Friday, April 18, 2014

Shame on those teachers who are intentionally making kids anxious about standardized tests: parents complain about Common Core at CVESD


I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader and the Chula Vista Star-News in reporting the implementation of Common Core standards in Chula Vista schools. Star-News Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did the Reader's Susan Luzzaro.


Kristin Phatek
Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better
solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

See all posts re Common Core from CVESD Reporter blog.

UPDATE April 24, 2014:

Anthony Millican reports that 21 children out of 22,000 in grades 3-10 have opted out of field testing of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Chula Vista Elementary School District. Surprised? Susan Luzzaro made it sound like there were droves of angry parents protesting the test, didn't she?

Mr. Millican provided the following information:

Can students opt out of the District’s Local Measure assessments?

Parents can request that a student opt out of state-mandated assessments, such as the STAR in the past and now CAASPP (which includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment). However, parents cannot opt out their child from school and District assessments. These assessments provide important information necessary to communicate to parents about student progress through report cards. Opting out of school and district assessments would be like refusing to take a spelling quiz or refusing to turn in homework. Evidence of student performance in these areas is necessary in any educational program.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District has administered Local Measure assessments since the year 2000. The Local Measure assessments differ from state assessments, but they are administered concurrently. Our teachers regularly assess for learning all the time through quizzes, benchmark assessments, and summative assessments to measure student progress. Parents expect that.

How many parents have opted out their student from the new online state tests?

Very few. Salt Creek Elementary has had the highest number of parent opt-out requests. There are 631 students in grades 3-6 at Salt Creek who are taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment and there have been 7 parent requests for opting out a total of 9 children from the field test of the Smarter Balanced assessment. This represents only .0014 percent of the student population. Furthermore, some of those parents have stated that their concern was only for the field test and that they were in support of the operational Smarter Balanced Assessment to begin next year. Districtwide, of 22,000 students in grades 3-10, parents of only 21 students have requested to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, or .00095 of the student population.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of parents want to know how their students are doing academically. The transition of our Local Measure assessments from the 1997 California Content Standards to the new Common Core State Standards reflects our District's commitment to ensure every student meets or exceeds the goal of being college and career ready.

UPDATE April 15, 2014:

I just spoke to Anthony Millican at CVESD, and he tells me that it is not at all true that if a student "failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade." I hope that Susan Luzzaro at the Reader will publish this fact, since her article offers no contradiction to this quote in its first paragraph.

Mr. Millican notes that many teachers are delighted with Common Core. I'll bet the students of those teachers are also delighted. Why didn't Ms. Luzzaro quote any of them?

ORIGINAL POST:

I'm sure that there are many classrooms in Chula Vista Elementary School District where confident, competent teachers--and their students--are completely relaxed about upcoming standardized tests. In fact, those kids probably think that taking tests is fun.

But what about the teachers who simply don't know how to teach well? They are having hissy fits, and pointing the finger at Common Core Standards. There is nothing at all wrong with Common Core Standards. It's just that many teachers don't grasp the concept of a basic concept. That's what Common Core is all about: basic concepts.

Historically, a large percentage of teachers have taught mostly by rote, without teaching kids how to think. Also, there are some pretty good teachers who simply don't like to go into depth when teaching a subject. They like to teach a concept and then move on. This method is NOT used in countries with highly successful education systems.

These two types of teachers are intentionally upsetting children so that parents will come in and complain about Common Core instead of complaining about the teacher.

Why isn't this parent asking why 70% of kids don't understand basic facts? Has she not been paying attention for the past decades as student performance has gone down? Does she know during those decades fewer and fewer teachers have come from top colleges? The average teacher these days is simply not up to the job. As teachers have become weaker, the job itself has become harder.

So why doesn't the district simply teach the teachers how to teach? Perhaps you think that the district is run by brilliant minds? Administrators tend to be people who were very immersed in teacher culture and school politics when they were teachers. They played the game. They followed the right people. Don't expect them to have a particularly good understanding of the educational process, and don't expect them to know how to teach teachers.

Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

Perhaps she might consider this solution to the problem: Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing or laying-off any teachers!

San Diego County parents should have access, as do parents in Los Angeles, to information showing how much the students in each classroom are learning each year, as measured by year-by-year changes on standardized test scores. The Los Angeles Times published these "value-added" scores for each teacher. Why doesn't any San Diego news source publish our information?

Amazingly, it was revealed that students of the most admired and highly-regarded teachers frequently showed remarkably little improvement. You can always find teachers and parents who think they know who the best teachers are, but it turns out they're often completely wrong.

Of course, test scores are only a clue, not a final determination, as to whether a teacher is doing a good job. Proper evaluation would consist of regular observations, interviews and test scores of both students and teachers. In the current system, most principals have very little knowledge about what most of their teachers are doing in the classroom. Often, years go by without a principal spending more than a few moments in a teacher's classroom. And in my 27 years teaching in CVESD, not once did any principal ever sit down and talk to me about my thinking about how to educate children.

If teacher performance were evaluated effectively, there would be an added bonus: administrators could be chosen from among the best teachers.

But the district administration isn't the only problem. There's also the teachers union. The one thing you can count on the California Teachers Association to do is to protect incompetent teachers. The parent in the article below who claims that Common Core is "advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education" is doing what the teachers union calls "staying on message". She certainly sounds like she was coached.

The test isn't creating a problem, it's exposing a problem that has existed for years.



Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents

“My son had been experiencing headaches”
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

One night last year, Gretel Rodriguez was playing the word game Hangman with her son who attends HedenKamp Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He chose an unusual word. When Rodriguez asked him why, her son said he was learning it for the California State Test. Then he said he was nervous — worried that if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade.

Rodriguez said in an April 7 interview, “My son had been experiencing headaches, then when he told me his worries, I made up my mind to opt him out of any standardized exams.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Rodriquez ask the school district if test results might be used to hold a child back? Did she ever consider helping her child to get the problem into perspective? Does she normally try to teach coping skills to her child? Does she teach her child to search out the facts before dissolving in fear? I suspect that the teacher might have been manipulating his or her students emotionally instead of dealing with his or her own fears about test results. Was the teacher really afraid of what might happen to himself (or herself)?

Also, I'm wondering why the reporter who wrote this piece, Susan Luzzaro, fails to tell us if this child's fear is based on reality. Why doesn't Ms. Luzzaro report on this important question? Luzzaro's entire article seems to be based on the belief that the district actually flunks kids who do poorly on the test.]


Rodriguez is one of many parents, locally and nationally, who are choosing to opt their children out of testing.

“By opting my son out of standardized tests I’ve also ensured he doesn’t have to take the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] test this year as well,” Rodriguez continued.

In 2012, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was one of two companies that split a $330 million Department of Education grant to develop a computer-based test aligned with Common Core Standards.

In 2014, students will be taking a Smarter Balanced field test, or a test to test the test — based on Common Core Standards. The test will be administered to California students between March and June.

Rodriguez has another son who is a special-education student in the Sweetwater Union High School District. At first he told his mother that he wanted to continue taking the standardized tests and Rodriguez agreed.

Recently he changed his mind and asked his mom to opt him out. Rodriguez said she was happy about his decision because the new Common Core test has no modifications for special-education students or English-language learners.

The Phataks have three children in public schools. Two of them go to Salt Creek Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District; their older son attends Eastlake Middle School in the Sweetwater district.

When asked which tests she was going to opt her children out of, Kristin Phatak answered, “All of them.”

Phatak believes that “tests designed by publishing companies are not a good measure of my children’s progress. They also encourage teaching to the test.”

Regarding the Smarter Balance test aligned with Common Core, Phatak stated, “I firmly believe that test is being designed to fail the children, and in turn fail the teachers and the schools. It’s an attack on public education.”

When asked why she believes the test is designed to fail, Phatak resonded, “When you start looking at the money behind new Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balance testing, you begin to question both of them. Venture philanthropists, like the Gates Foundation, have poured millions into advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education.

[Maura Larkins' comment: The Gates Foundation? Phatek sounds pretty paranoid to me. Why wouldn't Bill Gates simply be trying to do for education the same thing he does for health--giving away huge amounts of money in an effort to make life better for people around the globe? Or perhaps Phatek has simply been influenced by teachers who don't want to improve their performance.] "In states like Kentucky, where the Smarter Balanced Consortium test has already been used, the student failure rate was 70 percent. New York also had disastrous results with their Common Core exam. The push is to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. You can’t fail the teachers unless you fail the kids.”

Phatak encourages “parents who wish to be in tune with their childrens’ education to go to the Smarter Balance website and take the pilot test that corresponds to their child’s grade level.”

Phatak said she began talking to other moms about opting out last year. She is “shocked” because so many are coming up to her this year and telling her they are opting out.

Phatak is in contact with parents across the United States through her Facebook page, though she is not a member of a national opt-out organization.

“There are no consequences for refusing to take the tests,” Phatak said. “They [districts] cannot hold a child back.”

Opting out is not new to San Diego. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal carried a report on 212 Rancho Bernardo students who refused to take standardized tests. Rancho Bernardo parents expressed reasons similar to Chula Vista parents. They felt there was “no personal incentive for their children to labor over tests that aren’t included on school transcripts or are required for high school graduation.”



I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader (above story) and the Chula Vista Star-News (story below) in reporting this issue. Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did Susan Luzzaro.

Common Core receives mixed reviews
Robert Moreno
Chula Vista Star-News
Sep 28 2013

California's newest testing method is getting high praise by education officials in the South Bay, but some parents in the area’s school districts are giving the new testing measure an F.

The Golden State signed on for the model on Aug. 2, 2010, with full implementation this school year. Forty-five states — including California — use the Common Core method of testing.

John Nelson III, E.d.D, assistant superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said the new testing model places higher standards on students than the STAR testing did.

“We (the district) believe that these new Common Core standards reflect the academic need of all students to be successful,” he said. “We know that the old standards, we’ve learned a lot of good lessons from them; however, when it came to being college- and career-ready, the standards fell short.”

Nelson said under the STAR testing standards, students entering college were not prepared and as a result, dropout rates at the university continues to be high.

Common Core tests students from K-12 in math, English, science and social science. The tests and curriculum are based more on the use of critical thinking skills than memorization.

While the elementary school district approves the new testing measures, some parents are not getting with the Common Core program.

Kristin Phatak has a son in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and another in the Sweetwater Union High School District. She is opposed to the Common Core because she said it is “dumbing down” the education standards.

[Maura Larkins' comment: How does Kristin Phatek come up with this stuff? I'm guessing that she like the old rote-memory method of teaching that left students unprepared for college. Kids were left with very little understanding of basic concepts, and a whole lot of memorization that tended to be forgotten. I agree with John Nelson that the new concept-based instruction is better for kids.]

“California and Massachusetts were known in the nation as having some of the highest standards in the United States,” she said. “They did not use California or Massachusetts standards to rate these standards, they actually lowered the standards, and so by California signing on to these standards, we have in effect lowered our standards.”

Nelson said the Common Core is not dumbing down education standards, but rather deepening the understanding of learning. He said it is more critical thinking-based than the STAR testing.

Phatak claims that the Common Core puts local school districts in violation of the Williams Settlement Act.

The class action lawsuit was filed in 2000 and argued agencies failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities and qualified teachers. As a result of this, for every student in a classroom, the school must make available one textbook for each student.

Phatak said because there are no textbooks available for the Common Core, teachers are struggling to come up with their own curriculum with Common Core methods.

[Maura Larkins' comment: What is this woman talking about? You can use ANY textbook to teach Common Core. But teachers who rely on textbooks to guide every step of instruction are simply failing to understand how to teach basic concepts. For one thing, the teacher should be guided by what her students know, and how well they are learning. The teacher's instruction should largely be coming from the teacher's brain rather than a textbook, and should be using his or her own words. The teacher should be making heavy use of the white board and a marker--and should be putting manipulatives in students' hands.

“What’s happening now is that the publishers have not come out with the textbooks for Common Core, yet the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater School District have decided to go ahead and implement it,” she said.

Nelson said the Common Core is not solely dependent on textbooks.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Hear, hear!]

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding in the community, Common Core is not about the curriculum, it’s about how we teach,” he said. “Literature is literature. Now we did achieve use of more complex literature but Common Core is about changing the instructional practice of teachers.”

Monica Cervantes is another parent who is against the Common Core. She has a child attending Tiffany Elementary School in Chula Vista. She said the elementary school district adopted the model without conducting research to see if it will actually work.

“I think before you implement any type of curriculum, you have to make sure it works,” she said. “If you go back and look where it was implemented first there is a lot of downfall with this.”

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently announced that the Sweetwater Union High School District is receiving more than $8 million in state funding with the transition to the new testing model.

Manny Rubio, director of grants and communications with the Sweetwater Union High School District, said a portion of that money could be spent on new textbooks used in preparation for the Common Core.

The Sweetwater District is adhering to the Common Core too, because Rubio said the testing is mandated by the state, and therefore they have no choice but to implement it.

“This is something that is coming from Sacramento. It’s our mandate as far as following the law that they’ve issued.

My understanding is that ... we do not have a choice (to not implement the Common Core),” Rubio said.

Rubio said the district is implementing a Common Core curriculum for teachers this year with pilot testing for students. He said come next school year, the district will have mandated testing.

Tina Jung, information officer for the California Department of Education, said the adoption of the Common Core is not mandatory. She said it is up to the local school districts, not the state, to decide if they want to implement the testing.

“It is completely voluntary on the states and schools,” she said. “We can’t tell districts what to do. California is a local control state, that means local districts have more control than the state.”

Jung also said if a district accepts money from the state for Common Core, then that money must be used for Common Core purposes.

Because she did not want her child to take the Common Core test, Phatak withdrew one of her children from Tiffany Elementary school. The child is now being home schooled.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Phatek help her child cope with anxiety instead of taking such a drastic measure. I have a suspicion that there's a lot more going on in Phatek's family than is revealed here.]

Cervantes said she plans to opt her child out of Common Core testing.

“We (parents) can try to stop this because this was adopted and not mandated by the state,” she said. “We have a choice, it is not mandated. They chose to adopt this.”

According to the California Department of Education’s website, the Common Core describes what each student should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade.

The name Common Core derives from the testing method that uses a set of national standards that apply to every school, district and state that has adopted the Common Core model.

Rubio said parents “will not” have a choice of opting a child out of the testing.

But while Rubio mentions that students can’t opt out, California’s education code says differently.

According to Education Code 60615, a student can opt out of testing.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted,” the code reads.





James Milgram, Stanford University mathematics professor


I just noticed that the San Diego Union-Tribune has published a hysterical commentary on this subject by Lance T. Izumi. Mr. Izumi's rant contained an interesting fact:

...Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram, an architect of California’s previous top-ranked state math standards and a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee, harshly criticizes the rigor of Common Core’s math standards: “With the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the [Common Core] math standards end after Algebra II. They include no pre-calculus or calculus.”...

Professor Milgram wants every kid in California to learn calculus!?!

That's ridiculous. I took calculus in high school, and it didn't do me one bit of good because I didn't understand the basic concepts well enough. I got an A in the class, not because I understood the material, but because I learned and applied formulas. I had to take calculus over again at UCLA. I also took vector calculus, and when I graduated I thought I knew math.

Even though I wasn't interested in going to graduate school at the time, I decided to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) at that time. I figured I'd never again do as well on the math section of the GRE than when I was fresh out of college math classes.

I was wrong.

I spent the next fifteen years teaching basic math concepts to fourth and fifth graders. I taught those basic concepts like they were going out of style. As a result, I myself came to understand those concepts really, really well.

Then I took the GRE again. My GRE math score went up 100 points, from 640 to 740.

My big improvement was due to focusing on elementary math concepts. I have had proof in my own life that if you want your kid to be really good in math, you must make your kid really learns basic concepts. And you shouldn't worry one bit whether your kid takes calculus in high school.



Will Susan Luzzaro continue to turn her back to
requests for more even-handed reporting?

I sent the following email to the Reader on April 17, 2014:

Regarding this story:
Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

In the very first paragraph, Susan Luzzaro quotes a parent saying that her child was worried that "if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade."

Ms. Luzzaro makes absolutely no effort in the article to assure Readers that the test is not actually used to flunk children. This is not good journalism.

I urge the Reader and Susan Luzzaro NOT to leave this false impression dangling in the minds of readers. Luzzaro should issue a clarification about the matter.

COMMENTS ON SUSAN LUZZARO ARTICLE:

eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 12:41 p.m.

If you want to teach to the test, you need to know the answers. But--these are new tests, and most of the time, teachers don't even have the materials to work from...

So, the testing is being done initially on materials the students have not been given. Gee, how fair is that?

Especially when not only the students will be evaluated, but the teachers will be evaluated.


Maura Larkins' response to eastlaker:

The test might be new, but basic concepts are NOT NEW.

Are you saying that teachers need sample questions in order to figure out how to respond to a test? Well, sadly, you might be right. During my years at CVESD, long before Common Core, I regularly heard teachers at CVESD complain that they couldn't do the math the students were expected to do. So they demanded that the tests be changed, rather than that they themselves should have to go home and study their students' textbooks. We are not dealing with a new problem here. It's just that the teachers are now getting support from far-right wing nuts regarding this particular test because the test is supported by the Obama administration.

I would think you would be happy that teachers can't "teach to the test" if you think teaching to the test is bad. It sounds like you're saying that Common Core is forcing teachers to actually teach concepts rather than memorizing a certain type of test question. And if all the students and teachers are in the same boat, then what's the problem? The test will measure everybody fairly.

A good test measures thinking ability. That's why teachers who can't teach reasoning and logic hate good tests so much. When kids are thought to respond to any question with logic, then they do great on standardized tests. In fact, tests are a terrific instructional tool. I used to do a quiz every morning about the previous days' lessons, with the wording of the questions constantly changing. The kids enjoyed it. I would give the answer to each question as soon as the kids had written down their answers. It was an ideally teachable moment. The kids were interested in the answers, and they weren't graded by me. They were just testing themselves. It's a great way to focus kids' attention. And it's also a way to produce spectacular results on standardized tests.

I notice that many of the commenters believe that "teaching to the test" is a bad thing, as can be seen in the following comments.

anniej April 10, 2014 @ 9:17 a.m.

Teaching to the test, that is what our students are learning. There is little creativity, little interest being taught because it has become all about learning 'data '. BORING Back in my day, long long ago we were not taught to the test. We were engaged, we were involved, there was discussion, interesting learning.


Maura Larkins to anniej: You are right that interest and creativity are essential to learning. This is exactly the problem that Common Core addresses. It's the OPPOSITE OF MEMORIZING "DATA".


shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 9:27 a.m.

They were teaching to testing years ago when mine was is elementary 15 whatever years ago. I think it was the new thing to do back then. No wonder our kids can't read and write or do simple math. I think it was eastlaker who mentioned a sorry lack of critical thinkers.


Maura Larkins: to shirleyberan: The lack of critical thinking is exactly the problem that Common Core addresses. Critical thinking is the OPPOSITE OF MEMORIZING "DATA".


oneoftheteachers April 10, 2014 @ 6:36 p.m.

First of all, let's dispel the myth that corporations fostered:our educational system was broken. The US has some of the best universities in the world attended by graduates of our American public schools.


Maura Larkins' response: No one is saying that American universities are broken. They're so good that people from all over the world come to attend them. It's a disgrace that so many of our K-12 graduates are not prepared for our own universities.]

It's interesting that there is only ONE comment one this page (at 9:50 a.m. on April 17, 2014) that even suggests looking at this issue differently.

Bvavsvavev had the courage to say: "I am not an expert in education, so I don't know the answers. What I do know is that change is needed, money is needed, and testing is needed. The hows and whys can be left to experts to figure out."

Of course, he is immediately shot down by the regular commenters.

Interestingly, the Reader is the only news outlet in San Diego or elsewhere that prevents me from making comments. The reason was not that I made an improper comment, or even a comment that the Reader didn't like. In fact, the very first time I tried to sign up to make comments I was unable to do so. Who could have set this up? I suspect that Susan Luzzaro might have originated the idea. Susan Luzzaro's husband Frank, a former teacher and union official at Chula Vista Elementary School District, has made it clear to me that he doesn't want me revealing events at CVESD, at least not those that involve him. I once contacted the Reader to complain about not being able to make comments, and the result was that I was allowed to comment on this one story! Obviously, there is little effort at the Reader to provide a public forum. It's very much a controlled environment, run by political paymaster Jim Holman.


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