Different organizations continue to publish guidelines for state, district, and school leaders working to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While some of these instructional ideas are excellent and deserve widespread adoption, the high stakes testing focus of CCSS (which continues the unabated trend established with NCLB) constitutes educational malpractice and must be abandoned.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has published “Implementing Common Core State Standards and Assessments: A Workbook for State and District Leaders.” (PDF) PARCC is the consortium Oklahoma has joined which is developing assessments for CCSS.

CCSS Implementation Workbook for State and District Leaders

This document begins with one of the most pollyannaish introductions you’ll find in any contemporary educational policy document:

We are at one of those rare, maybe once-in-a-lifetime moments. After 30 years of fits and starts, true transformational reform in education is not only possible but also entirely within our grasp. In the last few years, we have seen a number of significant shifts occur: College and career readiness for all students is the new national norm, the majority of states have adopted internationally benchmarked K–12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English, and most states are participating in a Race to the Top assessment consortium. The nation has, by and large, coalesced around a common — and rigorous — set of expectations and goals that will put all students on a trajectory to graduate from high school ready for college, careers and citizenship.

While there certainly ARE some positive aspects to CCSS, this document (and all others I’ve read to date) fails to highlight the harmful costs of making HIGH STAKES TESTING, online testing, and even more prevalent, disruptive assessments for students central to the CCSS roadmap. (Since PARCC is primarily developing these assessments, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.) In Oklahoma we need all our schools to embrace 1:1 learning where every student has a flexible, mobile learning device capable of creating and interacting with content as well as downloading / viewing / consuming it. Unfortunately, it appears our state is currently on a trajectory with THE ASSESSMENT PORTIONS OF CCSS to further reinforce the mentality that “school is all about testing.” I fear our currently mandated “Technology Readiness Tool” assessments for districts will encourage leaders to purchase more computers in schools to simply meet the horrific online testing mandates on our near-term horizon. This is NOT the right reason to purchase more computing devices for our schools.

I support a legislative agenda (as yet not fully articulated or supported by elected officials) which would divorce mandated, online assessment elements of the CCSS transition plan from other elements which involve changes to academic standards as well as teaching. I have not read or heard of others in Oklahoma proposing this, but I am now. We need this political movement. It is long overdue.

'Torches' photo (c) 2007, Chris Gladis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

We are living in an unfortunate (but fixable) political climate, when almost all educational policymakers appear incapable of understanding how improved standards and academic achievement can be supported WITHOUT a focus on high stakes testing and accountability. Politicians have “drunk the Kool-Aid” of NCLB and RTTT, and appear to be (currently) unable to imagine educational policy which is not focused on punitive consequences for schools and educators based on high stakes student test scores– which are NOT, by the way, statistically valid and comprehensive measures of educational quality.

'Mr. Kool-Aid' photo (c) 2007, Andy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

This is a crazy situation which continues to have destructive effects on students as well as educators. This also has very negative, long term implications for the economic health of our nation and our capacities for creativity and problem solving. Scott McLeod’s post yesterday, “Making room for innovation,” made this point well. Stopping this madness is the primary reason I started the Facebook group this week, “Oklahomans Against High Stakes Testing Worship.”

This near-myoptic focus on high stakes testing is visible in PARCC’s “workbook for state and district leaders” on page 5 in the first expectation of state leaders to “attend to three critical outcomes.”

Accountability for results. The state has no more important role than to relentlessly focus on outcomes and key steps needed to get there.

Many of the other ideas in this document pertaining to CCSS are WONDERFUL. Yes, state departments of education absolutely SHOULD provide resources and guide educators to utilize resources which support educational best practices. States should facilitate collaboration and support continuing PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for teachers at all levels. States should NOT, however, continue to mandate high stakes testing for students and use those results to “measure teacher performance.” What we need in Oklahoma schools more than anything is NOT more tests or new tests aligned to new standards: We need fantastic, high-quality teachers and school administrators. Unfortunately, more educators than ever want to throw in the towel and quit the profession. New teacher evaluation systems under adoption in Oklahoma have some redeeming qualities, especially compared to our old model, but the essential ingredients remain the same: We need top quality educators.We also need top quality school administrators who are instructional leaders and have the courage to document poor professional teaching behavior (when it happens) so those folks can find new jobs. (Yes, we have some ‘bad apples’ in all school districts who need to go.) Unfortunately, the ASSESSMENT and ACCOUNTABILITY elements of CCSS transition documents like these miss these transcendent needs. This must be remedied.

Now that I’ve addressed high stakes testing problems with the CCSS roadmap, let’s turn to instructional materials for CCSS implementation.

As part of the handouts provided to participants in the March 6-7, 2012, “Transition & Implementation Institute” for the PARCC, Achieve created and published “A Strong State Role In Common Core State Standards Implementation: Rubric And Self-Assessment Tool.” This document highlights the importance of states facilitating digital sharing of curriculum and lesson plan resources. On page 16 we read:

States with a strong transition plan provide at least an aligned model curriculum framework to guide curriculum development at the local level, and, in many instances, they provide much more—aligned instructional units, lesson plans, formative assessment tools, for example.

One example of a state providing this kind of digital portal for instructional materials is Florida’s Virtual Curriculum Marketplace.

Unfortunately, our state department of education in Oklahoma has not yet provided ANYTHING like this. Our state REAC3H Network page has a slew of links to “make the case” for CCSS, but nothing to facilitate openly licensed instructional materials between districts. The Common Core Aligned Lessons website for Yukon Public Schools (lessons.yukonps.com) is an effort to aggregate and share different kinds of free as well as commercial digital curriculum sources. Hopefully in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll see not only a digital curriculum portal in Oklahoma for ACCESSING curriculum materials created by others, but also SUGGESTIONS and TOOLS for teachers digitally sharing lesson resources with CC licenses. This licensing element is ESSENTIAL, and to date is completely absent from legislative and SDE publications / policies / rules / laws. This must change.

':: Esta es la primera camiseta de Creative Commons Colombia ::' photo (c) 2010, Colores Mari - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When Oklahoma teachers get together to “unpack” standards and create unit plans, as many did in Deer Creek PS earlier this week, we need to encourage each other to OPENLY SHARE our resources. We need to encourage our district leaders to embrace the ethic of open digital sharing, as well as our state officials. One of the most powerful ways we should and WILL disrupt the traditional paradigm of textbook publishing and CONTROL over instructional materials is by openly sharing (via Creative Commons licenses) our unit plans, digital resources and activities for students. Oklahoma’s SDE is not facilitating this for our state (yet) but our districts are and will continue to do so. Some have started, and we need to encourage others to follow suit.

Transitioning to CCSS without the LARGE financial benefit of Race to the Top award dollars, Oklahoma educators are in a more dire situation than those in other states with RTTT funding. Funds for professional development have been cut and nothing else has been put in place to help in our state. ARRA funds which eased declining budgets in the past two years are gone. The campaign to starve public schools of needed funds, brand all public schools as failures, and change state laws so commercial curriculum companies can take public dollars to enrich investors continues to march on. We may not be able to stem the tide right away, but we certainly CAN collaborate more effectively to stay alive. Our need for more widespread and savvy digital collaboration as educators in 2012 should be clear to everyone.

Despite these negative aspects of our educational politics today, making the transition to CCSS is positive in some respects. Read my notes from PD sessions in Deer Creek PS this past Tuesday and Wednesday for examples. Helping teachers embrace more teaching strategies for engaged learning, focusing on higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s revised taxonomy, and implementing many of the instructional practices highlighted by Robert Marzano to improve student achievement are ALL great ideas.

Testing our students more, and evaluating our teachers on those student test scores, however, are BAD ideas which should not be forced upon our students and communities. If you’re not yet fed up with legislators and state officials WORSHIPPING high stakes tests and test results, you should be.

High Stakes Test Worship is WRONG!

As a state we need to embrace the good elements of CCSS pedagogy, and spit out the high stakes testing elements which will only serve to further enrich testing and curriculum companies at the expense of educational quality, creativity, and innovation in our classrooms.

Can we do it? Yes we can.

'Yes, We Can (44th/52)' photo (c) 2008, Alexandre Normand - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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  • http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org Scott McLeod

    Does it help you feel better about these if you know that both the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments are supposed to focus on higher-order, not low-level, thinking skills? Or are you also against large-scale assessments of critical thinking and problem-solving?

    I don’t know if the two consortia can pull this off. But the fact that they’re supposedly focusing on higher-level thinking makes all of this more palatable for me, at least until we see what they come up with!

  • http://wfryer.wpengine.com Wesley Fryer

    Scott: I’ve heard that those are the goals of the consortia, and while that sounds nice in theory I don’t think it’s responsible for states to be putting their “assessment eggs” in a basket which has yet to be created. From what I’ve read and heard about assessments like PISA, they are not only expensive but also much more involved to create and implement. I’d like to learn more about this.

    The biggest problem I’m NOT ok with is the now-widespread belief that we can’t encourage schools to improve effectively without high stakes testing. It’s simply not true. We DO know things which improve student achievement, and high stakes punishment isn’t anything I’ve read about in the research literature even though it’s now an article of faith with most politicians.

    I agree a ” wait and see” attitude is best when it comes to PARCC and the other consortium. The problem in Oklahoma, at least, is our state will be using high stakes test results for 50% of teacher formal evaluations of performance starting in 2013-2014. By 2014 when we are supposed to fully have transitioned to CCSS these tests will make up (it appears) a significant portion of that 50% score per teacher.

    I don’t think this is the right path forward.

  • http://twitter.com/davestuartjr Dave Stuart Jr.

    Hi Scott and Wesley,
    I am also pretty excited about the fact that the CCSS moves us into a realm of higher-order thinking and college and career readiness skills. At the same time, I think Wesley is dead on: there is some serious worship going on when it comes to high stakes testing. It’s interesting that, with all of the attention on Finland, many states are grasping the fact that Finland doesn’t judge teachers based on high stakes testing; in fact, I’m pretty sure Finland doesn’t do much high stakes testing at all.

    I’m trying to learn more about the CCSS and what implementation looks like over at http://www.teachingthecore.wordpress.com — feel free to stop by sometime and offer comments or critiques!

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