Over the next two weeks kids in grades 3-8 are will be spending a couple of hours a day bubbling in answer sheets, writing essays and coping with multiple-step math problems. The tests reflect the new Common Core, and Walcott/Suransky and Tisch/King tell us,
The old tests…. tested only basic skills, and “were stifling learning and frustrating … children’s creativity.” By contrast, the new assessments, designed to assess whether students are on track for college and careers, are oriented toward critical thinking, solving real-world problems, and closer reading and analysis of texts. The new tests are “a completely different baseline,” the policymakers wrote, and the percentage of students identified as proficient is likely to plummet compared to previous years.
Old tests were “stifling learning and frustrating,” sounds more like a description of the new tests.
We know there is no curriculum, New York State has posted reams of material on their EngageNY.org website, the state recommends/suggests to schools districts across the state, however decisions are local. In New York City schools belong to networks, groups of schools with differing philosophical approaches – some enamored of Lucie Calkins strategies and others who abhor her views. The City-Wide Instructional Expectations 2012-13 and Instructional Shifts documents present an overview of department goals. As Sol Stern has written in the City Journal the department is misguided, either through ignorance or design. At the school level too many schools mechanically require frequent interim assessments and lesson plans targeting “deficiencies” identified in the assessments. A huge paperwork burden that results in what is essentially constant test prep – constant remediation to improve the data on interim assessments, and, perhaps, on the standardized tests.
The department lauds principals that require each and every lesson plan and lesson reflect instruction that targets “deficiencies” in Acuity, or whatever interim assessment the school uses.
Acuity is a Common Core K–12 comprehensive assessment solution that supports district and school instructional improvement goals, while enabling teachers to use valid and reliable assessment data to inform their instruction and intervention plans (from Acuity website)
Teachers feel overwhelmed, threatened and question whether this relentless imposition of essentially a 24/7 test prep philosophy will actually create “college and career ready” students.
Ironically at the same time the Common Core is being driven into classrooms across the city the department is about to adopt an instructional assessment model – the Charlotte Danielson Frameworks.
In addition to her Frameworks book – the new “bible,” Danielson has written a thin volume, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations (2009).”
Danielson begins the book with a sentence with which I hope we would all agree,
Leadership in schools implies instructional leadership. All educators who exercise either formal or informal leadership have the responsibility to use their influence and positional authority to insure high levels of pupil learning.
She believes that at the core of any conversation is building trust,
Arguably, the most important condition for professional conversations is the existence of trust between teachers and administrators, without trust, teachers are always on their guard in the presence of the principal, and they tense up whenever an administrator enters their classroom. Discussions during faculty meetings cannot be an honest reflection of professional views if teachers fear retribution or loss of standing if they express a view divergent from the official position.
The doyen of instruction practice warns us that building trust is at the core of using her frameworks to build competency at the same time that the department is hammering teachers with an inflexible heavily regimented approach to teaching.
“Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform“(David Tyack and Larry Cuban) reviews a century of school reform initiatives, almost all of which faded into the dustbins of school reform. Tyack and Cuban conclude that unless reforms are accepted by teachers and parents they fail.
Harold Howe, II, former US Commissioner of Education, in a review writes,
Isn’t the message these two professors from Stanford have brought us under the banner of Tinkering Toward Utopia very much the same message as that of Robert Browning, which is so often quoted: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”