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(This was an open letter from Delaware's educators to their Governor and Secretary of Education.  Delaware was making great strides in its test scores as it Raced To The Top. Surprisingly great gains were made between 2011 and 2012 and expectations were high for this year too. Tremendous effort was put into building on the  past successes. All waited for the test scores to arrive to find out if the lofty goal had been achieved. Only one thing would be new; the Common Core curriculum would begin)

The test scores are in. They dropped. We seriously believe Common Core is driving them downward. As educators across the universe of the educational field, we have these sincere, heartfelt observations to pass on.
Like you, we too were hopeful that these standards would improve our scores overall. Particularly because we were being held accountable, we did our best to implement them exactly as we were directed. We feel the drop in test scores from this year to last, came not from lack of effort or expertise; it is because of the test. It is all about the test. The drop in scores is strictly because of the test. Below are our collective observations!

A) We love the concept of Common Core. We love the specific feedback it provides. We deplore the entire program only because of this test which we find flawed.

B) The Exams take an extraordinary toll on teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Most of that energy should be applied to learning.

C) Our concern is specifically related to the timing, the unbalanced structure, the format, and length of the sessions required to take the test.

D) When compared to the actual Common Core Standards referenced on the state and national websites, these tests and those standards do not align.

E) Common Core Learning Standards when compared to our state's tests, show our ELA tests to be focused mostly on analyzing specific lines, specific words and specific structures of informational text, rather than the covering the vast, wide array of standards.

F) This forces students to spend too much time reading, rereading, rereading again, and interpreting vaguely-worded difficult, confusing questions about what could possibly be the author's intent in using a certain specific word or test.

G) Spending class time on teaching sophisticated adult methods to interpret these convoluted generalities, comes at the expense of covering the rich, well-thought-out vast array the common core curriculum that was promised in its original selling to states, cities, local governments and school boards.

H) The standards of Common Core emphasize reading across different texts, both fiction and non-fiction; this is time-honored testing device used to determine college bound student's abilities, one that has been used for generations. However, being forced to respond to unrelated questions about unrelated topics is not!

I) Anyone who uses this flawed approach to determine the quality of a teacher, a student, a school, is in egregious error. Yet, this program was implemented before it was created, with stringent accountability policies set in stone by districts and the state. So unless overridden, many top quality personnel will be lost over this summer as a result of these new common core driven test scores, which do not even meet last year's pre-Common-Core standard.

J) Schools experienced unprecedented stress among students during their test taking. Extreme physical symptoms of nosebleeds, vomiting, and suicidal intentions were at their highest reported levels. The inadequate timing requirements particularly associated with the ELA (English Language Arts) test, created frustration, despondency, and even crying among students. These are children. They tend to respond poorer under extreme psychological stress than would adults.

K) There were far more multiple choice questions than ever before, many of which were field test questions that do NOT affect a child's score but draw his time and focus away from questions that did. Field Test questions are experimental and require considerable insight and effort to answer. The use of field testing though necessary to a testing company, is harmful to students and is one of the biggest factors of our low scores this year.

L) English, even as my writing here exposes, is full of a rich plethora of multiple interpretations. Our common communications are often punctuated with double meanings for a reason. However, multiple choice tests require one computer-read answer. A student is asked to make a random judgment over which interpretation an author meant, based only on a snippet of his/her writing. The student must therefore apply his own extremely limited background experience to make the determination of which may (or may not) be what the test maker deemed to be the correct answer. To judge the entire state's quality of ELA education, by having it hinge on 5 or 6 test questions (the margin of difference between 2012-2013 results) is unfair to all.

M) Not even teachers can agree on what some of the correct answers should be. This is very unfair to students taking the test. When you have massive divisions and confusion among intelligent adult educators attempting to interpret what you mean, you do not have a good tool. You have a problem with the test.

N) The math tests have multiple questions testing the same sets of skills. Instead of he wide variety promised by Common core, the focus is narrow. The questions were often extremely confusing for well read adults. Too much time was spent on trying to read the word problem. Often the poor language skills of the question maker steered the students into solving the wrong equation. If you are going to test math skills, the test should not be based on "let's play a cryptology game to see if you can understand the meaning that I'm trying to hide in this word problem sentence!" You should be testing core concepts.

O) We have great concern putting so much at stake in the hands of Smart Balanced Assessments. If they make a mistake and dumb our child, there is no accountability. If they make a mistake and countless great teachers to get fired, there is no accountability. If they make a mistake and cause the Secretary of Education to lose his job in ignominy and defeat, there is no accountability. If they make a mistake and cause the Education Governor to be laughed at for taking us backwards instead of forwards, thereby dooming his future career path, there is no accountability. There needs to be accountability! Someone representing the citizens of this state, needs to actually take these tests, and approve these tests before they ever get purchased.

P) Testing where the state is the consumer and the corporation is the seller is fraught with examples of quackery. Some examples.

  • The mis-scoring of the NYC test for the gifted and talented program. (Thirteen percent of those 4 to 7 year olds who sat for the exam were affected by the errors)
  • In Spring 2012 only 27% of 4th grade students passed a new Florida writing test. Parents complained, the test was reevaluated, and the passing score was changed so that the percentage of students who passed climbed to 81%.
  • The Spring 2012 NYS ELA 8th grade test had to be reevaluated after complaints about meaningless reading passages about talking pineapples and misleading questions.
  • Parents and taxpayers have extremely overwhelming anecdotal information, but are unable to debate the efficacy of these exams when they are held highly secured and not released for more general analysis
In union, teachers, parents, students, and administrators, citizens, taxpayers, all think it proper that during the early phases of Common Core that full conversations regarding Common Core take place within the general public.

These tests determine which students succeed. These tests determine for a large part, which schools will be "choiced" into, and which will be "choiced" out of. These tests determine who teaches and who doesn't. These tests determine which school districts are failing. These tests determine the future of our nation. If we can't compete on level footing with other superpowers because all we know how to do is to take a test we invent for ourselves, then the rest of the world actually deserves to take our wealth.

Fixing these tests is our greatest challenge of the moment. One can see from our scores just published, (Delaware's proficiency composite 2013 instead of rising from 73% to its goal of 82%, actually went backwards this year down to 70%) that our current Common Core Tests are not working. Simply reverting back to the old tests, flawed as they were, would have served us better.

So Governor, with your publishing of these test scores, are you saying that despite everyone trying their hardest, from the politicians all the way down to the students, including boards, administrators, principals, teachers, and parents, all that effort was for naught? That we went backwards?  Gosh, then;  with so much effort our state must be the sorriest collection of people existing on the planet!

Or should we look to the far more obvious answer: that those entities making up the Common Core curriculums and the test did not do what was expected of them? The test results are gibberish and fail to show precisely the extent of knowledge our children do actually have.
Obviously the latter applies here.
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