Posts tagged ‘Common Core Standards’

May 4, 2015

Pending version of NCLB bill removes pressure on states to use Common Core Standards

by Grace

The pending successor to No Child Left Behind that is the latest version of the reauthrized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will take federal pressure off states to use Common Core Standards.

The latest bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and appears to have a good chance of approval by both houses.  It does not incentivize states into adopting CCS.  Committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R) described it this way.

… our proposal would end federal test-based accountability and restore state and local responsibility for creating systems holding schools and teachers accountable. State accountability systems must meet limited federal guidelines, including challenging academic standards for all students, but the federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards or even incentivizing states into adopting specific standards. In other words, whether a state adopts Common Core is entirely that state’s decision. This transfer of responsibility is why we believe our proposal will result in fewer and more appropriate tests.

Our proposal allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems that link student achievement to teacher performance. States will be allowed to use federal funds to implement evaluations the way they see fit.

Without knowing more details, it’s difficult to know if there will be much pressure for states to establish and maintain high academic standards.  How individual states react may be at least partly determined by how much pressure they feel from teacher unions and parents, many of whom have opposed CCS implementation.

Jennifer Rubin sees a compromise that partially placates several groups..

… The president will get NCLB reauthorized, conservatives will make sure the feds’ role is properly restricted, conservative activists can chalk up a win and backers of high standards can disentangle that issue from NCLB.

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Jennifer Rubin, “A big legislative win on education”, Washington Post,  April 24, 2015.

December 12, 2014

‘it’s mostly facts that end up separating rich kids from poor kids’

by Grace

By teaching them “facts”, schools can make a difference in helping bring kids out of poverty.

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Facts, background knowledge, and content knowledge are all education-related terms that can be used interchangeably, and can be defined this way:

… the facts, concepts, theories, and principles that are taught and learned, rather than to related skills—such as reading, writing, or researching—that students also learn in academic courses.

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When it comes down to it, E.D. Hirsch would argue that it’s mostly facts that end up separating rich kids from poor kids.

He says its facts like the meaning of “common denominator” or understanding what an “ombudsman” does or knowing who Geronimo was that offer many middle- and upper-class students—who learned the terms at home and in their community—a clear advantage in life, while their poorer peers often miss out on absorbing this basic cultural knowledge.

“Facts are what you need to read properly, and to learn more, and to communicate,” says Hirsch, author, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia.

In 1987, Hirsch wrote the book on teaching facts:  Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  It was hailed as innovative, but also criticized as being “elitist, Eurocentric and focused too heavily on rote memorization”.

Now, at 86, he’s seeing the teaching philosophies he’s championed for nearly 30 years becoming a basis for curriculum changes in schools across America.

Common Core Standards

The standards don’t dictate specifically what facts kids learn, but they do guide what students should generally be able to do in math and language arts, such as “establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance.”

Reading comprehension is dependent on background knowledge.

“There’s an enormous amount of data showing that background knowledge is absolutely vital to reading comprehension,” says Dan Willingham, a U.Va. psychology professor who says Hirsch’s concepts fall in line with current research on how the human brain learns. “Your understanding of text is dependent on what you already know about it.”

The new standards are promising, but success depends on proper implementation.

As for how Common Core standards might change what students learn in schools, Hirsch says he’ll reserve any enthusiasm for when he sees how the standards are put into place.

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Carrie Madren, “The Facts of the Matter”, University of Virginia Magazine, Winter 2014.

October 31, 2014

Common Core Math Standards will reduce participation in higher-level math courses

by Grace

Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses

Will the adoption of CCMS push some school districts to lower standards for all students?

Common Core math standards (CCMS) end after just a partial Algebra II course. This weak Algebra II course will result in fewer high school students able to study higher-level math and science courses and an increase in credit-bearing college courses that are at the level of seventh and eighth grade material in high-achieving countries, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Federal pressure to eliminate higher-level math courses

Low-income students will also be hurt the most by the shift to weaker math standards. Since the Common Core math standards only end at a partial Algebra II course, nothing higher than Algebra II will be tested by federally funded assessments that are currently under development. High schools in low-income areas will be under the greatest fiscal pressure to eliminate under-subscribed electives like trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus.

Lower chances of graduating from college

Research has shown that the highest-level math course taken in high school is the single best predictor of college success. Only 39 percent of the members of the class of 1992 who entered college having taken no farther than Algebra II earned a college degree. The authors estimate that the number will shrink to 31-33 percent for the class of 2012.

20141030.COCHighestLevelMathCollege2

CCMS are ‘not for STEM’

Two of the authors of the Common Core math standards, Jason Zimba and William McCallum, have publicly acknowledged the standards’ weakness. At a public meeting in Massachusetts in 2010, Zimba said the CCMS is “not for STEM” and “not for selective colleges.”

Incentives have consequences.

What can we expect for results in our high schools? Because CCMS-aligned SAT and ACT tests will cover, at best, only the first two years of a high school curriculum (that is as far as the CCMS go, despite all the misleading rhetoric about how advanced they are), they will incentivize our students to learn nothing beyond what is in a junior-high-school level curriculum in high-functioning education systems. Indeed, the CCMS tests will encourage our high schools to spend four years teaching students what is taught in two years—and by grade 9—in the educations systems of our economic competitors. As we have seen, two of the three CCMS lead writers have publicly admitted the college readiness level is “minimal.”

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“Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses”, Pioneer Institute, Sept. 8, 2014.

Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram White, The Revenge Of K-12: How Common Core And The New SAT Lower College Standards In the U.S., Pioneer Institute, September 2014.

October 24, 2014

Trying to teach the enigmatic and increasingly popular skill of critical thinking

by Grace

The mysterious skill of “critical thinking” — schools try to teach it and employers seek workers who have it.  But the definition is  hard to pin down.

Here are some definitions of critical thinking:

  • “The ability to cross-examine evidence and logical argument. To sift through all the noise.”
    -Richard Arum, New York University sociology professor
  • “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”
    -Linda Elder, educational psychologist; president, Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • “Do they make use of information that’s available in their journey to arrive at a conclusion or decision? How do they make use of that?”
    -Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting, Goldman Sachs Group

I like the first definition the best, but of course employers define it any way that makes sense for their workplace.

In any case, it has become an increasingly sought-after skill.

Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com. The site, which combs job ads from several sources, found last week that more than 21,000 health-care and 6,700 management postings contained some reference to the skill.

A concrete example of what critical thinking means in the workplace comes from NYU music business graduate Brittany Holloway.

Ms. Holloway, who now works as a content-review and fraud specialist at Brooklyn-based digital-music distributor TuneCore, defines the skill as “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.”

Ms. Holloway, 21 years old, says her current job requires her to think critically when screening music releases before they’re sent to digital stores like Apple Inc.’s iTunes.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are related, and employers report they are having difficulty finding college graduates that measure up in those areas.  Colleges, having “institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor”, are regularly chastised for failing to teach those skills.

A broad base of knowledge is needed before we can become critical thinkers.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Will Common Core Standards help develop critical thinking skills?

Part of the problem is a decline in content-based instruction that affects students from kindergarten to college.  Common Core Standards, with their emphasis on non-fiction reading and evidence-based writing, may remedy that.  But that is still to be determined, partly due to the ongoing implementation problems of CCS.

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Melissa Korn, “Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2014.

October 10, 2014

A message to education reformers:  memorization and repetition are still needed

by Grace

Amid the controversy of how Common Core Standards are changing American K-12 math education, engineering professor Barbara Oakley argues that the value of memorization and practice continues to be downplayed.

Common Core Standards “propose that in mathematics, students should gain equal facility in conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application”.  But implementation of CCS does not always follow those guidelines.

The devil, of course, lies in the details of implementation. In the current educational climate, memorization and repetition in the STEM disciplines (as opposed to in the study of language or music), are often seen as demeaning and a waste of time for students and teachers alike. Many teachers have long been taught that conceptual understanding in STEM trumps everything else. And indeed, it’s easier for teachers to induce students to discuss a mathematical subject (which, if done properly, can do much to help promote understanding) than it is for that teacher to tediously grade math homework. What this all means is that, despite the fact that procedural skills and fluency, along with application, are supposed to be given equal emphasis with conceptual understanding, all too often it doesn’t happen. Imparting a conceptual understanding reigns supreme—especially during precious class time.

The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. By championing the importance of understanding, teachers can inadvertently set their students up for failure as those students blunder in illusions of competence. As one (failing) engineering student recently told me: “I just don’t see how I could have done so poorly. I understood it when you taught it in class.” My student may have thought he’d understood it at the time, and perhaps he did, but he’d never practiced using the concept to truly internalize it. He had not developed any kind of procedural fluency or ability to apply what he thought he understood.

I’ve read similar reports about how CCS continues to prioritize understanding at the expense of fluency.  My experience several years ago was that teachers used to focus heavily on understanding, and I was told not to be concerned when my child had not mastered basic math facts because it was more important that she understand the concepts.  Meanwhile she was falling behind in all aspects of learning.  Is this still common?

Explaining and discussing alone do not lead to full understanding and mastery.

In the years since I received my doctorate, thousands of students have swept through my classrooms—students who have been reared in elementary school and high school to believe that understanding math through active discussion is the talisman of learning. If you can explain what you’ve learned to others, perhaps drawing them a picture, the thinking goes, you must
understand it.

Chunking is important in analyzing and reacting to new learning situations.

Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. Chess masters, for example, can recall tens of thousands of different chess patterns. Whatever the discipline, experts can call up to consciousness one or several of these well-knit-together, chunked neural subroutines to analyze and react to a new learning situation. This level of true understanding, and ability to use that understanding in new situations, comes only with the kind of rigor and familiarity that repetition, memorization, and practice can foster.

Gifted students and experts are often able to quickly reason their way into algorithms when solving math problems, arguably because of their deep understanding.  But I don’t think most students find that to be a good approach in the typical learning process, as it slows them down as they are practicing to gain both fluency and understanding.  On the other hand, I’m sure many students simply memorize with no understanding, thereby failing to build the foundation for later math success.

Of course both understanding and fluency are important, and in the real world the critical questions are usually:  Can you do it?  Can you do it quickly?

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Barabara Oakley, “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math”, Nautilus, October 2, 2014.

September 25, 2014

Seven myths of education are hobbling education reform

by Grace

Author Daisy Christodoulou argues that the “chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates”, but instead are the Seven Myths about Education:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. points out the relevance of these myths today, with the nationwide embrace of Common Core Standards that comes after the failure of No Child Left Behind reform.

Ms. Christodoulou’s book indirectly explains these tragic, unintended consequences of NCLB, especially the poor results in reading. It was primarily the way that educators responded to the accountability provisions of NCLB that induced the failure. American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge; in preparation for the tests, they spent many wasted school days on ad hoc content and instruction in “strategies.” If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. The failure was not in the law but in the myths.

While Hirsch focuses most on reading skills and how CCS employ ‘the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies”‘, the entire list of myths is in play to doom the latest reform efforts.

… If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou….

Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, CCS implementation continues the educational establishment’s crusade against “knowing things” and “being taught things”.  Instead, in accordance with the seven myths it downplays outside knowledge and encourages a “discovery-oriented” approach instead of direct instruction.

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E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,  “A Game-Changing Education Book from England”, Huffington Post, 06/27/2013.

September 18, 2014

‘Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable’

by Grace

In New York, the rushed implementation of Common Core Standards combined with the new method of evaluating teachers have produced bizarre results that seem to offer no value in the effort to improve schools.

In Scarsdale, regarded as one of the best school systems in the country, no teacher has been rated “highly effective” in classroom observations. It is the only district in the Lower Hudson Valley with that strict an evaluation. In Pleasantville, 99 percent of the teachers are rated as “highly effective” in the same category.

“Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable,” said Charlotte Danielson, a Princeton, New Jersey-based educational consultant who has advised state education departments around the country. Danielson’s model for evaluating teachers via classroom observations, Framework for Teaching, is one of the best-known models in the country and believed to be the basis for New York’s evaluation system.

The new method for evaluating teachers is as flawed as the old method.

The fact that 80 percent of the evaluation is based on local measures can inject a lot of subjectivity into the process, critics say. A look at the teacher evaluation data by the state Education Department shows that districts have the most leeway in the classroom observation portion of the rubric, which accounts for 60 percent of the evaluation.

“The local administrators know who they are evaluating and are often influenced by personal bias,” Danielson said. “What it also means is that they might have set the standards too low.”

Administrators feel they must game the system to protect their teachers.

Pleasantville schools Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter defended her district’s classroom observation scores, which use the Danielson model — saying the state’s “flawed” model had forced districts to scale or bump up the scores so “effective” teachers don’t end up with an overall rating of “developing.”

“It is possible under the HEDI scoring band (which categorizes teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective”) to be rated effective in all three areas and yet end up as developing,” Fox-Alter said, adding that she understood Danielson’s concern.

“Danielson has said that teachers should live in “effective” and only visit “highly effective’,” said Fox-Alter, president of the Southern Westchester Chief School Administrators.

But adhering to that philosophy might put her teachers in jeopardy, she said.

The use of tests to measure teacher effectiveness is not without controversy, but as usual our public schools have compounded the problematic aspects with their sloppy implementation.  The result is a thorny mess that falls short of achieving previously stated goals.

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Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, “Teacher evaluations: Subjective data skew state results”, lohud.com, September 15, 2014.

August 8, 2014

Common Core proficiency rates were selected to match SAT college readiness rates

by Grace

Passing rates for Common Core New York state tests were selected so that they would match SAT college readiness rates.  Principal Carol Burris of New York City’s South Side High School described the process in a Washington Post article titled “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”.

One of the first steps in the process was the creation of a report requested by State Education Commissioner John King.

… The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success….

These SAT college readiness scores were then used to “inform” the selection of state test cut scores for grades three through eight.

After coming up with three scores — 540 in math, 560 in reading and 530 in writing– the College Board determined the percentage of New York students who achieved those SAT scores. Those percentages were used to “inform” the cut score setting committee. As the committee went through questions, according to member Dr. Baldassarre-Hopkins, the SED helpers said, “If you put your bookmark on page X for level 3 [passing], it would be aligned with these data [referring to the college readiness data],” thus nudging the cut score where they wanted it to be.

The state test cut scores that were ultimately selected align suspiciously close to the SAT college readiness scores.

When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction. The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent. Coincidence? Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

In a way, it makes sense.  Common Core Standards were created to prepare students for college, so it could be argued that students now in grade school would be as poorly prepared for college as students who have recently taken the SAT.  But the process seems to have been carried out backwards, without looking objectively at the test questions.

Burris puts it this way.

Here is the bottom line. There is no objective science by which we can predict future college readiness using grades 3-8 test scores. You can, at best make assumptions, based on correlations, with score thresholds that are capricious. To make college readiness predictions for 8-year-olds is absurd and unkind.

I think you can assess whether an 8-year-old is on track for college readiness, but obviously with limited precision.  However, I appreciate the point Burris makes.  Moreover, considering the botched implementation of other aspects of CCS, I am inclined to be suspicious about the validity of the cut scores used in the New York state tests.

A local newspaper reported that some committee members involved in selecting cut scores believed “the process was so tightly controlled that the results were inevitable”.

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Valerie Strauss, “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”, Washington Post, April 29, 2014.

Gary Stern, “Common Core: Who’s on track for college and who is not?”, Lohud.com, July 27, 2014.

April 24, 2014

‘Reading ability is very topic dependent’

by Grace

E.D. Hirsch explains why “reading scores on standardized tests flatten out in 12th grade”.

… “Reading ability is very topic dependent.”  Given two passages of equal difficulty in syntax and vocabulary, the same reader will comprehend one better than the other if the reader knows something about the subject matter of the one and little about that of the other.  The idea of a general reading ability that functions independently of what is read is “a misleading abstraction,” Hirsch says.  If a reading test has ten passages with 8-10 questions on each, the same student will perform variably from one to the next depending on background knowledge.  It’s an arbitrary system.  If, by chance, you did volunteer clean-up work one summer and one of the passages concerns how cities and towns dispose of their trash, you will fly through it.  A passage on a sport you never played, though, will slow you down, even though passage difficulty is the same.

Here is the explanation for divergent trends among 4th– and 12th-graders.  Passages for older students are more knowledge-intensive than those for younger students.

Schools changed from a “knowledge intensive” curriculum to a “test-prep” curriculum.

… A cumulative, knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.  Over 13 years of knowledge-intensive schooling, students, including disadvantaged ones, can learn quite a lot about a lot of topics, greatly increasing their ability to make high scores on a reading test, and making them ready for college or a career.

Will Common Core Standards make a difference?

The solution is simple, yet far-reaching.  We need the reading curriculum to be more knowledge-aimed and less skill-based.  Hirsch: “A cumulative knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.”  That means more set content and common readings in English, history, and civics, a sharper determination of “cultural literacy” (to use the title that made Hirsch famous), a narrower and more coherent curriculum.

Botched implementation?

The biggest question seems to be how well CCS will be implemented.  Among the many problematic issues surrounding CCS so far, there seems to be general agreement of a “botched” implementation.

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Mark Bauerlein, “The Test Score Solution”, Minding the Campus, October 15, 2013.

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity – Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

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