CommonCore, A new perspective on the destruction of education

Common CoreLet’s hear from Rick Roach, a school board member who took a version of a state standardized test and was horrified at what he found.

Rick Roach, agreed to talk to Valerie Strauss, Education reporter for The Washington Post, about the experience on the record because he has come to feel so very strongly about the issue.

Rick Roach, who is in his fourth four-year term representing District 3 on the Board of Education in Orange County, Fl., a public school system with 180,000 students. Roach took a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, commonly known as the FCAT, earlier this year.

The FCAT, begun in 1998, has been given annually to students in grades 3 to 11 in mathematics, reading, science and writing. It is the bedrock of what is regarded as one of the nation’s most extensive and widely studied school accountability systems. In the last school year, the state began rolling out a next-generation FCAT. For more on the testing program, see here.

Roach, the father of five children and grandfather of two, was a teacher, counselor and coach in Orange County for 14 years. He was first elected to the board in 1998 and has been reelected three times. A resident of Orange County for three decades, he has a Bachelor of Science degree in education and two masters degrees: in education and educational psychology. He has trained over 18,000 educators in classroom management and course delivery skills in six eastern states over the last 25 years.

Roach took a version of the FCAT and reached this conclusion in an email to Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer:

“I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a Bachelor of Science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here are some of the highlights of an interview Valerie Strauss did with Roach, further exploring his reasons for taking the test and reaching the conclusions that he did.

Now in his 13th year on the board, he had considered taking the test for a while as he began to increasingly question whether the results really reflected a student’s ability. He was finally pushed to do it earlier this year, he said, after a board meeting at which the chairman listed five goals, and one of them caught his attention for being so unremarkable.

Roach said: ‘He [the chairman] said that by 2013 or 2014, he wanted 50 percent of the 10th graders reading at grade level….I’m thinking, ‘That’s horrible.’ Right now it’s 39 percent of our kids reading at grade level in 10th grade. I have to tell you that I’ve never believed, that many kids can’t read at that level. Never ever believed it. I have five kids of my own. None of them were superstars at school but they could read well, and these kids today can read too.”

“So I was thinking, ‘What are they taking that tells them they can’t read? What is this test? Our kids do okay on the eighth grade test and on the fifth grade test and then they get stupid in the 10th grade?”

He asked someone who works at the board to help him take the FCAT but state law only allows it to be taken by students, so it was arranged for him to take a version of it.

He took 60 math questions and a four-part reading test.

How did he score?

On the reading section, he scored 62 percent, a ‘D’ in Orange County. On the math, he said he knew none of the answers but guessed correctly on 10 of the 60.

“Thousands of Florida students with 3.0 or higher grade point averages are denied high school diplomas”, Roach said, because they fail at least one portion of the FCAT. Last year, he said, 41,000 kids were denied diplomas across the state — about 70 in his district — and some of them have a 3.0 GPA or better.

He said he understands why so many students who can actually read well do poorly on the FCAT.

“Many of the kids we label as poor readers are probably pretty good readers. Here’s why.

“On the FCAT, they are reading material they didn’t choose. They are given four possible answers and three out of the four are pretty good. One is the best answer but kids don’t get points for only a pretty good answer. They get zero points, the same for the absolute wrong answer. And then they are given an arbitrary time limit. Those are a number of reasons that I think the test has to be suspect.”

He said he visits schools frequently in his district, including the three high schools (there are 19 high school in the entire county), and talks to principals about this issue. He said they are frustrated that students who they know can read and do math can’t graduate because they can’t pass the test.

Could that mean that all of the teachers in all of the schools are grading too easy?

Roach said “absolutely not.” He knows a lot of the teachers and they aren’t a “soft touch.”

He said he never brought it up at a board meeting in part because the meetings are publicized and he wasn’t ready until now to publicly discuss it.

The math section, he said, tests information that most people don’t need when they get out of school.

“There’s a concept called reverse design that is critical,” he said. “We are violating that with our test. Instead of connecting what we learn in school with being successful in the real world, we are doing it in reverse. We are testing first and then kids go into the real world. Whether the information they have learned is important or not becomes secondary. If you really did a study on what math most kids need, I guarantee you could probably dump about 80 percent of math scores and leave high-level math for the kids who want it and will need it.

His final conclusion on the FCAT:

“They are defending a test that has no accountability.”

Marion Brady, wrote; Teachers (at least the ones the public should hope their taxes are supporting) oppose the tests

because they focus so narrowly on reading and math that the young are learning to hate reading, math, and school;
because they measure only “low level” thinking processes;
because they put the wrong people — test manufacturers — in charge of American education;
because they allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated by officials for political purposes;
because test items simplify and trivialize learning.

Teachers oppose the tests because they provide minimal to no useful feedback; are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893; lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning; unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep; hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways.

Teachers oppose the tests because they radically limit their ability to adapt to learner differences; encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators; wrongly assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known; emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance; create unreasonable pressures to cheat.

Teachers oppose the tests because they reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession; are culturally biased; have no “success in life” predictive power; lead to the neglect of the best and worst students as resources are channeled to lift marginal kids above pass-fail “cut lines;” are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences.

Teachers oppose the tests because they’re at odds with deep-seated American values about individual differences and worth; undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to and therefore most knowledgeable about problems are best positioned to deal with them; dump major public money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms.

Marion Brady, a retired teacher beyond the reach of today’s “reformers” states,

“I oppose the tests for those reasons, and for the psychological damage they do to kids not yet able to cope. But my particular, personal beef is that the tests (and the Common Core State Standards on which they’re based) are blocking policymaker consideration of what I believe to be the most promising educational innovation in the last century — the use of general systems theory as it developed during World War II as a tool for reshaping and radically simplifying the “core curriculum.”

If you think that even a couple of these reasons why educators oppose standardized tests are valid, consider getting behind what ought to be an option for every child’s parent or guardian — the right to say, without being pressured or penalized by state or local authority, “Do not subject my child to any test that doesn’t provide useful, same-day or next-day information about performance.”

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