Originally posted on April 30, 2013 for Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner

In a speech given to the Association for a Better New York today, American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium on all “stakes” associated with the CCSS assessments. She predicts the CCSS will result in one of two outcomes: “Either they will lead to a revolution in teaching and learning. Or they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms, with people throwing up their hands and decrying that public schools just don’t work. And the coming months will determine which outcome comes to pass.”

While speaking of the standards that she feels hold high promise to revolutionize teaching and learning, Weingarten said that “officials seek to make them count before they make them work.” She described what the moratorium is and also what it isn’t, noting that while students should still be assessed and teachers should still be evaluated, a moratorium on consequences should be put in place during these transitional years. In the meantime, states and districts must put an implementation plan in place that includes curriculum, professional development, and field testing.

Weingarten used examples from New York State to highlight the impact of high stakes CCSS consequences on multiple groups. Throughout the state, students in grades 3-8 recently took math and English tests on CCSS-based material they may never have even seen. In a year, the New York Regents Exams will be aligned to the Common Core while there is still very little CCSS-based instructional material available at the high school level.  Across New York, scores from this spring’s assessments may be used for such considerations as determining whether students advance to the next grade or repeat their grade, to designate a school’s performance, and also to determine whether schools stay open or must close. These test results will also be used as 20 percent of teacher evaluations. At the same time, CCSS-based curricula created for New York by four vendors has become a topic of conversation in the state.

What Weingarten’s Speech Means for ELLs

As I have written in many blog posts, ELLs and ESL teachers have often been an afterthought in the implementation of the CCSS. This sentiment can be seen beginning with the 2.5 page Application of CCSS for ELLs document that describes limited considerations for teaching the CCSS to ELLs. While it seems the tide is changing and teachers of ELLs are speaking up more and more, we know that content teachers don’t usually feel prepared to teach the CCSS to ELLs. I agree with Weingarten that we should pause, catch our breaths, and hold off on using test scores for potentially detrimental purposes as we think through the implementation of the CCSS. I would add that educators and policymakers should pay special attention to how they are implementing the CCSS for ELLs and other special populations so that all teachers are prepared to work with these students.

What are your thoughts on Weingarten’s speech? Do you agree we should have a moratorium on the CCSS assessment stakes?

Advocating for ELLs in Implementing the CCSS

Originally posted on April 26, 2013 for Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner

While facilitating an ELL Advocacy Summit hosted by the National Education Association (NEA) in Austin, Texas over the past weekend, a participant from California handed me a resource I had not seen before,“Raise Your Voice on Behalf of English Learners: The English Learners and Common Core Advocacy Toolkit.” This toolkit was produced byCalifornians Together, a coalition of parents, educators, and civil rights groups from across the state of California that works to improve quality education for children from under-served communities.

While some of the information provided in the toolkit is specific to California, it certainly helps inform CCSS conversations that are taking place across the nation. In this post, I’ll first share some highlights of the toolkit, and then I’ll leave you with my takeaways. The full toolkit is not available online but related resources are posted on the Californians Together website, and you can order a hard copy of the toolkit for a minimal fee.

In addition, I’d like to mention that one reason this toolkit caught my attention is that I am passionate about advocating for ELLs and have just written a book on this topic, which will be published this fall by Corwin Press — stay tuned!