Category Archives: Data Tracking

Just What Is At Stake With The “High Stakes” Tests? How About Childhood?

I wrote my local school board a letter with some of my concerns in regards to the High Stakes Tests and misinformation being spread in the local community about the parents right to Opt Out of these tests.

The first two sentences of the short reply to my letter are as follows:

Thank you for contacting the school board with your comments on testing.   Could you please clarify what tests you consider to be “high stakes” at the elementary level?

Sure. I’d be happy to answer.

  1.  Any test taking two months of a teachers time at the beginning of the school year and requiring over 80 data checkpoints to be collected one on one with 5 year old children is HIGH STAKES. This robs the teacher of the time to set up a welcoming classroom community and an atmosphere of safety and warmth.  Rather the children are out doing “independent activities” while the teacher meets with individual children.  This is the last thing children need with their first experience in school.  The teachers time is saturated with collecting data and entering in data… and for what purpose?
  2. Any test determining a placement for the next grade is HIGH STAKES.  Whether it be a third grader whose ELA scores are being considered for promotion to 4th grade… or a 6th grader whose MATH scores determine the track they are placed in for middle school (especially when said tests are being found to be seriously flawed), and ignoring classroom work and classroom based assessments… is a complete HIGH STAKES tragedy.
  3. Any test claiming to determine if a child is “College and Career Ready” and ignoring years worth of classroom accomplishments and work patterns is HIGH STAKES.  When the ex U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said we should be able to look a 7 and 8 year old in the eye and tell them whether they are on track for college or not, um… we have a high stakes situation being pushed early.
  4. Requiring any test to be taken in order to graduate is HIGH STAKES.
  5. Any test used to rank, sort, and compare children and schools is HIGH STAKES.
  6. Any test requiring a 95% participation rate by a State Department of Education in order to be recognized for outstanding and innovative teaching and learning is HIGH STAKES.  (A school who has a high number of parents opting their children out of the tests because they believe the tests are invalid, does not decrease the incredible teaching and learning going on in said schools.  Currently, Seattle School District has 40 out of 98 schools reporting higher than 5% Opt Out rates.  Are those schools not outstanding?  Are those schools not innovative?  Are those schools filled with inept teachers?  Are the principals of said schools inept leaders?)
  7. More importantly still, the HIGHEST STAKE of all… is the loss of CHILDHOOD.  The loss of play and developmentally appropriate classroom experiences in the youngest grades will have long term effects beyond anyone’s imagination.  Worksheets and dittos do not grow dendrites. (Depression and Mental Disorders are on the rise for a reason).

The School Board, and School Boards at large, may also take some time to consider why the behavior problems have escalated in our elementary classrooms.

  • Just how much recess are children getting in our schools?  Many only get a total of 30 minutes to eat and play combined. (This was the case for my son last year.  He came home with uneaten lunches because he learned he gained more play time if he didn’t eat).
  • The current adopted curricular materials are filled with worksheets… is boredom a problem? What happens when children are bored?
  • How much time are children spending on testing and test prep?

Maybe we all should be asking, rather than what tests are considered “high stakes”…

1) What exactly is at “stake”?

And…

2) How are our children being robbed of their childhoods in the current Testing Accountability Regime?

Denis Ian, teacher and child crusader extraordinaire, sheds some light on these questions in “About This Testing“.

“In the heart of a child, one moment …. can last forever.” – Denis Ian

“Childhood is a short season.” Give it its due. – Denis Ian

Thank you, Denis.  You are SPOT ON.

The “Highest Stake” of All… Childhood

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

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Opt Out of Testing Policies and Protocols Request… A Letter to a Local School Board

April 17, 2016

RE: Opt Out of Testing Policies and Protocols Request

TO: Spokane School Board Directors

CC: Dr. Redinger, Dr. Gering, Dr. Dunn, Mr. Travis Schulhauser, Heather Richardson, Dan Jenkins, Jenny Rose

Dear Spokane School Board Directors,

It has come to my attention from a variety of parents and teachers in differing schools there are some inconsistencies in the procedures and messages being given regarding the legal right of parents to Opt Out of the various state tests. (WaKids, MSP, SBA) I think it is critical for the Spokane Board of Directors to know and understand what the experiences are of parents in the schools you oversee.

Personally, my conscience is pricked with the current testing practices and believe whole heartedly these tests are harmful to children and send them a wrong message about what is truly important in their educational careers. I believe the tests are invalid and do not measure accurately what children know or how they have grown in their learning.

I am not alone. Recently, a report just was published with research, guiding questions and recommendations. One hundred (100!) education researchers have called for a moratorium on the SBA. I am attaching this report here. It is lengthy, but they expose clearly why the SBA is an inaccurate and invalid measurement of student learning.

Over One Hundred Education Researchers Calling for a Moratorium on High Stakes Testing

There are other reports, however, this one is the most in depth I have found with peer reviewed and accurate links.

Misinformation Being Spread

I would like to share with you some stories coming from schools in the Spokane School District. It is my hope, the School Board begin a process for setting protocols and policy.

  1. We have some principals in Spokane telling parents who submit opt out letters their children will not pass their grade. This is not the truth. The bill passed in our legislature says NOTHING of the sort. What makes me so angry about this is: These adult educators are promoting the idea that the classroom based learning the children have shown means very little. Really? A child could be making excellent progress in their classroom, and these adults, being put in charge of our little people, think they can hold children back from being promoted to the next grade because they don’t take a test at 8, 9, 10, & 11 years old? I think of my own child performing well above grade level in mathematics and reading. I find it hard to believe he would be held back a grade because he did not take a high stakes test. Principals who are stating this to parents who have submitted opt out letters need to be educated and be asked to stop spreading this inaccurate information.
    • The actual RCW 28A.655.230
    • The actual language clearly states a child can only be held back with parent consent.
    • The reading levels are being found to be higher than the grade level tested. How can we as a system bank one score on a child’s potential success in the next grade?
  2. These same principals are also telling parents they are setting their children up for failure in high school. Oh? Really? Based on what peer reviewed, sustainable research?
  3. Principals are also stating schools lose funding if they do not get 95% of their students taking the test. There is not one school in the United States that has lost funding. There have been threats, however, not one school with high opt out numbers have lost one dime in funding.
  4. When parents submit an Opt Out Letter to the school they are being told they must speak with the principal first. There is absolutely NO state requirement the parent has to meet with the principal first. This is another tactic being used to coerce parents into allowing their children to test. Most parents opting their children out of the testing do not need a special meeting. They are not allowing their child to test because it is an invalid measure of student learning, and they are unwilling to have their child’s instructional hours wasted.
  5. On a positive note: I just got word one principal in Spokane handed their teachers a simple Opt Out Letter to give to parents. This principal understands the rights of the parents and is not spreading the misinformation above. For this, the parents and teachers are thankful.

Other Considerations for the Spokane School Board of Directors

  1. Opt Out friendly schools are finding worthy and child friendly alternatives during testing hours. Suggestions include allowing them to help out in another class, work on a project in a non-testing room, help out in a Kindergarten Class and read to other children, etc… there are stories from across the United States in which children are made to sit and stare at their computer screens. They are not allowed to read. Just sit. For an entire day. This is mental abuse and educational malpractice. I hope I do not get one story from one parent in Spokane a school is practicing this procedure.
  2. There are stories of schools throwing parties and giving food awards to only those children who test. Excluding children who don’t, and using shame tactics, are a form of mental child abuse.
    • I have already published a piece asking teachers to avoid this malpractice. I’ve asked them to think about what they want emphasized in their student’s educational experience.
    • Think about this: The parents opting their children out of these tests are standing up for TEACHERS. They believe what teachers do every day in their classroom are way more important than the tests. They don’t believe schools should be compared or measured by these tests. They are fighting for the autonomy and flexibility of educators to create powerful learning experiences.
    • SUPPORT THESE PARENTS. It is their legal right to object to and resist these tests. And remember… 100 education researchers just came out with a signed document asking for a moratorium of the SBA.
    • When the former Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, made a statement, “The Opt Out Movement is led by white suburban mom’s because they don’t want to hear their children aren’t as smart as they think they are,” many parents across the nation were infuriated. This is an outright lie. He later apologized and retracted this statement.

Please Promote The Truth

With the diversity of misinformation being presented in Spokane Schools, PLEASE promote some sort of policy or procedure for principals and teachers to receive and dispense accurate information on the topic of Opt Out. We need to stand up for all children. Many do not have advocates or guardians who will protect them from harmful mandates. My role continues to grow in the state of Washington as I continue to raise my voice against what I am seeing directly from the trenches. I understand clearly during contracted hours, educators cannot suggest Opting Out of the test nor can it be discussed. Okay. BUT, if a parent initiates this option, it is an educator’s legal obligation to dispense truthful information. The new ESSA rewrite of NCLB states this. It also holds educators maintain their first amendment rights.

No Bullying or Empty Threats Should Be Tolerated

No bullying or empty threats should be tolerated. We do not allow it in our students. Adults who have our children in their care should not be allowed to threaten, lie, or bully parents from exercising their legal right to opt their children out of the state tests… Nor should they be allowed to shame any child who is opted out.

As testing season approaches, parents are already contacting me with their personal experiences. For their protection, I am not naming the schools or principals. I do thank the principals who are being honest and honoring the parents who wish to exercise their legal rights and to do what is best for their children.

Seeking Answers to Previous Letters

Sidenote: In previous letters to the board:

  1. I asked what the protocols and policies are in Spokane School District in regards to your position with the parent’s right to Opt Out of State Testing. It is my understanding from the response to my letter, the Spokane School Board of Directors had not had time to meet around this issue. It is my hope the Spokane School Board begins the process of setting policy, if you have not done so already. I am specifically requesting this on behalf of several parents and teachers who are part of the Spokane School District community.
  2. I also requested what the Spokane School Board’s understanding of the data collection practices are in regards to the tests and other educational programs being used in our schools. I was told the email was being forwarded to Travis Schulhauser because he is the Assessment Coordinator in Spokane. To date, I have not received any word upon this important concern and topic by many parents. My understanding and research regarding data collection has found much data is not private, it is being shared with third parties, and it can be sold to third party vendors to be used for their profit. Many of the educational computer programs being used state clearly the company owns the data. Although I respect Mr. Schulhauser’s position with the district, it seems this is a larger issue then his role. It seems the Spokane School Board would desire to play a larger role in understanding how the data is being collected and used, and the privacy of the students served in Spokane. I am wondering if the board needs to set up procedures for computerized education programs and testing platforms to go through a “rigorous” review process and create a transparent process in which parents can review the privacy policies of these programs. If they disagree with the privacy policies and do not want their child’s data to be collected by these programs, they can choose to opt their children out and be provided with alternative, quality educational experiences.

Educators Across The Nation are Opting Their Own Children Out of the Tests

In conclusion: Please think about this. Many teachers are opting their own children out of these tests. (myself included). I know of school board members, principals, and superintendents who have and will continue to opt their own children out of these tests. Think about the reasons EDUCATORS are opting their own children out..

Sincerely,

R

Parent

National Board Certified Teacher (2001 – current)

National Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics

National Christa McAuliffe Fellowship Award

Washington State Christa McAuliffe Teaching Award

United States Senate Innovative Teacher Award

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

Link to Print Friendly Document (Word Doc):  Opt Out Policies and Protocols

I Do NOT Choose Misery… I Choose the TRUTH

On October 9, 2015, 2400 Spokane School District employees sat in front of a screen in each of their respective buildings. They received 7 hours of training via a Webinar and were given a 30 minute lunch. Teachers were told with force the day before, “You must be in your seats by 8:00 a.m.  You may not be late.  You will be given 30 minutes to eat.  It is highly recommended you bring a lunch and do not leave the building for your lunch because you will be expected to be in your seats promptly at the end of the 30 minutes.  You may not leave until 3:30. The District is keeping very close tabs on this time schedule.”

The bulk of the training was around TPEP, the new teacher evaluation system. Teachers sat before a screen and listened to district personnel explain to them the requirements of being an “applying” or “innovative” teacher. The message was clear that teachers needed several data points to prove their students had mastered certain skills and concepts. Amplify was listed as one of those data points. Amplify Testing is now being subtly pushed to be used and linked to teacher performance.  If you are interested in Amplify’s history you can read my chronological compilation here: Amplify… A Modern Day Medusa.

It must be realized the tremendous pressure educators are under. I watched the look on many teachers faces throughout the day. Their training, their creativity, their innovative abilities, their love of children, their knowledge of child development… is being discounted and ignored. It must be understood how the mandates from the Federal, State, and District Level are impacting classrooms. Understand, if anyone desires to see changes in our schools, attendance at school board meetings, willingness to speak at school board meetings, and voting in new school board directors who are willing to be out in the schools, listening and learning what educators and children need… will ALL be critical.

The Cost

I also did some math. 2400 hundred district employees were paid for attending this training. Considering per diem rates range from $222.00 to $366.00 a day per employee, I multiplied 2400 X $300 (close average). It cost the school district somewhere around $720,000 dollars for this one day training. This is tax payer dollars at work. Many educators felt demeaned, devalued, and slapped in the face.

I was mandated to be at this training although I am not on TPEP and have received much of the same training over the past three years. I was told I had to be at the training so I would “know what the teachers are going through and know how to help them.”  With all due respect, I am quite clear on exactly what teachers are going through at this time in Public Education.  I’m in their classrooms.  Their autonomy to do what is right for children is being squelched as they are handcuffed with the Federal, State, and District mandates.

The Hidden Cost

The morale of the teachers.

The Parallel Between SBA and TPEP

As I sat obediently listening, my mind drew a parallel. Educators are spending hours on test prep. This is robbing children of precious instructional hours to get ready for a state evaluation: The SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment). Yesterday robbed teachers of planning time to prep and design quality lessons for children. This training deprived teachers from receiving professional development they personally needed to improve their instructional practice. Why? To prep the educator for the state teacher evaluation system: TPEP.

The full focus has become TEST PREP,  EVALUTION PREP and DATA.

NoteSome teachers did need the training on TPEP yesterday.  They are new to this evaluation system and appreciated the time.  The presenter did the best she could with what she was mandated to deliver to us.  I am positive she worked hard. However, many of us, would have preferred to stay home and save the tax payer the per diem pay, OR had the option to choose other professional development.  Many of us have sat through these Webinars and Power Points on TPEP multiple times over the past three years.  Not only was it a bad form of Professional Development, it was not necessary to insult our intelligence and assume we needed the repetition.  Many of the slides in the Power Point were read to us. We sat.  We listened.

“Obedient”.

“Good boys and girls”.

Teachers thinking for themselves

What are Teachers Expected to be Learning and Implementing in the Classroom Right Now?

Let’s examine a list at the Elementary Level:

  1. Journeys (Year Two of the adopted ELA program, but many are first year teachers or new to the district)
  2. EngageNY Math (You may see Eureka at the bottom of the worksheets.  Same Same.  This is a math program that has not been researched.  It is not differentiated.  It is scripted.  It does not align with any mathematical instructional best practices regarding how children learn mathematics.  It does not meet the needs of special needs children.  It does not meet the needs of English Language Learners.  It does not meet the needs of children who enter the classroom several grade levels behind.  Many teachers are floundering trying to implement this program in ways children can access the math)
  3. AVID (A College and Career Readiness Program)
  4. Why Try (A Mindset Program)
  5. Data Study (Five Schools have hired a .5 Data Coach.  The teachers involved in the study are required to attend many additional meetings as well as implement the requirements of the program.)
  6. Amplify Testing (Teachers will need to learn this new testing program, learn new rubrics (designed by non-educators), score performance tasks, enter in the student data, have additional meetings to interpret the data, and include it in their TPEP, teacher evaluation worksheets.)
  7. New Science Standards, Topics and Kits
  8. Social Studies Standards (currently with no program, but with a new program coming soon.)
  9. A new Extended Day Program in which children are in and out of the classroom daily as learning has become more and more compartmentalized and teachers have less and less solid blocks of time to teach a consistent cycle of lessons.  (Something required by TPEP)
  10. TPEP (The Teacher Evaluation System)  which involves 4 Domains, 8 Criterion, 62 Elements, various Components, Segments, and Driving Questions.
  11. And there is more…

Survival Mode

Ever Wonder Why Teachers are Choosing to Leave the Profession?

Ever Wonder Why There is Talk of a Looming Teacher Shortage?

As I drove away from the training the following was spinning through my mind:

Data Data Data. The world will not turn without data. Children can’t learn without data. People can’t eat without data. Schools can’t function without data. Teachers can’t lesson plan without data.  Teachers don’t know how to teach without data.

Data… how did we ever survive before data?

Bill Gates, in the Road Ahead, stated simply, “Data is power, he who controls the data has the power.” That was 10+ years ago. Kids are being tracked cradle to career. They now have the platforms (Amplify to name one) to forecast children’s capabilities for the state labor force… whether scientific or manual. Teachers are not to teach as an art, but to teach to keep the cogs in the machine moving.

My “favorite” message from the training, “We (The District) need your data so we can help you grow.”

Right behind that one, my second “favorite”, was the fifth norm presented at the beginning of the all day Webinar: MISERY IS OPTIONAL.

Hmmmm…  first time I’ve encountered this “norm” in any meeting I have ever attended in 26 years of being an educator.  This begs the question, “Why would The District front load the 6 hour Webinar with this norm?”

Think about it.

Ever read or watched The Divergent Series?  Or how about The Hunger Games… and President Snow of The Capital?

I do NOT choose misery. I choose the TRUTH.

“People are getting rich from data. This is a money grab. How many start ups and software companies are producing apps for CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and Test Prep? More than we can keep up with. They are still perpetuating the lie that US kids are behind the global curve. It’s a crock of $×÷$÷!” -A Spokane Parent (Sent to me October 9, 2015)

I’m Divergent.

I was educated Pre-Common Core, and was taught to think outside the four corners of the text.

The result: I think outside the four corners of the screen too.

Will you?

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

References:Spokane Assessment

  1. Spokane School District is not shy about Data Collection.  Meet “Quasar’… The “never ending forming galaxy of data!”

Spokane School District’s Assessment Page: Assessment and Program Effectiveness

    2.  What is the Core Really For?

The Data Addiction… Is The Data Really About Our Children’s Learning?

I am all for the use of appropriate data to inform instruction… data that comes from the classroom and can be used immediately by the teacher to enhance learning.  However, this wave of data addiction has children taking so many tests… “desktops” are piled high with spreadsheets collecting “dust”.  We have begun to collect data just for the sake of collecting data.

How much is this data informing the instruction of teachers and improving student learning?

Who is examining this data and for what purpose?

Is the data: Reliable? Valid? Accurate? A true, authentic measure of what our children know and understand?

I have become more and more concerned with the amount of data being uploaded to Data Collection Systems on many aspects of our children’s responses to test questions and surveys.  In Washington State, CEDARS is the Data Collection System.   This system is linked directly to the Federal Data Bank.  The FERPA laws have continued to be loosened and our children’s data is being leaked to third party vendors for profit making.  See (here) how our children are being given National IDs with the plan to track our children from womb to work.

Alarmingly, several states and districts have agreed to turn over their student data. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education quietly changed the FERPA regulations so that the data could be released. According to this article, the data will be available to entrepreneurs to market products to children.

If interested start researching inBloom, a company that created a database meant to hold all student data in a “cloud” managed by Amazon.com.  Click (Here).  Learn more about inBloom’s connection to Amplify, the company producing the Interim Assessments and Checkpoints now being used throughout Spokane and Seattle Public schools.  Click (Here) and (Here) and (Here) and (Here).

Murdoch… Gates… Carnegie Corporation… Klein… inBloom… Amplify…

ALL CONNECTED.

Amplify isn’t hiding it’s connections….Check out their homepage (Here).