A Believable Falsehood

My morning went quite well… For about 90 seconds.

The first thing I did was check my messages for news on House Bill 399, the legislation that was inspired by the work of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee. Upon seeing that it had been passed with amendments, I was thrilled. At 2:30 am, I was expecting amendments, though I had not seen the amendments that sent the bill back to the House, where it was approved in the wee small hours of the night, until they were linked in a blog post by Exceptional Delaware. Even the inimitable News Journal reporter Matt Albright hadn’t gone into the depth of explanation that sent me from excited to incensed in a very short span of time when I read the amendment.

Frankly, I expected the amendment clarifying the administrator’s role in approving the goals set, and I don’t really have an issue with that because a) from what I understand, it rarely happens that the teacher/specialist and evaluator don’t agree and b) the admin already has that role. In fact, that was already in the language of the bill, but to my understanding there needed to be stronger language to address the concerns that it was too vague. I was pleasantly surprised to read Senator Bryan Townsend’s amendment, which protects students from the possibility of being victim to increased testing as an inadvertent outcome of the changes.

However, upon reading the actual amendment submitted by Senator Sokola, I realized that the language turns the entire set of recommendations into a pilot program. Not piloting the algorithm part of the recommendations, but turning virtually the entire contents of the bill into a pilot. The key parts of the recommendations of the sub-committee are completely gutted from this legislation. In fact, the Sub-Committee specifically stated that this should not BE a pilot, aside from the mathematical component to ensure it was valid and reliable.

Just as troubling, there is a provision for adding in student and parent surveys to Component IV, Professional Responsibilities. As aggravated as I am by the amendment and how this all went down, especially because the bill was sent back to the House really late after intense WEIC discussions and votes so no one really had a chance to digest the information, I’m actually more frustrated by this survey bit.

When I went through a messaging training session six years ago, one thing that stuck in my mind is how information can easily be manipulated based on the willingness of people to believe something, regardless of whether it is true. Essentially, information can be true and believable, true and not believable, false and believable, and false and not believable. As an example of this, there is a satire going around about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. Because of the juxtaposition of scientific terminology and outright fear-mongering, playing to the basest fears of people (what we eat and drink is poisoning us), there are people who believe water is dangerous to drink. In case you aren’t following, dihydrogen monoxide = water, simple H2O. In this case, the information is false but completely believable.

This is one way in which people in positions of power manipulate others to believe in something that is not true. Often one can tell this has happened because the individuals being manipulated will vigorously and with absolute certainty defend a position that is provably false. It helps that we as people hear what we want to hear, especially when it comes from a person in a perceived position of power and/or with access to information others do not have.

Before I continue, I’d like to state for the record that there are ways in which this manipulation is used that are completely not harmful. For instance, a slightly misleading headline that gets the viewer to read the article, or the time I told my daughter that she has a lie dot on her forehead, which is how I always knew when she was lying, though the truth was she would immediately cover her forehead every time she told a lie. (That and as a parent, I rarely ask a question I don’t already know the answer to.) I’m in no way saying that the individuals being manipulated are weak, less intelligent than other people, not well-intentioned, or unwilling to be informed. I’m also not saying that those doing the manipulating are bad people; they may genuinely believe in what they are saying and doing, or they are trying to right a wrong, or get other people involved in a movement. This is the very foundation of politics, in which each side tries to prove that they are right and the other is wrong, when the reality is somewhere in the gray.

All that said, let me address the issue around parent and student surveys as part of an educator evaluation system.

This is a clear case of something being believable as having an impact, but not being true when one scratches beneath the surface.

We are going to ignore, for now, the fact that this legislation gives absolutely no guidance to how the surveys should be created, who should receive them, how they should be disseminated and collected, who will review them to collect the data for the evaluation, what types of questions should be asked, or exactly how the new data will fit into the existing Component IV criteria. We shouldn’t ignore that, but we are going to. For now.

Let’s begin with the very real fact that all sorts of surveys are given, and that the data gleaned from those surveys can be used for overall school evaluations. As a parent of three school-aged children in the Red Clay School District, I can honestly say I promptly return every single survey sent home filled out in its entirety, and I immediately fill out any surveys that are emailed to me. This data is important, and I want to make sure it is counted. Based on the number of follow-up emails from the teachers and administrators at the school imploring us and reminding us to return the surveys, not many parents do.

This is concerning. How will we guarantee a response rate from parents to include surveys in the educator evaluation system? Furthermore, not all teachers and specialists work with the same types or numbers of students. For instance, a guidance counselor would be responsible for a very large portion of the total student population (hundreds of students), a mathematics teacher might only have 90 students for the entire school year, and an elective teacher might see more than 200 students throughout the year. Even assuming a 100% response rate, the numbers are so diverse and the spread so wide that there is no way to guarantee the validity of the data.

Additionally, in schools where there is a high rate of absenteeism, transience, homelessness, foster care, or a myriad set of other instances, how likely is it that a representative sampling would be acquired to make the data meaningful? Would there be a minimum number of surveys set for the data to count? What happens if that minimum isn’t met? What happens if there are more? Does someone pick and choose what data gets included? In theory, all the data would be averaged and used, but then we are back to the concern about the dilution of the average for educators who have high numbers of students versus those with low numbers of students.

What happens in the (albeit rare) case that a parent requests their child not have a specific teacher, yet the school is unable to accommodate that request? Perhaps the parent knows this teacher is a bad match for the child. Perhaps the child has a medical reason he should not be in physical education, or is allergic to the class pet. Maybe that parent disagreed with the school’s restrictive bathroom pass policy and disliked the teachers who enforced it. Now the parent is predisposed to giving an average or even negative rating on the survey, not necessarily because of a lack of integrity, but because they genuinely had a bad experience.

True story: With the birth of my first child, I was at Christiana Hospital. I had a horrific experience there, and subsequent births were at St. Francis. However, Christiana is my go-to hospital for everything else; my gallbladder removal, my thyroidectomy, and even trips to the emergency room. And tons of people have had wonderful, amazing experiences there. To my knowledge, no one’s employment was ever put in jeopardy because of my negative survey rating, and therein lies the difference. You might argue that I could just take my business elsewhere, but keep in mind that, in Delaware at least, so can parents.

Let’s take a quick foray into the student survey side. My daughter LOVED her third grade teacher. Both of my school-aged boys have loved ALL of their teachers. Does that mean that all the teachers my boys have had were amazing, and all but one of my daughter’s teachers were terrible? My oldest two had the same exact first grade teacher, so even leaving my opinion aside, I think it’s obvious that the answer isn’t the teacher was good for one child and bad for the other.

Then there’s the age thing. For my pre-k son, there’s recess and finger painting and drawing and reading and building and friends… What’s not to love about school? For my second grade son, everything is doable as long as he focuses and works and checks his work. For my fourth grade daughter, math is boring, writing is a real pain, but reading is super awesome. If we were to survey those three kids about their school experiences, I’m wondering what questions might be asked of them that, a) they’d understand well enough to answer usefully, and b) might give insight to the quality of the teacher.

Expand that survey process out to other educators. How does the high school student who rarely uses the library media center complete a survey about the effectiveness of the librarian? How does the student who has never been to the nurse evaluate the nurse’s job performance? What about paraprofessionals who only work with one student in a school year? Educational diagnosticians? Disciplinary deans? For that matter, how does a parent rate those educators? Based on what knowledge and experience?

And the parent of an elementary student likely has one or two classroom teachers and a handful of specialists interacting with the student in a year. Your average secondary student will be interacting with 10 or more teachers and specialists throughout the year. Is each parent and each student going to rate each teacher and each specialist? Can you imagine us going from “just” having weeks devoted to testing in schools to having weeks devoted to testing AND weeks devoted to surveys?

It is completely believable that parent and student surveys should count towards an educator’s evaluation. It is believable because this is a business model. I go to the Firefly Music Festival, I receive a product and a service, I submit an evaluation expressing my opinion about the product and service. Each time I go to Firefly I’m going to have a different experience, and as a result the evaluation I submit will reflect a different level of satisfaction. I can make the decision to attend or not attend the festival, but my poor evaluation is not going to cause the folks who run it to lose their jobs. The goods and services offered at Firefly are more holistic, more rounded, than what could be accurately reflected in a survey, even keeping in mind that surveys are often more likely to be filled out by the extremely satisfied and the extremely dissatisfied, thus skewing the results for the average individual.

Let me sum it up this way: My child is not a backpack full of cash. My child is not an interchangeable widget. My child, all four of my children, are individual little people with personalities and opinions and work ethics and social issues, just like all children are. My children are going to have experiences that are good and experiences that are bad, and unless there is a serious harm being done in the classroom (which is likely going to be known by the administration more concretely than I could make it on a survey), having interactions with authority figures we don’t necessarily like is actually a good life experience.

As for me, I’m at work when my kids are in school, and I don’t have time to go observe the classroom to collect evidence of what’s going on in there. I do not pretend that I’m an expert in how other teachers should be teaching and their classrooms should be run, and for me to impose my opinions on other educators is condescending and inappropriate. If I have an issue, I approach the teacher directly, or seek other support services offered by the school and district.

If you are looking for a parent trigger, that’s a different conversation. As for surveys, perhaps it’s my own lack of creativity, but I cannot see how it will be beneficial or effective at the implementation level. Finally, by the time a survey is submitted to evaluate the educator, it will be the end of the school year with no time or ability for the educator to receive meaningful feedback and make substantive change. And what would an improvement plan look like when generated by poor survey ratings?

These are all questions and issues I strongly believe should have been asked, discussed, and answered before this type of language was ever included in a piece of legislation with the potential to end someone’s career.

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Evaluating Educators

Over the past school year I have been working with a dedicated group of professionals in the educational realm around the controversial topic of student improvement and its role in the educator evaluation system. This is not the forum for in-depth discussion about what, specifically, we did; interested parties are encouraged to visit https://egov.delaware.gov/pmc/ and scroll through the calendar in the Education, Office of the Secretary, Agency page to view our meeting agendas and minutes. However, I’d like to encourage my readers to consider making their voices heard around one particular piece of legislation that directly reflects the recommendations of the sub-committee.

House Bill 399 would put a number of our recommendations into law, which is exciting for me because we spent a great deal of time as a team working towards consensus on how to really keep the student achievement part focused on students, and on authentic methods of supporting and demonstrating student improvement in our classrooms and schools. In this post I’ll briefly describe the salient changes and how you can voice the impact these changes will have in YOUR world.

To avoid edu-speak, here are a few quick descriptions of some terms I’ll probably use. DPAS II is the name of the evaluation system we use in Delaware, and all teachers and specialists are evaluated under this system. There are 5 components to DPAS, one of which is the student improvement portion. This is called Component V, and it is the main area being changed through this legislation. Under DPAS, teachers and specialists receive at least one observation each year, resulting in a conversation with a credentialed observer and a form documenting the observation, conversation, and any recommendations or commendations that arose during the process. This form is called a Formative Feedback document, and on this document the teacher or specialist is assigned a performance level based on the evidence available during the time of observation and conversation. Performance levels exist in multiple criteria throughout each of the first four components and lead to an overall performance level in each component. At the end of at least every two years, the Formative Feedback documents are compiled and evidence collected around the two non-observable components (IV and V) for the purpose of a Summative Evaluation.

Currently, under Component V, teachers and specialists are divided into three groups based on discipline. Classroom teachers are generally grouped into two categories with specialists in the third. In each of those three categories, there are measures around which goals are set for demonstrating student improvement. All three sets of measures are designed to lend some type of standardization to Component V. The first two sets of measures are tests of some sort (for the most part; I fully admit I do not have every single assessment method for every single discipline and grade level memorized, but they can be found on the Department of Education’s website). The third set of measures are growth goals.

The proposed legislation, HB 399, seeks to simplify Component V, make it valuable to educators in and out of the classroom, focus it on the needs of the individual schools and students, and maintain a level of integrity in the system while also giving teachers and specialists a more active role in their evaluation process. Under this proposal, Component V will be broken into two parts for teachers and specialists alike. One half will involve some sort of uniform measure that the teacher or specialist would choose, and it will demonstrate student improvement as a result of the teacher or specialist performing regular job duties (i.e., teaching, speech therapy, counseling). This uniform measure will need to be approved by the administrator working with the teacher or specialist, but it could include such things as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, discipline-specific pre- and post-tests, authentic assessments such as portfolios, end-of-pathway certifications such as Auto Mechanic or Veterinary Technician, and industry-aligned measures for specialists with professional organizations. These measures will be available for any teacher or specialist to use statewide only after approval by the Department of Education through its current alternative measure submission and approval process.

The other half of Component V will be based on goal-setting between the administrator and the teacher or specialist. Every school, be it a traditional public school or a charter school, has some sort of vision and plan for moving that school and its students forward in their educational endeavors. Under this model, the teacher or specialist will identify a goal directly linked to that plan and, with administrator conversation and agreement, will set that goal to directly impact the success of students. For instance, if my school had a goal of improving attendance for a group of students, I would write a goal around mentoring some of those students, providing a safe space and caring adult to encourage the students, communicate with families, and find ties in the larger community to get those students to school and keep them there. If a teacher or specialist is considered novice or is receiving support for improvement through the evaluation system, the administrator will select that goal. If a teacher or specialist is considered experienced and satisfactory, the administrator and teacher/specialist will write the goal together, and in the event that agreement cannot be reached each will contribute one goal for this half of Component V.

There are other pieces of the legislation that are important to understand, but this is the main area where I feel voices need to be heard. I encourage you to please contact State Representatives and Senators with a message about how you could use this new Component V to really make a difference in your profession. Give a specific example, such as I have above. These legislators truly want to hear from teachers and specialists, and it is vital that we not miss this opportunity to speak while they are listening. At this link http://legis.delaware.gov/ you can find information about the bill as well as who the Representatives and Senators are; you do not need to contact just your legislator, but please consider making the connection!

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Regarding Variety

Hi friends. It’s me again. Thanks for reading along.

I’d like to take a moment to address variety. Variety is defined by Webster as “the state of being varied or diversified; difference; a number of different types of things”. Webster defines diversity as “the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness; variety; multiformity; the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.”.

Variety and diversity are very similar, and as you can see, can be used interchangeably for one area of definition. Far too often, when people use the term “diversity” – as in “we want diversity among educational professionals” – what they mean is a very narrow idea of the term specifically regarding color. This is pretty much the only type of diversity one can see when looking at another individual, and even then it isn’t entirely accurate as an indicator of that person’s actual racial or ethnic heritage.

Last summer I was blessed to be at a table in the audience with some esteemed colleagues for a panel discussion at the National Education Association’s Joint Conference on the Concerns of Minorities and Women. At one point I realized that not only was I the minority at the table of predominately African-American and Black educators, but also that the opportunity was perfect for me to learn more about how the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among educators, specifically among educators in communities with large concentrations of people of color, affects the children and families in those communities.

“My godson does not see teachers who look like him,” was one comment. My initial reaction, as a white female teacher, was to retort, “what does that matter? All kids can learn from any teacher.” However, on listening further to the conversation, I realized that seeing yourself in the positive role models and figures of authority around you is really vital to the sense of self that young people develop. Recently I read something online – probably on Facebook, if I’m to be honest – wherein a Black man said he wears suits because his male role models wore suits, and that when young Black men see role models wearing baggy jeans and hoodies, that’s what they are likely to wear. My own experiences as a classroom teacher for the past 15 years show that the trends shift whenever students see their idols – athletes, musicians, actors – and want to mimic that look.

I’m chock full of privilege. I look and sound like an upper-middle class, Caucasian, heterosexual, well-educated woman. That’s a lot of privilege right there. It’s up to the folks around me to call me on it when I’m making assumptions that have everything to do with who I am and nothing to do with who they are. It’s also a topic I’ve worked hard to become more aware of so I can check my own privilege, but that’s SO much more difficult.

Why am I saying all this? Because it is important.

People will say that there is a lack of diversity in educational professionals, among CEO’s, on Wall Street, in government, at churches of certain religions, on TV shows, etc. And there is. Proportionately speaking, there is. Proportionately speaking about race and ethnicity, there is. Same goes for high school drop-outs, college attendees, and prison inmates. But it also exists with regards to the other group of individuals represented on the list in the definitions above. And those are things it’s MUCH harder to determine without really getting to know someone.

When variety is on the surface, it is easy to see, to question, to throw stones at, to address. When variety is buried deeper, and it is not comfortable – or safe – to expose those parts of us in the public sphere, addressing those issues becomes much more difficult.

I’ve had this discussion, specifically around those in the GLBTQ community, wherein well-meaning individuals want to make sure the transgender voice is heard. How do we accomplish that without making one person the sole representative of the trans community, or outing someone, or otherwise prying deeply into a very personal part of someone’s life? In April I was fortunate to see Gus Morales speak, and he put it bluntly when he said that being Puerto Rican does not mean he speaks for ALL Puerto Ricans. How very fascinating, and how very anti- what many believe when they say they want voices of diversity to ensure that different communities are represented.

Listening to the school board in my district discuss the need for representation from many stakeholders on the superintendent search committee further illustrates how insanely difficult it can be to make sure that everyone is involved but that the size of the committee doesn’t exceed what would be reasonable to accomplish the work in a timely, organized manner. Once the committee size and representative make-up was established, the individuals sitting on the committee were by and large left up to the groups being represented. With parent and community seats, it becomes an issue of who is willing, who is available, and who is appropriate.

This has turned into a much longer post than I anticipated, and I’ve done a lot of dancing around the topic that sparked me to write it. In summation, let me say that when a representative group is convened to discuss issues and make decisions or recommendations, it is vital that the group members are diligent in carrying back the messages and discussions to those constituent groups who are unable to participate, and that feedback and communication flow in return to the representative group. Representatives are responsible not only for the two-way flow of communication, but also for learning about the topic, for being open to discussion and consensus, for honoring the time and work of others who are also observing those responsibilities, and in some cases for representing the organizations they are appointed to serve. This can be an insanely difficult task, but if done correctly, all the voices should be engaged, not just the ones around the table.

We all have preconceived notions of what we think is best, and of what we want. A representative group is not a place to voice our own personal opinions and ideas, but to put forth the opinions and ideas of those who we represent AND of studies done on the topics at hand. Rather than a “he said she said” dialogue, a war of the writers, there should be an openness and willingness to see multiple sides and understand why things are the way they are and where the intersectionalities exist that can foster true, abiding change.

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The Test Secrets Revealed……

kavips

Since I’m in Delaware, I couldn’t reveal my signed obligations… But someone in New Jersey can… And likewise, I can reveal questions off the PAARC in New Jersey, whereas no teacher in New Jersey can…..

And it is all legal.  Neither of us violated our signed statements.

Here is what every parent needs to know is on the PAARC for fourth grade.

On the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X…

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The PARCC Test: Exposed

Exceptional Delaware

This was originally written on another blog.  I will just call it Celia’s blog.  It was about the PARCC Test, released by the corporate education reform monster Pearson.  Pearson made Celia take off some of what she wrote.  Now ALL of us are reposting the original material in support of Celia and to give a collective whatever to Pearson.  Below is the original.

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would…

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Kavips, Where Are You? We Need You!

I second that!!!

Exceptional Delaware

Kavips, you need to come back.  I haven’t seen anything on your blog since January 5th.  We had a major legislative battle with House Bill 50.  While the bill is still in limbo, aka Pete Schwartzkopf’s desk drawer, we need a rally.  I truly don’t think the House Republicans hail Mary bills are going to do anything except waste oxygen.  Once I discovered opt-out, your blog was the first place I found.  With all the Smarter Balanced Assessment questions and all the brilliant posts about why the test sucks so bad.  I don’t know if you are chilling for the winter, or up to other stuff, but your presence is needed!  You need to come back and help make sense out of all this as well as a way forward!  This year is crucial in education.  The reformers are getting their dream lists ready and going to town on them. …

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What is “The Delaware Way”?

What is “The Delaware Way”?

This is a question I have pondered for quite some time, though more intentionally lately than in the past. I finally broke down and typed the question into Google, and I read through several bits and pieces of articles where that phrase was used. Fascinatingly, the best, most concise definition I found was in a Delaware Online article from 2014, wherein former Delaware Supreme Court Chief E. Norman Veasey explained that the phrase should mean, “the good Delaware practice of seeking a “civilized, bipartisan approach for finding solutions to the State’s business and political problems”.”

What fascinated me about that was, earlier in the same paragraph, Veasey acknowledged that the phrase is more commonly used to describe Delaware’s “pay-to-play” type of political maneuvering, wherein gifts are given in exchange for legislative action…or inaction. In yet another 2014 Delaware Online article, former DNREC head Collin O’Mara also remarked that “The Delaware Way” is referred to by most people as a way to get things done through closed door discussions.

This made me feel a lot better about the way I’ve always perceived “The Delaware Way”. You give something, you get something, and no one is the wiser. There are a few recent examples of high-profile pieces of legislation that have been vetoed, “held hostage”, and/or “replaced” by Delaware politicians, and better bloggers than I have covered those stories. While I’m not inclined to bow to paranoid theories on the inner workings of the government, I will say that it’s quite clear to me, an outsider, that there ARE inner workings, and that those inner workings are not for public view. And this is what troubles me about “The Delaware Way”.

Do the ends justify the means? That is another question I’ve long pondered, especially as more and more evidence of backdoor deals come into the spotlight. There is absolutely nothing civilized about the fact that members of the General Assembly will refuse to allow certain pieces of legislation sponsored by certain individuals to be heard, regardless of their merit. There is nothing bipartisan about a Governor who vetoes legislation that passed by huge margins in the House and Senate, legislation supported by many entities in the state, because of his devotion to his own ideologies.

When it comes to democracy, this type of behind-the-scenes rigging of the game does not serve the best interests of anyone, and certainly not those of the people being governed.

One final note: I know that it may seem to people involved in Delaware politics that they are truly making gains and doing the best with good intentions. And I do not doubt that. But the fact remains that, as a direct result of this hidden negotiating, trust is eroding, and when trust goes, the goodwill of the people goes. Elected officials may not be voted out; change may not occur at that noticeable level. But the very facts that fewer and fewer individuals turn out for elections, that lawsuits have been filed that will effectively undermine the very fabric of the working class, that so many individual voices have cropped up and refused to be silenced… These things all speak to the discontent of the people. A wise leader would heed the signs and work towards transparency.

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Murder Town

I’m so fed up with this indignation about the “Murder Town” show. Where was the outrage when children were being struck by stray bullets? Where were the rants when mothers were holding bleeding sons?

Now we want to say it’s someone else’s fault. Well guess what. It’s not. It’s our fault. Mine and yours and everyone else’s who isn’t helping solve the problems.
So forgive me if I take this as just another fact of life and, instead of being angry that a show is being made, I do something about what caused it to be possible in the first place.
Actually, you know what? I don’t want your forgiveness. I want your action. You who send your kids to private and charter schools because of those city kids in your neighborhood schools instead of getting involved with your feeder school’s community to make a positive difference. You who won’t go to the city because of fear. You who vote against giving communities and schools the social supports they need to help. You who live a life of luxury while giving a pittance to help others. 

I truly do not care whether a tv show is made about the issues facing our city. 

I care about the actual lives of the actual people who actually endure the hardships and losses the show will portray. 

And I’m going to go out and make a difference. 

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The Opt Out Discussion

Wednesday night I had the opportunity to speak at the 14th representative district in Lewes, Delaware, on the topic of opt out. This came about because Mike Matthews was asked to speak but was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, and he was kind enough to think of me. Claire and Mikki Snyder-Hall communicated regularly with me, and when I arrived I was told instead of a debate we would be presenting our own particular viewpoints on the topic, as the other original debater was unable to attend and also had a different person speaking.

I had already prepared a 10-minute speech for the program, and as I sat and talked with people I really didn’t get much of a feel for how people felt about opt out in general. At the conclusion of my speech, and that of my fellow speaker, we fielded some general questions. Boy did that make me glad I read Diane Ravitch and Exceptional Delaware! I knew so much detail about things in education, funding, test scores, the test resistance movements, and legislation around education that I felt really well-equipped to address a lot of the questions.

Although there are still people out there who don’t know a lot about what’s going on in the schools and districts, there are certainly lots of people who do, and that number is growing regularly. I’m posting here for you the speech I gave Wednesday night. There are always two sides to an issue; this is mine.

“Good evening, and thank you for having me here to discuss the opt out movement and its importance in the greater educational environment. To frame my comments I’d like to establish that I will be specifically discussing the movement in Delaware, so any references I make will be related to Delaware happenings unless otherwise noted. Additionally, although much of my knowledge comes from being an educator, almost all of my passion for this comes from being a mom. As educators we are often caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, wanting to do what’s best for our students but not always knowing how to best advocate for them without potentially negative repercussions for ourselves. As a parent, however, I have found a voice to shape the change I wish to see.

“The first and most obvious issue with telling my daughter she doesn’t have to take the test is making sure she understands which assessments she must take. Having a fourth grader, along with a second grader, a pre-k student, and an almost-two-year-old, has made me super conscious of the amount of time being spent on different types of instruction at various levels of education. My background as an educator has been limited to secondary, with 11 years teaching grades 9-12 and another 3+ teaching grades 6-8. Seeing first-hand the increasing amount of time students spend preparing for and taking tests that aren’t for the sole purpose of evaluating learning for the teacher’s use in driving instruction, red flags were already going up. For the sake of ease in calculating, let’s assume a standard high school sophomore is taking 8 classes this year. That student can expect to take a minimum of 16 standardized assessments, 8 at the start of the year and 8 at its conclusion, to fulfill the evaluation requirement for educators (if for no other reason). That doesn’t seem too bad, right?

“Factor in mid-term and final course exams. That’s 32 total.

“That same student is taking 3 advanced placement courses; that’s an extra 3 exams, bringing our total to 35. Oops, can’t forget the PSATs!

“36 assessments that a sophomore student has to take at a minimum just to make it through course requirements. That does not include teacher-created tests and quizzes, to which some educators refer, tongue-in-cheek, as “old school”.

“Let’s assume those assessments each take one class period to complete. Out of a total of 180 school days, that reduces educational time to 144 days. Planning to prepare for those exams? Even discounting the pre-tests, that still gives us 20 days of preparatory time, assuming 1 day per test.

“That 180 day calendar is sitting not-so-pretty at 124 instructional days.

“What does this have anything to do with making sure my daughter knows which assessment she can skip? She’s in fourth grade, where they only use 8 or so assessments, and even then only 1-4 times each, for a minimum total of 19 assessments, taking about 20 and a half hours total…..

“Oh. That’s why. She may legitimately not be able to identify the assessments her teacher can and will actually use to actually determine her actual needs and then make changes in instruction accordingly.

“The opt out movement specifically targets the statewide standardized test, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This test is given once a year, in the spring, and results for the most recent year were available in the fall. This is not even remotely close to being useful data to inform instruction, and I believe everyone involved in this debate is aware of that as a major flaw in the argument for forcing students to take this particular test. It would seem, in fact, that the SBA is really only intended to be used to evaluate educators, which is also a poor argument because the scores are received far too late for inclusion in the Delaware Performance Appraisal System.

“But I digress.

“At its most basic level, the opt out movement has a simple elegance: parents are refusing to allow their children to take tests that have no potential to make an impact on their child’s educational progress. Unless forced to take this test for entrance into certain programs or schools, the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores do not in any way change any thing about the educational life of the student.

“What I mean to say is, unless an artificial use of this test is enacted, such as in the examples I just mentioned, there is no reason my child needs to take this particular assessment.

“Are there concerns with data mining and privacy? Absolutely. However, that is a sort of idealistic argument, to my mind, especially since most people voluntarily place an excess of information online through social media. Yes, I want my child’s privacy to be maintained, but do I not already post her pictures, birthday, friends, school, extracurricular activities, boo-boos, good days, bad days, and vacations online myself?

“There is a concern with narrowing of the curriculum, in addition to the concern over the test itself. In essence, education has become so focused on increasing scores in math and English language arts that students are spending more time in those two subjects than in all others. COMBINED.

“I teach in a middle school in the Christina School District. We operate on a block schedule that has opposing days: blue and white, our school colors. Students take four classes and a shorter support or enrichment course daily. This schedule has potential for eight courses per year, plus the two additional “extras”. In reality, students are taking six courses per year; math and English language arts classes meet daily, while science, social studies, and all elective courses meet every other day. To paraphrase Delaware’s own Joe Biden, don’t tell me what you value; show me where you spend your time, and I’ll tell you what you value. By giving students twice as much seat time in math and English language arts than in any other class, the system is setting the focus up to be on math and English language arts.

“A quick anecdote about having so much instruction in one topic: Earlier this week, a colleague who teaches English language arts and I were discussing the enrichment course. She told me that she has a student who has first block ELA, then ELA for intervention during the skinny class, and then a reading support block. In a row. That’s a lot of ELA instruction, and it isn’t that ELA isn’t important, but English reading, writing, and speaking are taught in all classes, so there are opportunities for students to learn these skills regardless of whether they are in ELA-specific courses. We are denying students the opportunity to learn a variety of subjects, and you better believe that is having an impact on the interest and engagement of students in school.

“Will opting my child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment make an impact in the narrowing of the curriculum, or in the amount of time spent on test preparation? Nope. Not one iota, to my mind. However, if enough students were to refuse to take this test, maybe, just maybe…

“Nationwide, scholars, psychologists, educators, administrators, parents, and legislators have come out in opposition to the excessive use of high-stakes standardized testing. The test, label, punish system is responsible, in part if not entirely, for the decreasing value of public education in the eyes of the American people. By removing my child from this system, I remove her from the stress and anxiety of being labeled a failure on the basis of ONE test. One of…how many did we say? About 20. 20 tests, 18 of which might say that she’s doing really well, or that she’s growing, which the SBA will NOT show. Not on a school-year basis, anyway. It also won’t show what observations her teacher has made, and the impact that has on a student’s performance.

“Another anecdote: When in the first grade, my second grader was pulled out of class by an educator assisting the classroom teacher in testing the students to determine their reading levels. He scored quite poorly, and his teacher thought that was strange. So she re-tested him herself. He scored above-average. His shyness and anxiety about testing with someone he didn’t know, the mere fact that he was removed from his classroom environment and taken out of his regular schedule, was enough to drop this bright young man who enjoys and is good at reading from above average to struggling. Why would I ever trust a test over my child’s teacher?

“Recognizing that we haven’t touched on any issues of test validity, cultural bias, absenteeism, transience, or ability to utilize the technology required to take the test, I’d also like to address one final, major reason often cited in favor of all students taking standardized tests: needs identification and resource allocation.

“I had the pleasure of testifying before the House Education Committee about House Bill 50, commonly known as the opt out bill. What was interesting was, having public comment after the legislators themselves spoke, I was able to modify my statement. And I did. Several legislators expressed that opting out would not be good for the “at risk” populations; specifically, the low-income, single-parent, inner city households. They questioned how those families would be told they could opt out, and how we would support them if the data for the school no longer showed they were struggling academically and needed additional support.

“I’m hoping you see the same issue with that argument that I see.

“If you can already tell who needs the extra support and resources, why force them to take a test to justify giving them those additional aids?

“If we’re using the test to determine who needs the extra support and resources, why aren’t we giving those students and schools the extra support and resources?

“And we’re not. Let’s be clear about that. We absolutely are not giving students who need additional help smaller class sizes, more access to technology, books to read, food to eat, shelter over their heads, mental health counseling, access to physical health needs like glasses, safe playground equipment, clean and comfortable classrooms and schools, or toiletries and clean clothing.

“No. Instead, we spent millions of dollars on this assessment we can clearly see has no value to the education of our children, and said we have no money for all the other things.

“Thank you.”

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“Setting Absurd Standards And Then Announcing Massive Failures Has Undermined Public Support For Public Schools. . . . We Are Dismantling Public School Systems Whose Problems Are Basically The Problems Of Racial And Economic Polarization, Segregation And Economic Disinvestment.”

Genius status.

kavips

(Educational Researcher, August/September 2014, p.286)  Gary Orfield.

Instead of reporting in terms of performance categories, we could report performance in terms of scale scores. A solid body of empirical research suggests that scale scores provide more complete information on performance and are more useful for the purpose of informing improvement efforts.

But unfortunately for corporate America, scale scores do not promote the lie that our educational system is failing… That lie is only propelled by reporting performance “categories” which are made up structures having no relevance outside the committee making them up……

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