Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Unnecessary Tests (NUT) Report: Good Riddance Day

Today is Good Riddance Day, a tradition to say goodbye to something that caused misery, worry, and other negative reactions during the year. To join this event, Grumpy Educators wishes to say good riddance to unnecessary tests and illogical forced compliance.

For followers, the story of South Carolina mother, Gretchen Herrera, is familiar. For others, the story crystallizes the twisted nature of compliance-driven high stakes assessment regimes, which puts the health and well-being of children at risk. After denied exemption from standardized testing for her son based on a complicated medical condition, Mrs. Herrera filed a formal complaint with the US DOE Office of Civil Rights (OCR). In the jurisdiction cited by the OCR, it investigates allegations of regulations that discriminate against students on the basis of disability "by treating them differently (e.g. less favorable) from similarly situated students who are non-disabled." The OCR findings conclude that the complaint lacks sufficient evidence that discrimination based on disability occurred.

In South Carolina, limited reasons are permitted by regulation for a school to exclude a student from its reporting. Exclusions apply only to students who are homebound or not homebound, but physically/mentally unable to test on the days and make up days of testing, and have a physician letter, death, expulsion, incarceration, or transferring. Given these definitions, the OCR finding concludes that the reporting system works without discrimination.

Nevertheless, the finding leaves more questions than answers. The deeper issue regarding the rights of a parent to protect the health and well-being of their child remains unaddressed. Parents and children are caught in the middle of a reporting system that affects school grades and funding. What is in the best interest of the student is not part of the equation. The opinion of school-based and school-district staff was that the medical letter was opinion and did not qualify under any of the regulated exclusions.

In a U.S. Supreme Court determination, Troxel v. Granville, the justices relied on the 14th Amendment:

(a) The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, including parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children, see, e.g., Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651. Pp. 5—8.

In October, South Carolina Virtual Public Charter School "withdrew" the student citing the parent's failure to comply with the school rules. The student is homeschooled; however, receives specialized services in coordination with a middle school. Under this arrangement, the health, well-being, and specific educational needs of the student are the first priority and protected.

During the November 2011 Senate ESEA Reauthorization Hearings, a Kentucky teacher and witness described a terminally ill student who was denied exclusion from standardized testing, in spite of being barely able to breathe. Notably, the testimony received no follow up question by any Senator and only one follow up news report. In Correct the record in No Child Left Behind Hearing, Greg Skilling adds detail to the story. The teacher and school assistant principal filed papers and appeals without success; and finally, in spite of the lack of exclusion and instructions to begin testing, the school determined they would not test the child. Five months after the first submission of paperwork, the exemption was granted and a few months later, the child died. This event took place in 2007 and Skilling reports that the "Kentucky Department of Education is still investigating this case and has not reported any findings prior to the publication of this article."

Parent witnesses were not included at the ESEA Hearings in spite of mounting evidence of parent concerns over the effects of test-centric, compliance-driven accountability, and loss of parental rights. There are more of these stories that go unreported, underreported, and unexplored.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

FCAT hits national news: "They are defending a test that has no validity."

UPDATE: This story inspired a new movement! Join #takethetest - Invite your politicians to take state standardized tests and publicize their results.

Orange County School Board member Rick Roach did not believe that students were unable to read and read well in the 10th grade as measured by the FCAT. The 39 percent pass rate of reading at grade level in 10th grade caused him to question the test itself.

I have to tell you that I’ve never believed that that many kids can’t read at that level. Never ever believed it. I have five kids of my own. None of them were superstars at school but they could read well, and these kids today can read too.

“So I was thinking, ‘What are they taking that tells them they can’t read? What is this test? Our kids do okay on the eighth grade test and on the fifth grade test and then they get stupid in the 10th grade?”

In a bold move that garnered national attention in the Washington Post, Roach asked to take the FCAT that by state law only allows it to be taken by students. He was ultimately able to take a version of it. For an experienced professional with bachelor of science degree in education and two masters degrees, in education and educational psychology, the results were a surprise. He did not pass.

He found the reading section suspect as a valid indicator of reading ability:

He said he understands why so many students who can actually read well do poorly on the FCAT.

“Many of the kids we label as poor readers are probably pretty good readers. Here’s why.

“On the FCAT, they are reading material they didn’t choose. They are given four possible answers and three out of the four are pretty good. One is the best answer but kids don’t get points for only a pretty good answer. They get zero points, the same for the absolute wrong answer. And then they are given an arbitrary time limit. Those are a number of reasons that I think the test has to be suspect.”

He found the math section also suspect:

The math section, he said, tests information that most people don’t need when they get out of school.

“There’s a concept called reverse design that is critical,” he said. “We are violating that with our test. Instead of connecting what we learn in school with being successful in the real world, we are doing it in reverse. We are testing first and then kids go into the real world. Whether the information they have learned is important or not becomes secondary. If you really did a study on what math most kids need, I guarantee you could probably dump about 80 percent of math scores and leave high-level math for the kids who want it and will need it.

His conclusion? “They are defending a test that has no accountability.”

Florida Department of Education Commissioner, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Jeb Bush support an increase in 10th grade cut scores, which will make the new retooled FCAT harder to pass. School superintendents disagree with the logic in such a position.

Who pays? Who benefits?


State Education commissioner, local superintendents spar over minimum acceptable FCAT scores for high school students

Gerard Robinson Sides with Jeb Bush and Florida Chamber of Commerce on FCAT Cut Scores

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Anti-Common Core Resolution questions constitutionality, evidence, and costs

ALEC is a controversial organization that draws ire from public school advocates for its support of vouchers and charter schools. Recently, Jeb Bush, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Achieve, all supporters of common core initiatives, seemed to have "gained ground" with the organization. However, this month its educational task force considered a document signed by 350 prominent education policymakers, researchers, teachers and parents titled Closing the Door on Innovation, which opposes Common Core initiatives. The result was an approved resolution that could be as model legislation to be introduced in state legislatures. This effort was sponsored by the American Principles Project, The Goldwater Institute, and the Washington Policy Center.

The model legislation can be found in The Growing Tide Against National Standards is not difficult to read and understand. Here is one highlight:

WHEREAS, when no less than 22 states face budget shortfalls and Race to the Top funding for states is limited, $350 million for consortia to develop new assessments aligned with the CCSSI standards will not cover the entire cost of overhauling state accountability systems, which includes implementation of standards and testing and associated professional development and curriculum restructuring; and

According to Ed Week coverage, although the education task force approved the resolution, the ALEC board must take action.
But it's not final, or official ALEC policy, unless it is approved by the organization's board of directors. No word yet on when there might be a decision on that. If the board approves it, the package is the sort of thing that would would join other types of model legislation ALEC has crafted for states' use.

This resolution stands as irrefutable evidence of the widespread disagreement regarding common core initiatives, irrespective of ideology, and an event that should be followed.

Who pays? Who benefits?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Washington State: Bringing Parent Opposition and Resistance Out of the Shadows

Grumpy Educators is committed to highlighting the growing numbers of parents, community members, and taxpayers who question the costs, validity, and impact of excessive standardized testing.

Below is a slightly edited version published letter sent by a parent to the Seattle Public Schools asserting parental rights over participation in standardized testing.

To Whom It May Concern:
My name is _____. I am the father of two Seattle Public School students, XXXX and XXXXXX who are currently enrolled at _____.
It is my intention that this letter serve as notice to Seattle Public Schools (SPS) that I wish for my two children to not be assessed using the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) either during the next scheduled assessment or any future assessment, scheduled or unscheduled, that SPS imposes on its students.
While I am not theoretically opposed to the use of standardized assessments, I am opposed to the administration of the MAP by Seattle Public Schools for the following reasons.
The State of Washington mandates the annual assessment of elementary and middle school students through the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP). While some might disagree with me, I firmly believe that the MSP is a valid measurement of a child’s educational progress and that any additional assessments given above the classroom level are redundant and unneccessary.
The MAP is expensive to administer, not only because the subscription to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is costly but also because of the extra staff that is needed for its administration. As SPS has difficulty meeting its budgetary obligations and has had to reduce or eliminate programming in order to keep its budget in-line, it seems illogical for the District to spend scarce resources on the MAP. This is especially true if one agrees with me that the MAP is unnecessary and redundant.
Administration of the MAP comes at the expense of valuable instructional time. When students are being assessed, they are not learning anything except how to take the MAP. For our students, time would be better spent in the classroom learning from their teachers.
The MAP also forces schools to set aside facilities such as the computer labs and libraries for extended periods of time in order for the test to be administered. These facilities are needed for other purposes with actual educational merit.
While NWEA has cautioned that the MAP should not be used to rate teacher effectiveness, that is exactly what Seattle Public Schools intends do with the MAP. Indeed, there is no research extant that supports the use of standardized tests as a means of judging whether a teacher is effective or not. Considering this, I find it unconscionable that SPS intends to use the MAP in this way. Not only will this irresponsible use of the MAP potentially ruin a teacher’s career it will also ruin our children’s education as teachers narrow the curriculum to fit the test in order to safeguard their livelihoods. There is ample evidence that this is already happening in other school districts throughout the country.
It is unbelievable that District officials are unaware of the mounting evidence against the use of standardized tests either as an assessment tool or as a method for ensuring the quality of teachers. I cannot help but conclude that there are other, insidious reasons why Seattle Public Schools continues to march down the path it has taken regarding the use of the MAP. It is shameful that the people entrusted with our children’s education would ignore their needs in order to pursue an agenda that has nothing educational as its goal.
I cannot compel Seattle Public Schools to abandon its use of the Measurement of Academic Progress. That power resides with the Superintendent and the School Board. Still, I can demand that my two children be exempted from taking part in this malicious farce. As stated above, it is my intention that this letter serve as notice to Seattle Public Schools that I am making such a demand.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 EduBlog Award Nominations

UPDATE: TIME TO VOTE! Three of my nominations got short-listed (original post below):
Best Group Blog - Cooperative Catalyst
Best Edu Tech - Innovative Educator
Best New Hastag - #occupy EDU

VOTE NOW, it's easy.


Non-educators, parents and students are writing and reading blogs to become informed on initiatives that affect their communities. As a non-educator, I read widely to make meaning of the rapid changes occurring. These bloggers have provided consistent fact based information. I applaud the increase in parent blogging. Here's my list for 2011 Edublog Award consideration.

    Nancy Flanagan writes Teacher in a Strange Land, with views on the educational landscape. The post that stood out for me this year is Opting Out. She is a strong supporter of public education but adds: "In the end, I believe parents have absolute justification to take control over their children's schooling."

    The Cooperative Catalyst is a group blog that encourages dialogue among teachers, but does not exclude non-educators, to promote "facilitating a positive and rich learning environment, where the negative and unnecessary wounds traditionally inflicted by schools, will not have a place. I will build a culture that honors, listens to, nurtures, and empowers all learners. I will not tolerate events, actions or words that cause any student to think or feel that they are stupid or worthless......” Cooperative Catalyst gives opportunity to students and others to participate via the blog.

    The Definition of Education by Jabreel M. McChisley, a 17-year old who attends Ohio Virtual Academy. He aspires to be a children's rights and family law lawyer. He is the CEO of Students Coalition for Responsible School Choice. The post was hosted by Cooperative Catalyst.

    Race to the Top is a Race off a Cliff posted on Seattle Education 2010 brings parent activism out of the shadows.

    Scathing Purple Musings keeps an eye on all things education in Florida. This blog keeps Floridians up to date on the fast moving events affecting education so that parents, community members, and taxpayers get the facts.

    The Innovative Educator explores ways technology can have positive effects on classroom instruction. This blog is real "thinking outside the box" and we need to be comfortable with being challenged by new ideas.

    The Unplugged Mom is creative, dynamic, informative, and supportive for those considering or on the path of home education.

    Parent at the Helm is a non-judgmental and supportive blog, full of resources for home educators. With a steady increase of parents choosing home education, these resources should be welcomed.