What ARE the Odds?

http://insightbyseymour.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2635-101413-gs2635.jpgFor the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the upcoming PARCC. I’m speaking of the Next Generation Assessment known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. If you thought the Ohio Achievement Assessment was bad, then wait until you see THIS! I suggest, if you haven’t yet taken a look at this new online assessment, you should…and soon!

Over the last 5 years, educators across the nation have witnessed the development and implementation of the Common Core standards. In writing this piece, I found it important to research the who, when, and how the standards were developed before expressing my opinion about the PARCC. In a February 2014 article, Allie Bidwell of US News reported,

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards – which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade – have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system.

During her stint as governor, Napolitano desired to develop an initiative focused on strengthening the country’s competitive position in the global economy. As students’ performance in math and the sciences have become comparatively lower than their global peers, the goal of this new initiative was “to give governors the tools they need[ed] to improve math and science education, better align post-secondary education systems with state economies, and develop regional innovation strategies” (retrieved from http://www.nga.org on December 4,2014).  Therein, a task force of governors, CEOs, and university presidents was created. Think about that for just a moment. Does that elicit any emotions for you as it did for me?


I remember hearing that the Common Core was essentially birthed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 in that the standards were developed to hone in on the skills students needed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  The standards were thick with specific skills all students were to master only, with NCLB, this varied from state to state as state leaders played more of a role in the development of their own standards. Unfortunately, the level of expectation varied significantly as well from state to state. States, like Massachusetts, were known for holding very high academic standards, while other states, like Tennessee, did not (Bidwell, US News, 2014), making it more difficult to comparatively determine whether scholars were making adequate growth compared to their global counterparts.

The Common Core differs in that the numbers of standards have been decreased for each grade level and the depth of each of those standards increased. That’s my subtle way of saying that the standards push our scholars harder to learn skills they are fundamentally and developmentally not yet prepared to learn, whether they are ready or not! Don’t get me wrong, I do see this as an incomprehensible issue. It’s clearly a problem, and yet I was not at all surprised to find that the challenge of developing equitable academic standards has been in existence since the desegregation of public schools in the 1960s. Students of minority ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status, born in poverty from parents struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, and some of them with nothing more than a middle school education was prevalent then and still exists today. Oh yes! You see, what I’ve just described for you was my current classroom and any educator teaching in an urban school district can relate to that very description.

Our scholars have been chasing their peers to close an achievement gap that was created to keep minorities out of public education and distanced far behind their white peers for years! And now, here we are with the Common Core standards, an initiative started to strengthen our competitive position in the global economy when neither our scholars, nor their families, are adequately equipped with the resources or skills to compete in the local economy!


Let me be clear, I can appreciate the idea behind the Common Core. I get it. We want to develop critical thinkers, leaders, social changers! But then you add the PARCC to the equation. Oh my goodness! Consider this, the majority of my fifth grade scholars are reading at a fourth grade or below grade level right now. I even have a few reading at a second grade level! SECOND GRADE!! That’s their fluency and comprehension level. Did you catch that? The majority of my class is still behind 1-3 grade levels in reading. They struggle to develop a 5 sentence paragraph with a clear topic sentence and strong conclusion. They’ve been working to develop these skills since the second grade. When they are challenged to push themselves to a higher expectation, they shut down with frustration. Oh, I’m not finished yet. My scholars barely know their basic multiplication facts, even though they’ve been exposed to them two grades prior. Many still struggle with regrouping in subtraction and will argue to the end that 0-4 = 4 even when provided proof that it is impossible!

Finally, after losing our technology teachers about four years ago, teachers were tasked to teach not only keyboarding skills, but also researching skills in a computer lab which we were scheduled to use once, maybe twice a week for 30-45 minutes, if we were lucky. There were several times I’d taken my class in to complete assignments and it’d taken the first 20 minutes alone just to get through all the glitches we’d face trying to simply get logged in! Amazing! Well, the computer lab no longer exists after 6 years of existence. The district has begun transitioning to the use of chrome books. I share a cart with a coworker. Yes, share! We make it work. Our scholars are most knowledgeable about how to search for information because that interests them. However, they still lack in the area of research, note taking, and essay typing. It continues to be a struggle for them since it requires more thinking and effort. Not a very good place to be with PARCC right around the corner, wouldn’t you think?

Our scholars, while they’ve shown growth in reading and math, are continuing to chase the leaders of the achievement gap every single day they enter our urban school. This is based on data from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, a two and a half hour, paper-pencil, written assessment. The new PARCC will assess my scholars electronically and will take multiple days. They will be given multiple reading samples at a time with two part answers where one answer will depend on scholars’ knowledge of and response to the other. On this assessment, scholars performance levels will be scored in the areas of text complexity, range of accuracy, and quality of evidence. There are multiple choice questions, matching, and two part extended responses that will need to be typed, providing explicit evidence from the text provided. The questions are much more challenging since they are multi-step questions and very different from what they’ve been used to. Scholars must use, not only the text provided, but also answers from previous questions to construct their responses. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the sample PARCC, you should take some time to peruse the website. Here’s the link:

PARCC Practice Tests


If I sound a bit anxious about this Next Generation Assessment, it’s because I am, along with many of my urban school educator friends. It feels a lot like my scholars are being set up to fail! Do you understand that the growth my scholars have made, any growth at all, will absolutely go unnoticed after taking this test! And YES…I take it personally! If they are not functionally or developmentally prepared to meet the Common Core standards then how could they possibly be prepared to take this Next Generation Assessment? Well, I don’t know either, but it kind of sounds like yet another way to keep our minority scholars at the bottom end of the achievement gap. All I know is that we need to get our scholars ready for this PARCC with the limited resources we are provided and hope that just one of them beats the odds, gets across that gap, and comes out on top! With everything we’ve been given, what do you think those odds are?



The Standards: Moving from “Common” to Dynamic Learning | CTQ

Here is the Ying to my Yang. Ms. Hiltz makes good points in support of Common Core. Many of which I don’t disagree. I agree with the higher order thinking expectations. I agree with challenging our students to expand their thinking. I agree with that. I even agree that it has changed how I teach! You have to change how you teach in order to teach the Common Core. There’s no way around it. It’s the assessment piece that has me at my wits end. I believe the combination of the two, Common Core and PARCC,  work against each other like oil and vinegar. Teaching students a variety of strategies and alternative thought processes make absolute sense to me, however, not allowing students the autonomy to choose the strategy that best fits them on the assessment bothers me. Again, I say, children think differently and learn differently and should be able to use strategies that have become comfortably familiar to them to support their way of thinking. None the less, I appreciate Ms. Hiltz’s viewpoint and thought I’d share it with you. And so, the battle continues…


Common Core or Common Quagmire?


The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. (Retrieved from http://www.core standards.org)

Recently, I’ve been battling my feelings about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I feel like I have a good understanding of children’s learning styles and the importance of nurturing their young minds. By definition, the CCSS support this notion. So, what’s the problem? It was after a recent baseline math assessment that I really began to feel differently about this new national initiative. On a particular set of questions, points were not given if a student did not use an algorithmic strategy, even if their process derived the correct answer.  I was so annoyed by this and thought, is THIS how we are assessing CCSS? Are we really stifling students autonomous thinking for the sake of what state and national reformers believe is the best indicator of our children’s futures?

We, as educators, all know the intent of the CCSS is to delve deeper into students thinking. To go beyond surface level learning and extend students foundational knowledge. Learning should shift from the traditional, basal instruction curriculum, to one that is more rigorous and relevant in application. We are to provide a variety of strategies for students and encourage individuality in learning and thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought until I began investigating the expectations of the Next Generation Assessments, such as those developed by the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers. These assessments seem to be requiring students to display much more thinking than is seemingly necessary. One particular video stood out to me. Watch as a 3rd grade student proudly explains a math problem using a strategy from the TERC Investigations curriculum for solving an addition problem. She shows two ways to solve the problem, one way by stacking, the traditional standard algorithm using regrouping, and the other by using a written or visual method that is meant to display mathematical thinking. I’ve attached a link below (retrieved from Math Foundations, LLC, September 23, 2014):


The unintended consequences of the TERC Investigations: http://youtu.be/1YLlX61o8fg

Quite a compelling outcome, wouldn’t you think? She began so confidently, and by the end looked so confused and disappointed as if she were tasked to solve some unearthing mathematical dilemma rather than a simple third grade addition problem. Is this really how we are expected to prepare our students for common core assessment? Or is this type of assessing progressively becoming more of a common quagmire for our students?

Here’s another example from an Arkansas mom who presents her reservations (and speaks for hundreds of other parents in the area as well) over the common core initiative to the Arkansas State Board of Education.


Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes: http:// youtu.be/wZEGijN_8R0

Hmmphf! I wonder what that school board member thought after finding that her thinking did not align with the expectations of the CCSS? Why do we continuously subject our students to that which makes little to no sense? Our children think differently, understand differently, LEARN differently, but yet we force them to learn in a way dictated by people that hide behind degrees and acronyms and have more than likely never stepped foot in an urban school classroom! Now, I don’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that fulfilling a personal philanthropic obligation within a chosen urban school district does not make you an educational expert on best practices in instruction and assessment! I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!  As you can tell, it makes me a little frustrated.

Where does Ohio stand? In August 2014, state legislators began the process of eliminating Common Core education standards in Ohio which would mean students would go through their third set of standards over the course of the next four years. Under this new bill, students would keep the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts this year, without the testing that goes with it. Schools would then switch for two years to Massachusetts Common Core standards (adopted in 2010) prior to implementing new state-developed standards in those subjects plus science and social studies starting in the 2017-18 school year (retrieved from The Columbus Dispatch at http://www.dispatch.com on September 26, 2014). Are you kidding me?! The assessment may change again…already?? How is it that the state is unable to make a firm decision about the state assessment and yet our students are expected to perform proficiently on whichever assessment is decided upon? Granted, if educators are effectively teaching to the Common Core, the assessment shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does matter because the standards and the assessment are not developmentally sound.


Honestly! This has gotten to be too much to think about! Are we really providing high-quality academic standards with the common core or are we setting our children up for failure and further holding them back with what seem to have become common quagmires? It’s something to think about, that’s for certain. As I continue to fight my internal battle between being for or against the Common Core initiative, I do what my passion leads me to do and work for those whose voices are never heard within the political realms of our educational reform, my students.