March 31, 2014

Aren't Adaptable Tests a Good Thing?

Here's a perspective I hadn't considered. I haven't verified it, but it certainly gives me something to consider. And it's just one minute long...

Peg Luksik is Founder and Chairman of Founded on Truth. Highlighting her many years of grassroots political activism was her run for governor in the 1990 Pennsylvania Republican primary winning 46 percent of the vote. She graduated magna cum laude from Clarion University in 1976 with a bachelor of science degree in special education and elementary education.

March 29, 2014

The Weekly Quote

The only way that higher standards, and new systems of support and evaluation, will work, is if teachers lead this change in partnership and collaboration with principals, parents and communities.

~ Arne Duncan
United States Secretary of Education

March 28, 2014

Summary of Connecticut Legislative Events Thus Far

Back in February, House Republicans managed to get a formal hearing on Common Core scheduled, finally giving the public the opportunity to share their opinions on Common Core and the associated testing and teacher evaluations. It was scheduled for March 12th.

HB 5078, the bill that prompted the hearing, requires most significantly, that:
The Department of Education shall conduct a study on the impact of implementing the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments on school districts in the state. The department, in conducting such study, shall

(1) investigate how the state-wide implementation of such standards will affect

(A) student learning and student academic achievement,
(B) the administration of the mastery examination, pursuant to section 10-14n of the general statutes, and student performance on such examination,
(C) state and local costs, including the costs associated with the creation of technology infrastructure necessary for implementing the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments, and
(D) teacher performance evaluations and teacher improvement and remediation plans,
(2) analyze, using the items described in subparagraphs (A) to (D), inclusive, of subdivision (1) of this section, the implementation of such standards in those school districts that have commenced implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments,

(3) analyze and compare the effect on student learning and student academic achievement in states that have begun implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments...

The day before the hearing, Governor Malloy issued a press release saying that he "signed an executive order creating the Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce – a group that will be comprised of teachers, parents and administrators with the goal of identifying challenges and gaps in Common Core preparation, and making recommendations on improving the quality and consistency of its implementation."

At the hearing on March 12th, which went well over twelve hours, dozens and dozens of people testified. It was disappointing however, that as the night wore on, people were not granted their full three minutes to speak; the timer in my own case cut me off at one minute 50 seconds, which I did not realize until I returned home and found myself on the video to show my family. My lottery ticket had me speaking after midnight, so one can imagine my frustration in not being allowed my full time after over twelve hours of waiting for my turn.

On March 20th The Hartford Courant reported that no vote has been raised on HB 5078, but nevertheless, Republicans are apparently not giving up:
Ranking Republican members of the committee, Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. Tim Ackert, said... that they hope to collaborate with all committee members to come up with an acceptable version of the proposed bill... But if the bill dies in committee, said Boucher, she expects its supporters might take another route, perhaps attaching an amendment to another bill at some point in the legislative process. "I can bet there might be some amendments that would be floated," Boucher said. "There is such a strong sense of concern and feedback from the general public. I could see some amendments put out. I think it would be wiser to sit down and actually craft a bill that would take care of some of the people's concerns...

Asked whether the bill would be raised in the education committee, the committee's co-chair, Sen. Andrea Stillman, said: "I can't give you an answer yet. We're still screening [bills] …"

Ackert said he thinks it would be a disservice to the public not to have legislators vote on some version of the bill. "How often do we have a 13-hour … debate and conversation and we don't allow the members to have a vote on it? Are we not allowing our members to vote for something that we as a group sat for 13 hours to deliberate on?... If they decide not to raise it," Ackert said of the committee's leaders, "I can't promise … that someone's not going to come out with an amendment."

Both Republicans said they would prefer to have the matter raised as a bill in the education committee and that they are open to revisions that could be substantial. If that does not happen, the Republicans can attempt to amend a bill in the committee, as well as on the House and Senate floors. "Any member can add an amendment any time," Ackert said. "Until the end of the session on May 7, we can continue to push this issue."

On March 25th, Malloy's Task Force met for the first time.
East Hartford Superintendent Nate Quesnel, a co-chairman of the task force, was quick to address recent criticism of Common Core — and just as quick to move past it.

"There is one thing we are not going to focus on, and that is the validity of the adoption of Common Core," Quesnel said. "The words caution, the words 'make sure we get this right' — those are the right words. But we are not here to dispute the adoption of Common Core. That isn't what this committee is for."

Quesnel acknowledged the controversy, as well as parental concerns about the Common Core standards that were expressed at the March 12 public hearing.

But, he said, "I think there's a lot of concerns about adoption that have to do with misinformation and misunderstanding of what this actually is." He said he hopes the task force can alleviate that.

He also said halting implementation of Common Core now was not logistically possible.

"Pushing the pause button is something that legitimately is probably detrimental to our kids. You know, we've shifted textbooks… we've shifted entire curriculums," Quesnel said. "We're not halfway through the river; we're three-quarters of the way through the river."

This is consistent with the press release that Malloy issued, since it clearly said that the group was charged with "the goal of identifying challenges and gaps in Common Core preparation, and making recommendations on improving the quality and consistency of its implementation." The name of the group, after all, is Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce.

The next meeting of the Implementation Taskforce is on April 9th. It is to meet every two weeks and hand in a report in June. Meetings are open to the public, but public comments are not at all welcome.

And in the meantime, we continue to speak to our CT legislators and let them know how we feel about this. And hope that they will get some legislation passed to halt this, or at the very least slow it down for closer examination. And to opt-out our children from the testing, which at the moment is the most direct way we can protest Common Core.

March 24, 2014

What the Teachers Really Think

"What it [Common Core] has put me in a position to become, is less of a teacher, and more of a professional buffer. I need to stand between these reforms, and my students."

This video is well worth the five or so minutes; it feels good to know that there are some people like this in the classrooms with our kids...

March 23, 2014

So Who Exactly, Is Sal Khan?

Sal Khan is a curriculum writer. You can watch his youtube videos on his website for free. When we were homeschooling our family used his site extensively; free pieces of curriculum for math. Awesome!

Except now Sal Khan has been bought by Bill Gates. So he is no longer the one writing the curriculum...

In 2010 Sal Khan earned $70,833 as Khan Academy's CEO.
And only one year later, he was grossing $348,879.

From 2010 to 2011 Khan Academy's revenue went from 1.8 million dollars to 11.7 million dollars. Where exactly, did all that money come from? And why the sudden interest in Khan Academy?

Interestingly, the time between the two was the year Khan Academy received 1.4 million dollars from Bill Gates.

Frustratingly, it is impossible to find financials on Khan Academy for 2012 and 2013 online for free; I'm sure they are fascinating reads.

March 22, 2014

The Weekly Quote

At Khan Academy we're very focused on intentionally creating material for the Common Core.

~ Salman Khan
Khan Academy

March 21, 2014

Standards vs. Curriculum

Bill Gates himself has said "We'll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards." Nevertheless, proponents of the Common Core continue to spout about how the contents are "standards" and not curriculum.

So it was with great interest that I read an essay by someone who took the time to read the standards and offer two examples of exactly how they are curriculum:

Common Core standards are more than just content standards, they also dictate pedagogy and hence curriculum. Couple of obvious examples.

    Grade 1 standard 1.OA.6: Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

This standard does not require only knowing addition and subtraction within 20, as a content standard should. It insists on knowing four specific ways to add and subtract. In other words, it dictates pedagogy and curriculum.

    HS Geometry G-CO: Understand congruence in terms of rigid motions
    6. Use geometric descriptions of rigid motions to transform figures and to predict the effect of a given rigid motion on a given figure; given two figures, use the definition of congruence in terms of rigid motions to decide if they are congruent.

    7. Use the definition of congruence in terms of rigid motions to show that two triangles are congruent if and only if corresponding pairs of sides and corresponding pairs of angles are congruent.

These standards do not require students to understand and prove triangle congruence, which is what content standards would. These, instead, require the study of triangle congruence using a very particular pedagogical approach (which, incidentally, is experimental and has a track record of failure).

In ELA, Common Core requires to split teaching time between informational and literary texts to about 50%-50% in K-8 and 70%-30% in 9-12. This is a pedagogical/curricular directive par excellence.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that these are "standards and not curriculum" point them to this evidence that they are wrong.

March 20, 2014

What's Missing In The Math?

Here's a condensed version of some interesting reading regarding CC math. Links are on the bottom to the full essays.
I realized that because of my background, I needed to focus on Math, my area of expertise...It would probably be good for you, the reader, to know that I have spent the last 15 school years successfully tutoring all levels of math, focusing primarily on high school math. So, I am intimately familiar with the content of Geometry (and all high school math including Calculus), as executed using the Indiana Academic Standards.

As I began to do this step by step through Common Core Geometry, I realized that there seemed to be quite a lot of content missing. For example, much of the detailed learning specific to triangles... Extended focus on Geometry of triangles builds the skills necessary for success in Pre-Calculus (traditionally a one year high school course that is combined with Trigonometry) and Calculus. Well, extended study of triangles was missing from the Geometry standards. Gone. Not. There. At. All.


That’s when I began to go just a little bit crazy, in a math geek type of way. I began to scour the internet for the old Indiana Academic Standards. I located them... and began a comparison that was difficult to see while note taking.  Consequently, I decided to do what any respectable math and science geek would do and created a spreadsheet comparing the standards side by side. A visual approach illustrated gaps or omissions from each direction.

As I constructed the spreadsheet, I was shocked at what I saw. Truly shocked.... entire sections of Geometry are missing...

At this point, I was absolutely convinced that unless triangles (at the very least) were more extensively covered, that the Common Core math student would not be prepared for Pre-calculus or Calculus. (1)

After I came to my dramatic realization about the Common Core Geometry standards, I began to dig deeper into the fifth grade math standards. What I realized was disturbing. I noted that fifth grade Common Core math is conservatively MISSING about 20% of the content when compared with the Indiana Standards.

Common Core standards do not appear to focus on mastery of operations with fractions. They also appear to deemphasize the importance of Geometry. 

Okay, I could see removing some concepts and focusing on them later, but an overall lack of Geometry skills over the entire Common Core standards could only mean one thing to me. That the authors of the Common Core standards saw no value in Geometry skills... the overall lack of Geometry focus simply conveys to me that the authors of the standards do not believe the average child in America is capable of mastering Geometry. If students don’t master Geometry and fractions, these children will NEVER be prepared for careers in the STEM fields. 

The discoveries from my personal analysis of both Geometry and fifth grade Math Standards put me on “high alert” about Common Core. At this point, I was completely engaged in my research and discovery process. (2)

Read the entire essays, about high school math, and 5th grade math here:


March 19, 2014

The New Math

It is obvious to many parents that something is off in their children’s math classes: Instead of learning math facts and standard methods, their kids must use cumbersome procedures, find multiple ways to do simple tasks, and explain in writing what they have done. In general, they need more help than their parents did when they were in school.

For two decades now parents and children have been collateral damage in a struggle that has come to be known as the “math wars”. Opinion is sharply divided on how best to teach K-12 math. The tension is between conventional, or traditional, instruction versus what is known by various names including “reform math” (to proponents), or “fuzzy math” (to critics).

Reform math differs from the conventional approach in many ways. To help parents ascertain whether their children are being exposed to reform math-borne illnesses, we have set out a brief guide to key symptoms of a reform math approach.
Read the rest of this illuminating article here.

March 17, 2014

How To Opt Out of Standardized Testing in Connecticut

Parents all over Connecticut are refusing to allow their children to take the SBAC test, and the Facebook Groups are full of parents asking for advice on how to get it done. So I think it's time to gather all the resources and help parents make the decision that's right for their families, and be more confident in those decisions.

First, it's important to note that as a parent you are perfectly within your rights to refuse to let your children take this test; there is no legal consequences to you or your children by the state in doing so. In the interest of compiling all relevant information here, I quote Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor:
On an individual level, I don't believe that there's any specific provision in law regarding consequences... To my knowledge there are no state provisions that are specific, or no federal provisions that are specific to an individual student.

Additionally, when asked whether parents could opt-out of the testing for their children, Allan Taylor, the Chairman of Connecticut's Department of Education stated:
There is no law that says they can't.

If you want to see the videos that those quotes were pulled from, you can do so here.

However, while there are no legal consequences to the children or parents, there could be financial consequences to your school district. In accepting money under No Child Left Behind, Connecticut agreed to test 95% of its children. In his testimony during the legislative hearing on March 12th, the Chairman of the State Board of Education, also said:
If a district falls below the 95% federally required level, then there may be, ultimately, financial consequences to the district, sometime down the line, but that's a long way down the line, there would be a process that would take years that would start with the federal government.

It would be federal funding that comes to the state, but it comes to the state to distribute to local districts, the money can be distributed to local districts only if they're complying with the requirements of No Child Left Behind... therefore yes, there might be, because we have to do it, a financial consequence to a district. As I said, this is several steps and much administrative procedure down the road. But it's there, it's in the law, and it binds what we do with federal money.

Whether the fact that refusing to allow your child to take the test might put your town below that 95% mark, and thereby potentially cause your town to lose federal funds, is a decision you alone have to make.

For those of you who decide to go ahead and refuse to let your children take these tests, following are the logistics of making sure the school complies with your decision. I reserve my own advice as to the best way to handle it until the very end; hopefully by the time you get to that you will already be secure in your own decisions and will simply read mine as further clarification.

Some of the advice given on Facebook says "this is what you have to do". So let's start with the fact that while you need to convey to your child's school that you refuse to let them be tested, there is no one way to get it done; some people are calling, some people are emailing, and some people even suggest sending certified letters. The choice is yours. You need to do what you are most comfortable with, and what you are most confident will get the job done. Most people on the various Facebook groups agree that it's better to have everything in writing, and if you do speak to anyone by phone or in person, that you follow up with something in writing to confirm what you discussed... "I am writing to confirm that during our conversation we discussed... please let me know if I misunderstood any of this information... if I do not hear back from you I will take it to mean that you are in agreement that this is how our conversation went..."

There is also advice from different people on who you should contact about your decision; Board of Education members, Superintendents, principals, teachers. Again, you need to do what you are most comfortable with, and what you are most confident will get the job done. Most people on the various Facebook groups seem to be going with the school principals, and the teachers.

So after you decide who to contact, and in what way you will contact them, you need to decide what you want to say. There are lots of different form letters available that you can fill out and submit. The ones most readily available are here:

  • United Opt Out National offers this one.
  • There is a website where you can plug in your town and choose which letter you want to send, and the site will email it for you. You can find that here.
  • There is also an opt-out form that is making its way around Facebook that actually has you opting out of SBAC and Common Core altogether

You will notice that most of these letters talk about your reasons for opting-out. Please make sure that if you choose a form letter that you choose one that you agree with in all of its talking points. But first, be sure that you feel you need to share your reasons at all; you are not required to tell the school why you don't want your children taking the test; you do not need to justify yourself. If you choose, you can refuse to let your children take the test without ever telling the school why. But if you do choose to tell them your reasons why, make sure they are your reasons, and not just the reasons your form letter suggests.

So you've contacted someone about your refusal. Now you can most likely expect to get this letter in return.

Do not let this letter alarm you. It's the response that districts were advised to send by the Academic Office of the State Department of Education. It is a form letter, so don't take it personally. Back in December, in response to a "greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program" they sent out suggested protocols for schools to use. Most people on the various Facebook groups are reporting that their districts are following the protocols very closely. The good news is that as the protocols tell the schools how to respond each time you say no, they also tell you that you can, and precisely what to say. So look through them, refer to them in your correspondence with the school if you'd like to, and simply continue to say "no" until the school says "OK".

Some districts, however, are responding with phone calls and threats. One Facebook post I read today says that "some districts have threatened to treat opting out as truancy, and to call in DCF for child abuse." To this, you simply need to continue to assert that you know your rights, and that it is within your rights to refuse to let your children take the test, and that the school must provide an alternate setting with alternate learning materials for them.

If districts try to tell you that you are breaking the law by not allowing your children to be tested, ask them to show you the law they are referring to; there is no law that says you can't opt-out, so that will effectively end the conversation.

It's important to note that in all cases I've seen from people sharing on Facebook, they have been, with perseverance, successful in opting out their children. So have faith that you can get the job done too. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Before I close, I would first like to state my opinion on dealing with administrators. I have mentioned in other blog posts that I have sympathy for school administrators who are stuck in the middle of this. They are having to be the "bad guys" in something they might not even agree with. And they are unfortunately the ones who have to deal with parents like me, and have to find a place to put all these kids when the time comes. It's so frustrating that the CSDE is making me counterpoint people I have always had sincere respect for. So my advice is to do your best to stay respectful towards administrators. They are our allies in our children's educations, and we don't want to alienate ourselves, or our children, from them.

That said, some districts are not behaving well toward parents to begin with. Even in these cases I suggest staying civil and not meeting these people on their low road. Be firm and respectful and get everything in writing. Then go to Jonathan Pelto's blog and share your experience with him; he will post the nonsense right there for all his readers to see; he will give your district a public calling out.

Finally, it remains my personal belief that it is not necessary to inform administrators of why you are choosing to opt-out. If I had to do it again, my refusal letters would read:
Dear Principal _____________,

I am writing to let you know that my son ________ is not to take any tests that will be graded or evaluated via computer or any source outside of his teacher who administers it. This includes SBAC assessments.

Please note that this is not a "request" and that I am already aware that "the ESEA does not allow parents to exempt their children from taking the state assessments." However, the ESEA also does not dis-allow it. Nor do Connecticut General Statutes. I am therefore perfectly within my legal rights to refuse to allow my son to take these tests.

I will be informing ________ that he is not to take online tests, and that if he is given one he is not to work on it. Please be sure to provide an area where he can read or do other work that you provide for him during the testing time. 

You can read about how I actually did opt-out my 7th grader here, and my high school junior here. In the case of my 7th grader I did not mention that this year is only to "test the test" because in his case, that is irrelevant; even if it was a real test he wouldn't be taking it, so why mention it at all? With my junior I did mention that this year the SBAC is only to "test the test" because he did his required mastery test last year and this isn't a mastery test.

Please leave comments below for anything important you feel I may have missed and that should be moved up into the body of this blog post. Or simply feel free to share your own experiences, or ask any questions you may have.

March 16, 2014

Connecticut State Senator Dante Bartolomeo

Connecticut State Senator Dante Bartolomeo represents my district in Cheshire. I was pleasantly surprised to read the following in the Cheshire Herald (town newspaper) March 6th edition, and have recently found it in other locations around the web.

Senator Bartolomeo is on the Education Committee and was present during the hearing on Wednesday March 12th. I was impressed with the fact that she remained for the entire time, despite the fact that the hearing continued on after I testified at 12:15 am. I was also impressed with the level of engagement she demonstrated, and the questions she asked speakers.

When I spoke, it was to my points about my privacy concerns. After I spoke, Sen. Bartolomeo asked for my contact information so she could speak to me further about those concerns. It's my sincere hope that she does contact me. If not, I certainly will be contacting her.

Are we taking our educational system in the right direction? I fear not.

Over the past few months I have been engaged in many conversations and meetings with superintendents and administrators, board of education members, teachers, parents and colleagues regarding Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED), the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. The feedback that I received, in addition to the results of my research, have left me very concerned about the current direction and future focus of our education system.

I am certain that the bottom-line premise for adopting these initiatives was to provide our children with the best educational foundation possible in order to move them toward successful college and career pathways. I also recognize that the idea of a nationally aligned curriculum is very attractive in many ways. For instance, if a student relocates from one district to another, either statewide or nationally, their academic transition would be seamless. Equally important is ensuring that our teachers are not only effective educators, but also fully invested in helping our children achieve their potential. While we all want the best for our children’s future, my concern is the way in which we are attempting to achieve this goal.

Implementing new standards, testing them with the new assessments, and evaluating teachers in part by the students’ performance on these tests is simply too much, too fast. When the State Board of Education adopted Common Core and the State Department of Education (SDE) supported a new way of evaluating teachers, the real-life implications were likely unknown. The roll-out of all of these initiatives is extremely time consuming and requires time away from students and teaching. It is a drain on limited funding and each component builds upon the next when none have been vetted properly. All of these initiatives are very complicated and the implementation details, many of which are still being unraveled, are broadly misunderstood and/or misinterpreted.

While much of Common Core is reported to be strategically and philosophically sound, I am concerned about the lack of strategies related to early childhood development. There are currently none related to age-appropriate development of social and emotional skills such as positive interaction with others and conflict resolution. It is widely reported that our teachers have more “troubled” children in their classes and more behavioral distractions than ever before. The entire focus of education has become cognition. I would like to see us find our way back to a time when schools were also a place that children learn socialization within their peer group.

Although it has been said that we are working to close the achievement gap, many believe that doing so in this manner, we will actually widen the achievement gap. Some predict that we will actually put our high school students at a disadvantage when competing nationally for college admission because the initial flaws in this three-part initiative will artificially deflate their test scores. Parents need to be prepared to see a fluctuation in student’s performance from our traditional testing measures, as they are not directly comparable with the new SBAC tests. A spike in scores one way or the other will not necessarily equate with a change in their child’s effort or the teacher’s performance. The tests simply measure different types of knowledge.

While more than 45 states have adopted Common Core, at least 12 have introduced bills in their legislatures to suspend or prohibit implementation. In Connecticut, the Governor and Legislative leadership has recently asked the SDE council which established teacher evaluation measures to postpone some of the implementation guidelines and ease burden on districts and teachers. I believe we have a long way to go if we aim to support our school districts while improving student performance. Our resources must be spent wisely. Money should not be spent on an advertising campaign to improve public perception. I would prefer to see execution of the programs enacted in a more uniform and deliberate way by SDE; understanding and acceptance will naturally follow. Let’s slow down and do this right!

March 15, 2014

The Weekly Quote

"As a point of record, it is clear that third parties, under the loosening of FERPA, which was sanctioned by the United States Department of Education, does allow for a third party to view sensitive information...  This is rather an unprecedented expansion of data collection."

 ~ Connecticut State Representative Marilyn Guiliano,
    Education Committee Member

March 14, 2014

You and Your Children Cannot Be Punished For Refusing to Take SBAC

On Wednesday, March 12th there was a public hearing by the Education Committee in Hartford to discuss, among others, two bills dealing with Common Core. At that hearing, CT Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, said, clear as day, that there is no consequence to students if they opt out of SBAC testing. See for yourself:

Later Allan Taylor, Chairman of the Connecticut Department of Education, also confirmed our right to opt out:

So parents, please do not fear opting out, it is completely within your rights.

March 10, 2014

More From CEA

I blogged about who CEA is and why we should care here. In case you missed it, they are an ally in this fight against Common Core. On February 26th they issued a press release. First, a one-and-a-half minute summary:

And now, the press release itself:

No Time to Waste: CEA Urges Actionto Address
Botched CCSS Rollout

Saying time is of the essence, CEA today urged the new Connecticut Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Working Group* to convene immediately with teachers playing a central role in addressing the botched implementation of the CCSS in Connecticut classrooms.

“Our students can’t afford to wait. There’s no redo for them when precious teaching and learning time is lost to problems connected with CCSS implementation,” said CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg.

At a news conference today in Hartford, Waxenberg shared with reporters CEA’s specific recommendations about the group’s charge.

Those recommendations to the working group include:
  • assure the examination of standards is done collaboratively;
  • place teachers at the center of efforts to develop aligned curriculum, assessments, and professional development that are relevant to their students and local communities;
  • engage educators actively in examining new tests and the process for improving them; and
  • acknowledge that testing should be only one way to inform effective teaching and learning.
Waxenberg said the composition of the working group should include representatives from each of the following: teachers, parents, administrators, superintendents, and local school board members.
The current situation in public school classrooms demands urgency, and CEA has evidence to prove it, according to Waxenberg. “We have surveyed and talked directly to Connecticut teachers across the state and they have given us clear feedback on what’s needed.”

According to the new survey released today, more than half (55 percent) of all CEA members give their schools and districts failing grades on implementation (a score of 5 or lower on a 10-point scale).

Waxenberg continued, “With nearly 1,500 teachers participating in our survey, it provides policymakers with what they never had before—specificity from the frontlines of public education and teachers’ clear ideas about what is necessary for student success.”

According to Waxenberg, Connecticut teachers have very serious concerns about the ability of particularly young students to meet the standards. They also believe that CCSS siphon time and money for assessments that schools could use for other things, while limiting their ability to innovate in how they teach. Teachers added they felt that states rushed into CCSS implementation without field testing or time to review.

In the survey:
  • Teachers want to be consulted and involved in their school’s implementation plans.  However, two-thirds (65 percent) have not been given the opportunity to weigh in on their district’s plan to implement Common Core in their classrooms.
  • Strong majorities say they need more time to get it right for their students. Almost all (96 percent) believe implementation has been rushed; just a third have been given time to properly prepare the new curriculum; 80 percent say they and their students need more time for training and learning.
  • Schools are ill-equipped and under-resourced to implement. Just 16 percent of teachers say they have the materials and textbooks students need to learn the Common Core, and less than a quarter have the technology required to administer the computer-based assessments to their students.
  • Teachers are concerned about assessments, exacerbated by CCSS.  More than two-thirds (68 percent) say there is too much testing, and 62 percent worry that CCSS will exacerbate this.  Almost all say schools should prioritize learning over testing, and 97 percent want a moratorium on accountability provisions tied to the Smarter Balanced test.
CEA President Sheila Cohen said, “This survey should be a wake-up call for anyone who tries to sugarcoat the reality in our classrooms. For students to reap the benefits of Common Core and for it to be successful in Connecticut, policymakers must listen to feedback from teachers about what is going well and not well; give teachers the time to plan, train, and collaborate; appropriately equip classrooms; and give students more time to succeed at the new, more rigorous standards before they are tested.”

In the survey, teachers were clear about what it will take to get education reform right for kids:
  1. The opportunity for teachers to be involved in their schools’ planning for Common Core, as well as the chance to give feedback in order to improve implementation.
  2. More time for teachers to plan and practice good lessons, receive high-quality training, and observe and collaborate with colleagues.
  3. More time for students to learn and succeed at more rigorous standards.
  4. More financial resources to make sure classrooms are equipped with the required technology and that students have access to updated Common Core-aligned textbooks.
  5. A moratorium on accountability provisions tied to the Smarter Balanced test so that students and teachers can have time to prepare.
While a majority of members support the central goal of CCSS, very few do so without having serious concerns and reservations. Mishandled CCSS implementation has eroded confidence in the ability of the education system to get this right, resulting in 56 percent of CEA members supporting the Common Core but with reservations.

Waxenberg explained, “Teachers always have and will continue to support high standards, but the enormity of the botched CCSS rollout has caused wide-spread frustration. Teachers are demanding that Connecticut get this right. That’s why—this time around—teachers need to be at the center, not the distant periphery, of standard setting and implementation.”

The survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research during February 4-20, 2014. The margin of error on the survey data is +/-2.57 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The CEA research was done in conjunction with nationwide research by the National Education Association.

* On January 28, 2014, top policymakers announced, in the next two weeks, they would establish a Common Core State Standards working group that will include teachers and other educators from across the state to make recommendations on Common Core implementation. The policymakers included Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Senate President Donald Williams, and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.

Here is a copy of the survey results.

March 8, 2014

The Weekly Quote

All states and districts should collect common data on teachers and students. We need to define the data in a standardized way, we need to collect all of it for all of our students, and we need to enter it in something cheap and simple that people can share.

~ Bill Gates
Microsoft Board Member and its largest shareholder

March 7, 2014

The Common Core Public Hearing Has Been Scheduled
For March 12th in Hartford

PLEASE, PLEASE come to the meeting. If you are not comfortable speaking you don't need to say a word. The amount of people who show up matters though; we need the Education Committee to see how many people care passionately about this. So if you need to call in sick, do it!
Dear Friends,

The public hearing on Common Core and Teacher Evaluation is scheduled for Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:00 noon; it will take place in room 1E of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). The AGENDA includes:



Guidelines on testifying and providing testimony are attached; for directions to the LOB at 300 Capitol Avenue, please click here.

I hope to see many of you on Wednesday and ask you please share this with everyone you know who wishes to express their views on Common Core and Teacher Evaluation.

As stated in the guidelines, everyone who will be testifying must submit 35 copies in room 3100 of the LOB by 9:30 AM on March 12th. Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 8:30 AM in the First Floor Atrium of the LOB, will be by Lottery, and will conclude at 9:30 AM. PLEASE DO NOT LET THESE LIMITS IMPOSED BY THE CHAIRS OF EDUCATION DISCOURAGE YOU FROM SIGNING UP. Let your presence show and your voice proclaim to the Chairs these issues are of serious concern and importance to you and the children of Stamford.

Again, as stated in the guidelines, an electronic copy of everyone's testimony is due by 2:00 PM on March 11th and please include the word "Testimony" in the subject line; this applies to both those who will attend and anyone unable to attend who wishes to submit testimony. Please submit your electronic copy to

See you on the 12th!

Warmest Regards,

I can't figure out how to upload the Word document he attached for you to see, so I changed it into a jpg. That means that the links on the image won't work. I created links underneath it though, in case you'd like to follow them.

Testimony will be available here. And Mike's website is here.

March 6, 2014

Khan Academy Paid to Cozy Up With Common Core

I am shocked at the number of homeschoolers I know who are celebrating the news that “SAT to drop essay requirement and return to top score of 1600 in redesign of admission test”, and “College Board Outlines SAT Redesign It Says Will Be More 'Focused and Useful'”. These are people I know who have always stayed on top of what's going on the world of education and have until now, been impressively informed about Common Core; they are the ones who first educated ME on its existence! On the other hand we do have the Facebook groups talking about the connection: They Just Announced Major Changes to the SAT…and There’s a Tie to Common Core.

A comment I left on a friend's wall says “I'm so surprised at how many of my friends are posting this 'joyous' news and how Khan Academy will be offering free prep for it all. Homeschoolers and others have been fearful of the fact that the SAT was to have been aligned with Common Core, and now that it's here and packaged in a way that sounds all pretty, people are forgetting the reality: David Coleman is not only the president of the College Board, he is also one of the chief architects of Common Core. And he is aligning the SAT with Common Core, so of course it's going to end up easier, at least the ELA part. Let's just hope the math actually makes sense.

One of the above articles says Coleman said the New York-based organization will team with the nonprofit Khan Academy, which delivers free tutorials in math and other subjects via a popular web site of the same name, to provide free SAT prep for the world.” So when a friend posted a link to this, I took notice. That page contains a link to this video, which is a four minute conversation between Sal Khan and David Coleman, who is one of the “chief architects” of the Common Core. (Full disclosure: when I went to youtube to get the code to place it here I got this notice "This video is unlisted. Be considerate and think twice before sharing." But honestly I find it hard to be considerate in view of the information that follows.)

One thing I hadn't been able to shake in all this is David Coleman's statement that “The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way they can secure their child’s success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching. If we believe that assessment must be a force for equity and excellence, it’s time to shake things up.”

I mean, up until now it's been all about the money, hasn't it?

But then I had an “a-ha moment” and too easily searched for and found that Khan Academy has received over 10 million dollars in grants from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

And suddenly it all made sense.

CT State Representative Ackert
Holds Open Forum on Common Core in Coventry

Local teachers, administrators, parents and students gathered in the Coventry High School Lecture Hall for an open discussion on the implementation of Common Core Standards. The forum was hosted by the Republican Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, State Rep. Tim Ackert.

Ackert, who serves the 8th General Assembly District, which covers the towns of Columbia, Coventry, Vernon and Tolland, held the forum to give educators and parents an opportunity to come together to discuss how the implementation of this national program would affect the education of students in local schools.

“Parents, teachers and students deserve the opportunity to formally voice their opinion on this issue,” said Rep. Ackert. “The sole purpose of the forum was to provide a chance for people who are most affected by this legislation to air-out their questions and concerns on the issue. The carrying out of Common Core is quickly transforming the way education is delivered to our students in schools. It’s my responsibility as a legislator to make parents and teachers aware of the changes, and advise them on what is at stake with this legislation being implemented at such a fast pace.”

The meeting came just hours after Ackert joined fellow House Republican Legislators to force a formal public hearing on the controversial Common Core standards and public school teacher evaluation process by petitioning for legislation that the majority party refused to raise in the Education Committee.

“This petition is all about giving people a voice in the legislative process,” said Rep. Ackert. “Every bill that gets taken-up in the legislature deserves a public hearing and needs to follow the appropriate legislative procedure –the implementation of Common Core should not be treated differently.”

After a power-point presentation describing the history of Common Core, Ackert opened up the floor to audience members who expressed deep concern with how the program is being rolled-out...

Ackert plans to schedule an additional town hall forum regarding Common Core in Tolland within the upcoming week.

“This issue is on-going, and I plan on continuing the dialogue with my constituents and my colleagues in the legislature,” said Ackert.

March 5, 2014

Opting Out of Testing

It's with great excitement that I am reading about more and more people who are opting out of the SBAC exams. There has been a national website about how to do it for quite some time. There have been Connecticut Specific sample letters available since January. And now there is a website that enables parents to fill out a form and have it sent to their district directly from the site. And despite the ridiculous suggested protocols that the State Department has provided to local districts to follow, and the letter parents have been receiving verbatim from districts all over the state, parents are still getting it done.

A group of parents who call themselves "Save our Schools" held a press conference in Hartford on February 27th. Here is the eleven minute portion where the press asked questions:

You can see the press conference in its entirety here.

In the video one mom from East Haddam spoke to her challenge in trying to have her son opted out and the very next day on Facebook I am reading that East Haddam is now replying to parents who are opting out that "Although the State Department of Education does not recognize opt out option the district will honor your request for your child to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and will provide a supervised setting during the testing window. Thank you..."

So we are making a difference!

The New Haven Register even wrote a remarkably balanced story reporting on the press conference.

I blogged about my experience opting out my 7th grader on Monday. What has been your experience?

March 4, 2014

My Experience Opting Out of Testing For My High School Junior in Cheshire

So I got this letter from the high school (click on it to see it larger):

This past Sunday I sent this email to all the Assistant Principals listed, as well as the Principal.
Dear Mr. Sansoucy,

My son ______ will not be participating in the SBAC assessments; there are no statutes requiring juniors take any testing and in no way do either of us consider it "a very exciting opportunity".

Please let us know to what study hall location you would like ________ to go for him to be marked as present in school during the testing times.


Monday I received this response:
Dear _________,

Attached please find a letter from Dr. Florio regarding opting out of the Smarter Balance Assessment.

Richard Sansoucy
Assistant Principal
 with this attachment (click on it to see it larger):

I then responded with:
Mr. Sansoucy,

Thanks for getting back to me. I'm sorry you have ended up in the middle of this, I'm sure it's not a pleasant place to be. It frustrates me that the school administration has been put in this position by the SDE, but I suppose it is what it is and we all must play our parts.

I have seen this letter before, as it is an exact copy of the one the SDE sent to districts in December, along with the "Background, History, and Suggested Protocols for Addressing Parent Requests for Students to “Opt-Out” of Mandated State Testing" memo.

And while it is true that the statute says "for the school year commencing July 1, 2013, and each school year thereafter, each student enrolled in grades three to eight inclusive, and grade ten or eleven in any public school shall, annually, in March or April take a mastery examination in reading writing and mathematics.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-14n (b)(1).", it's important to note the word or. _______ already took his assessments in grade 10 and therefore is not mandated to take them again. Additionally as the letter I received from you states, the "Field Test" is to "test the test", so it is not actually an assessment of
_______ at all. Finally, my letter was not a "request" as Dr. Florio quoted; it was and is, a refusal.

Kindly skip through the rest of the protocols, as their title specifically does say "suggested", and just let us know what study hall location
_______ should report to for him to be marked as present in school during the testing times. From Mr. Solan's email today it's clear that _______ is not the only student who has a parent who is refusing to allow him to take this test, so I'm sure you are up to thinking about where to put these kids during the testing time. Please let us know that location promptly.


And here is the email the principal, Mr. Solan, had sent earlier today:
Dear CHS Parent of Juniors,

Much has been made about the Smarter Balanced Assessments coming up this month.  For some, the testing has become a political issue.  Some see this as a teacher evaluation issue and others a fairness issue.  The CHS administration understands that our Juniors took the CAPT exam last year believing that would be the last assessment they would be responsible for.  We feel bad for them that the changing educational landscape has dictated that Juniors are now evaluated against the Common Core Curriculum.  One of the more substantial arguments I have heard against the Smarter Balanced Assessment is that it does not accurately reflect what students have been expected to learn at the high school level.  The test was designed to assess college and career readiness.  It is supposed to be a culminating exam reflecting engagement in the Common Core Curriculum through 11th grade.  Unfortunately, our Juniors have not had the benefit of those years of instruction in that content.  Nevertheless, we are very interested in how they perform on this assessment.  If students are absent for testing they will be expected to make up the testing when they return to school.   

As High School Principal, it is difficult for me to give up the instructional time necessary to administer the Smarter Balanced Test.  We are required to do so.  If that is the case, I want to make sure that we get as much information out of it as possible.  I also appreciate that testing is going online.  I recently took the Graduate Records Exam online.  I do see the benefit in our students being exposed to this level of rigor in an online environment as it will likely introduce them to what they will face down the road.  I think it is also important to share that while the Common Core is working to emphasize not only knowledge, but skills it falls short of where Cheshire feels we need to be.  Throughout the course of the year we have been working through the Performance Standards Committee to explore how we assess the CPS Performance Standards.  It is our goal to design more comprehensive assessment of these standards which when combined with feedback from Smarter Balanced Assessment will ultimately provide the best reflection of student growth and development.

Jeff Solan

Truly my heart goes out to the school administrators who are stuck in the middle of this. They are having to be the "bad guys" in something they might not even agree with. And they are unfortunately the ones who have to deal with parents like me, and have to find a place to put all these kids when the time comes. It's so frustrating that the CSDE is making me counterpoint people I have always had sincere respect for. I've encountered Jeff Solan many times at PTO meetings and he is an engaged and forthright principal. I truly hate to think that I may have biased him, or any of the Cheshire High School staff, against me or my son.

I will update this post when I get a response.

And that update:

Dear Ms. ________

As stated in Dr. Florio’s letter there is no opt-out option for the Smarter Balance Field Test.  However, since you have indicated that you will not allow _____ to take part in this assessment, we will assign him to a study hall during the testing.

The testing days are full school days for all juniors and ______ is expected to arrive at school at 7:30 each morning.

Should you reconsider this decision, please respond to this e-mail and _______ will be scheduled for the assessment.


Richard Sansoucy
Assistant Principal

March 3, 2014

My Experience Opting Out of Testing For My 7th Grader in Cheshire, and a Sample Opt-out Letter

I have already opted out my 7th grader from the SBAC exams, and actually, all computer-administered exams, here in Cheshire. I did not speak to the Superintendent, since my communication started with the Curriculum Coordinator, who had been given my name by Triumph Testing. You can learn the specifics of how that happened here (opens in new window).

Shortly thereafter I received a note from the school telling me that the kids would be taking the OLSAT exams. I immediately wrote a letter to my son's principal, his teachers, and the Curriculum Coordinator, who I had already been in touch with. It read:
To the wonderful teachers and administrators of my dear son _______,

I am writing to let you know that I am opting-out of _______'s participation of the OLSAT this week. I had previously been in contact with [Curriculum Coordinator] regarding my concerns with having any test data on ________ (including actual test taking) recorded via computer, since the changes to the FERPA laws make it impossible for anyone in Cheshire to assure me with utmost certainty that his personally identifiable information is secure. Deb did tell me that as soon as the district lawyer provides her report, in layman's terms, of what the changes in FERPA mean for the district, that she would share that report with me. But until that time, ______ is not to take any tests via computer, or take any tests that will be graded or evaluated via computer or any source outside of his teacher who administers it.

I will be informing ________ that he is not to take the test, and that if he is given one he is not to work on it. Please be sure to provide an area where he can read or do other work that you provide for him, during the testing time.


I then received this response from the Curriculum Coordinator:
I want to make sure you know that the OLSAT test is not administered on the computer. It is a test Cheshire pays fit and uses.  It is not a state requirement nor is it a statewide test.  I also need to remind you that all of our assessment results data, teacher tests included, are stored on our servers

I wrote a long response to her, and actually posted it here (opens in new window) for others to read. I didn't include my last paragraph to her on that blogpost though, which read:
Finally, please note that this letter speaks only to the privacy issue in regards to my children, and does not speak to my opposition to the inordinate amount of assessments being conducted in compliance with the Common Core that Connecticut is not even required to adopt since we did not receive any money through Race to the Top, and Cheshire is not required to adopt since we are a locally controlled state when it comes to education; that is a whole other letter.


The Curriculum Coordinator wrote back:
Thanks for your reply.  To clarify, Cheshire's does not share OLSAT, SRI, or Triumph data with other districts, the state, or the federal government.

We do share student attendance and special education data with the state.

In addition, the state gives us their state tests to administer to students.  In these situations the CSDE has access to their own tests and its data, whether whether they are administered by paper or online.

To which I responded:
Thanks. So am I understanding that Cheshire does not store the results of the OLSAT, SRI, or Triumph testing on our servers? That it's all kept in paper files that the state does not have access to?

What about my son's IEP? That was created during our PPT [meeting] directly into a computer program, so does that reside on Cheshire servers too? Or is that stored in paper files that the state has no access to?

As I said, nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong on all of this.

The Curriculum Coordinator wrote back:
The OLSAT results are stored on the Pearson server and on our district server.  The SRI results are stored only on our district server.  Triumph scores are stored on the Triumph server and on our district server.  None of the data from these three tests are shared with the state or federal government.

IEPs are stored on our districts server.  Whether or not they are also stored on the vendor's server as well as the state's server is a question answered best by Tracey Nolan-Hussey, the secondary special education supervisor.

That email was received on December 1, 2013, and I did not reply.

I next received an email from Deb on December 11th that said:
We heard back from the district’s attorney about the two questions you asked regarding student assessments earlier this fall.  Your first question related to FERPA regulations and your second question asked about student participation is state, district, and classroom tests.

The first aspect of the lawyer’s research confirmed what you already knew; there have been changes to the FERPA legislation. Her research also revealed the specifics of this change.  Under the new FERPA amendment, an educational agency (such as the Cheshire Public Schools) now has the authority to disclose student information to the federal government if such a disclosure is in relation to an evaluation or audit of a federally funded program.  To date, Cheshire has never had an audit by the federal government and our only federally funded, curriculum-related program is at Darcey.

Your second question related to parents’ ability to refuse participation in some or all student assessments.  The lawyer’s research reveals that there is no federal or state law that gives parents the right to “opt-out” of some or all assessments, either paper-pencil or computer generated/stored assessments.  For students enrolled in a public school, the courts have held that school districts maintain control over the curriculum, and this includes testing and assessment.  Although parents have the right to opt-out of certain aspects of the curriculum, e.g. dissecting and sex education,  this right does not extend to assessment.

I hope her diligent work addresses your questions

To which I responded:
Thanks so much for getting back to me with clarification that my concerns regarding the privacy of my children are warranted.

As for my “question related to parents’ ability to refuse participation in some or all student assessments”, I never had a question about this. While it is true that “there is no federal or state law that gives parents the right to “opt-out” of some or all assessments”, there is also no federal or state law specifically saying that I can’t.

It’s actually very timely that your response would come the day after the CEA published a blog post entitled More CT Parents Opting-Out of State Testing, which contains a link to a document entitled Background, History, and Suggested Protocols for Addressing Parent Requests for Students to ‘Opt-Out’ of Mandated State Testing dated December 2013 from the SEA. The last protocol states that when a “Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested… the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as ‘absent’ (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district. The state, to date, has not done any follow-up on these cases.” So since I’m aware of all the rest, in the case of my children, we can just skip it all and go right to that: please consider this my letter stating that I understand your letter, and I insist that my kids not be tested.

Just to confirm, my children are both old enough to understand that they are not to take the tests, and will not do so even if put in front of them, my 7th grader because he prefers not to go back to homeschooling, and my high school junior because he fully comprehends the issues.

Please understand that I am truly grateful for the top-notch education my children are getting in Cheshire and I know they would do fine on the tests if I allowed them to participate; my concerns lie in the undermining of the privacy laws for our children, the increased data collecting on them, and the increasing federal intrusion on our local school system through various reforms and waivers imposed upon, and accepted at, the state level.


The last one I received from the Curriculum Coordinator read:
Thanks for your email.  State regulations do require that the principals follow the protocol, so they will.

A few days later I went to a PTA meeting at the middle school. After the meeting the principal pulled me aside and told me that he had been forwarded all that communication but he was not going to go through with all the protocol. His main concern was what he was going to do with all the kids who are opting out since they are increasing in numbers.

So that takes care of my 7th grader. I'll blog about my experience with the high school junior starting tomorrow.

I do want to mention though, that I have problems with the form letters that are out there, my biggest one being the statement:
Moreover, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) are merely field tests, this year, which measure test questions, not students; and do not even have a mastery level set yet. Thus they are not the type of required tests contemplated by state law.

This is, in my opinion, NOT a good thing to include, whether it be true or not, because it leaves the door open for testing next year. Especially when the next section says:
As the Parent/Guardian of____________________________________ (Name of child), I have decided that it is not in his/her best interest to take this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test (SBAC)."

Why would we say "this year's"? The idea is to get a statement in about our feelings on the testing for this year and every year moving forward. So if I needed to do it again, I would write:
Dear Principal _____________,

I am writing to let you know that my son ________ is not to take any tests that will be graded or evaluated via computer or any source outside of his teacher who administers it. This includes SBAC assessments.

Please note that this is not a "request" and that I am already aware that "the ESEA does not allow parents to exempt their children from taking the state assessments." However, the ESEA also does not dis-allow it. Nor do Connecticut General Statutes. I am therefore perfectly within my legal rights to refuse to allow my son to take these tests.

I will be informing ________ that he is not to take online tests, and that if he is given one he is not to work on it. Please be sure to provide an area where he can read or do other work that you provide for him during the testing time. 

If there's one thing that I learned about schools while we were homeschooling, it's that I don't have to tell them my reasons for the decisions I make regarding my children. So I wouldn't include any of that in my letter to the principal. And yes, I'd send it to the principal and not the superintendent, since it has already been my experience that they don't always agree on opting-out and the superintendent could very well be bypassed altogether.

Questions? Ask away...

March 1, 2014

The Weekly Quote

Can anyone explain how the nation can adopt national standards without any evidence whatever that they will improve achievement, enrich education, and actually help to prepare young people -- not for the jobs of the future, which are unknown and unknowable -- but for the challenges of citizenship and life?

The biggest fallacy of the Common Core standards is that they have been sold to the nation without any evidence that they will accomplish what their boosters claim.

~ Diane Ravitch
The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards