Friday, August 31, 2012

Primum non nocere

Parents: here is another opt-out opportunity: More required testing due to state and Race to the Top requirements.   I will post more about interim tests, DIBELS, AIMSweb and other testing that is harming the education of our children when time permits.  More and more of our children's time is being spent on testing instead of real learning.

Timely article from the Buffalo News on the increase in testing.  The article focuses on the pre-assessments.   Here are a couple of key quotes:

This is not a true measure of learning: "In many cases, teachers have to give two tests: one at the beginning of the course, and another at the end of the course, so that teachers can determine how much students learned during the semester or the year.

Follow the money-- huge loss of our tax dollars, while class sizes grow: "Several districts surveyed by The Buffalo News said they could not identify a specific dollar amount they had spent to purchase tests from vendors or develop them with using their own staff, but estimated the cost in the hundreds of thousands."

 Primum non nocere-- How pre-assessments harm our children.


Picture a kindergartner or first grader heading to school, a mix of excitement, curiosity and fear as the child starts the school year.  How would that child react to starting the school year with an exam containing words and concepts that she has not experienced? Is this “pre-assessment” of skills that a child will need to learn by the end of the current school year the first impression of education that we would want a young student to have?    Sadness, apprehension, and feelings of failure are not the way we want our children to begin the start of the school year.

Welcome to the world of corporate education children.  The pre-assessment is the ignorant idea from so-called reformers that we can measure a child’s academic growth by comparing test results at the beginning of the school-year to an exam towards the end of the term.

In New York State, we call the aftermath of the pre-assessment Student Learning Objectives(SLO):
“A Student Learning Objective is an academic goal for a teacher’s students that is set at the start of a course. It represents the most important learning for the year (or, semester, where applicable). It must be specific and measurable, based on available prior student learning data, and aligned to Common Core, State, or national standards, as well as any other school and District priorities. Teachers’ scores are based upon the degree to which their goals were attained.”
Educators who teach a course that does not have a state exam must use Student Learning Objectives to determine part of their evaluation.  Here is how this process works: Teachers that need to use an SLO must give a pre-assessment to their students.  This exam could be a district, regional or corporate created test that would assess the students in what content and skills the children should obtain at the end of the school year.  Basically we are giving the students a version of our final exam.  On the surface, this sounds easy for teachers: almost all the students will score poorly on the pre-assessment because they have not learned the curriculum yet and achieve a low baseline level.  Could teachers be cheering for their students to do poorly on the pre-assessment?  Hoping children fail: is that where the world of corporate education reform has taken us?

All around the country teachers are being evaluated by student test scores.  Sadly in New York State, this process is being rushed at such a pace that presenters have likened the methods to the “building a plane in the sky” commercial.

Many educators have noted that it is the state education department officials who have the parachutes in the “plane”, while the teachers and students are left helpless.  Nothing could be closer to this scenario than the Student Learning Objective(SLO) in New York. The SLO process is being used because the NYS Education Department could not figure out how to evaluate teachers who do not have a state exam for their course or grade level.

After the “pre-assessments” are scored, teachers need to make a prediction as to how their students will perform on the final assessment of the year.  How can an educator who barely knows their students determine a goal for a final exam score for the class?   If the teacher does not meet this “expected outcome of performance”, then that educator loses points on his or her evaluation score.  Puzzled?  Me too. The SLO relies on the fact that the pre and post-assessments are valid measures of learning, which we know is not the case.

The idea that giving a pre-test to students who have never been exposed to certain concepts would be good for a laugh if we were not conducting this cruel experiment on children. Here is another blatant example of the almighty importance of “the test”, not to mention more real learning time lost.  At the SOS Convention I heard that we need an educator’s Hippocratic Oath similar to the doctor’s ethical pledge,  which contains the phrase “first do no harm".   I, for one, will never give this type of pre-assessment to my students for that very reason.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some good links to read.

8/30 update:  "Why, then, do so many public officials continue to advocate high-stakes testing? The major problem is a disconnect between the views of voters and educators on the one hand, and politicians and their high-dollar supporters—particularly the Broad, Gates and Walton foundations—on the other. Public opinion polls consistently show support for cutting back on high-stakes testing. But policy makers and their close supporters continue to defend the status quo, even though the evidence reveals that it has not succeeded."  ~Bob Schaeffer

(8/23 update) Three ed reforms parents should worry about most

by Long Island Principal Carol Burris.  (Google "Carol Burris" for some more excellent reads on education.)

Of particular importance is the fact that private companies have ownership of  your child's personal and school data.

(8/23 update) Don't let AIS and NYS test scores limit your child's opportunities: 
   Recommendations from a music educator on AIS/IEP students and instrumental music classes. 

(8/23 update) 

What do standardized test scores tell us?

by Alberta, Canada educator Joe Bower.

Are Regents Exams needed for New York High Schools?

The Cost of Achievement

(8/23 update)

10 most inaccurate school reform axioms

Monday, August 13, 2012

How High-Stakes Tests & Charter Schools Are Harmful To Public Schools

I was fortunate to meet Dov Rosenberg, a fellow defender of Public Education at the Save Our Schools Convention in Washington, D.C. recently.  Mr. Rosenburg with the help of fellow public school advocates put together this great list:


How High-Stakes Tests & Charter Schools Are Harmful To Public Schools


by Dov Rosenberg 

A) High stakes tests do not effectively gauge student ability, are harmful to children, and make public schools less effective.

B) Charter schools outperform public schools less than 20% of the time while segregating children and minimizing the power of parents & the community.

High-Stakes Tests Do Not Effectively Gauge Student Ability:
  • Constrict wide expanses of knowledge into only what can be measured by a multiple choice test.
  • Many contain nonsensical questions, have multiple correct answers, or have no right answers at all (see: Pineapplegate).
  • With hundreds of millions of American kids taking the same test, ethnic & regional differences aren't considered, making them unavoidably culturally biased.
  • Unduly reward the superficial ability to retrieve info from the short-term memory.
  • Pass/Fail status is often determined by politicians while test scores are often manipulated for political purposes.
  • National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress: "Standardized tests have not increased student achievement.”
  • Measure only low-level thought processes, trivializing true learning.
  • Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; scoring errors can have life-changing consequences.
  • Curricula constructed from high-stakes tests are based on what legislators assume children will need to know in the future. Countless previous attempts at predicting the future have ended in failure.
  • Are often only marginally aligned with curricular standards.
  • Provide minimal feedback that is useful to classroom teachers.
  • Penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways (common in children).
  • Test results are not able to predict future success.
  • Claimed to be used as a diagnostic tool to maximize student learning, but are actually used to punish students, teachers, & schools.

High-Stakes Tests Are Harmful To Children:
  • Minimal time for socializing & physical activity b/c recess & PE are cut in favor of test prep, particularly affecting low-scoring students.
  • Testing anxiety has lead to sickness, vomiting, & even incontinence in the classroom.
  • Excessive testing stifles the love of learning.
  • Year-end tests require sitting still & staying focused for 3.5 hours, which leads to behavior problems.
  • Encourage the promise of extrinsic motivators such as rewards for high scores (bribes) & punishments for low scores (threats).
  • Pressure to pass tests has lead to stimulant abuse in teenagers.

High Stakes Tests Make Public Schools Less Effective:
  • The lowest & highest achievers are left out as instructional resources are focused on learners at or near the pass/fail threshold.
  • Fewer opportunities for kids to enjoy creative classes that make them love school.
  • Arts & other electives are cut in favor of test prep & testing, particularly affecting students from low-income families.
  • Children don't receive adequate instruction in non-tested areas like science, history, geography, government, etc.
  • Divert billions of state taxpayer funds from public schools to pay huge testing firms like Pearson & ETS (Educational Testing Services).
  • Divert precious time resources to test facilitation, preparation (such as begging proctors to volunteer), & administration.
  • As top private schools have rejected high stakes testing, more affluent families have moved their children out of public schools, where high stakes tests are unavoidable.
  • When test scores trigger automatic retentions, much older students in classrooms can cause additional behavior problems
  • Norm-referenced tests, by definition, label 50% of students as below average. Requiring all students to be at or above "grade level" is statistically impossible.
  • Give testing firms control of the curriculum
  • Test scores are used to evaluate teacher effectiveness in lieu of more effective administrator observations
  • Reduces teacher creativity & autonomy, thereby reducing the appeal of teaching as a profession
  • Minimize teachers' ability to accomodate multiple learning styles and provide adequate differentiation
  • Create unreasonable pressure on students & teachers to cheat as well as on administrators & school districts to "game the system"

Less Than 20% of Charter Schools Are Successful:
  • Even the pro-charter documentary "Waiting for Superman" notes that only 1 in 6 charter schools succeed.
  • Charter schools can artificially inflate their published testing success rate by deflecting potentially low-scoring kids back to public schools, often less than 2 months before state tests are administered.

Charter Schools Segregate Children:
  • Most charter schools are racially homogenous.
  • Without diversity requirements, charter schools can market to specific demographics, ultimately segregating communities.
  • Children from the same neighborhood often go to different schools, don't know each other, & don't play outside together. Alienation negatively impacts neighborhood communities.

Charter Schools Minimize The Decision-Making Power of Parents & The Community:
  • Private control, as opposed to elected control via school board, leaves curricula to be defined by a corporate agenda.
  • Corporate-controlled charter school home offices are often centralized out of state.
  • Undermine a fundamental democratic principle that the people closest to (& therefore most knowledgeable about) problems are the best positioned to deal with them.

Charter Schools Make Public Schools Less Effective:
  • Taxpayer dollars are deflected from public schools into charter schools where they're utilized w/o transparency or accountability.
  • Charter schools have the freedom to select high-achieving kids w/ few needs so low-achieving kids w/ high needs get deflected & ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
  • Charter schools aren't obligated to provide special services for high-needs kids so they often get deflected & ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
  • Only families who can navigate application processes can apply to a charter. Families w/o the time or know-how to "work the system" (often very poor and/or immigrant families) are ultimately concentrated into an underfunded local public school.
  • Private entities have already tried running school districts according to corporate models & seen disastrous results.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What OPT OUT is not.

When I have written op-ed or a blog post, or have been interviewed by the media I get asked about some common questions concerning the opt-out movement.  Here are the answers.


1.  NOT an easy way out for students. Opting out is not a method to go easy on our children to prevent failure in any way.  Failing at a task can build character, look at some of our greatest inventors-they failed and tried and tried again.

2. NOT an attack on our children's teachers. Boycotting high-stakes tests is not a way to hurt our teachers, in fact most teachers support opting out because they see the harm in the testing culture that is controlling our schools.

3. NOT an attack on our children's schools. Opting out our children will save our schools from financial and educational harm caused by corporate high-stakes testing machine.

4. NOT a protest against using tests in our classrooms.  Tests given by our teachers, grade levels and schools are one way to assess our children.  Evaluating our children properly requires a variety of methods that our teachers complete on a daily basis. Sadly the high-stakes state exams focus on one test score to determine the progress and quality of our children, teachers and schools.

5. NOT a way to avoid teacher evaluation. As one test score should not judge a student, the same applies to our educators.  Using a variety of methods with professional observation, peer mentoring and collaboration will help develop highly effective teachers.

Opting out IS a way to take back control of our schools.  The latest policies such as Common Core and APPR teacher evaluations in New York State will lead to an explosion of high-stakes standardized tests.  The time devoted to testing and test preparation will grow to previously unheard of levels in the next few years.  Parents need to say no to the "testing culture" and say our children's education needs a diverse curriculum, creativity and  critical thinking.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

This is why parents need to stand up for Public Education: Profits first, education last.

The true reformers, those who are defending our public education system, have warned about Corporate America using our schools for profit at the expense of our children.  We see this in the  high-stakes standardized testing and the Common Core standards invading our classrooms.  Our children's schools are being robbed by businesses whose sole mission is to make money off of so-called education reform.  The testing culture, Common Core standards, student and teacher data tracking systems are draining scarce monetary resources from our children's schools.  Districts all over the United States have had major budget shortfalls, leading to cuts in teachers, programs, and the arts.  Our children's education and futures are being harmed in the name of reform.  The Gates Foundation, Michelle Rhee(and her StudentsFirst astroturf group), Democrats for Education Reform, and major corporations such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill are some of the major players in this looting of our children's education.

Very important read: How Corporations are openly planning to profit from our schools.

We as parents need to step up and say NO.  The opt out movement is a way to stop the corporate model of education reform.  These so-called reformers are dismantling our public schools.  The corporate reformers spread the false mantra that our schools are broken and have used the media to pound this false message home.  When comparing apples to apples, our public schools do as well or better as other leading countries around the world.  The countries that the United States' education system are compared to have smaller, homogeneous populations with much smaller amounts of childhood poverty. When the media and corporate reformers point out failing schools, look at where those schools are located: in areas of poverty.  The fact that the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world is the real problem for education. 

Corporate Reformers are using the fact that schools in impoverished areas have low test scores as a means to blow up the public schools and create a privatized education system.  This is already occurring in some states that allow for-profit charters and online schools using public tax dollars.

What can we do as parents?  Boycott high-stakes testing.  Ask our children's teachers and schools to judge our children using a variety of assessment techniques.  We as parents need to monitor our children's work to see if they are getting creative and interesting styles of learning instead of the drill and skill workbooks and sheets.  The only way to stop the corporate take-over of our schools is for parents to take the lead.  Are you in?