before the end of the school year, and that makes me worry that I won’t have enough time to “teach to the test” to prepare the students for the big exam. How can this be an End of Course exam a month before the end of the course? And then what am I to do for the last month of school? The students won’t be motivated, knowing that the test that really counts is over with.

    Yeah, I have problems with that.

    In addition to that month lost, I have counted numerous other days of instructional time lost due to the Star testing, Plan test, AHSGE, assemblies, weather delays, Pearson training, being pulled out of class for parent conferences, and other nonsense, taking over 25 days of teaching time away from the Common Core standards. That leaves me around 140 days to cover about as many standards, each needing 1-3 days to teach.

    Do the math. It’s almost impossible.

    I wish they would pick one test and stick with it. This is ridiculous.

  6. If I had to make a guess, watching the exchange between Russ and Melissa in these comments (and forgive me if this has been stated already, there is a lot of info to read here and I haven’t made it through all the comments yet) the difference between systems is the leadership. The BOE and the Super set the tone…..the system is a reflection of their attitudes. I would guess that Melissa’s system is more pro student and education where as HCS is pro business. Two systems in the same state but oh so different….

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