First graders at Redwood Heights Elementary in Oakland

As millions of California students tackle new assessments aligned with the Common Core, Gov. Jerry Brown in one of his more expansive comments on testing and measurements last week called for a “balanced” approach to testing, and expressed skepticism about pressures to hold schools more accountable for achieving results, and on students to show constant improvement.

At the same time, he said at a press conference about his proposed revisions to the state budget, billions of additional funds that will be pouring into public schools should make parents feel “optimistic and hopeful that their children will get a better education.” The extra funds, he said, should also help teachers get paid more, create more programs, and to fund those that have been cut during the recession.

“Tests, metrics, measures, these are good,” he said in response to a question about whether the state has sufficient accountability measures in place to ensure that its funds are being used adequately, and that children are making sufficient progress. But he questioned the need for uniform metrics to measure how all children and teachers are doing.

“We don’t want to make every thing into a cookie cutter,” he said. “Kids learn differently. Teachers have different styles.

He spoke disparagingly of a Wisconsin school he read about in a May 11 New York Times article that measures everything everyone does in a school, from janitors to kindergartners.

“No one in the Menomonee Falls School District escapes the rigorous demands of data,” the article stated. “Even kindergartners use brightly colored dots on charts to show how many letters or short words they can recognize.”

The article went on to state that “data has become a dirty word in some education circles, seen as a proxy for an obsessive focus on tracking standardized test scores. But some school districts, taking a cue from the business world, are fully embracing metrics, recording and analyzing every scrap of information related to school operations.”

That, clearly, is not the direction Brown wants to take California. “They are getting little children at the age of 5 infected with this idea that everything is measurable, and that they are accountable every day to improve,” he said. To some laughter, Brown said, “I can tell you that the idea that you can improve every day for the rest of your life is not true. I just think there is a bit of a life cycle. Things go up and go down.”

He said there “is a role for measurement,” including for the Academic Performance Index, the main index used to measure schools in California for the past 15 years. The API is currently suspended as the state implements new Common Core-aligned assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and experts try to figure out how to incorporate other measures into the API in addition to test results, such as measures of college and career readiness.

Without going into details, Brown suggested that the accountability measures that the state currently had in place were sufficient. He referred to two reforms he championed – the Local Control Funding Formula, which allocates more funds to school districts based on their enrollments of low-income students, English learners and foster children, and the Local Control and Accountability Plans, in which districts must show how they plan to spend the state funds they are receiving. He said advocates are now fighting with the State Board of Education “for more metrics.”

“There has to be a balance to measurements,” he said. Quoting Einstein, as he has several times during his governorship, he said “Not everything in life can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.”

GOV. BROWN ON TESTING AND ACCOUNTABILITY 

The following are Gov. Brown’s complete comments on testing and accountability in his May 14 press conference on the May revision of his proposed 2015-16 state budget. 

Question:  Given the infusion of funds into California schools, what expectations should Californians have that their schools should improve?

They should feel more optimistic and hopeful that their kids will get a better education. Everyone says that teachers don’t get paid enough. This will help them get paid more, help create programs, and fund programs that have been cut. There have been a lot of programs that have been cut.

Question:  Do you think we have sufficient accountability in place?

I have taken a middle path here. Tests, metrics, measures, those are good. But kids learn differently. Teachers have different styles. We don’t want to make every thing into a cookie cutter. The best metrics are simple numerical measures. I read in the New York Times, in Wisconsin I think, they have kindergartners taking three-minute tests every day. They have little workbooks. They have to fill in little bubbles red and green to chart their progress. They are getting little children at the age of 5 infected with this idea that everything is measurable, and that they are accountable every day to improve. I can tell you that the idea that you can improve every day for the rest of your life is not true.  I just think there is a bit of a life cycle. Things go up and go down.

I do think there is a role for measurement, even the API (Academic Performance Index). We create a nice number, and then people want to change it. We did change (the part of the API devoted to measurements other than tests) to 40 percent for something else. We now have the Local Control Funding Formula and the Local Control and Accountability Plan. Now the State Board (of Education) and all these advocates, they’re all fighting for more metrics. I think there has to be a balance to measurements as well. As Einstein said, “Not everything in life can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.” So I do think we need some balance.


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  1. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    Doug, you said, "I’d suggest AB 484, with its misstatement of what should be the primary purpose of CA’s statewide assessment program, has been a primary element for CA’s entire implementation of the Common Core standards..." and with "PRIMARY PURPOSE of modeling and promoting high quality teaching and instruction using a variety of assessment approaches and item types." Maybe I'm not interpreting this correctly, but it seems to that you have just described why Common … Read More

    Doug, you said, “I’d suggest AB 484, with its misstatement of what should be the primary purpose of CA’s statewide assessment program, has been a primary element for CA’s entire implementation of the Common Core standards…” and with “PRIMARY PURPOSE of modeling and promoting high quality teaching and instruction using a variety of assessment approaches and item types.”

    Maybe I’m not interpreting this correctly, but it seems to that you have just described why Common Core IS “the primary driver for influencing a centralized approach to curriculum and instruction.”

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

      Don — My point was it is using the leverage of the statewide assessment system to drive centralized curriculum and instruction, rather than an unbiased assessment system designed to measure achievement on the common core standards independent of locally determined approaches to curriculum and instruction.

  2. AcalanesDistrict 1 year ago1 year ago

    To clarify, my comment below was addressing Dougs statement regarding "the role of metrics in guiding our public schools, and focus on measuring". My position is we are already too focused on measuring and metrics, and the any interpretations of that data is colored by subjective goals that may or may not be shared by parents and students. The notion that a collective mindset defines what being "career & college ready" entails is … Read More

    To clarify, my comment below was addressing Dougs statement regarding “the role of metrics in guiding our public schools, and focus on measuring”. My position is we are already too focused on measuring and metrics, and the any interpretations of that data is colored by subjective goals that may or may not be shared by parents and students. The notion that a collective mindset defines what being “career & college ready” entails is unacceptable. @Don, your innuendo and snark has likely served you well in life, please continue.

    Replies

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      You are correct about my comment, AcalanesDistict. My apologies for the sarcasm. You are incorrect yet again, though, about Doug's comment. You are misreading what he's saying specifically about the reasonable uses of a well designed and implemented assessment system that's required to comply with state and federal law. You're making an assumption that because he's advocating for useful testing he's an advocate for more testing in general which is not the case. Read More

      You are correct about my comment, AcalanesDistict. My apologies for the sarcasm.

      You are incorrect yet again, though, about Doug’s comment. You are misreading what he’s saying specifically about the reasonable uses of a well designed and implemented assessment system that’s required to comply with state and federal law. You’re making an assumption that because he’s advocating for useful testing he’s an advocate for more testing in general which is not the case.

  3. AcalanesDistrict 1 year ago1 year ago

    @doug @ann Fortunately, not everyone feels as you do. The pendulum can swing too far. Your “drive toward specific curriculum, strategy and technology” does not necessarily reflect the desires of many, who are outside the narrow, data-driven reform movement. The premise of a P-20 database being needed to improve education is an excellent example of technology running amok.

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    • Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

      I believe you misread my comment. What I said was unfortunately the current evolving CAASPP and LCAP are driving the system toward specific curriculum, strategy, and technology and that is a bad thing . . . . statewide assessments and statewide accountability systems should the designed to measure and report the results of locally determined curriculum and strategies and use of technology, but the CAASPP and LCAP systems are actually leading away from local control of instructional decisions.

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      Does AcalanesDistrict offer remedial reading in that upscale enclave? If so, they can do an in-service.

      Doug, not to conflate standards with curriculum and methodology as we’ve come to understand their roles, but isn’t that what much of the Common Core critics maintain as one of their issues? Is it reasonable to have this discussion about the “drive toward specific curriculum, strategy and technology” and not mention CCSS as the driver?

      • Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

        Don -- I don't consider the Common Core content standards as the primary driver for influencing a centralized approach to curriculum and instruction in California. Rather, I think the Smarter Balanced tests are the primary driver. For any standards-based system, the content standards should be the "what" we want learned, while curriculum and instruction should be the "how" districts and schools and teachers go about teaching to the content standards. Content standards involve centralized state … Read More

        Don — I don’t consider the Common Core content standards as the primary driver for influencing a centralized approach to curriculum and instruction in California. Rather, I think the Smarter Balanced tests are the primary driver.

        For any standards-based system, the content standards should be the “what” we want learned, while curriculum and instruction should be the “how” districts and schools and teachers go about teaching to the content standards. Content standards involve centralized state leadership. Curriculum and instruction should be overwhelmingly local control, including flexibility in implementing the state-produced curriculum frameworks, choice for instructional materials, execution of teacher professional development using the frameworks the district or school wants to emphasize and the specific adopted materials for the district or school, and finally individual teacher classroom instruction. Statewide assessments should measure the “what” is learned regardless of “how” it is learned; if that aspect is violated, then the leverage of “what gets tested is what is taught” takes over and assessments inappropriately influence the “how” of any standards-based system. For California, I think this is coming from the Smarter Balanced tests, focusing on only one type of instruction rather than focusing only on the “what” of the Common Core content standards. Then this inappropriate assessment influence will carry over to accountability when the assessment data becomes a centerpiece for external accountability (not the sole piece, but rather the largest actor for a multiple measures accountability system).

        Statewide assessments and statewide accountability systems are necessarily centrally controlled. [Note: The joining of the words “local control” and “accountability” is essentially an oxymoron — accountability implies some sort of external review of local performance, and the notion of “self-accountability” is a concept the won’t fly for very long for K-12 education funded by taxpayers.] When the statewide assessment system begins to influence local choices for curriculum and instruction, we go in the direction of centrally controlled curriculum and instruction. That is the nexus of the comment I made on the Gov’s thinking above.

        • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

          Doug, the question of the what and the how, of standards v. curriculum has to be reevaluated under Common Core which is a more global approach to content reform than we have seen in the past. One reason why teachers are expressing such frustration with CC is the emphasis not just on what but how as well. The ELA and math standards are replete with examples of how to deliver instruction. Some of … Read More

          Doug, the question of the what and the how, of standards v. curriculum has to be reevaluated under Common Core which is a more global approach to content reform than we have seen in the past. One reason why teachers are expressing such frustration with CC is the emphasis not just on what but how as well. The ELA and math standards are replete with examples of how to deliver instruction. Some of it is direct, some is subtle and some is inferred.

          From the American Enterprise Institute on CCSS:

          “…advocates are fond of ridiculing critics for failing to heed the supposedly crisp distinction between curriculum and standards. Yet this delineation appears more a matter of convenience than conviction. For one thing, it seems at odds with other pro-Common Core talking points, like the governor of Delaware’s Washington Post op-ed crediting the Common Core with enabling wonderful classroom lessons. Common Core advocates routinely insist they have no desire to dictate curriculum or how teachers teach and then, in the same breath, go on to explain that the standards will help drive instruction. In any event, the distinction would be more compelling if many of those making it had not signed onto a manifesto from the Albert Shanker Institute, released in March 2011 and signed by more than 100 enthusiasts, calling for “common curriculum content” to “give shape and substance” to the Common Core. Similarly, some advocates tout the central role accorded to “close reading,” a practice in which students are taught to set aside historical context and personal feelings in order to analyze a passage. Whatever its merits, it’s misleading to suggest that close reading isn’t an instructional technique and that it doesn’t shape curriculum.”

          “…critics have raised concerns that the Common Core’s focus on close reading and skill-building threatens the teaching of American history, but advocates wave off these concerns. They point out that the standards encourage students to read historical documents like the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. This disclaimer would be more compelling, however, if the Boston Public Schools had not announced this spring that, as part of its Common Core implementation, it was folding its history and social-science departments into a larger “humanities and literacy” department led by an ELA-focused director. Other school districts are contemplating similar steps. The Common Core doesn’t require or recommend radically changing or eliminating traditional history departments, but that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss these concerns as baseless.”

          http://www.aei.org/publication/how-the-common-core-went-wrong/

          Doug, similar criticisms of CCSS-MS denote how these standards drive instruction.

          • Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

            Don -- I should have acknowledged that some folks have criticized the common core of overstepping the usual bounds for academic content standards as goals and instead getting into the bounds for curriculum and instruction . . . . I had that in my head when I replied above but it didn't get to the keyboard. But here in California, I think the common core was understood mostly as the "what" rather than the … Read More

            Don — I should have acknowledged that some folks have criticized the common core of overstepping the usual bounds for academic content standards as goals and instead getting into the bounds for curriculum and instruction . . . . I had that in my head when I replied above but it didn’t get to the keyboard. But here in California, I think the common core was understood mostly as the “what” rather than the “how to” until late 2013 [in part, probably, because that was the understanding for our previous 1997 academic content standards]. But the worm turned when AB 484 was approved Oct 2013 with the language in Sec 60603 (q) that “MAPP” [which was subsequently changed to CAASPP] “means a comprehensive assessment system, including consortium-developed assessments, that has the PRIMARY PURPOSE of modeling and promoting high quality teaching and instruction using a variety of assessment approaches and item types.” The Chair of the Asm Ed Comm objected to this, noting the primary purpose was to measure achievement of students, not to serve as a model for a particular brand of teaching and instruction. But that objection did not win the day in the legislature, and the language remained. Since Oct 2013, the focus for the Smarter Balanced assessments in California has been on changing instructional methods rather than measuring achievement. I’d suggest AB 484, with its misstatement of what should be the primary purpose of CA’s statewide assessment program, has been a primary element for CA’s entire implementation of the Common Core standards (from instruction to assessments to accountability) going off-track in the way I’ve described in this interchange.

            By the way, I might note that I’m neither an advocate nor a detractor for the common core in California . . . . rather, I’m rather agnostic on the common core. That comes from my experience as a test developer for large scale K-12 tests. From a test developer viewpoint, the task is to develop valid reliable fair tests to measure whatever academic content standards are adopted for the state or agency wanting to use the test. So, from that perspective, academic content standards are viewed as the “what” is the desired learning and test developers made strong efforts not to bias the tests for or against any particular approach to curriculum and instruction. Believe me, over the years I’ve had many curriculum and instruction folks come to me (or the organizations I worked for) lobbying to change the tests we developed to favor their particular flavor for curriculum and instruction. But to do that would impinge on the validity reliability fairness of our tests for students not being taught with that particular flavor . . . . and make the tests less useful and/or attractive for the entire population of K-12 students. When asked if the common core adopted by California in 2010 was a move forward or not, my reply was that common core was probably a small move in a positive direction for ELA, but probably a move backward for mathematics (at least for the secondary grades). But, I’d also acknowledge that after 13 years, some revision of the 1997 standards was in order, and I saw the common core as a relatively modest revision of the previous standards. I think many in CA saw the common core in that light until fall 2013 when in order to get AB 484 approved by the legislature, the SSPI and Pres SBE embarked on a campaign to present the common core as a major change for WHAT we wanted our students to know, and in that way changed the political narrative for CA’s effort to implement the new common core content standards.

            • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

              yes, and the objection would have been equally valid had we never moved to the common core what standards.

              interesting such language was allowed given the restriction on ‘teaching to the test’ that exists elsewhere…

  4. Not Sure What To Think Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    As a parent, I think all students need to take tests and the tests need to be done. I believe portfolio, and group grades, and project based learning should only make up 30% of all grades and the simple, old fashion tests, done on computer with fill in answers and other things (done individually) are needed. I believe Governor Brown should call for testing to be continued. I also believe each school also needs a … Read More

    As a parent, I think all students need to take tests and the tests need to be done.

    I believe portfolio, and group grades, and project based learning should only make up 30% of all grades and the simple, old fashion tests, done on computer with fill in answers and other things (done individually) are needed.

    I believe Governor Brown should call for testing to be continued. I also believe each school also needs a test grade.

    Yes, we can use new forms of learning, but, we need to keep the old way of individual testing and checking to ensure all standards in each grade are covered.

    Strict accountability is a good thing.

  5. Doug McRae 1 year ago1 year ago

    This post describes Gov Brown as a leader without a sound grasp of the role of metrics for guiding our public schools in a steady consistent positive direction. The role of metrics has to be measuring something worth measuring that can be measured, that is the underlying achievement of students on important academic goals (like English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and History Social Studies, and to a lesser extent supporting goals) without being diverted toward attempts … Read More

    This post describes Gov Brown as a leader without a sound grasp of the role of metrics for guiding our public schools in a steady consistent positive direction.

    The role of metrics has to be measuring something worth measuring that can be measured, that is the underlying achievement of students on important academic goals (like English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and History Social Studies, and to a lesser extent supporting goals) without being diverted toward attempts to dictate how teachers teach or how curriculum and instruction is delivered at the local level. And these foundational metrics have to be present for any kind of credible accountability system for taxpayers who pay the bill for K-12 public education in California.

    Our evolving statewide assessment system (CAASPP) has been hijacked to serve other purposes, such as attempts to provide illustrations of one type of good instruction, and leverage to increase the role of technology in our schools. The goals of illustrating various kinds of good instructional practices, and increasing use of technology by our students, are worthy goals, but focusing on these goals while failing to provide sound measurement for underlying achievement yields a system without solid guidance, moving from bandwagon to bandwagon, increasingly judged as not producing satisfactory results by a justifiably frustrated body of unhappy taxpayers.

    In this environment, quoting Aristotle or Einstein and reflective philosophy is not providing effective leadership. I sense what might be influencing Gov Brown in this regard . . . . like Gov Brown I was educated 50+ years ago by the Jesuits with focus on the ideals of liberal education. And a substantial percentage of my classmates headed to law school and humanity-based careers, rather than science or quantitative careers. It wasn’t until grad school that I began to learn the basics for use of metrics to measure directions for societal systems like K-12 education in the US. California taxpayers can only hope that Gov Brown can rise above his lack of grasp of the role of metrics for guiding our public schools, and focus on measuring underlying academic achievement in our schools and using those measurements for appropriate accountability for our schools. The Gov is correct that teachers have differing teaching styles and students have differing learning styles, and that curriculum and instruction should not attempt to make those differing teaching styles and learning styles into a cookie cutter. Unfortunately, the currently developing statewide assessment and accountability systems (CAASPP and LCAP) are themselves driving curriculum and instruction toward a cookie cutter mode, rather than serving their foundational underlying purposes.

    Replies

    • TheMorrigan 1 year ago1 year ago

      Besides the fact that Brown quoted Einstein, what specifically is written that “describes Gov Brown as a leader without a sound grasp of the role of metrics for guiding our public schools in a steady consistent positive direction”?

      Sounds like he is looking for more balance and not turn into a state like Florida.

    • Ann 1 year ago1 year ago

      Doug you are so on the money with this comment. I work on the ground and the drive toward specific curriculum, strategy and technology decries Brown’s underlying excuse for not relying on metrics: namely that students learn differently and teachers teach differently. And of course as you say, even if that were true one would still want to measure outcomes based on the academic standards we have adopted.

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