Category Archives: EngageNY Math

What A Difference A School Board Can Make… A Call to Action… Part Two

Good Evening To All The Board of Directors.

I am honored our district gives community members a chance to contribute to the conversation.  My dual role as parent and educator drives me to encourage everyone to dig deeply into the reforms and ask the hard questions.

School Boards can make a huge difference.  You are the first line of protection in regards to our children.  What you approve or disapprove impacts each school and child vastly.

Action #1: Amplify Testing

Diving 1Two weeks ago, I shared the 3rd Grade Math Benchmark Assessment given to 8 year olds.   I hope you had the time to review the last item and its’ scoring guide, as well as the student responses, while keeping in mind the students were required to show their thinking using Microsoft Word.

I posed the problem:  5 X (16 + 8 ÷ 4) – 5 X 2

The answer is 80 and was the first question on the 5th Grade Math Benchmark Test.  I watched as children stared at their screens.  Minutes went by.  Already defeated, they went on to attempt other items.  I pondered what we were told regarding Amplify being contracted to write custom assessments for our school district based on our pacing guide and content taught from EngageNY Mathematics.  I reviewed the first two modules at 5th grade and the above item had not been taught to this extent, nor was it the focus of the first two units.

  • How can we pay an outside source from our limited funds to write “custom assessments” and the items come back not aligned?  After all, we do have a “shortfall”… correct?
  • How can we ask teachers to replace their module assessments from EngageNY and use the Amplify Test for grades?
  • How can we afford to lose precious instruction time to deliver this test, and for what purpose?
  • Is it discriminating? Is it valid? Is it reliable? Is it the best measurement of student growth?

Exhibit A  Arabic Multiple Choice / Constructed Response Sample Test

I’ve included 3 Multiple Choice Test Items in Arabic and one constructed response.  I would like you to pretend you are a student, a non-Arabic speaker, and being asked to take this short “test”. (3 Multiple Choice Questions, one constructed Response) What you are looking at is simpler than what the non-english students in my school experienced.

How So?

  • Not one word would be in English.
  • The Multiple Choice letters would be Arabic.
  • If an able body is available they would be able to read each item to you out loud in Arabic.
  • 11 peers in your classroom speak 4 other languages and can have it read in Arabic too.
  • There is one teacher in the classroom.
  • This is the only accommodation.
  • No translations are allowed.
  • You observe 3 special education students at a table with the teacher, because she can read it out loud to them too. (All reading 2-3 grade levels below 5th grade)
  • The other 7 Arabic speaking students raise their hands to ask questions periodically, in which the 5th grade teacher must leave her table to answer.
  • The Special Education teacher is not available because she has 32 other qualified students she is expected to deliver individualized instruction to in other classrooms.
  • The Arabic Language Teachers are also unavailable because they are in other classrooms delivering instruction to the over 100 students qualified as ALL. (Arabic Language Learners)
  • You must type your answers into a machine you have had very little experience with because you had never seen one before or your family can not afford one.
  • All the Keys on this foreign machine (keyboard) are in Arabic.

How well would you perform?  How would this make you feel about school and learning?

Can you clearly see the issue and concerns teachers are having with this kind of testing zapping instructional hours which eventually turn into days of instruction?

Exhibit B       5th Grade ELA Interim Amplify Assessment

Now flip through the 31 Item, 23 page, 5th Grade ELA Interim 1 Amplify Assessment.

Imagine every single word, every single item, being written in Arabic.  You face the computer screen and listen to your teacher say, “Just do your best”,  or “all I can do for you is read it out loud in Arabic”, or “???????????????!” .

Exhibit C       Item #31  Constructed Response.

Consider completing 30 items and then facing this Item.  The students are expected to write a full story with eight criteria to include.   During the WASL years, fourth graders were given a full day to complete a prompt like this.  Even then, it was inappropriate and does not mirror the authentic writing process.  Examine the scoring guide and then review the six anonymous student responses.

Action #1 Request

Please consider equitable ways in which we can assess our most struggling learners.  I hope we can begin looking at ways to promote Assessment for Learning over Assessment of Learning.

Children’s brains are not standardized.  Just like walking and talking, they learn at different rates and at different times.  They have different passions and talents.  They need learning experiences and expeditions.  This, indeed, will close the “opportunity” gap.

Action Item Request #2  EngageNY  (Eureka) Mathematics

I received the following quote from a veteran, dynamic, engaging 1st grade teacher in New York.  After reading and considering her words, I urge the board to allow a committee to be formed ASAP to begin the process of finding a researched based math program with sound pedagogy embedding how young children learn mathematics.  Please do not wait until next year.



Thank You and May This Season Bring You Never Ending Peace.

Diving 2

 Passionately Submitted,



  • Wayne Au, University of Washington Professor, Author: Rethinking Multicultural Education
  • Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School, Author: More Than A Score
  • Carol Burris, New York Principal of the Year, now Executive Director of NPE
  • Anthony Cody, National Board Certified Teacher, Author: Living in Dialogue & The Educator And The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation
  • Leonie Haimson, Co-Chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Founder and Executive Director of Class Size Matter
  • Following The Common Core Money: Where are Millions of Dollars Going?  (Valerie Strauss highlights Carol Burris.  The history of EngageNY Math revealed)





What A Difference A School Board Can Make… A Call to Action

Good Evening To All The Board of Directors.

Paul and Jerrall, I warmly welcome you to your new role. I was one of the crazy ladies driving my car around town with both of your campaign signs attached.

Deana, thank you for meeting with me and the time you have given to the community. Thank you for expressing your concerns with the over-testing of our children.

For those who have not met me yet, my name is Raschelle Holland. I’ve been an educator for 26 years and have been honored with the National Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics, the National Christa McAuliffe Fellowship Award, the United States Senate Innovative Teacher Award, and was one of the first in this state to become Nationally Board Certified. I stand here this evening, not just as an educator, but as a parent of an 8 year old, and active tax payer within the boundaries of Spokane School District.

I moved back to Spokane 8.5 years ago after having my son and desiring to live closer to my mother. I am a graduate of Shadle Park High School, Whitworth University, and completed a 3 year graduate degree at Gonzaga University in Teaching Mathematics.  I’m a Spokane “girl” through and through.

In my previous school districts, I had strong, trusting relationships with each of the school board members and the Superintendents.

In the past two years my passionate concerns regarding what I see occurring nationally with the current reform efforts, trickling into our states, seeping into school districts, and the walls of our schools have prompted me to crusade for our children and fight for what is right and true. Many of the reforms are harmful to children and … Need. To. Stop.

Too many have been afraid to speak up or to share their voice in regards to some of the results and consequences of the reform efforts. NCLB has failed. I also have grave concerns with the ESEA Reauthorization… a 1012 page document being voted upon today by our Congress. Who has time to read it? What is hidden within the document? Some say it is better. What I wonder is if it is like President Coin in the Hunger Games? She battled against the Evil Capitol, yet in the end she was just as evil and just as bad. Will the ESEA rewrite just be another Hunger Games using children for profit? We all must Be Aware, Be Leery, and Be Wise in the current times.

After all, we are talking about C H I L D R E N.

School Boards can make a huge difference. You are the first line of protection in regards to our children. What you approve or disapprove impacts each school and child vastly.

First Steps… A Call to Action

Action #1: Amplify Testing Diving 1

Please solve:

5 X (16 + 8 ÷ 4) – 5 X 2

Answer: ________

What grade level do you think children encountered this problem on the Amplify Test our school district has purchased?

The SBAC paid Amplify $12,000,000 to write practice tests. Rupert Murdoch of Fox News Corp owns Amplify. He has recently sold the company because it is losing money. In fact, 9 states got rid of it due to the way it shared the student data with 3rd party vendors. Parents spoke up and out.

I don’t want to be afraid anymore. So I am speaking up. Parents and teachers have been contacting me over the past few months. Here are some facts:

    1. The questions are convoluted in math. Nearly every question is a reasoning question.
    2. There are no accommodations for ELL or Special Needs students. Zero.
    3. There are 26 questions on the 3rd grade Amplify Math Benchmark. This is deceptive. Look through the 3rd grade test I have provided for you in your folders. One item is not one item.
    4. Look at Item #26, a constructed response. Review the scoring guide. Look at the student’s responses.
    5. We teach them with manipulatives and how to draw pictures to show their thinking. Look what the question(s) asks for. How does an 8 year old do this in a Word Document? Is this the best way to assess their knowledge at 8?
    6. Our district paid Amplify to write custom assessments in math based on our pacing guide. The problem above… I asked you to solve… was not addressed in Module 1 or 2 of EngageNY Math.
    7. Every 4th grader in my school failed this test. The data on the other grades will be similar. Every student? Is this about the teaching? Or the test? Or the math program being used?
    8. A parent contacted me from an elementary school in our district. She had asked to opt her child out of the Amplify Testing. There are grave concerns about the data collection and how the data is stored. She was told she couldn’t because it was being used for grades. Very concerning. The children are being asked questions they haven’t been taught yet and using these for grades? Her response… She’s moving forward with the Opt Out, because she said “she wasn’t concerned about her child’s grades at 8 years old, and if one test was what the teacher would base a whole trimester on… have at it.”
    9. What is the validity and inter-rater reliability across the district in scoring the items?
    10. After the children finish the math test, they then take the ELA Interim Test. The ELA 3rd grade test is 27 pages back to back when printed. Therefore, the test is 54 pages long.                       (8  y e a r   o l d s)
    11. My school has been using our two computer labs since mid-October and will go through Dec. 18th for Amplify Testing. Guess when the next testing window starts for the next round of Amplify Testing? Answer: Feb. 1st.  (By the time SBA rolls around, the children will be puking tests up. The SBA ties up all computers in the school April through May)

My personal questions revolve around the ethics and morality of doing this to children.

C H I L D R E N.

Current statistics say children take over 112 standardized tests from pre-k to graduation now. How necessary is this? What message are we sending our children? What is truly important?

Spokane School Districts Testing Calendar

Please dig and learn more about Amplify. Learn more about the company, how it got started, on whose dime, and how it is failing. Is this how we want to put forth $300,000? Please. Let’s ask ourselves if this is right for our children and if this is the direction we really want to head?

Action Item #2 EngageNY Mathematics

It has been put out there we may be stuck with this math program for two more years. I would like the board to consider doing the same with EngageNY as I am requesting with Amplify. Check out its history. Where it started, who wrote it, and on whose dime? I understand it is just an “interim” math program. However, four years of an elementary aged child’s life is not “interim”. These are children’s foundational mathematical years.

I’ve spent the past few years researching this program and I will express the angst I have with it, and the heartache many educators feel in this district using it… especially at the K-3 level. I have a long list of issues I can send you if desired. In my building it is ineffective for most of the children because our children come 2-3 grade levels behind. For ELL students it is a nightmare. It will not close the (“achievement”) opportunity gap, rather it will widen it.

I’d like a push from the School Board to start looking at elementary math programs as soon as possible. I do believe there are better programs for elementary children.


Diving 2Again, my sincere congratulations to the new Directors. I look forward to a positive working relationship and doing my part to help pave the path towards positive solutions.

You. Can. Make. A. Difference.

Passionately Submitted,

Raz on Fire



EngageNY Math, now Eureka, A Common Core Dropping

There is an elephant in the room…

And this elephant is creating quite the stench.

The numerous discussions happening around the country regarding EngageNY, a “free” math program, are snow balling. More and more school districts are considering adopting this program, as others are dumping it (no pun intended).

What do you know about it? Where did it start? What’s its history? Is it “free”? How much did it cost to write? Who wrote it?

Or a bolder question: What in the H. E. double hockey sticks is this?

ComplicityI’m often tagged and asked to join discussion threads with these questions, amongst numerous others. I’ve been very vocal about my thoughts regarding this math program, and my angst regarding what harm it is causing children.  I do not fear discussing the elephant in the room…  especially an elephant causing such a stink. How could I not speak up? As a 26 year math educator, I find very little in this math program mirroring solid research about how young children learn mathematics.

The Journey I’ve Traveled

My school district approved this program at a school board meeting in December 2013. It did not go through a review process with a group of math experts in the district. In fact, the math committee reviewing math curricular materials was disbanded in the Spring of 2013. Why? The reason given was there were no “viable math curricular materials to review that align with Common Core”.

Bye Bye Math Committee.

Yet, in November 2013, a person downtown (hired for one year in a .5 position) was instructed to put together a binder of EngageNY sample materials. This binder was presented to the Spokane School Board in December 2013. Parents were in the audience with letters from New York State teachers with recommendations to avoid this math program. It still was approved.

Those of us who have had a career in math education were not in the loop.

In January of 2014, the roll out of this program began with teachers using one to two of the modules to get their feet wet. I attended a professional development session in the Spring of 2014 with a group of teachers, and those presenting and training us were teachers in their first and second year of teaching.

I was astounded as I sat quietly, (internally steaming), in the Professional Development session. Those of us who have had hundreds of hours of math education training, (I myself a 25+ year educator with a Master’s Degree in Teaching Mathematics), sat for two hours listening to two young, well intentioned teachers, trying to train us on an EngageNY Module… a program they had very little experience with themselves.

Where were the district math experts in this process?  Why didn’t the district call back the math committee to review the binder?  Why the rush?  Why no discussion?  After all, this would be placed in teacher’s hands and used with children.

C H I L D R E N.

I left the training with a pit in my stomach. I reviewed the lessons in the first grade module and knew instantly this was not how young children learn mathematics. It is riddled with worksheets, direct instruction, and a lot of sit and get. As I drove home, the nausea in my belly churned. Ultimately, as an instructional math coach, my job would be to assist teachers in implementing this program… with “fidelity” of course.

The 2014/2015 school year hit, and the majority of teachers opted to fully implement the program alongside implementing a new ELA program on top of it (Journeys). Currently, in the 2015/2016 school year it is no longer optional.  It is required.


The comfort statement we all heard was, “This is just an “interim” math program.” Somehow, it being an “interim” program, justified its use. We can put something in front of children because it is merely an “interim” program. As a parent of a primary aged child, and as an educator of K-6 children, just how is this program an “interim” math program for them?  This program will be in front of children for four years until a permanent adoption will be made.

Four years.

How is this “interim” for a 2nd grader? A 2nd grader who will be taught from a program with NO research to back it, for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. This is four years of a child’s foundational mathematical career.

My own 2nd grader shared his thoughts throughout his first year being exposed to the program. “Mom, I’ve been waiting for math to get more challenging.  And now it is.  But in the wrong kind of way.   They are now making the easy stuff harder.  I already know how to do what we are doing.  The easy things I already know… I now have to do in a hard way.”

And the “free” word attached… adding to the justification of its use?

The copying alone to implement this program in a school district Spokane’s size is $3,000,000 a year.  In four years time, Spokane will have spent $12,000,000 in copying alone.

The History and the Money Behind EngageNY and Eureka

 “Where did this unprecedented scripted curriculum come from?”  Carol Burris, New York State Principal of the Year, asks.

Burris continues:

“The New York State mathematics curriculum was developed by an organization located in Washington D.C. known as Common Core, Inc. According to reporter Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York, Common Core Inc. was awarded three large contracts from the New York State Education Department: $3,323,732 for K-2 curriculum, $2,715,958 for grades 3-5, and $8,108,919 for grades 6-12.

That is a total of  $14,148,609 — or more than $1 million per grade level project. Bakeman broke the story about the high costs of the New York State modules, which you can read here.  To put this expenditure in perspective, my school district, Rockville Centre, generally pays less than $1,000 for a grade level curriculum project.

According to the story, New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch bragged that New York State is the only state using its federal Race to the Top dollars to develop curriculum; it has spent in excess of $28 million on curriculum in English and Mathematics.”

Therefore, a company, not in New York State, called Common Core, Inc… located in Washington D.C. was contracted to write the EngageNY Curricular Materials.

How many of us were led to believe this was written in New York by a group of educators?


Not. The. Case.

Common Core Inc. and Gates Foundation

“Let’s go back to 2007… the year that Common Core Inc. was founded, three years before the standards were made public. In 2009, it received over a half million dollars in the form of a grant from the Gates Foundation to write curriculum for standards that had not yet been released nor adopted by state.

Last week, Catholic Education Daily reported on the connection between Common Core Inc. and the Gates Foundation in a story entitled “Common Core is Curriculum, Contrary to Advocates’ Claims.”

The story reports that despite Bill Gates’ claim that there was no need to build national Common Core curriculum, he has, through his grant program, quietly funded its development in excess of  $10 million, with Common Core Inc. The Gates Foundation appears to have a partner in New York State when it comes to curriculum development.

The New York State Regents Research fund has received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to further its reform agenda. But more importantly, the State Education Department has helped finance the effort to create curriculum by using more than $28 million in Race to the Top federal taxpayer dollars. And it appears that one of the recipients, Common Core Inc., intends to influence curriculum beyond New York State. A search of the Common Core Inc. site shows that the organization will sell textbook editions of the work that they did for New York, thus leveraging New York’s tax dollars to launch a textbook series.”

For Carol Burris’ full unmasking of the truth: Follow the Common Core Money: Where are Millions of Dollars Going?

Eureka Math is Born

So… just what is the “textbook” series Common Core, Inc… intended to launch? Well… The Common Core, Inc. group saw dollar signs.  After all, school districts across the United States were tapping into this “free” program. So Common Core, Inc. formed a new “math group” and named it Eureka.  Eureka then bought the rights to all of the Common Core, Inc. materials. The online version many school districts are using is the Common Core, Inc. version. It is riddled with errors… but it is “free”.


Eureka then cleaned up the errors. However, it is essentially the same exact program.  Use the old EngageNY version for “free”, or use Eureka’s cleaned up version for a price.

Mercedes Schneider reveals the transition from EngageNY to Eureka in her research: The (NY, DC, LA, and CA) Story of Eureka Math. There are no major changes to the EngageNY materials. This was also confirmed from a Eureka trainer who came to Spokane last year.

No. Major. Changes.

It. Is. The. Same.

Oh! But wait! It just got another new name… Eureka is now calling their incredible math program Great Minds. You can read all about it here: The Eureka Difference.


Eureka proclaims, “When implemented faithfully, Eureka Math will dramatically reduce gaps in student learning, instill persistence in problem solving, and prepare students to understand advanced math.”

Yet, isn’t this the same exact curricular program developed by Common Core, Inc. at New York State’s expense?  And started with money from Gates even before the Common Core Standards were unleashed?

Shameless Shapeshifters.

Many school districts have come to learn the fallacy and are saying good-bye… even Spokane has done some back peddling and teachers are being told they can differentiate and utilize other curricular materials to enhance children’s mathematical learning. Why? Because EngageNY/Eureka does not work for a large number of children.

Local School Board in Louisiana Votes to Dump Common Core Math … If you read the article, what they are really dumping is Eureka Math.

The Concerns Run Deep

Where do I start?

Perhaps with the voice of a teacher? A teacher in New York forced to implement what she knows is not right for her students…

New York Teacher Statement

My personal list:

  1. EngageNY/Eureka is not differentiated. It assumes children come to the classroom with the same skill set.
  2. The pacing is horrendous. It goes way too fast in some modules and way too slow in others.
  3. It assumes children “get the math” in one lesson, because the homework sent home in the evening is on the new learning that occurred on that day. As educators we must continue to focus upon the purpose of homework. In title schools this widens the achievement gap… what help do the most struggling learners receive at home? Oh, that’s right… Eureka has parent videos so they can watch the lesson that happened that day in class. Hmmm… great for the parents who have internet access at home.
  4. It is plum full of worksheets.
  5. It asks children to do speed “sprints” on math they do not yet understand. Go fast! Go fast! I watch children doing these sprints and every answer is wrong. They are practicing for speed, skills and concepts they have not yet mastered. Goes against tons of research.
  6. It compartmentalizes learning. Do this for 3 minutes, then this for 18 minutes, then this for 33 minutes, then this for 6 minutes. It is all neatly packaged in a 60 minute lesson. And then on to tomorrows lesson… assuming every child got the 60 minute lesson from the day before.
  7. The DOK (Depth of Knowledge) levels of learning are low, levels 1 and 2.
  8. The rubrics written for the module assessments are tied directly to the models EngageNY/Eureka expects them to use. If a child solves a problem in another way, they cannot earn a level 4.

Side note: Even more lovely… Spokane School District has set up the Eureka Math Lessons in a Pacing Guide. After every two to three modules the students take a Math Benchmark Test through Amplify. (Spokane School District paid Amplify to write custom Math Benchmarks based on EngageNY/Eureka Modules… more $$$$ spent). The pacing guide and looming benchmark assessments assumes children master everything in 60 minutes every day, can move quickly through math skills and concepts, and complete each module as scheduled. Teachers all over the United States are finding this to be untrue.

The lessons Do. Not. Take. 60. Minutes.

Furthermore, one of my grade level teams just finished the first Math Benchmark Assessment through the Amplify computerized test. Not one child “met the standard” according to the Amplify Test on the first two Modules. The teachers teaching Eureka with “fidelity” and “faithfully” didn’t get the results.


Hug a TurdA) Crappy Teaching?

B) Crappy Program?


C) Crappy Test?

I’ll vouch for all three teachers. Awesome instruction in all three classrooms. So… the conclusion is… ? Need I answer?

Okay, I can’t resist…

I think educators are being asked to hug a turd.

Correct Answer: B and C

Two turds in a pod.

After the Amplify Test and “analyzing the data” what solution are we left with as educators? Move on to Eureka Module Three and Module Four to prepare for the next Amplify Math Benchmark Assessment.  After all, No Child Shall Be Left Behind.

EEE GADS! This is not teaching and learning.

At. All.

It’s survival.

And it stinks.

The Finale

I will end with a quote from a well-respected math educator in Spokane School District. She read the New York Teacher’s comment above and responded with:

“I could have – and should have – written the above paragraph last year when I did the first module. I can add tears to the experience. The kids’ and mine. This year isn’t any better. My kids will have no number sense. There is nothing. None. No room to show their thinking. A new book on my porch – mindful mathematics – yesterday reminds me of what is important to teach my kids: how to think, not what to think. What’s important: flexibility, accuracy and efficiency… what’s not important is being shown a strategy and being expected to perform it all in one lesson. Quite the opposite of what’s best for kids. I am not buying into this. Can’t do this to children and their parents. I respect them as learners too much.” 

turdNumerous dedicated, hard working, and talented teachers know exactly what EngageNY (aka Eureka) is:  A Common Core Dropping.

A Turd.

“I’ve been handed a turd.  You can ask me to blanket it with floral spray to mask its’ odor.  However, it is still a turd.” –Ryan Grant, 5th Grade Teacher, Medical Lake School District commenting on the EngageNY Math Program.

Passionately Submitted,


Other References:

  1.  Why Isn’t AFT and New York More Enraged About EngageNY?
  2.  Crazy Crawfish’s Blog: Louisiana’s Texbook Selection Shenanigans
  3.  Is NYSED Admitting the EngageNY Modules are Crap?
  4. Five Things EngageNY Didn’t Intend to Teach My Kid
  5. In Cumberland, New Math Lessons Replace Investigations

5th Grade End of Module 1 Assessment, Scoring Guide, and Sample Level 4 Answers… EngageNY

The 5th Grade End of Module 1 Assessment:

5th Module 1

5th Module 2

5th Module 3

5th Module 4

5th Module 5

The following is the scoring guide for the 5th Grade End of Module 1 Assessment.  The student can earn up to 4 points for each numbered item.

5th Module Rubric

5th Module Rubric 2

The following is an example with level 4 responses for each numbered item.  Notice some items have multiple steps and multiple questions for each of the numbered items:

5th Module Answer 1

5th Module Answer 2

5th Module Answer 3

4. Dr. Mann mixed 10.357 g of chemical A, 12.062 g of chemical B, and 7.506 g of chemical C to make 5 doses of medicine.

5th Module Answer 4

The Common Core Grinch this Christmas… Part One

Today is the day I officially became a Common Core Grinch.

It being conference week for teachers and the high stress time already, I sat in my office reflecting upon the effects of Common Core and the impact it is having upon the classrooms of our nation.   The image of the grumpy, ole’, green Grinch came to mind.  My face definitely mirrored the contortions Jim Carey became so famous for in the movie of Dr. Suess’ beloved Christmas Story. I most likely will never star in any movie for my facial expressions, but I am sure mine are just as ugly.

I spent some time last night continuing my research around the Common Core Standards and uncovering more connections between Corporate Big Business, the Corporate Billionaires, the stake holders, the testing industry, the publishing companies… the list goes on. In my reading a parent posted the following:

Tonight, while trying to help my son with his first grade math homework, I told him I had no idea what they were talking about in the wording on his homework sheet, he then tells me: ‘Maybe you need to go in and talk to my teacher because you don’t know how to do this.’ I’m 33 years old and can’t figure out 1st grade math homework.”

The flood gates were opened to comments by a slew of angry and confused parents. I don’t blame them. I, too, am seeing math homework I’m not in agreement with either. See my own child’s perspective here: (here)

I joined this discussion thread and posted the question, “By chance, is your district using EngageNY?” My suspicions were affirmed.

A few months back I wrote an anonymous piece about my growing concern around common core.   A concerned parent in Washington and I found each other through a referral, and she asked if she could post my piece to some concerned parent sites. With a little trepidation, I said yes. Within the day the following comment came through in response to my writing:

“I am a mother of a 3rd grade student currently enrolled in the Spokane City School District (District 81). My daughter is bright, creative, sensitive, and has a passion for learning. Unfortunately during the past months, only months, I have witnessed her struggle, fail, and actually think that she was too stupid to understand how to complete the math assessments, and assignments. It breaks my heart, and is setting her up for failure, and creating a mindset of fear, extreme stress, and test anxiety.  No, you are not alone. When I saw her teacher about this I stated, that the public school system has a LEGAL OBLIGATION to provide my daughter, as well as every single student enrolled in the public school system, with the proper education! We talked about ways to help her, as well as myself, understand this new curriculum and common core formulas. I was astonished to see how they expect children of this age grasp, the unnecessarily complicated process, without knowing the basic formula first!  Then her teacher’s eyes watered up when I said as much, and said that I do not want my child held back because of this nonsense….I could tell he wanted to say something, but just said “we’ll find a way”. I think you’re right, in that most teachers are afraid to speak up and stand against this abomination called “Common Core”! If everyone, all teachers and all parents would rally together, and strike, or stand up and SAY something we could win.  We need to stop being complacent. We need to be the voice, and protector of our children! They can’t do it for themselves! These are entire future generations of our country, that are being force fed what boils down to being a political and financial agenda!!  I commend you for standing up and speaking out about the real problem!”

Spokane Public School District is using EngageNY too.

I could spend the rest of this post copying and pasting several more like comments.  I think two is enough to drive the point home.  There is a problem festering and brewing and soon will be boiling over.  Anything done in haste usually does not end well.  You’d think if this math program was to be put into the hands of teachers and used to instruct our most precious commodity, there would be a full review of the program by math experts?  It seems logical there would be time taken to find out what other school districts using it were finding?   Or consider even the state of New York dropped the program as currently written?  Or how about this one…  determine if it was field tested in real classrooms with real teachers with real children?  No?  And if it so happened it was field tested, which it was not, was there an examination of its results?  Hmmmmm…. For most school districts, none of the above happened.  Thenceforth, should anyone be surprised an outcry… or downright outrage… is catching fire?

What is the rush all about anyway?

The rush is all about getting students to standard…. Now!   The message I heard over and over is, “There is nothing else out there that aligns to the Common Core.” … Or … “It’s better than what we had.” … Or … “It isn’t that bad, come on….  Give it a few years and the kids will catch up.”

The rush is all about getting students to pass the test.  And the test is here… Now!  No time to wait, to think, to evaluate, or to ask the bold questions… and for those of you not convinced this isn’t about money, it may be to your advantage to read the following:

1) 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests

2) Pearson Education Can Run, but it Can Not Hide.

So what pushed me over the edge today?   From concerned educator and mommy to the cantankerous Grinch?

The wonderful special education teacher in my building came to my office with a student assignment in hand.  She pointed at a question and asked me for some background and help.

Here is part of the assignment:

6th Grade Problem

Zero in on #1.  Write the opposite of the opposite of -10 in an equation.

Think about this for a moment.   What grade level do you think this is from?

Let me humor us all with the standard the student is supposed to grasp:

Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation.”


“Understand a rational number as a point on the number line. Extend number line diagrams and coordinate axes familiar from previous grades to represent points on the line and in the plane with negative number coordinates.

a. Recognize opposite signs of numbers as indicating locations on opposite sides of 0 on the number line; recognize that the opposite of the opposite of a number is the number itself, e.g., -(-3) = 3, and that 0 is its own opposite.”

 Does reading the standard bring clarity to this question? Is it easier to determine what grade level our children are expected to master this skill?

I, of course, dug into my background in mathematics, and began the path of explaining. The special education teacher then said, “I have 5 pages of this to work through with my student.”

My mouth dropped.

My mouth contorted.

My face reddened.

And my dear colleague affirmed I did not turn green.

The Common Core Grinch emerged. Wrong color, but the Grinch still.

Can we stop just for one moment and ask ourselves a few sensible questions?

Here we go:

  • Is this age appropriate?
  • Is this critical to the student to master at this point in her educational career?
  • How does this child learn? Is she an auditory learner? Is she visual?   Does she learn by doing (kinesthetic)?
  • What pre-requisite skills does this child need in order to be successful?

And this is where most of us need to give pause and ask ourselves what we are doing to our children, and dare I ask…. what toll is this taking upon the many gifted teachers in the classrooms across the nation trying to make sense of this sleigh pulled by a dog with tied on antlers?

May I boldly suggest the quickly written EngageNY materials peppered with errors do not address children’s learning modalities? May I boldly suggest the pacing of the lessons leave students farther behind and give no opportunity for review?

None of this is a surprise, really, to many who were already predicting what the one size fits all Common Core Standards would do to our classrooms. Take Anthony Cody, 24 year educator and national board certified teacher, for example, as he expressed the 10 Colossal Errors regarding the Common Core Standards:

By highlighting two of the ten errors he exposes, my evolution to the solid Grinchhood state will become obvious. EngageNY is a direct result of the push for national common standards and a fulfillment of Cody’s predictions embedded in the following errors.

“Error #2: The Common Core State Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.

One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core. 

In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were

  1. Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.
  2. They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing
  3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.
  4. There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.

Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, to “prepare” them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.”

I am a first-hand witness to all of the above.   Teachers everywhere are grappling with breathing life into this scripted program and screaming for the time to do so.   This is addressed with clarity in Cody’s 4th error:

“Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.

At the heart of the Common Core is standardization.  Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them “behind” at an early age. 

The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the “complexity” of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper’s Penguins is more “rigorous” than Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates. 

This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.

Carol Burris recently shared a 1st grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level. 

Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, “Which is a related subtraction sentence?”  My nephew’s wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one. 

Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.

You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.

 The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:

If you read Commissioner John King’s Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were “backmapped” from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a “back map”–young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.”

Having honed in upon two of Cody’s ten errors, let’s go back to the student problem. What is the opposite of the opposite of -10 written in equation form?

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, this is a 6th grade level question from the 3rd Module of EngageNY. This is the mathematics the 24 writers believed was most critical for our 11 and 12 year olds to know in order for them to be career and college ready. The answer is posted in the picture below:

6th Answer Key

(-(-(-10))) = -10

Will this content help this young special education student become ready for college and career? My gut tells me there are other foundational mathematics skills she has not yet mastered and deserves the time and quality instruction to learn at her own pace in order to develop authentic mathematical understanding.

So… what’s the story behind EngageNY? Who wrote it?

Often times, we teachers take what is given to us, and just make the best of it. Very true. We are rule followers and do what we are told.   Don’t want to rock the boat or possibly call attention to ourselves. After all, we are now under a new evaluation system in which our principals rank us in around 41 standards.   We must show we are teaching the materials with integrity, we must prove our students are mastering the common core standards, and now there is even legislation in many states, including Washington, to tie our teacher evaluations to how well our students perform on the SBAC test. Some states have already passed this kind of legislation.

Uh Oh.

How does this set up any teacher to have open dialogue regarding their instructional practice or to analyze a program and deem it inappropriate?   How does this create a risk free environment in which the hard questions can be asked by the very educators living and breathing in the trenches alongside our children?

Honestly? It’s darn hard.

When I first heard about EngageNY it was shared in this way, “New York State developed a program with grant money.   $27,000,000 in grant money. Educators within the state wrote the program and it is free to use. It is the most aligned program out there at this time.”

Sound Good?

I laughed to myself as I did my first Google search and found David Greene, author of the book, Doing the Right Thing. He’s a skeptic just like myself.   The same questions below were festering inside of me one August day this summer.

He wrote, Being as skeptical as I am, I asked a few questions. “Is ENGAGENY really ‘in house’ as the NYSED says it is?” Where is the transparency? Who paid for all of this? Why is it so hard to follow the money? With whom does it partner? Who has NYSED hired to write the modules on their site?” See his full discovery here:

Interestingly, EngageNY was NOT written in New York.   The Department of Education in New York contracted the job out to a company called Common Core, Inc. located in Washington D.C.   It was funded by a national grant and once written it had to be made available to any and all whom wished to see it and use it. It basically went viral and has been “adopted” by many school districts throughout the United States.

Because of the wide spread use, Common Core, Inc. saw the mighty dollar sign.

$$$$$$$$. Pretty symbol, yes?

So… this same company started a new company called Eureka.   Eureka bought the full rights to the Common Core, Inc. written EngageNY. Here’s the problem. Because EngageNY was written so quickly, it was filled with errors.   Because it was never field tested, there were many lessons found to be lacking. Eureka, the same peeps, now had the time to go through every module and fine tune the program.   The original writing paid for by the benefits of a national grant gave the now “for profit” Eureka the luxury of time to correct the errors and to make subtle changes to the lessons.   How nice for school districts everywhere. They can now purchase this “comprehensive” program.

EngageNY = Eureka

Eureka = EngageNY

How’s that for the commutative property?

School districts are still allowed to use as much of the old error filled version of EngageNY. It remains “free”.

If school districts want the new and improved version, well, they now have to fork out the dough.

You can examine the “free” version here:

A more comprehensive analysis of the history of EngageNY was written by Mercedes Schneider, one of my favorite educational writers. See here:

I will end Part One here.   I’m hoping my story will end with a softened heart and a happy ending for the U.S.A. educational system.   For now, though, when it comes to the Common Core Standards and EngageNY, I have been Grinchified.

Have you?

Passionately Submitted,



2nd Grader Shares His Thoughts About Math… and the EngageNY Math Program

My son’s final quote of the night saved for the last line……

The story before the story:

My 2nd Grade son is a mathematical thinker.   As a math educator inside the system with a child inside the system my concern grows.  Classrooms across the country have teacher concerns growing too.  I know, I work with some pretty fantastic teachers and I am listening to their struggles every day.

My son has a natural ability to move around numbers in his head. This has been happening since he was four years old.  I often wonder if his Montessori School experience provided him with the foundation he needed to make sense of numbers.   I think back to all of his work places and the beads and the boxes and the tiles and the sticks.   He constantly was building tens.  As a parent, I was thrilled.

I remember tucking him into bed and him asking me to give him math problems.   I always said, “After Story Time.”   Story time would come to an end and I would shoot out 9 + 8!

He would say, “That’s so easy mom.   17!”

I was perplexed.  This is before Kindergarten.  “How did you get that so fast?” I’d inquire.

“Well, I just took one from the 8 to make the 9 a ten.  Then all I had to do was add 10 + 7 and that is 17!”

My heart overflowed.   Bubbled.   Celebrated.   He was making numbers friendly first.  Then dealing with them.   As a math specialist in my school district this was exactly the number sense we were aiming for in our students.   Rather than memorizing 8 + 9 = 17 as an isolated fact without understanding of addition, the goal was to provide students with these quick and efficient strategies.

I continued my “experiment” with my son.   “All righty then,  what is 8 + 6?”

Instantly he proclaimed, “14!”

Fluency and automaticity were definitely not an issue.  This is the worry of many from the public…. our children do not know their basic facts.  My belief is they do not know their basic facts because often times they are doing “sprints” and “speed tests” with a set of random facts their brain must “just memorize” with no sense making of the numbers.   Over time, there is so much to just “memorize” the brain shuts down.   Children are expected to be speedy with concepts they do not yet understand.  Research has shown that practice makes permanent.  If they practice for speed what they do not understand, then the misconceptions are imprinted in their brains.

“So how did you get 14?” my next question.

“Just as easy, mom.  This time I just took 2 from the 6 and made the 8 a ten!  Same thing.  So now I just have to add 10 + 4.  And that equals 14.”


I upped the challenge, “Okay then, what is 25 + 35?”

He looked upward and paused for a few seconds and said, “60.”

This amazed me.   Surely he hadn’t dealt with two digit numbers…. and I hadn’t worked with him on this in any way.  “Oh, my.  Well, how did you think about this?”

He said, “Well, I knew that 20 and 30 were 50.  Then the 5 + 5 just makes another 10.  So 50 + 10 = 60.”


“Okay, Big Shot,” his giggles filled the room, “Then what would 25 + 37 be?”

“That’s so easy, it’s just two more. 62.”

Huh? “Explain, Mister Man.”

“Well, before you know how there was a 5 + 5 and it made a 10?”

“Ummm… yeah…” I answered.

“Well, 7 is just two more then one of those 5s.   So I still see a 5 + 5, but now just have two more.  That’s 12.  It’s now just a 50 and a 10 and a 2.  That is 62.”

He persisted in asking for harder problems.

I took a chance, “What is 96 – 8?”  Remember he is approaching kindergarten.

A few seconds passed.   He said, “88.”

I followed up with the same question I always do, “How did you think about this?”

“I subtracted 6 first to get to 90.   The 8 is a 6 and a 2.   So all I had left to subtract was the two.  90 – 2 = 88.”


I proceeded to give him two digit subtracting two digits and his strategies led him to an accurate answer each time.

Kindergarten and 1st Grade:

My debate within myself of where to send my son to school waged its own war within my head.  After much weighing, I sent him to his neighborhood school so he could be with his neighborhood friends.   We struck gold with his kindergarten and 1st grade teacher.  Both teachers created an environment of exploration and fostered his curiosity.   His math was very solid, so my concern was that he be placed with a teacher that really understood literacy development and his reading would skyrocket.   Happily, his reading did skyrocket and ended his 1st grade year at least one grade level above his own grade level.   I wasn’t concerned too much with his math….. yet.   He mentioned often how easy math was to him and it wasn’t challenging.   I knew this would be something I would have to face in the future….. a bridge to cross  to figure out how to put him in an environment in which his mathematical mind would flourish.

2nd Grader Today:

My son’s school is a looping school.  I love it.   He would have the same teacher for 2nd grade he had for 1st.   And I adore her…..  The sparkle in her eye gets me every time I see her.  Many, many, many years of teaching under her belt, and a “master” with every child she touches.

Now, dim the lights.   Imagine walking down into a dingy basement.  It is cold.   The scary music plays.  Slowly you creep down the stairs….  What’s at the bottom?   Your heart rate increases, sweat breaks out……. Oh Crap!

Two new programs hot off the press enter on the scene.   Journeys and EngageNY.

Oh.  Just that?  Harmless enough?

Think twice.

Actually think three times and ask if these two programs will be the magic bullets?  All children at standard, all children eager for college. Hmmmmmm……….

My son’s lovely teacher is buried in implementing two new programs and under the new teacher evaluation system (TPEP).   At parent/teacher night she scrambled to explain the new literacy program and its alignment to common core.   She said to give her time to figure it out and learn the new program.   This is a woman who created a love of learning in every one of her students and many achieved high levels in reading LAST year.   But now, this new program hits the scene.

And my son began coming home every single day bored.  “I’m bored, mom.  All we do is Journey’s all day long.  I saw this really cool story about storms, but we can’t go there yet.   Can we go to the library and check out some books on storms?  I want to read about them.”


I emailed his teacher.  I have the highest regard for her and let her know this almost weekly.   She empathized.   Later, another email came from her letting me know her team had revamped Journeys and figured out a way to put Literacy Stations back into the day.  She also was going to be designing some special projects for the students so they could start exploring and reading about things that fascinated the children.


And now….  a monthish into school, her team decides to attack EngageNY.  Their grade level was the only one not doing it at my son’s school and she explained her fear of her students going to next grade level without the experience, vocabulary, and strategies.   Great Heart.   Great Intentions.   She sounded just like me a year ago, when my previous staff was deciding to implement one new program or both.  The teachers in our district were given the “choice” of doing Journeys, and staying with old math program OR also implementing EngageNY.

My tune has changed as I stand in the trenches alongside teachers using EngageNY.

I am living and breathing Engage NY.

I am also listening to my son tonight and had to speak out.

Examine the following two pages of his math homework:

Assignment 1Assignment 2

Conversation Begins:
Son: “Mom, math is so boring.  I’ve been waiting for a long time for it to get more challenging.”

Me: “I know, son.  We’ll talk with your teacher at conferences.  We will figure something out.”

Son: “We had a test today, mom.  It was really hard for most of the kids.   It was long and I think I may have been the only one to finish it.”

Me: “Oh really?”  Did you see other students struggling?”

Son: “Yes, mom.  The girl that sits across from me started to cry during the test.”

Commercial Timeout.  My comments happening inside my brain.  Are you kidding me?  This is rigor?  This is what our children need to fall in love with math and want to pursue it?  This is the answer to our nation’s “crisis”?  Blood pressure rises.   Other first and second grade teachers share similar stories with me.   “Help us!  What can we do?  This isn’t working with our kids. ”

I wonder why?

My son pulls out his homework.  I examine it.  I know his effective strategies and I stare.

Son:  “Mom, this is SO stupid.”

Me: “Now now.  Hold the horse.  Let’s look at this.”

Son (with tears starting): “We have to use these stupid number bonds to solve these and I already know the answer.”

Me: “Just a second.  Let’s look at this for a second.  Hmmmm…..  okay.   I see.  So let’s put number bonds aside.  Let’s look at this first column with all the landmark numbers.”

Son (with frustration, and no patience): “I already know all these answers.  I just use my combos of ten.”

I know how he thinks. “Okay so how do you solve 10 – 3?”

Son: “We have to make the 10 a 1 and then add back on some numbers.  And this is a stupid basic fact.  It’s 7.”

Me: “What do you mean you have to make it a 1 and add on?”
Son:  “Look at the example mom.”

I did.

Me:  “So let’s put the example aside.  How do you solve 10 – 3?”

Son:  “It is 7 because 7 + 3 = 10.”

Me: “Let’s continue. 20 -5?”

Son:  He grabs the pencil and writes 15.   “5 and 5 is 10, so I know I just have to subtract 5 from the landmark.”

Me:  Last one, “40-8”

Son: “Easy.  32.  2 + 8 =10.  So I knew I’d land on 32 by subtracting the 8.”

No way was I making him solve it like the example.

Next column.  Remember when he was a kindergartener and solved 96 – 8?  Above.  Eloquent strategy.  So we worked through these next column of problems utilizing HIS strategy and I showed him how to capture his way of thinking.

Assignment 3

If you go back up and examine first part of the assignment, my son’s strategy does not match, yet I believe his is much more eloquent and quick.  He did all of this in his head of course.  I worry about some posts I’ve seen go viral with all the steps in math with the new common core.  What you are seeing above is what my son did in his head.   Because I wanted to capture his strategy, we broke it down like is seen in the picture.   It is important at this stage of development to help children “see” their strategy.  My intent is not for him to have to do more steps, rather it is merely a way of showing the process happening in his brain.

Some final thoughts:

EngageNY was paid for by New York States Department of Education.  They contracted with a company in Washington D.C. called Common Core, Inc.  Because it was paid for by a grant, $27,000,000, it was made “free” to whomever wished to use it.   Then a company emerged called Eureka Math.   The same people who wrote EngageNY, Common Core, Inc. started Eureka Math.   Eureka Math bought the rights to EngageNY.   The public still can view EngageNY for free and use it for free, but any and all updates and improvements are now owned by Eureka Math.   The difference is Eureka Math is not free and must be paid for to use it.   This is just a side note so parents around the United States understand that EngageNY and Eureka Math are essentially one in the same.

Are these programs “unteaching” our children?  Are our children’s natural curiosity flourishing?  Is creativity, innovation, imagination, and the love of learning alive and well?

Think about the number sense my son has mastered.   Does this homework help or hinder his mathematical growth and understanding?   How much time is he now spending on testing with this new program?   It comes with daily problem sets, exit slips, mid module assessments, and end of module assessments.

My son is 7.

I believe many teachers believe this program isn’t the answer nor will it foster future mathematicians.  I believe many teachers are scrambling for ways to breath life into this program and align it with researched, best practices.  It is a given that children learn by doing and need hands on experiences for learning to go into long term memory.

A 3rd grade teacher shared a story about one of her top math students.  Each day the concept from lesson to lesson to lesson changes.  After about four days he approached her and asked, “Do we ever have a chance to review?  I need some time to let this sink into my brain.”

5th grade teachers struggled to teach the first module on decimals with students who came to them with little mastery of whole numbers. How do you think their students performed on their mid module assessment after one lesson on adding decimals, one lesson on subtracting decimals, then onto multiplication and division of decimals?  Did the students feel success?

6th grade teachers shared the end of module assessment took 3 hours and for some 4 hours in their classrooms.  One 6th grade teacher reported her top math student said, “I hate math,” after throwing her pencil down near the end of the test.

The lobe of the brain that utilizes reasoning is not solidified until at least 12 years old.  Yet our children are being stuffed like turkeys and made to reason before they are ready.  Can you imagine grandparents and parents getting frustrated with their baby when it isn’t walking by 6 months?  Next, deciding to put their child through drills and test them at the end of each week to see if they are closer to walking? Who cares?  They will all walk!

Finally, from the mouth of a 2nd grader:

“Mom, I’ve been waiting for math to get more challenging.  And now it is.  But in the wrong kind of way.   They are now making the easy stuff harder.  I already know how to do what we are doing.  The easy things I already know, I now have to do in a hard way.”

Passionately Submitted,