Saturday, March 12, 2016

Repealing Common Core Means Nothing If Oklahoma’s New Academic Standards Are Not Better than Common Core


Restore Oklahoma Public Education (now Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment) concluded a near five year odyssey dedicated to the task of repealing the Common Core State Standards in our state, when the ink from Governor Fallin’s pen dried on HB3399 in June 2014.  

As directed by the bill, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) was to immediately begin the process of creating new educational standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics to replace the Common Core Standards adopted by the Oklahoma State Board of Education as directed by SB2033 in 2010The final drafts of the new standards were to be completed by the OSDE in August of 2016 with copies presented to the Oklahoma legislature prior to the February start of that year’s legislative session.

Unfortunately, though the standards development process was begun immediately, it quickly became waylaid by Oklahoma’s 2014 elections, which saw the selection of a new State Superintendent of Instruction after a contentious race.

Formally installed as Superintendent in January 2015, Joy Hofmeister’s Department of Education scrapped the work done by the previous administration and re-booted work on the new Oklahoma Education Standards process in February 2015 when the Oklahoma Standards Steering Committee (formed in September 2014) heard testimony from standards writing experts Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Lawrence Gray.

Dr. Stotsky is credited with developing the country’s strongest English/Language Arts standards while serving as the Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education (1999-2003). Dr. Lawrence Gray, professor of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota, is credited with developing the country’s strongest Mathematics standards (2003).

In providing excerpts of the OAS reviews as follows, I will only outline the issues listed as concerns by the reviewers as those that have been praised do not need addressing. Additionally, though there were documents including public feedback by education ‘stakeholders’ linked to every draft, these were commonly one line comments that generally did not provide enough solid critique to be considered helpful to either the public at large or the Oklahoma Legislature, who must sign off on the new OAS.

FIRST DRAFT OAS - JUNE

Following the presentations of the standards experts, the Oklahoma process was begun in earnest with the first draft of the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS) released in June of 2015. Immediately, ROPE put out the call for anyone interested in reviewing the standards to do so.

We asked for specific comments on the standards to be made in the blog comments and many did so, with the largest concern being the “VAGUENESS” of the standards. From Lorraine:
Oklahoma’s ‘standards’ are not clear, thus not clearly made accessible for a variety of students.
Reviews for the first set of standards reviews were placed on the OSDE website. Though several sets of reviews were provided, none were really instructive excepting that of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

ROPE sought reviews of several teachers which were placed on the OSDE website. More substantial reviews from five different educators can be found here. One, concerning the Math OAS from Dr. James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, was copied onto the ROPE blog. A commenter to the post simply says this,
As disturbing as this article is, I find it almost comforting. Comforting to know that someone else out there AGREES WITH ME! The standards are poorly written.
Dr. Sandra Stotsky reviewed the English/Language Arts standards and says,
The organization of that draft isn’t useful for what needs to be done to provide non-Common Core standards. Right now, what you have is very close to being compatible with Common Core and a Common Core-based test. OK kids deserve better.
J.R. Wilson, one of the founders of Truth in American Education and Where’s The Math says of the math standards,
The standards are not written in a clear and concise manner….The standards document would be well served by simply listing clear and concise pedagogy free standards….To be world class, it needs lots of improvement.
Dr. Barbara McClanahan, Associate Professor of Educational Instruction and Leadership, Southeastern State University says,
One other concern that my colleague had was that there should be a glossary; she fears that not all teachers would understand all the terms being used. Another concern I have is that some of the terms have ambiguous meanings. For example, what does grade-specific or grade-appropriate actually mean
Oklahoma State Regents for higher Education says,
I believe that sample problems and classroom activities will be a significant benefit (Math)
The outcome “understand” is vague and should not be used (ELA)
General Complaints Draft 1

ELA:
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Needs a glossary of terms
Math:
  • Too much overlap of standards across grades
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Needs specific examples of problems
  • Needs a glossary of terms
SECOND DRAFT OF OAS JULY

The OSDE website has reviews listed for Dr. Gray, Center for Standards and Assessment Implementation (CSAI), Shannon Riley-Ayers (Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes), American Institutes for Research (AIR), Partnership for 21st Century (P21), South Central Comprehensives Center Math, ELA (SC3) and Southern Regional Education Board Math, ELA (SREB)

CSAI says,
…the Oklahoma ELA standards descriptors tend to be vague and may not be sufficiently granular to adequately describe the skills and abilities students should possess at each grade.
Although the progression from one grade to another is largely logical and reasonable, the descriptors within each standard often lack depth, precision, and consistency.
These standards should describe a measurable objective in clear and concise terms, and the state might consider including examples to specify what students are expected to do.
P21 says,
…we would urge Oklahoma to fully develop the Sample Problems or Classroom Activities portion of the standards documents, as guides to not direct teachers “how” to teach, but to provide best practices that demonstrate ways to incorporate the 4Cs more deeply into the standards, curriculum and instruction.
SC3 Math says,
We believe teachers will find great value in seeing sample problems or classroom activities immediately associated with the standards to be mastered by students in that grade level.
SC3 ELA says,
Consider including a glossary of key terms to ensure practitioners have a common understanding of key terms.
SREB ELA says,
In the current draft there is not enough clarity in either the reading or writing standards in each of the five standards to justify the inclusion in each standard.
SREB Math says,
Be careful not to suggest in the explanation that “reasonable and appropriate” are new federal terms. A crisp and clear general statement of the standard followed by a listing of specific content and skills intended may cause less confusion to teachers, parents, and the public.
General Complaints Draft 2

ELA:
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Not measurable or precise
  • Needs a glossary of terms
  • Needs examples of literary texts at each grade level
Math:
  • Too much overlap of standards across grades
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Needs specific examples of problems
  • Needs a glossary of terms
THIRD DRAFT OF OAS AUGUST

The list of reviewers for the third OAS draft include Dr. Christopher Yakes (Math), Dr. Sandra Stotsky (ELA), American Institutes For Research (AIR), Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative (OEWI – provided by the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce) and the Oklahoma Technical Advisory Committee (OK TAC).

ROPE reprinted much of Stotsky’s comments on our blog, along with comments from Dr. Gray as provided by Oklahoma Watch’s Nate Robison.

Yakes comments were few. Those made were done editorially inside the OAS document. The majority of his comments appeared to deal with specificity in writing and clarity of instruction.

AIR’s review was conducted specifically based upon the OAS and their alignment with employability skills – something that should be far down the totem pole of importance in our opinion and therefore won’t be included in this review.

OEWI listed 50 detailed ELA recommendations and 40 for Mathematics. OEWI says, in part (ELA),
  • Add a detailed glossary of all content specific vocabulary used in the standards to ensure consistent definitions are used instructionally.
  • Add a comprehensive reading list for specific grades or grade bands which aligns to the qualitative and quantitative measures of text to illustrate “grade-level” reading. Provide guidance on text selections.
  • Provide resources/links of recommended sites where current research-based fluency rates and reading levels can be found and used to guide instruction.
  • Provide student exemplar writing samples for each genre at each grade level with the task from which the samples were generated. Provided an annotated copy to identify specific elements of the state’s rubric that is used to score essays. Ideally, provide samples from the continuum of the rubric.
OEWI says, in part (Math);
  • Create examples for each standard. While it needs to be made clear that such examples do not reflect all of the possible problem types that may be encountered on a state assessment, many of the standards lack clarity in terms of student expectations. Example problems allow teachers to better understand the student expectations.
  • Add a detailed glossary of all content specific vocabulary used in the standards to ensure consistent definitions are used instructionally. 
  • Provide resources/links of recommended sites where high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials and additional sample problems may be found, particularly because textbook materials will not yet be available that are aligned to these standards.
OK TAC’s comments were solicited based upon “the perspective of whether the standards would be assessable in future state tests and if the strands and benchmarks can be measured by the state summative assessment.” Robert Terry. Ph.D. Professor, University of Oklahoma writing for OK TAC says,
  • (ELA) After examining the draft standards, I have concluded that while some of these standards may be assessed at the State level, some clearly cannot, and many will require a change in emphasis from selected-response items to constructed-response items. This will have multiple impacts upon the State system, including increasing costs of item and test development, reduced turn-around time due to the need to have rater-grading, and sufficient investment in computing facilities to handle the technology-enhance items that will be needed.
  • (Math) Many of these standards are Common Core consistent and item developments for these types of standards have already been released (PARCC, 2013)….This raises several concerns about timing, cost of item development, and cost of technology …asking the why questions (which are good questions to ask) requires CR-type questions which invokes delays in scoring and reporting back to the teachers for instructional purposes. Since the State has requested a quick turn-around on these assessments, it is quite possible that little if any feedback will be returned at the pace Oklahoma teachers have come to expect…some of these standards cannot be easily assessed in a large-scale assessment, if at all.
Stotsky says,
  • I think the OK drafting committee should be challenged to come up with an example of a literary text that could be used (and how) for every single standard so that teachers understand what reading level is required or desirable at every grade level (and what the standard means). Make it clear these texts are not required; only examples of reading levels. We did that in MA and it helped us to keep out gibberish.
  • Can't the ELA committee put in Oklahoma-related reading standards at the high school level- -grades 11 and 12? One standard for texts by major authors born in or who wrote about Oklahoma, and one standard for biographies/autobiographies about famous Oklahomans through history. Aren't there any recognized authors/texts/people Oklahoma students should know about?
Gray says,
The mixture of Oklahoma and Minnesota standards also created an odd flow in how students progress with mathematical concepts through middle and high school.
General Complaints Draft 3

ELA:
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Not measurable or precise; not easily testable
  • Needs a glossary of terms
  • Needs examples of literary texts at each grade level
  • Needs reading/writing lists of Oklahoma authors
Math:
  • Too much overlap of standards across grades; lack of focus on alignment
  • Needs specific examples of problems
  • Needs a glossary of terms
  • Needs resources for teachers to utilize
  • Use of technology makes testing expensive
FOURTH DRAFT OF OAS DECEMBER

Reviewers for the OAS fourth draft on the OSDE website included only the OEWI (ELA only), Ms. Shellie Klein (ELA), Dr. Christopher Yakes (Math)

The OEWI says,
  • Create literacy standards for the content areas for grades 6-12. These disciplinary literacy standards should encompass all disciplines across a student’s course of study.
  • Add a comprehensive reading list for specific grades or grade bands which aligns to the qualitative and quantitative measures of text to illustrate “grade-level” reading. Provide guidance on text selections. 
  • Provide resources/links of recommended sites where current research-based fluency rates can be found and used to guide instruction.
  • Provide student exemplar writing samples for each genre at each grade level with the task from which the samples were generated. Provide an annotated copy to identify specific elements of the state’s rubric that is used to score essays. Ideally, provide samples from the continuum of the rubric. 
Shellie Klein (we’re not told her affiliation or credentials on the link) says,
  • My main concern is that for some standards, there is not sufficient specificity at each grade level to ensure a steady progression or consistency across schools and classrooms
  • Some standards need additional clarification, while the language in others can be simplified.
  • Glossary: suggest adding definitions for academic vocabulary and for informative/explanatory writing
Dr. Yakes’s critiques are specific to several specific standards, indicating the ways in which they needed to be changed to make more sense to teachers and students. He also adds a review of the Mathematics Glossary in which many of the terms need to be revised and numerous terms need to be added.

Dr.’s Stotsky and Gray submitted their reviews of the final ELA and Mathematics Oklahoma Academic Standards as presented to the Oklahoma State Legislature. They have been uploaded to our Scribd account and can be accessed through the links via their names.

Dr. Stotsky says,
  • The default strands in the proposed standards that could contain these progressions of content-rich standards do not have the content necessary for developing the knowledge base for critical reading, thinking, and writing (e.g., Vocabulary, Critical Reading and Writing and Multimodal Literacies).
  • The proposed standards are purported to be written by Oklahomans for Oklahomans. Yet, one looks in vain for standards that expect future taxpayers in Oklahoma to become familiar with some of the significant texts, people, movements, or events in the state’s political, literary, and intellectual history.
  • Nowhere does one find the only clear content that was in Common Core’s High School ELA Standards. Its standards required study of this country’s founding and seminal documents.
  • The proposed standards fail on the most important issue of all. Some significant content has to be taught to them if they are to see themselves and those they know sharing a state and a country together. Common Core’s ELA standards were not quite as empty as these proposed standards are. This document is completely empty. An empty document does not develop young minds, or help teachers to develop a sound and rigorous curriculum.
Dr. Gray says,
  • We have identified well over one hundred items that need to be fixed. Many of them can be made acceptable by a small amount of rewriting or by being eliminated altogether. But there are quite a few important issues in the document that cannot be repaired with simple rewrites, because they involve many connected items. These connections run both horizontally (within a grade level) and vertically (from one grade level to the next). It is impossible to suitably fix the document with supplementary material or errata sheets.
  • In order to help us achieve focus in Minnesota we carefully followed most of the guidelines in the CTM Curriculum Focal Points…Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Oklahoma draft adhered very closely to such principles.
  • We noticed several instances in the Oklahoma document where expectations were essentially repeated at multiple grade levels, presumably in an attempt to maintain alignment across grade levels, but focus was lost in the process.
General Complaints Final Draft (draft 4)

ELA:
  • Vague; uses imprecise terminology
  • Not measurable or precise; not easily testable
  • Needs more work on glossary of terms
  • Needs examples of literary texts at each grade level
  • Needs reading/writing lists of Oklahoma authors
  • Needs reading material from the founding documents
  • Needs student exemplar writing samples
Math:
  • Too much overlap of standards across grades; lack of focus on alignment
  • Needs specific examples of problems
  • Need much more work on glossary of terms
  • Needs resources for teachers to utilize

Following the upload of the final draft of the OAS to the OSDE website, letters of support for the final draft from schools and organizations all across the state were provided by the OSDE in supplementary standards documents created for both Mathematics and English Language Arts

These letters were general in nature, not specifying their comments to either set of standards. The creation of the OAS by Oklahomans, the 8 overarching principles used to create them, and the clarity of the OAS were primarily the basis for their glowing reviews. No criticisms were provided.

In their letter of support, the Cooperative Council of State Administrators (CCOSA) – one of the education establishments that fought the repeal of Common Core - began the narrative that the standards must be immediately approved (pg 69):
CCOSA supports the approval of the Oklahoma Academic Standards as proposed by the State Superintendent and many other Oklahomans involved in this process. It is imperative that the standards are quickly acted upon so that the school leaders and teachers can begin the important work of training and implementing these new standards by August of 2016.
It is obvious, after reviewing ALL the submitted documents regarding the new OAS, that these standards MUST BE RETURNED TO THE OSDE for edits and revisions. The specific areas needing to be addressed are OBVIOUS, as these same issues are addressed at least cursorily in ALL the general critiques submitted by standards reviewers (those listed in bold behind each draft heading).

Oklahoma has a unique opportunity – one not availed of by any state in the nation that has repealed Common Core to date – that of creating standards of true excellence for Oklahoma students that are not simply a Common Core rebrand.

It makes literally no sense to have undergone all the political wrangling – and subsequent lawsuit – of 2014 in which Common Core was repealed from law in Oklahoma, to create standards in their place that are sub-standard.

All we are asking is for the Oklahoma State Legislature to DISPROVE the OAS as submitted to the legislature by the OSDE in February, with specific instructions to fix those concerns commonly identified by standards reviewers as solicited by the OSDE themselves.

To do anything else makes absolutely no political or educational sense.