Sunday, October 19, 2014

By:  Jacky Boyd  

Used with permission from the author as it was written for this blog

As the school year begins, the first round of standardized tests follows close behind.  In education today, high stakes standardized testing is a predominate way to hold schools, administrators, teachers, and students accountable.  This post gives a run down of what is lost when we focus so much time, money, and energy on one type of assessment.
To be fair, standardized testing does have some positives:
  • Pretesting.  A short assessment quickly assesses if students already know material.
  • Memorized facts.  What’s 7×8? Where’s the cell nucleus in this diagram? Standardized tests show memorization of facts.
  • Comparing scores.  Comparing scores has its place, but a student’s place within a class, school, state, or nation is less important than what student, parents, and teachers know about the student.
  • Cheap, compared to paying humans to double score complex assessments.
  • Less scoring error and bias.
  • Some students excel at this type of assessment.

Teachers can choose other assessments to evaluate progress, including: Essays; informal writing; presentations; portfolios; observations; discussions; practice problems; experiments; self assessments; reflections; and creating artwork, music, or machines.  Effective educators assess varying formality and format.
A sampling of the aforementioned assessments can foster the qualities listed below, all of which extensive standardized testing inhibits:
  • Collaboration.  On a standardized test, that’s cheating, but work in classrooms and work places is often collaborative.
  • Revision.  Standardized testing gives few opportunities to learn from mistakes.  It dismisses the tremendous merit in redoing work until it’s the best possible.
  • Curiosity.  Excepting for the Hermione Grangers out there, tests squash curiosity.  Furthermore, the prescribed scope and sequence disallows teachers to follow student curiosity.
  • Deep understanding.  Standardized tests cover set material.  Out of fairness to students, teachers must teach all that material before the test date, often resulting in breadth over depth.
  • Authentic learning situations.  Instead of writing, talking, or creating to learn, students repeat the same tasks to display what they have learned. Tests aren’t authentic learning situations, and thus do not mirror how students will utilize their learning to solve real problems.
  • Multiple perspectives.  Extensive testing teaches students to look for the one right answer, rather than explore possibilities.
  • Unmeasurable learning.  A standardized test will never measure if a teacher has challenged a student the most deeply.

Other problems with standardized testing:
  • A perfect test will never exist.  Test writers take years to write a standardized test, but even still, it will never fully be rid of all biases because it cannot adapt.
  • Snap shot of one day.  Maybe a student is distracted by a family situation, a runny nose, or the fidgety kid next to him.  Maybe a student masters the material a week, or day, or hour later.  That’s irrelevant to a standardized test.  The score is final.   While a teacher gives students multiple opportunities to show mastery, a standardized test is limited to the few minutes the child works on that particular question.
  • Special education concerns.  Standardizing assessment directly conflicts with special education students’ legal rights to tailor education to their needs.
  • Loss of differentiation and teacher autonomy.  To achieve high scores, some states and districts micromanage content through scripted lessons or Common Core aligned textbooks.
  • Funding and teacher evaluations.  How well students preform on one type of assessment shouldn’t affect a school’s funding or a teacher’s pay or job security.  Such connections only increase the anxiety and stress, and lead educators to make poor choices out of panic.  
  • Emotional cost.  High stakes testing causes anxiety and stress for students.  It is physically exhausting.  Then, add the negative emotions associated with poor performance.  While teens can own responsibility for failure, Kindergarteners should not.
  • Data mining.  I haven’t seen conclusive evidence data mining will occur with Common Core testing, but the possibility is scary.
  • Cost.  These tests need to be purchased by schools and are not cheap.  That money could be used locally for salaries, building improvements, or learning materials and programs.
  • Power.  A handful of companies make the tests, and these companies also make the textbooks.  Who are we letting choose the curriculum for our schools?  What authority do these individuals have and how are they held accountable for their work?

For all these reasons, I’m happy when standardized testing and I do not cross paths.  In a position that forced me to merely teach to a test, the real test would be of my integrity.  I’d be forced to become Mr Keating in Dead Poet’s Society: A teacher who stands up for students and true learning, but quickly becomes unemployed.
“BATs Lay Down a Challenge to Duncan”

By Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association

Also published in Diane Ravitch's blog here

Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle with Newark Mayor
Ras Baraka 
The Badass Teachers Association, an organization of over 52,000 teachers, has a bold challenge for Arne Duncan. Duncan released an opinion piece in the Washington Post last night titled “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up” . In this piece he attempts to respond to parent outcry against the current education culture of toxic standardized testing. He continues to not see the real problems and issues that teachers and parents face.   Therefore, BATs cordially invites the Secretary to conduct a Town Hall phone conference to hear the real concerns of parents, students, and teachers.

Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece. He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers. He states that “the Education Department has provided $360 million to two consortia of states to support that work.” Duncan’s Race to the Top, defined by the educators in this nation as No Child Left Behind on steroids, has perpetuated a testing culture in our schools that is focused on punishing children, blaming teachers, and closing schools.

The money that is being spent to develop and implement these new tests could have far better use. Money should be used to provide safe school environments through financing construction and renovation of school buildings, to implement before and after school programs, and to support wrap around services in schools for our communities in need. Secretary Duncan does not see his role in creating the test mania we see in our schools today. He does not see that funding used to pay for tests is the main contributor to the funding pitfalls that schools are currently facing. He claims to want to help his own children “build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses” but what his children get and what public school children get are NOT the same. Duncan shows no understanding for the position that children, other than his own, have been placed in. Schools that are facing budgetary crises are forced to starve in order to have money to implement new standardized tests, which are forced upon districts as an “unfunded” mandate.

His statement, “A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps.” Duncan, once again, perpetuates the false narrative of blaming schools and teachers for the achievement gap (which continues to widen). He continues, once again, to NOT acknowledge that poverty and inequality are direct indicators of the widening achievement gap. Standards of learning should not be set until all children, regardless of zip code, have access to the resources they need to be successful in school. Until that is achieved, the Secretary of Education, and the people within the Department of Education, should be charged with the task of finding ways to make that possible. The standards that they should be discussing should be a standard of equal resources for all children. The Secretary should NOT be discussing a standard of learning that will never be achieved until other societal issues are faced and dealt with, namely poverty and inequality.

Sec. Duncan fails to realize that yearly snapshot testing is not indicative of how a child is progressing in their educational journey. It is constant communication and attention of parents and educators to daily classroom interactions that drive this journey. A yearly assessment that is based upon the presumption that all children start off on an even playing field serves no purpose other than to put a spotlight on children living in poverty and the fact that they cannot compete with students that have been given more opportunities and have access to more resources.

Sec. Duncan mentions the waiver that he has offered during this first year of transition to provide flexibility on connecting teacher evaluation to test results. The allowance of such practices by the Secretary speaks volumes about his concern for the future of our educational system. As test results get tied to decision-making with regards to schools, the potential for a great disservice directed toward our children looms ahead. Teacher performance ratings tied to test scores will result in the loss of many excellent teachers and future educators. There are too many other factors that impact the educational performance of a child which, sadly, the Secretary continues to ignore this.

Throughout this whole process, the lack of communication with actual teachers by the Secretary has been apparent. Arne Duncan speaks to communicating with his children’s schools and teachers to create a collaborative team that is working towards the end goal of providing for a better future. We feel that it is time that Arne Duncan applies this to the country as well. As an association that represents over 52,000 educators, and interested parties, the Badass Teachers Association is extending a direct invitation to Arne Duncan to communicate with teachers who will give him a direct vision of what is really happening in our schools.

We invite you, Secretary Duncan, to participate in a Town Hall phone conference to speak with those that really care, those that have real experience, and real knowledge about education; America’ s teachers.

Consider this your formal invitation to get informed!

We await your call!

Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Does Arne Duncan Measure Up?

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is changing his tune regarding the importance of standardized testing in American Public Schools. In a piece published in the Washington Post, entitled, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up,” Secretary Duncan claims that “parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator “ in student performance. I find this an ironic statement coming from a man, who mere months before, was bemoaning the factthat soccer moms were finding out their children weren’t as smart as they thought they were — based on test scores. These two statements are in direct contrast with each other. What then, led to Secretary Duncan’s abrupt about-face?
Could it be that parents, teachers, and students are speaking up so loudly that Secretary Duncan can no longer ignore the overwhelming backlash from the testing mania? Could it be that he has to backpedal because he knows that groups like the BadAss Teachers AssociationUnited Opt Out,Save our Schools, and Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education are watching his every move? Or perhaps, it is the number of students who are speaking up and taking to the streets in support of their teachers and schools and in defiance of the testing regime and other “reforms” that have been handed down by the Obama Administration.
Obviously Secretary Duncan has finally realized that over-testing our students is not working. Finally. Finally. I do hope that Secretary Duncan is not merely attempting to fool the teachers, parents, and students of America’s public schools yet again with his agreement to stop the testing madness. He knows it is only a matter of time before it is stopped, in spite of what he says or does. The real issue, is what Secretary Duncan is not mentioning in his article, and where the new rhetoric about testing is overshadowed by the same old tired mantras — mantras about how American schools need to be “retooled” to match the global competitive economy. So, after all this new talk about less testing, Secretary Duncan finally gets back to the real meat of the matter: money.
Secretary Duncan carefully leaves out any mention of the already controversial Common Core State Standards, while subtly suggesting that the blowback from testing is causing disruption to the implementation of the Common Core. He writes, “ Despite their [educators and students ] hard work, and a growing embrace of many of these changes, one topic– standardized testing– sometimes diverts energy from this ambitious set of changes.” I find it telling that even Secretary Duncan will no longer publicly use the name Common Core to refer to the “set of changes” that Race to the Top has set into motion.
lucianna sansonObviously, Secretary Duncan has seen the writing on the data wall: teachers, parents, students, and concerned citizens are NOT fooled by the corporate ed reform agenda. It is going to go down, we will take OUR public schools back and no amount of spin from the Secretary and the Dept. of Education will be taken with a grain of salt until Secretary Duncan stops listening to the Corporate Ed Deformer, starts listening to teachers, parents, and students, and puts his money where his mouth is: Time to Measure Up, Secretary Duncan.
My random teacher thoughts.....
By Tracy Hart 

There has never been even one day where I have been able to follow my schedule or lesson plan exactly, whether it's an assembly, or I'm dealing with loose teeth, vomit, or tears, and I always feel guilty when I have to "modify and adjust."
After each school day ends I still have a minimum of an hour of work to do, either from school or my house. It doesn't stop at 3:30 each day, and I haven't figured out how to leave it without feeling guilty.
I work every weekend.
I hate grading tests, but I love when I get to draw a big 100% smiley face on them.
Sometimes I get frustrated because I see three week old papers in my students' backpacks. Then it reminds me to check my son's backpack.
I take it personal when I see other educators being bashed on social media.
I get disgusted and embarrassed when I see educators on the news for doing inappropriate things.
I often answer texts and phone calls at 6 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.... with questions that could have been answered if only the caller had read the newsletter I sent home on Monday.
I've bought school supplies, lice shampoo, deodorant, shoes, clothes, and food for my students.
During the school day, I only sit down for a total of an hour and a half while I'm doing reading groups with my students. I used to love wearing heels, but Dr. Scholls aren't looking too bad anymore.
I can't leave my kids unattended, so on the days I have duty I have one 15 minute break to use the restroom.
If my doctor or my son's orthodontist calls me during the day I feel guilty answering my phone, and I could possibly get in trouble for answering it, also.
It blows my mind the way that some students talk to and treat their teacher.
It blows my mind that there's not much that can be done about it, either.
It blows my mind the way that some parents talk to and treat their child's teacher. Oh wait...
There are days that I get sick of hearing myself talk and I start picturing myself as the Charlie Brown teacher. Wha wha wha wha wha...
I spend over $500 a year in/on my class. (Shhh... Not sure my husband knows this one!)
I am required to get more professional development each year than a doctor or lawyer.
The funniest thing you could say to me-or any teacher- is, "Well, you're off all summer!"
My first year as a teacher I left the funeral home from planning my mom's funeral to go to my Open House. On the first day of school I went to school to greet my new kiddos that morning, and then I left at noon to bury my mother. I don't regret that for one second. My kiddos needed me that morning. But I needed them more.
I always get a little nervous on conference day.
Calling in and planning for a substitute is more difficult than just going to work sick. I feel guilty everytime I have to call my principal for a sub.
I have taught lessons that flopped. I have written spelling and grammatical errors in class. Sometimes I write the wrong answer to a math problem on the board. I show my students that it's ok to make mistakes. Kids understand this and forgive easier than adults.
I wish my kids could have more recess and less tests.
In between the standards I'm required to teach, I'm also teaching how to hold a pencil, handwriting, shoe tying, proper hand washing procedures, how to make eye contact, social skills, how to sneeze in your elbow instead of on your friends, self control, and how to color in the lines. Yes, coloring in the lines is important.
I insist that my students clean up our floor every afternoon. It is not the custodian's job to pick up after us.
It makes me sad that our cafeteria workers are amazing cooks, yet their hands are tied, so they can't use salt, sugar or anything pre-packaged when preparing breakfast and lunch. Kids don't like plain food. Sometimes I just want to scream, "Bring back the cinnamon rolls!"
I greet my students at the door each morning and fist bump or hug (their choice) each student as they leave each afternoon.
I cry every time I have to call DHS.
I don't believe everything kids tell me about home, and I hope parents don't believe everything kids tell them about school.
I don't teach "Common Core." I teach kids.
The best teacher appreciation gifts I've ever gotten are the drawings, art projects, cards, and letters from my students. Not to mention one little boy's most prized possession, a large dog tooth, that he wrapped up and presented me with at Christmas.
I have high expectations for each of my students, and I often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas how I can help my struggling students.
Kids are the best teachers.
I love seeing when my students have that "light bulb moment."
My kids understand Fair is what comes around once a year in October. They know they each get what THEY need to be successful, and it may not be what their neighbor gets.
When I get my class list each year, the first thing I do is pray for each of my students.
By the second week of school each year I have fallen completely in love with each of my students and feel like they're mine.
I've never been as exhausted as I have from teaching, but I've never loved a job more, either.
There is no doubt in my mind that I would die protecting any child in my building.
At 7:30 Monday morning I'm excited for the busy, fun-filled week ahead. By 3:30 Friday afternoon I am completely exhausted.
If it sounds like I'm griping and complaining about my job, you're wrong. I've worked at Wendy's, Maybelline, a gas station, Little Caesars, several day care facilities, and I've been a paraprofessional in a school. Nothing is as fulfilling as seeing my students' sweet, eager faces each day and celebrating as we learn something new. I just wish people weren't so quick to criticize and complain about teachers. Come to my class. See for yourself. Ask ME if you don't like or understand something I'm doing. If you have a suggestion, I'm always open to new ideas. Just please, please know that I, and other teachers, wouldn't be there if we didn't love what we do. And more importantly- who we do it for.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By:  Terry Kalb

**This was written as a comment on Diane Ravitch's blog.  The comment, by Terry Kalb, was posted on this  post

I spent 19 years in infant special education- even before we even called it early intervention, I was teaching children in the 0-3 age range. Yes- I visited mothers the week their babies came home from the hospital because because they sought and wanted that support. I was in that first group of teachers in the nation earning a MS Ed in Early Childhood Special Education right after the passage of PL 94-142. My program was home-based and holistic- the goal was to help the parent(s) understand how their child’s medical condition/syndrome/extreme prematurity/ brain damage/sensory disorder impacts development, and to help that parent care for the baby’s physical, sensory, cognitive and social needs.
“I went to homes twice a week where there was no heat, no food security, overcrowding, broken windows, little furniture or toys, vermin infestation, poor lighting and broken cribs. And sometimes also there was abuse and domestic violence. I also went to homes with maids and luxury cars- any everything in between. My expertise and support made a difference for those families- but how much more of a long term difference would there be if all the children had prenatal care, safe and secure shelter, food security and access to needed medical and dental care?
“As a teacher, my job was to help the child and parent move from one step to the next developmental step, and celebrate each milestone, whenever it came, with joy. It was about attunement, attachment, engagement and play- not testing, pressure and grit. That is how babies learn- though touch and interaction and play. My job was to help the parent see a child as lovable and capable which might sound unnecessary, but learning that your child has a significant problem is a crushing blow to many parents- it is traumatic, it is a shock, and a nightmare. But yes. I recorded new milestones on a checklist of developmental skills to help the parent understand and delight in the sequence of skills as they developed- not to quantify and get a “score.”
“Rigor? Does Duncan realize we are talking about babies with poor oral-motor tone learning how to suck on a nipple? Or a baby having hundreds of seizures a day learning how to make eye contact with her mother? Or a baby with cerebral palsy lifting his head to see himself in a mirror? What Duncan is proposing is clueless, but also despicable and sinister. Is there anything in this world he cannot reduce to a data point? Grief? Laughter? Love? Acceptance? Health? Comfort? Pride? What is YOUR score Mr. Duncan?”
Would You Rather
By: Stacy Biscorner, MA, LLPC, NCC

Your child's teacher:
Spend 3 hours writing weekly lesson plans
Spend an extra 3 hours teaching your child?

Your child's classroom:
Be filled with projects on display, motivational posters and children excited about learning
Be filled with data walls, I Can Statements and children who dread going to school?

Your child's technology lab:
A place to learn keyboarding skills and research topics of interest
A place where students go to use computers to take standardized assessments?

Your child's music class:
Where students go to sing, play instruments and dance
Where students go to take standardized assessments?

Your child's P. E. Teacher:
Someone who instills healthy choices, the love of sports and exercise habits
Someone who gives your child standardized assessments?

Do you see a pattern here?

Now, would you rather:
Sit back, do nothing and hope it goes away
Join in the efforts to stop it?

Your child and his/her teacher need your help! Fight for them! Attend your local school board meetings, contact your state legislators. Take back your child's education!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NPE Public Education Nation
Testing and the CCSS

BY:  Dr. Rosa L. Rivera-McCutchen
Assistant Professor
Educational Leadership
CUNY Lehman College

In thinking about my remarks for today’s panel, I thought it useful to draw upon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail because it’s an incredibly powerful way of framing the role of school leadership in the face of testing and the Common Core, and the impact they have on economically disadvantaged students and students of color. In the letter, King responds to 8 white clergymen who were supportive of desegregation, but were critical of the methods Dr. King was employing in Birmingham.

The letter is meaningful in a number of historical ways, but it’s especially meaningful for me in the work I do as a researcher and as educator of future school leaders, because it really is powerful example of moral leadership in the face of not only troubling educational policy and also in thinking about well-intentioned resistance to the policies.

King wrote in the letter: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

To King’s first point: collecting facts to determine whether injustices exist.  Here, school leaders have to examine not just the intended goals of the policy; it is their responsibility to examine the application and the consequences of the policy.
So school leaders must ask themselves:

How do the standards and the high stakes tests help my students? What is the impact on the curriculum? On the teachers? And equally important, school leaders must ask, are they equitable and just for all students? 

After determining, as all of us here know, that the answers to these basic yet critical questions are quite troubling, we move to the next step in King’s framework: negotiation.  237

In the case of testing and the CC, it is clear that there have been numerous efforts to negotiate locally with the NYC Chancellors as well as with Commissioner John King and Secretary Arne Duncan. But when those negotiations become nothing more than stalling tactics and smoke in mirrors, as with the civil rights movement, school leaders must come to a point where they step away from the table and move closer towards direct action.

But prior to the direct action, comes the third step, which Dr. King called, “self-purification.” This is arguably one of the most  important steps in King’s framework for mounting a resistance. That’s because it demands that the resister, in this case the school leader, be reflective and consider the extent to which she or he has been complicit in perpetuating the oppression.  They have to be honest with themselves about the extent to which their continued support of flawed policies has contributed to the harm.  The school leader have to search inward to determine whether she or he is ready to face the consequences of resisting policies mandated from above, But beyond this, the school leaders particularly in communities that are more privileged have to look inward to determine whether their resistance will extend beyond their individual communities; whether they’re ready to engage in the kind equity work that will benefit ALL communities. 

And finally, that takes us to direct action: And here is where it’s easy for leaders, and really all of us, to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Events like today, the opt-out movement, and other related actions are critical, but they are empty and misguided if the root of the problems within our educational system are not directly addressed and redressed.  Along with helping parents and communities understand the impact of the flawed implementation and testing policies, school leaders have to engage in the kind of socio-political activism and advocacy work that seeks to improve the educational conditions of ALL school communities. 

While I think there is still a great deal of debate about the merit and value of the Common Core standards themselves, there is clearly more agreement that the implementation of the standards, most obviously the accountability components are deeply flawed.  We’re all here today to advance a counter narrative about this issue. But this conversation will be woefully inadequate if we don’t also examine power and privilege dynamics that in some ways are highlighted by the fact that this event being in a school in Carroll Gardens rather than in the Bronx.  Principals I work with in the Bronx are often skeptical of movements like the opt out strategy because of the how their school’s may be impacted, and their families often don’t have the same kind of political clout to shield the schools from the consequences that might result from resisting. 

In resisting policies, leaders have to carefully examine their own power and privilege and entitlement, and also that of their communities.   It’s a matter of asking where does resistance to these policies leave low-income communities and communities of color where folks don’t have the same kinds of social capital that they can lean on to get their kids into competitive schools and programs.  The truth is that without significant changes to how schools and communities are resourced, those kids will still be left out even if the tests and the standards went away today. 

As parents and school leaders, we typically start from a point of self-interest when it comes to resisting policies and practices we believe are harmful to our children. And that makes perfect sense.  But moral leadership demands that school leaders move themselves and their communities beyond self-interest to a shared responsibility for the educational outcomes and advancement of all communities. King’s letter reminds us of the moral obligation of all leaders to take positions that aren’t always popular or easyAnd that includes extending our privilege to challenge all aspects of the dominant paradigms of education that have typically benefited more privileged and predominantly white communities over communities of color and low-income communities.  And it means engaging in partnerships and long-term commitment with other school leaders working in those communities where the stakes are truly the highest.  It means galvanizing and coalescing privileged communities to see beyond their own kids

I want to close by sharing briefly a conversation I had with an official in my school district.  He disclosed that he personally believed the tests in grades 3-8 specifically were unreliable and that if it were him, he wouldn’t subject his kids to them.  It was clear that from his point of view the tests were not credible enough to be used to base meaningful educational decisions about the kids the district. He also spoke frankly about the resulting collateral damage that was directly linked to the implementation of the standards and the tests.  But when I started talking about a broader opt out movement, his tune changed.  He pointed out that the consequences for our community, the loss of resources, and the stigma of being labeled as failing would lead to an exodus of the more privileged families in our communities who could afford private schools. Still, while he didn’t explicitly tell me that we should opt our kids out, he encouraged us to do what we must to advocate for what was best for our kids.  This conversation highlighted two important themes that are germane to our conversation here today: first, this leader clearly failed to engage the self-purification or reflection that Dr. King described in his framework. This leader was not being critical about his complicity in perpetuating a deeply flawed policy that results in harmful outcomes for the kids in our district, particularly low-income kids and students of color. Secondly, the conversation highlights the complexities of the politics of the navigating the challenging outcomes of opting out in those communities that aren’t privileged in terms their race and class.

The Common core standards and the high stakes tests are supposedly aimed at improving the quality of education for all students and for closing the achievement gaps. The fundamental flaw of this theory of change is that it focuses on raising the standards without examining the institutional and structural barriers that negatively impact the educational outcomes of low-income students and Black and Brown kids in the first place. It ignores the opportunity and resource gaps that create and reproduce inequity among a significant proportion of our kids.  The challenge for school leaders, and all of us, mounting a resistance to these flawed policies then is to ensure that the resistance doesn’t reproduce those same inequities.