The Stats on Common Core in New Jersey

Apologies galore to my readers for my long absence in posting.  I’ve been working on an important database project about Common Core.  I have compiled – and I’m still compiling – N.J. Assessment of Skills and Knowledge scores for the northern New Jersey area.  I’ve submitted the story to the local newspaper.  I mentioned the serious drop in scores to the editor and how I brought it up to the school board that I cover for the newspaper.  To my surprise and shock, he was very interested.


Here’s what Common Core is about, in a nutshell:  narrowing the achievement gap.  That’s what Obama has said.  That’s what the superintendent of schools on my beat said.  Common Core is about narrowing the achievement between high-performing students and struggling students within schools, and between high-achieving and failing schools.


There’s only one way to do that, and that’s to sink the high achievers.  Here in New Jersey, our Department of Education did just that.


An analysis of the test data, taken from the New Jersey School Performance Report, from 2006 through 2013 for students in grades 3 through 5, shows that in 2013, 59 percent of this particular borough’s fourth graders passed NJASK’s Literacy section (4 percent of those exceeded expectations); in 2007, that number was 94.9 percent (9.3 percent scored above expectations).  In those six years, scores dropped nearly 40 percent.


I chose the Language Arts Literacy over Math for the simple reason that the Literacy scores plummeted while the Math scores rose, in nearly direct proportion.  I chose to study the third through fifth grade because there’s still time to address any problems.  By the time the kids get to the 8th grade, it’s already too late.  A glance at the scores for the upper grades showed higher numbers.  But what did that mean?  That the kids suddenly got smarter?  Or that the scores showed the results of remedial, not progressive, learning?


Having an assignment at the borough’s middle school for a Spring choral concert and art show, I noticed that sticky notes papered the lockers at Lincoln Park Middle School during the third week in May.  “Don’t panic; you’ll ace it!”  “Don’t worry; you’ll do great!!”  “Just breath [sic]!”

My study, which I’ve labored over for the past two years, indicates students and teachers alike may have good reason to fear the Language Arts Literacy portion of the NJASK; in that general time period, but particularly between 2008 and 2010, scores in our geographic area uniformly plummeted about 20 percent from high scores in 2007.


Whether the schools were affluent, middle class, or blue collar, the numbers went down – significantly.


In fact, many students all over our area were in a panic over the prospect of taking the NJASK test.  Teachers were said to be frustrated over the increased amount of paperwork surrounding the tests.  Parents were furious.


The NJASK was originally called the Elementary School Proficiency Assessment (ESPA)  The test was administered at the 4th grade level from 1997 through 2002 to provide an early indication of student progress toward achieving the knowledge and skills identified in the New Jersey Core Curriculum Contents Standards (CCCS).


In Spring 2003, the state DOE replaced the ESPA with the NJASK, which assesses student achievement in language arts, math, and science. Along with other indicators of student progress, the results of the elementary-level assessments are intended to be used to identify students who need additional instructional support in order to reach the CCCS.  


According to information in the 2013 NJASK Score Interpretation Manual, the drop may have been intentional. 


“Equating. In order to ensure that the scale scores are meaningful, it is critical that, for each test,

the same scale score be equally difficult to achieve from year to year. To that end, the test scores

in each content area and at each grade level are statistically equated to previous year scores.


“Each year, all tests are constructed using items that were field tested, making it possible to

estimate the difficulty of the test questions and the test as a whole. It is not possible, however, to

anticipate the precise difficulty level of a test in advance. As a result of the small year-to-year

variation that exists in the difficulty levels of the tests, the same level of knowledge and skill

may produce slightly different raw scores from one year to the next. To compensate for this

variation, raw scores are converted to equated scale scores.


“The equating process ensures that the same scale scores reflect equivalent levels of knowledge and skill from year to year; it enables us to say with confidence that any given scale score is equally difficult for students to attain on any given test in any given year.


“For example, in years in which the test proves to be slightly more challenging, a given raw score will produce a higher scale score (because it is harder for a student to achieve the same raw score on a more challenging set of questions).  In other words, a given raw score would be more

difficult to achieve on a more difficult test and would, therefore, produce a higher scale score.  The reverse is true when the test turns out to be a bit less challenging.”


Every presidential administration since Pres. Nixon’s Right to Read program (headed up by then First Lady Pat Nixon) has had its educational reform agenda and its corresponding educational funding program since Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965).  Every presidential administration since has voted to continue the ESEA, which allots a portion of federal funds to low-performing school districts.


New Jersey, in turn, has implemented various school reform programs over the years on the state level.


Critics have complained that Common Core is a federally-mandated, nationwide progressive curriculum for students.  Advocates for Common Core note that the initiative a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  


However, Common Core is tied to the 2009 Stimulus package signed by Pres. Obama.  In order to qualify for federal education aid, states had to accept the Common Core standards.  The state allotments were funded by the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 


States were awarded points in Pres. Obama’s Race to the Top program for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based standards for teachers and principals, complying with Common Core standards, lifting caps on charter schools, turning around the lowest-performing schools, and building data systems.


Gov. Chris Christie has served on the National Governors Association’s (NGA) economic development and commerce committee since he became New Jersey governor January 2010 and was soon appointed to the NGA’s executive committee, although he turned down a chance to serve as the organization’s vice-president in 2012.


New Jersey received $38 million in Race to the Top funding in 2012, under Gov. Christie.


According to the N.J. Department of Education’s NJASK 2013 Score Interpretation Manual, the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce. The NGA Center and CCSSO received initial feedback on the draft standards from national organizations representing teachers, postsecondary educators (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities.


Following the initial round of feedback, the draft standards were opened for public comment,

receiving nearly 10,000 responses. Proponents claim that the standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn.  These consistent standards, they claim, will provide appropriate benchmarks for measuring the progress of every student, regardless of where they live.


This year, the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics assessments, for grades 3 through 8, will measure the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the successor to CCCS.  The Science assessments, at grades 4 and 8, will be aligned to NJCCCS.  New Jersey tests are scored based on three performance levels: partially proficient, proficient or advanced proficient. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.


Common Core’s advocates have one message for the public – that Common Core will improve our educational system.  But the agenda found in their own literature is very different.  Among Common Core’s goals are narrowing the achievement gap between successful and struggling students within schools, and between high-performing school districts and those that are failing.  Proponents also encourage “privilege sensitivity,” in which students who are more affluent must admit to their ignorance of other cultures and acknowledge intellectual equity with their classmates.


Common Core will also mean the use of high technology in education, which can prove to be innovative but also costly.  Advocates say the use of computers will free teachers from lecturing to spend more time with students on an individual basis.  They believe that such methods as rote memorization will be part of educational history.  Meanwhile, some teachers fear that their jobs will also be part of history.  Gov. Christie just signed a bill preventing new teachers from being tenured.


The test the students just finished, the 2014 NJ ASK, will measure the Common Core Standards within the current NJASK blueprint. The NJ ASK assessments are called “transitional” because administrators will not be able to measure the full range of the CCSS until the next generation assessments are developed and administered.


New Jersey is a “governing state” in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  PARCC is currently developing the next generation assessments to be administered in Spring 2015.  The NJASK will continue to assess science in grades 4 and 8. The science assessment will be aligned to the NJCCCS because there are no Common Core standards for science at this time.


By a simple measure of the NJASK test data, Common Core began failing the literacy portion almost as soon as the curriculum (which by next year will be measured by the PARCC test) was introduced, while math scores rose.  An examination of the student/parent handbook shows no examples of the “rigorous” testing of which its proponents boast.


As noted above, however, test administrators admit the tests are geared to be easier or more difficult as they deem fit.  The use of multiple-step math problems, in which students now must show their work, that baffled even the mathematics advisor to Common Core, means that students must take longer to finish the test.  So far, the Math portion hasn’t proven to be much of problem in our area.  Goodness only knows why that is.


The Literacy scores, on the other hand, have dropped dramatically.  The increased use of fill-in-the-blank questions on vocabulary means the odds of a student getting a correct answer go up, as opposed to multiple-choice.  Critics also object to the reading material on the tests, claiming that the material is politically slanted.


Whatever the political orientation of the material might be, parents need to ask why students even in affluent communities in our area are struggling with the Language Arts Literacy portion of the NJASK.


“This is all going to go away next year with the introduction of the PARCC tests,” the superintendent of schools said, initially, of the lower verbal scores in the borough’s schools.  Upon reviewing more detailed data, he said the board of education would have to look into the matter.


The fourth and eighth grades were the initial grades for the roll-out of the Core Curriculum.  The results, at least in this area, were not promising.  The good scores students had been receiving ‘went away’ and have not returned.


Publishing companies, software designers, and computer manufacturers are all stakeholders in the Common Core initiative.  A test can be designed to meet any expectation.  If students taking the NJASK under the instruction of a Common Core curriculum don’t perform as well as they had previously, what will a new test measure, and how will it measure their performance?


Most importantly, how will it really affect students in the future?  Are they being prepared to succeed individually, or marked for a predetermined career path?


Last November, according to the Washington Post, “U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it ‘fascinating’ that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from ‘white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.’”


The data suggests that local schools here in Northern New Jersey were good.  And then they weren’t.


“Don’t stress over the NJASK;” the sticky note on one locker read, “you have nothing to worry about.”


The scores nose-dived at different points.  The 5th Grade scores dropped 27.1 percent by the end of the 2007-2008 school year.  The next year, the 3rd Graders went down 23.1 percent.  The 4th Graders – the crucial Common Core target – took an incremental plunge, going from a high of 88.2 percent of students passing the test, to 66.9 percent in 2012.  That’s a 21.3 percent drop.


NJASK goes so far as to separate the high-achievers from the common scores, making the test results confusing and misleading.  One of the wealthy school’s 3rd Graders brought home a total test score of 91.0 percent who passed or surpassed the goal.  However, 90 percent of those students only met minimum proficiency.  One percent of the students went above and beyond.    Two years earlier, 60.8 percent of that same school’s 5th Graders met the minimum standard, while an amazing 31.1 percent surpassed the minimum, achieving a combined total of 91.9 percent who passed the literacy test.


In another school system – one local people would be surprised to learn – 64 percent of the students failed to pass the Literacy test.  This particular school never ranked very high, but in 2006, a respectable 75 to 76 percent of 3rd and 4th Graders passed, along with 90.9 percent of its 5th graders.


The story was the same for my old elementary school.  In 2007, 83.8 percent of the students (including 2.9 percent who exceeded expectations) passed the NJASK test.  By 2009, they had slid down to 66.2 percent overall.  Over 33 percent of the 4th graders and 54.8 percent of the 3rd Graders failed the test.


And you’ll notice that the greatest failures occurred right around the 2008 election and the beginning of Obama’s empiracy in 2009.


There’s nothing new at all about the Common Core methods.  They were practicing Common Core on us 50 years ago at my old elementary school.


I’m a Blaze subscriber.  I get Glenn Beck’s newsletter.  The latest issue is about Common Core.  In the article, the author gave a sample of a math question and the number of steps required to complete it.  It looked very familiar.  That was the same way my elementary school teacher tried to teach our class complex addition.


When I got home, my mother asked to see my homework.


“All right, now.  Show me how to add those numbers,” she said.


So I showed her the “New Math” method.  That’s what they called it in those days – “New Math.”


“What are you doing?” my mother asked. 


“That’s the way our teacher taught us to add three-digit numbers,” I told her.


“But that takes too much time,” she declared.  “You’d never finish a test doing it this way.”

She winked.  “I’ll show you how smart people do it.  Does your teacher ask you to show your work?”


“No,” I replied.


“Good.  Then you won’t get into trouble.”  Then she taught me how to carry over numbers, which worked for both addition and subtraction.


I never did learn much in school.  My mother taught me my alphabet (it was required in order to be admitted to kindergarten).  My older brother taught me how to count.  My father taught me the simple arithmetic and took us to the library every week to get real books to read, rather than the Communist trash the teacher assigned us.  Awful stuff.


My older brother taught me to tell time and to tie my shoes.   For some reason, I took to multiplication like duck to water.  But my father had to guide me through long division.  My parents taught me history.  I certainly didn’t learn American history beyond the Second Grade.


Taking that all into account, when my unemployed status obliged me to furbish up my Excel skills, I took to gathering all the data I could on the local, first-ring suburb, inner city, and high-scoring school districts.


Bad scores mean bad news not just for students, but for business and real estate as well.  I’ve come up through the ranks on this progressive education business and I intend to earn my commission.


I can’t afford to go to graduate school.  But I can read up all I can on Common Core (I’ve read quite a deal so far) and gather up all the statistics.  I’m nearly finished on what I’ve dubbed “The Core” Common Core towns (my local area).  Now it’s on to the first-ring suburbs.  I’ve gathered a sampling of the scores for the inner city schools in New Jersey (not a pretty picture).


I don’t have much more time (or money) before I must abandon my pursuit to go return to work and make money.  But until then, I’ll keep you “posted” on my findings.


Published in: on May 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: