Category Archives: High Stakes Tests

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



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

A Mighty Flame Follows a Tiny Spark… Senate Listening Tour, October 21, 2015

Dear Senators,

If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.

      I have lived the role of all three…  at one time a single mom, currently a mother of an 8 year old in 3rd grade, and a 26 year accomplished, award winning educator.  George Orwell said,
“The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”
     I believe we have lost our course in education in our state, as well as nationally.  Now is the time to stand up and speak the truth, even if it is unpopular.  I’m here representing a growing group of concerned parents and educators across our state.   I also spoke on an expert panel in a Senate Hearing hosted by Senator Chase and Senator Roach in April 2015 on common core and the high stakes tests.
Thank you to those who DO Listen
     Senators, I have written to many of you.  Thank you to those who responded back and showed a willingness to listen and have courageous conversations with me about education. The title of this tour is “Senate Listening Tour”.  There are solutions which, from my humble perspective, do address the funding challenges facing our schools today.
Too Much Testing
     Our children are being over tested in the name of “accountability”.  Our children are being used as experiments through the common core standards in the name of “rigor”.  What expense has Washington State undertaken to implement the common core tests?  What validity do they have?  What inter-rater reliability do they have?  Advertisements went out to hire scorers at $11.20 an hour in local newspapers to judge whether our children are proficient at these untested standards.  Do you want your own children’s futures based upon a Craigslist Scorer?  I appreciate the time Senator Roach and Senator Chase have taken to dig into the history of common core.   I encourage each of you to do the same.  In order to accept the Federal carrot from RTTT, the expense of common core is costing more than the carrot itself.
Solution #1: 
SBA withdrawal     Withdraw from SBAC.  Please do not try to convince anyone we can’t.  The tests have been trashed like the second half of a rotten apple in various states.  PARCC used to include 26 states. It now includes seven, with three showing signs they may drop. Smarter Balanced started out with 31 states (some states joined both groups, so the total is more than 50). It now has 18, with at least three getting wobbly.  We are spending millions a year on these tests that do nothing to improve student learning.
Question #1
     Are you paying attention to what this Testing Regime is doing to our children?  Are you listening to the personal stories?  Eight and nine year olds are sitting in computer labs for full days at a time.  Is this developmentally appropriate?  These young children are taking tests for longer periods of time than college age students on college exams.
Question #2
     What has it cost our state thus far?  $200 million?  $24,000,000 is spent in scoring the test each year, and add the cost of sending out bright colored fliers to every student’s family with the results. Estimates are over a billion, including all the hidden costs.  (Computers, Testing Coordinators, Test Prep Programs… more testing programs like Amplify…)
Budget Report from OSPI
Solution # 2:
Senate Bill 6093… A Simple Solution to the School Funding Crisis
     Senate Bill 6093, sponsored by Senators Chase and McAuliffe, would repeal the 1997 huge tax exemption to the wealthy and invest $4 billion per year in public schools to restore school funding and lower class sizes. Corporations like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, etc… would no longer receive tax loopholes.
There is money to fully fund education.
Imagine if we evaluated fireman by how they put fires out and then restricted their water supply and gave them crappy fire trucks… !?
Question # 3:  
Can you tell me how much the reforms are costing… all the standardized testing, teacher and principal evaluations (TPEP), the data mining, and the infrastructure to support it all?
Question #4
And lastly, who are all these reforms benefiting?  The children?  (Nope.)
Who. Is. Profiting?
There is money, Senators.  It is time it’s used to authentically benefit children and public schools.
Passionately Submitted,

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.


“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,


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?

Let’s Get Curious… Where Is All The Money Going?

I’m curious.

A gentleman has been posting a link in several places on social media showing each Spokane School District Employee’s salary, bonuses received, and medical insurance contributions. I know teachers receive around $768 in contributions a month for medical insurance. This amounts to $768 X 12 = $9216 annually.

I cover my son. The premiums come to around $1200 a month. Therefore, I pay about $400ish out of pocket each month, deducted directly from my income. If I added my husband the $1200 would nearly double.

I scrolled through the link the gentleman shared. I noticed a pattern.

  • Mark Anderson, Deputy Superintendent of Spokane Public Schools has an annual salary of $145,000. He received $33,000 in bonuses. And he received $20,000 in contributions towards his medical insurance.
  • Most administrators I found make over 6 digits in income per year, have higher bonuses, and higher contributions to their medical costs.
  • The exception… Shelley Redinger, Spokane School District’s Superintendent.  She makes an annual salary of $239,999, received no bonuses, and also received over $20,000 in insurance benefits.  This is $20,000 a month, plus her benefits.
  • In 2009-2010, the then superintendent made $195,048.  In 2010-2011, the salary increased to $222,576, a 14.1% increase. In 2011-2012, the salary increased $5,962, a 2.5% increase equaling a $228,538 annual salary.   The current superintendent makes another $11,461 above this, another 5% increase.  From 2009 to 2015 there has been a 23% increase to the annual salary of the person holding the Superintendent’s position.
  • From 2009 to 2015 there has been no cost of living increase (0%) for teachers even though the voters of Washington State approved it.

My salary has remained stagnant for 6 years. My take home pay, what I net, has decreased every year for six years running due to the rise in medical premiums. I do not complain. I did not go into education to become rich. I have raised my son as a single parent since he was a baby until last summer when I remarried. It wasn’t easy, but I made it. I budgeted. I set priorities, and I did borrow money at times to pay my basic bills. Many are in the same boat.

I think it woud be advantageous for school district employees, parents, and the community at large to ask where the district IS deciding to spend their money. I spent a day this past spring plowing through the minutes of every single school board meeting. I found some interesting expenditures.

There is money to pay Amplify, a testing corporation, (over and above the initial cost to purchase the program), $296,000 to write “custom” assessments for Spokane School District. Yet there is not enough money to purchase the writing curriculum that goes along with Journeys, the ELA (English Language Arts) adopted program.

Purchase of Amplify

Amplify is owned by Rupert Murdoch of Fox News.  Mr. Murdoch has been quoted as saying the United States Educational System is worth over $500,000,000,000 (500 BILLION) in untapped profits.  I spent a lot of time researching its history.  You can find the chronological articles with summaries here: Amplify… A Modern Day Medusa.

test anxietyNow, why would Mr. Murdoch be interested in the Testing Industry? Hmmmmm…..

Note: The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium paid Amplify $12,000,000 to write practice tests. Have teachers had the chance to look at the scoring guides? Do teachers realize they will now be scoring performance tasks and entering in the data to track children’s progress? Do teachers and parents understand how the data is being used and where it is going? Start asking these questions and start digging.

There is money to pay a company (Micro12) that sells broadband width and SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment) resources a total of $3,905,777.50 so we can administer all the testing on the computers.

Micro12 Purchase

But there isn’t money for curricular materials for TEACHING?

Google MicroK12.  Do your own research.  Learn who they are, what they are about, and how much money they are getting of the people’s tax payer dollars.

SBAC TestDoes the Spokane community understand millions of dollars of their tax payer money are being spent and going to the testing industry? MILLIONS. We spent April through June testing kids. My staff has yet to examine their “data” from the SBA test. How was this test useful in informing instruction and improving student learning?

Was it worth all the instructional time given up? Was it worth having libraries and computer labs shut down for 3 months so kids could be funneled into the testing troughs?

There is money to pay for copying the EngageNY Math “free” materials with totals ranging over $3,000,000 from Spokane School District’s budget. An “interim” math program. My son, having it last year in 2nd grade, and now possibly another three years… is not “interim” for him. It is four years of his mathematical foundational years of learning. Digging and learning more about this math program, people will find it originated in Washington D.C. and was written by a company called Common Core, Inc. New York State paid them $24,000,000 to write the curriculum for their state. I also uncovered ties of Bill Gates contributing money to the writing of this curriculum.

Bill Gates contributed $500,000 to Pride Prep, one of the charter schools opening in Spokane.

Bill Gates has contributed over $2,000,000,000 (TWO BILLION) to Common Core.  Now school districts are choosing to buy technology, new curricular materials, practice tests like Amplify, etc… all at tax payer expense, in order to align to the new and “rigorous” Common Core Standards.

$2204 per student who attends Pride Prep Charter, (opening its doors for the first time September 2015), goes to Pride Prep from the levy money the tax payers approved this past year.

On the OSPI website, it shows Spokane School District hired two administrators to oversee the two new charter schools. One paid for from the charter schools, one paid for from public tax dollars to oversee the charters. You can find all this information on the OSPI website. Therefore, another administrator was hired to oversee two charter schools at a salary higher than most teachers.

Note: The charter schools get public tax payer money, but get to be privately run. They don’t have to use Journeys, EngageNY Math, Springboard, or any of it. They get to experiment with tax payer dollars. There is so much more research around this. In Florida State alone, 200 charters started and then closed their doors, at tax payer expense.

Also noteworthy, the district hired Elementary Supervisors for the 2015/2016 school year. All being paid over six digits. Remember the Area Directors? They were all let go to “save” the district money a few years back? They are now hired back under a new name. I asked a district level employee if they bascially have the same job description… the answer was one word, “yes”.  Therefore… more money to administration.

Please, please, please take the time to learn HOW the district is choosing to spend its money. Please know they have $37,000,000 (37 million) sitting. There is money to compensate all eight bargaining units.

Question MarkI’m curious.

I’m asking the questions.

Will you?

What are our teachers, custodians, instructional assistants, nurses, transportation employees, food service workers, etc… worth to this community?

I’m curious, how much money will we continue to pour into testing our children in the name of “accountability”?

Who is profiting from Common Core and all the testing?

There is money.

I’ve followed states like New York and Florida… we are a bit behind them in our learning curve… those states have had large uprisings and have learned just where the money is going… and it is NOT into the educator’s pockets… the educators communities entrust with their children.

Be Aware. Be Leery. Be Wise.

Passionately Submitted,