Thank you for contacting me regarding my questions. First of all, I want to let you know that I am very aware of the fact that much of what goes on around annual testing is due to federal mandates resulting from Oregon’s waiver from No Child Left Behind. You should know that I am not in agreement with how those waivers were implemented. It usurped what should have been the democratic process of reauthorization of ESEA and implemented instead a pet project of Bill Gates, the Common Core Standards, which were not developed with any input from early childhood educators. I am going to assume you are aware of how that happened. If not, you can read about it here, from the Washington Post about a year ago, where Diane Ravitch first began the call for a congressional investigation of Gates’ influence in education policy. I support such an investigation.
I have spent 27 years teaching, principally in elementary schools. What I see has become increasingly disturbing since implementation of NCLB in 2001. The last few years, since Common Core was introduced, have left me with no doubt that anyone who cares about public education should be speaking out against these policies. I note that ODE is not doing that. With Kitzhaber and Mr. Saxton in charge, ODE was either not up front or has been unaware about what these new policies actually mean in practice and how they have changed the way things are done in public schools, most specifically around this new test.
In spite of assertions to the contrary, these tests remain primarily multiple choice. And I have grave concerns with how the portions of the tests that are not multiple choice are being scored by human raters who are not necessarily educators but rather anyone that AIR or DRC hires (with a four year degree, ostensibly). Doug Kosty, when asked about that by Oregon Save Our Schools members, responded that this was “industry standards and best practices for scoring large-scale assessments” and that “raters are required to possess a 4-year degree in the content area they are scoring.” I see no evidence that shows that the second part of Mr. Kosty’s statement is true. I feel that ODE has been sugar coating what is really going on and has become little more than a compliance agency for failed (and possibly unconstitutional) federal policy.
I asked basically three questions during the time we were online. First, whether there is any validity to test scores on an ELA exam for students who have already taken ELPA and been designated non-English proficient, perhaps even a level 1 beginner.
Brown: "The ELPA and English Language Arts assessments measure distinctly different standards, adopted separately by the state Board of Education. The assessments are designed to be valid measures of each set of standards, respectively.
ESEA section 1111(b)(3)(C)(i) requires that the state assessments “be the same academic assessments used to measure the achievement of all children.” We would be in violation of ESEA if we proposed to use ELPA as a substitute English language arts assessment for English learners. The major philosophical shift in NCLB is to ensure that all students in a state are held to the same high academic expectations."
My reaction: My experience and training tells me that this is merely re-testing the student’s level of English acquisition. This is a federal policy that began with NCLB (students must be tested after 1 year in the US) and it is a policy I disagree with. It is a waste of the students’ time and subjects ELs to more testing and takes away more learning time from them than L1 English speakers, which I believe is inequitable.
I stand by the statement I originally made in the paragraph that follows Mr. Brown’s explanation of why we ask ELs to take an English only assessment of their ability to read, write and reason. This is a re-assessment of their English proficiency and does not assess the same skills it purports to assess for a child whose first language is English. And I see that the principal reason is that it is a federal requirement. I dispute the assertion that NCLB “ensure(s) that all students are held to the same high academic expectations” as well as the reasoning that assumes that even if that were true, it would be a good thing.
The second question I asked is whether ODE has any plans to respond to concerns that have been raised about the developmental appropriateness of the CCSS for young children.
Brown: "One of the kindergarten standards reads that students should be able to, “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” This is a more advanced expectation than Oregon has had in the past. While this standard does not require mastery in reading skills, it does require kindergartners to show they’re making progress.
Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards published this brief on developmental appropriateness of the standards."
My reaction: I am not shocked that Student Achievement Partners, a group founded by the lead writers of the Common Core and whose board, advisors and staff are populated by the people who initially worked on the standards, puts forth a paper that supports the standards. There are a number of straw men constructed in their brief as well as a general lack of awareness or denial of how the policies being promoted play out on the ground, in the Kindergarten classroom. I could write a whole blog post on that brief. Maybe I will later.
Brown: "To further explore this body of work, the Oregon Department of Education and Early Learning Division has a work group dedicated to linking Oregon’s Early Learning Standards and the Kindergarten Common Core State Standards in order to clearly articulate what students should know and be able to do before they enter kindergarten."
My reaction: Too bad Oregon isn’t considering looking at the body of research in Early Childhood Education and Child Development instead of “this body of work” when they link the Early Learning Standards and Kindergarten Common Core. This is not an encouraging sign if you are hoping for play based programs in Oregon’s Early Learning experiences.
For example, the standards seem to be pushing children to read by the end of Kindergarten. There is no evidence that early reading in any way advantages a child later and in fact, there is evidence that trying to force young children to do things they are not developmentally ready for can be harmful. This concerns me even more when I know that there will be a new focus from ODE on early learning. I have always been a supporter of universal availability of pre-K programs, but I am worried about what types of programs ODE will be advocating for: will those be play-based, developmental programs that are proven to benefit children or a push down of even earlier academic learning requirements that leave children feeling frustrated and with negative attitudes towards reading and school?
Finally, I asked about the ability of teachers to report errors on test items.
Brown: "Each year we receive feedback on test items from students of all ages. Test items go through an extensive process of development and review before becoming operational. As such, we work very hard to mitigate security risks that might inadvertently force us to remove an item from the test. Educators and content specialists review all test items throughout the development process. This helps to ensure that a very small percentage of items contain errors. We appreciate feedback that helps to improve the overall quality of the items and the assessment, but we must also balance such feedback with test validity by establishing policies and procedures that preserve test security."
My reaction: I stand by my assertion that most 8 and 9 year olds will not readily recognize errors nor be persistent enough to report them if they have been told only, “Do your best” and gotten the message that their teacher cannot help them during this exam. Again, lack of awareness or denial of how this plays out with real kids.
As to the test security, it is over the top. These aren’t state secrets. The lack of transparency in the assessments, what data is collected, and what is done with that data is a real problem.
The answer to that is so disturbing to me, especially when we are talking about small children: it is an impropriety for me to even “review” the items and students must identify and report errors. Children under the age of 12 or 13 are almost wholly incapable of doing that. I can’t believe anyone seriously thinks that an 8 or 9 year old is even going to question whether a test their teacher is giving them has errors on it! It also appears to me that when teachers are told they may not even review items, teachers of young children are put in an impossible circumstance, one which results in intense frustration for children who are confused and just want their teacher to be able to answer a question for them and harms the trust that teachers strive to develop with their students.
As someone who is designated to administer these tests, I am placed in a no win situation, a situation that only teachers in grades three through eight (and now grade 11) and then only those who teach English Language Arts or Math face: If I say I don’t wish to sign the confidentiality agreement as it is presented to me, I face disciplinary action. If I say I do not wish to administer the test then, I face disciplinary action as well. I am thus forced to participate in a practice and activity which I feel is harmful to students and violates my professional ethics.
I am not an outlier in my belief that this is harmful. I am one of many educators who feel this way. This is why many teachers are resigning and retiring early around the country. This is a debate we should have had before implementation of these policies came about, and we were not allowed to have it due to the waiver process.
I guess my biggest concern and question, when I hear that ODE is meeting with AIR and SBAC people, is who’s running the show?
Brown: "We work very closely with Smarter Balanced and our test vendor (AIR) to ensure the highest quality assessment is being delivered. As with any new test, we learned some important things through the first year of administration and have a number of improvements planned for the 2015-16 school year. In addition to our Smarter Balanced and AIR partners, we also communicate frequently with the State Board of Education and collect feedback from several advisory groups (made up primarily of educators) to maximize continuous improvement efforts."
My reaction: I’m confused as to why it was stated twice in the webinar call that there would be no changes planned in the length of the tests for the ’15-’16 school year (something which even original proponents like former Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton now agree is a problem) and that there would be no change in clarifying the instructions for younger students, and yet here we are told that there are going to be changes. Why are some changes possible but not others, even those which most everyone seems to agree on?
If ODE pushes back on some of what is going on with the SBA (for example, third graders taking tests for up to 12 hours and being reduced to tears in the process) will Smarter Balanced respond? And will ODE push back if they don't like the response? If not, why not?
I would also like to ask if ODE will be taking any role in the current ESEA reauthorization discussions in the US Congress. If so, what policies will ODE be advocating for, and how will the decision to advocate for particular policies be reached?
Brown: "I’m sure ODE and other education policy makers will have a voice in this conversation, but I can’t give you any specifics at this time given the fact that the process hasn’t begun."
My reaction: Ok, I’m really surprised here. The process for ESEA reauthorization hasn’t begun? Whaaaattt???? I may need to revise my last paragraph a little.
I appreciate the time you are taking to read and respond to my concerns and questions. It is my sincere hope that ODE would take a leadership role in open public debate and discussion around education policy in our state and nation. Your willingness to respond to my concerns and questions encourages that hope.