High-stakes, Standardized Tests Are “Master’s Tools,” Not Tools for Social Justice

Opt Out Orlando:

Paul Thomas is, perhaps, the most incisive education blogger. He writes critically about current national policies in public education. His blogposts are always informative, insightful, and thoroughly referenced.

Here, he addresses the misguided arguments of those who would assert that high stakes testing is needed to protect the interests of poor children and children of color.

Originally posted on the becoming radical:

Christina Duncan Evans argues that the high-stakes testing opt-out movement “ignores a major function of testing,” which she identifies as: “A major reason we use standardized tests is to make the case that there’s large-scale educational injustice in our nation.”

As an advocate for educational equity and social justice, Evans explains:

States don’t have a very good track record of providing equitable access to education to all of their students, and the federal government should ensure that American school quality is consistent. This has made me an advocate of standardized testing, following the logic that we can’t solve achievement gaps unless we measure them first.

Before examining this commitment to standardized testing (also found among civil rights organizations), I want to highlight that public education and state government have had a long history, continuing today, of failing miserably black, brown, and poor children and adults.

The evidence of lingering…

View original 849 more words


School Safety or Big Brother?

On April 6, 2015, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) contracted with Texas computer security service, Snaptrends to monitor social-media messages posted from school campuses, from students or staff.  Snaptrend’s website reads: “Pioneering Location-Based Social Media Discovery – Cut through the noise of social chatter and quickly identify actionable insights.”

In response, Manatee County Attorney, Scott Martin has published a thoughtful and compelling article on his law firm’s blog. The original post can be found here.

He writes:

Big Brother or School Safety? District Monitoring of Social Media Sites

Florida’s Orange County School District recently announced that it will utilize automated software to monitor the social media pages of staff and students – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The ostensible reason for this broadscale monitoring is “to proactively prevent, intervene and monitor situations that may impact students and staff.”

Orange County is apparently following a recent trend of law enforcement agencies who use this type of software to detect and prevent crime. However, I see a number of troubling issues with this approach in the context of a school district.

It’s one thing for a District to access the social media pages of staff and students as a tool to address an existing problem or specific complaint. Checking specific students’ social media pages might be an appropriate course in, for example, a District investigation into online bullying. A District might also be justified in checking an employee’s social media pages in an investigation into whether an employee improperly used sick leave on a particular day. (Free Legal Advice: Posting a Facebook picture of you on vacation on days when you called in sick is a very bad idea.).

However, Snaptrends is a type of social media scraper/aggregator that collects social media information in mass. The data are scooped up by an automated process without regard to the nature of the content – good, bad, or indifferent. The information collected is then analyzed according to parameters set by the District and made available to the District for review and further drill-down. Evidently, the data can in many instances be mapped to show exactly where the information originated.

The intent here is for the District to arm itself with information to prevent an issue before it becomes a problem. In the context of imminent harm to student safety, that makes much sense. One can hardly argue against a District doing whatever is necessary to prevent something on the scale of a school shooting. One can also see reason in using social media metadata (not personally identifiable data) to help Districts with resource allocation to combat major social issues like teen pregnancy, gang association, or illegal drug use.

But what guarantees are there that the social media information collected by the District will be limited to those benevolent purposes? What policies are in place? Who can access the data? What conclusions are being drawn from the data? Who is drawing those conclusions? What standards are they using in making decisions based on captured data? These are all questions that should be answered to the public’s satisfaction before any such tool is put in place.

I also question the privacy implications of use of such a tool. What if social media chatter suggests that two teachers went on vacation together? Or that a principal is gay? Or that a student owns a gun? All of the aforementioned activity is perfectly legal and should not in itself result in any intervention by the District. However, Districts may use the information provided by Snaptrends to bootstrap into further invasion of privacy.

The District might, for example, use these benign comments as justification for a formal investigation to determine whether there’s a “larger problem” under the surface. Our vacationing teachers could be having extramarital affairs. Maybe our gay principal is interested in sex with minors. Maybe our student owns an assault rifle. We won’t know unless the District formally investigates, right?

Even more insidious, the District might create a “watch list” of potentially problematic staff and students who will be subjected to more intense monitoring going forward. A District would do well to avoid this type of McCarthyism and invitation to challenges based on the chilling of constitutional rights. Guarantees against this sort of policing should be made crystal clear in a written District policy.

Also, I can’t help but wonder whether Snaptrends appreciates that contracting with a Florida state agency subjects it to Florida’s laws regarding public records. Any information it collects that meets the definition of “public record” will now be accessible by any member of the public unless it falls under a statutory exemption. Since these data are being collected in connection with the District’s official business, it appears to me that the definition of public record is met. I suspect that any such request would be met with resistance based on “trade secret” or “security” exemptions provided under Florida law. Either way, I predict lawsuits in the near future.

Finally, staff and students of Orange County Schools should educate themselves regarding Snaptrends’ “Social Media Content Privacy Policy” which is available on the Snaptrends website. It states that any person who feels their social media information has been improperly acquired can request its deletion. Whether information has been improperly acquired will depend on the circumstances of each situation, and will likely turn on whether the information was posted by the user for public view. However, it could also turn on whether Snaptrends’ acquisition of the information violated the social media site’s terms of service. Facebook, for example, has terms that prevent automated data collection unless expressly approved in writing by Facebook. Has Snaptrends fully complied with the rules of each social media site it scrapes? We will see.

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Serious questions are being asked by concerned parents and teachers in Orange County now.  

Opt Out Orlando’s Cindy Hamilton will address these questions and more with the OCPS board at the June 9 school board meeting.  If this is a concern for you, you should plan to attend.

Tuesday, June 9 at 4:30PM
Edgewater High School (Map/Directions)
3100 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
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These links may be of interest to you:

Mar 18 2015: Pearson admits to monitoring students’ social media use during its online tests – The Guardian

Nov 26 2014: Should Schools Monitor Students’ Social Media Use? – Insurance Journal

Oct 17 2014:  Southern Poverty Law Center entering fray over Huntsville school district’s social media monitoring – AL.com

Sep 9 2014:   Mark Cuban: Stop Making This Mistake on Social Media | Inc. Media – Mark Cuban

Oct 2 2013:    Students in social media: There’s monitoring & then there’s monitoring – ConnectSafely.org

Sep 12 2013:  Should schools monitor kids on social media? – HLNTV.com


Sammy Addo: “I did my job as a Third Grader.”

In Florida,

“due to an extreme delay in the scoring of the of Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), its unsubstantiated validity…. recent legislation (House Bill 7069), states that the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) is not expected to release FSA scores for Third Grade English Language Arts (ELA) until after the school year has ended.” (ABC News13, 05/05/15)

The law no longer mandates retention. (Tampa Bay Times, 04/29/15)  As a result, in some districts, such as Orange County, retention decisions for students of concern, will be at the discretion of a team, made up of parents, teachers and principals.  Other districts, such as Bay District Schools, have made policies of “no retention.”  Yet, in spite of the fact that test scores will not be validated until after the next school year begins, if they are validated at allDuval County, still threatens third graders with retention, even though they may be proficient readers, with the record to prove it.

We will have to wait until Sept 1 to learn whether the tests are valid or not – when the review panel is due to deliver their final report.


Eight year old Sammy Addo, from Brevard County had no doubt he was going to the fourth grade, in spite of having no test score, as he had opted out of the FSA.  

Sammy is 8 years old, and just completed the third grade in Brevard County, Florida.  His mom is Darcey Addo, a teacher, fierce education activist and 2016 school board candidate.

Last December, Sammy addressed the Brevard County School Board on high stakes testing – Watch him here.
__________
This week, Sammy got the great news that he had been promoted to the fourth grade, even without a test score.  His mom had more faith in Sammy’s teachers to authentically assess his work via multiple measures (classwork and class tests for the entire year), than on a single high stakes test score on a single day.  She did sound research and tells #WhyIRefuse…just three of my reasons.” She shares how Sammy was promoted without a test score in, No FSA score? No problem! My 3rd grader is being promoted, yours can too!

Watch Sammy share his news with the Brevard County School Board:

TRANSCRIPT:

My name is Sammy Addo. I am finishing third grade at Port Malabar Elementary this week. Next year I will be in fourth grade even though I did not take the Math or the Reading FSA.

I also did not take any of the three FAIR tests this year. I did not take either of the two BELLA tests, either of the two district math tests, the district science, or the district social studies tests. There are a lot of tests!

Even though I didn’t take those tests, I took all the tests that Mrs. Kelly gave me about things that she taught in our class. Those tests were how I proved what I learned. I did well and that is why I am going to fourth grade – my report card proves I did my job as a third grader.

Lots of people at school said I would have to stay back because I didn’t take the FSA, but I knew they were wrong.

I knew that my mom and dad wouldn’t tell me to do something that would be bad for me. They always say that one test on one day does not prove anything about me.

 – In third grade this year, I learned so much, that I wasn’t worried about being held back.
– I learned about Celiac disease and I won second place in my school science fair!

 – I researched John Lewis, one of my civil rights heroes.
 – I read the first four Harry Potter books and finished the Percy Jackson series.
 – I learned how to calculate area and perimeter.

There are lots more things I learned in third grade, but the point is that my teacher taught and I learned. My report card proves it – not an FSA score. I can’t wait for fourth grade to learn even more.


Way to go, Sammy!

If you are the parent of a Florida third grader, read how your child may be promoted without an FSA test score.
Per FL DOE K-12 Chancellor, Hershel Lyons (see p. 1, item 4):

…it appears that your district has chosen to pursue good cause exemptions for any student who does not have a score on the third grade ELA FSA. This is consistent with the technical assistance from the department (DOE).
Please continue to work with your district on the implementation of this local decision.

Therefore, if the DOE says promotion is a local decision, then ALL districts have the same authority.  If your district says otherwise, it is only because they choose not to use the authority granted them.  Push.  The priority of school districts should be the welfare of children.
__________
In March, Darcey wrote an outstanding open letter to the Florida House and Senate on behalf of Opt Out Orlando. You can read it here.


Florida… Where The Number 1 Defines Children As Failures

TO ALL FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS WHO HAVE BEEN DENIED A DIPLOMA… based solely on a score of 1 on the FCAT

IF you have fulfilled all graduation requirements (met the GPA requirement, passed the Algebra 1 EOC or the PERT and have all required credits), but you have not passed the FCAT, the SAT or the ACT… 

IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO GET LOUD.  

STUDENTS CAN FIGHT BACK.  HERE’S HOW…

Find your voice

1.  E-mail a letter to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) and request to see your graded FCAT. This is the only evidence they have for holding you back, yet you cannot see it. They won’t send it to you, but you need the paper trail and proof that you made the request. (Vince.Verges@fldoe.org)

2.  E-mail your guidance counselor to request a “Score Inquiry”, again, for your graded FCAT. This is really the same process as Number 1 but on the school side. You may have to really push to get them to do this.

3.  Once you have been denied access to your graded test, in writing, by the FLDOE, contact us at OptOutOrlando@gmail.com. Make sure you keep copies of ALL correspondence.

The ACLU is looking at this as a possible case to pursue in court.

4.  Contact your State Senator and House Representative. Make an appointment and meet with them. Tell them your story. Tell them why the current policy of high stakes testing is not working. Tell them that after 13 years of being a good student, you are entitled to that diploma. 

Find your Florida Senator here.

Find your Florida House Representative here.

5.  SPEAK TO THE PRESS. If you know of others, you could speak as a group. We can help with that. OptOutOrlando@gmail.com

Last year, 9,000 students across the State of Florida were denied a diploma, based solely on failing this single test. This year, in Lee County alone, there are over 2,000 Seniors who will not receive a regular diploma.

Students have the power to change this. We cannot do this for you.

Do not allow the State to define you as a failure based on a single test score. You are #MoreThanAScore.

FIND YOUR VOICE and take back the power to cause change for yourself and for those who will be right where you are next year.

_____________________________

Shortlink: bit.ly/1KvRRc0


John Oliver’s Epic Takedown of High Stakes Testing

Hat tip to John Oliver for his epic takedown of high stakes standardized testing. It’s taken the airwaves by storm.

“Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit,” ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver says.  

“Let’s put the tests to the test”

This is the most in depth and genuinely informed coverage of high stakes testing outside of the pro-public ed circles, to date.  Since it aired on Sunday night, it has been viewed more than 1.5 million times in just over 24 hours.

John Oliver was the perfect celebrity/media gun to take on high stakes standardized testing.  Why?  He has an uncanny ability to take a topic of national significance with an enormous amount of information and many different moving parts and distill it down to its most essential elements and convey it simply.  Satire at its best.

Considering the 200,000 opt outs in New York, plus all the activists in the states with major opt out activity – CA, CO, FL, NJ, OK, WA, and TX – John Oliver’s message has now reached hundreds of thousands of parents and educators who have not previously even been aware of the opt out movement. This is a huge boost to the opt out movement.

Here are just some of the articles that have been written about Oliver’s video in the first 24 hours.

HitFix: John Oliver’s rant on standardized testing is shocking

Time: Watch John Oliver Give Failing Marks to Standardized Testing

Huffington Post: John Oliver Explains Everything That’s Wrong With Standardized Testing

Curmudgucation: John Oliver on Testing

Diane Ravitch: John Oliver on Testing and Pearson on HBO

Wall Street Journal: John Oliver Rips Standardized Testing With Help From a Dancing Monkey on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Mother Jones: Let John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Makes Kids Anxious and Vomit Under Pressure

Salon: John Oliver perfectly sums up everything that’s wrong with standardized testing

Rolling Stone: Watch John Oliver Explore Insanity of Standardized Testing

Media Matters: Watch John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Has Gotten Out Of Control

Deadline: John Oliver Flunks U.S. Education System Over Its Standardized Test Mania

Business Insider: John Oliver has an epic takedown of standardized testing in America

Shortlink: http://bit.ly/1E3bi88


If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

Opting out of high stakes tests is about so much more than just the test.

As the parents of young children consider opting out, one of the Issues we face is how to talk to them about opting out.  They are, after all, the ones who will be doing the opting out. In all dealings with children, honesty is always the best policy. If you get busted by your kid for fudging the truth, you’re sunk. So what do we talk about?

When my daughter was 8, we started a conversation that has evolved over the past two years. She is now 10, and our conversation now includes my son, who is 9. 

I have tried to explain it to them this way:

When you take the test, you get a score. Your score gives your teacher and your school a grade. That grade tells the state and the district how much money your teacher and your school should get paid. It can even determine if your teacher gets to keep teaching, or if your school might be closed.

They asked me, “Is that why we have to do so much test prep?

“Perhaps, but it’s also complicated.”

We talk about recess a lot, because they don’t get recess. Usually, it’s the first thing I hear at pick up – whether he had recess or not. The Recess Report. He gets in the car, slams the door shut and says, 

“No recess… again” 

”Bus loop – one lap”, or 

“Bus loop – two laps.”

 They get recess on Wednesdays. That’s it. On non-PE days, if everyone has been good at lunch (recess should be neither reward nor punishment), when there is time for a break, they get to run the bus loop. The first time I heard this, let’s just say I was more than annoyed. I’ve told this to friends and they have no idea what I mean. The bus loop is the paved driveway where the school buses turn around. That’s right. The “recess” my kids get is 5 minutes around the bus loop. Their school is old, in not the greatest surroundings, currently next to highway construction, so it’s not even a pretty bus loop. Anyone who has ever played on a sports team of any kind knows that laps are a form of discipline – for being late, for talking back to the coach, for being lazy, etc. Laps.  The new recess is punishment.  PE is not recess. It’s another class.

Lack of recess is perhaps the single greatest reason why my children are so unhappy in school now. Of course, it may be different for other children. My kids do not get a break in the day. They KNOW it’s because of the test. Instead of recess, they do test prep. In addition to the increase in content to get through, over previous years, the reason they are constantly rushed is because teachers have to be sure to get in all the test prep they can, leaving less time for actual instruction. Instead of recess, my daughter in the 5th grade has Typing class – because… computer testing.

We talk about how some schools might have children who struggle. Their school has a large population of English Language Learners (ELL), and is also an Exceptional Ed Center, where 25% of their schoolmates are Exceptional Student Ed (ESE or Special Ed) – they know that their ESE friends get tested at their chronological age, not their developmental age, and they know the difference. To my children, THIS is the most unfair aspect of testing, and it doesn’t even affect them directly. They REALLY get it.

We talk about how it might be unfair to compare their school to another school where kids don’t struggle as much, or one where kids might struggle more. They know their teachers work just as hard, maybe even harder than other teachers in other schools. They love and respect their teachers.

We talk about the fact that their teacher doesn’t get to see their test, so the test CANNOT help their teacher to help them learn better.

My children are not afraid of tests. They know that the reason I refuse the FCAT/FSA is not because I’m afraid they won’t do well on the test. They would. They take tests all the time – spelling tests, vocabulary tests, reading comprehension, math, history, and science tests; tests that they review with their teacher, so they know where they need to work harder. THESE tests help them to be a better student and their teacher to be a better teacher.

My son is emotionally mature and intellectually advanced for his age. Without having been taught the same concepts, he often helps his older sister with her math homework. He tells me he isn’t learning anything in school now. While I could choose to believe that is simply a childish exaggeration, I choose instead to take him seriously. 

I ask him, “What would you like to learn?”

  He tells me, “Greek mythology.” It will have to happen at home, because it won’t happen in school. He can’t even discuss it with his teacher, because there is no time. When he recounts his day from start to finish – he talks about having worksheets and worksheets, and rushing, rushing, rushing, and double blocks of math every day now.

“But you love Math,” I say to him, with a smile, trying my best to help him find a reason to want to go to school, while my mind growls, “Grrrr…”

“Yes, but not twice a day. And we don’t get to do Writing anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Writing test is over.”

He says, “I don’t even care that it’s not fun anymore, Mom. If I’m not even learning anything in school, why should I go? If you give me one good reason why I should be happy to go, I will. But you can’t say, “Because you’re supposed to”, or “Because I said so.””

My children understand the need for rules, and they follow them at home and at school. They are also allowed to question anything. Respectfully. Parenting in this way can be tricky for a parent to navigate. Questioning does not mean you will always like the answers. But they know that I will always answer them honestly. My honesty with them teaches them that even when I don’t like their answers to my questions, that I have an expectation for the truth as well. That’s our agreement. Our rule. Carved in stone.

 As a parent, what do I say to this child, who I must answer honestly, when there is no acceptable answer, and he knows it?

My son is now occasionally despondent about school. He wakes up fine. Has breakfast fine. Takes the dog out fine. Brushes his teeth fine. Gets dressed fine. Then… when it’s time to go out the door, he gets a headache or a stomachache and sometimes both. He sometimes gets sweaty and irritable. His breathing becomes shallow. Sometimes he throws up. You may have seen this in your child. This is called anxiety. In a nine year old child. He looks up at me and his eyes plead with me to let him stay home. I can’t. Attendance. He becomes stony and will not say a word all the way to school. He won’t make eye contact with me. He goes to school because I make him go to school, and for no other reason. I can’t think about what must be going through his mind, or we won’t make it on time, but it’s heartbreaking.

When I told this to his principal, he nodded in acknowledgment, and shook his head. His response to me was very telling. His tone was resigned.

“A lot of what we have to do in school today is just because I said so. For the kids and the teachers.”

One night not long ago, my 10-year-old daughter had the saddest face. She is a joyful child and a wonderful student. Her teachers say they would like to clone her. She LOVES school… like I used to love school… She fears nothing. NOTHING. She’s not taking the test this year, just as she hasn’t taken it ever, and has been promoted without incident.

She put her head in my lap and said, “I don’t want to go to school anymore, Mom. It’s not even school anymore.”

 School is changing our children before our very eyes. And not for the better.  Mothers know this.  We are heartbroken and we are angry.

Our children are sad. Apathetic. Compliant. Angry. Frustrated.  Resigned. These are not words any parent would use to describe the experience they imagine for their children in school, or the childhood they want for their children, especially not for young children.

Joyful. Exuberant. Independent. Curious. Resilient. Persistent.  Fair.  Compassionate. These are not characteristics fostered by public schools under the crushing weight of today’s false accountability.

If you think your child is unhappy at school, and you believe it’s more than “all kids hate school,” you can help them identify what specifically about school is the issue for them. If you’ve never talked about it, your child may not even know why they’re unhappy. Even if you feel powerless to change anything that will help them, simply talking to them about it will help them to know that they are heard. The conversation may change more than you imagine.  It may not help you though.

My children know that if they wanted to take the test, I would allow it, and would be supportive of their decision to do so. They also know that if I make them take the test, it would mean that I believe that everything I’ve written here that makes school a problem because of the test is right. Well, it isn’t right, so I can’t.

If I did, they would call me a liar… and they would be right.

We opt out.

___________________

Shortlink: bit.ly/LiarOO

#whyIrefuse
#PublicEdRevolution
#OptOut


Why My Kids Are Opting Out of the FSA – by Lynne Rigby

Lynne Rigby is the mother of five children, a former teacher, and a photographer who lives in Seminole County, Florida.  Last year, she wrote eloquently about withdrawing her child from public school.

It went a little viral:
Parent: Why I can’t ‘in good conscience’ leave my kids in public school

She might have done it again. Beautifully. Again.

Hot off the presses:

WHY MY KIDS ARE “OPTING OUT” OF THE FSA

I sent my opt out letter to the middle school on Friday. And I have started this conversation many times with my friends, but you know how those go…you get sidetracked and somehow end up talking about what happened on Scandal last week.

First of all, everyone who knows me knows I’m a rule follower…always have been. I’m the “good girl.” Apparently, I’m the “white suburban mom.”My kids are also good kids. They don’t cause trouble, they follow rules. They have a strong sense of right and wrong. The decision for my kids to refuse the test was not taken lightly. I would never put my kids in a position to fight what they perceive as MY fight. I would never put them in a situation that causes them distress or could jeopardize their academic success.

What does opting out really mean? Florida statute dictates that kids in Florida Public Schools must participate in the state assessments.  “Participate” is the key word here. When your child opts-out or refuses the test, they will sit for the test and sign in or break the seal, thus participating and then end the test. This will result in an NR2, which indicates that there is not enough data to score the test.  This year, the Seminole County School Board has stated that students who opt out of FSA will not be harmed in any way and will be treated with the utmost respect. Therefore, my kids and I felt safe to opt-out.

My reasons…

“My stance on high-stakes testing has been well publicized and documented. I would never put my kids into MY fight but they are well aware of the effect that these tests have had on their school year and education. None of us are okay with cramming 180 days of curriculum into about 100-120 days. They are good boys, they are rule followers and they were only okay with this after Seminole County came out with this PDF.

This has nothing to do with how they will perform on the test, because they’ll do better than most. This is because high-stakes testing is wrong and this test (I have taken all the practice tests) is not a valid tool to measure their knowledge and progress. I am positive that their teachers can tell me right now where they’re having problems and where they excel. When you have hours of test prep, it becomes less about what they know and much more about how they can take a test. This age of high stakes testing is an utter nightmare for students and teachers and because teachers and administrators have been threatened by Pam Stewart, it is falling upon the parents and students to take a stand.”

Lynne is also a member of the Opt Out Seminole on Facebook, which advocates for multiple measures of authentic assessments, that do not punish children, teachers, and their schools.

Lynne’s children are fortunate to live in Seminole County, where the Superintendent and School Board have chosen to treat children who opt out of testing respectfully and ethically as a matter of policy.

Can you just imagine?


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