Open Phones: Teaching to the Test

Friday, August 16, 2013

A bulletin board celebrating non-fiction, a key component in the Common Core State Standards (Stephen Nessen for SchoolBook)

On yesterday's show, NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that "for a decade testing has driven instruction" but that the new Common Core standards will help shift the paradigm and "instruction and curriculum...will drive the test." She also said that teacher training for the Common Core has been "uneven" throughout the state, but that funds are being spent to bring teachers up to speed. Teachers: Do you think that Common Core will change the "teaching to the test" paradigm? And how have you been trained to prepare your students for the Common Core? Call 212-433-9692 or post your comment here.

Comments [12]

JaquiO from NYC

The low scores this are a function of how the tests were scored, not necessarily my students' actual performance. The "data" teachers are being asked to use to "drive" instruction renders itself pretty useless. I KNOW how hard my students worked this year and I know how much they grew - but it won't show up on the test - which I believe is designed and tweaked to the benefit of the test publishers, test prep material makers and publishers. And as we know, numbers can be manipulated to show whatever you want them to show.

The people who are designing the changes have not the slightest idea how complex and demanding teaching is nor do most of them have experience in teaching but they all talk about what teachers should do.

Teachers are in the profession of building and developing and educating human beings - that is our job. A test does not measure that. A test does not recognize a seemingly small success of having a kid who has struggled transform into an eager student, who may still struggle, who may still be below grade level but who works and look forward to coming to school.

In NYC, we have a 58 page rubric by which to evaluate our practice, another stack to "guide" how we measure student learning. So while we are designing systems to capture all this data, when do we carve out the time to teach? We will. It is what we do.

I just wish that every policy maker, every politician who utters the word "education", every person who has another idea on how we teachers should do our jobs, I wish every one had to spend a year teaching one day a week - managing and inspiring the students, designing the lessons, the assessment, SECURING the RESOURCES (where IS all that money???), communicating with parents, and documenting everything. No excuses, no days off - one day a week they would have to do everything involved in the art and science of teaching. I would wager that most policy makers and politicians would be challenged to get the students into the classroom in an orderly fashion. Most of them haven't a clue.

If the politicians and policy makers had experience in the profession, they just might, maybe, realize the true limitations of a TEST to reflect the true depth and power of learning and teaching.

Aug. 26 2013 08:08 AM
PBateman from San Francisco

Recent news about Educators 4 Excellence: their LA branch recently took to using its member email subscriber list to solicit likes for one of their employee's Chloe and Isabel jewelry Facebook pages. There are also rumors that E4E posts open positions in order to attract out-of-work teachers, getting them to sign up for E4E and complete surveys, bolstering E4E membership, without ever making a hire. But at least the applicants and E4E members are offered great deals on cheap jewelry from a pyramid scheme like Chloe and Isabel, right? ...

Aug. 18 2013 09:32 PM
GetUpStandUp2 from Washington State

I teach in "the other Washington". I am a special education and general education kindergarten teacher. I made a prediction about the Common Core and now that New York state CCSS test results are out, I see my prediction coming true. This failure belongs to corporate reformers like Merryl Tisch and John King, not to children and teachers. This failure is not just about New York.

Here is the prediction I made last spring as the tests were being rolled out during the "testing season".

“I would like to make a prediction: CCSS is about to become the most devastating education policy in US history. With more “rigor” and many districts using scripted curriculum, we are narrowing the curriculum even further. With more time spent on “test prep”, students who NEED music, art, and movement to learn will be left behind. With more difficult tests, mostly online [PARCC and SBAC], we are going to increase the gap for students already at the edge of so called “failure”. I predict this policy will fail more students of color, more on free and reduced lunch, more ELL’s, and more children served in special education. CCSS and the accompanying reform movement to use merit pay, Value Added Measures, and other teacher evaluation systems will end up firing more teachers. As more students and teachers are failed by high stakes, so too will more schools fail and close. The entire idea is based on profit for corporations and is a tool to end public ed for the neoliberals/neocons who want to privatize for profit. Common Core is NOT the answer.”

Aug. 16 2013 08:44 PM
Katie Lapham from Brooklyn

The paradigm shift is really the privatization of public education. Yes, the implementation of the Common Core curricula and test prep materials has been sloppy, but I question the need for them and the absurd CCSS standardized tests in the first place. I know why they exist but won't go into that here.

When the standards were first introduced to me, I was open-minded and didn't have a problem using them solely as a roadmap. They were sold to us as a blueprint; a big selling point being we'd have the freedom to use our own materials. That is not the case. NYC schools feel pressured to adopt curriculum from the NYC DOE list of approved Core Curriculum programs. Pearson's ReadyGEN is one of them. It's scripted, and inflexible in terms of what materials you can use. It is also test prep for grades 3-5. Tisch was wrong about that. There will be even more test prep because the purpose of the new curricula is to prepare kids for the tests. I will have to shelve my engaging and meaningful 5th grade social justice curriculum because all of us have to use ReadyGEN.

The Common Core package threatens school democracy and takes away any freedom and autonomy a school may have once enjoyed. It is very gut-wrenching to witness and parents should be appalled.

By the way, Tisch came across as patronizing, condescending and completely out of touch with the realities of what happens in the trenches as a result of the Common Core package.

Aug. 16 2013 08:24 PM
ivan obregon from nyc

Even the teachers didn't know how to prepare the students for these tests but Bloomie's buddies at the test-making companies insisted it couldn't wait and that the shocking results would justify even greater mayoral control over the system by being able to blame the demise on the teachers, the unions, the public schools, everything but giving teachers, students and parents what they consistently most ask for: reduced class size, a common core CONTENT CURRICULUM ( the bureaucrats' version is only focused on "common problem-solving skills") and the lack of after-school programs and mandated homework tutoring.

Without a core knowledge curriculum that provides the content for the lessons to be reflected on the test, this "change" will mean no change, just more drilling in empty and uninspirational and dis-motivating (except through more anxiety and fear to make money for the test-makers) "skills assessment". "Critical thinking" is exactly what these bureaucrats and politicians and "test-experts" are lacking when talking up the postulates of "problem-solving" that will result in just more teaching to the test. This is just another set-up for systematic failure and a money bonanza for the test-makers and the "consultants".

Check out a better alternative to better assess and prepare teachers and students to actual teaching and learning:

Aug. 16 2013 11:56 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Speaking of grade level exams, whatever happened to the "IOWAs"? That's what we took in 3rd grade.

Well, to tell you the truth, kids who spend more time on iPods and X-Box and TV and less time reading books are less likely to do well on any test. And kids whose parents don't speak to them at all while they ride the subway, but listen to their iPods while they permit their children to sit idly, will not do well on tests.

For the most part, children start school at five years of age, which means that parents have five years to stuff learning into those empty sponges called human brains that are sitting inside their kids' otherwise innocuous-looking heads. Why would you waste five years and then blame test results on teachers?

Parents: If you want your children to do well on tests, talk to them, engage them, answer their questions, teach them everything you know, buy them educational toys, take them to zoos and museums and dance recitals and concerts, get them swimming lessons and ballet or gymnastics or tai kwan do (for balance), keep them in the kitchen with you while you cook and get them a pet or two. Take them to the library once a week and reward them incrementally for the number of books they read. The tests want to know about reading and writing, but children need to have associations to tangibles before what they read on a test makes sense. You have so many opportunities to educate your own children before they spend even one day in school, that to blame test results on teachers is just laziness and neglect on your own part.

Aug. 16 2013 11:52 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

K-12 should be mainly about DOING not about "reading and writing." For thousands of years, civilized mankind has been able to create tools and technologies and great structures, such as the pyramids and the Maya cities before they could even read and write. Man was a DOER long before he (and she) were readers and writers! Reading and writing was the province of a tiny group of priests and scribes. Knowledge was passed down orally and much was memorized.

Aug. 16 2013 11:51 AM
dba from nyc

The main problem underlying this "reform" movement is that these "reformers", starting with Arne Duncan and including King and Tisch and the so-called panel of experts who devised these tests, have no classroom teaching experience and wouldn't last 5 minutes in a typical high needs school.

Furthermore, since these scores will ultimately be tied to teacher evaluation with Danielson, then most teachers would have been judged ineffective on the testing component of the evaluation. So let's say we get a pass this year. What will happen next year and thereafter, when test scores -- I am certain -- will not increase? Will all of these students' teachers be fired when they get 2 consecutive ineffectives as required by the evaluation? Will our administrators wait for the kids to catch up before we are rated ineffective? And why didn't the students of all of Bloomberg's new schools, with young energetic teachers who replaced the old "deadwoods" who were pushed out when schools were closed, perform better throughout all these years he's controlled the schools?

As for college remediation, there are a host of reasons for the need. Not everyone has the ability for such high level college work. We have to face and accept the fact that human ability is variable and thus provide other career opportunities. Also, when students don't come to class every day, pay attention and do the work, and READ, READ, READ, they will not be ready for college work.

Aug. 16 2013 11:48 AM
dba from nyc

Deep analysis and citing evidence from the text is what good teachers have been teaching all along. When tests lead to too many high or low scores, then the tests are profoundly flawed. Were these tests even piloted?

The concept of the Common Core Standards is good, but the standards are overly and needlessly complex, and are not all developmentally appropriate for certain age groups, especially the lower ones. Unsurprisingly, most of the high scores were found in selective admissions schools (Success Academy, has a high student attrition rate and low special education and ESL kids). The populations in selective schools generally represent educated parents. The standards, are good, but require inferencing abilities and language development through exposure to rich literacy experiences prior to kindergarten and so are enjoyed by kids at screened schools. Poor performance by low income students will persist because these kids lack those literacy experiences.

In addition, common core skills require that students read outside of school to train the mind to read for comprehension and interpretation as well as to connect the dots. But most kids do not read outside of school. All the threats to teachers and standards will be to no avail if kids do not read at home. So, I predict that in a few years, when test scores remain dismal, the standards will either be modified or abandoned altogether in favor of some new solution to socio-economic factors that teachers cannot control.

Aug. 16 2013 11:46 AM
Patricia from Westchester County

Teaching to the test is EXACTLY what is happening because these tests have become so high stakes. Chancellor Tisch has got it completely wrong. She hasn't been listening to the professionals who do the actual work in a classroom. Instead, she is listening to policy wonks who haven't worked with kids in years, IF EVER!

Aug. 16 2013 11:45 AM
Cami from nyc

The initial tests were more difficult so that the next round of tests, which I believe will be dumbed down, will show improvement and this is the basis upon which educators will be evaluated.

Aug. 16 2013 11:44 AM
Larry Dell from East Orange, NJ

If so many students can't handle the current curriculum which is easier than common core how are they going to handle common core which requires higher level reasoning and analysis? Isn't there a disconnect going on here? Sure our students need to be better prepared to compete with better educated students in other countries but how will more difficult classwork do that? I think we have to acknowledge that we have a lot of unmotivated students and challenging them with work they can't do isn't going to make it better. They're not even up to the "challenge" of the current material.

Aug. 16 2013 10:14 AM

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