Public Schools prepare Parents for Test Score drop

Officials with both Edgecombe County Public Schools and Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools are making parents of their students aware of likely drops in upcoming test score reports as a result of significant changes in statewide curriculum.

Earlier this week, both school systems released statements explaining the changes and how they will be implemented in the coming weeks. Based on their information, these changes are part of the State’s adoption of controversial “Common Core” standards.

From Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools:

During October, the State Board of Education adopted new academic achievement standards (also referred to as cut scores) to align the new assessments students with the new Common Core and Essential Standards curriculum. As a result of the higher standards, student scores across the state are expected to be significantly lower than in previous years.

Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent, said the drop in scores is consistent with trends in other states, and with past re-norming of standards and corresponding assessments. 

“As with any major change in assessments, there is an anticipated drop in performance — as teachers adjust instruction to meet the new standards — and students adjust to the higher levels of rigor,” said Jackson. “We want parents to understand that this is a reflection of both the major shift in the rigor of the curriculum and the new testing process.”

The State Board of Education will approve the new accountability data for students and schools across the state on November 7. Schools will begin issuing individual score reports shortly after the State Board gives approval. On November 14, schools will host parent nights, during which school administrators and educators will speak with parents about the test scores.

In a letter sent home to parents on October 30, Jackson asked parents to carefully review the individual score reports. 

“Unfortunately, because these are new assessments, it is virtually impossible to compare this year’s performance to your child’s previous scores,” said Jackson in the letter. “Please see these scores as the baseline for your child’s performance moving forward.”

While proficiency scores are expected to be lower this year, the school district will also be highlighting school and district level growth data, which will give an indication of how students progressed, based on their performance from the previous year. Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools will utilize the growth and proficiency data to adjust instructional strategies to support the needs of students as they develop the skills to meet the higher demands moving forward.

For more information about the release of test scores, parents and community members are invited to visit the NRMPS website, www.nrms.k12.nc.us. Several resources are available, including sample score reports, frequently asked questions, and descriptors of each achievement level. A detailed schedule of upcoming parent nights will also be available on the website.

From Edgecombe County Public Schools:

As a result of changes in the assessment process and the implementation of a new curriculum, North Carolina student results are expected to drop significantly.

So that the assessment data can be properly aligned to the new assessment and the new curriculum, the North Carolina State Board of Education implemented new academic achievement standards in October.  These standards, referred to as cut scores, are a reflection of increased standards across the state and are an indication of the significant drop in student scores that the state is expected to see.

On November 7, 2013, the State Board is scheduled to approve the student data at its meeting.  Within two weeks by way of U. S. Mail, Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) students will receive detailed individual student reports and a letter from Superintendent John Farrelly.

“Looking at historical trends for North Carolina, whenever there has been a change in the assessment tool, scores across the state have declined,” said Farrelly.  “With both a change in the assessment tool and the curriculum we are teaching in North Carolina, there is an expectation for scores to fall significantly.”
  
The ECPS system is being proactive by alerting the community that the scores will not be an accurate reflection of student potential.  The new Common Core curriculum that was adopted by North Carolina is indicative of increased rigor.  As teachers modify instruction relative to the new standards, students across the state are likewise adapting to the new testing model.

It is imperative that parents not compare their students’ data with those of previous years, as the comparison is inaccurate.  As is typical moving forward after changing assessments, student scores generally incline. 

“We, as a district in Edgecombe County, will continue to focus on growing students and are committed to staying the course instructionally for student success and growth,” stated Farrelly.  “Our current emphasis on infusing technology into our content areas will prove to be highly effective.  We recognize that we have significant challenges in front of us to meet the new rigorous curricula standards. The new curriculum and assessments demand that we adjust instructional practices to provide more problem solving learning experiences for students. Despite the anticipated drop in overall scores, I am confident that we will continue to raise the bar for both teacher and student performance.”

Lt. Governor receives “response” from DPI on Common Core

North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forest, certainly received a response from the State’s Department of Public Instruction when he sent them a letter expressing his questions and concerns about the State’s adoption of controversial “Common Core” educational standards.

On August 2nd, DPI delivered to the Lieutenant Governor more than 40,000 pages of documentation in response to a 20-page, 67-question letter he submitted to Dr. June Atkinson. The boxes, folder, binders and more were delivered with a cover letter, signed by Dr. Atkinson, indicating that much of the documentation were hard copies of dozens of online sources used to answer most of the questions.

The Lieutenant Governor released this online video providing some idea of the volume included with the response:

As one can imagine, the response did not sit well with Forest.

“This is government bureaucracy at its best. When an administrative body that is required to provide information to its board members fails to be forthcoming with the requested information it should raise a red flag.”

“If the Lieutenant Governor, who is a member of the State Board of Education, has questions dismissed in this manner, imagine what will happen this school year when an individual parent or teacher asks these same questions. It is unclear to me, why a Department that is supposed to promote the Common Core Standards is hiding behind mountains of information and not offering clear, concise, common sense responses to very reasonable questions”.

Common Core standards were adopted in Math and English by the State of North Carolina in 2010, prior to the establishment of Republican Party control of the General Assembly (2011) and Governor’s Office (2013). Critics have questioned the program from many perspectives, including cost, effectiveness, privacy concerns and its potential ability to diminish local resident control of school systems.

What are the risks of “Common Core”

(The following commentary was originally posted by Civitas Institute)

By Bob Luebke

Last fall public schools in North Carolina along with 44 other states began implementing Common Core Standards. The standards — developed by academic experts and private trade associations with the financial backing of several large foundations — have unleashed a brushfire of criticism, fueled in part by the controversial ideas behind Common Core, parental anger over the lack of input and dissatisfaction over how the standards are implemented in our schools.

To help our readers learn more about Common Core, we’ve asked Jane Robbins, a Senior Fellow with the American Principles Project and someone actively involved in the national fight to stop Common Core, to share with us her thoughts about Common Core Standards and what these changes mean for students and parents in North Carolina. What follows is a transcript of Jane’s responses to our questions.

Tell me why North Carolina parents should be concerned about Common Core.

Common Core is an attempt by private interests in Washington, DC, aided by the federal government, to standardize English language arts (ELA) and math education (and ultimately, education in other subjects as well) throughout the nation. By adopting Common Core, North Carolina has agreed to cede control over its ELA and math standards to entities outside the state. Not only does this scheme obliterate parental control over the education of their children, but it imposes mediocre standards based on questionable philosophies, constitutes a huge unfunded mandate on the state and on local districts, and requires sharing students’ personal data with the federal government.

Specifically, how will Common Core impact a child’s education?

In ELA, the child will be exposed to significantly less classic literature – the books and stories that instill a love of reading – and significantly more nonfiction “informational texts.” The idea is not to educate him as a full citizen, but to train him for a future static job. In math, the child won’t learn the standard algorithm (the normal computational model) for addition and subtraction until grade 4, for multiplication until grade 5, and for division until grade 6. Until then, the child will be taught what we used to call “fuzzy math” – alternative offbeat ways to solve math problems. He probably won’t take algebra I until grade 9 (meaning he’s unlikely to reach calculus in high school, as expected by selective universities), and will be “taught” geometry according to an experimental method never used successfully in K-12 anywhere in the world.

Aren’t Common Core standards supposed to be better than existing school standards?

That’s the claim, but it simply isn’t true. Even the Fordham Institute, which has been paid a lot of money by Common Core-financier the Gates Foundation to promote the standards, admitted that many states had better standards and others had standards at least as good. The Common Core website itself no longer claims that the standards are “internationally benchmarked,” and the Common Core Validation Committee was never given any information on international benchmarking. And one of the drafters of the math standards admitted in 2010 that when Common Core proponents talk about “college-readiness,” they’re aiming for a nonselective community college, not a four-year university.

How are teachers impacted under Common Core?

Seasoned teachers are likely to be unhappy with the educational “innovations” described above. And once the SMARTER Balanced national test is implemented in 2014-15, teachers will have to teach to this test because their performance evaluations will be tied to the test scores. The national test will be completely online, which means schools without sufficient technology will have to rotate their students through computer labs. (SMARTER Balanced suggests a 12-week testing window). This means students who are tested in the first week will have significantly less instruction under their belts than students who are tested later – but all teachers’ evaluations will be tied to the scores.

Is it true that local districts will be able to choose their own curriculum under Common Core? If all curricula will ultimately be tied to the standards, does that really matter?

The point of standards is to drive curricula. While local districts still have some choice over curricula, they are already seeing that their choices are narrowing, because all curricula must be aligned with Common Core. And the federal government is funding the two consortia that are developing the national tests and that have admitted they are creating curriculum models. Two former U.S. Department of Education officials concluded in a comprehensive report that, ultimately, the Common Core scheme will result in a national curriculum – in violation of three federal statutes.

Tell us more about the student database and what parents need to know.

Both the 2009 Stimulus bill and the Race to the Top program required states to build massive student databases. It is recommended that these databases ultimately track over 400 data points, including health-care history, disciplinary history, etc. Any of this data that will be given to the Smarter Balanced consortium as part of the national test will be sent to the U.S. Department of Education. USED can then share the data with literally any entity it wants to – public or private – because of regulations it has issued gutting federal student-privacy law.

North Carolinians should also be concerned about a new initiative called inBloom, which is a pilot program designed to standardize student data and make it available to commercial vendors creating education products. North Carolina is one of the nine states involved in the inBloom pilot.

How did all this happen?

Very stealthily. Private interests in Washington, funded largely by the Gates Foundation, decided in 2007 to try again (as progressive education reformers have in the past) to nationalize standards and curriculum. Thus began the development of Common Core. When the stimulus bill passed in 2009, the U.S. Department of Education used the money it was given to create the Race to the Top program. To be competitive for Race to the Top grants, a state had to agree to adopt Common Core and the aligned national tests. The commitments were due before the standards were released, and without the opportunity for involvement by state legislatures. So most states that adopted Common Core did so for a chance at federal money, and without legislators’ and citizens’ knowing anything about it.

In your view who’s behind the development of Common Core Standards and what are they trying to accomplish?

The standards were created primarily by a nonprofit called Achieve, Inc. in Washington, DC, and released under the auspices of two DC-based trade associations (the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, neither of which had a grant of legislative authority from their members to create national standards). Funding and support came from the Gates Foundation, as well as from other foundations including the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. The common denominator seems to be a belief that very smart elites in Washington are better able to direct our children’s education than we are. As for what they are trying to accomplish, two points: first, Bill Gates seems to favor a “Common Core operating system” that can be imposed on every school, everywhere, to increase efficiency: and second, the initiative seems directed at workforce development, not true education.

What have you learned from traveling around the country working with parents and groups who are fighting Common Core?

That Goliath should be very, very concerned about David! Parents and other concerned citizens have stood up to the lavishly funded special interests and have demanded a return of their constitutional right to control their children’s education. Common Core is not inevitable, and patriots can still prevail if they refuse to give in. I’ve also learned that the forces behind Common Core are wedded to certain buzzwords and talking points that have absolutely no evidence to support them – “rigorous,“ “college- and career-ready,” etc. – and that the promoters frequently resort to outright deception to get what they want. The ends justify the means, apparently.

How do you respond to concerns that withdrawal from Common Core will threaten Race to the Top funding or the No Child Left Behind waiver?

Regarding Race to the Top, several points: 1) nothing in the grant requires paying back the money if Common Core is discarded; 2) even if repayment were demanded, it should be only a fraction of the money actually paid out (since the commitments to Common Core and the SMARTER Balanced tests were only a fraction of the Race to the Top commitment); 3) even if full repayment were required, this would be much cheaper than continuing to implement the Common Core unfunded mandate; and 4) it is highly unlikely, from a political standpoint, that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would require repayment, since he has claimed for two years that nothing about this program is a federal mandate – if he now imposes a huge penalty for North Carolina’s exercise of independence, he will be proving the point of the Common Core critics. Regarding the No Child Left Behind waiver, there is a way within the waiver application itself that allows a state to use standards other than Common Core. If North Carolina has its alternative standards certified by its major institutions of higher education, it can still qualify for the waiver (assuming it wishes to do so – the waiver simply exchanges one set of federal shackles for another).

Do you have any final advice on how parents can be actively involved in fighting Common Core Standards in North Carolina?

Yes. Educate yourselves and your friends by visiting truthinamericaneducation.com and stopcommoncore.com. Talk to your local school officials and school board members. Call your state legislators, your state school board members, and your Governor, and demand that they take action to restore North Carolina control over North Carolina education.

(For North Carolina, also visit stopcommoncorenc.org.)