Archive for March, 2015

SBAC Summative & Formative Assessments & Digital Library

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
From the SBAC Digital Library

From the SBAC Digital Library

Michelle Obama will travel to Japan and Cambodia in the middle of March 2015 to garner support for the Peace Corps and Japan’s Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (OCV). The visit will initiate USAID’s Let Girls Learn, “an international effort aimed at enabling millions of young women to attend, and stay in, school.” President Obama’s initiative introduced two weeks ago without much fanfare. Education opportunities for girls in eleven Balkan, Asian, and African nations are the Peace Corps’ and OCV’s focus in 2015. That means building school sites, finding books, purchasing uniforms.

Think about the United States. The states struggle over a new set of standards for learning called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the assessments for the standards devised by two consortia, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These assessments need computers, laptops, or tablets to take the exams; professional development to implement the standards and learn how to instruct students to take the exams; servers and cables, cables, and more cables. Are $$ ca-chinging in your brain?

Our last post discussed the problems for PARCC with the development of assessments handed off to Pearson, a UK education corporation. Let’s see how the 21 SBAC states have fared in 2014 and soon this year, 2015 Will the cost be supported?

From the latest updated SBAC website, the most controversial of the assessments given once a year over a period of several days, is the summative test explanation. The site shows a summary of the content of the exams and description of the revisions and analysis of the Pilot and Field Tests. The Field Test Report outlines the 2014 results from the 13 field test states, used to gauge accuracy of questions and school readiness for 2015. It also describes support for students with learning disabilities, second language issues, and physical constraints like hearing and vision. Unlike the PARCC model, 65 teachers, administrators, and parents from 17 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands determined the achievement levels for 2015 exams.

Second, anyone who is interested can look over the practice tests and the Digital Library of teacher resources to prepare grade 3-12 students for the collaborative thinking and problem solving the assessments require. SBAC practice, however, is as sparing and confusing as PARCC practice critics claim.

When you look at the English/Language Arts practice tests, it is apparent that only some lucky students, but certainly not the majority, will be able to handle the punctuation, grammar, and formatting requirements asked of them. Think of your third grader. The parent can, however, buy as much practice as she can afford from a multitude of education companies. Browse the internet.

Last, the most vigorous outrage has unfurled over the numerous testing days, preparation for, stress for students, outcomes already long suspected, privacy of information analyzed and held on databases. Each state’s department of education, whether a PARCC or SBAC affiliate, will have to come to terms with the backlash generated, NOT by the standards, but by the lack of long-range planning before the actual implementation of assessments for CCSS.

However, roiling from budget cuts to its once outstanding school master plan, California has centered on new directives to forge an array of measures to gauge school success. For one, the California State Board of Education voted to suspend for another year the Academic Performance Index (API) that gave schools a score used to evaluate performance of teachers, students, and schools in boosting academic achievement. The API and the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) score, mandated by the federal NCLB legislation, had yearly distinguished success from failure.

In addition, the state’s “school quality” measures will take in not only assessment scores, but student attendance, English proficiency, access to educational materials, suspensions, graduation rate, dropout rates, and performance in college-level courses; all factors that indicate whether or not the achievement gap is closing. Hallelujah! The aspects that make up the climate for a succeeding school will be addressed.

You have most likely heard of “continuous improvement”-a way to examine how a school is improving. The strongest change for California is the State Board of Education’s decision to designate an agency of highly-qualified (recognize that term?) teachers, administrators, superintendents, and County Office of Education experts to form the California Collaborative of Educational Excellence (CCEE). Its duties are to support learning, share knowledge, evaluate a school’s needs, and provide sources of direct intervention so that California schools, public and charter, well-heeled and low income, succeed for every student. To come is the $$ assessment!

Fortunately, the United States doesn’t need the Let Girls Learn initiative. Think about it: teacher, parent, business person, Congress person! Our job is to suck up our complaints and embark on the long road to raise the educational stakes for all our children.




Jonathan Swift and PARCC

Friday, March 6th, 2015

(This post speaks of the problems with PARCC tests, designed for the 13 states collaborating on this test format. The next post will explore the latest from SBAC, comprised of the 19 states using the Smarter Balanced testing model.)


The 18th century British occupation of Ireland and PARCC testing have one thing in common: they deserved and deserve the ridicule that comes of despair from 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift.

The Reverend Swift, through his pseudo economist narrator in A Modest Proposal, argued that the British might as well plump up and cook up Irish babies for fine dining, since they were treating the Irish like farm animals anyway.

In today’s U.S., the Reverend Swift, through a pseudo educator narrator, could easily argue that schools should stop instruction altogether as wasted time. After all, the real goal of education is to prepare students for standardized tests to confirm what we already know: the affluent do well, though they will do less well because of the new PARCC tests’ so-called rigor, and the poor do poorly, because, well, lots of problems come with poor-ness.

Indeed, Swift’s pseudo educator narrator could also argue that standardized PARCC tests helpfully kill the hopes and dreams of all tender children, the better to prepare the young for the harsh realities of 21st century living.

A survey of the PARCC world on the internet, necessary reading for those interested in the lay of the land for children, reveals the following:

PARCC tests require lots of time before you get to the test taking, and there’s no guarantee that that time will help kids at all, in any way. See the following prep at or check on YouTube.

-How teachers become techie help deskers to get tests started and monitored. Tips on how to troubleshoot technical problems.

-How children from 3rd to 5th grade will use math and English language tools to do math and writing problems. These tools include note-taking and standard bold, italics, underline, bullet points, and outline for writing (even for third graders???) and, among other things, rulers and protractors for math.

-Sample math questions and how to use the math tools for elementary school.

-A tutorial on the math equation editor for 8th graders showing math symbols, relations symbols, and how to show and explain your work required by some of the test questions.

PARCC and Pearson are parsimonious on the practice. They don’t want to give too much away! Fifth graders get TWO questions for the science practice test. A little coaching helps some:

“Use Firefox, it just seems to work a little bit better.”

   “Type in” (Notice Pearson’s name and logo are plastered everywhere on the practice site.)

“If you have everything set up correctly with the most up-to-date Java, you’ll get a security warning (!!!), you’ll say <allow> and it’s going to take over your screen. You may get more than one pop-up here, but for now, I only got one!!!”

PARCC and Pearson have over-estimated a third grader’s ability to type. It’s not the math getting in the way of this diligent child’s effort on a new iPad with excellent internet connection:

“Where’d the ‘e’ go and where’d the ‘s’ go… Oh, this is hard!!!”

“Where did the ‘r’ go, Wait! Wait! Waaah!”

“Wait, no no no, something bad happened.”

PARCC and Pearson deliver confusion and receive frustration from three high schoolers taking 6th grade math practice test, especially the question on figuring golf ball profits (only the British company Pearson would put golf ball profits at the center of a math problem!)



“I would give up at this point!”

“I’m giving up right now!”

“Why do you need a number line? You can do that in your head!”

“How do you explain your answer? Can we just show our work?”

“They always add unnecessary information.”

“We have to explain why the answer given is wrong????”

A PARCC test coach turns failure into success, maybe, but she assumes third graders will actually take notes on writing samples, turn prompts into questions, review an essay for organization, and reflect on their process while typing on a computer or iPad.

“Ultimately, I think having students experience this dramatic failure was actually a good thing, because everyone’s sense of urgency is much higher…”

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of urgent companies profiting from PARCC testing, not including the huge publishing and testing industry. Here is a short list of sources where parents and kids can get help:

Buy PARCC flashcard secrets.

Buy a PARCC study guide. Check out pricing.

Amazon offers discounts on PARCC material.

Help teachers help kids read through RAZ.

The Education Law Center in New Jersey has called out both Governor Chris Christie-R and the state legislature-D for not providing enough money or time to roll out Common Core and PARCC tests:

In testimony before the Assembly Education Committee on A-3081, Stan Karp, Director of Education Law Center’s Secondary Reform Project, emphasized that while “New Jersey’s adoption and implementation of state curriculum standards has always been closely tied to efforts to equitably fund our public schools…there have not been any studies of the programs and services required to effectively implement the Common Core’s ‘college and career ready’ standards.” Moreover, “recent State budgets have not provided the funding necessary to deliver existing standards.”

“Raising standards without providing, or even identifying, the resources needed to deliver them sets schools and students up for frustration and failure instead of success,” Karp added.

If this quote doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because Colorado’s Department of Education Commissioner Robert Hammond fully supports Common Core and PARCC and has only begrudgingly ginned up any funding to study implementation costs (see Augenblich Palaich study 2012 and Augenblich Palaich study 2014). The Augenblich Palaich studies don’t address the technology cost, broadband cost, training costs, lost instruction time cost, etc., of PARCC tests.

Several Colorado schools are trying to build enthusiasm for the testing season. They’re using song and dance to promote the tests. Unfortunately, those skills are not highly prized for PARCC success. Here are samples from schools you can catch on YouTube: Brookwood Elementary, the Scott School Spartans, Turtle Lake Elementary, Spicer Elementary, and Bethke Elementary School.

Check back on these schools in October to see how it all worked out.