Sunday, March 15, 2015

A 'close read' of reformy #PARCC rhetoric

On March 11, The Asbury Park Press ran this op-ed by NJEA President Wendall Steinhauer in which he rightly claimed, "PARCC and other high-stakes tests, by their nature, become the point of learning. High scores are the goal, not just the result."

On March 13, the paper ran this response from Dr. Sandra Alberti with whom Steinhauer engaged in a friendly PARCC debate on NJ 101.5 back in January. Alberti works at Student Achievement Partners, which was founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards including David (people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think) Coleman.

As an homage to the Common Core's 'close reading' technique, below is my analysis of Dr. Alberti's piece. Part of the package of 'reforms' that includes Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing, Pearson defines Close Reading as:   

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
One of the best books ever for 8 yr. olds

In other words: your job as a reader isn't to react emotionally to a text because no one cares anyway (did you click on that David Coleman link above?). No, you just need to read it and understand what the author means. The process involves extensive annotation. Students are required to highlight sections of text and write questions, thoughts and ideas about what the author means in the margins or on sticky notes. I have real concerns about this approach, but hey, what do I know? I'm only an art teacher. But if my now 23 year old son, who read every single Captain Underpants book multiple times and laughed his butt off in the process, told me he had to do a close read of those books when he was 8, I'd have raised a ruckus. But, I'll give it the 'old college (and career) try'.

Quotes from Dr. Alberti's piece are in red. My 'close read' comments follow.

[the NJEA] is spending millions of dollars on a campaign to propagate anti-testing sentiment.
  • How many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the 'campaign to propagate' the myths of 'failing students', 'failing schools' and 'lazy teachers' over the past few years?
  • How many billions of dollars in public education funding has Gov. Christie slashed? 
  • How many millions of dollars have school districts lost to failed school 'choice' programs like charter schools?

One of the top priorities of any educator is to enhance student learning. Tests serve as tools to evaluate and support progress. Until the introduction of the PARCC test, most standardized assessments did little more than provide a score, so parents and students focused on the results rather than the learning.
  • The PARCC test is not diagnostic, so how will it "enhance student learning"?
  • The PARCC only offers a score. Teachers, students and parents are not allowed to see the test questions, so how can we analyze student work?
  • Where is the proof that teacher-designed assessments aren't diagnostic?
  • Where is the proof that teacher-designed assessments are an inferior tool? 

According to a recent survey, 79 percent of teachers said PARCC is a higher-quality assessment than previous state tests. 
This statement is misleading for a number of reasons:
  • Based on Alberti's own source, the survey was not done on a random sample of all teachers in the US. Rather, it was the result of feedback from "1,000 classroom teachers... who extensively analyzed the PARCC assessment" as part of a Teach Plus training seminar for which they were paid. (emphasis mine)
  • According to their website, "Teach Plus runs three programs designed to place teacher leaders at the center of reform: Teaching Policy Fellows, the Core Collaborative (C2), and T3: Turnaround Teacher Teams." (emphasis mine). According to Leonie Haimson of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, words like 'reform' and 'turnaround' are key buzzwords for organizations associated with the corporate education 'reform' agenda. 
  • According to her profile, Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins "started her career as a classroom teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts", yet she does not have a degree in K-12 education. I know nothing about Coggins, but I do know that in order to teach in a public school, one has to have a license. So, I'm very curious as to where and how she taught. 
  • Coggins is "a National Center for Teacher Quality advisor, an Aspen Institute Education Fellow, and a Mind Trust Education Entrepreneurship Fellow." All three of these organizations are associated with the corporate education 'reform' agenda.  

Whatever we decide to do with the results of this instrument is a separate conversation. The PARCC assessment, more than any other standardized assessment we have had in the past, is aligned to good instruction. 
  • It's not a separate conversation. Unlike any other standardized test, the results of this test are very clear: a teacher can be the best of the best, but if her students don't hit their cut scores, she can lose her job. And if enough students in a school score poorly, the school can be targeted for closure or other punitive measures.
  • Where is the proof that this assessment "is aligned to good instruction"? I have seen no long term, peer-reviewed studies, but I have seen plenty of evidence on sample PARCC questions that suggests it is deeply flawed and in many cases developmentally inappropriate.

Because PARCC aligns with New Jersey's academic standards, teachers are beginning to realize that they're not spending nearly as much time preparing students for the test in a way that interrupts education. How do you prepare students to analyze texts or solve rich math problems? You teach. Not drill. Teach.
  • Please cite your evidence. I am very suspect of blanket statements such as this. The math and language arts teachers with whom I work have been overwhelmed this entire school year preparing their students for the PARCC.
  • The NJASK was also aligned to NJ's state standards, and teachers still taught to the test. But the stakes for the PARCC are so much higher that many districts have scaled back other subjects to make more room for math and language arts test prep.
  • The math and LA teachers who have testified at the NJ State BOE meetings over the past few years have all shared the stress and frustration of teaching to the tests.
  • The related arts teachers who have testified at the NJ State BOE meetings over the past few years have all shared the stress and frustration of seeing their programs cut.

However, the state adopted the new standards four years ago, and since then, teachers have had plenty of time and freedom to adjust their curricula. Faculty and administrators — even the NJEA — have praised the standards for allowing them to focus on the real priorities, and within the new framework, students have continued to prove that New Jersey's schools lead the nation.
  • Teachers have not had "plenty of time and freedom to adjust to their curricula". If Dr. Alberti attended any of the open topic State Board of Ed meetings over the past few years, she would have gotten an earful.
  • Teachers are now more constricted than ever before in what they can and cannot teach. Most of their PD time is spent on data collection and test prep strategies. This does not make for good teaching and learning. 
  • Yes, New Jersey's schools do lead the nation because we've always had exceptionally high state standards, and the NJASK was tied to those standards. But what will the PARCC scores tell us when a quick Twitter search of #PARCC reveals so many stories of students purposely throwing their essay answers either because they don't value the test or they're trying to get rid of a teacher they don't like?
  • The NJEA does support the CCSS (this teacher does not) and quality assessments, but the NJEA does not support deeply-flawed and developmentally inappropriate ones like the PARCC. 

We need more technology in our schools. That is not an issue created by PARCC, but we know more about it because of PARCC. 
  • It definitely is an issue created by PARCC. Some early childhood experts recommend far less student exposure to technology than what is now happening in our schools.
  • Will Dr. Alberti be advocating for state laws that allow local school districts to bill the state for all the expenses incurred under this massive unfunded mandate?

We need support for teachers in professional learning opportunities.
  • Agreed. But there is no time for that because too many in- house PD opportunities these days are consumed with data collection and PARCC test prep.

Just imagine if teachers and parents joined forces to offer support?
  • We have joined forces. The opt-out movement is growing exponentially every day. 
  • Parents aren't stupid. We see the change in our children's education, and we're not happy.

We're almost halfway through testing season, and we'll be administering the PARCC assessment again in May.
  • 'Testing season', I find that phrase offensive, especially since the 'season' has now doubled. 
  • I have heard from many librarians, art, music, PE, computer, student support and special ed teachers who are not teaching their students during PARCC testing because of... PARCC testing. 
  • This is not educational best practice. This is educational malpractice.
  • The PARCC takes precedence over all other forms of teaching and learning. Period.

Rather than listen to the shouts and rumors, parents and students would benefit from constructive dialogue, objective information and collaboration.
  • The "shouts and rumors" have been coming from the mainstream media, the NJ DOE and some school administrators as they try to convince, guilt and—dare I say bully—parents into forcing children to take this deeply flawed test.
  • For several months it seemed as though the NJDOE was changing its mind every week or so as it put out confusing and contradictory directives about the tests.
  • Parents and teachers are now working together to inform each other of the latest news and updates.

That is why the New Jersey PTA formed the We Raise NJ coalition. The coalition and the Department of Education pledged to support parents and educators as they help our children during this important transition.
  • The PTA is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, so they have a vested interest in pushing the CCSS/PARCC agenda.
  • If the NJ PTA is so concerned, why did one of its members hide her affiliation when testifying before the PARCC study commission, claiming she was merely concerned parent in support of the PARCC?
  • Where was this commitment several years ago when the CCSS was being rolled out?
  • Where was this "pledge" when teachers were shouting from the mountaintops at NJ State Board of Education meetings that the roll out was too fast?  

The coalition is working to start a real dialogue with local voices across the state about the role standardized testing should play in our schools. 
  • "Start"? Why wasn't this dialogue included in the grand plan from the very beginning? Why weren't educators included in the original blueprint for this massive takeover of public education? The barn door was opened several years ago, and the horse is long gone. 

Giving up on PARCC now tells our children that their efforts did not matter.

"Giving up on PARCC now tells our children":
  • They are more than a test score
  • That the arts, foreign languages, physical education, humanities and other classes count just as much as math and language arts
  • That their opinions, thoughts and feelings count
  • That our society values human beings more than human doings
  • That we will never test our way out of poverty
  • That learning should be a labor of love, not hard labor
  • That corporate spying has no place in the classroom
Hmmm... guess I failed at this whole close reading thing. Guess I wrote too many thoughts and feelings instead of regurgitating what the author wrote. Oh well, I'd rather 'fail' by my own opinions than 'succeed' because I simply accept those of others.