Posts Tagged ‘Common Core’

Stupid PARCC Tricks

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Entertainer 5Tuesday night’s More Than a Score Forum was great. CPS parents Julie Fain, Chris Ball, and Sherise McDaniel, and teachers Michelle Strater Gunderson (CPS) and Paul Horton (U of Chicago Lab School), powerfully covered topics including testing and school closings, alternative assessment, opting out, and Common Core. Thanks also to Carolyn Brown who emceed.

Chris’s presentation on sample questions from the PARCC Common Core tests was a highlight – both in Chris’s humorous presentation and in the amazing absurdity of the questions themselves which, as Chris pointed out, are the ones they WANT us to see. (PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is the consortium that is writing the Common Core tests Illinois will use beginning next year.)

Everyone at the forum felt that more people need to see the sample questions and judge for themselves whether these are the “better tests” that Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised us.

The example I will share today is a simple one. A third-grade test includes a story about creatures who were having a bad day. It includes this sentence: “And they were cross — oh so cross!” One question asks what the word “cross” means in the story. The choices are:

a) excited

b) lost

c) upset

d) scared.

Here’s how defines the adjective “cross”: “angry and annoyed; ill-humored; snappish: Don’t be cross with me. Synonyms: petulant, fractious, irascible, waspish, crabbed, churlish, sulky, cantankerous, cranky, ill-tempered, impatient, irritable, fretful, touchy, testy.”

Apparently the wanted answer is “upset,” which does not appear as any of the choices above. It’s just not a very good synonym for “cross.”

But third graders are supposed to choose a “right” answer that the dictionary doesn’t even suggest.

Don’t even get me started on the Pinkerton Pig fiasco. Check out Chris’s PARCC PowerPoint here.

Better tests? Makes me feel kind of “testy.”

PSAT for 4-15-14: Mark your calendars – MTAS forum April 29

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

MTASflyerlogo4-14It’s spring break for many, and I imagine a lot of you are worn out from slogging through the latest round of ice and snow to get to the post office to file your taxes, so I’ll go easy on you today.

Take out your calendars (I still do this with my actual personal hand and an actual pencil), find Tuesday, April 29, and mark in the More Than a Score forum at 6 pm at Union Park in Chicago.

Here’s what we’ll be talking about:

  • Why the NWEA is a bad high-stakes test.
  • How some children can safely opt out of NWEA.
  • Opting out legal issues.
  • What we can do in Springfield and at home to change state testing laws.
  • The connection between tests and school closings/turnarounds.
  • The next wave of tests: Common Core and PARCC.
  • Our alternative – what’s wrong with report cards???

We’ll provide user-friendly information, handouts, flyers, and how-tos.

Child care and translation will be provided.

Questions? Email us at

Is Reince Priebus after my demographic???

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Apple with WormFrom the Illinois Review:

The concerns about the federal Common Core curriculum and the national standards it would impose on local schools reached the level of the Republican National Committee Friday and was passed unanimously.  Illinois RNC National Committeewoman Demetra DeMonte said she was happy to co-sponsor the resolution and encourage others to support the effort.

The RNC resolution reads in part:

… RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is– an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee rejects the collection of personal student data for any non-educational purpose without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent and that it rejects the sharing of such personal data, without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent, with any person or entity other than schools or education agencies within the state …

Illinois Review reported earlier this week on the new Stop Common Core in Illinois coalition, which is actively encouraging concerned parents to oppose the effort and encourage Illinois to withdraw from the program as this group in Georgia is in the process of doing.

Is there a cure for the Common Core?*

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Former CPS principal and current University of Illinois/Chicago Leadership Center specialist Paul Zavitkovsky is a long-time friend and one of the more thoughtful people with whom I regularly (and then only partially) disagree.

Over the years, we have agreeably disagreed about the value and danger of standardized tests. He doesn’t think they are inherently bad, though he acknowledges that they are often misused. I think that they are inherently bad and that they are misused to such a horrible extent that they should be pulled from the shelves until educational leaders prove they can use them responsibly.

With standardized testing now morphing into Common Core assessments, I just see more red flags.

And even Paul is worried, according to his thought-provoking new essay, Testing and the Common Core, which was recently published in Catalyst. He claims that the Common Core “is all about deep understanding” rather than sets of facts and skills. Yet the No Child Left Behind version of standards and accountability “doubled down” on knowledge, creating “massive constellations of standards and performance indicators” and “equally massive systems of commercially-developed assessments.” The result? Little increase in student learning, according to research. He warns that continuing in the same manner will “doom the Common Core.”

Even those of us who think that the Common Core is more likely to doom public education rather than the other way around need to pay attention to Paul’s key concerns:

  • Studies of U. S. classrooms found a uniform pattern – “teachers spent large amounts of time reviewing material and practicing mathematical procedures without expecting students to grasp the underlying concepts on which skills and procedures were based. By contrast, teaching strategies in every one of the world’s higher-achieving countries regularly engaged students in active struggle with core mathematics concepts and procedures.”
  • “The American bias toward teaching skills and procedures in ways that are divorced from conceptual underpinnings is a familiar target of progressive reform. A major irony of No Child Left Behind is that, far from confronting this bias, NCLB led us to write standards and report test results in ways that reinforced the bias more systematically than ever. The process began when states and districts formalized standards by reducing them to lengthy lists of discrete skills and procedures. Then commercial publishers were contracted to produce testing systems that matched. On its face, this approach seemed pretty straightforward. But test publishers knew they had a problem. They knew that standardized tests are poorly designed to measure discrete skills and procedures. Publishers finessed this problem by sorting test questions into a small number of “content strands” that purport to measure mastery of specific standards. They did that knowing full well that standardized test items almost always measure more than one standard at a time, and are less about specific skills than about students’ ability to handle different kinds of academic complexity. In the end, states and test publishers fulfilled their NCLB obligations by putting their stamp of approval on a deeply compromised reporting procedure that is at best ambiguous, and at worst downright misleading. So much for scientific precision. How this could have happened on a nationwide scale without someone blowing the whistle is not really clear. What is clear is that both content strands on standardized tests, and the “know and be able to do” mantra from which they derive, reflect a skill-based mindset that is out of sync with modern learning science and runs contrary to the goals of the Common Core.”
  • Another powerful irony of No Child Left Behind is that the rise of outsourced assessment coincided with strong evidence from the research community that frequent, high-quality classroom assessment produces achievement gains that far exceed those of any other single intervention strategy.
  • Given what we know about the culture of American teaching and the power of high-quality classroom assessment, the troubling thing about current work on Common Core assessment is that we seem to be doubling down again on outsourcing, this time with tests that are being developed for teachers by the PARCC and SMARTER multi-state consortia. (emphasis added throughout)

Zavitkovsky offers as an antidote the work he and others at UIC are doing in classroom assessment, deeper analysis of test results, and teacher collaboration. That all sounds great, but seeing the direction districts like CPS are heading – stripping all teacher development days out of the school calendar, for instance – suggests that we are probably already past the point where an antidote will help. What I think we really need is a cure for the Common Core. (*Thanks to Xian Barrett for this handy phrase!)

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.