Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Is Common Core Good For Arizona Again?

Why is Arizona so eager to implement the Common Core State Standards?

According to Vince Yanez, Executive Director of the Arizona Board of Education, it was because of Obama's enticing Race to the Top money which States fell all over themselves to get their hands on...thinking nothing of the anchor they would have to carry.

"So, Race to the Top comes along, States now had an incentive to come together to try and build these new set of standards."

Well, that plus Obama made it mandatory for the states who accepted RTTT funds to adopt the CCSS.

And then Mr. Yanez continued with the talking points narrative, courtesy of the leftist Foundations who are pushing for the reform.

"But it WAS, and I want to be VERY CLEAR, it was the STATES that developed these standards.  OUR Board of Education was insistent that we take a leadership role in how those standards were actually put together.  We were very much involved in terms of our teachers, our administrators, our parents in both the ELA standards and Mathematics standards.  In fact, THE lead writer for Mathematics was from the University of Arizona."  (Who happened to donate over $20,000 to democrats and Obama in 2012.  The UofA also happened to receive a generous grant from one of the Foundations who partnered with the Obama Administration in an effort to "equalize" the standards.)

Then an interesting omission was made by Mr. Yanez. See if you can catch it.

"What most people DON'T know is that while the Common Core was adopted by 46 States, each state that participated was permitted to augment those standards with items that were important to them.  So, in Arizona, we did that.  The CORE of the standards remains the same but at the direction of the State Board, the department did an excellent job of scouring our existing standards, find out items that we felt were important, that we felt added to the rigor and value of the CCSS and the Board did add to both the Math standards and the ELA standards.  So, while there is a CORE that is identical across those 46 states, taken as a whole, they're not completely and totally identical.  Again, states were able to add to them and we did take advantage of that."

If you guessed that he omitted the fact that states in this "State-led" initiative, are only allowed to contribute up to 15% of the curriculum, you would be correct.  

Standards and Assessments:

If all of the "voluntarily" participating states have been allowed to add 15% of their own material, how will this not lead to separate assessment exams for each State?  Doesn't that defeat the purpose of having a "Common" assessment?  Or is that just the bone that states were given to get them to sign up, giving them the illusion that they are in charge, but students won't really be tested on that 15%? 

And what about AIMS?

So, what about the AIMS test for science? 

We don't really believe that the Board of Education will continue to give two separate tests forever.  As Mr. Yanez said about implementing the new Science Standards, "It's a lot to bite off all at once."  It's not a matter of IF but WHEN.  It won't be long before we start to hear that the reason for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards is because it doesn't make sense to have two different assessments.

Another component to the assessments is that the test grade will act as a final exam and be averaged in to the student's final grade as opposed to a stand alone score.

The reason for this, according to Mr. Yanez, is that a student may receive good grades in class but then fail an exam like PARCC. Likewise, he said that some students may fail the class but pass the exam.  Huh?  It's hard to imagine that this would be such a regular occurrence that it would require all States to surrender to a federal take-over of the system.  Either you understand the material and PASS, or you don't. 

Why bother giving a PARCC test at all then if we can just issue a regular final exam and have that grade incorporated into the final grade, like we used to do?  And for a lot less money? 

What IF a student fails the PARCC?  Can they retake the test?  If so, how will that affect the course grade? 

Logistically, how would this even make sense?

You have two tests.  AIMS for science and PARCC for ELA and math.  PARCC tests will be weighted and averaged into the final ELA and math grades, but the AIMS for science will not.  What about other classes like Social Studies or foreign language?  Is the idea of averaging the two grades together only being done in Arizona or will this be done by ALL of the participating States?    

The technology necessary to implement the PARCC exams will be the next pursuit of the federal government.  Another string that will be attached by the federal government to those states who voluntarily adopt the CCSS.  And it won't be free.

According to Jaime Molera from the Arizona State Board,

"AIMS is a very inexpensive assessment program...The test was given in April and teachers had to wait until the following September for the results. Also, the assessments were only given to certain grades to cut down on cost."

1.  Assuming we had all of the available technology (which we won't until 2017), a PARCC test would cost $15 per student.  Mr. Molera admits that the AIMS test is very inexpensive and to save TAX DOLLARS, is only given in grades 3-8 and again in 10th.   The PARCC exams will be given for all grades K-12 which will obviously incur additional costs to administer.

2.  According to Ms. Stacey Morley from the Policy Development & Government Affairs Office at the Arizona Department of Education, AIMS tests are taken in March or April and the results "aren't in until the end of May."
So, which is it?  May or September?

Which leads us to...
How will the tests be graded and will it REALLY save time (and money)?

Ms. Morley pointed out that the current AIMS tests require mostly filling in a bubble in conjunction with a small amount of written work for the ELA portion.  The PARCC exams will be more writing which will take longer initially to grade.  That is until computers are capable of reading the answers (assuming they will be able to read the handwriting) and pick out certain key words.  You know, key words like "sustainable" or "renewable energy."

How will this give us the immediate results that
Mr. Yanez stated was a benefit with PARCC? 
How can the PARCC scores be averaged with a student's grade if the results aren't in before the end of school?

No plans have been made as to who or what will actually be grading the tests.  Ms. Morley joked that when she was in law school, her professor
"was like, 'You don't want me to grade more than five blue books a day.' "

There's a vote of confidence for you.

Which leaves us with the two people who were supposed to convince the committee that this government take-over was so wonderful, and who didn't have all of the answers for themselves.  So here we are, once again, passing something before we know what is in it. 

And we have elected leaders who amid the numerous unanswered questions and concerns, proceeded to vote for the federal government take-over.  There is a reason why Governor Brewer appointed Senators Crandall and Yee and Rep. Goodale to her Ready Arizona CCSS marketing committee.

These foreseeable concerns will naturally lead us to using PARCC for all of the core classes which means if we are going to have a common exam, we need to test the students on common material.

Exit States Rights.  Enter the Next Generation Science Standards.