Thursday, December 5, 2013

Common Core Contradiction in Texas

In the 83rd Legislative Session, Texas made Common Core illegal in Texas. Yet many of the educational tools used in Texas were designed for Common Core.

Texas Section 39.023, Education Code Subsection a-3 states the following:

     (a-3)  The agency may not adopt or develop a criterion-referenced assessment instrument under this section based on common core state standards as defined by Section 28.002(b-1).  This subsection does not prohibit the use of college advanced placement tests or international baccalaureate examinations as those terms are defined by Section 28.051.

By "the agency", the law refers to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), one of the state-level entities that governs and regulates education in Texas. It appears that the TEA is breaking that very law on a daily basis.

The law seems to leave some gray area in regards to materials designed for Common Core. If the tools in question are not directly linked to the school's curriculum or used for any grading, assessment, or standards, the tool may be interpreted as optional. However, as soon as any teacher mandates any of these tools be used by their students, they cross that line.

So-called "educators" continue to thumb their noses at the Texas law, with the national "Leaning Forward" conference in Dallas this upcoming weekend. Common Core appears in numerous topics for the conference and seminar sessions. For example:

As states, districts, and schools transition to the new Common Core State Standards, teachers will need to know how well their teaching aligns to the new standards. Hear about the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum online system that has been providing analysis of instruction and standards for years. Explore a process and specific steps for school and district teams. Understand the application of data for professional development and the use of data for tracking and evaluating instructional change over time.

There is little doubt that Texas "educators" will be in attendance of these discussions and presentations on Common Core, despite it being illegal to use in Texas. 

One of several such "optional materials" is an online interactive site called Think Through Math. It was designed specifically for Common Core. If parents allow, teachers may offer the program for students to use for additional practice. However, the site cannot be used as any official part of any curriculum in Texas, nor may it be used in any assessment, to include "extra credit" or other incentives program.

Another tool appears to be less in that gray area realm. ISIP's Istation is a reading tool being used by Texas schools. The program uses Common Core teaching materials. It then employs automated assessment standards. Those standards were designed around Common Core standards. They have also, supposedly, adopted additional standards based upon various state requirements.

The Texas State Board of Education and the TEA have contracted ISIP to provide Istation to all Texas public and open-enrollment charter schools. The SBoE and TEA have also purchased home edition licenses for all students in the state. They support ISIP's Common Core based assessment and evaluation program to the extent they want Texas students to use it at home.

This creates a conundrum. It's a perplexing state of affairs. The ISIP documentation lauds how its design assesses various metrics involved in Common Core, doing so automatically, grading students so teachers don't have to. Common Core and any tool that assesses kids for grades based upon its standards is against Texas law. Yet, here is a program that does just that and Texas is paying for it with taxpayer money.

The "Texas Success Story" for Istation makes the case for the automated standards. Yet, when you navigate on the link concerning those standards, as related to Texas's success, you will find these "indicators". Notice the specific inclusion of the illegal Common Core: 

Istation's Indicators of Progress (ISIP™):

  • is a research- and standards-based formative assessment
  • is computer-adaptive technology that selects successive questions dynamically, based on responses to previous questions, effectively tailoring the assessment to each student's level of ability
  • assesses all domains of reading for each grade, including phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, alphabetic decoding, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and text fluency
  • identifies the needs of all students from each reading domain, from struggling to advanced learners
  • generates instant reports that group students by need of additional targeted instruction in specific skills
  • can be delivered via the Internet or Web
  • is correlated to common core and state-specific standards
  • is highly rated by the NCRTI as an RTI screening and continuous progress monitoring tool

Schools in Texas do, in fact, use the assessment tools to grade students. In Judson ISD, for example, it is the primary assessment tool used to determine a student's report card grades and advancement to the next grade-school level.

One more time, for clarity, the SBoE and TEA are using Texas tax money to buy a Common Core assessment tool for use in Texas schools despite the fact that any Common Core based assessment tool is against Texas law.

Numerous inquiries were extended to state education personnel at the school, district, local school board, TEA, and SBoE levels. None have replied with any explanation or commentary. Perhaps state laws do not apply to SBoE, TEA, and public school ISDs. Perhaps they just ignore the laws. In any case, all of the above owe Texas parents a detailed, straight forward, honest explanation devoid of bureaucratic double-speak.