Problems with CBAs : Sutherland for Schools blog
My family

Fort Worth ISD Trustee District 6 

Contact 817-504-3360 

Problems with CBAs

by Ann Sutherland on 03/08/14

A parent posted below asking about the CBAs, saying her child is afraid of these tests.  Children should not be afraid of these tests, as they have no real meaning.  Some people think the purpose is to target teachers who don't teach the curriculum as dictated by FWISD. 

Major problems recently surfaced re the CBAs.  Here is Dr. Sorum's message to principals and teachers:

"Principals, I regret having to send this communication however I believe that it is very important that you and your tested content teachers understand that I am very upset about the quality control issues of the last couple of CBAs.  I take the work of the Teaching and Learning Division very seriously so I am also embarrassed by this. Additionally, I want to make certain that you and your teachers understand that I take these things very seriously and that we are developing a new process for quality control.  A component of this is that we will be asking for a teacher from each high school and middle school, each content area, and a good representation of elementary teachers, to participate in a committee that not only review the CBAs for accuracy but also review the CBAs for alignment with the state standards and the curriculum.

"In addition to decreasing the errors, this will also be a great professional development opportunity for your teachers that they can share with other teachers on your campuses.  A request for participants will be coming to you in this Friday’s principal packet.

"Please share this communication with your tested grade and appropriate content teachers.

"In the spirit of our Baldrige model of continuous improvement, every error is an opportunity for improvement. Thank you for bringing these issues to my attention.  I have always appreciated when you bring problems directly to me."

As a board member,  I oppose further work on this project which has never been shown to improve student performance--to the contrary, it is a likely cause of the decline in FWISD student performance since it was implemented.

Comments (22)

1. Teacher said on 3/8/14 - 12:33PM
Would teachers be paid for their involvement with this review committee? I assume the people who write the tests still have their jobs and are still being paid, so why should teachers be expected to volunteer their time to help others do their jobs for them? It often seems like the only people who are actually held accountable in this district are the teachers!
2. Ann replies said on 3/8/14 - 02:52PM
Teachers are normally given additional money at an hourly rate.
3. Really! said on 3/10/14 - 10:03AM
I don't agree with a lot of the district's purchases, but this might be a case where the district should purchase vetted sets of questions, then build customized CBA's. I'm going to call "bull corn" on the district not knowing about mistakes on CBA's, teachers have been complaining about CBA mistakes for years.
4. curriculum surprises said on 3/10/14 - 02:32PM
It might help if some followed the curriculum. When a parent looks at the curriculum at a glance numerous times it does not match what our children are doing. There has to be a standardized curriculum format for a district this size due to mobility in the district. There has to be a way to see if it is working. An example is all students in 7th grade need to be reading the same novel in the same six weeks or kids who move during the year would read it twice. I am assuming that the teachers who wrote the curriculum are the ones who had the highest passing rate on standardized tests for the regular students.
5. Faithful Reader said on 3/10/14 - 04:40PM
I'm not sure any of the Literacy Curriculum Writers are classroom teachers. The Literacy Curriculum is loaded with more activities, required assignments, and assessments than could reasonably be fit into most classroom teachers' limited instructional time. I'm not sure how many literacy teachers agree with skipping around in the reading book to do genre studies as opposed to going through the book in order and taking advantage of the spiraling opportunities which occur naturally.
6. Middle and High Parent said on 3/10/14 - 07:28PM
As a parent, I am very frustrated. Both of my children are straight A students. My high school student is in the top 2% of her class. However, both say that the CBAs consistently cover material that their teachers are not teaching. Why do teachers not cover the material that they should? My middle school's English teacher is not reading the required novels with her class. He is in the most advanced, Pre-AP English class. Also, he says that the day before history CBAs, his teacher gives them a review to cover all of the material that she hasn't covered in class. My daughter's teachers do the same thing in high school. She has CBA with material that is never covered. This has been a continuous concern of mine since they were in elementary school. If we are going to continue with CBAs, please ensure that teachers are teaching what they should be teaching.
7. Ann replies to #6 said on 3/12/14 - 11:01AM
Your comment is helpful to me. I believe these CBAs must be discontinued and I will fight to bring this about. They have done more to destroy the classroom atmosphere than any other "innovation" the central office has made. The people writing these do not have the knowledge nor technical skill to do so! The tests do not predict success on the state tests, and they take many DAYS away from teaching. They are a barrier between the teacher and student! They will be a part of the superintendent's evaluation at the end of this month also.
8. Another Parent said on 3/12/14 - 12:39PM
that may be true, but why are teachers deviating from the published curriculum? Are only some schools supposed to be teaching to it? I do not mind CBAs as long as the teachers take them seriously and teach the material that is being tested. If the teachers are not doing so, then I think teachers need to be point-blank asked why they aren't. Don't just blindly get rid of them. Survey ALL teachers anonymously to find out how they truly feel about the value of these assessments. A survey of parents and students is also valid, I believe.
9. Ann replies said on 3/12/14 - 01:05PM
Idon't know why teachers are deviating from the published curriculum at the secondary level. I will ask next week.
10. wow said on 3/12/14 - 08:29PM
I have felt like I was on an island all to myself complaining because the curriculum is not being taught. There is nothing wrong with giving cbas as it is only one day a six weeks. The bigger issues is why is the curriculum not being taught. The curriculum has never been given a chance. There are many more issues. Everyone seems to have forgotten that we are dealing with kids and should be doing everything to help the kids be successful. Is anyone looking at the failure rate of the kids each six weeks and putting steps in place to catch them before it is too late. I am sure something is on paper but is there any follow through. Why is focus not fully utilized with teachers entering assignments weekly as required. Some teachers enter grades day before progress reports go out and again after six weeks is over. Too late for the kids to do anything to get back on track. These are some of the same teachers who are the first to count off for late work. Why do some teachers miss so much work. How about the teacher who gives a test that over 75% of the students fail but teacher thinks it is a good test so it is counted and it counts 15 points on the six weeks grade. Fort Worth ISD has some awesome teachers but there are many problems in the district that have to be addressed and teaching the required curriculum is one place to start.
11. wow said on 3/12/14 - 08:42PM
Yeah. I have been complaining for years that the curriculum is not being taught. That is the issue, not the cbas. Giving of the cba only takes one day a six week but when you do not teach the curriculum and have to rush around for a week before the test then it does take up more time. Teach the curriculum as developed and give it a chance. Cbas give teachers information about what needs to covered again and gives the district information on how the curriculum is doing. Will give administrators valuable information on which teachers are doing a great job and which teachers need some help. Maybe if the curriculum was covered, then the district would not have so many students failing. We seem to forget that everything that we do should be to help the kids be successful.
12. Ann replies to #10 and #11 said on 3/13/14 - 06:51AM
How do you know that the curriculum is not being taught? Is it obvious throughout the schools? How are principals checking? One reason I suspect the CBAs are causing part of the test score problem is that the test scores came down during the same period that the CBAs were initiated. Other things happened also (the single curriculum for all grades, plus the requirement that it be followed rigorously), plus increased classroom oversight. I would appreciate more information from you.
13. Elementary teacher said on 3/13/14 - 04:11PM
CBAs may only take one day every six weeks in middle and upper school, but in elementary school grades they take at least four days every six weeks. If teachers aren't following the curriculum, why aren't principals and assistant principals catching this during their multiple walk-throughs each week? That seems like a far better solution than testing the kids constantly.
14. wow said on 3/14/14 - 11:27AM
If the curriculum is taught why does my child at one school and my friend's child same grade, same subject at a different school is covering totally different material. How about same subject, different teacher doing totally different assignments one year apart. This is this year and last year. The reason I said anything on this blog was because others had already said that they were concerned that the curriculum was not being followed.
15. 6th grade parent said on 3/14/14 - 05:45PM
I guarantee the curriculum isn't always followed. I don't know if that is good or bad, but it is what it is. So then you give students an exam over material that they have never covered. Just go to your 6th grade schools in your area, Dr. Sutherland, and ask the English teachers which novels they are teaching. I promise that those novels are not what is prescribed by the curriculum.
16. observer said on 3/14/14 - 07:49PM
There is only ONE novel taught in the 6th grade ELA curriculum frameworks and it is during the final 6 weeks. Freak the Mighty is the novel.
17. Concerned Parent/Teacher said on 3/15/14 - 08:05AM
Parents, before you are overly concerned about your student not being taught in lockstep with the curriculum, please be aware that the quality and even availability of the curriculum on the Frameworks system varies greatly from grade to grade, subject to subject. Adaptations are not available for upper level grades for Honors/Pre-AP/AP or for Special Ed or Limited English Proficient. It is highly likely that if your student is in an Honors class, they are receiving a more challenging, appropriate curriculum than you might see on the Parent at a Glance. The prescribed novel list needs to be reviewed. When it was first adopted (imposed on the District, not involving teachers and certainly not parents), teachers felt it dumbed down the curriculum, requiring them to teach these more populist, current novels in place of classics. The high majority of these are depressing, negative, and some are sexually explicit. Be glad if your student is being taught more from the textbooks or the classic college-prep texts rather than emphasizing the FWISD novel list. As far as CBAs go, most teachers I know do not believe these are constructed appropriately, especially in the elementary grades. Ann, take a look at the first grade math CBAs, for example. Most questions are "trick" questions for this developmental stage. These are not testing their computational skills. They are testing reading comprehension (even if read aloud to class)and multi-step logic. First grade students are asked to select which answer is NOT correct, after they have worked hard to find the correct solution. Many don't believe the dictated curriculum is at all appropriate for first grade. 2/3 of the year has passed, and subtraction has not been introduced. Instead, students continue to be challenged to know the expanded form of numbers and how to decompose them on an open number line. Approach is WAY too abstract for learners still in a concrete developmental stage. Also, CBAs count heavily into grade averages in many classrooms throughout the District, discouraging many, many students and families. They are not just "practice" tests.
18. 6th Grade Parent said on 3/15/14 - 08:37AM
In response to Concerned Parent/Teacher, CBAs do not count in averages. At least they never have in my experience. And when I asked downtown last year, was told that they would not count, and they never have. As I mentioned, I don't know whether it is good or bad that teachers do not teach to the curriculum, but if the kids are going to be tested over it, then either the tests need to be eliminated, or teachers need to be made to test to the curriculum. Interesting observations on the English novels. Children at two different 6th grade schools read different novels. My oldest first school insisted that they read all three novels, not so at my seconds new school.
19. Another from FWISD said on 3/15/14 - 02:28PM
Writing test items is a skill that requires knowledge of curriculum, state standards, child development, taxonomies of learning, vocabulary, and reading skills for a given grade level. Recent errors on the tests indicate our district's test writers may not have adequate education, training, experience, or skill level to write these exams, which attempt to mimic STAAR tests. On another note, as a parent and teacher, I am gravely concerned that my child hates testing days. In elementary, CBAs take up 4-5 hours per day for 4-5 days a week every six weeks! Much of the district administers CBAs under STAAR conditions, meaning once students finish a test, they cannot talk, read a book, or work. They put their heads down for up to 3 hours until all students are finished. All students are silent in the hallways and very quiet in classrooms. Teachers and students are so mentally exhausted at the end of the day that teachers cannot teach for that remaining hour of CBA days. Every available teacher and administrator tests students on these 4-5 days every six weeks because students with learning differences may have the questions read aloud or may get extra time individually or in small groups away from their regular classes. These 4-5 days every six weeks are lost to teaching and learning. Can we spare that much time and afford to alienate our students and teachers like this? Dr. Sutherland, I suspect that low scores could be caused in part by test fatigue - certainly not a good predictor for STAAR.
20. Concerned Parent/Teacher said on 3/16/14 - 09:17PM
#19-Amen to your description of the skills actually required to write a valid test. Sadly, your description of the actual CBA testing environment is accurate on many campuses. My children used to come home after the CBAs (then called "Benchmarks") saying, "Mom, we were on lockdown again today." After my heart skipping beats, thinking they had had a security incident, I would question them further and realize that they had been given yet another practice test under "simulated test conditions." They were not even allowed to go to the restroom more than one person at a time. No wonder they had test anxiety. How sad that so much instructional time is lost. To the person who wrote that the test is "only one day per six weeks" depending on the grade, this week-long CBA testing environment has been observed in elementary, middle and high schools. To the person who stated, "CBAs do not count in averages. At least they never have in my experience. And when I asked downtown last year, was told that they would not count, and they never have," we are telling you that they indeed do count in many student averages. If Downtown does not intend for them to be counted, they should do a better job of mandating this. Be glad they are not counting against your student's grades, but please don't discount the concern of others who are negatively affected. Thank you, Ann, for continuing to investigate this and other matters that concern FWISD families.
21. Middle School voice said on 3/19/14 - 03:41PM
Our CBA tests are mock STAAR environments. Many of the students finish the test in less than an hour and have to sit quietly and read until after 3pm or after depending on when we are released. When all students are finished, the teacher is to have "meaningful instructional activities" for a class of homeroom strangers. No further instruction, no guidelines, no pre-prepared lessons by subject area experts, nothing at all just something "meaningful" for 5 plus hours. We have wasted at least 10 full days so far this year on testing but possibly more that I have erased from my memory. CBA test administration days are especially entertaining as test monitors scramble to get the many corrections out to all of the classrooms on brightly colored copy paper (more $ wasted). Our last math CBA for 6,7,8th grade had 2 errors in answer choices. One error in which there were two choices that were the same answer choice word for word. How hard is that to not notice before bulk printing ($)? How many math curriculum specialist does it take to write a multiple choice test ($)? This was on the last page and stuck out to me like a sore thumb and I don't teach math. Not to only pick on math because I heard just as many issues with the ELA CBA including misspelled words on a district produced document. How embarrassing not to take the extra time to run spell check. Hire me to proof read! We were told this year that the CBA tests are NOT to count as a grade. Students know this and don't take the test as seriously. Couple this with the fact that the tests are poorly constructed and plummeting scores can be a certainty. We must brace ourselves for lower than hoped for STAAR results because students have so much less time in class to hone their skills with 2 plus weeks wasted so far on CBA testing. After the CBA test, all teachers are pulled from class to go over data. There are subs in the rooms these days. Today our entire 6th and 7th grade math and ELA teachers were out going over data so that when class is in regular session, there is a strong chance that there may be a substitute for one of the days. As for the curriculum issues presented: the curriculum is very broad and open for interpretation in many subjects at the secondary level especially as we get near the end of the year. Check out theater arts for example and you can see a nice copy and paste job which is nothing more of a list of behavior expectations. A researched-based differentiated curriculum that addresses the TEKS simply does not exist for too many subjects. Much of the curriculum on the frameworks at the secondary level can be loosely interpreted and not only at specialized courses. The first six weeks is usually well-written but it goes down hill fast from there. By the 5th six weeks we are lucky if there is anything left in the curriculum that is not pieced together or often missing completely. Wasn't there a curriculum audit that came out looking dismal for Fort Worth ISD? We haven't seen any real changes that make a difference. What changes have been made other than the "at a glace" addition? It seems that the "at a glance" guide does not match up to what we are being asked to teach in the frameworks based on the previous comments. Someone should look into that possibly glaring error and fix it.
22. FWISDConcerned said on 4/4/14 - 09:34AM
The CBA's are a waste of time and are given too much. The students and teachers are overwhelmed. Can we please allow learning to take place? Take your test elsewhere and let the teachers teach and let the kids learn.

Leave a comment

 Welcome to the Sutherland for Schools blog!  I will be posting items here which are of interest to the Fort Worth Independent School District community..  You will find recommended news items on my Twitter feed 
@DrAnnSutherland, and books and longer articles at the "articles" link above.   
You can get new posts automatically by accessing a link on your browser.