Surprise! SBAC and CRESST stonewall public records request for their financial records

Say what you will about Achieve, PARCC, Fordham, CCSSO, and NGA— some of the organizations responsible for promoting the Common Core Initiative on us all. But, their financial records are publicly available.

Not so for some other organizations responsible for the same Common Core promotion. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) have absorbed many millions of taxpayer and foundation dollars over the years. But, their financial records have been hidden inside the vast, nebulous cocoon of the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA’s financial records, of course, are publicly available, but amounts there are aggregated at a level that subsumes thousands of separate, individual entities.

UCLA is a tax-supported state institution, however, and California has an open records law on the books. After some digging, I located the UCLA office responsible for records requests and wrote to them. Following is a summary of our correspondence to date:

 

July 5, 2017

Greetings:

I hope that you can help me. I have spent a considerable amount of time clicking around in search of financial reports for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), both “housed” at UCLA (or, until just recently in SBAC’s case). Even after many hours of web searching, I still have no clue as to where these data might be found.

Both organizations are largely publicly funded through federal grants. I would like to obtain revenue and expenditure detail on the order of what a citizen would expect to see in a nonprofit organization’s Form 990. I would be happy to search through a larger data base that contains relevant financial details for all of UCLA, so long as the details for SBAC and CRESST are contained within and separately labeled.

I would like annual records spanning the lifetimes of each organization: SBAC only goes back several years, but CRESST goes back to the 1980s (in its early years, it was called the Center for the Study of Evaluation).

Please tell me what I need to do next.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Best Wishes, Richard Phelps

 

July 6, 2017

RE: Acknowledgement of Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Phelps:

This letter is to acknowledge your request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) dated July 5, 2017, herein enclosed. Information Practices (IP) is notifying the appropriate UCLA offices of your request and will identify, review, and release all responsive documents in accordance with relevant law and University policy.

Under the CPRA, Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253(b), UCLA may charge for reproduction costs and/or programming services. If the cost is anticipated to be greater than $50.00 or the amount you authorized in your original request, we will contact you to confirm your continued interest in receiving the records and your agreement to pay the charges. Payment is due prior to the release of the records.

As required under Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253, UCLA will respond to your request no later than the close of business on July 14, 2017. Please note, though, that Section 6253 only requires a public agency to make a determination within 10 days as to whether or not a request is seeking records that are publicly disclosable and, if so, to provide the estimated date that the records will be made available. There is no requirement for a public agency to actually supply the records within 10 days of receiving a request, unless the requested records are readily available. Still, UCLA prides itself on always providing all publicly disclosable records in as timely a manner as possible.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

July 14, 2017

RE: Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Phelps:

The purpose of this letter is to confirm that UCLA Information Practices (IP) continues to work on your public records request dated July 5, 2017. As allowed pursuant to Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253(c), we require additional time to respond to your request, due to the following circumstance(s):

The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.

IP will respond to your request no later than the close of business on July 28, 2017 with an estimated date that responsive documents will be made available.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

July 28, 2017

Dear Mr. Phelps,

Please know UCLA Information Practices continues to work on your public records request, attached for your reference. I will provide a further response regarding your request no later than August 18, 2017.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Kind regards,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager

UCLA Information Practices

 

July 29, 2017

Thank you. RP

 

August 18, 2017

Re: Public Records Request – PRR # 17-4854

Dear Mr. Richard Phelps:

UCLA Information Practices (IP) continues to work on your public records request dated July 5, 2017. As required under Cal. Gov’t Code Section 6253, and as noted in our email communication with you on July 28, 2017, we are now able to provide you with the estimated date that responsive documents will be made available to you, which is September 29, 2017.

As the records are still being compiled and/or reviewed, we are not able at this time to provide you with any potential costs, so that information will be furnished in a subsequent communication as soon as it is known.

Should you have any questions, please contact me at (310) 794-8741 or via email at pahill@finance.ucla.edu and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Sincerely,

Paula Hill

Assistant Manager, Information Practices

 

September 29, 2017

Dear Mr. Richard Phelps,

Unfortunately, we must revise the estimated availability date regarding your attached request as the requisite review has not yet been completed. We expect to provide a complete response by November 30, 2017. We apologize for the delay.

Should you have any questions, please contact our office at (310) 794-8741 or via email, and reference the PRR number found above in the subject line.

Best regards,

UCLA Information Practices

 

September 29, 2017

I believe that if you are leaving it up to CRESST and SBAC to voluntarily provide the information, they will not be ready Nov. 30 either. RP

Yes, President Trump can do something about Common Core

For starters, he can shut down the federal funding of organizations that have supplied the misinformation that begat and continues to propagandize Common Core. While the Gates Foundation gets the most attention, government-funded entities play their part. For example, our nation could be much improved if relieved of the burden of fuzzy research produced at the Center for Research on Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), the Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) at the National Research Council, and K-12 programs in the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Division of the National Science Foundation. All have been captured by education’s vested interests, and primarily serve them.

Fordham Institute’s pretend research

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has released a report, Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments,[i] ostensibly an evaluative comparison of four testing programs, the Common Core-derived SBAC and PARCC, ACT’s Aspire, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ MCAS.[ii] Of course, anyone familiar with Fordham’s past work knew beforehand which tests would win.

This latest Fordham Institute Common Core apologia is not so much research as a caricature of it.

  1. Instead of referencing a wide range of relevant research, Fordham references only friends from inside their echo chamber and others paid by the Common Core’s wealthy benefactors. But, they imply that they have covered a relevant and adequately wide range of sources.
  2. Instead of evaluating tests according to the industry standard Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, or any of dozens of other freely-available and well-vetted test evaluation standards, guidelines, or protocols used around the world by testing experts, they employ “a brand new methodology” specifically developed for Common Core, for the owners of the Common Core, and paid for by Common Core’s funders.
  3. Instead of suggesting as fact only that which has been rigorously evaluated and accepted as fact by skeptics, the authors continue the practice of Common Core salespeople of attributing benefits to their tests for which no evidence exists
  4. Instead of addressing any of the many sincere, profound critiques of their work, as confident and responsible researchers would do, the Fordham authors tell their critics to go away—“If you don’t care for the standards…you should probably ignore this study” (p. 4).
  5. Instead of writing in neutral language as real researchers do, the authors adopt the practice of coloring their language as so many Common Core salespeople do, attaching nice-sounding adjectives and adverbs to what serves their interest, and bad-sounding words to what does not.

1.  Common Core’s primary private financier, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pays the Fordham Institute handsomely to promote the Core and its associated testing programs.[iii] 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),[vi]
  • the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), co-holder of the Common Core copyright and author of the test evaluation “Criteria.”[vii]
  • the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), headed by Linda Darling-Hammond, the chief organizer of one of the federally-subsidized Common Core-aligned testing programs, the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC),[viii] and
  • Student Achievement Partners, the organization that claims to have inspired the Common Core standards[ix]

The Common Core’s grandees have always only hired their own well-subsidized grantees for evaluations of their products. The Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska has conducted test reviews for decades, publishing many of them in its annual Mental Measurements Yearbook for the entire world to see, and critique. Indeed, Buros exists to conduct test reviews, and retains hundreds of the world’s brightest and most independent psychometricians on its reviewer roster. Why did Common Core’s funders not hire genuine professionals from Buros to evaluate PARCC and SBAC? The non-psychometricians at the Fordham Institute would seem a vastly inferior substitute, …that is, had the purpose genuinely been an objective evaluation.

2.  A second reason Fordham’s intentions are suspect rests with their choice of evaluation criteria. The “bible” of North American testing experts 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.[x]

Had Fordham compared the tests using the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (or any of a number of other widely-respected test evaluation standards, guidelines, or protocols[xi]) SBAC and PARCC would have flunked. They have yet to accumulate some the most basic empirical evidence of reliability, validity, or fairness, and past experience with similar types of assessments suggest they will fail on all three counts.[xii]

Instead, Fordham chose to reference an alternate set of evaluation criteria concocted by the organization that co-owns the Common Core standards and co-sponsored their development (Council of 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.[xiii],[xiv] Thus, Fordham compares SBAC and PARCC to other tests according to specifications that were designed for SBAC and PARCC.[xv]

The authors write “The quality and credibility of an evaluation of this type rests largely on the expertise and judgment of the individuals serving on the review panels” (p.12). A scan of the names of everyone in decision-making roles, however, reveals that Fordham relied on those they have hired before and whose decisions they could safely predict. Regardless, given the evaluation criteria employed, the outcome was foreordained regardless whom they hired to review, not unlike a rigged election in a dictatorship where voters’ decisions are restricted to already-chosen candidates.

Still, PARCC and SBAC might have flunked even if Fordham had compared tests using all 24+ of CCSSO’s “Criteria.” But Fordham chose to compare on only 14 of the criteria.[xvi] And those just happened to be criteria mostly favoring PARCC and SBAC.

Without exception the Fordham study avoided all the evaluation criteria in the categories:

“Meet overall assessment goals and ensure technical quality”,

“Yield valuable reports on student progress and performance”,

“Adhere to best practices in test administration”, and

“State specific criteria”[xvii]

What types of test characteristics can be found in these neglected categories? Test security, providing timely data to inform instruction, validity, reliability, score comparability across years, transparency of test design, requiring involvement of each state’s K-12 educators and institutions of higher education, and more. Other characteristics often claimed for PARCC and SBAC, without evidence, cannot even be found in the CCSSO criteria (e.g., internationally benchmarked, backward mapping from higher education standards, fairness).

The report does not evaluate the “quality” of tests, as its title suggests; at best it is an alignment study. And, naturally, one would expect the Common Core consortium tests to be more aligned to the Common Core than other tests. The only evaluative criteria used from the CCSSO’s Criteria are in the two categories “Align to Standards—English Language Arts” and “Align to Standards—Mathematics” and, even then, only for grades 5 and 8.

Nonetheless, the authors claim, “The methodology used in this study is highly comprehensive” (p. 74).

The authors of the Pioneer Institute’s report How PARCC’s false rigor stunts the academic growth of all students,[xviii] recommended strongly against the official adoption of PARCC after an analysis of its test items in reading and writing. They also did 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 the familiar multiple-choice/short answer/essay standardized tests ignore some, and arguably the better, parts of learning (the deeper, higher, more rigorous, whatever)[xix]. Ironically, it is they—opponents of traditional testing content and formats—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.”[xx]

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 simulated 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.”[xxi]

PARCC, SBAC, 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. It is attempting to measure that which cannot be well measured on standardized tests that makes PARCC and SBAC tests “deeper” than others. In practice, the alleged deeper parts 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.[xxiii] 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.

3.  The authors continue the Common Core sales tendency of attributing benefits to their tests for which no evidence exists. For example, the Fordham report claims that SBAC and PARCC will:

“make traditional ‘test prep’ ineffective” (p. 8)

“allow students of all abilities, including both at-risk and high-achieving youngsters, to demonstrate what they know and can do” (p. 8)

produce “test scores that more accurately predict students’ readiness for entry-level coursework or training” (p. 11)

“reliably measure the essential skills and knowledge needed … to achieve college and career readiness by the end of high school” (p. 11)

“…accurately measure student progress toward college and career readiness; and provide valid data to inform teaching and learning.” (p. 3)

eliminate the problem of “students … forced to waste time and money on remedial coursework.” (p. 73)

help “educators [who] need and deserve good tests that honor their hard work and give useful feedback, which enables them to improve their craft and boost their students’ success.” (p. 73)

The Fordham Institute has not a shred of evidence to support any of these grandiose claims. They share more in common with carnival fortune telling than empirical research. Granted, most of the statements refer to future outcomes, which cannot be known with certainty. But, that just affirms how irresponsible it is to make such claims absent any evidence.

Furthermore, in most cases, past experience would suggest just the opposite of what Fordham asserts. Test prep is more, not less, likely to be effective with SBAC and PARCC tests because the test item formats are complex (or, convoluted), introducing more “construct irrelevant variance”—that is, students will get lower scores for not managing to figure out formats or computer operations issues, even if they know the subject matter of the test. Disadvantaged and at-risk students tend to be the most disadvantaged by complex formatting and new technology.

As for Common Core, SBAC, and PARCC eliminating the “problem of” college remedial courses, such will be done by simply cancelling remedial courses, whether or not they might be needed, and lowering college entry-course standards to the level of current remedial courses.

4.  When not dismissing or denigrating SBAC and PARCC critiques, the Fordham report evades them, even suggesting that critics should not read it: “If you don’t care for the standards…you should probably ignore this study” (p. 4).

Yet, cynically, in the very first paragraph the authors invoke the name of Sandy Stotsky, one of their most prominent adversaries, and a scholar of curriculum and instruction so widely respected she could easily have gotten wealthy had she chosen to succumb to the financial temptation of the Common Core’s profligacy as so many others have. Stotsky authored the Fordham Institute’s “very first study” in 1997, apparently. Presumably, the authors of this report drop her name to suggest that they are broad-minded. (It might also suggest that they are now willing to publish anything for a price.)

Tellingly, one will find Stotsky’s name nowhere after the first paragraph. None of her (or anyone else’s) many devastating critiques of the Common Core tests is either mentioned or referenced. Genuine research does not hide or dismiss its critiques; it addresses them.

Ironically, the authors write, “A discussion of [test] qualities, and the types of trade-offs involved in obtaining them, are precisely the kinds of conversations that merit honest debate.” Indeed.

5.  Instead of writing in neutral language as real researchers do, the authors adopt the habit of coloring their language as Common Core salespeople do. They attach nice-sounding adjectives and adverbs to what they like, and bad-sounding words to what they don’t.

For PARCC and SBAC one reads:

“strong content, quality, and rigor”

“stronger tests, which encourage better, broader, richer instruction”

“tests that focus on the essential skills and give clear signals”

“major improvements over the previous generation of state tests”

“complex skills they are assessing.”

“high-quality assessment”

“high-quality assessments”

“high-quality tests”

“high-quality test items”

“high quality and provide meaningful information”

“carefully-crafted tests”

“these tests are tougher”

“more rigorous tests that challenge students more than they have been challenged in the past”

For other tests one reads:

“low-quality assessments poorly aligned with the standards”

“will undermine the content messages of the standards”

“a best-in-class state assessment, the 2014 MCAS, does not measure many of the important competencies that are part of today’s college and career readiness standards”

“have generally focused on low-level skills”

“have given students and parents false signals about the readiness of their children for postsecondary education and the workforce”

Appraising its own work, Fordham writes:

“groundbreaking evaluation”

“meticulously assembled panels”

“highly qualified yet impartial reviewers”

Considering those who have adopted SBAC or PARCC, Fordham writes:

“thankfully, states have taken courageous steps”

“states’ adoption of college and career readiness standards has been a bold step in the right direction.”

“adopting and sticking with high-quality assessments requires courage.”

 

A few other points bear mentioning. The Fordham Institute was granted access to operational SBAC and PARCC test items. Over the course of a few months in 2015, the Pioneer Institute, a strong critic of Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC, appealed for similar access to PARCC items. The convoluted run-around responses from PARCC officials excelled at bureaucratic stonewalling. Despite numerous requests, Pioneer never received access.

The Fordham report claims that PARCC and SBAC are governed by “member states”, whereas ACT Aspire is owned by a private organization. Actually, the Common Core Standards are owned by two private, unelected organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association, and only each state’s chief school officer sits on PARCC and SBAC panels. Individual states actually have far more say-so if they adopt ACT Aspire (or their own test) than if they adopt PARCC or SBAC. A state adopts ACT Aspire under the terms of a negotiated, time-limited contract. By contrast, a state or, rather, its chief state school officer, has but one vote among many around the tables at PARCC and SBAC. With ACT Aspire, a state controls the terms of the relationship. With SBAC and PARCC, it does not.[xxiv]

Just so you know, on page 71, Fordham recommends that states eliminate any tests that are not aligned to the Common Core Standards, in the interest of efficiency, supposedly.

In closing, it is only fair to mention the good news in the Fordham report. It promises on page 8, “We at Fordham don’t plan to stay in the test-evaluation business”.

 

[i] Nancy Doorey & Morgan Polikoff. (2016, February). Evaluating the content and quality of next generation assessments. With a Foreword by Amber M. Northern & Michael J. Petrilli. Washington, DC: Thomas P. Fordham Institute. http://edexcellence.net/publications/evaluating-the-content-and-quality-of-next-generation-assessments

[ii] PARCC is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers; SBAC is the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium; MCAS is the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System; ACT Aspire is not an acronym (though, originally ACT stood for American College Test).

[iii] The reason for inventing a Fordham Institute when a Fordham Foundation already existed may have had something to do with taxes, but it also allows Chester Finn, Jr. and Michael Petrilli to each pay themselves two six figure salaries instead of just one.

[iv] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/search#q/k=Fordham

[v] See, for example, http://www.ohio.com/news/local/charter-schools-misspend-millions-of-ohio-tax-dollars-as-efforts-to-police-them-are-privatized-1.596318 ; http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/03/ohios_charter_schools_ridicule.html ; http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/12/18/kasich-to-revamp-ohio-laws-on-charter-schools.html ; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/06/12/troubled-ohio-charter-schools-have-become-a-joke-literally/

[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 23 grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from “2009 and earlier” to 2016 collectively exceeding $100 million. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/k=CCSSO

[viii] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/k=%22Stanford%20Center%20for%20Opportunity%20Policy%20in%20Education%22

[ix] Student Achievement Partners has received four grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2012 to 2015 exceeding $13 million. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/k=%22Student%20Achievement%20Partners%22

[x] The authors write that the standards they use are “based on” the real Standards. But, that is like saying that Cheez Whiz is based on cheese. Some real cheese might be mixed in there, but it’s not the product’s most distinguishing ingredient.

[xi] (e.g., the International Test Commission’s (ITC) Guidelines for Test Use; the ITC Guidelines on Quality Control in Scoring, Test Analysis, and Reporting of Test Scores; the ITC Guidelines on the Security of Tests, Examinations, and Other Assessments; the ITC’s International Guidelines on Computer-Based and Internet-Delivered Testing; the European Federation of Psychologists’ Association (EFPA) Test Review Model; the Standards of the Joint Committee on Testing Practices)

[xii] 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. http://www.eddatafrominnes.com/index.html ; 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. http://www.mdpolicy.org/docLib/20051030Education.pdf ; Montgomery County Public Schools. (2002, Feb. 11). “Joint Teachers/Principals Letter Questions MSPAP”, Public Announcement, Rockville, MD. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/press/index.aspx?pagetype=showrelease&id=644 ; HumRRO. (1998). Linking teacher practice with statewide assessment of education. Alexandria, VA: Author. http://www.humrro.org/corpsite/page/linking-teacher-practice-statewide-assessment-education

[xiii]http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2014/CCSSO Criteria for High Quality Assessments 03242014.pdf

[xiv] A rationale is offered for why they had to develop a brand new set of test evaluation criteria (p. 13). Fordham claims that new criteria were needed, which weighted some criteria more than others. But, weights could easily be applied to any criteria, including the tried-and-true, preexisting ones.

[xv] 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. http://pioneerinstitute.org/news/testing-the-tests-why-mcas-is-better-than-parcc/

[xvi] Doorey & Polikoff, p. 14.

[xvii] MCAS bests PARCC and SBAC 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.

[xviii] McQuillan, M., Phelps, R.P., & Stotsky, S. (2015, October). How PARCC’s false rigor stunts the academic growth of all students. Boston: Pioneer Institute. http://pioneerinstitute.org/news/testing-the-tests-why-mcas-is-better-than-parcc/

[xix] 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.

[xx] 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. https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/publications/pubs/847

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

[xxiii] Linda Darling-Hammond, et al., pp. 16-18. https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/publications/pubs/847

[xxiv] For an in-depth discussion of these governance issues, see Peter Wood’s excellent Introduction to Drilling Through the Core, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985208694

Common Core’s Language Arts

It is often said that scientific writing is dull and boring to read. Writers choose words carefully; mean for them to be interpreted precisely and, so, employ vocabulary that may be precise, but is often obscure. Judgmental terms—particularly the many adjectives and adverbs that imply goodness and badness or better and worse—are avoided. Scientific text is expected to present a neutral communication background against which the evidence itself, and not the words used to describe the evidence, can be evaluated on its own merits.

As should be apparent to anyone exposed to Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC publications and presentations, most are neither dull nor boring, and they eschew precise, obscure words. But, neither are they neutral or objective. According to their advocates, Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC are “high-quality”, “deeper”, “richer”, “rigorous”, “challenging”, “stimulating”, “sophisticated”, and assess “higher-order” and “critical” thinking, “problem solving”, “deeper analysis”, “21st-Century skills”, and so on, ad infinitum.

By contrast, they describe the alternatives to Common Core and Common Core consortia assessments as “simple”, “superficial”, “low-quality”, and “dull” artifacts of a “19th-Century” “factory model of education” that relies on “drill and kill”, “plug and chug”, “rote memorization”, “rote recall”, and other “rotes”.

Our stuff good. Their stuff bad. No discussion needed.

This is not the stuff of science, but of advertising. Given the gargantuan resources Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC advocates have had at their disposal to saturate the media and lobby policymakers with their point of view, that opponents could muster any hearing at all is remarkable. [1]

The word “propaganda” may sound pejorative, but it fits the circumstance. Advocates bathe their product in pleasing, complimentary vocabulary, while splattering the alternatives with demeaning and unpleasant words. Only sources supportive of the preferred point of view are cited as evidence. Counter evidence is either declared non-existent and suppressed, or discredited and misrepresented. [2]

Their version of “high-quality” minimizes the importance of test reliability (i.e., consistency, and comparability of results), an objective and precisely measurable trait, and maximizes the importance of test validity, an imprecise and highly subjective trait, as they choose to define it. [3] “High-quality”, in Common Core advocates’ view, comprises test formats and item types that match their progressive, constructivist view of education. [4] “High-quality” means more subjective, and less objective, testing. “High-quality” means tests built the way they like them.

“High quality” tests are also more expensive, take much longer to administer, and unfairly disadvantage already disadvantaged children, due to their lower likelihood of familiarity with complex test formats and computer-based assessment tools.

Read, for example, the report Criteria for high-quality assessment, written by Linda Darling-Hammond’s group at Stanford’s education school, people at the Center for Educational Research on Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), housed at UCLA, and several other sympathizers. [5] These are groups with long histories of selective referencing and dismissive reviews. [6] The little research that supports their way of seeing things is highly praised. The far more voluminous research that contradicts their recommendations is ignored, demonized, ridiculed, or declared non-existent.

Unlike a typical scientific study write-up, Criteria for high-quality assessment brims with adjectival and adverbial praise for its favored assessment characteristics. Even its 14-page summary confronts the reader with “high-quality” 24 times; “higher” 18 times; “high-fidelity” seven times; “higher-level” four times; “deep”, “deeply”, or “deeper” 14 times; “critical” or “critically” 17 times; and “valuable” nine times. [7]

As Orwell said, control language and you control public policy. Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC proponents are guilty not only of biased promotion, selective referencing, and dismissive reviews but of “floating” the definitions of terms.

For example, as R. James Milgram explains:

“The dictionary meaning of “rigorous” in normal usage in mathematics is “the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict” but in educationese it is “assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly.” Likewise, educationists may use the term rigorous to describe “learning environments that are not intended to be harsh, rigid, or overly prescriptive, but that are stimulating, engaging, and supportive.” In short the two usages are almost diametrically opposite.” [8]

Such bunkum has sold us Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC. The progressive education/constructivist radical egalitarians currently running many U.S. education schools can achieve their aims simply by convincing super-naïve but well-endowed foundations and the U.S. Education Department (under both Republican and Democratic administrations) that they intend “higher”, “deeper”, “richer”, “more rigorous” education when, in fact, they target a dream of Rousseau-ian-inspired discovery-learning. They crave the open-inquiry, students-build-your-own-education of Summerhill School, even for the poor, downtrodden students who arrive at school with little to build from.

So many naïve, gullible, well-intentioned wealthy foundations dispensing money to improve US education. So many experienced, well-rehearsed, true believers ready to channel that money in the direction that serves their goals.

 

[1] For example, from the federal government alone, PARCC received $185,862,832 on August 13, 2013. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/parcc-budget-summary-tables.pdf ; SBAC received $175,849,539 to cover expenses to September 30, 2014. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-budget-summary-tables.pdf. A complete accounting, of course, would include vast sums from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other foundations, the CCSSO, NGA, Achieve, and state governments.

[2] This behavior—of selective referencing and dismissive reviews (i.e., declaring that contrary research either does not exist or is for some other reason not worth considering)—is not new to the Common Core campaign. It has been the standard operating procedure among U.S. education research and policy elites for decades. But, some of the most prominent and frequent users of these censorial techniques in the past are now high-profile salespersons for the Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC. See, for example, Richard P. Phelps. (2012, June). Dismissive reviews: Academe’s Memory Hole. Academic Questions, 25(2), pp. 228–241. http://www.nas.org/articles/dismissive_reviews_academes_memory_hole ; Phelps, R. P. (2007, Summer). The dissolution of education knowledge. Educational Horizons, 85(4), 232-247. http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Foundation/DissolutionOfKnowledge.pdf ; and Phelps, R.P. (2009). Worse than Plagiarism? Firstness Claims & Dismissive Reviews, Nonpartisan Education Review / Resources. Retrieved August 29, 2015 from http://www.nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Resources/WorseThanPlagiarism.ppt

[3] Ebel, Robert L. 1961. “Must All Tests Be Valid?” American Psychologist. 16, pp.640–647.

[4] “Constructivism is basically a theory — based on observation and scientific study — about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.” Here are two descriptions of constructivism: one supportive, http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/ and one critical, http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/631

[5] 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, Claude M. Steele. (2013, June). Criteria for high-quality assessment. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education; Center for Research on Standards and Student Testing; & Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago.

[6] See, for example, Richard P. Phelps. (2012). The rot festers: Another National Research Council report on testing. New Educational Foundations, 1. http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NEFv1n1.pdf ; (2015, July); The Gauntlet: Think tanks and federally funded centers misrepresent and suppress other education research. New Educational Foundations, 4. http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NEF4Announce.html

[7] CCSSO. (2014). Criteria for procuring and evaluating high-quality assessments.

[8] See http://edglossary.org/rigor/. Dr. Milgram’s observation is expressed in R.P. Phelps & R.J. Milgram. (2014, September). The revenge of K-12: How Common Core and the new SAT lower college standards in the U.S. Boston: Pioneer Institute, p. 41. http://pioneerinstitute.org/featured/common-core-math-will-reduce-enrollment-in-high-level-high-school-courses/

The Gauntlet: How think tanks and federally-funded centers misrepresent and suppress other education research

New in the Nonpartisan Education Review:

http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Essays/v10n1.htm

The aggressive, career-strategic behavior of researchers in federally funded centers and think tanks creates many problems, including a loss of useful information and bad public policies based on skewed information.

But, two adverse consequences worry me the most. First, these badly behaved researchers are the only ones that most journalists and policy-makers pay any attention to.

Second, the effects of their bad behavior are spreading overseas. The education testing research function at the World Bank, for example, has been handed down over the past few decades from one scholar affiliated with Boston College’s School of Education to another (and all of them Irish citizens). True to form, they cite the research they like, some of which is their own, most of the rest of which comes from the censorial Center for Research in Educational Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), and imply that the vast majority of relevant research does not exist.

More recently, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a one-sided study on educational assessment that ignores most of the relevant research literature and highlights that conducted at a certain US federal research center and several US think tanks. Their skewed recommendations are now the world’s.