All posts by Raschelle Holland

Reasons to Consider Opting Out of State Tests 2016

Saving your child from the experience of taking harmful high stakes tests, and promoting the importance of classroom instruction by a certified, quality teacher are critical first steps towards ridding our state of this horrible and costly practice.  It will send a clear message to your child’s school, school district, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction(OSPI), and the state legislature that you have had enough with all the mandates being placed on your child, your child’s teacher, and your child’s school.


Opt Out.

It is costing millions and millions of dollars of limited tax payer dollars to continue the use of invalid and unreliable testing instruments.  This money should be going directly to the classrooms and used for instructional purposes and learning experiences.

Consider your child’s test may be scored by someone hired off of Craig’s List at $11.20 an hour.  They are not educators, yet they read your child’s responses, and assign a score.

Consider the problems given in the test itself.  View the kinds of questions your child faces in the report entitled, “The Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Test is Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used. From there you can download the full report.  The items are quite confusing and worth exploring.

Consider the latest research :

  1. Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and Smarter Balanced Test Scores
  2. Scientists Raise Concerns about Health Risks with EdTech. How Will The U.S. Department of Education Respond?

Consider the hours teachers are spending test prepping.  It is not their fault.  They have to.  The platform used on the computer requires your child to deal with confusing interfaces.  Therefore, the teacher, in all fairness, needs to expose your child to the ins and outs of utilizing all the controls and understanding how to interact with all the tabs.

Consider how 8, 9, and 10 year olds are sitting in front of computer screens from 9:00 a.m. until the bell rings at 3:00.


Many children take this long to complete one section of the test.  And… there are four total sections to complete.  See: “Description of The SBAC… This Is What Children Face.

The exhaustion experienced by these children is incomprehensible.  College aged student’s finals don’t take this long.  Yet our youngest learners are expected to perform for hours at a time.  Can you say developmentally inappropriate?

D E V E L O P M E N T A L L Y   I N A P P R O P R I A T E.

Consider the size of their hands.  Many tiny hands do not span the keyboard.  Yet they are asked to write full paragraphs into a window with a Microsoft Word Toolbar above. See how “Using Computers Widens The Achievement Gap in Writing“. This means teachers need to devote more instructional hours and their only choice is to instruct them in programs like Microsoft Word and using typing programs.  How long did it take you to learn to type?

Ask yourself… is this the most critical learning necessary for an 8, 9, 10 year old?

  • Can they read?  Do they love to read?
  • Are they curious?  Do they want time to explore their world in the classroom?
  • How are they progressing in math concepts and skills?
  • Is there time for your child to be exploring social studies and science?
  • What do you value most for your child in their classroom with their teacher?
  • Do you desire to see evidence of their classroom work?
  • Do you like to see a story they wrote on their own and made up from their imagination?

Consider the narrow focus of the test.  (Math and Reading)

Consider your child’s teacher is not allowed to look at the test items.  (Either are you).

Consider the test scores don’t come back until August or September of the following school year.  What benefit do they have to the teacher then?  She has a whole new class of children with different needs than the class before.  The new teacher can look at the scores, but she is now expected to teach the new grade level standards.

Consider the exhaustion, stress, and tears teachers see in their student’s eyes.

Consider the morality and ethics of withholding a child’s ability to graduate based on this test.  Thirteen years of their education, passing classes, and solid report cards boil down to this one test.  (The Washington State Senate just passed this requirement with a vote of 27-20, and it is now on to the House. Stay Tuned.)

Consider whose money is backing these policies.

Consider which Legislators are “bought” and voting for these mandates.

O P T  O U T.

R E F U S E.

Send a clear message to Olympia.

Send a clear message to Washington D.C.

This. Is. Not. Okay.

Go To: How to Refuse/Opt Out of State Tests 2016


Passionately Submitted,



How to Refuse/Opt Out of State Tests 2016

How to Opt Out a Kinder – 8th Grader in WA State

State Tests:

  • WaKids (Kindergarten)
  • MSP (Measurement of Student Progress)
  • SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment)

For this span of years it is simple to opt your child out of the tests.  Write a letter to your school’s principal and send a copy to the district office.  You can explain why you are opting your child out if you wish to help educate them in regards to the invalidity of the test.  You can attach articles to help educate them (Like the ones linked in “Reasons To Consider in Opting Out of State Tests 2016“).  Many have not been exposed to these reports.

justiceYou can even mail a copy of your opt out letter to OSPI and your local legislators.  Sending a clear message will help them understand how wrong this is, and the impact it is having upon our children, teachers, and schools.

There are no consequences to your child for not taking the test.  However, principal’s have been trained to meet with you and convince you otherwise.  Hold Firm.  You are fighting for a bigger cause than opting out your own child.  No child should have to face this abuse.  The higher the number of Opt Outs, the louder the message.

If they threaten you with not allowing your child to advance to appropriate courses in the next grade based on this one test simply ask, “Are you going to prevent my child from being placed in the appropriate (math) class next year, despite the fact she has shown mastery of these skills, and her teacher knows she is ready for the next level of (math)?”

Ask them if they are going to place your child in classes they have already mastered, (instilling boredom), and prevent them from advancing to the appropriate instructional level.

Call out the bluff.

Do they not have evidence from your child’s classroom work from the entire year to guide their decisions?  Are they seriously going to consider placing your child in classes based on one test with no research to back up its validity?

Do not back down.  The test scores are invalid.  Filtering children at young ages based on one test is D I S C R I M I N A T O R Y.

Consider test score trends in New York State.  Standards are changed, cut scores are changed, and the test itself changes year to year.  The ole’ Apples and Oranges Comparison.  It is all such a scam.

NY Testing Trends

Advocate for your child.  Make an appointment with the Superintendent if need be.  Attend a School Board Meeting and share your concerns.  Copy the reports.  Hand them out!

How to Opt Out in High School in WA State

This is a tougher one with the current legislation.  Staying on top of current bills and requirements are critical.

For now here is the latest:

You can opt your high school aged child out as long as they meet graduation requirements in other ways. Sadly, this ends up meaning that the SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment) is the easiest way.   However, if your child takes the SAT or ACT, they could use those scores.

An Opt Out Letter to the principal is necessary. Then call or email the high school principal and explain how strongly you feel about your child not taking the state’s high stakes test.  Ask them for clear direction and honesty in regards to the current other available paths for your child to graduate.

The more letters, emails, and phone calls they receive, the more they will hear the message regarding the unethical high stakes testing policies.

Other options could be available too…. Like writing your legislators in opposition of high stakes testing.  Have your child write them too!

Sample Opt Out Letters

The following are the Opt Out Letters I wrote:

1)  My Son is More Than a Score… My Reasons for Opting Out of Testing

2)  Short Form Opt Out Letter to My Son’s Principal

If you are still unsure about why to Opt Out… 

Go to: Reasons to Consider Opting Out of State Tests 2016.

My best to all parents joining this crusade for all children.

Passionately Submitted,


I Feel Like I’m Doing Something Illegal By Actually Teaching My Kids


Real authentic teaching.

The art and science of teaching is a talent.  Those of us who are passionate about our profession, are deeply trained in instructional pedagogy, and know how to light the fire and love of learning in our students… are the ones growing more and more down and disheartened when the latest and greatest “new” reform or mandate hits our classrooms.

Being handcuffed to these mandates and reforms (many are wasteful and ineffective) and seeing the transformation of the teaching profession slowly erode… sends teachers into the grief cycle.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The Teacher Grief Cycle

Denial… No way are “they” expecting me to do this!  What?  This isn’t good for children.  Seriously?

Anger… This is complete B.S.!  I want to throw these materials out the window.  I want to burn them.  I want to tear them up and send them to my curriculum director.

Bargaining…  Well, maybe I can figure out a way to tweak these lessons to make them more accessible to my students.  Maybe I can sneak in a creative lesson now and again and work around this pacing guide.

Anger… Oh my GAWD.  This lesson is the stupidest thing I ever read in my life.  I refuse to teach this one!  I don’t give a rats booty if my principal walks by my room and asks me how many lessons I have completed from the adopted “program”.

Depression…  I can’t keep doing this.  Every single lesson needs revising and I have to rewrite it so my students can learn.  I’m exhausted.  The end of module test is garbage.  Now I need to use my prep to rewrite it and put it in a better format.  When I get home, I’m going to bed.  The alarm sounds in the morning… do I have to go to school? How many sick days do I have left?

Anger… Oh crap!  For the next three weeks I have several tests to administer.  Test Test Test.  I haven’t had the time to teach the content because three weeks ago, I just finished the last round of testing.  Anyone have a hammer?  I’d like to smash all the computer screens.

Bargaining…  Hang in there.   Get up.  Once I walk into the classroom and the students arrive their faces will put a smile on my face.  They need me. They are my purpose. I can figure this out.  I can work around all the expectations and mandates placed on me.  Maybe I will stay until 7:00 p.m. tonight and get caught up.  I think my spouse is golfing this evening.  Hmmm… who can I call to watch Johnny?

Depression/Bargaining…  I’ve been late home every night.  I’m missing out on being with my family.  Johnny has basketball tonight.  Did I turn in the form he needed?  I can’t remember?  Wonder if I can make a healthy meal before we leave for practice?  I’m exhausted.  Maybe I can get away with one more night of fast food?  After I get Johnny to bed, I have 30 tests to grade.  Each item requires me to use a scoring rubric.  I wonder if I can grade them in one hour?  Maybe I can get to bed by 10:00 p.m. tonight?  I have to be to school by 6:30 a.m. so I have a little time to prep for my lessons and get materials ready before the 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. grade level morning meeting…  then I need to greet my new student before the bell rings… puts my class size at 28.  Sigh.

Anger… I hate this job.  I don’t love it anymore.  If I hear the word “rigor” or “data” or “I Can Statements” or “unpacking the standards” one more time, I am surely going to explode!

Depression… How many more years do I have until I can retire?  Too many?  Hmmm… what else can I do?

Bargaining…  But… But… But… I love TEACHING.  I mean when I really really get to authentically TEACH.  I love creating engaging lessons and inspiring my students to find their talents and passions.

Acceptance…  Well, since this crap doesn’t seem to be going away… I’m going to close my door and do what I’ve been trained to do.  I am a TEACHER.  I TEACH.

Consider the Following Story Written By a Talented Middle School Teacher in Ohio

“We had a PLC yesterday (which is what they call these meetings when they simply tell us how its going to be; no real “learning,” sharing among colleagues or enlightenment going on).   They told us that our test scores were absolute crap. They did say that they know the tests are garbage, but that we still needed to show more “rigor” in how we taught our students so that they could rise to the challenge.

There’s that damn word again.


I DESPISE that word.

We are now being told that all of our assessments should start to look like questions from the AIR test that Ohio has been saddled with to “get the kids used to them.” I’ve been assessing my kids for understanding for years through projects, stories, journal entries, formative assessments, and numerous varied ways for years, and I think I know how to tell if my kids understand something by this point.

What’s killing me is that EVEN THOUGH MY CURRICULUM DIRECTOR KNOWS THIS IS WRONG and HAS TOLD US IT’S GARBAGE, he is still encouraging us to do it, knowing full well that our kids don’t think, don’t even have the capacity to think, on the level that the tests want them to…

Alas, it served to depress the hell out of me yesterday. Then I just said ” ‘F’ it.” And went right back to what I normally do. This is insanity anymore, not real, authentic education.

I feel like I’m doing something illegal by actually TEACHING my kids.”

-Ohio Middle School Teacher

The Five Stages of Grief are Alive and Well in Classrooms Across the U.S.A.

The 5 Stages of Grief are alive and well.  Educators bounce back and forth between each stage often, sometimes daily.

Consider the national teacher shortage.

Consider the reports of the number of teachers leaving the profession after only 5 years of classroom experience and those retiring early.

Consider what all “The Testing” and “Mandates” and “Reforms” are “Gaining”.

Improved student learning?

Consider the thousands of teachers who are standing strong and staying.

Consider the real reason they stay.

Passionately Submitted,


D R E A M… I Have a Dream of a Day When There are No More High Stakes Tests

     Neighborhood public schools deserve to be hubs of creativity and innovation and teachers given the autonomy and flexibility and trust to make it happen.
     I dream of a day when there are no more high stakes tests that serve only to rank and sort children and schools in invalid ways. I dream of a day when the discrimination stops and all children are encouraged to find their individual talents and precious gifts. High stakes tests are promoting discrimination and stealing hours and hours away from what children need most. They deserve movement, engagement, experimentation, joy, and classrooms in which the love of learning is central. Rigid, scripted programs, and developmentally inappropriate pacing guides need to be shredded and burned.
     I dream of a day when it is realized children do not have standardized brains. Standardization emphasizes everyone being the same… “common”… when really divergence and individuality are what have made the United States of America great.
Martin Luther King
Passionately Submitted,



The Impact of High Stakes Tests… Presentation to WA State School Board

January 13, 2016

TO: The Washington State School Board

FROM: Raschelle Holland, Educator and Parent

RE: Two Minute Presentation: The Impact High Stakes Testing is Having upon Our Children and Schools

Good Afternoon Washington State School Board Directors,

I’m Raschelle Holland, a K-6 Math Specialist/Instructional Coach from Spokane working in the highest poverty school in the district. We have the largest homeless population and one of the highest ELL populations. I’m a 26 year, accomplished, award winning, and National Board Certified Teacher.

I also have an 8 year old child of my own. I speak for him as well as for all the children who don’t have a voice.

Vigor Trumps Rigor

The definition of “rigor” the Superintendent of this ESD gave this morning was enlightening. Let me add the following… VIGOR TRUMPS RIGOR. When I was a teacher in my own self-contained classroom it was filled with many of the suggestions made this morning around Career Readiness. My students were engaged with hands-on learning, out in the community, and experiencing many learning expeditions. These were the days when teacher creativity was honored and I was given the flexibility, trust, and autonomy to make learning come alive, and the core of my instruction was based on the love of life-long learning.

Then NCLB hit in 2001 and slowly, but surely, I have watched the unraveling of teacher’s abilities and freedoms slowly erode to “academic rigorous” curriculums lock stepping educators into scripted and dry curricular adopted materials.

Young Children Are Being Filtered Based on a Single Score on a Single Test

Discrimination 2The high stakes nature and discrimination of the current tests absolutely begins early. In Spokane Public Schools, they sent out information to teachers that any 4th or 5th grader (9, 10, & 11 year olds) who scored a level 3 or 4 on the Mathematics portion of the SBA would be eligible to participate and have access to a new computerized advanced math program. As I reviewed the elementary school data, the affluent schools will have near 80% of their students “qualify”, whereas in my high poverty school, only 25% will “qualify”.

Furthermore, the school district produced a video and posted it on the SPS Weekly News. Every single student featured is Caucasian and from the same affluent school ranked an “A” by the state according to their incredible test scores.  My school was given an “F” ranking.  I’d sure like to send the gifted teaching staff in my school to the affluent school to teach for one year.  Wonder what the test scores would show?

Video Link Here: Accelerated Math Program Lets Students Stretch

This screams discrimination. And… The opportunity “achievement” gap widens.

Note: One young man on the video shared how a computer was bought so he could use the program more at home. More valuable hours… valuable hours the students in my school do not have access to. 

No home internet access + No home computer = No Accelerated Math Extra Hours

Discrimination 1Children are being filtered at 9 and 10 years old based on one score from a single test. Research shows once a child is tracked, they are typically stuck within that track forever. (See attached from OSPI: Strengthening Student Outcomes, Technical Report on Best Practices and Strategies for Mathematics)

The test itself and the information received from the test is not usable at the classroom level. More and more studies are coming out regarding the lack of validity and reliability of the test. Every legislator, school board member, superintendent, and district administrator must be willing to dig and read these findings.

Study #1: The Common Core Mathematics Tests are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used

Note: This document breaks down many items and shows specifically why the test does not measure a student’s abilities in mathematics.

 Study #2: Using computers widens the achievement gap in writing, a federal study finds

Withdraw From this Flawed Test

Many states have or are in the process of withdrawing from either the SBAC or PARCC. I’ve been through the WASL, MSP, and now the SBAC. Of all of them, this test is the most time consuming and is taking days away from instruction. Young children (8, 9, & 10) are on the computers from 9 – 3 on test days… children… whose hands barely span the keyboard. The ELA Performance Task took many children 2 – 3 days to complete.

I will end on this…

As a Data/Math Coach, I have the “heart ache” of proctoring many tests and…

I. See. It. All.

Discrimination 6A 9 year old with big brown eyes and the most beautiful, smooth chocolate skin, an African Refuge with limited English, enters the computer lab. She looks up at me and says in her endearing accent, “Another Test? Another Test?”

Oh. My. Heart.

She stared at her screen most of the day. What else could she have been doing? Um… hmmm… A hands-on enriching project perhaps? What are we sacrificing in the name of “accountability”?

I am protecting my own son from all of this, which is my parental right. I will continue to opt him out and refuse to allow the system to categorize or track him based on a score on a single test. I wish I could protect other children and shield them from The Testing Abuse.

I seriously question the ethics and morality of what we are doing to children.

C H I L D R E N.

I hope you will take the time to look within and question too.

Passionately Submitted,

Raz on Fire


IGNORE THOSE TEST SCORES… By A.J. Wagner, Ohio School Board Member

The following was posted on A.J. Wagner’s public Facebook page. I continue to observe many amazing and gifted people standing up and speaking out regarding the Common Core Standards, High Stakes Testing, and poor Curricular Materials placed in teacher’s hands in the public schools. All the while the charter schools are highlighted as “innovative” and doing extraordinary things with children. When I visit the pages of charter schools I personally see no innovation and nothing extraordinary.


They are merely being given the freedom to do exactly what public school teachers can do if given the flexibility and autonomy to do the same. Rather we are restricted to rigid and scripted programs, timelines, inappropriate pacing guides, and expected to deliver constant tests until testing and data seep out of our brains and drain our most needy students of having the quality instructional hours they deserve. When I had my own classroom inside the walls of a public school through the 90s and early 2000s, my students experienced everything highlighted by the charter schools. I was given autonomy to be creative. My students were out in the community, traveled on learning excursions, and their days were spent innovating and engaged in hands-on learning. My classroom flourished and my students learned to fall in love with learning.

Since 2001, NCLB, I continue to see the increasing harmful effects and the zapping of teacher’s ability to have the flexibility and freedom to create dynamic learning experiences in the public schools. The teachers I am in contact with, both within my building, and across the land are speaking about how they are figuring out ways to “squeeze” in the creative projects. However, with the narrowed curriculum and the focus upon what is tested, the majority of time is stolen so children can do well on a single test.

The new ESSA Bill is being espoused by many it will “change” all of this, but as I read through the 1200 page bill, I still have grave concerns. The focus upon “accountability” and “testing” is still very much engrained within the document.

If you are interested in reading or following A.J. Wagner… his Facebook Link is here:

A.J Wagner Facebook Page

For your convenience, I have included his entire post below…

 Passionately Submitted By RAZ ON FIRE


“It is important to consider that unless assessments are independently verified to adhere to basic standards of test development regarding validity, reliability, security, accessibility, and fairness in administration, resulting scores will be meaningless and should not be used to make claims about student learning, progress, aptitude, nor readiness for college or career (see Legal Implications of High Stakes Assessments: What States Should Know).” – Roxana Marachi, Ph.D

The state of Ohio issued the first batch of test scores from last year’s round of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) exams on English and Math. Don’t believe them. These tests, and their replacement tests, have not been independently, scientifically validated for effectiveness in measuring student aptitude. These tests were created and foisted upon our children without determining the ability of the questions to actually measure something.

Guinea Pig ExperimentsThe equivalent here would be a pharmaceutical company issuing a pill without animal or human testing. What is the effect of the pill? The company will tell you, “It will cure all sorts of ills. Give it to your kids and you’ll see.” When the kids get sick from the pill and its side effects they change the brand name, but the product offered up is the same untested medicine.

Doctor Roxanna Marachi Associate Professor from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University is an education and psychology researcher who raises these questions about the untested tests.

  • “Q1: How is standardization to be assumed when students are taking tests on different technological tools with vastly varying screen interfaces? Depending on the technology used (desktops, laptops, Chromebooks, and/or Ipads), students would need different skills in typing, touch screen navigation, and familiarity with the tool.
  • “Q2: How are standardization and fairness to be assumed when students are responding to different sets of questions based on how they answer (or guess) on the adaptive sections of the assessments?
  • “Q3: How is fairness to be assumed when large proportions of students do not have access at home to the technology tools that they are being tested on in schools? Furthermore, how can fairness be assumed when some school districts do not have the same technology resources as others for test administration?
  • “Q4: How/why would assessments that had already been flagged with so many serious design flaws and user interface problems continue to be administered to millions of children without changes and improvements to the interface?”

These are but a few of the issues presented by tests whose effectiveness has not been properly measured. Without these issues being addressed, your children are on the receiving end of snake oil.

Steven Rasmussen, a mathematics educator and co-founder of Key Curriculum Press, studied the mathematics tests of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. He published a paper (The Common Core Mathematics Tests Are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used) this past March that is summarized as follows:

“This spring, tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will be administered to well over 10 million students in 17 states (including Ohio this coming spring) to determine their proficiency on the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). This analysis of mathematics test questions posted online by Smarter Balanced reveals that, question after question, the tests:

  • Violate the standards they are supposed to assess
  • Cannot be adequately answered by students with the technology they are required to use
  • Use confusing and hard-to-use interfaces
  • Are to be graded in such a way that incorrect answers are identified as correct and correct answers as incorrect.

“No tests that are so flawed should be given to anyone. Certainly, with stakes so high for students and their teachers, these Smarter Balanced tests should not be administered. The boycotts of these tests by parents and some school districts are justified. Responsible government bodies should withdraw the tests from use before they do damage.” Read the full report…

The side effects of these tests are important to look at as well. Here is a short list of side effects that have been experienced so far. Some of these side effects are also the result of using these invalidated assessments to rate the teacher, the principal, the school, and the school district.

  1. To accommodate testing and test preparation, recess, art, music, physical education and subjects with great value to educating the whole person are being set aside.
  2. Curriculum must be geared to a test, not to the educational needs of a student. For instance, a child weak in vocabulary may be ignored in favor of teaching the high ordered thinking skills needed for the test.
  3. Scores are randomly set higher and higher without causal validity crating unnecessary pressures on teachers and schools.
  4. Teachers are leaving the profession while potential teachers are not signing up for those pressures. This is causing serious teacher shortages, especially in impoverished schools where teachers are being evaluated as ineffective because their students don’t do well on a test.
  5. The education gap between rich and poor is growing as is the racial segregation of schools.
  6. Whole communities are destroyed as their schools are rated poorly on an unvalidated tests reducing the value of their property and causing flight to other areas where more affluent schools can be accessed. This is despite the truth that some of our best teachers are in difficult schools with a dedication to help the poor.
  7. Even good teachers finally give up and move to more affluent schools where they are paid better and the tests don’t cause them to be rated as ineffective.
  8. Teachers’ relationships with students are negatively impacted by the teacher’s need to get the student to pass a test.
  9. Hundreds of millions of dollars are taken from the classroom and redirected to testing companies for a product that is wholly unreliable.

Bottom line

The tests dictated by the Every Student Succeeds Act have no validity and are doing harm to our kids. Don’t take this snake oil and don’t believe the claims of the Ohio Department of Education. Without validity, the scores can’t be believed, the teacher’s effectiveness can’t be proven, the principal’s value can’t be determined, the school’s success can’t be shown, and school district report card grades can’t be taken seriously. These tests should be dumped and the money spent on them returned to the classroom.

-A. J. Wagner, Ohio School Board Member


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

Good Evening To All The Board of Directors.

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

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

Action #1: Amplify Testing

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

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

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

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

Exhibit A  Arabic Multiple Choice / Constructed Response Sample Test

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

How So?

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

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

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

Exhibit B       5th Grade ELA Interim Amplify Assessment

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

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

Exhibit C       Item #31  Constructed Response.

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

Action #1 Request

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

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

Action Item Request #2  EngageNY  (Eureka) Mathematics

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



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

Diving 2

 Passionately Submitted,



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





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

Good Evening To All The Board of Directors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Steps… A Call to Action

Action #1: Amplify Testing Diving 1

Please solve:

5 X (16 + 8 ÷ 4) – 5 X 2

Answer: ________

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

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

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

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

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

C H I L D R E N.

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

Spokane School Districts Testing Calendar

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

Action Item #2 EngageNY Mathematics

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

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

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


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

You. Can. Make. A. Difference.

Passionately Submitted,

Raz on Fire



EngageNY Math, now Eureka, A Common Core Dropping

There is an elephant in the room…

And this elephant is creating quite the stench.

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

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

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

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

The Journey I’ve Traveled

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

Bye Bye Math Committee.

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

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

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

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

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

C H I L D R E N.

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

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


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

Four years.

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

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

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

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

The History and the Money Behind EngageNY and Eureka

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

Burris continues:

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

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

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

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

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


Not. The. Case.

Common Core Inc. and Gates Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

Eureka Math is Born

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


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

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

No. Major. Changes.

It. Is. The. Same.

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


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

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

Shameless Shapeshifters.

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

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

The Concerns Run Deep

Where do I start?

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

New York Teacher Statement

My personal list:

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

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

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

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


Hug a TurdA) Crappy Teaching?

B) Crappy Program?


C) Crappy Test?

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

Okay, I can’t resist…

I think educators are being asked to hug a turd.

Correct Answer: B and C

Two turds in a pod.

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

EEE GADS! This is not teaching and learning.

At. All.

It’s survival.

And it stinks.

The Finale

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

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

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

A Turd.

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

Passionately Submitted,


Other References:

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

Another Spokane Spark Speaks Boldly… Senate Listening Tour, October 21, 2015


I have a question no one has been able to answer for me.  I’m hoping you can.

where is all the money going 1First, I’d like to say: We are spending incredible amounts of money on the “accountability movement” and “education reforms”. Reforms like high stakes testing, data mining and teacher and principal evaluations (TPEP). To do this, there’s also hidden costs, in the infrastructure needed to sustain it… in technology and professional development, etc.

Where is all the money going?

So, I want to know, before even analyzing new bills, how much money is going to corporations?  (Corporations like Pearson, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, data mining companies, and the computer tech industry). What about the cost of all the products and curriculums being purchased to get children to pass the tests”, and “practice tests to help children pass THE test“? What about the real cost keeping teachers from being able to teach?

Up to this point, anyone I ask, including many serving in the Legislature, never seems to know.

Isn’t this weird?

Dark Secrets

It’s like a very deep dark secret, and I can tell you this… it’s too high a cost to society. How do I know? Because as a teacher on the ground, watching these policies play out, I see personally in our schools, the horrible price our children are paying, for reforms that do nothing to close the opportunity gap, but plenty to harm them.

Let’s Save Money and Put it Where it Counts

Cartoon on standardsLet’s save money (millions and billions), by doing away with these kind of laws that trickle down into factory models of learning for our children. It’s not good use of money. When implemented, it takes square pegs and tries to pound them into round holes. It weighs the cow and weighs the cow and never feeds the cow. Now you want to move levy money around. I worry this will not actually feed the cow, but weigh it some more.  Constant weighing will not make it fatter. Feeding it will.

Pig in a Poke 1Sadly, I think when tax payers get how much money is going to failed reforms, that turn children into a commodity, with dollar signs on their heads for corporations wanting to tap into $500 billion the education market is said to be worth in America alone, (according to Rupert Murdoch), the more people will understand we are getting a pig in a poke!

Teachers want to teach. Children are naturally born to be curious and learn. Close the tax loopholes for billionaires, fund education and please get back to us on just how much all these education reforms are costing all of us…???!

Thank you.

Linda Gower

Music Educator, Spokane, Washington