Governor welcomes challenge in new standardized testing for students

Gov. Peter Shumlin interacts with children at Montpelier's Family Center, a center for early child-care education. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

Gov. Peter Shumlin interacts with children at Montpelier’s Family Center, a center for early child-care education. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

Next school year, Vermont will scrap the NECAP and replace it with a new student assessment based on the Common Core State Standards. It’s more than a matter of slapping down a different test down in front of students, but officials say the state is in good shape to make the overhaul.

Vermont’s in good company during the transition — 44 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, and they are in various stages of putting them in place. Vermont is one of more than two dozen states that have signed up to use the Smarter Balance Assessment — a test modeled on the Common Core.

One school year away from when most states will make the switch to Common Core-based exams, opposition to the standards is coalescing to the point where several states have gotten cold feet. Georgia and Oklahoma bowed out in July, citing costs, and Indiana recently decided to shelve the standards for now. In Kentucky and New York, where students are already taking the new exams, proficiency levels have plummeted.

Neither Gov. Peter Shumlin nor Education Secretary, Armando Vilaseca are worried about a backlash against the standards if a similar thing occurs in Vermont.

“That isn’t my concern. I never think that rigorous standards that make sense are a destructive thing, I think they are a positive thing,” Shumlin said.

Vilaseca said he does expect proficiency levels to drop. “I do anticipate the first year or two of our assessment may show a decline. We are going to standards that are higher and more complex and ask more of our students.”

But he’s hoping it will just be a two-year blip. “I anticipate within a few years, once the schools have enacted a curriculum aligned with the Common Core, we will see scores increase above where they are now.”

The Common Core was designed to improve uniformity across state standards for kindergarten through 12th-grade and to make those standards more demanding. Supporters hope they’ll make American students better equipped for higher education and employment in a global economy.

Vilaseca said he thinks Vermont is taking a more prudent approach than New York did.

Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. VTD/Josh Larkin

Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. VTD/Josh Larkin

“Personally, I thought that was a huge mistake on New York’s part [switching to a Common Core exam ahead of the 2014-2015 school year]. Some schools were still trying to get their toes in the water. I don’t believe they were prepared.”

The standards “make sense,” Shumlin said, but, he added, “what concerns me, when we get into the weeds of Common Core, is ensuring that as we implement it, it doesn’t get in the way of our efforts to individualize education for every student.

“My concern about any federal mandate, including Common Core, is that it tends to take a cookie-cutter approach when we are trying to develop individualized learning.”

Common Core is not a federal mandate — the initiative was led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). States adopted the standards voluntarily. The Obama administration has given states financial incentives to make the transition, however.

What’s the state Agency of Education doing to help Vermont schools dip their toes in the water? Vilaseca said the responsibility for implementing the standards lie, ultimately, with the school districts themselves.

“We try to support, we try to provide guidance, but a lot of the heavy lifting occurs at the local level,” he said.

Vilaseca and Pat Fitzsimmons, the agency’s Common Core Implementation Coordinator, say Vermont is in on track for a smooth transition, but progress is variable across districts.

Fitzsimmons’ assessment: “Schools for a variety of reasons are in a variety of different places”

“We can’t guarantee that everyone right now has adopted the NECAP standards,” Vilaseca added. “We know there are places that have not implemented some of the science standards. The expectation is they will adopt those standards, but it really is, since Vermont is made up of 280 local districts, quite often a local decision.”

But neither Vilaseca nor Fitzsimmons say they have gotten pushback from particular schools.

“I find that Vermont educators typically appreciate a challenge. For the most part, I could be out in left field, but I don’t think I am, educators are really trying to move forward in implementing these standards,” Fitzsimmons said.

Vilaseca said he had just attended teacher in-service days in Bristol and in the Chittenden East Supervisory Union, which focused heavily on planning for the Common Core implementation. “We are hearing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for this.”

One of the most important things the agency can do to support local districts is, according to Vilaseca, to act as a conduit of information coming other states.

Fitzsimmons pointed to several entities that are working alongside the agency and school districts. They’re taking advantage of the infrastructure and the funding — some of which comes from the federal government — that’s already in place for professional development for teachers.

The state has two “Professional Learning Teams,” one for math and one for English that are composed of teachers, professional developers, curriculum coordinators, and other stakeholders. The regional meetings they hold this year will focus on Common Core implementation.

“We can’t meet with every teacher but we are hoping these leadership teams can bring it down to them,” Fitzsimmons said. Participation in the meetings is not mandatory for school districts.

The Agency also has an Implementation of State Standards Advisory Council (ISSAC), which will help oversee the transition. They’ve developed a guide with 42 “implementation steps” to direct the process.

Vilaseca said he didn’t know exactly how much the agency is spending on helping schools reorient their curriculums to the Common Core, but he estimated the costs fall around $530,000 annually. In addition to Fitzsimmons, who does Common Core work full-time, several other agency staff are involved from time to time, to a total tune of $50,000 to $60,000 in salary costs. The Agency is also providing $480,000 in financial support to the state’s education service agencies — regional partnerships between school districts or supervisory unions, higher education institutions, and service providers that offer professional development — to help them “concentrate their work on transitioning to Common Core.”

The task for Vermont is less daunting than for larger states, Vilaseca said. “I think we are actually probably better than most states. Some states are maybe are further along than this. Trying to do this in a place like California and Illinois is a littler harder when you have about a million students.”

Likewise, Shumlin said Vermont has a leg up because it’s already got a good public education system.

“The states that are really in trouble with the Common Core are the states that aren’t performing well in their public educations systems, but Vermont has one of the best education systems in the country.”

Alicia Freese

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31 Comments on "Governor welcomes challenge in new standardized testing for students"

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Janice Prindle
2 years 7 months ago

This article reads like a press release from the Governor’s office. Nowhere does it give the real history of these Common Core standards: who is selling them to the states, the underhanded way they were adopted by the state without any public input, let alone from teachers.Not a word about how this is a sweeping corporate establishment of a national curriculum, something that Americans have historically resisted. Nothing in this piece suggests that the author or even the Governor have actually looked at the standards closely, to notice how they differ from the current standards, let alone whether educational professionals… Read more »

2 years 7 months ago

In a recent VT Digger I asked 28 questions about the Common Core. You can read Secretary Vilaseca’s boilerplate answer at Vermont Commons: http://www.vtcommons.org/blog/help-bill-gates-beneficiaries-vermont-secretary-education-provides-boilerplate-reply-28

Emma Wright
2 years 7 months ago

To the Governor and Commissioner of Education and all the good people of Vermont, who will compile and analyze the data from Vermont students? Who will have access to it? Who will pay for the compilation and analytics? What will this cost Vermonters? Who will decide if it is right to data mine our children in this way? New York parents were enraged when they learned that their children were being data mined by inBloom (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation) in the name of education, while global corporate interests are creating the textbooks and FERPA, the Family… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

Common Core was spearheaded by radical Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers! WOW…I feel so much confidence in our government’s ability to “entertain” our kids in education! Every single program that they have implemented has been a complete failure…

We are essentially paying taxes twice with Act60-68 & Common Core. Bills that were “forced” upon Vermonters with very little public support. Back door politics never win the heart of the people…

2 years 7 months ago

First things first: separate the Common Core Curriculum from the standardized testing regime (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC). At its heart and if implemented properly the Common Core is a set of generalized guidelines that stipulate what a student should know at some point in their learning. Much of the common core deals with the very same basics so many folks bemoan as missing … but the curriculum takes us at least one very important step forward. This step is the concept of detailed exploration of a relatively small and focused set of topics with the expectation that a… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 7 months ago

Thank you Rama for adding your knowledge to these discussions in clear and comprehensible presentations. For those of us (i.e. me!) who do not follow this issue closely, it is much appreciated.

Janice Prindle
2 years 7 months ago

Rama presents the naive view that somehow these are only “guidelines” that anyone would appreciate, and that they are “a step forward,” as if we didn’t already have guidelines prior to Common Core (the Vermont State Standards with their Grade Level Expectations)…and other guidelines before that, going by different names, going back for decades. Vermont teachers, in my years of teaching, were well-informed about these standards, which were generally similar to other state standards spinning off the “standards” movement in the 80s, spear-headed by another group in the Clinton era, based at the University of Pittsburgh. Those standards were implemented… Read more »

Julie Hansen
2 years 7 months ago

Common Core is not a curriculum; it is a set of standards that guide the skills students need to demonstrate as they work through a school’s written curriculum.

It would be helpful if someone would focus on one or two of the standards and link them specifically to the arguments presented.

Is it the standards themselves that are the issue or the way in which they are written or the source from which they are derived?

Janice Prindle
2 years 7 months ago

Both. And you can check them out for yourselves, they are online. And read about the history of it online, as I suggested, along with another respondent. There’s also in today’s (Sunday, Sept. 1) Rutland Herald an excellent commentary by Bill Mathis, a Vermont School Board member, explaining the origin and the problem with Common Core.

Dave Bellini
2 years 7 months ago

Leave it to education administrators to obfuscate anything and everything. The last thing the edu. think tank wants is a valid, clear, measurable, progress report of students, schools or teachers. The most important thing is to keep coming up with “new” ideas on how to instruct children. Keep changing the model so there can never really be a comparison or a scientific measure of anything. Keep it complicated. The most important thing is the process, who cares about outcomes?

2 years 7 months ago

Dave, the Common Core is about defining desired outcomes – if implemented properly it leaves the implementation/process to whatever level the individual state handles the curriculum (I should note: as Julie Hansen noted above the Common Core is a set of standards and is not curriculum – my use of the term “Common Core Curriculum” is incorrect.) As to the changes in wording … as time progresses and language changes the words used to describe actions will change too. Additionally we are addressing at least two fundamental changes in how we view our public education system: we want as many… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

We The People are being railroaded by a government that does absolutely NOTHING but get in the way of PROGRESS! Paying for programs from insolvency is completely ignorant! Maybe that’s why my children were “never” taught how to “balance” a checkbook or how to write a check. It’s quite obvious that that schools are lacking the basics in common fiscal responsibility. Hmmm…I wonder where they get that from.

2 years 7 months ago

Linda, if you feel that basic home economics is a necessity then you need to approach your local school board. They are empowered to add various curricla(ae?). There may be opportunities to add some instruction into existing classes, or you may feel a need to expend the financial resources on a dedicated class .. however it turns out.

The Common Core standards do not get into that level of weed whacking. The curriculum that the state and your local district develop (what I keep calling the common core curriculum) to address the standards do – speak up.

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

I’m watching 60 Minutes tonight on KHAN academy and a new way of online teaching our kids at home and school using the internet. Interestingly, Bill Gates’ children use Khan academy and amazingly its FREE…Wow think of the “simple basic economics” and the money that could be saved by getting rid of Common Core & Act 60-68 and implementing KHAN in the classroom…

A free mind is pure unadulterated brilliance…

2 years 7 months ago

Linda,

First … the Khan Academy speaks to the Common Core: https://www.khanacademy.org/commoncore

This also begs a larger exploration into the efficacy of online learning and the varied models used to access such experiences.

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

David,
You’re so right! Our government has to train the next generation in the art of not being accountable and/or responsible! After all the Federal Reserve/US Treasury hasn’t an audit in over a hundred years! Our government is stealing from the American taxpayer and implementing massive expensive legislation that has absolutely “no” accountability for our children or for our wallets! This is simple plain & unadulterated IGNORANCE… I vote for Common Sense because its free and simple!

kevin lawrence
2 years 7 months ago

Regarding testing, keep in mind that parents can take charge of how much their own children are tested. Write a letter the week before test administration making it clear that your child will not participate in the test (if you do not believe in testing). Note that all correspondence regarding the issue should be between school representatives and you the parent, leaving your child to read a good book during testing. Forcing students to take this test would break its standardization. Children and parents need to learn to politely say, “No, thank you.”

Bill Mathis
2 years 7 months ago

In this comment string, the Common Core (CCSS)is confused with the state’s EQS standards. They are very different. I would urge everyone to go to and just randomly select from the multitude of very specific CCSS standards for each grade level and both subject areas and ask how appropriate each standard is for all children. Troll around in there for awhile to get a feel for it and draw your own conclusions. Here’s one from high school math: CCSS.Math.Content.HSF-LE.A.4 For exponential models, express as a logarithm the solution to abct = d where a, c, and d are numbers and… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

Bill, As an educated consumer I wouldn’t go out and buy a “one size fits all” pair of pants and expect my family to wear them…Common Core has already been bought and paid for by a political organizations known as the National Governor’s Association, Department of Education and its huge lobbying partner the NEA. The Nationalized education curriculum known as Common Core is a “one size fits all” reform that has already been bought and paid for by Governor Shumlin in 2010. So of course he welcomes a product that he personally endorses. The money has already been exchanged hands… Read more »

2 years 7 months ago

The Common Core State Standards were accepted on behalf of Vermont by the Vermont State Board of Education – summer of 2010 if I remember correctly (online access to VSBE approved minutes only goes back to June, 2011 so I can’t be more precise).

Bill Mathis
2 years 7 months ago

Yes, the VT SBE did adopt the CCSS before I was on the board. I spoke against adoption as a citizen attending that meeting. My questions were (1) capacity, (2) cost, (3) validity of the standards, and (4) professional development.

The NEA’s role in CCSS has been nominal. It is a NGA and CCSSO led effort. Gates has funded and staffed this effort for the organizations.

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

That’s the problem! The “State” took the money and circumvented the constituents and the “Democratic Due Process” to implement Common Core! Just like they did with Green Mountain Care and Green Energy initiatives. Common Core is intrusive, expensive and has monopolised Vermont’s education system. Vermont is turning into a Nationalistic Nanny state controlled by big pocketed corporate lobbying arms of the Federal government! Furthermore, the people of Vermont are not being informed and represented by their perspective elected representatives. All you have to do is look at the the decline of farming in Vermont simply because of highly regulated and… Read more »

George Cross
2 years 7 months ago

And, only those who can demonstrate competence related to HSF-LE.A.4 as Mathis sets forth above shall be eligible to run for political office, local, state or national.

2 years 7 months ago

Bill Mathis raises a very interesting point – when does the “standard” really matter? Are we going to insist for graduation from high school on 100% proficiency in 100% of the standards? Are we going to judge schools on their ability to bring 100% of the students up to proficiency in 100% of the standards? Are we going to sacrifice whole student learning that includes the arts and physical education and home economics and extra-curricular activities in some war against less then 100% of the students at proficiency in 100% of the standards? Are we going to misuse the standardized… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

The Common Core Standards were never approved by “electable” local school boards and their perspective constituents. This nationalized intrusive education reform was bought and paid for by big political lobbying special interest groups like the deep pockets of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. They have a vested interest in the implementation of Common Core especially with their MSN marketshare capitalizing on the datamining of consumer typology among students with the use of smart technology. It’s a “win-win” relationship among politicians and their huge lobbying partners. Informational technology is the fastest growing market in the world. So it would make… Read more »

Pete Novick
2 years 7 months ago

Vermont enjoys one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country. http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/index.php?measure=23 Here in Windham County, we have closed and consolidated three schools in the last three years. Projecting the current enrollment trend to 2020, there is a good chance Leland & Gray in Townshend will have to consider closing around the end of this decade. Now add Vernon and surrounding town schools to the mix, as more than 100 students leave in the next couple of years as their parents find jobs elsewhere as Vermont Yankee ceases power generation operations. According to the Vermont Department of Education,… Read more »

Pete Novick
2 years 7 months ago

If you want to have some fun, try spending an hour or so with the Common Core State Standards Initiative. As you may know, NCLB is now toast and 45 states have adopted the Common Core as the standard for public education goals/outcomes by grade. Here’s a link to the website: http://www.corestandards.org/ Since it’s important to start at the beginning, I decided to go back to first grade to see what I have missed, and here’s a Common Core standard for 1st graders and their writing: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.2 Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

Progressives like to overwhelm the system(Cloward & Piven) for the destruction of the Free Market system! They want absolute CONTROL and a “2” Class system…

Janice Prindle
2 years 7 months ago

Common Core is not coming to you from progressives. Gates is not a progressive, nor the organizations he funds to do his bidding. That is not a progressive outlook on life, whatever party you vote for (which is now irrelevant). Common Core, Gates and his ilk are the plutocrats running our society, paying to “use” our “democracy” however they want, from Monsanto-controlled agribusiness — which is what is destroying our family farms– to telecom control of the internet, limiting or in some states outright banning of community fiber initiatives, the better to create their dream of “fast” and “slow” lanes… Read more »

Linda Quackenbush
2 years 7 months ago

Obama appointed Progressive elites Bill Ayers & Linda Darling-Hammond spearheaded and implemented Common Core! Common Core uses smart technology to store & record our children’s personal & educational information without parental consent. Who do you think stands to benefit and/or profit from Common Core’s massive personal data collection? You decide…Hint…It’s not the American people or our precious children!

a) US Government
b) MSN, GE, Comcast (owned by Bill Gates)
c) Progressive Party’s motto “to improve the human condition”
d) Unions
e) Nonprofits/Colleges/Universities
f) All of the Above

Janice Prindle
2 years 7 months ago

Like I said: not progressive. Corporate elites have friends in both parties. Follow the money, not the labels. And incidentally, just because you feel all of the groups listed above are your enemies, that doesn’t mean they’re all on the same side, either. The world is a whole lot more complicated that you or Common Core would like it to be.

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