Excellence in Education

This is a guest post by Jim Fryer.  Jim is a parent in Montana and has given his permission for his op-ed piece to be published here.


Excellence in Education

As a parent of three young children, I deem our local public elementary school as good as any of the top- tier international schools where we have experience. The teachers, without a doubt, make this happen. I sincerely believe Mr. Klasna, Billings Lockwood Principal, is correct when he states, “that our teachers will do what is best for students and make sure they are prepared regardless,” when asked the question about the cost of taking away Common Core.

Standards are a good thing and we all have high expectations for our children. One of the current Common Core standards I particularly like is, “Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.” This was part of every primary and secondary English program that I recall and practiced well before Common Core began filling the Administrative Rules of Montana. That clear and concise expectation was across five schools districts and two states that spanned my pre-university education.

Common Core has two distinct parts. First is the list of standards that describe what every student should know by specific grade level. Second is the associated standardized testing, data collection and grouping of students. It is the latter that I struggle with most. I do not want any part in pigeonholing the career track that my children take based on a University of California Los Angles graduate school experiment.

Smarter Balanced, the testing arm associated with Common Core, is now located in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. This transpired when federal funding for assessments expired and someone at the state level chose to spend local taxpayer funds to enroll our students in the experiment through the year 2030.

UCLA must begin collecting data on our third grade students this year and follow consecutively through university graduation to capture one complete sample. That is nine file0002120440786years of primary and secondary school plus four years of university. And more than one year of bachelor degrees must be in the sample, perhaps five is sufficient. That traces out an experiment that will proceed for the next 18 to 20 years. Given the time required to reach a conclusion, all three of my children will be part of the experiment to validate or invalidate college readiness relative to new standards.

Twelve months ago, I was under the impression that assessments were an aggregate score across the class. As of November 2014, Smarter Balanced members voted to implement individual student “cut scores” for no benefit to my child. Dr. Joe Willhoft, executive director of Smarter Balanced, stated in his fall 2014 newsletter that:

The achievement levels [cut scores] help provide a more accurate snapshot of individual student

performance and are critical in preparing students for success in college and careers.

That is a bold statement by a scientist that does not have the first year of 13 incomplete samples. Thus, this is purely a hypothesis for both this decade and next.

Aside from the reallocation of precious time away from classroom learning, Smarter Balanced does not provide the real-time feedback that homework, quizzes and tests offer. If my child brings home an 87% on a math lesson, I will immediately help her move to a higher level. A score of 2430 received in April does nothing to help my child move from the 43% percentile to the top 10% of her national pier group. To add to my distaste for Smarter Balanced, the Terms of Service clearly state that UCLA is collecting personally-identifiable information on children once they turn 13 years of age.

Dr. Willhoft also forcefully declares the critical necessity of cut scores when preparing students for success in careers. Yet his organization’s material titled “Interpretation and Use of Scores and Achievement Levels,” concludes with a single sentence, “Smarter Balanced does not yet have a parallel operational definition and framework for career readiness.” We don’t know how bureaucrats will define career readiness yet we are going down the path of blindly spending taxpayer money to fund an 18-20 year UCLA experiment directly impacting our children’s education.

These “cut scores” sound eerily similar to the University of Minnesota Testing Bureau of the Great Depression that tried to define human behavior by specific traits. By the 1950’s, it had failed miserably with critiques of unreliable, dogmatic and reductionist. Citizens of Montana need more transparency and accountability in the administration of public education, especially in decisions that will have an irreversible influence for decades.

My family will continue to focus on contemporary university entrance requirements. Specifically, we will build full transcripts, develop excellence in composition, and strive for high GPA’s and solid performance on standard ACT/SAT exams. I believe that our teachers are fully engaged in building high expectations for our students and fulfilling their passion for educational excellence regardless of where the standards originate. We must abstain from the Smarter Balanced experiment and others we as Montanans deem equally unwarranted.

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