Saturday, January 31, 2015

Susan DuFresne’s Statement of Professional Conscience.

As a kindergarten teacher, I am responsible for five year olds first experience in our schools working with a group larger than their own family. I take the responsibility for making that initial experience in school positive – one where children feel safe and loved, where their individual curiosity, talents, and potential are nurtured – where each child develops a love of learning. I learned This gift is what parents value in me as their child’s first teacher. If our parents knew how toxic testing impacts their children, I think they would be alarmed.
I love finding each child’s strengths and unlocking the key to their challenges, helping them grow socially and academically as whole children. From gifted students who read at a 4th grade level in kindergarten to those who will not learn their letters by the end of the year due to neurological issues that impact their ability to learn – I know they all come to learn something new. Children are neither standard nor common. Each child comes to me with an empty rice bowl hungry for new and different knowledge. Feeding them all the same standardized diet does harm. Why are we taught to differentiate our instruction, yet forced to administer standardized tests? This doesn’t make any sense and isn’t best practice.
I work to give my students joy every day and know that research shows ALL children learn how to learn through play, a well-rounded curriculum with art, music, theater, movement, and games that provide a varied diet for multiple intelligences rather than one-size-fits-all. But now, the agony of this increasing testing has for the first time, moved down to pre-school and kindergarten. Instead of joy and a love for learning, our 5 year olds experience test anxiety and are labeled as failures. How can a 5 year old be labeled as a failure already? Building, district, and state mandated testing strip our children of the exact experiences they need. In kindergarten almost all testing is done one-on-one, losing valuable instructional time while expecting 5 year olds to work independently and quietly for hours. WA Kids takes hours at the beginning of the year when it is important to develop relationships and establish routines. This is not best practice. Nor are the bubble tests for kindergartners. I was mandated to administer a WELPA bubble test lasting an hour and ½ last year to children just learning English. Several students cried, begging me to stop, saying “Mrs. DuFresne, this is too hard. I want to go home.” I wanted to go home too.
For these reasons, I cannot remain silent and join my colleagues in their objections.

What the Public Needs to Know

By:  Heather Poland

Originally posted on her blog:
I teach in a low-income school that is located in the Barrio Logan area of downtown San Diego. This area is rich with art and culture, a fascinating neighborhood and people, and also located near homeless shelters.  
This school year, we had a huge increase in our homeless population. We now have 25% homeless kids attending our school. This was such a marked increase from last year, I wondered what was going on. Of course, the economy, jobs, etc. No big surprise except people who do not work or live around the homeless population really do not see it.
I have worked in many different schools, mostly low-income. But I did not truly understand the plight of homeless students until I came to my current school, about 3 years ago.
Some things I didn’t know about homeless shelters:
  • There are many different types of shelters, all with their own rules
  • The rules at all the shelters are very strict, and not usually good for the kids
  • People are homeless for many, MANY different reasons
I also thought, because what a friend had told me, that if you were a single mom with kids, the city would find and put you in housing. Not true. SO not true.
The homeless population at my school would even be higher, but right around the corner is a county run school, specifically for homeless kids. They have many resources for the families there, but als limited space, and a tendency to suggest kids with IEPs go elsewhere. My school has almost no resources for the families. I don’t know why we are not getting more resources from the district. It is like we are an invisible school, with invisible homeless kids.
I wanted to share with everyone a bit about one of my students we will call M. There are so many misconceptions out there about homeless families, I need people to know the truth.
M is a seventh grade girl who came to class at the beginning of the year. She decided to come to this school after trying out the county run school. She didn’t like it. She has amazed me with her positive attitude, and eagerness to learn. She is a normal 12-year-old girl, with many more challenges than most of us can imagine. She has some younger brothers and sisters, including a newborn sister. They live at a nearby homeless shelter.
I assumed, wrongly, that this shelter was like another I knew about. I thought they gave families a room and they could keep their stuff in that room. I was wrong. Not at this shelter. My student’s family has to get in line for the shelter at 4 pm. School ends at 3:30. They start letting people in around 4:30 and the rule says that the whole family must be there, together, to be let in. Therefore, when I asked her to come to my after-school reading program, she could not. She and her siblings, cannot get the extra help they need. This broke my heart, but it doesn’t stop there.
At this shelter, once they are inside, kids are given a very short time to do homework. When homework time is over, they do chores, and then go into a large room where everyone sleeps. It is lights out at 7:30 pm. 7:30! This means, if she is struggling with math homework, which she is, like everyone else because it is the new Common Core math, she cannot spend the time she needs to on it. It also means her other homework does not get done. And she can’t stay after school to complete any of it.
And it doesn’t stop there. I thought, ok, maybe she can have a flashlight and secretly read or do some homework. Nope. First of all, they have to leave their backpacks outside of the room they sleep in. Second of all, the people come around and check to make sure the people are sleeping. Yes, they actually come around and literally poke people to make sure they are asleep. If they are not, they kick them out!
In the morning they wake up early to do chores. They “randomly” select individuals to do the chores, but M says they always seem to pick her mom. This means that she has to go outside with her brothers and sisters, including the newborn, and wait while her mom does chores. This is also why she is frequently late to school. It also explains why she told me she probably could not come in early before school to get help.
Everything is stacked against her. Yet, she still has to take the SBAC and be scored against her “peers”. All students in low incomes have so many things stacked against them, and the homeless kids just have even more in their way. Arne Duncan doesn’t care about this. He cares about Accountability. We must make sure every child is reaching “rigorous” standards while being hungry, tired, and stressed. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Many people also assume they know why people are homeless. There are so many different reason why. M is the perfect example. They used to live in Los Angeles with the grandmother. Then her dad was deported last year. They decided to move to San Diego because that way they can visit their dad every weekend in Tijuana. They don’t have a car, so they wouldn’t be able to see him if they stayed in LA. Here, they can take the trolley all the way down to the border. They are working on getting him back to the states.
M also is frequently absent. She has to take care of her brothers and sisters if her mom needs help. Recently, her mom had to have surgery so M was out for quite a while.
Despite all of this, M still likes school. She also still likes reading. She has an incredible positive attitude as well. I constantly worry about her and her family.This is the reality that these kids face. They are invisible. Most of us never really know what they go through. Hopefully this has given you a glimpse, and a bit more understanding of the situation, and the ridiculousness of Common Core and high stakes testing.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Dear Senator Alexander,
Thank you for hearing the pleas of teachers, parents, and students in regards to "education reform" that has had damaging consequences for our children, communities, and states. We find ourselves in a difficult position, in regard to the Reauthorization of ESEA, but we are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. As an organization of over 53,000 members who are educators and parents, we live the impact of the decisions made at the Federal level.
Reauthorization of ESEA evaluation must address the fundamentals: the appropriate role of the Federal Government in education policy and the best use of increasingly scarce dollars to educate our children. We are not best served by punitive and restricting Federal policies that tie the allocation of Federal money to demonstrating accountability through expensive means of annual testing. We can improve public education in our country but only by investing in what we need and what we know works, rather than increasing money and time on false measures of accountability.
As practitioners in the classroom, we see daily the detrimental effects that testing and accountability have on our children, families, and communities. We remain concerned that many choose to ignore the prevalent research that shows how poverty and inequality play defining roles in the achievement of our children in school.
For us, as educators, neither option address the real problems that we see plaguing our schools: Poverty and inequality. No matter what tools used in a school - such as grade span testing, accountability, technology, or merit pay, children still walk through the door poor, marginalized, and in need of resources that are becoming increasingly scarce in our schools (specifically our children of color). Neither Option 1 nor Option 2 are solutions to us because they continue to rely on "testing" as a measure in which to gauge the health of a school. Although we support grade span testing, using random sampling provides statistically valid results with less time, and money, spent on testing.
We cannot support either Option because the bill continues to support the overuse of overreaching Federal standards, punitive tests, merit pay, evaluating teachers and schools based on a flawed rating system, charter/voucher expansion, and ultimately a move away from locally controlled public neighborhood schools. Both Options 1 and 2 contribute to the marginalization/elimination of Arts education programs (art, music, dance, and drama) in lieu of training students how to take a test. Tests that have little, if any impact on student progress, but a great deal of influence in the funding formula for schools. We agree with the words of Carol Burris that you cited in your remarks - public education is the foundation to our democracy, and the role of the Federal Government is to provide reasonable guidelines and limits but not to function as a national school board.
We must move away from the model of Federal control of education and expensive false measures of accountability that in anyway ties annual testing to the support schools need to succeed.
We proudly partner with United Opt Out in opposing ANY state level measures that sanction the following:
1. Increase standardized testing even if it's under "state control"
2. Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities
3. Use of sanctions such as "shuts downs" or "turn overs" based on test data of any kind
4. Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs
5. Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information
6. Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education
Therefore, we support the United Opt Out statement in demanding greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.
We proudly support United Opt Out in not accepting ANY bill until the following criteria are included:
1. Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of "teaching to the test"
2. Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created
3. Smaller teacher/student ratios
4. Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess
5. Career-focused magnet programs
Additionally, we support United Opt Out in demanding legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.…/united-opt-out-public-letter-to-…/
To conclude, Senator Alexander, as practitioners in the classroom, retirees, parents, grandparents, and students, we find ourselves torn between, not supporting Option 1 and remaining silent. If we remain silent, we support the continued ignorance that poverty and inequality are what plagues our schools. We ask that you consider the United Opt Out directives above and our partnership in sharing these ideas, when putting forward any legislation. We look forward to meeting with your office this summer.
The Leadership Team of The Badass Teachers Association

Why We Should Have ZERO Standardized Tests in Public Schools

By:  Steven Singer
Published originally on his blog:
Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 4.35.10 PM
That’s the number.
No annual testing. No grade span testing. Not even one measly graduation requirement.
We need exactly ZERO standardized tests in our public schools.
I know that sounds extreme. We’ve been testing our children like it was the only thing of academic value for more than a decade. When the question finally arises – how many tests do we need? – it can sound radical to say “none.”
But that’s the right answer.
And finally Congress is asking the right question.
The U.S. Senate is holding hearings to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal law that governs K-12 schools. One of the biggest issues at stake is exactly this – how many standardized tests should we give students?
Sen. Lamar Alexander – head of the Senate Education Committee – is asking the public to email testimony to Parents, teachers and concerned citizens are writing in with their concerns about testing.
But will they have the courage to tell the whole truth in this – our moment of truth?
We’ve fought so long just to get someone to recognize there is a problem. Will we be able to honestly assess the solution?
We’re like a lifetime smoker who’s been diagnosed with lung cancer being asked how many packs he needs.
Or an alcoholic waking in a puddle of vomit being asked how many drinks he needs.
Or a junkie after a near-death overdose being asked how many crack pipes he needs.
We all know the right answer in those situations – and it’s the same for us about standardized testing.
We need None. Nada. Negatory.
But our hands shake. We get cold sweats. Withdrawal sets in.
Will we face our national addiction? Or again double down in denial?
Remember there is no positive benefit for forcing our children to go through this mess. It is not for them that we mandate these policies. It is for us – so that we can pretend we have control over something that is uncontrollable.
Learning is not something measurable in the same way as water being poured into a glass. It defies the precision of our instruments.
Don’t think so? Then answer me this: which unit of measurement should we use to determine how much learning has been accomplished? Pounds? Grams? Liters? Hectares?
Billy got hisself 20 pounds of book learnin‘ at the school today?
Not really.
We use grades like A, B, C – but there’s nothing precise about them. They’re just a percentage of assignments completed to the teacher’s satisfaction.
I don’t mean to say that you can’t tell if learning has taken place. But how much? That’s difficult to gauge – especially as the complexity of the skill in question increases.
You can tell if your dog knows how to sit by commanding it to sit and observing what it does. It’s a much different matter to ask someone to evaluate the themes of a novel and determine how much literary analysis that person understands based on his answer.
Of course teachers do it every day, but that determination is, itself, subjective. You’re required to trust the judgment of the educator. You have to believe the instructor knows what she’s talking about.
That’s the best you can get in the humanities – and teaching is a humanity – more an art than a science.
Perhaps some day neuroscientists will allow us to determine the relationship between firing synapses and brain events to internal states like learning. At such time, perhaps the very act of comprehension will be closer to loading a program onto your hard drive. But until that day, education is a social science.
The push for increased standardized testing, however, is an attempt to hide this fact. And the results are less – not more – valid than a teacher’s classroom grades.
Most people don’t know how you score a standardized test. If they did, they wouldn’t automatically trust the results.
Fact: standardized tests are graded by temporary workers – many of whom have no education background – determining at will what counts as passing and failing in any given year. In fact, they have an incentive to fail as many people as possible to increase the market for their employer’s test prep material.
That is NOT objective. In fact, it is LESS objective than the grade provided by the classroom teacher. After all, what is the educator’s incentive to pass or fail a student other than successful completion of the work?
In fact, statistics back this up. Taken as a whole, standardized test scores do NOT demonstrate mastery of skills. They show a students’ parental income. In general, poor kids score badly and rich kids score well.
Moreover, the high stakes nature of testing distorts the curriculum students receive. Instead of a well-rounded course of study focusing on higher order thinking skills, high stakes testing narrows what is taught to that which can most easily be tested. This creates a market for the test prep materials that are often created and distributed by the same corporations who create, distribute and grade the standardized tests. It’s a conflict of interests, a feedback loop, a Ponzi scheme – in short, fraud perpetrated on the public as if it were education reform.
Honestly, we know all this at heart. Every teacher, politician, statistician, and student. But as a society, instead of devising a better method, we continually reach for the same failing solutions.
When No Child Left Behind failed to produce results, we doubled down with Race to the Top. When a focus on state standards didn’t help, we created Common Core.
That’s an addiction.
Likewise calls to reduce testing without ending it are just cries from the junkie for another fix.
Yes, grade span testing (three exams spaced out over elementary, middle and high school) is better than annual testing (once in each grade from 3-8th and once in high school). So is a single graduation test. But why do it at all?
The burden of proof is on those defending tests. If these assessments really are as toxic as we’ve shown, why would less of them be more beneficial than none?
I see no reason to suppose that even limited testing would avoid these criticisms. Grade span testing would still be appraised with cut scores, still assess socioeconomics – not academics, still deform the curriculum… Why keep it – even in smaller quantities?
But what’s the alternative, naysayers will complain. If we don’t standardize test our children to death, what do we do?
Answer: focus on the problem – poverty.
More than half of all US public school students live below the poverty line. These children have increased needs for tutoring, counseling, nutrition, and wraparound services. Moreover, these are exactly the children who go to the most underfunded schools. They have the largest class sizes and the smallest offerings of arts, music, foreign languages and extra-curricular activities. The equipment and often buildings which serve these kids are overwhelmingly out-of-date and in need of repair, remodeling or replacement.
If you really wanted to improve the US education system, you’d address this glaring problem.
Equally, you need to elevate the profession of teaching, not denigrate it. Return the creation and execution of education policy to the experts – educators. Provide them with the resources they need to get the job done. Equip them with professional development that helps instruction, not testing. Help them individualize students’ educational experience, not standardize it. And offer racial sensitivity training to maximize cultural understanding between teachers and students.
How would we tell if any of this worked?
Easy. First, stop pretending that our current system of accountability works. It’s a sham.
Despite a media narrative of failing schools, comparisons with international education systems put American students at the very top – not the bottom – if you take poverty into account. Of course, no one wants to do that because we’d have to admit these comparisons are based on – you guessed it – standardized test scores, which AGAIN show economic disparity not intellectual achievement!
So we deify testing as the only thing that can hold schools accountable, then ignore data that disproves our findings and pretend like we have some hard-nosed system that keeps educators responsible. It doesn’t. It’s just a story like The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood or Climate Change Denial.
So how do we start to actually tell if our education system works? Easy. Trust our nations parents, students and teachers to tell us. And actually listen to what they say!
Now is the time.
Speak or forever hold your peace.
Whether our policymakers will even listen to us is a separate question. If WE’REstrung out on testing, they’re at least as dependent on the lobbying dollars of the assessment industry.
But we have to try.
Our collective hands may shake. A quaver may creep into our voices. We may get hot and cold sweats.
But the truth must come out.
How many standardized tests do we need?
They Didn't Show
by: Meg Barcus

My name is Meg and I AM a Bad Ass teacher! I have been a Bad Ass teacher for the last 18 years. Since I was five years old, my entire world has revolved around the field of education. The world that I am living in now is unrecognizable. Common Core and Smarter Balanced have destroyed the field that I love so much; the field in which I chose to devote my life. As each day progresses, I learn more and more about Common Core and the testing that goes along with it. I thought that I was fairly well versed on this topic. I thought that I knew a lot. I didn’t know nearly enough. So, I went to a town hall meeting at the University of Delaware to hear more about it and to get justification for the feelings that I had towards this supposed panacea for American Education. I attended this meeting. I and about 100 other people were there to hear a “debate” about Common Core. However, half of the people that were supposed to debate the topic didn’t show. They backed out at the last minute. They didn’t come. They were invited to share the reasons that Common Core and SBAC and PARCC are supposed to be the “promised land.” They didn’t show. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes. Another thing that speaks volumes is that the person that they found to support Common Core and the standardized tests that go along with it was not a supporter of Common Core or standardized testing. How do I know this? In her opening statements, she made it very clear that she did not support standardized testing. In her closing remarks, she stated that educational decisions should not be motivated by money [paraphrased]. So, you may ask, what was the point of this debate? Why did I spend 3 ½ hours on a Saturday morning listening to four incredibly intelligent women discuss Common Core and the tests that go along with them? Why? Because I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.
I learned so many things; things that were shocking in many ways. I've always been a person run more by emotion than anything else. I have always opposed the testing and Common Core based on my own emotional reasons and feeling that tying test scores to student and teacher success is wrong. Test scores don't account for differences or individuality in any way. I always knew in my heart that education has become big business, but I never realized how deep those pockets truly are and how much the "powers that be" are being strong armed into compliance because of the threats that are being given to them. IT'S ALL ABOUT MONEY! The rich get richer and force the hands of everyone to follow what they want, so that they can get richer. Our country is being bought by a select group of moguls for their own benefit and nothing else. They give money to the federal government and then threaten to take away the money unless they do what they want. The federal government imposes their dictates on the state government by threatening to take away funding unless they do what they want so they continue to get the funding from the business moguls. It's like the song "I knew an old lady that swallowed a fly”. The whole thing is one giant scam to make the rich richer. They feed off of the failure of others and get rich because of it. In this case, who is the power in control? Who is the mogul that keeps getting richer? Who is the wolf in sheep's clothing that is touted as such a "benefactor" for education? Who does sooo much for education? Who lines his own pockets on everyone else's failures? Bill Gates. Education shouldn't be a "for profit" institution. It is a right that we have been given. It shouldn't be for sale. But. It. Is
I am honored
By: Michael Lambert
"Addressing the GTA this morning was a pleasure, and I deeply appreciate the warm reception and
excellent questions from my colleagues. But one moment really stood out for me. I've been involved in the education activist movement for a few years now and in that time I've learned a lot about the corporate and political forces behind what passes for education "reform" and about what is the centerpiece of that "reform", Common Core.
I've read and seen examples of how the CC objectives are developmentally inappropriate. I've discussed it with colleagues from across the country on social media. But it's really been intellectual knowledge. I'm at the high school where any given CC objective can fit curricula without much problem. So I've wondered what the experience of my Gloversville colleagues in the primary grades, burdened with these objectives, has been.
They answered me this morning. The spontaneous applause at my comment about CC being inappropriate for our smallest and most vulnerable students told me, and the rest of my secondary colleagues, all we need to know.
So yes, we are fighting for our careers and the integrity of our profession. But we are also fighting for our students. WE are the ones protecting THEM from the likes of Andrew Cuomo.
I've had enough of his claims in the media that they deserve protection from us and our union. More than enough.
Take any anxiety or fear you are feeling right now and channel it into the justifiable outrage we need to fuel the actions we'll be suggesting. But you don't have to wait. Write a letter to the editor or your local papers. Write to your state representatives. Write to the Board of Regents. Speak to your colleagues in other districts. Speak with your neighbors and friends.
And if I can help or answer any questions, please do not hesitate.
I am honored to be one of you. Together we can take back our students, our classrooms and our schools.
Yours in solidarity,

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Will the real activists please stand up?
By:  NJ Grassroots Activists

Activism is defined as the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. Any grassroots movement is the true foundational base of activism, driven by a community's policies, the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous. This highlights the difference between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.

The issue that comes forth from this is when these power structures take upon the mission of grassroots organizations, co-opts the message, adopts it as their own, and then neglects to recognize the original work of the grassroots organizations and activists that have been dedicated towards bringing about this change. At this point does the power structure become the enemy, for having virtually silenced the grassroots members by now defining what that message needs to be and how it can be carried?

New Jersey has become a prime example of this. The New Jersey Education Association has come to the forefront of state unions as a vehicle organizing to push back against standardized testing, bringing with it the parent group Save our Schools NJ. These two organizations have joined forces to create resources and avenues for parents to join and participate in the statewide test refusal movement.

But if we look back a few years, we can see where the real groundwork was laid, where the real push has come from, where the true advocates are. Members within the NJEA saw the need, three years ago, for a statewide organizing platform as evidence started becoming apparent that there was a corporate agenda for educational dollars. A model was established as a statewide advocacy platform called ReAd: Research and Advocacy. The plan from the developers of these models was to establish this platform locally, with communication venues and the development of strategies to fight for our schools. Once established, this model could have easily been brought to other local organizations, with support from the NJEA to assist with the initial set up until ReAd was running as independent. Instead, these groups were all but ignored, slow to spread to other locals due only to the fact that these grassroots organizers of this model also have their own careers and limited time to commit to establishing these committees in other areas. Think of how much stronger the position of  public education advocates would have been in New Jersey if this had been established by NJEA years ago.

Other grassroots organizations have also laid the groundwork and done the grunt work, only to be neglected in the recognition for their efforts. United Opt Out has worked hard to put a model group that carries the message of test refusal to all states. The facebook group for the NJ chapter was created over a year ago and this is where you see the true work of the grassroots members being done; communicating, planning, sharing ideas and developing strategies.

Of course, we cannot neglect to mention our own NJ BATs, who started a petition in 2013 to let the NJEA know that the members wanted and needed the union to take a stronger stand against the abuses of high stakes testing. It has been the work of the BATs, on a state and national level, that has brought ideas to the NJEA, such as the movie “Standardized” as an organizing tool. 

As institutions take up the fight of grassroots activists against corporate education reform it is important that attention is given so that the voices of the true stakeholders and the true activists are not silenced. For without their efforts, without their dedication as people that do this for a true purpose of belief, not because they receive money or recognition, such movements would not occur. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hite and SRC Target Philly Teachers!

Philadelphia, PA   January 26, 2015
Parents at Feltonville and across the district stand in support of teachers
Dissatisfied with how standardized testing is eclipsing their children’s education, 20% of parents at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences -- with the support of teachers -- have opted their children out of standardized testing.  And that number is growing despite disciplinary actions taken last week against teachers involved in informing parents of their rights.

Teachers were issued letters compelling them to attend investigatory conferences on Thursday of this week. The district move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. News of the action prompted Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell to issue a public statement of support for Feltonville families on Thursday saying “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville.  We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quinones-Sanchez, Squilla, and Blackwell called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.
“We, as parents, have a right to say no to the test”, says Heidey Contrera, the mother of 8th grader Natalie Contrera, who, having moved to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic in 2011, is designated an English Language Learner at Feltonville.  “The test is not a good measure of my daughter’s ability. It is not a fair way to judge her. And we’re not taking it.”

“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups to come out publicly in support of parents and teachers at Feltonville.  “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.”

Amy Roat,, 215 768 8479, teacher, Caucus of Working Educators Steering Committee member, and Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences PFT Building Representative

Kelley Collings, , 215 868 3089, teacher, Caucus of Working Educators Steering Committee member, and Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences PFT Building Committee member



Sunday, January 25, 2015


Arkansas needs your help.  On Wednesday, the Arkansas Board of Education is going to determine what to do with the largest school district in Arkansas, the Little Rock School District. They are threatening to take over the entire district of 48 schools because 6 of the 48 schools are in academic distress – in spite of the ADE having controlled their curriculum for six years. This would undoubtedly result in charters, union-busting, and replacement of teachers.
We are asking you to send polite emails, tweets, posts to any or all of the following, most importantly, to Gov. Hutchinson and the members of the ADE board, and the Chamber of Commerce in support of allowing the new LRSD school board, all members who have been elected by the community, to retain control of the district.   Here are some talking points and the contact information.
Thank you for your support.
Arkansas Bats
·                  Arkansas Department of Education classifies 6/48 schools in the Little Rock School District as in academic distress
·                  Hall, Fair, McClellan high schools;  Cloverdale, Henderson middle schools, and Baseline Elementary are the schools in distress
·                  The ADE has been directing curriculum in these distressed schools for at least 6 years; America’s Choice and Pearson curriculum have not achieved noticeable improvement.
·                  There has been a charge for the ADE to take over the entire Little Rock School District, led by Diane Zook.
·                  Diane Zook has been vocal about not letting the community express an opinion on the takeover
·                  The takeover has been supported by various Real Estate agencies.
·                  Diane Zook’s husband, Randy Zook, is the head of the Chamber of Commerce
·                  Diane Zook’s nephew, Gary Newton (, )) is the lobbyist for the Walton Foundation and is being paid by Walton to denegrate LRSD (
·                  The Walton Foundation owns Teach for America, which contracts for college grads to teach for two years, and gives them only five weeks of training before putting them into a classroom at “temp” rates and Walton promotes charter schools.
·                  Charter schools can pick and choose their students, and are free to ask anyone to leave if test scores, behavior, or special needs are perceived as a detriment.  And yet, charter schools are scoring no better, and oftentimes worse, than public schools.
·                  Diane Zook should recues herself from the board on this issue due to conflicts of interest
·                  The sitting ADE Board have all been appointed by Governor Beebe, now out of office
·                  Governor Beebe was a supporter of and signer to both the Common Core State Standards and Parcc testing
·                  There is not one public school educator on the board
·                  State law does allow for ADE takeover for schools in academic distress but not for whole districts, unless the whole district is in academic distress
·                  42 of the 48 schools in LRSD are not in academic distress and Central High School consistently leads the state in national merit scholarships. Central and 4 other schools have been awarded Outstanding Educational Awards by the University of Arkansas.
·                  The LRSD school board has been elected by the community; the ADE answers to no one.
What you can do:
Email, call, or tweet the following and protest the state takeover of Arkansas’ biggest school district before the new school board can institute changes in the six academically failing schools:
Governer Asa Hutchinson   twitter:   @asahutchinson
Phone          501-682-2345
List of Arkansas ADE Board Members and Email

 Chairman, Samuel Ledbetter

Vice Chair:  Toyce Newton

Joe Black

Alice Williams Mahony

Mireya Reith

Vicki Saviers

Jay Barth

Diane Zook

(Mr.) Kim Davis

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Confessions of a Standardized Test Proctor


Hello. My name is Steven.

And I’m a standardized test proctor.
I’ve been a proctor for over 10 years now. I used to be a teacher. Some days I still get to be one, but most of the time… I’m just a proctor.
(Clapping. Shouts of “YEAH!”)

I give my students standardized tests.

And I make them do test prep.
(Breaks down. Someone walks up behind him, claps him on the back and whispers in his ear. Encouraging noises from the crowd of people sitting in folding chairs around the room.)

Let me start with the box.

The box came to my middle school classroom right before Christmas break. You know the one. Like a cinder block made of cardboard. 

A high school student brought it down from administration. She shook it like a huge maraca and asked, “Mr. Singer, where do you want it?”
For a second I had no idea what it was. Then I remembered – it was almost time again to take the GRADE Test. And I knew what it was – a box full of those black and green test booklets, Scantron sheets wrapped in plastic, a box of No. 2 pencils, a monitor’s booklet, scratch paper, student rosters and ID numbers… Everything I wanted for Christmas.

So I put it on the shelf, went on teaching and forgot about it until December was over, until after the holiday break.
I didn’t want to even think about it.
But when I came back to school in January all rested and raring to go, I saw it there like some sinister Elf on the Shelf.
So I put it off for another week. No rush. I had until the end of the month to make my students take it.
I just…
I couldn’t have them come into my classroom and first thing take a standardized test. That would have been heartless. They didn’t come back to school to fill in bubbles. They wanted to do something interesting, something that they really cared about.
They wouldn’t admit it, but they wanted to learn Goddammit!
And I wanted to teach!
(Grumbling) TELL US ABOUT IT!


Okay. I…
It was great. We read S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Or at least a few chapters of it. 

The kids couldn’t put it down. If there were only a few minutes left in class, they didn’t want to stop reading – they wanted to keep going. 

We wrote journal entries about what we might have done in the characters’ places, examined the use of slang and how it has evolved over time.
We participated in a Socratic Seminar discussion where we made connections between the novel and our own lives, explored gender issues, the role of socioeconomic status and race – it was higher level thinking all around. You know? The stuff they tells us we’re supposed to teach – the stuff all the research tells us helps learners grow.
But it didn’t last. The week ended. And I had to give the GRADE Test.
OOOH! (a few claps)
You know, it’s funny. Working in a poor school district like mine, you hear a lot about accountability. If administrators don’t enact this reform, or teachers don’t do that paperwork or students don’t score this high – they’ll close us down. But no one talks about holding politicians accountable for making sure we have the resources we need.
Case in point: when I came back from break, the fan in my room’s cooling system had broken down. I have no windows and the air wasn’t circulating. It was hot and muggy and miserable. Yes, in January with arctic temperatures outside!
I asked the grounds keeper and administrators to do something about it, but was told repeatedly “the part is on order.” Nothing happened.
The first week wasn’t too bad. We managed. But it wasn’t until the second week – when I gave out the test – that it went from annoying to miserable!
(He pauses, shaking his head.)
I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it was a different test, but the GRADE…
…. is such a waste of time!

(good natured laughter. Mumbling.)

They call it a reading diagnostic test because it’s supposed to diagnose the kids’ deficiencies in reading. But it doesn’t do that for a host of reasons – chief among them the fact that kids take the same exact test over-and-over again for at least three years!
That’s right! No variation! The same questions in the same order three times a year – year-after-year. Heck! This was the second time they were taking this same test just this year alone!
Sure there’s one alternative version we COULD give to mix things up, but administration rarely lets us do that. And even if we did, it wouldn’t help that much.

What’s worse, it isn’t even aligned with the high-stakes tests kids have to take in March and April!
Yeah! They stick a gun to our heads and say if your students don’t score well on the all-or-nothing, win-or-lose state tests, we’ll label you a “failure,” cut your funding or close you down.
So you’d think we’d practice – try to do look-alikes and get comfortable with the format and everything.
But the rehearsal we’re forced to do is the GRADE test! That’s like practicing a layup when you’re getting ready for the chess tournament!
The preparation doesn’t reflect what students will be asked to do when it comes to the make-or-break exams!
It wasn’t always like this.
We used to have kids take a diagnostic test called the 4SIGHT. It wasn’t perfect. Kids took it on computers, but there was an essay section they’d write on paper, too, that I was actually allowed to grade, myself!
I thought there were better uses of class time, but at least the 4SIGHT was actually a good dry run for the kind of high-stakes tests they were going to take later in the year. And sections they took on the computer gave you a score immediately. 

It was something you could look at as a rehearsal, as reducing test anxiety, as providing you data you could use to make decisions about the students.

Yeah! As if you’d need it! Any teacher who knows his students so poorly that he needs standardized tests to tell their strengths and weaknesses is a pretty poor teacher.
The only reason we changed to the GRADE Test in the first place is because the district got a grant from the state. 

First, the governor and legislature slashed our budget, then they offered to give us back a small portion of it if we enacted certain reforms – one of which was to replace our somewhat helpful diagnostic test with a totally useless Pearson product.
(clapping. A few catcalls of “PEARSON! OOOH! OOOH!”)
Come to think of it – 4SIGHT was also made by Pearson.

And the time it takes to give this thing! There are only four sections – Vocabulary, Sentence Completion, Listening Comprehension and Passage Comprehension. But it takes a minimum of two days – and I have double periods! That’s two 80-minute sections – actually more like three so I can give the make-ups!

(unhappy noise from crowd)

That’s right! If a student is absent, I have to somehow proctor the whole thing over again just for him. Administration says it’s too hard for them to pull students out of class and give the make-ups, themselves. So I’m forced to give busy work to students who completed the assessment so they have something to do while the stragglers catch up.
So to review: today was day three of testing. Day six if you count the first time I proctored this darn thing. And three more days will be coming in May.
This is day seven of no air flow. Kids sitting at their desks like they’re half dead. Sad, bored looks on their faces, and I completely sympathize but I’m the one who’s forced to do this to them!
Every now and then one of them asks, “Why are we doing this, Mr. Singer? Will this affect my grade?” 

And I find the lies hard to get out. Because, no, it won’t affect your grade. There’s really no good reason you’re taking this, except that some of those books on the shelf you enjoy during sustained silent reading were bought with money we get for making you go through this nonsense.
I used to believe in standardized testing. I did!
When I first started teaching it made a certain kind of sense. We had the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests then. My 8th grade kids took one in Reading and one in Writing.
It was challenging but at least the expectations were clear. I knew exactly what kinds of things they would be tested on and what they were expected to do. 

There were reams of remediation material available, and I could have my pick of the best – the clearest and most engaging – as test prep materials go.
But then Pennsylvania adopted Common Core – or at least it adopted the look-a-like PA Core – and had to develop new tests! 

Today, high school students take a test called the Keystone and middle schoolers still take the PSSA. But they’re both just different versions of the PARCC test with a Pennsylvania-sounding name on it. We just pretend it’s something new and ground breaking.
That might be acceptable if the PARCC was a valid assessment. However, it’s notorious throughout the country for being designed to fail students – not fairly evaluate them. 

Moreover, the state Department of Education is extremely stingy with examples teachers can look at so we know what’s on the test. I doubt even they know what’s on it because they keep changing it from year-to-year.
So all of my remediation material is almost useless. I can’t even buy something new because it takes several years after a test is developed for the preparatory material to appear, and we’re still chasing a moving target!
And on top of all that – the state is forcing all schools to use the scores from these tests to evaluate teachers performance!
We use incomplete test prep and unaligned pretests to prepare for more tests that don’t fairly assess student learning – and then use these invalid scores to blame teachers and bemoan the state of education!
Yeah! So…
(Someone walks up behind him and whispers in his ear. Hands him something.)
I get this… chip?
(Cheers! He looks it over.)
One week. I’m a one week man!
(Clapping. People standing.)
I’ve accepted my lot for one week?
(Volume gets louder on applause.)
I’m a test proctor.
(Catcalls. ONE OF US! ONE OF US!)
I’m a test proctor!
(Insane yelling!)
(The crowd rushes to the stage and engulfs the speaker. More and more approach. They just keep coming – more than could possibly fit in this room. The clamor continues to gain in volume until its unclear whether its celebratory cheering or out of control insanity. One word is heard through it all until even it cannot be made out in any distinctness.)

Originally posted by BAT Steven Singer on Gladflyonthewall