Common Core testing: read comments from the users

Unlike the Panatgraph opinion in today’s paper based on nothing, read actual comments made by teachers and the test writers:

Dear Colleagues,

This site contains responses (600+) to the all-new, CCSS-aligned ELA exam that Pearson gave this year in New York State. Given that Pearson is poised to compete with PARCC and Smarter Balanced as a provider of the new generation of national tests, I think you can look at these as responses to Pearson’s first iteration of that new test as a harbinger of what is to come your way unless someone calls out, ‘Wait! The Emperor has no clothes on.’

The test was unlike anything anyone here had ever seen. I don’t want to try to describe it to you because frankly, I wasn’t allowed to see it (and didn’t.) What I know about the test is largely harvested from these comments, and from people’s descriptions of the test. And that, I think, is the problem. How can it be that test-makers have created a whole new generation of tests and we are not allowed to see those tests, to talk-back to this first draft of them? How can legislators in my state vote that teachers will be hired and fired based on The Test when they haven’t, themselves, taken the test (and watched their sons and daughters, grandchildren, neighbors take the test?)

People who have reviewed this site are phoning–the Times, The Washington Post, the Huffington Post–and they ask if my conclusion is that we need a moratorium on testing so as to give kids the opportunity to learn that is their legal right. I answer that sure–a moratorium on testing would always be welcome–but that actually I think that the issue instead is that we all need to demand to see this new generation of tests and to be part of a conversation over whether they in fact match the Common Core, and whether they in fact represent a goal worth teaching towards. My sense is the test makers have aimed to devise a test that matches the Revised Publishers Criterion more than the Common Core, and given that those two documents are contradictory, I think people need to ask whether that’s the deal we signed on for. For instance, when we ratified the CCSS we agreed that children need to read more nonfiction – but did we agree they need to read nonfiction in the way the test suggests? Another way to say this is that I think the test makers are interpreting the standards, even for 9 and 10 year olds, to be all about ultra-ultra-law-school-literary-criticism-level-close analytic reading, asking ‘why did the author include (mean by) X in line y?’ and not at all about reading to acquire knowledge or to construct big ideas about a comprehensible story. How will a test like this alter reading and writing curriculum, and will that yield a generation of engaged, curious, thoughtful, knowledgeable readers and writers?

This is an important time. We are at a crossroads. Big changes could be brewing. I think it would help if you take some time to study these responses and add to them with specific troubles or insights. Please respond to them–you’ll see we’ve built a place for that–and you are welcome to write me off the site as well, if you’d like.

Thanks for your advocacy on behalf of children, and for the companionship as we all work, shoulder to shoulder, to make our schools the best they can be.
Lucy Calkins – TCRWP

Thank you, Lucy, for creating this space. I appreciate the nod to companionship as we work together to make our schools great.
Maureen Nosal – Teacher

I am out in California and recently attended a CA Reading Association in San Diego and got to meet and talk with a Berkeley professor who was a part of the team reviewing the ‘curriculum and testing’
that will be presented in our state for the Common Core implementation. He was very dismayed at the
shallow interpretation of the Common Core and indeed at the creation of a curriculum at all. This opportunity to make millions is apparently being grabbed nationwide. So discouraging!!
Dee Roe – Teacher

Great job! Just one correction- Pearson is not only competing with PARCC, but Pearson is PARCC. PARCC testing is comprised of two companies- Pearson and CTB. I served on the PARCC Committee. When the materials were presented there was a clear difference. One rewards great teaching and the other just fooled kids and used text was not developmentally appropriate. I am sure you can figure out which one is Pearson.

PARCC is unable to test standards as they exist (the wording simply limits what can be asked) so they created evidence statements. These use pieces of statements that are cut up for one purpose- testing. We will be teaching the Common Core and testing evidence statements.

I can only hope that your next reading series does not include 2 months of “Test Preparation”. I think it would be in the best interest of all if you put out a recall/moratorium on those sections in your units. Think of the the material you could replace it with, rather than subjecting kids/teachers to test prep- especially to a test that is a complete failure.

As Pearson rolls out their new series dedicated to the test (and as I understand they did not complete it- so they are handing out binders and asking for teachers to write the curriculum) we need you to follow the lead of the AFT. Stop teaching to the test so we can see what the Common Core feels like. Let Pearson give a year of bubble filling torture. The rest of us will use your units to teach through student selected and appropriated leveled books. We will see who is standing in the end.

You hold a tremendous amount of power and your voice is certainly louder than ours. Thank you for speaking out! Your contributions in education are far greater than Pearson will be. You will have to work that much harder to undo the damage Pearson is currently causing. You can count on teachers and parents for support!

A teacher – Teacher

Location: National   Subject: Observations
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After reading all these comments, and in light of the sample test items that were released by the state earlier, I believe that these tests were created in a very amateurish way, with little attempt to determine if they were actually appropriate for the grade levels they’re being used for. Instead, the items are constructed in a very narrow way, not from the standards themselves but from a narrow set of ideas – based on the Publisher’s Guidelines and statements from the architects of the standards – about close reading,finding evidence from text, and comparing texts to each other..
They’ll be able to create a bell curve from the results, but students’ scores in relation to those of other students are unlikely to provide much information about how well they’re actually achieving the standards, since they’re so unlike the real reading and writing that students do.
In the meantime, these horrible tests were administered without any attention to the predictable emotional effect that they would have on millions of children who were not only stressed but in many cases upset and crying because they felt that, despite their hard work, they were going to fail.
Given the disaster that these tests represent, they should be made fully available for review by the public and scholars. Given such a drastic and problematic change in testing, transparency and public comment need to trump test security.
I am a professor of curriculum and teaching at Hunter College, CUNY.
Sandra Wilde – Other

I agree that the test seems to have been written in line with the Revised Publisher’s Criteria and not the CCSS. I know that some are trying to save the CCSS by helping people understand that most of what people feel is wrong abt the Common Core and this test has nothing to do with the Common Core itself, it is the Publisher’s Criteria to the Common Core, which inaccurately represents the CCSS. People do not realize that the view of reading and writing in the actual CCSS is far more robust and grounded in the real world of skilled reading than is the AP English-lit crit view of reading in the Publisher’s Criteria and now, these tests. The tests illuminate the limitations of the Publisher’s Criteria, more than of the Common Core. I find many people however do not realize that the CCSS and the Publisher;s Criteria are opposing views. People should find Pearson’s chapter in the IRA book that just came out of the standards as he addresses this with some detail.
Lucy Calkins – TCRWP Staff

Location: RI   Subject: Observations
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Hi Lucy,

First, thanks for this forum, it is deeply appreciated.

I am, however, genuinely confused by your argument that this test does not represent the CCSS. I don’t see how you can compare the CCSS to other standards and not reach the conclusion that they are intended to be narrowly focused on academic textual analysis, reaching all the way down to elementary school.

This is, of course, completely nuts, and it is why I have opposed these standards all along.

I’ve never felt it was fundamentally driven by pedagogy or philosophy (for good or ill), either. A certain kind of data was needed for RttT, a certain kind of “next generation” test was desired (computer adaptive, computer scoring of constructed responses, vertically aligned, etc.) the testing companies — the College Board and ACT — laid down the basic structure and CCRS to lock in this design despite the various tweaks made in the grade level standards. The CCSS was always a test specification.

I felt the Publisher’s Criteria followed logically from the standards themselves — moreso, I’d add, than the surrounding commentary published with the standards. To me there was a huge, and I thought intentionally misleading discrepancy, so maybe you are giving more weight to those texts. I always saw them as post-hoc political cover (to appease you AND E.D. Hirsch) that would be entirely ignored in implementation.

Anyhow, I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer here, because it depends on the generosity of one’s reading of the standards. When I read standard one, I see a standard very carefully worded to NOT require students to draw their own interpretations, just to be good at citing evidence. It can be read differently, of course, but I think my reading is the one intended by the (test designer) author for their primary (test designer) audience.
Tom Hoffman – Other


I’m interested that we read the CCSS differently. In my eyes, the Common Core offers a fairly robust view of reading and writing, one that is quite different than the Publisher’s Criteria. David Pearson’s recent chapter in an IRA book on the CCSS provides a lot of evidence for this. But think just about writing for example. Only standard 9 hones in specifically on text-based writing (although many other standards welcome textual references) and the k-6 writing in the CCSS Appendix is more apt to be about students’ interests, their field trips, their self-generated intellectual work than writing in answer to a teacher-assigned prompt about a whole-class complex text. Yet one wouldn’t know that from the Publisher’s Criteria or from the Ela.
Lucy Calkins – Other

I believe the CCSS in and of itself is a political reaction. The CCSS though could have been an amazing document if used correctly. The Publisher Criteria was narrow-minded and shows no research and understanding of children or how they process and learn. The CCSS has become a vehicle for Pearson to become a conglomerate making millions of dollars at children’s expense.
Anonymous – Other

Location: National   Subject: Observations
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I feel like we, as teachers, are not heard. We need to organize a broader campaign that encompasses students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders, standing together against high-stakes testing. We need an expert, like Lucy Caulkins perhaps, to lead the charge. Maybe start a petition on Gather millions of signatures of all who stand against this crazy educational practice, and advocate for some real change nationwide.
Anonymous – Teacher

Location: National   Subject: Observations
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Why was the listening part of the test removed? Why was it once important and now it isn’t? Listening is so important to learning and note taking techniques are part of the foundations of determining importance for our future learners.
Joan Jurgens – Teacher

Location: National   Subject: Observations
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I would like to hear about the experiences of other educators.
Cathy – Teacher, Parent

Cathy, can you be specific? What would you like to hear?

Location: National   Subject: Observations
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It is increasingly disheartening that high-stakes standardized tests are the single, ultimate definition of demonstrating progress for our children. I see friends who live in other states post pictures of their children’s wonderful school projects, activities, festivals, etc., and it further drives home the point that we’re only teaching the children of NYS to be accomplished test takers. At the rate we’re going, we are assuring that no future leaders, CEO’s or celebrated artists will hail from our state.
Monica Kalfur – Teacher, Parent

I too am feeling disheartened. I believe that the tide of education is making a tsunami sized turn toward high stakes standardized test-takers. Whole child, multiple-intelligences, and creative thinking and learning are being molded into a “one-size meets test” mentality. This worries me immensely. In my district I see less learning that is memorable, hands-on, and frankly “fun” for students and more stringent –every day is another “absolutely necessary” to teach or else you won’t meet the test standard. What happened?
JoAnn McWilliams – Teacher, Parent

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