Monday, March 30, 2015

Involvement without Efficacy
By:  Bruce Knecht

The PISA is the standardized test that is flogged by the major  media (it’s conducted every three years), purportedly to show the sorry state of American schools. The actual results depicted by the graph Julie Sellers has shared are sharply at odds with the narrative that has been an accepted part of conventional wisdom for more than two decades, i.e., that American schools are failing. Rather, schools are serving as a convenient scapegoat for an array of social ills that schools neither created nor have the power to remedy. Elite-driven education reform is a strategy for creating the appearance that something is being done about these social failings, while, in reality, it’s a case of involvement without efficacy. By this diversion, elites are able to avoid any fundamental social change that would be required to ameliorate the actual problems. At the same time, it cracks open the half-a-trillion dollar market of K-12 education.

The cartoon below clearly illustrates the current reformist mind-set. The woman in this strip is ruling out every measure that might actually make a difference. Again, involvement without efficacy.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Teacher: The disturbing things I’ve learned about our new Common Core tests

BY:  Emily Talmage

Originally posted on Valerie Strauss Answer Sheet

First, no matter what my students and I do, statistics have already shown that my students will more than likely fall below proficient on this test.  In the field test given a year ago, 91 percent of English Language Learners and nearly 80 percent of low-income students did not meet proficient.  My class is comprised of 40 percent English language learners and nearly 100 percent are low-income.  

Because new state legislation (required by the federal government if we are to keep valuable sources of funding) has already passed that will link my students results to my professional evaluation, this does not bode well for me or for my colleagues.  School “grades” are suspended for one year because we do not yet have baseline data for these tests, but it does not take a statistician to predict that schools like mine, with high levels of poverty and English language learners, will not look particularly good to the public once results are released in 2016.
Second, “assessment experts” (which seem to be primarily business consultants) within major, for-profit corporations like McGraw-Hill, AIR, and ETS were at the forefront of developing these tests.  Throughout the process, some teachers were asked for “input” (I was not one of them and I don’t know any teachers who were), but I have found it impossible to discern in what way this input was actually applied.  Instead, a number of math and literacy experts have said publicly that many test items are far above grade level and are developmentally inappropriate.  It is unclear why their advice was not heeded. Meanwhile, billionaires like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch have espoused the incredible potential these tests have to grow the education market. I am certain that they would pleased to know that in Lewiston, we have already clamored to purchase Common Core-aligned products designed by the same companies that have built these tests.
Third, many teachers – particularly those who have classes like mine with students spanning a wide range of ability levels – were encouraged to hear that Smarter Balanced is an adaptive test. With adaptive tests, questions move up and down a range of difficulty depending on how students perform. Many teachers, including myself, find such tests to be significantly more useful than those label students only according to their level of proficiency, because they offer a more specific measure of student ability and can show that even students who are well below grade level (as many of my students are due to reasons beyond my control) have made significant progress.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Smarter Balanced test “adapts” only within a student’s grade level.  (This, of course, is itself confusing, as I was unaware that a continuum of achievement existed within each grade level standard.)  A self-commissioned report by Smarter Balanced admits that the tests will not measure the full continuum of achievement along which students actually fall, and that the test can only accurately describe the student’s knowledge of “grade level and near–grade level content.”  Given that my class, due to its demographic makeup, is likely to have only 10-20% performing on “grade level” (which, again, seems to mean something quite different to those who designed the test than to those who actually work with children), this means that it will be an accurate assessment of ability for only a small percentage of my class.  This is not at all comforting.
Finally, I will not be able to see the test as my students take it.  I will not be allowed to look at their scrap paper. I will not even be able to talk with my colleagues about the test – before, during, or after.  These are all provisions outlined in a lengthy security agreement that all teachers were required to sign prior to administering the test.
So, how will a test that by its design is likely show that my school, my students and I are all failing, that was developed by “assessment experts” rather than teachers, that will no doubt funnel a tremendous amount of taxpayer money to wealthy corporate shareholders and away from our classrooms, and that I won’t be able to see or discuss with my colleagues (let alone my students!) help me in my mission to improve the quality of education I offer my students each day?
It will not.  To the contrary, for at least 10 hours (likely more, as I am required to provide unlimited time for my students to complete the test, and I have heard from sixth-grade teachers that their students have spent so long on them that their laptops have died on them mid-test), it will prevent me from offering my students the valuable instruction and learning experiences they deserve. For a handful of students, it may even take us a few steps backward, as it takes work to regain some children’s confidence and sense of control of their own learning once they have taken disempowering tests like these.
A number of parents in our community and around the state have been fortunate enough to have the awareness and access to information about what is taking place in their children’s schools to opt their children out of this test.  Unfortunately, whether due to fear or lack of accurate information, our own district decided to withhold information about parent’s right to opt their children out, and so the majority of my students will tough it out because they must.
As soon as it’s over, however, you can be sure that we’ll get right back to doing the real, gritty, exhausting, and inspiring work that happens in public schools each day.

(Correction: The original section about adapative qualities of Smarter Balanced tests has been changed to make clear that the adaptiveness of the test is largely confined to questions within a single grade level. An earlier version had questioned whether the tests were adaptive throughout; a consortium spokesman said they are.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Teacher Talks Truth
By:  Kathleen Jeskey

Originally posted on her blog

This is my first blog post and kind of the reason I decided to create my own blog: to keep people updated on what is going on with my request, as a teacher, to be allowed to opt out of administering the flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment. Last month, my local association stood before our school board to say that as a group, we are opposed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I spoke at that meeting and stated that I object to administering it and asked to be excused from administering based on my professional and personal objections.

On March 9th, I had not yet heard a response to my request and sent this email to the school board, our superintendent, and my principal. 

“As you all know, at the February 19 school board meeting I declared my strong objections to the Smarter Balanced Assessment and asked to be excused from administering the assessment based on those objections. The statement I made to the school board is attached.

I have objected to this system of test and punish since it's original implementation in 2001 with NCLB. I knew at that time that a requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 would result in exactly what has happened in Washington state, where their legislature turned down the Race to the Top waiver and they remain under NCLB: 100% of schools are in "failing" status. There is virtually no goal or standard that can be set, including breathing without assistance, that every child in the nation can meet on the same day at the same time. 

I attended a presentation by ODE and saw how their representatives are misleading parents about the SBAC. It made me sick and angry. I feel horrible about trying to put a smiley face on this for parents, and most of all for my students. I know that some of them will be okay. I know that most of them will be frustrated and feel stupid. Even in the best case scenario described by ODE, only 30% will do well. In the case of my students, I feel that will be much lower. ELL students who have taken similar Common Core tests in English around the country have passed at a rate of 3% to 4%, and this is taking away an entire week of instruction that those students would benefit from. If we consider that Migrant Summer School is only 3 weeks long, that puts the significance of that week in stark perspective.

I have not yet received an answer as to whether I will be excused from administering SBAC based on my strong philosophical objections. When I stated in my original letter that this was weighing heavily on my conscience, I was very serious. It keeps me up at night sometimes.

I am scheduled to administer on April 6th through 10th. I would truly appreciate an answer to my question about whether I will be required to administer or not. I would also like to know, if I were to refuse to do so, what the consequences would be for me. I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm just trying to do what I've always tried to do: stand up for what's best for my students. I would like to be able to make a fully informed decision when deciding what actions I take in doing that.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”My superintendent responded with a very polite email stating that as a district employee, I am required to administer the state assessment and quoted the Oregon Education Association’s  FAQ “Opting Out of Standardized Tests- FAQs on Your Legal Rights as a Public Educator” which says:

What are the consequences if I choose/refuse to administer standardized tests?
a. You will be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal unless it involves a student whose parents/guardians have opted out and the district has given you notice of the opt out. It has long been school district policy and a job duty of school employees to administer standardized tests. Refusing to administer these tests would be considered a violation of district policy and insubordination. Based upon current law and school district policies regarding testing, school employees should NOT refuse to administer standardized tests without knowing and understanding the consequences.”
He also stated that he, too, is concerned with lost instructional time and the impact of testing on our children and that he hopes we will be moving towards a more sensible approach in the future. 

Lots of people have been asking, so that’s where it stands with me administering SBAC. I have scheduled a meeting with my superintendent. 

Parents, you can opt your children out. No one can fire you. If you want more information on opting out go to in Oregon or for information about other states. Teachers, speak up if you can. Parents trust you. Let's work together for our kids. 

They Came For Gold and Other Riches!

By:  Larry Proffitt

Originally posted on

As I traveled over the past week during Spring Break, many of the places I traveled would not let me free thoughts of the education environment from my mind. I wandered down the east coast of Florida, making stops in historical venues. As I traveled and relived history, I revisited classroom lessons of the past about the arrival of Europeans upon this continent and their less than cordial treatment of the natives inhabiting the lands discovered. Eventually, they were no more than slaves, and the unrealized wealth of their native lands became plunder for the European nations sponsoring the exploration. How does this continually remind me of the current education environment? Just as the Europeans came, reformers and corporations also came for gold and other riches.
Just as Europeans originally came before, those uninformed of quality education policy come into the public education arena seeking the profitability spread before them. They bring a plan seeking to achieve success by the discrediting of a system, its educators, and students. Why? Because, something not broken needs no repair. Europeans traveled into these lands and brought disease and persecution to the natives under the guise of a better way. The natives died in unimagined counts. These reformers and corporations bring the same upon the public school system. It is the way to take over the landscape without the least resistance, come in peace. Free market education leads to riches through poorly designed curriculum and forced test-driven policies. It takes millions upon millions to establish the test-driven society being pushed. Corporations are only oh so happy to take those riches. They are also happy to shove aside and bring detriment to the educators and students. What a correlation!
Ahead of them, they send their ambassadors of goodwill. Gates, Waltons, Kochs, Teach For America, and many others. They provide their “aid” through softer agencies taking the name of FOUNDATIONS. “Aid” is needed according to their message. They can help, but they also have some nifty suggestions to go along with their “aid.” The propaganda has taken hold; the door is opened. Here comes the help, Pearson to name only one. Testing companies and reform lobbyists invade the nation’s capital and state legislatures with the message of change. Change the system. Test more. Record more. Share more. Less help with more accountability takes the stage, and failure is eminent. It’s what is needed for reform to be received as a welcome change. Beyond the cry of those with actual solutions, the plan moves forward.
Will our story in the public education landscape end as another repeat of history, or will enough hear the cries in time to rise up and make a difference? Time will only tell. My hope is for enough public education activists of like minds to rise to the forefront and stop the unraveling of democracy. The many successes created through the public education system should be held up daily and used to turn the tide. Activists, now is the time to turn back the assault, both unwarranted and unnecessary. I believe the words of a very wise man are more necessary now than ever, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Words uttered by John Lewis in another time and place are very relevant today!

Oooh! Scary! What Would Happen if Pennsylvania Passed the Wolf Budget?

By Steven Singer, BAT Leadership Team Member

Originally posted on his blog

Gather round the campfire, children, and hear a story to chill the very marrow in your bones!
Let me turn off the lights and point this yellow flashlight beam on my face as I share a tale of terror straight from the Pennsylvania legislature!
Imagine – if you will – a Commonwealth that has invested in public education.
The schools are pristine palaces to learning and self-actualization.
Class sizes are down. We’ve rehired the 25,000 teachers we sacked four years ago to balance the books. All children get arts, music, science labs, foreign languages, sports and extra-curricular activities. Even amenities like school nurses and guidance counselors have been restored.
Children from all walks of life enter those hallowed halls and no matter their family background, parental education, income, race or social class, they leave fully functioning adult citizens ready to lead our state into a brighter future.
Oh the horrendous but!
No one can afford toilet paper!
I know, children! It’s enough to shrink your sphincter with dread!
We’d pay for this educational utopia with an anal Armageddon!
Even the name of our fair state would have to change to Poopsylvania!
Educated urchins would roam the streets hunting for any scrap of angel softness. It would be bathroom chaos from the City of Phila-dookie-ah to the streets of Shittsburgh!
Because… TAXES!
Such is the horror story being told by Pennsylvania Republicans about Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal.
They softly intone the words, “tax hike,” while squeezing the Charmin tightly to their chests.
Fortunately, they’re just talking out of their butts.
Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget WOULD increase education funding. In fact, it would heal the $1 billion in annual education cuts made by the previous administration.
To do so, the freshman governor has proposed an ambitious new tax plan.
Much income would be generated from a proposed severance tax on natural gas extraction, closing tax loopholes and other cost savings. However, the sticking point for fiscal conservatives is a plan to reduce local property taxes while increasing income and sales taxes.
“Tax hike!” they scream tearing out fistfuls of grey hair. But if you’re raising taxes on one thing and reducing them on something else, at the end of the day are you really raising taxes?
It depends.
In short, homeowner’s property tax bills will go down, but grocery bills will go up.
Some consumer analysts are projecting toilet paper, for example, to go up a whole six cents on the dollar!
This is where conservatives offer us a Sophie’s Choice: will your kids learn how to read and write or will you get to wipe your butt?
Apparently there is no middle ground.
But this isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a simple question of math. Would most people save enough from the property tax reduction to come out ahead of the increased sales and income taxes?
The answer? According to the Wolf administration, the poor and middle class will end up paying less, while the rich will end up paying more. The average family would receive a net tax decrease of about 13%.
Tax savings would depend on several factors – income, whether you own or rent your home, which school district you live in, and how much you spend on taxable items each year.
If this seems too complex to you, far right think tanks have simplified the matter to a pure “The Sky is Falling” scenario.
The Heritage Foundation estimates Wolf’s budget would cost families an additional $1,400 a year. However, this estimate is highly contested. No one seems to be able to show where it comes from, how it was calculated or to prove that it truly takes into account the cost savings from reduced property taxes.
It’s an amorphous number, floated in obscurity in great need of being flushed away.
More over, these gloom and doom calculations are clearly politically motivated. A few years ago, Republicans proposed a similar plan, themselves!
That’s right! Conservatives had no problem offsetting property taxes with increased sales taxes when it was the GOP proposing it! However, when almost-the-same-plan comes out of the mouths of Democrats, it’s suddenly a three-ply catastrophe!
Property tax relief has been a major issue for both Democrats and Republicans in the Commonwealth for decades.
Pennsylvania has one of the worst tax codes in the country. Currently, the less income you bring home, the higher percent you pay in taxes.
This is true for taxpayers nationwide, but in the Keystone state we take it to a whole new level.
This is largely due to unequal property taxes. The Commonwealth’s poorest households pay nearly 4% of their total income on their homes, while the wealthiest pay just 1.6%. This is a much larger difference than in most states. Wolf’s new tax plan would address this inequality directly making for a fairer distribution of costs for the average resident.
The problem is even worse for our public schools that are forced to rely far too heavily on property taxes. The Commonwealth only pays 36.1% of the cost of education. This is far below the national average of 45.5%, and ranks 45th in the nation. Wolf’s budget would bring state spending up to 50% – more in line with what the rest of the country invests in its children.
Add to this a funding formula that would ensure poorer schools get a fair distribution of the pie, and you get a whole mess of education equity. A whole mess that Republicans want to wipe away.
It is a sad commentary on our right-leaning legislators that they’re pissing and moaning about putting back the funds this year that they had no problem stripping away four years ago.
After one term of a Republican governor, Pennsylvania is the laughing stock of the country in terms of education. We spend less on our poor students compared to our rich ones than ANY OTHER STATE!
That’s right! When it comes to cheating impoverished kids out of an education, we’re number one!
Nationwide, rich schools already spend on average 15.6% more than high poverty schools. But in Pennsylvania, the difference is 33%!
We are systematically short-changing our neediest children year-after-year, and there are actually people out there who can look at you with a straight face and complain about toilet paper!?
But you know what? Let’s entertain this criticism for a moment.
Let’s say that the Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and a host of other far right think tanks are correct. Wolf’s budget taxes things it shouldn’t.
Does that mean you scrap the whole education funding plan? Or does it mean you find the money elsewhere?
Do we just shrug, clutch the bathroom tissue to our chests and walk away? Or do we make education a statewide priority?
Even Wolf’s budget reduces taxes for corporations and big business. Perhaps we could generate some revenue there instead of in the toiletry aisle.
It’s funny how you never hear that offered as a solution.
The reason? They don’t give a shit about poor kids. Even if they had reams of toilet paper!
So the next time you hear someone try to sell you on this bogus bathroom Catch 22 – turn up your nose.
It’s not a question of toilet paper or education.
It’s not a question of the butt or the brain.
It’s a question of conscience.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No Walk in the PARCC......
By:  Toney Jackson

Here is the video of the poem

It's no mystery
You can learn more on a park bench or a bench press
Than you can doing test prep for the PARCC test

You can go outside and watch leaves changing and falling,
And learn about seasons, the reasons they change,
And why being the same isn’t something to shoot for
And why planting your feet in the ground to soak up experience is something to root for
And why pumping blood through repetitive motion with the right level of resistance
Will do more to build you up, than consecutive doses of what someone you don’t know supposes
That you ought to know, but that probably won’t make a difference
'Cause you will able to make a decision to make a commitment to college, a job,
Or the place that you're livin'
And none of it's thanks to the way you were tested in school,
But the way you were taught
And the way you were able to say that it isn’t... about testing
And it isn’t about doubting the worth of assessing
It's about seeing that tests designed with dollar signs in mind, are detrimental
And that tests designed with those in mind WITH dollar signs, are evidence to the fact
That fair is a relative term,
And that slanted scores in schools where economics are lopsided are not coincidental
And we saw better days before we ever raised the idea of educational monopolies
There are so many better assessment philosophies
So many better ways to teach kids to use technology
This is useless
Taking time away from worthwhile instruction, for efforts that are ultimately fruitless
I mean, what do you expect when you’re giving kids a test
And adults can barely do it?
Why are we bombarding teachers and kids with this?
Just because it’s what appears “in”?
Just because they roped your peers in?
Just because of the votes of approval politicians and their peers send?
Just because big brother's got a stranglehold on your school
And whenever you try to help your students break that glass ceiling, he peers in?
Just because we’ve got that much money and time to spend on the prep materials from Pearson?
If your professional development doesn't develop your ability to do better at your profession
Then it's unprofessional, which hinders development and professionalism
Which is contradictory
So just know that the reason kids and teachers are tired of what's going on in schools...

Is no mystery

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The one about Opting Out, Positive Responses and Tipping Points
By Dr. Mitchell Robinson

Originally posted on his blog here

We recently received an email from our school district about M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) Testing dates--for those not in Michigan, this is the new "required" state test for children in grades 3-8 which replaces the MEAP.

For one of our boys, the M-STEP testing schedule was to span 6 different days and include tests on English Language and Mathematics. The thought of our son missing class time for 6 days to sit for standardized tests--the results of which couldn't possibly inform his learning or his teachers' instructional practices, due to the tests being administered in the Spring rather than in the Fall, with the results not being made available until after the close of the school year--was bad enough. But to make matters worse, this "summative" test was not intended to be a long-term solution to the state's testing policies:

“Our challenge is that this is a one-year interim assessment. I’m not sure how meaningful that will be for us because we can’t compare results,” Grandville Public Schools Superintendent Ron Caniff said about the M-STEP. “This will be a snapshot of how our students measure up to other students (nationwide), but we won’t be able to measure it in terms of how our students are learning and growing – that’s the downside.” (

The bottom line was that our child was being pulled out of classes for 6 days, for tests that weren't intended to really measure student learning or growth, or to provide any meaningful feedback for his teachers, and these tests were not likely to be given again in subsequent years. The whole thing seemed like a terrible, awful, really bad idea--but the kicker was the following tag line on the district's email announcement:

"PLEASE DO NOT MAKE APPOINTMENTS FOR YOUR CHILD ON THE DATES ATTACHED. If your child misses these dates, then they will do make up testing and will be pulled from other academic classes. If your child is ill, they should stay home, of course! We understand!"

Before going on, I want to be clear: My wife and I believe that the school district that our children attend is terrific. They have wonderful teachers, a fantastic school music program, excellent academics, and a wide array of student services. The student body is diverse and motivated, and the community is fully engaged in school activities and governance. Our interactions with school personnel have always been great, and we have never regretted our decision to purchase a home in this town--a decision we made based largely on the quality of the school system.

So, the district's message didn't appear to ring true. In private conversations with teachers and administrators within the school system, I had sensed their agreement with our thinking about the explosion of standardized testing and its negative impact on teacher evaluation, school funding, and a host of other issues. These were intelligent, thoughtful, caring persons. Each of them had treated my children as their own--with sensitivity, compassion and care. I was certain that they had the children's learning as their highest priority, but felt compelled to follow the state's (misguided) directives regarding these tests.

After a great deal of thought, we decided to contact the school to tell them we were opting our son out of the M-STEP tests, and asked about the provisions for students who will not be taking these exams. After hitting "send" I was apprehensive--I knew about the pressures the folks at the school were under, and also didn't want to put my son in an awkward position with his friends and teachers at school. Both my wife and I are teachers, and have always approached our "job" as parents of school-aged children with the goal of supporting our kids' teachers fully. Making this request was not an easy decision for either of us.

Two days later we received the following response:

"I contacted the Assistant Superintendent and she told me that we would honor your request for opting (your son) out of testing with a note from you.  (Your son) is already on the testing rosters, but with your note, we will remove him. 

Students are being tested during their academic hours with their homeroom teachers. Per Assistant Superintendent, (your son) will be offered this time to work on any homework he has or to read a book for the time that his peers are testing. He may be given the option of going to the library...
We are required to have 95% participation for testing and any student opting out is a hit on that percentage. However, we understand your request and will honor it with a note sent to the Guidance Office."

Having read and heard about much more hostile responses from schools around the country to similar requests, we were both relieved and encouraged by our school's reply. Not only was our request for our child to opt out greeted with respect, but provisions for our son's attendance on those days when the test was scheduled were provided without argument or hassle. The approach was understanding, positive and student-centered--everything we have come to expect from our school district.

I also believe that this response is an indication of a tipping point of sorts when it comes to the issue of opting out and school testing. More and more, teachers and administrators are understanding the negative impact of these tests on students, teachers and schools, and are joining the fight with parents and other groups advocating for a reduction in the number and uses of these tests.

At the end of the day, I am left feeling optimistic and enormously encouraged by this interaction, and energized to continue the fight against the corporate reformers' obsession with data-mining and high-stakes testing. I can sense the tide turning, and more teachers and school administrators joining in the push back against these reforms. We have reached a Tipping Point, and now is the time to redouble our efforts.