The Common Core, the New Tests and Raising the Bar: Can an Evangelical Commissioner Convert the Masses?

A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” Mark Twain

The scores are out!!

The State Ed crowd has been whispering the scores from a mountaintop for months … preparing the masses for scores that would decline by 30% … well, not really.

The scores reflect a different examination based on different standards – comparing last year to this year is comparing “apples to oranges.”

A summary of the test results, as well as individual school and district results, are available at:

If this stuff turns you on – see the Methodological Summary – External Benchmark Studies Summary:

The “quick and dirty” results:

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
Across the Big 5 city school districts, a smaller percentage of students met or exceeded the ELA and math proficiency standards than in the rest of the state:
• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 14.5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 29.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 6.9% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

An acquaintance of mine is an evangelical minister – he travels around the country preaching the gospel, his purpose in life is to save souls. We enjoy exchanging views – this cynical New York agnostic and the dedicated Southerner traveling the nation. I asked him to read, Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005), and asked since the New Testament was written by many unknown contributors and has undergone change after change how could you really know what Jesus wrote or said? My friend responded, with a smile, “Faith.”

I feel the same way about John King – he is an evangelical preacher of the Common Core, and, yes, there may be many flaws, he has “faith” that the Common Core is the gospel.

The fallacy is that “faith” is not sufficient.

About twenty years ago a new wave of standards swept across the city, standards are learning expectations, for each unit and lesson teachers were expected to write expectations in a “Students Will Be Able To,” (SWBAT) format.


* Students will be able to identify geometric shapes.
* Students will be able to add single digit numbers
* Students will write a five sentence paragraph describing a science experiment
* Students will be able to write an evidence-based essay explaining the causes of World War One
* Students will be able to write a persuasive essay, using the works Friedrich Nietzsche and other philosophers, supporting or opposing the statement, “God is dead.”

Superintendents and principals required teachers to attach appropriate letters/numbers to each unit and lesson plan listing the specific standard.

Some teachers loved the new standards approach, others hated the standards, and with time the latest “new thing” faded away.

The phase out of the Regents Competency Exams (RCT) and the phase in of the Regents-only diploma dominated the educational air in the late nineties.

The Common Core is the latest “new thing.” To put it as simply as possible David Coleman convinced the National Governor’s Association to develop a set of new standards based on college and readiness – what do kids need to succeed in college and plan backwards to kindergarten – take a look at the English Language Arts Literacy Standards here

An example of a 6th grade writing standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.2a Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

The teacher’s job is incorporating the standard into his/her lesson, and, the April ELA test will ask questions to “test” the student’s acquisition of the standard.

The State crew decided to reduce the “grades” on the new Common Core standards test by 30% – remember that cut scores are established by human beings and based on subjective judgments. In spite of a lengthy explanation of the process by Regents Research Fund fellow Kristen Huff, strangely, the names of the “educators” who reviewed and determined the “level of difficulty” of each question were not released. (Read an account from “inside the room” here.

In reply to a reporter question concerning the readiness of teachers King responded that the State had spent at least $1.5 billion to prepare teachers.

In a New York Daily News op ed UFT President Mulgrew wrote,

While teachers — many of whom helped create the new Common Core — support the new standards, the decision by the state and the city to rush them through has made the situation much worse. The lack of a thorough new curriculum that teachers could use to create lessons matched to the Common Core has meant that children were far less prepared.

A core question: how is the State measuring the effectiveness of the teacher/supervisor training? If the students scored in the 30% range isn’t that “evidence” that the preparation of teachers was insufficient?

The problem with the evangelical commissioner is that rather than “converting” skeptics he is treating them as “heretics.” The last time I looked the Crusades were not successful.

Phasing in the Common Core, working with unions and teachers, building support both from within and without, instead schools have the feeling that the tests are punitive.

There is a wealth of research on personal and organization change: two of the key concepts,

* Participation reduces resistance, and
* Change is viewed as punishment

The Common Core with appropriate curriculum and a collaborative process of including teachers, a school-wide discussion of teaching and learning, always a good idea … will the Common Core prepare a new generation of college and career ready students, probably not.

You cannot separate cognitive skills (reading, writing math, etc.) from non-cognitive skills, Paul Tough is right,

noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.

How about highly qualified chancellors and superintendents and school leaders guiding teachers to improve instructional practice in a collaborative setting? Nah!! Can’t sell enough stuff.

5 responses to “The Common Core, the New Tests and Raising the Bar: Can an Evangelical Commissioner Convert the Masses?

  1. Learnign Objectives expressed as SWBAT beg the question to wit: what if they wont be able to, or what if some are able to and others not quite, and still others not at all…Using The Danielson model for teacher evaluation, we see that teachers who deliver instruction where ALL stuents appear to benefit are rated as highly effective. Then we see that teachers who deliver instruction where most are able to grasp the concept are rated as effective, and where some are able to grasp the concept the teachers rating is shown as developing, and finally where no students seem to have experienced lesson realization, the teacher is rated ineffective. The bell rings, and it becomes time to teach a diff subject discipline. How does the dynamic change in terms of learning realization and teacher ratings. It changes measurably. In an elementary setting the same teacher is usually responsible for multple subject instructional delivery systems. Some of which may not be within that teachers strengths. On the other hand in the secondary school, where teachers are assigned in the subject area they certified for, the expectation should be that each teacher will reach a proficiency level that promotes learning for All students. It seems to me that Common Core strategems at the elementary level will yield as strikingly different forcasts as the weather depending on the subject lesson being observed.So, hypothetically you could have a scenario where a 6th grade teacher, observed in a social studies lesson which is driven by a hands on group project is rated as Highly Effective, as all students were involved in the learning process and their Learning Objective was fully realized. The next day this same teacher is observed teaching a lesson driven by the SWBAT calculate perimeter.The lesson is largely a composite of rules and rote meorization. Students either memorize the formula for perimeter or they dont. For those that do, they then learn how to apply it. The teacher is ultimately rated as Effective. The bell rings and this same teacher is now expected to teache a science lesson on photosynthesis. There is no lab, the teacher spells the word term wrong in the Learning Objective and it all goes downhill after that. The teacher is rated Ineffective. Whcih of the ratings is valid? Could the common Core strategy of mandated how to techniques have helped this teacher..NO. Is the rating indicative of the teachers abilities. NO….My personal favorite over the years was all the training we received in FRAMEWORKS…


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    The easy way for Albany to lead is to make the tests harder and then point fingers. The real work takes place in hundreds of thousands of classrooms throughout the State where teachers interact with students each day. To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests. Unfortunately, that would require bold and effective leaders at a time when such individuals are as rare in education and politics as unicorns.

    So the student assessments get harder, the teacher evaluations grow more complicated, and the leadership declares victory and seeks higher office.


  3. To improve teaching effectiveness there must be a combination of INDIVIDUAL training and 4 “T’S”: Tools, Techniques, Time, and Trust. The mass “training” provided by the state and the city FAILS those criteria and so our students continue to FAIL the tests. However, as usual, our capable faculties will again absorb, adopt and adapt to teach to the test and over time the test scores will improve and the politicians will again claim victory. Democracy can not exist without participatory citizens. Citizens require the skill to make informed decisions based upon information and THINKING. Danielson and Common Core emphasize thinking. My fear is that THINKING will be reduced to a formulaic approach that is the anti-thinking!


  4. Eric

    Are you not the one who was in charge when Tweed tried to micromanage the classroom and reduce teacher creativeness? Yes you were.

    By the way thanks for the useless “Children first(last) networks that are simply a money sucking machine from the resource starved schools.


  5. Mulgrew (the AFT and UFT) is right that teachers want to have clear standards that they can hold students accountable for meeting and that they can use to plan lessons. He is also correct in the complaint (voiced by teachers) that there has been no support for creating the materials and curriculum that match these standards. The State Ed and DOE training programs have been inadequate for helping teahcers to create this curriculum because it has lacked the four Ts cited above.

    The test scores are a meaningless evaluation of the schools and the teachers as they are manipulated by the test makers and the SED. Next year’s tests will be made easier so that the SED and other political entities can take credit for improvement. This is the pattern that was at the heart of the increasing test scores after the passage of NCLB.

    School systems did not approach real proficiency for all students. THey manipulated the data so that more students could be labeled proficient ech year.

    But most importantly, as I see it, is that the CCSS, is not a radical change. One could easily rewrite the standard cited above in SWBAT terms. “The SWBAT write an essay that introduces a topic, presents ideas and content in an organized manner, using ….” Changing the wording doesn’t change the essential skills that the standard represents and that students should be taught.

    If you think about the phrase “Change equals punishment” in these terms, you can see why teachers who have been working hard to teach their students these skills al along see the new standards as criticism and meaningless paperwork. (Rewrite all your lesson plans to include the new standards by number because otherwise the supervisors can’t tell what you were trying to teach.)

    What we need is a system that talks about standards and is run by people who have taught and have direct experience in helping students learn and master new skills.


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