Carl Cohn

Carl Cohn

Whenever I finish teaching a doctoral level course at my university, I always remind my students that, no matter what they’ve learned in my class, they should never abandon their common sense when it comes to running schools. Both the U.S. Department of Education and a number of California interest groups, presenting themselves as the sole protectors of students of color, could benefit from that admonition.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 484, ushering in a one-year respite from the state’s 15-year-old standardized testing program. The goal was to give students and teachers a year to prepare for new tests intended to measure how well students are doing on the Common Core State Standards.

The California Standards Tests, which millions of students have taken each spring since 1998, are widely regarded as outdated, and in need of reform. They consist mainly of multiple choice questions, measuring only a fraction of the “deeper learning” that students are expected to acquire. The spring of 2014 would have been the last year students would have taken them anyway.

The governor, the State Board of Education, and the state superintendent of public instruction have all agreed that common sense should carry the day when it comes to new assessments in California. Concerned parents, hard-working classroom teachers and dedicated school principals all recognize the validity of this forward-looking approach.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has in any case encouraged states to apply for waivers to administer pilot or field tests for the Common Core in place of their outdated tests. That was to prepare them for more intensive, “computer adaptive” tests all students will take in the spring 2015. Just as in California, those states would not be required to publish the results of the pilot Common Core assessments.

The only difference is that California is saying that students only have to take pilot tests in either math or English language arts this spring. The following spring they would have to take both.

Yet Secretary Duncan is now threatening to withhold at least $15 million – and potentially billions more – in funds intended for our most challenged students as a punishment for California deciding what is best for these very same students. He is doing so even as he tries to force California to enforce a law that he himself has publicly criticized for failing to achieve its central purpose – to leave no child behind.

I am amazed that the leaders of the U.S. Education Department appear to think that school leaders in California are nothing more than a bunch of “southern sheriffs,” who are determined to “turn back the clock” when it comes to looking out for the civil rights of poor and minority students. And, that only the high-handed threat of denying poor kids the money to which they are entitled will bring us to our senses. This is a sad commentary on what passes for leadership in Washington today.

The future of our nation will not be threatened if our schools don’t have standardized test scores for one year. Educators who espouse this nonsense should seriously examine whether they are worthy of the title. The fact that these educators have indicated that they couldn’t possibly know how students are doing without the state telling them risks branding them as incompetents.

The notion that today’s Washington has the answers for California, when it comes to improving the life chances of students who historically haven’t been well-served by the public schools, is completely devoid of reason. They seem to have forgotten that even without the annual standardized tests, students still take multiple tests throughout the school year administered by their teachers.

Typically these locally administered tests are far more useful to students teachers and parents than the California Standards Tests, because results are available soon after they are taken and can be used to inform what and how students learn. By contrast, the state’s standardized tests are taken close to the end of the school year, and published months after students have taken them. The test takers may not even be in the same school any longer by the time the results are released.

When I was superintendent of the Long Beach Unified, we decided that every third-grader would sit with a well-prepared teacher and a book with a known reading level. The teacher, using an approved scoring rubric, would make a determination with regard to whether or not the youngster was reading at grade level. And if they were not at grade level, we provided them with a required five-week summer intervention program designed to address their reading challenges.

Yes, we actually acted on our own data without the state of California, or Washington, telling us how our third-graders were doing. That was a novel idea way back in the dark ages of the 1990s. Parenthetically, I would point out that that school system ended up winning the prestigious Broad Prize in a national competition, and today is hailed by the Battelle for Kids Foundation as one of the five best school systems worldwide.

If Washington recognized the importance of common sense, they would be applauding California’s remarkable $1.25 billion investment in preparing our schools for the new Common Core State Standards. I dare anyone at any level of the U.S. Department of Education to name a state that is doing more to embrace these new standards than California – standards that this same department was so enthusiastic about that it made states adopt them to be eligible to compete for its $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund.

Instead, our commitment to prepare for these standards is met with threats, bluster and ill-conceived brinkmanship as it tries to force the state to continue to enforce every aspect of the No Child Left Behind law – a George W. Bush-era initiative that all thoughtful leaders, including President Obama and Secretary Duncan, recognize has outlived its usefulness.

Further, if Washington truly cared about empowering parents and local communities to collaborate with school systems on better preparing students for college, careers and civic participation, they would be enthusiastically embracing Gov. Brown’s ground-breaking reform of the state’s antiquated and inequitable school funding system.

On the scale on which it is being implemented it is the most exciting development in education in several decades. To a greater extent than any other state, the state is targeting additional funds to school districts so they can better meet the needs of low-income students, English learners, and foster children.

California is ushering in a long overdue return to common sense. For that, it should be rewarded with praise, not punishment.

Carl A. Cohn, the former superintendent of Long Beach and San Diego Unified School Districts, is a member of the State Board of Education and Director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University. (Cohn is also a member of the EdSource Board of Directors. This commentary represents his views and not necessarily those of EdSource or its board.)

A shorter version of this commentary was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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  1. Bill Younglove 3 years ago3 years ago

    Right on, Carl! The paragraph that caught my attention, though, was (I just removed our state's name so that any/all state names can, potentially, be entered): "The notion that Washington has the answers for ______________ when it comes to improving the life chances of students who historically haven't been well served by the public schools is completely devoid of reason. They seem to have forgotten that even without the annual standardized tests, students still … Read More

    Right on, Carl!
    The paragraph that caught my attention, though, was (I just removed our state’s name so that any/all state names can, potentially, be entered):
    “The notion that Washington has the answers for ______________ when it comes to improving the life chances of students who historically haven’t been well served by the public schools is completely devoid of reason. They seem to have forgotten that even without the annual standardized tests, students still take tests throughout the school year, administered by their teachers.”

    Replies

    • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

      While I agree with recognizing that, there is an important difference between those and our standardized ones. The latter were designed to compare students and schools and districts and thus they are standardized, they don’t inform instruction, and the results are not published. As a result, from the accountability perspective, it does not matter that they are given.

      • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

        Sorry, ‘are published’

  2. Carl Cohn 3 years ago3 years ago

    What “other states” do should hardly be the standard for California, Doug…We are not suffering from “Stockholm syndrome.”

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 3 years ago3 years ago

      Carl -- I agree that just seeing what other states are doing is not a good "standard" for California. But ignoring what other states are doing is also not a good practice for any state -- especially for an assessment system design dictated by AB 484 that ignores good large scale assessment system design practices that I articulated above and is sold to the legislature via a classic back room end-of-session power play and a … Read More

      Carl — I agree that just seeing what other states are doing is not a good “standard” for California. But ignoring what other states are doing is also not a good practice for any state — especially for an assessment system design dictated by AB 484 that ignores good large scale assessment system design practices that I articulated above and is sold to the legislature via a classic back room end-of-session power play and a political PR campaign led by the SSPI and SBE Pres that featured flushing the prior “outdated” assessment system without open consideration of how it could be used for a rationale transition to the new system (again, see extensive comment above) and the need for a “clean break” from the old system punctuated by a ban on developing comparability data from the old to the new [which is a standard good large scale assessment practice that was included in the SSPI’s recommendation to the legislature January 2013, but dumped in a 180 degree turn by the SSPI in late Aug/early Sept in order to message support for AB 484]. We need to remember that the feds concern re CA’s new assessment plan revolves around meeting long standing requirements for student testing data in order to qualify for the significant Title I funds, and that CA is not entitled to those funds unless it meets those requirements.

  3. Deborah Blair Porter 3 years ago3 years ago

    With all due respect to Dr. Cohn, in light of how poorly California’s students with disabilities (SWD) have fared over at least the past decade, the interest of US DOE in what is happening for these students, as infrequent as it is, is refreshing to California parents. For not only is CDE NOT doing its job to ensure progress in closing the achievement gap for this segment of California’s students, it is actively working … Read More

    With all due respect to Dr. Cohn, in light of how poorly California’s students with disabilities (SWD) have fared over at least the past decade, the interest of US DOE in what is happening for these students, as infrequent as it is, is refreshing to California parents. For not only is CDE NOT doing its job to ensure progress in closing the achievement gap for this segment of California’s students, it is actively working against such progress and is thus a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution. This is nowhere more evident than in its recent recommendations to the SBE with regard to API (Item 10), in which it has advocated a wholesale forfeiture of accountability for the lack of progress of SWD, not only on behalf of CDE, but also on behalf of local education agencies, the SELPAs and the County Offices of Education.

    Despite the fact that there are well-intentioned individuals at all levels of California’s educational system, when the policies put forth by CDE itself compromise progress for SWD, it impacts ALL students within this subgroup, including those SWD who unfortunately are not among the ELL or SED students who will be fortunate enough to receive additional services pursuant to progressive LCFF interventions, but still need the sort of assistance that legislation was intended to create for California’s “disadvantaged” students, yet
    will still be left out in the cold.

    One only needs to look at California’s June 2012 request for a waiver from NCLB, and how it not only “disappeared” SWD by failing to mention them at all, but misrepresented progress by students in general, as well as the robustness of California’s accountability system (which fails to meaningfully include or account for this population), to see why US DOE is interested in what California is up to.

    One needs only compare the State Performance Plan and Annual Performance Report CDE presented to the SBE at its recent meeting (Item 15) to the findings of LAO’s January 3, 2013 “Overview of Special Education” http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/edu/special-ed-primer/special-ed-primer-010313.aspx, to see what window-dressing CDE is serving up as “accountability” and “compliance.”

    Dr. Cohn, if everyone proceeded with the same hard work and good intentions you do, California’s educational system, including its SWD, would probably be in a much better place. Unfortunately, far too many California public education agencies are more concerned with the interests of their agency than the students they are supposed to be serving.

    Personally, I believe the more the SBE treats with skepticism what California’s public agencies bring to it, the better off California’s students – and California as a whole – will be.

    Replies

    • el 3 years ago3 years ago

      Perhaps I have something to learn. I have difficulty understanding how you can lump all Students With Disabilities into a single bucket and expect them to all be grade level proficient on state standardized tests. I am 100% in favor of all SWD kids getting a great education, the best and most appropriate education we can give, and I think it's important that everyone consider that a priority. But, I think getting them educated to their … Read More

      Perhaps I have something to learn. I have difficulty understanding how you can lump all Students With Disabilities into a single bucket and expect them to all be grade level proficient on state standardized tests.

      I am 100% in favor of all SWD kids getting a great education, the best and most appropriate education we can give, and I think it’s important that everyone consider that a priority. But, I think getting them educated to their full potential is not well measured by the difference between them and the state’s highest performing kids on bubble tests – ie fretting about the numeric size of “the achievement gap.” For some kids, they absolutely have the ability to end up Advanced in every topic. Unfortunately, there are other kids who carry with them a biologic reality that no human institution can repair. If our “accountability” system cannot distinguish the difference, we do everyone a disservice.

      • Deborah Blair Porter 3 years ago3 years ago

        Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my comments. El says: “I have difficulty understanding how you can lump all Students With Disabilities into a single bucket and expect them to all be grade level proficient on state standardized tests.” Actually, I don’t believe I am lumping “all students with disabilities into a single bucket” nor do I “expect them all to be grade level proficient on state standardized tests.” I am addressing … Read More

        Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my comments.

        El says: “I have difficulty understanding how you can lump all Students With Disabilities into a single bucket and expect them to all be grade level proficient on state standardized tests.”

        Actually, I don’t believe I am lumping “all students with disabilities into a single bucket” nor do I “expect them all to be grade level proficient on state standardized tests.” I am addressing the issue from the perspective that “all students with disabilities,” just as their typical peers, should be taught to their potential, just as both state and federal law require. Isn’t this what the law generally says and what we (and again, the law) expect, i.e., for ALL California students to be grade level proficient? That’s what is called having “high expectations,” a fundamental premise behind the enactment of the IDEA in 1975 and foundational to California’s mission and vision for educating its students. Without high expectations, we doom kids out of the gate, so I believe that needs to be the starting point for any discussion.

        My point to Dr. Cohn is that California has unfortunately failed miserably in this regard and it is, in no small part, directly attributable to California education agencies having low expectations for students with disabilities as a group and when such students struggle, instead of aiming for the ceiling and providing the more intensive services they need to make appropriate progress, such agencies instead aim for the floor and: 1) either dumb down the process (as is the case with California’s gross misuse of alternate assessments, where upwards of 54% of kids who should be taking California’s standards-based tests are instead shunted into alternate assessments that allow public agencies to give the appearance of progress, when it is not in keeping with the abilities of these students [see LAO’s January 2013 Report]) so the kids don’t make progress toward proficiency; or 2) eliminate the requirement altogether (as in the case of the CAHSEE, which California law requires students to pass in order to graduate, but which students with disabilities have been exempted from since 2009, because California doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that it has failed miserably in teaching these students to proficiency, at the same time it mischaracterizes them as “graduates” in its annual reporting to US DOE in order to continue to receive federal funding) so that the lack of proficiency is excused. I think it is this sort of “accountability” in California (i.e., NO accountability) that does a far greater disservice to the student, his family, his community and our state.

        Research as well as guidance from educational institutions including the US DOE have demonstrated that only a small number (perhaps 1% or less) of students with disabilities have the sort of severe cognitive disabilities (which I believe is what you refer to as carrying “a biologic reality that no human institution can repair”) that would prevent them from reaching their potential and achieving in the same manner as their typical peers. The rest should be achieving at a far greater rate and achieving greater proficiency in the state standards than they are in California. Other states are doing it and there are even some districts here in California that are doing it. But with the low expectations that are the standard in California from top to bottom, it isn’t going to happen without significant change.

        Nor do I think my post is “fretting about the numeric size of the ‘achievement gap’” when the “achievement gap,” its numeric size and closing it, has been a significant principle in the goals and objectives of at least the last two State Superintendents of Public Instruction here in California. See, http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/pc/documents/yr073yrplan.pdf for O’Connell and http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/documents/greatnessfinal.pdf for Torlakson.

        When IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 it emphasized the need to align the law with other school improvement efforts, including under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. (20 U. S. C. §1400(c)(5)(C)). At that time, Congress found that: “The education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom to meet developmental goals and . . . the challenging expectations that have been established for all children . . .” (20 U. S. C. §1400(c)(5)(A))

        Bottom line, I am simply insisting these students receive what the law already requires, i.e., the right to reach their potential by our public education agencies providing sufficient and appropriate services for these students to reach that potential, that is, doing the job they signed up for and for which they annually collect both federal and state dollars. In so doing, we should have the same “high expectations” for students with disabilities as we do for all California kids, ensure they have the same “access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom” so that they can meet the “challenging expectations that have been established for all children.”

        • el 3 years ago3 years ago

          Thanks for taking the time to reply. I am led to believe by special ed parents that my local district is doing a pretty good job of really looking out for special needs kids and meeting those needs. Perhaps the error I am seeing and the concern that I have is that I think the SWD bucket is considered as too large a group. We have kids who are blind but who have no cognitive difficulties; those … Read More

          Thanks for taking the time to reply.

          I am led to believe by special ed parents that my local district is doing a pretty good job of really looking out for special needs kids and meeting those needs.

          Perhaps the error I am seeing and the concern that I have is that I think the SWD bucket is considered as too large a group. We have kids who are blind but who have no cognitive difficulties; those kids need significant additional help and intervention but there is no reason they shouldn’t have high achievement. It makes no sense to put that student in the same measurement group as a student recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury. We also have some kids who are autistic but who are extremely capable when their needs are met – and yet entirely nonfunctional in a school system that won’t accommodate them.

          Is it possible we can divide these kids up more meaningfully if we’re trying to measure school results? The Paralympic Games have multiple classifications and then degree of impairment within each classification. I wonder if a similar structure might be useful for schools.

          • CarolineSF 3 years ago3 years ago

            I know special-education advocates who are outraged at the idea that special education students should be tested along with general-ed students. I also know parents of children with disabilities who are outraged at the suggestion that anyone should suggest that their children NOT be tested. Naturally enough, those parents are the ones whose children are high-functioning academically -- their disabilities either don't impair their academic ability or may actually correlate with academic ability. It seems pretty clear … Read More

            I know special-education advocates who are outraged at the idea that special education students should be tested along with general-ed students.

            I also know parents of children with disabilities who are outraged at the suggestion that anyone should suggest that their children NOT be tested. Naturally enough, those parents are the ones whose children are high-functioning academically — their disabilities either don’t impair their academic ability or may actually correlate with academic ability.

            It seems pretty clear that students with disabilities can’t be put into one bucket — test them all or exempt them all.

            Deborah Blair Porter says: “Research as well as guidance from educational institutions including the US DOE have demonstrated that only a small number (perhaps 1% or less) of students with disabilities have the sort of severe cognitive disabilities (which I believe is what you refer to as carrying “a biologic reality that no human institution can repair”) that would prevent them from reaching their potential and achieving in the same manner as their typical peers.”

            EdSource Today folks, could you possibly check into that and confirm for your readers? And what would that number be in terms of hard number and total percentage of California students?

            Deborah Blair Porter, what testing process do you advocate for that 1%?

            Also, what districts and what states are you referring to here? “The rest should be achieving at a far greater rate and achieving greater proficiency in the state standards than they are in California. Other states are doing it and there are even some districts here in California that are doing it.”

            • Deborah Blair Porter 3 years ago3 years ago

              Caroline, I know many parents and advocates believe special education students should not be tested along with general ed students. I used to be one of them. The way the special education system fails these students in general makes the educational process, including the assessment process, unbearable. With some it is the way assessments are administered, i.e., often without proper accommodations or taking the student’s needs into consideration and thus stressful for students. … Read More

              Caroline, I know many parents and advocates believe special education students should not be tested along with general ed students. I used to be one of them. The way the special education system fails these students in general makes the educational process, including the assessment process, unbearable. With some it is the way assessments are administered, i.e., often without proper accommodations or taking the student’s needs into consideration and thus stressful for students. For others, it can be a function of anxiety or sensory issues related to the classroom environment. I know there are many who are philosophically opposed to standardized assessment. But without assessment, the question becomes how do you objectively measure whether the student is making progress toward state standards? Is using subjective teacher measures more preferable? Unfortunately, there is so much inconsistency among teachers that doesn’t work and it doesn’t seem to meet an objectively measurable standard. Students are assessed by professionals, so we know it can be done. The question is how to do it properly and achieve a result that measures what a student has learned. It is true there may be some who are “untestable”, just as it is true there are parents who will absolutely refuse to allow it. But I don’t think that is the majority. Most parents need to know if their child has made progress and want accountability if it hasn’t happened.

              And it isn’t just “those parents” whose kids are high-functioning. I knew my son was struggling, but I believed school staff all those years when they said testing would “stress” my son and so we withheld him from testing. Several years down the road when I realized I had no objective measure of his lack of progress in reading and language, I began having him participate in testing. He wasn’t stressed. He was happy he got to do what the rest of the kids were doing. Actually, it turned out to be the only objective measure I had of his overall lack of progress. In my opinion, having a measure of progress was far more preferable than leaving it to individuals who subjectively said “he’s doing fine” when he wasn’t.

              Caroline, in looking at what you excerpted of my comment about the number of students with severe cognitive disabilities, I now realize my comment had a typo and omitted a zero, which may account for your question here (and later). It should read only a small number (perhaps 10% or less) of students with disabilities (which comes to approximately 1% of all students) have the sort of severe cognitive disabilities that would prevent them from achieving grade-level expectations in the same manner as their typical peers. Sorry about that and hope that clarifies it for you.

              With regard to citation of the stats, I am not sure what the original document was where these figures were first mentioned, but you can go to a couple of links that discuss it all in the context of NCLB and IDEA, here:
              1) Rod Paige’s 06/27/03 letter providing guidance on assessment of students with disabilities http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/secletter/030627.html
              2) A 2009 Report prepared by the American Institutes for Research for US DOE regarding State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, Volume V—Implementation of the 1 Percent Rule and 2 Percent Interim Policy Options. (Page 15) http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/disadv/nclb-disab/nclb-disab.pdf.

              You also asked “what testing process do you advocate for that 1%?” Based on my clarification above, I believe you are referring to the other 90% of students with disabilities who do not have the most “significant cognitive disabilities.” I don’t advocate a particular testing process. Instead, I think that assessment needs to follow the principles of universal design and be accessible, along the lines of what CAST (http://www.cast.org/udl/) has been working on in the years since IDEA was reauthorized. Interestingly, the most recent SBE meeting had a presentation (Item 8) that discussed these universal design principles, which are often available to both typical students as well as students with disabilities. Here is a link to one of the documents. http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/SmarterBalanced_Guidelines_091113.pdf. These are a good first step to ensuring that all students be assessed meaningfully, without harmful stress and strain that typically accompanies assessment for all students.

              The Districts in California that in California are accomplishing significant academic progress for students with disabilities were referenced in a report by Tom Parrish and the American Institute for Research presented to the SBE and California’s ACSE entitled “Academically Strong California Districts for Students in Special Education” in 2011 I think. The meetings at which he presented are no longer available on ACSE’s or SBE’s site, but here a link to a version of the report available on CalStat. http://www.calstat.org/ISES/pdf/lessons_from_ca_districts_strong_spec_ed_academic_performance.pdf.

              Hope this is helpful.

          • Deborah Blair Porter 3 years ago3 years ago

            If your local district is truly meeting student needs, students with disabilities in your district (and their parents) are very lucky. Unfortunately, they are the exception to the California rule. Check out the SBE’s press release regarding its Special Education Task Force, which confirms the problems I mention. http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/pn/pn/ssetfprojectsummary.asp.

  4. Carl Cohn 3 years ago3 years ago

    Doug, I don't think it's "divisive rhetoric" to call the Feds out for acting like bullies...Also, you know from our many conversations that, if the "respite" ended up being longer than a single year, I wouldn't be disturbed if it better served the interests of students and hard-working classroom teachers. Read More

    Doug, I don’t think it’s “divisive rhetoric” to call the Feds out for acting like bullies…Also, you know from our many conversations that, if the “respite” ended up being longer than a single year, I wouldn’t be disturbed if it better served the interests of students and hard-working classroom teachers.

    Replies

    • Doug McRae 3 years ago3 years ago

      Carl -- Perhaps we have a different view of what acting like bullies looks like. The recent ED letter seemed to me a simple spelling out of the potential consequences for not agreeing to long-standing requirements for qualifying for federal Title I funding. Duncan's more informal comment after the early Sept amendment for 484 was made public, before the legislative votes, was a simple "that's not how to do it" statement referencing CA's plan to … Read More

      Carl — Perhaps we have a different view of what acting like bullies looks like. The recent ED letter seemed to me a simple spelling out of the potential consequences for not agreeing to long-standing requirements for qualifying for federal Title I funding. Duncan’s more informal comment after the early Sept amendment for 484 was made public, before the legislative votes, was a simple “that’s not how to do it” statement referencing CA’s plan to drop the old tests before the new tests were ready for prime time . . . . other states (except for Montana, which is a bit of a special case in that they are much further down the path of implementation of common core instruction and have many years experience with computerized testing, not to mention that total MT enrollment is less than the local districts you have led . . . ) are continuing with their older tests until the new tests and their supporting components are ready for implementation. And several states have modified their older tests to focus on common core standards that overlap with their previous standards, or produced more customized new common core tests that do not have the full range of components that the consortia tests have promised. These strategies describe standard ways to transition to new statewide assessment programs [including how CA did it back in the early 00’s with the transition from STAR being primarily NRT to being primarily CST]. And, yes, I know you are comfortable if the “respite” is more than a single year, but I fail to see how a “respite” of two [or more likely more than two] years will better serve the interests of students and hard-working teachers. Such a longer term respite may make students and teachers less anxious about results from standardized statewide tests, but it would be at the expense of data that should serve to inform strategic planning for programs, schools, districts, and the state as a whole, and to keep the collective attentions on the areas that need improvement.

  5. Doug McRae 3 years ago3 years ago

    I absolutely agree with Carl Cohn that school leaders should never abandon their common sense when it comes to running schools. But, I have to respectfully disagree that AB 484 is a common sense way to design a transition to a new statewide assessment system. Cohn says AB 484 provides a 1-yr respite from the old system to allow students and teachers a year to prepare for the new system. But, the evidence discussed at the state … Read More

    I absolutely agree with Carl Cohn that school leaders should never abandon their common sense when it comes to running schools.

    But, I have to respectfully disagree that AB 484 is a common sense way to design a transition to a new statewide assessment system.

    Cohn says AB 484 provides a 1-yr respite from the old system to allow students and teachers a year to prepare for the new system. But, the evidence discussed at the state board meeting last week included information that instruction for the common core would not be substantially installed until 2016 for math and 2017 for E/LA, yet AB 484 calls for assessments in 2015. Is that common sense? No, the common sense sequence is for statewide assessments to follow implementation of instruction. Also, while AB 484 focuses on computer administration for item tryout “field test” exercises in 2014 and full computer-adaptive tests in 2015, the current evidence is that only half of CA districts/schools have the technology readiness for large scale statewide assessments. Looking forward, a reasonable projection is that tech readiness [both the hardware/bandwidth aspects and the IT support/teacher/kid human aspects] will not be present until 2018. Is it common sense to require computerized testing four years in advance of tech readiness? No, a common sense strategic planning approach would be to design a 4-yr transition to a full computer-adaptive test. AB 484’s “1-yr respite” has all the signs of being a 4-yr train wreck distraction [not unlike the CLAS statewide assessment system in the early 1990’s] from overall efforts to implement CA’s new commom core standards.

    Cohn also describes CA’s old STAR tests as being outdated. I agree the STAR CST’s need to be replaced with tests specifically designed to measure the common core, but when one looks objectively at CA’s 1997 content standards and the new common core content standards one finds a good degree of overlap for both content and rigor. A common sense approach to a 4-yr transition would be to use that overlap for short-form “common core” versions of the old STAR CSTs . . . . this strategy would save time and money to allow schools to participate in final test development exercises for new computer-adaptive common core tests for the next several years, to finalize implementation of common core instruction, and to address tech readiness issues. Also, a 4-yr transition would allow for common sense good statewide assessment design practices such as comparability data between old tests and new tests [which AB 484 explicitly prohibits, with no reasonable explanation] and comparability data between paper/pencil and computer-adaptive tests. In other words, there is a far more common sense way to proceed than a “1-yr respite” per AB 484.

    I do agree with Cohn’s comment that it would be most unfortunate if the feds penalize CA billions of dollars intended for services for our most challenged students due to the assessment design flaws in AB 484. But, we should acknowledge the dilemma CA has forced on the feds. Federal Title I funds have supported socio-economic disadvantaged students for almost 50 years, and there have been two bedrock requirements for states to participate in Title I funding [$1.8 billion for CA]: (1) spend these federal dollars to “supplement” rather than “supplant” (or replace) state dollars for services for SED students, and (2) supply pre-post test data for both E/LA and Math to measure academic progress for students served by Title I. It is the second requirement that California has defiantly challenged via AB 484. Cohn’s description of ED’s warning letter is divisive rhetoric that does not recognize the core of the issue that in return for the money, there are requirements . . . . I would hope the feds can find a way to use their 8000 lb gorilla leverage to bring CA to a common sense solution for the severe flaws in AB 484’s statewide assessment transition design, and not directly withhold federal dollars from our most challenged students.

    By the way, I absolutely agree with Carl that the “future of our nation will not be threatened if our schools do not have standardized test scores for one year” [tho the “future of our nation” is a tad overstated rhetoric . . . ]. But I do object to the selling of AB 484 by CDE/SSPI/SBE circles to the legislature and governor as a 1-yr respite when in fact it is a 4-yr issue. That was not common sense, it was pure political gamemanship complete with rhetorical twisting of the facts. And, I also agree with Carl’s description of good local district assessment practices in Long Beach. Good local district assessment program practices are part and parcel of good local district instructional programs, and these programs should be the epitomy of local control (or, as the Gov would say, the core of subsidiarity for schools) that should not be encroached by statewide assessments or federal influences. The problem is not good practices in Long Beach, it is AB 484’s use of statewide assessment mandates to intrude on local district instructional practices . . . . that intrusion goes far beyond what the role for a mandatory statewide assessment program should be. AB 484 intrusion on local control is not based on common sense.

    Finally, I agree with Carl’s observation that CA’s new LCFF system is an educational reform well worth embracing. On this issue, California is ushering in a long overdue return to common sense, and should be rewarded with praise. Unfortunately, that same accolade cannot be attached to California’s lack of common sense in designing a transition to a new statewide assessment system to measure the common core, per AB 484.

  6. john mockler 3 years ago3 years ago

    Ok Carl good stuff! Needs to be said a lot more and a lot louder best

  7. navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

    The fact that these educators have indicated that they couldn’t possibly know how students are doing without the state telling them risks branding them as incompetents. I would say the same for those asking for more guidance on how to use the LCFF funds. The problem there is that local control means locally elected officials listening to the community, or the other local political interests who speak the loudest. And those who speak the loudest there … Read More

    The fact that these educators have indicated that they couldn’t possibly know how students are doing without the state telling them risks branding them as incompetents.

    I would say the same for those asking for more guidance on how to use the LCFF funds. The problem there is that local control means locally elected officials listening to the community, or the other local political interests who speak the loudest. And those who speak the loudest there generally are not who the new funding formula is intended to help. Having guidance allows them to appear incompetent by avoiding having to justify their actions (the single thing I think most communities really want to hear from their districts), and worse, it inhibits innovation. Coming from the people who are supposed to be the experts, this does not engender confidence.