Behind The Common Core Curtain – Part 3

GUEST POST ICONThis is part three in a Guest Post series on Common Core.  Read Part One and Part Two.
This is an important look behind the Curtain of Common Core in North Carolina.

 


The writer is a School Counselor in NC public schools.  Part 1 will detail the implementation of Common Core into the School Counselor’s school. Part 2 will detail Technology. Part 3 will be SIS and Part 4 will be testing.

Part 3 – Student Information Systems are big.

We also had a brand new student data system – Powerschool. Teachers had Powerteacher. Many of you may know it as Homebase. Pearson made it.

Each student has an ID number. They have always had ID numbers. This is not new. They get it and use it to check things out in the media center and for their lunch account. The new thing about this I didn’t notice until about mid year when we had kids that moved from another state. They enrolled in our school and when I gave them their schedule they pointed out to me that their ID number had transferred from their previous state. Our data manager told me that pretty much everyone was using Powerschool. Which made things really easy when someone moved because we could see their attendance, grades, and scores without having to wait on their paper records to be faxed or mailed.

They always had an ID number anyways. This makes things streamlined. The difference is that before this, there wasn’t a national database. Your ID number was local. When you left a school, that school dropped the ID number. Your paper records followed and sometimes you got a new ID number or sometimes, you could keep your old one. It depended on the local system that they used at your school. This is a national database owned by Pearson meaning that your information is stored somewhere, constantly, even though only one school should be able to view it at a time.

That ID number is also linked to their lunch account. Which means someone at Pearson knows who gets free lunch, reduced lunch, and who pays for their lunch. They even know who brings their lunch, because those numbers aren’t used. Knowing about free and reduced lunch is a touchy subject in schools. Teachers want to know because those students might have more needs than other students in a classroom. Cafeteria workers don’t want ANYONE to know because you shouldn’t use someone’s information like that – it’s private. It can also be upsetting for students for others to know about their financial needs and how it relates to food at school. But Pearson knows.

This was the first year that we really got into the new evaluation system for teachers too. All you had to do was log on to your account in the new system and fill out the form rating your skills on where you thought you were. You type in a couple of goals for the year and BAM! You’re all set. The form was all Common Core related so the verbiage was a bit different. But it’s all the same hoops we’ve been jumping through for years, so it’s no big deal. Principals can see what you put in there, meet with you about it, log you classroom observations and provide feedback through the new system. The new system owned by Pearson. It’s national – so if you are a teacher and you move to another state, you can log in there and it’s really convenient.

We all have evaluations. We all have observations. We all have meetings with our principals. It all gets documented and put in our personnel files at central office and the general public can access those files. I don’t object to that because my salary is paid by your taxes. I work for you. If you want to know what I’m doing at work, you have a right to. However, someone in another state does not reserve that same right. In the past, if I wanted a fresh start in a new state, my personnel file stayed here in NC and I took with me my experience and references. Now Pearson has my personnel file too. Truthfully, I don’t know who can access it or how long it stays there.

As an educator, I choose to not enter any of this on the Pearson site. I use my old-fashioned paper and pencil. I consider it a bonus that no one really knows how the counselor evaluation tool will work just yet. That’s right. No one knows how my evaluation tool works yet. Not my principal, not my county level supervisor. We’ve had to contract out to a Counselor Educator at a local university to come and teach us how to use it. I encourage educators to not use Pearson if it can be avoided. After all, technology always breaks – the internet is down, it didn’t save your information, etc. There’s always something you can use to your advantage.

This year before testing teachers had to go into the new system and document the percentage of seat time that each child had in our classroom. We all had to log on to our Pearson system and for each child on our roster mark what percentage of time they were in attendance. If they were not in attendance for a percentage of time we had to note why. For example, student A receives exceptional student services by getting pulled out of math 2 days a week. The math teacher would have to note that for those 2 days a week that student was receiving services from another teacher and the exceptional services teacher would have to document that the student was with her/him for those 2 days. In addition, if you had a child that was having some health concerns that year, you would mark that their attendance was reduced for health/medical concerns. If you had a kid that just plain didn’t show up for class, you could mark that as well.

The purpose of this was to assign responsibility for that child’s academic success to specific educators who taught that child so that we could see how successful those teachers were. This would in turn determine if the teacher needs more professional development or in the future determine pay once tenure was eliminated. In order to do that, you have to know how much time the child actually spent in the classroom, right?

It also means that Pearson has a national database detailing your child’s attendance patterns and if they have special education needs.

Data collection and education go way back. This is not a new concept. As an educator, I both love and hate data. I hate it because I know that we are more than numbers and percentages. I love it because when you look at groups, it guides me. It lets me know that this population needs more help in reading or this population needs more help in math. It allows me to use experience and knowledge to make attempts at helping those populations.

The biggest difference is before common core, data was about populations. It was general and local. After Common Core, we now have some very specific data out there. There is a database that shows that student A has a first and last name, an ID number, an address, a phone number, parent names and workplaces, emergency contacts and that they have asthma. In addition this student missed x amount of days to an unknown health condition and passed science with a 80 last year. They used that ID number to buy school lunch three times. While their grades are good, the attendance isn’t. Poor attendance leads to higher drop out rates. This student is at risk for dropping out if we don’t address the attendance. Sounds like it’s health related – how can we help this family be more healthy? How can we push them to eat more school lunches? Schools are using your child’s information like this. If our cafeteria manager has low numbers of folks that get lunch, there’s a meeting on how to increase that number.

As parents using the public school system, there’s no way to avoid this. Typically when we pick a system there are bids that are put out locally and local school boards get to decide what to use. Previously we used NCWISE which was connected to SAS. I can’t find any information that says bids were put out there for the Pearson program. Which leads me to believe that when we accepted Race to the Top grant money, we got Common Core, we got Pearson.

 – END OF PART THREE –

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist and is currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_
This entry was posted in Common Core, Guest Posts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Behind The Common Core Curtain – Part 3

  1. LMT says:

    *According to the Educational Data Mining Society in 2006, this is what data educators could distill BEFORE mining it, from your students.
    Idleness
    Time breakdown by category
    Common action sequences or patterns
    Plausibility/ filtering of improbable, meaningless sequences
    Error because of putting right answer in wrong place
    What information may have altered actions
    Number of previous encounters,actions in current context/skill
    Time, normalized (how much faster is this action than the same action, when conducted by other students?)
    Number of past attempts, hint requests
    Number of actions on element by number of people
    Number of actions on current problem step/skill, or recently
    Heuristic guesses about actions (example: which skill to blame)
    Comparison between current action and pre-test
    Expected action/ probability of action
    Predicted probability of knowing skill
    Model-based assessments
    Putting student in context of overall class/ group subdivision
    *Contrast that with the following workshops held in 2013, “Stealth Assessment in Games, the What, How & Why”, ” Automatically Recognizing Facial Expression: Predicating Engagement & Frustration”, “Data Mining in the Classroom: Discovering Groups’ Strategies at a Multi-table Top Environment”, “Bringing Students Backgrounds Online: MOOC Users Demographics, Site Usage & On-Line Learning”. There are many, many more! Source: http://www.educationaldatamining.org/IEDMS/EDM2013
    Look at the affiliates of the Society, notice the partners, look at the conferences held not just world wide, but in America as well.
    **Wake up!**

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  2. LMT says:

    Go back and read Lady Liberty’s guest posts on Project Red! Then, consider that educational data mining is the fastest growing industry in the world. Access this site: http://www.educationaldatamining.org/ (look at the past documents, workshops and subject matter). Track your city, county & the use of technology. It’s getting to be everywhere & under the guise of ‘better education’, especially for those who cannot afford technology due to their budgets.

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  3. educator says:

    Meals plus is used, you are correct. On the meals plus website, down at the bottom….they proudly boast that they are a Pearson ISV (Independent Software Vendor) Partner. Allowing them to share information with Powerschool seamlessly.
    http://blog.mealsplus.com/better-meals-plus-cafeteria-software-integration-with-pearsons-powerschool/

    In addition, they are a Microsoft Partner.

    I know we have to have some form of SIS and that nothing is going to please everyone or be flawless. Knowing that no bids were put in and all of this connects back to the same source, it just doesn’t sit well. When we applied and accepted RttT money, we surrendered any form of local control or say in these things.

    This is a world where data mining and sharing is hugely profitable. I don’t have any facts that there is massive data mining going on here, but it sure would be easy. That’s a lot of information that could be used easily for you, or against you.

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  4. MJ says:

    As a former high school data manager, I feel it’s important to counter some of the factual errors in this article. There are quite a few, all verifiable with publicly available information. I’m no fan of PowerSchool, but I believe that if we want to argue with it, we should do so over facts and not assumptions.

    1) The student ID number has always stayed with the student as long as they have moved within North Carolina. And since 2002, records for students transferred electronically,

    2) While students do use their ID numbers for lunch, this is done only as a matter of convenience. The PowerSchool system doesn’t have the capability to track who is eating in the cafeteria or who qualifies for F&R lunches. Districts use a separate program for this – most are using MealsPlus (http://www.mealsplus.com/)

    3) Neither teacher or student records are nationally shared. While many schools and districts use PowerSchool, they are separate instances of the database. There is no national sharing agreement in place, and while NC pays Pearson to host PowerSchool rather than shouldering the cost of internal infrastructure, many districts choose to own servers and host their PowerSchool instances in their own districts.

    4) There was an RFP for PowerSchool and Home Base. You can see it at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/homebase/improvement/about/

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