Fordham report predictable, conflicted

On November 17, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will decide the fate of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Partnership for Assessment of College Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in the Bay State. MCAS is homegrown; PARCC is not. Barring unexpected compromises or subterfuges, only one program will survive.

Over the past year, PARCC promoters have released a stream of reports comparing the two testing programs. The latest arrives from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in the form of a partial “evaluation of the content and quality of the 2014 MCAS and PARCC “relative to” the “Criteria for High Quality Assessments”[i] developed by one of the organizations that developed Common Core’s standards—with the rest of the report to be delivered in January, it says.[ii]

PARCC continues to insult our intelligence. The language of the “special report” sent to Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, reads like a legitimate study.[iii] The research it purports to have done even incorporated some processes typically employed in studies with genuine intentions of objectivity.

No such intentions could validly be ascribed to the Fordham report.

First, Common Core’s primary private financier, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pays the Fordham Institute handsomely to promote the standards and its associated testing programs. A cursory search through the Gates Foundation web site reveals $3,562,116 granted to Fordham since 2009 expressly for Common Core promotion or “general operating support.”[iv] Gates awarded an additional $653,534 between 2006 and 2009 for forming advocacy networks, which have since been used to push Common Core. All of the remaining Gates-to-Fordham grants listed supported work promoting charter schools in Ohio ($2,596,812), reputedly the nation’s worst.[v]

The other research entities involved in the latest Fordham study either directly or indirectly derive sustenance at the Gates Foundation dinner table:

– the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), which will deliver another pro-PARCC report sometime soon,[vi]
– the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), co-holder of the Common Core copyright and author of the “Criteria.”, [vii]
– the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), headed by Linda Darling-Hammond, the chief organizer of the other federally-subsidized Common Core-aligned testing program, the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC),[viii] and
– Student Achievement Partners, the organization that claims to have inspired the Common Core standards[ix]

Fordham acknowledges the pervasive conflicts of interest it claims it faced in locating people to evaluate MCAS versus PARCC. “…it is impossible to find individuals with zero conflicts who are also experts”.[x] But, the statement is false; hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of individuals experienced in “alignment or assessment development studies” were available.[xi] That they were not called reveals Fordham’s preferences.

A second reason Fordham’s intentions are suspect rests with their choice of evaluation criteria. The “bible” of test developers is the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, jointly produced by the American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education, and the American Educational Research Association. Fordham did not use it.

Instead, Fordham chose to reference an alternate set of evaluation criteria concocted by the organization that co-sponsored the development of Common Core’s standards (Council for Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO), drawing on the work of Linda Darling-Hammond’s SCOPE, the Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), and a handful of others. Thus, Fordham compares PARCC to MCAS according to specifications that were designed for PARCC.[xii]

Had Fordham compared MCAS and PARCC using the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, MCAS would have passed and PARCC would have flunked. PARCC has not yet accumulated the most basic empirical evidence of reliability, validity, or fairness, and past experience with similar types of assessments suggest it will fail on all three counts.[xiii]

Third, PARCC should have been flunked had Fordham compared MCAS and PARCC using all 24+ of CCSSO’s “Criteria.” But Fordham chose to compare on only 15 of the criteria.[xiv] And those just happened to be the criteria favoring PARCC.

Fordham agreed to compare the two tests with respect to their alignment to Common Core-based criteria. With just one exception, the Fordham study avoided all the criteria in the groups “Meet overall assessment goals and ensure technical quality”, “Yield valuable report on student progress and performance”, “Adhere to best practices in test administration”, and “State specific criteria”[xv]

Not surprisingly, Fordham’s “memo” favors the Bay State’s adoption of PARCC. However, the authors of How PARCC’s false rigor stunts the academic growth of all students[xvi], released one week before Fordham’s “memo,” recommend strongly against the official adoption of PARCC after an analysis of its test items in reading and writing. They also do not recommend continuing with the current MCAS, which is also based on Common Core’s mediocre standards, chiefly because the quality of the grade 10 MCAS tests in math and ELA has deteriorated in the past seven or so years for reasons that are not yet clear. Rather, they recommend that Massachusetts return to its effective pre-Common Core standards and tests and assign the development and monitoring of the state’s mandated tests to a more responsible agency.

Perhaps the primary conceit of Common Core proponents is that ordinary multiple-choice-predominant standardized tests ignore some, and arguably the better, parts of learning (the deeper, higher, more rigorous, whatever)[xvii]. Ironically, it is they—opponents of traditional testing regimes—who propose that standardized tests measure everything. By contrast, most traditional standardized test advocates do not suggest that standardized tests can or should measure any and all aspects of learning.

Consider this standard from the Linda Darling-Hammond, et al. source document for the CCSSO criteria:

“Research: Conduct sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem, narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate, and demonstrate understanding of the subject under investigation. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, use advanced searches effectively, and assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience.”[xviii]

Who would oppose this as a learning objective? But, does it make sense as a standardized test component? How does one objectively and fairly measure “sustained research” in the one- or two-minute span of a standardized test question? In PARCC tests, this is done by offering students snippets of documentary source material and grading them as having analyzed the problem well if they cite two of those already-made-available sources.

But, that is not how research works. It is hardly the type of deliberation that comes to most people’s mind when they think about “sustained research”. Advocates for traditional standardized testing would argue that standardized tests should be used for what standardized tests do well; “sustained research” should be measured more authentically.

The authors of the aforementioned Pioneer Institute report recommend, as their 7th policy recommendation for Massachusetts:

“Establish a junior/senior-year interdisciplinary research paper requirement as part of the state’s graduation requirements—to be assessed at the local level following state guidelines—to prepare all students for authentic college writing.”[xix]

PARCC and the Fordham Institute propose that they can validly, reliably, and fairly measure the outcome of what is normally a weeks- or months-long project in a minute or two.[xx] It is attempting to measure that which cannot be well measured on standardized tests that makes PARCC tests “deeper” than others. In practice, the alleged deeper parts of PARCC are the most convoluted and superficial.

Appendix A of the source document for the CCSSO criteria provides three international examples of “high-quality assessments” in Singapore, Australia, and England.[xxi] None are standardized test components. Rather, all are projects developed over extended periods of time—weeks or months—as part of regular course requirements.

Common Core proponents scoured the globe to locate “international benchmark” examples of the type of convoluted (i.e., “higher”, “deeper”) test questions included in PARCC and SBAC tests. They found none.

Dr. Richard P. Phelps is editor or author of four books: Correcting Fallacies about Educational and Psychological Testing (APA, 2008/2009); Standardized Testing Primer (Peter Lang, 2007); Defending Standardized Testing (Psychology Press, 2005); and Kill the Messenger (Transaction, 2003, 2005), and founder of the Nonpartisan Education Review (

[i] 03242014.pdf

[ii] Michael J. Petrilli & Amber M. Northern. (2015, October 30). Memo to Dr. Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Washington, DC: Thomas P. Fordham Institute.

[iii] Nancy Doorey & Morgan Polikoff. (2015, October). Special report: Evaluation of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Washington, DC: Thomas P. Fordham Institute.


[v] See, for example, ; ; ;

[vi] HumRRO has produced many favorable reports for Common Core-related entities, including alignment studies in Kentucky, New York State, California, and Connecticut.

[vii] CCSSO has received 22 grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from “2009 and earlier” to 2015 exceeding $90 million.


[ix] Student Achievement Partners has received four grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2012 to 2015 exceeding $13 million.

[x] Doorey & Polikoff, p. 4.

[xi] To cite just one example, the world-renowned Center for Educational Measurement at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has accumulated abundant experience conducting alignment studies.

[xii] For an extended critique of the CCSSO criteria employed in the Fordham report, see “Appendix A. Critique of Criteria for Evaluating Common Core-Aligned Assessments” in Mark McQuillan, Richard P. Phelps, & Sandra Stotsky. (2015, October). How PARCC’s false rigor stunts the academic growth of all students. Boston: Pioneer Institute, pp. 62-68.

[xiii] Despite all the adjectives and adverbs implying newness to PARCC and SBAC as “Next Generation Assessment”, it has all been tried before and failed miserably. Indeed, many of the same persons involved in past fiascos are pushing the current one. The allegedly “higher-order”, more “authentic”, performance-based tests administered in Maryland (MSPAP), California (CLAS), and Kentucky (KIRIS) in the 1990s failed because of unreliable scores; volatile test score trends; secrecy of items and forms; an absence of individual scores in some cases; individuals being judged on group work in some cases; large expenditures of time; inconsistent (and some improper) test preparation procedures from school to school; inconsistent grading on open-ended response test items; long delays between administration and release of scores; little feedback for students; and no substantial evidence after several years that education had improved. As one should expect, instruction had changed as test proponents desired, but without empirical gains or perceived improvement in student achievement. Parents, politicians, and measurement professionals alike overwhelmingly rejected these dysfunctional tests.

See, for example, For California: Michael W. Kirst & Christopher Mazzeo, (1997, December). The Rise, Fall, and Rise of State Assessment in California: 1993-96, Phi Delta Kappan, 78(4) Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Fifth Congress, Second Session, (1998, January 21). National Testing: Hearing, Granada Hills, CA. Serial No. 105-74; Representative Steven Baldwin, (1997, October). Comparing assessments and tests. Education Reporter, 141. See also Klein, David. (2003). “A Brief History Of American K-12 Mathematics Education In the 20th Century”, In James M. Royer, (Ed.), Mathematical Cognition, (pp. 175–226). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. For Kentucky: ACT. (1993). “A study of core course-taking patterns. ACT-tested graduates of 1991-1993 and an investigation of the relationship between Kentucky’s performance-based assessment results and ACT-tested Kentucky graduates of 1992”. Iowa City, IA: Author; Richard Innes. (2003). Education research from a parent’s point of view. Louisville, KY: Author. ; KERA Update. (1999, January). Misinformed, misled, flawed: The legacy of KIRIS, Kentucky’s first experiment. For Maryland: P. H. Hamp, & C. B. Summers. (2002, Fall). “Education.” In P. H. Hamp & C. B. Summers (Eds.), A guide to the issues 2002–2003. Maryland Public Policy Institute, Rockville, MD. ; Montgomery County Public Schools. (2002, Feb. 11). “Joint Teachers/Principals Letter Questions MSPAP”, Public Announcement, Rockville, MD. ; HumRRO. (1998). Linking teacher practice with statewide assessment of education. Alexandria, VA: Author.

[xiv] Doorey & Polikoff, p. 23.

[xv] MCAS bests PARCC according to several criteria specific to the Commonwealth, such as the requirements under the current Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA) as a grade 10 high school exit exam, that tests students in several subject fields (and not just ELA and math), and provides specific and timely instructional feedback.

[xvi] McQuillan, M., Phelps, R.P., & Stotsky, S. (2015, October). How PARCC’s false rigor stunts the academic growth of all students. Boston: Pioneer Institute.

[xvii] It is perhaps the most enlightening paradox that, among Common Core proponents’ profuse expulsion of superlative adjectives and adverbs advertising their “innovative”, “next generation” research results, the words “deeper” and “higher” mean the same thing.

[xviii] The document asserts, “The Common Core State Standards identify a number of areas of knowledge and skills that are clearly so critical for college and career readiness that they should be targeted for inclusion in new assessment systems.” Linda Darling-Hammond, Joan Herman, James Pellegrino, Jamal Abedi, J. Lawrence Aber, Eva Baker, Randy Bennett, Edmund Gordon, Edward Haertel, Kenji Hakuta, Andrew Ho, Robert Lee Linn, P. David Pearson, James Popham, Lauren Resnick, Alan H. Schoenfeld, Richard Shavelson, Lorrie A. Shepard, Lee Shulman, and Claude M. Steele. (2013). Criteria for high-quality assessment. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education; Center for Research on Student Standards and Testing, University of California at Los Angeles; and Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago, p. 7.

[xix] McQuillan, Phelps, & Stotsky, p. 46.

[xxi] Linda Darling-Hammond, et al., pp. 16-18.

Fordham report predictable, conflicted was originally published on Nonpartisan Education Blog

Fordham report predictable, conflicted was originally published on Nonpartisan Education Blog

Wayne Bishop’s Response to Ratner and Wu (Wall Street Journal)

Making Math Education Even Worse, by Marina Ratner,

Dear Hung-Hsi,

It pains me to write but in spite of all of your precollegiate mathematics education knowledge and contributions, Prof. Ratner got it right and you “missed the boat” in response:
The CA Math Content Standards were – and still are – the best in the country. They have problems; e.g., there is too much specialized focus in its thread on Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability and, even worse, Mathematical Reasoning. No sensible person can be against mathematical reasoning, of course, but that is exactly the point. Sensible people embed it everywhere and, as a standalone item, it becomes almost meaningless – hence the paucity (as in none) of CA Key Standards in that category. The writers included it to help ensure Board of Ed approval because most professional math educators were strongly objecting to the entire Stanford approach. Perhaps the most egregious, is your characterization of California’s problems using poison words: “rote-learning of linear equations by not preparing students for the correct definition of slope.” This is at best misleading and closer to being flat wrong:
From the introduction to Grade 7:
“They graph linear functions and understand the idea of slope and its relation to ratio.”
This is followed specifically with two Key Standards and examples:
3.3 Graph linear functions, noting that the vertical change (change in y-value) per unit of horizontal change (change in x-value) is always the same and know that the ratio (“rise over run”) is called the slope of a graph.
3.4 Plot the values of quantities whose ratios are always the same (e.g., cost to the number of an item, feet to inches, circumference to diameter of a circle). Fit a line to the plot and understand that the slope of the line equals the ratio of the quantities.
In what way(s) do you find the relevant 8th grade standard in the CCSS-M, Expressions and Equations (EE.8 #5,6), to be conceptually superior? (The word is used once in the intro to Grade 7 but it is not mentioned thereafter.) Formally proving that all pairs of distinct points determine similar triangles so that this ratio is well-defined would be mathematically necessary to be completely logical but I doubt if that’s what you meant particularly since traditional proof has been downplayed so badly even in the high school CCSS-M, much less 8th grade, especially in comparison with the CA Math Content Standards.

Regarding the general concept of competent Algebra 1 (not some pretense thereof), it was, it is, and it will remain standard in 8th grade (if not already accomplished in 7th grade) for self-respecting, academically-oriented private schools. As you well know, the Stanford Math group who wrote the CA Standards started with the egalitarian notion that this should be an opportunity for everyone including those who do not have access to such schools. It cannot be and was not intended to be just imposed that traditional Algebra 1 be the math course for all 8th graders but the group worked backwards from that target step-by-step through the grades in order to get there comfortably (such as developing the concept of slope in 7th grade that you appear to have missed). Is every detail spelled out? Of course not, nor should they be, but the key ideas – even set off as Key Standards – are there and presented considerably more clearly than in the CCSS-M.

There is statistical evidence that the goal did improve the state of mathematics competence in California, but we both know the CA Math Content Standards fell well short of the ideal. It was not – as your words could be interpreted to imply – that they reflect an inherent lack of development of student understanding. The primary villain is the overwhelming mandate for chronological grade placement (age-5) for incoming students and almost universal social promotion. Far too many students are not competent with the standards at their grade levels – sometimes years below – yet they move on anyway. Algebra in 8th grade – Algebra in 11th grade or even Algebra in college – is not realistic for all but truly gifted students who lack easily identifiable mathematics antecedents. A less common problem, but damaging to our most talented students, is the reverse situation. Advancement in grade level (as was done with my son at his private school and now chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Amherst College) is almost unheard of. Although mandated by many districts, and underscored by the API scoring of schools, mandating that all students be in an honest Algebra class in 8th grade without a reasonable level of competence with the Standards of earlier grades was never the intention. It was to be the opportunity, not the mandate.

“Moreover, Common Core does not place a ceiling on achievement. What the standards do provide are key stepping stones to higher-level math such as trigonometry, calculus and beyond.”

Although these words are regularly repeated, reality is the diametric opposite. Across California, CPM (supposedly, College Preparatory Mathematics) is back with a vengeance. Ironically, it was the very catalyst that spawned the now defunct Mathematically Correct and it pulled its submission to California from the 2001 approval process rather than be rejected by our CRP (Content Review Panel). You’ll recall that it and San Francisco State’s IMP were among the federally blessed “Exemplary” programs for which the only mathematician, UT-SA’s Manuel P. Berriozábal, refused to sign off. Weren’t you among the signatories of David Klein’s full-page letter of objection in the Washington Post? One of CPM’s long-standing goals is to have ALL assessments – even final examinations – done collectively with one’s assigned group. It makes for a wonderful ruse – all students can appear to be meeting the “standards” of the course (even if absent!) – while deeply frustrating those students who are “getting it” (often with direct instruction by some family member who knows the subject). Trigonometry, calculus, and beyond from any of CPM, IMP, Core-Plus (all self-blessed as CCSS-M compatible)? It just doesn’t happen. However, from the homepage of Core-Plus:

“The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) edition of Core-Plus Mathematics builds on the strengths of previous editions that were cited as Exemplary by the U.S. Department of Education Expert Panel on Mathematics and Science”

What did happen – may already be happening again? Beneath the horizon, schools began to offer a traditional alternative to provide an opportunity for adequate preparation for knowledgeable students with math-based career aspirations. What also happened (but may not be successful this time because of the SBAC or PARCC state examinations?) was that other students and their parents petitioned their Boards of Education for an elective choice and, if unfettered choice was granted, the death knell sounded on the innovative “deeper understanding” curriculum and pedagogy.

Finally, you do acknowledge the ridiculous nature of the 6th grade “picture-drawing frenzy” observed by Prof. Ratner but seem to imply it was an isolated incident instead of her description, “this model-drawing mania went on in my grandson’s class for the entire year.” The fact is that such mis-interpretations of “teaching for deeper understanding” are going on for entire years in classrooms – in entire districts – all across the country; they are even taught by professional math educators as mandated by Common Core. You described her observation as a “failure to properly implement Common Core” and I am sure that you believe that to be the case but your conviction is belied by the fact that one of the three primary writers of the CCSS-M and the head of the SBAC-M is Phil Daro (bachelors degree in English Lit). Phil Daro has been strongly influential in precollegiate mathematics education – curricula and pedagogy – across California for decades, my first working acquaintance with him was in 1988, months prior to the first NCTM Standards. His vision for the “right” way to conduct mathematics classrooms (not “to teach”) helped lead to the 1992 CA Math Framework, MathLand-type curricula, and the ensuing California battles of the Math Wars with our temporary respite beginning in late 1997. Unfortunately, his vision is not only reinvigorated here in California, it is now a huge national problem and Prof. Ratner “nailed it”.

Wayne Bishop

Wayne Bishop’s Response to Ratner and Wu (Wall Street Journal) was originally published on Nonpartisan Education Blog

Wayne Bishop’s Response to Ratner and Wu (Wall Street Journal) was originally published on Nonpartisan Education Blog

Wayne Bishop’s Response to Ratner and Wu (Wall Street Journal) was originally published on Nonpartisan Education Blog