Tag Archives: Opt Out Orlando

Parents, YOU are the Boss… and you can say NO.

(This post has been updated to include information from the FL DOE, reported in the Tampa Bay Times May 1, 2015)

Across the state of Florida, some parents of rising fourth graders are being informed that their child is being retained in the third grade because their FSA scores were in the bottom quintile (20%) of the state – no matter what that score may be. Some are being promoted, but are assigned to remedial reading class, often unnecessarily.  Some middle and high school students are being made to sacrifice electives for remedial or Intensive Reading/Math.

In the absence of a valid FSA score, schools are making these critical decisions based on the data they have, which may be from progress monitoring tests, such as Achieve 3000 or Discovery Ed, etc. You may not even be aware that your child has been taking other standardized tests besides the FSA and classroom tests. Well, now you know. Some are even using FCAT scores from TWO years ago!  How valid is THAT?!!  In other words, districts have had to improvise in the face of no real guidance from the state, with little consistency from one district to the next. This is meaningless. If every student passed the test, there would still be a bottom 20% of those passing students, to whom a test would say, “You failed.” Children are being retained and remediated, regardless of what their actual scores are – in spite of the fact that the FSA validity report is not due back to the state until Sept. 1, 2015.

This is happening in certain districts and within those districts, only in certain schools.

But why is this happening and why is it happening so inconsistently?

From POLITICO Florida –

Schools in ‘holding pattern’ while they await testing study

Since state law requires the tests be used in determining whether third graders are promoted, the state Department of Education released to schools the lowest quintile of third graders’ scores,

those “at risk” of retention. The department also alerted schools where students passed ninth-grade  English and algebra exams, which are graduation requirements.

For other grades, districts may choose whether to use the test scores in promotion decisions. Stakeholder groups said schools had to move forward without the scores…

Vince Verges, assistant deputy education commissioner for accountability, research and measurement, said it will be up to districts what to do with the results.

From the Tampa Bay Times article, Florida education department clarifies rules on student retention…

The Florida Department of Education issued its notes from an April 29 conference call, in which it aimed to explain the current state of affairs to superintendents. Here’s what it said:

Regarding third grade English Language Arts, it is clearly stated in the bill that we will determine the students who are in the bottom quintile to produce a list of students statewide who are at risk of retention. We will provide to each district their students that are in the statewide bottom quintile. The list will then be disaggregated by districts and provided to each of you as an alphabetical list of your students. You will receive the names of your students only, who are in the bottom quintile of the state. We will not be providing the percentile associated with each student, as that would be inappropriate when we consider that the scores have not been through all validity checks. 

The law indicates that the list is to be provided for consideration by the district to then determine whether or not they will retain the student [emphasis added] or use other means as outlined in s. 1008.25(6)(b), F.S., for grade placement in either third or fourth grade and to be considered with other information that the district has for each student to provide supports for success in fourth grade. The statute is clear that for this year of transition the districts will notify parents and provide evidence.

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House  Bill 7069 states: 

“Each student who does not achieve a Level 3 or above on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment….must be evaluated to determine the nature of the student’s difficulty, the area of academic need, and strategies for providing academic supports to improve the student’s performance.”

1) It does not say that all students scoring below a level 3 will be placed in remedial reading class. 
2) Remedial reading class is not an evaluation.
3) At this time scores have not been released…. no 1,2, 3, etc.
4) If your student has been put into remedial reading, without just cause, and you don’t feel it would benefit your child…..SAY NO.

Confusion and misapplication of the law is happening because districts have been left to decide for themselves, what to do about the children who were flagged for being in the bottom quintile – no matter what their actual scores are – Do we promote, retain or remediate them?

In spite of decades of solid research by child development and education experts, which overwhelmingly conclude that third grade retention is not only not beneficial for children, but is, in fact, harmful, the Florida legislature chose to maintain this draconian policy. Current research shows that retention is harmful, not only for children in the third grade, but in all elementary grades.

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The ultimate decision for ANY class placement for your child rests with YOU, the parent. Your consent is required. And you don’t have to give it. It doesn’t matter if you are told that your child’s retention or remediation was a state, district or school decision.

You can simply say, “No.”

If you don’t want your child remediated, DON’T give your consent or permission for the school to do so. It may not be easy to do this with your school, but it really is that simple.  If you get resistance from your school, KEEP CALM and remember that YOU are the final authority on the education of YOUR child.  

You may wish to respectfully ask for the statutory citation mandating retention or remediation on the basis of this test score, at this time. They will not be able to do so… because it does not exist.  

If you are told that your child is being retained because he/she needs intervention, you can insist that your child be promoted and also be provided the appropriate intervention(s), which may require a 504 or an IEP (Individual Education Plan).  According to the preponderance of serious research, this practice is considered the best approach by veteran educators, education researchers, and developmental psychologists.  These are not decisions to be made lightly. These decisions should never be made on the basis of a single test score, which denotes only a snapshot of a single moment in time.  Any decisions about promotion, retention or remediation should be made thoughtfully with the team of parents, teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.  

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This document below is an example of a common sense decision made at the school level. It affirms that the decision is parents’ to make. Kudos to the school leadership for supporting their students and for empowering parents.

Lake Nona MS letter

I must confess to secretly doing a happy dance because the folks at Lake Nona Middle School named their document, “Intensive Reading Opt Out Contract“… 😉

This post is written by Sandy Stenoff.

Parent Resources:

  1. Additional information and support for Third Grade can be found at the Opt Out Florida Third Grade group.
  2. Statewide information and support is available in the Opt Out Orlando Facebook group.
  3. A support network for your district may be found here.

Notable research on the practice of third grade retention:

  1. Grade Retention – Info for Parents by Jimerson
  2. Grade Retention – Guide for Parents by Jimerson
  3. Grade Retention & Promotion- Guide for Educators by Jimerson Renshaw Skokut
  4. Grade Retention – Fact sheet by Jimerson
  5. Grade Retention’s Negative Effects – Ineffective and possibly harmful
  6. Alternatives to grade retention- Jimerson Pletcher Kerr
  7. 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention – by Sue Whitney for Wrightslaw
  8. New Research Suggests Repeating Elementary Grades – even Kindergarten – is Harmful

 


Permission Denied… So What?

Many people have expressed anger and disappointment about the Opt Out amendment not passing in the Senate yesterday.

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said. (Washington Post, July 14, 2015)

Newsflash!  Parents already have the final say in EVERYTHING about our children.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The #OptOut movement isn’t about asking for permission. It’s about you doing what you know you have to do to effect permanent change.

I believe the bill will pass in some form or another, because they have to do something and they’re serious about reining in Arne’s office. Although many hoped, I don’t know anyone who seriously believed the amendment to give parents the right to opt out would have passed. The fact is that the amendment was not going to remove the high stakes from testing, which provides the teeth to education reform, and without which the reform agenda would disintegrate.

Had it passed, it would guarantee that the high stakes would continue to be attached because parents would then have the sanction of the government to choose to let their children test or not. No school district would be volunteering this information.  Schools would STILL be mandated to test your child incessantly, to waste precious instruction time on meaningless, invalid testing.  Read one account of a teacher’s day here.  I posted it in a national group and teachers from all over the country responded that this is what they, too, face on a daily basis.  Being granted the permission for a right I already have would not change this daily scenario in our schools.

Currently, the state with the loosest rules about testing is also the state with the most stringent gag rules on teachers about testing.

In California, right now, parents have the legal right to refuse state testing by simply sending in a note. “Matthew will not be testing this week. Thank you.” Thats it. Nothing else needed. No drama. The one-sentence amendment which will be repealed in six years, reads:

60615. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted. (Added by Stats. 1995, Ch. 975, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 1996. Inoperative July 1, 2020. Repealed as of January 1, 2021, pursuant to Section 60601.)

I ask myself repeatedly – If Californians can refuse the test with no consequences, why doesn’t every parent in California just opt out? In California, teachers are not only not allowed to inform parents of this right, they are contractually and strictly PROHIBITED from doing so, at risk of termination.

The growth and force of the opt out movement has been strongest where reforms have been the harshest for children and teachers – New York, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Mexico. These are the states where legislators have had to heed their constituents and have actually begun to enact better legislation regarding accountability. (I didn’t say perfect, or in some cases, even good legislation.)

In California, it doesn’t count against the child if they don’t test. But schools continue to lose precious instruction time because teachers are still forced to test, as much as ever. So the question is, If the test doesn’t count, why test them? Why are they collecting all of this data? What are they doing with all of this data? Is this all only for accountability?

From United Opt Out’s recent statement:  “Why UOO Opposes ESEA(ECAA) and Supports the Necessity of Revolution:

The legislators revising ESEA who support “less testing” or a “reduction of federal involvement” embrace little more than an appeasement to the bigger testing refusal movement and do little or nothing to challenge the existing power structures. The same corporate-driven entities remain cozily in their position of POWER making damaging, profit-driven decisions about public education.

I agree with this statement.  Nothing less than the complete removal of the stakes attached to testing will satisfy us.  Until the high stakes are removed from testing and we can use multiple measures of authentic assessment, which do not harm children, teachers or OUR public schools, we will continue to refuse these tests.

Besides our own, the children, who would be most harmed by this bill, are the ones we fight hardest for – the ones whose families are without a voice, the ones Bernie Sanders refers to as “those who live in the shadows.”

Parents still have the right to opt out, and have always had the right to do so. We don’t NEED the government’s permission to do so. So let’s just put our heads down and move forward.

OPT OUT.  YOU must be the #PublicEdRevolution.

Be The PubEdRevolution

For more information, help and support regarding opting out, please go to:  Opt Out Orlando on Facebook


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.
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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.
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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.

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Shortlink: bit.ly/1KvRRc0


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


Adult Business…On The Backs Of 8 Year Olds

Florida schools will begin administering the FSA on Monday, March 2… The pressure is on to assure the data is collected at all costs.

Last week, the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE) handed down instructions for handling opt outs to districts: OCPS Parent Notification Letter

A handful of districts have chosen to be respectful of parents’ choice to refuse the FSA this year… others have not.  Seminole County has been courageous in this regard and issued a comprehensive
FSA Question and Answer Guide.

Seminole FSA QA

In the absence of the “whole truth” from the DOE, this clarification has been needed to quell the confusion and fear-mongering that was so cunningly targeted at parents and teachers. Seminole County’s Guide was the first bit of truth to come out of any district since the commissioner issued her chilling letter. Parents across the state have been asking the same of their districts.  So far, only Brevard, Hillsborough, Lee, and Polk Counties have joined Seminole County in similarly supporting children and families statewide. We are grateful for this demonstration of true leadership.

On Thursday, however, when asked by a TV reporter for her position on choice testing in Orange County, Supt. Barbara Jenkins responded,

“We are hopeful that parents won’t have children’s educational careers at risk over this adult issue, so we have no provision for opting out.”

She was, at the time, accepting a check for $10.3 Million from Gov. Rick Scott for the state’s School Recognition Program, awarded based on last year’s test scores. That statement protects the state’s interests, not our children’s.  To this, we say:

“WE, in the opt out movement, are no longer confident that our children’s well-being is the state’s priority over these adult issues, and have therefore sought and found provisions for opting out.  We refuse to continue to fuel the testing machine with our children’s data.  WE WANT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS  BACK AND WE ARE DONE.”

On Friday, Supt. Jenkins underscored the district’s position by sending this e-mail to parents. But that was not enough. The message also went out as a robo-call and in text messages, all in the space of an hour. Supt. Jenkins is Florida’s 2013 District Data Leader of the Year. Her message is clear. We want the data… and we will have it.

Jenkins E-mail 022715

As a parent, I am embarrassed and ashamed that these statements represent my school district.

What greater “undue burden” has any parent placed on our children, as young as eight years old, than the state’s burden of excessive high-stakes testing to harvest data, to secure school funding, and to threaten job security for teachers? THESE ISSUES are the real adult issues. The mandates, policies, rules, and statutes attaching the highest stakes to testing have already been forced upon the backs of our children by punitive federal and state laws, and are implemented and enforced by school districts.

The Superintendent is correct when she states that there is no option to opt out of the FSA. Opting Out has never been an option, and it is still not an “option”. No parent or student is asking for permission to opt out of the test. It has always been a parent’s and a student’s RIGHT to do so. Parents and students can still make that choice, regardless of the Commissioner’s letter.

What can you do to protect your child from having to bear such a burden?

Your parental mandate to protect the well-being of your child morally supersedes any law of the land to provide “accountability” to the powers that be. You can refuse to go along without question simply because it is mandated.

When parents make the decision for their child to opt out, some express fear or hesitation, others tell us they have been repudiated, over placing the burden of opting out on young children, such as Supt. Jenkins implies repeatedly. The daily burden of excessive, punitive high stakes tests on children is a far greater burden for them to bear than refusing the test will ever be. This burden is not imposed by parents. Children are really on the front lines for matters that have nothing to do with their actual learning. They are there at the behest of the state, NOT parents. And you do not have to offer them up like little lambs.

When children, especially young children, are asked to bear the burden of performing on a single test, or else… in order to ensure their promotion, graduation, possible retention and/or remediation, whether their teacher’s contract is renewed, whether their school stays open, whether their school gets the right grade to ensure adequate funding, it is oppressive and abusive. There is no way that it cannot be. THESE are adult concerns and have no place in any child’s education. To allow children to participate in this farce is to condone and perpetuate these oppressive and abusive policies. High stakes testing distorts the relationship of trust between teachers and students.

Is the business of our school districts and schools to support our children in learning to love learning so that they can become curious, questioning, independent, engaged, productive and contributing citizens – in other words, whole human beings? Or is the state’s chief concern the implementation of state mandates, no matter the human cost?

Some have expressed concern that students who opt out harm their teachers and schools by denying test scores and data. Proper refusals do NOT count against teachers and schools. Furthermore, THIS is the very reason why we MUST refuse by opting out: we do not send our children to school for the purpose of providing data, with which to protect their teachers and schools. THIS is adult business.

Opting out is not easy. It is not an action parents choose without great consideration of all of the consequences. It is our last resort, in order to bring to bear the appropriate pressure on legislators to effect positive, meaningful, and lasting change to the laws governing public education.

Since last June, Opt Out Orlando has helped parents, teachers and former teachers to start their own local Opt Out groups in 26 separate districts across the state of Florida. In this way, parents and teachers have locked arms and have become empowered to address their specific concerns and to advocate for the children in their local communities.  We also advocate strongly for teachers. And we have organized thousands of parents and teachers, who work tirelessly in support of meaningful legislation, with which we hope to return authentic assessments and real accountability to public education in Florida.

It is our hope that as Monday looms large, that the Department of Education will provide guidance to all districts, with which to respectfully deal with families who choose to refuse these tests on moral grounds.

If school districts continue to put the admittedly unreasonable and illegitimate demands of the state above the welfare of our children, this grassroots movement will continue to grow. Since Supt. Jenkins’ campaign of intimidation yesterday, we have been VERY busy approving all the new parents requesting to join Opt Out Orlando.

Until we have multiple measures of authentic assessments to guide our children’s education, that do not threaten and punish children, teachers and schools, we will continue to refuse these high stakes tests, and we will continue to grow this movement.

Tweet: bit.ly/AdultBiz

NOTE:  It is important to note here that although Polk County has issued virtually the same policy for children and testing and test refusals as Seminole County, they have sent the most threatening directive to teachers – threatening them for not reporting POTENTIAL opt outs, of which they may be aware.  This is blatant intimidation and it is unconscionable.

Links to Resources:

REFUSE THE FSA in 3 Easy Steps

Opt Out Orlando’s Open Letter to the Florida House and Senate –
Feb 19 2015

Opt Out Documents

Opt Out Groups by District

Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School

FairTest – List of 850+ test optional colleges

What Opt Out Is NOT


Fear and Loathing in a Florida School

By Cindy Hamilton – 5/27/2014

Last Friday, I witnessed one of the saddest examples of teacher oppression I have ever seen. You may recall that I have been helping a family, since January, to get a teacher-developed portfolio for their son in the third grade. The student’s mother had legitimate concerns because of her own difficulties with passing FCAT and I have been advocating, with her, since the beginning of this year.

In spite of the A’s and B’s that her son has earned all year long, a letter was sent to his parents informing them of possible retention due to “below grade level” reading test scores. This student was at risk of failing the FCAT, so the parents chose to use a portfolio as an alternative assessment (provided for in Florida statutes) and he refused the test in April.

After much research and many conversations with FLDOE and Just Read Florida, we clarified and understood the difference between a teacher-developed portfolio and the state-provided CD, which contains secret test questions, similar to the FCAT. Each portfolio must contain forty-two reading passages with questions and answers, that meet the state criteria for proficiency.

When we (the student’s mother and I) initially asked the teacher for her to begin a portfolio, in January, she explained that she was not able to do that because all work had been sent home. Mom shared that she has kept all classroom work that had been sent home and could make copies and return it. The teacher said we would need to meet with the principal, which we did in February. The principal said she would need to clarify with the district the difference between the two types of portfolio. This process took four months. At this late date, of course, there is not sufficient time to gather a true teacher-developed portfolio, which should consist of work completed in the classroom.  The school wants him to complete what is missing, twenty-seven reading passages, with this CD of regurgitated and secret FCAT passages.

This past Friday, we attended another parent/teacher conference (at our request) to hear the teacher’s plan. When we arrived to meet with the teacher, we were directed to a conference room. In attendance were the ESE teacher, staffing specialist, principal and the teacher. At first I did not recognize this teacher. She was no longer the bubbly, enthusiastic woman I had met in January. Her shoulders hung low, she would not make eye contact when we sat down. The principal positioned herself so she was sitting close enough to touch arms with the teacher.

The meeting began with the principal asking us to start because we had called the meeting. We asked the teacher to explain her plan for completing the portfolio. The teacher looked at the principal and the principal began to explain how they were going to fit three CD reading passages a day into each day of the remaining school year. As we asked questions about this plan, we continued to direct them to the teacher who always looked at the principal to answer. After several minutes of this, I asked that we stop the meeting.

I asked the teacher to please look me in eye and told her that we were there to meet with her because she is the authority on this student’s academic progress and that she would be the one to complete this portfolio for him. I acknowledged that she was clearly uncomfortable and clarified that that was not our intent, but that we really wanted to hear from her. She said she wanted to defer to the principal. At this point, she was looking at the table with tears in her eyes. Mom also expressed her concern for the teacher and that she wanted the teacher to be present and active in this meeting. More conversation about the logistics of accomplishing this portfolio, as the principal continued with the choice of another test over portfolio as a means to promotion. Here, we reminded them that if a portfolio had been started in January we would not be in this meeting at the eleventh hour. We reminded the principal that at the second meeting in February, she had refused to allow the teacher to start the process without asking the district for guidance on a teacher-developed portfolio.

At this point, the principal became extremely defensive, stating she had never refused to do a portfolio. We asked the teacher to speak up here and she was by now in no condition to speak at all and just looked at the principal. We again expressed our concern for her. I stated that I understood the environment of fear within her profession and that we supported her and valued her role most of all. The principal said she took great offense at the insinuations we were making that she was responsible for any intimidation of this teacher. I pointed out that I was not accusing her but was recognizing the culture of fear in teachers across the state. The principal offered to leave the room if we wanted to have a conversation with the teacher alone, but would have to leave the staffing specialist who was taking notes. Seeing the panic in the eyes of the teacher, we declined.

We don’t know for sure what happened to that teacher, but during this meeting she was only able to hand over documents to the principal to support our conversation. She was not able to speak and it was clearly fear that prevented her from participating in a discussion about one of her students. One could visibly see the defeat all over her. She was crying and unable to look at the parent. The principal was sitting so closely and stiffly next to her, that without saying so, she was communicating loudly to everyone in the room, her intent to control this meeting.

The principal called an end to the meeting when she felt “accused”. We pointed out that this was not the first time she had refused to complete a portfolio and reminded her of the students, whom she had refused last year.  As we were all standing to go, I spoke again to the teacher and expressed how sorry I was that she felt she could not support her student. I stated that I did not understand what had happened to prevent her participation, but that we do understand what has happened to her profession, and that we fight for her every day, and against the oppression that keeps her from being able to be open and honest in a meeting such as this. I tried to assure her by explaining that families all over the country were supporting teachers by refusing to allow students to supply the data that impacts them thru VAM and other evaluation systems based on high stakes tests.

Over the past few days, I have had the time to reflect on this fiasco. We have options for this student and he will be fine.  I cannot say the same for this teacher.  She has broken my heart, as I am sure hers has also been broken. She was, in every way, a different person from the awesome, confident teacher we had met with in January.   She was afraid of her principal, she was afraid of us.

Update June 3, 2014
Today, I will be going to school with this mom so that she can withdraw her son from OCPS. This will allow him to complete the teacher-developed portfolio as a home-schooled student, over the summer. After consulting the director of school choice, Dr Chris Bernier and Toney Shoemaker at the Homeschool Department, this was the best option for this student. The parents will then re-enroll him as a 4th grader in August.

This could all have been avoided had the “system” not stood in the way of a true portfolio and if it had not taken months to come up with a plan to provide a portfolio. The CD provided by the state does not represent a portfolio. A portfolio should come from work produced in the classroom that fits the criteria, not from a “secret” CD. Teachers, who are the MOST qualified to complete this task, should be given autonomy to complete this process. OCPS must be prepared to provide a teacher-developed portfolio as provided by statute and Just Read Florida.

 

Thank you to Susan DuFresne for her input.


The Toxic Culture of Education – a TedX Talk

Joshua Katz is a high school math teacher in Orange County, FL. In his seven years as a teacher, he has worked with 9th – 12th grade students in Algebra and Algebra 2. He has been his school’s Math Teacher of the Year twice and a four-time finalist for Teacher of the Year. He serves on the Faculty Advisory Committee, the Student Placement Committee, and the PTSA. Before working in secondary education, Josh spent eight years working in higher education as well as the non-profit world. He earned his BS in Math Education and his MA in Higher Education from the University of Central Florida. His current passion is exposing the contradictions in the current education reform and its impact on the economy.

Side note: I came to know of Joshua when I saw his TedX video on the Opt Out Orlando group page and realized that he teaches at my son’s former high school, a wonderful school, filled with serious challenges.  Joshua is courageous to speak out in this way and at this time.

On Friday, April 11th, 2014, Joshua delivered this powerful TedX Talk at the University of Akron.

Joshua Katz -Twitter: @jakatz87

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Here’s the video of Joshua’s TedxTalk.


This is the script for his speech. It is not an exact transcript.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein

So, there I was, working with a student, Natalie, on solving equations. She had to multiply 2 times 9 and was stuck. No joke, my students get stuck on that. So, I decided to go for the teaching moment. 2 times 9. All she had to do was count by 2, nine times, that was it. She tried and failed three times, on paper and on fingers, in both English and Spanish, her native tongue. THREE TIMES Natalie is 16. In the ninth grade. And she is NOT ALONE. NOT BY A LONG SHOT.

I teach at a high school with a student population of over 3,000. It is only one of over 30,000 high schools in the United States. You have to somehow begin to wrap your head around the enormity of the number of Natalies in our schools, in our country, in our future.

I’ve seen the best of the school system. I can honestly say that our best students can compete with the best students from around the world. In fact, when looking at the data from PISA results that compares our students to other countries we rank in the 20’s, BUT…if we separate it out by district poverty level, and look at the US districts that have comparable poverty rates to the other countries, it is clear that our students are at or near the top in the comparisons. But our highest performing students are only a small percentage of our overall population, even in the honors classes.

But what about the Natalies?

I have specialized in teaching Algebra to the lowest-ranked 25% of high school students, and I work mostly with THOSE students.

The best of THOSE want to do well, but when they finally realize how capable they are, they find themselves either stuck in a path of academic mediocrity or they are so close to graduation that all they need is their credit to pass. It’s a scene of wasted potential.

The worst of THOSE have had no education of character, common decency, appropriate language and behavior, or right from wrong. By high school, they are so ingrained in their behaviors of laziness, disruption, disrespect, and defiance that any measure of guidance is completely lost on them. These are the students on the path of dropping out, of incarceration, and abusing social welfare.

Parents will talk their children into purposefully failing tests so they can qualify for social security benefits, up to $800 per month per child. And these families find other sources of untaxed income, in the way of pharmaceutical sales. There is a LOT of abuse of social welfare, and the parents know how to milk the system for all it’s worth. This abuse is happening when people TRULY in need can’t get the help.

What’s out there waiting for THOSE students? Jobs? College? They are in an educational system that says “if you don’t go to college, you have no worth” so their alternative is to be underemployed, find illegal work, or abuse social security.

THOSE students are marginalized by what I call our “Toxic Culture of Education”. It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, a poetic writer, or a talented musician. THOSE students are the fish being measured on how they climb trees. We say the be all end all is college, or we leave students to the lowest skill level work (which, more and more, is being occupied by college educated people). Even with the honors students, they are, in general, too worried about grades and results, and not interested in true learning, which affects their performance in college. I don’t want to talk about the college student loan debt crisis.

But you have to believe me, I am not placing blame on them, yes they can take credit for who they are, but this is about something much larger than them. Our Toxic Culture began with a classic Super Villain Archetype. Recall any Super Villain, I focus on Syndrome from The Incredibles. The villain’s plan is to unleash a doom onto the world, and the villain is the only one that can stop it. Thus gaining all the desired power.

This is exactly what began before the 1980’s and culminated in No Child Left Behind. Private companies realized they could utilize the education system (at the time a $750 billion industry) to create a nearly endless stream of taxpayer funds. They channeled millions of dollars into lobbying efforts in order to create two buzzwords that put everything in its place: “Accountability” and “Rigor”. State statutes were passes, district rules were put into place, and No Child Left Behind was finally passed. But don’t get me wrong about politics, these efforts were underway long before they were passed, and both parties can take full credit for their disastrous results.

They decided to take the education system that produced the individuals, that put a man on the moon with technology less powerful than the phone in my pocket, and paint a picture of “failure” using the word “accountability”. You see, we only have one way to address accountability: Standardized Testing. So, we implement standardized testing, and it shows that schools are failing, teachers are failing, and students are failing. And when everything is failing, guess what we need? We need new textbooks, we need new resources, we need new training, we need charter schools, we need private schools. And who creates all these things we need? Private businesses. The only way to feed the business model in our Toxic Culture is to perpetuate the picture of failure. In fact, I’d LOVE to see any education company that has a business model that is built upon success. There is no money in student success.

How can we possibly believe standardized testing accurately measures student achievement? How can it measure student growth? How can it measure that “a-ha” moment when a student’s light is finally lit? That moment when a student says “thank you” for helping him graduate with a 2.0 GPA? That moment when a student athlete works hard in study hall and finally gets a C in her class because her coach helped? How can we attach a number to that moment when a 5th grader finally has the ability to write his own name (who is labeled a failure for himself, his teacher, AND his school)? But we crave education standardization, we believe we need high stakes testing, and we eat up misinformation provided by companies using test results with no validity.

Our testing culture begins in elementary school. Colleagues of mine deal with third graders who are suffering from anxiety for standardized testing. From a one-day, 4 hour, computer-based test, the future path of the student is set, the academic identity is established, and the message is delivered loud and clear: either you CAN make it, or you CAN’T make it. No matter what the teacher tells them about how good they are or what talents they have, if they don’t score well on that test, they know what it means. They define themselves. In the third grade. It’s starting to happen in kindergarten.

So these students continue testing, continue failing, and the districts continue new initiatives that can solve the problem. Who makes these products? Who has these solutions? Our super villain. Companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill which operate on legislation and policy written by private lobbying groups like ALEC. Buy the next textbook, the next workbook, the next software package. I’ve been through four Algebra textbooks in seven years. And that’s where the schools and districts are spending all the money. And we stick to the standardized test (guess who makes those?).

We illogically attempt to compare education to business, we ignore the impact of poverty and hunger, we pay no attention the non cognitive factors that are realistic predictors and measures of student success, and that way, we can place the blame on the teachers and schools. And because we have a Toxic Culture of Education, policies, teachers, and schools have accepted accountability for students, including all THOSE students. We take the blame for a student that has no moral compass. We take the blame for a student that cannot focus because he hasn’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch. We take the blame for a student that cannot stay awake in class because she spends her nights on a different couch, depending on which friend takes her in. When those students don’t “score well”, we get blamed. And we take it. We accept it. Because we love the kids. We are the only ones protecting them from this Toxic Culture of Education.

And what do we do as a system? Our only interest in education “reform” is to create policies that include additional standardized testing, to place higher stresses on teachers and students, and continue the picture of failure so private companies can sell the answer. And all this ignores highly publicized and easily available data on effective policy-making and effective practices. And it’s about to get worse. The Common Core will do more damage its high-stakes test (not to mention its myopic standards masked in a guise of “critical thinking” which is just developmentally inappropriate “rote”. I see my daughter’s work in the first grade. They ain’t fooling me). Any education reform that does not address high stakes testing and the non-cognitive factors of true student achievement, like character and personal habits, is a waste of time and it kills our kids.

Our main focus is on the schools, on the teachers, on the curriculum. We need to start paying attention to our students. If a student fails Algebra 1 in the ninth grade, chances are it is not because they do not understand the material. Chances are it’s not because the teacher isn’t teaching. Chances are it’s not because of the school. Chances are it is because the student lacks some type of intangible characteristic (a “Non-Cognitive Behavior”) that enables them to succeed. Things like persistence, initiative, social skills, common sense, a full belly, or a good night’s sleep. However, none of these things are considered in our definition of “student achievement”. None of these things are considered in our policies.

All the talk about failing schools and failing teachers and how to improve teachers and improve schools NEEDS to be changed to failing students and how to improve students. How can we help them to be better students? How can we help them to be better people? How can we help them with these Non-Cognitive factors like integrity and work ethic? How can we feed them? Give them a place to sleep? It’s the public narrative that needs to be shifted. We have to discuss what is happening with our students, even the Honors students. Because right now we are simply creating a massive population of future citizens who are afraid to attempt anything challenging, unable to read or think critically, or unable to find ways to earn a meaningful income, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Right now, our system pushes ALL students to study abstract classes in order to be “college ready”. We throw around buzzwords like “rigor” and “STEM”. It sounds good, right?

The reality is that the word “rigor” has completely replaced the word “relevant”. I met with our district and pitched an idea to bring back Home Economics, but this time as a math credit. First words in the response: “it’s not rigorous”. So, forget relevance. Forget teaching students about measurements, about taxes and discounts, about loans, about debt, event planning, or the reality of fractions. It’s not as rigorous as Factoring Trinomials and Graphing Logarithms, so it can’t fit. There’s no room for it in our Toxic Culture of Education. There’s also no room for the arts and for imagination, which are being systematically removed from schools. There is no profit in that, either.

We have felt the effects of our education policies. There are thousands of highly skilled jobs that are currently vacant. There is opportunity for small business development and innovation like never before. And we are relying on highly skilled immigrants. But where are our graduates?

There is an ENORMOUS opportunity in our economy for our students, but we just don’t enable it in our schools because we are focusing on “college ready” and “rigor”.

If we focus our attention on getting students the resources they need in order to find their place in the community, the economy, THOSE students would value education more highly, use their time more wisely, and make better decisions outside of school. Let’s keep the college bound students going to college. They need to continue their path, but we need them to be more successful and more innovative. But what about THOSE students?

I have students that want to be tattoo artists, mechanics, and barbers. They want work, some want to open their own businesses. But..they are THOSE students. They consistently fail classes and get themselves in trouble in school, and may not graduate. So I say: let’s scrap Algebra for them and teach them some tangible skills (like we did in the system before it was labeled as a “failure”). Let’s get them out there making a living for themselves, rather than spending another $10,000 in tax money to pay for another year of school for them to learn how to factor trinomials, which they won’t. Why Not get them into the economy?

How do we address this on a large scale? I believe in Horace Mann’s 1850’s vision of an education system that can improve mankind. In public education, we have an amazing opportunity to mold a better future. What we are currently doing is so toxic and I have two solutions that would be better. I’m not a fan of this idea, but it would be better than what is happening now: we could completely defund public education and put the 750 billion dollars back in our pockets. No more taxpayer money going to private companies in the name of public education and on the heads of our students. Because let me tell you, it isn’t reaching our classrooms and students and it’s certainly not reaching the teachers. The second plan, which I am in support of, is to double down on public education. Eliminate the toxic policies and the corruption in profit flow. Get the money more directly to the students. Allow them to be successful, focus on them, on their non-cognitive factors, on their abilities. Train and allow the teachers to work with their students and assess their students on what they truly need to know: thinking, reasoning, and learning. I believe in the potential greatness of a public education system DONE RIGHT. In fact, most of my colleagues do as well.

Speaking of my colleagues…what about all the talk about teachers? The public narrative, thanks to “education reformers” like Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates, paints a picture that our schools are teeming with horrible teachers. Most teachers are accomplishing amazing feats of human achievement and motivation with their students. What teachers are able to accomplish is being done in a “professional” environment of questioning, belittling, and self doubt due to “accountability” measures for ALL teachers because “teachers can’t be fired”. If you want to compare education to business, check out HR and employee relations. Companies empower employees, encourage employee growth, believe in employee morale, and reward employee success. Yet in our toxic culture, we call a teacher “successful” IF AND ONLY IF students can score well on a 4 hour computer based test. We evaluate teachers based on what is written on their boards or hung up on their walls, or spotted by an administrator with an iPad in a three minute observation. We blame teachers for students who are hungry, homeless, without guidance, or without character. I don’t even need to mention teacher pay. You cannot measure how successful a teacher truly is in the life of a student! How do you measure when a teacher acts as mental health counselor for a student that has suffered a family loss? How do you measure when a student is able to eat dinner only because a teacher is paying for it? How do you measure a student learning something new based on immediate feedback from an assignment because the teacher stayed up until midnight the night before grading papers? How do you measure when a teacher spends thousands of dollars of their own money to have supplies in their classrooms? And we blame the teachers for accountability policies they had no place in creating.

Why not develop a system that invests in the teachers’ relationship with the students? Why not invest directly in the students? Why not encourage teachers to create their own assessment systems to fit their students’ needs? Why not allow them to collaborate with one another or at least have a peer review system to better serve their students (like in other professions)? Why not involve them in the policy making decisions at the school level, the district level, the state level, the national level?

The truth about education policy is that it is written and enforced by people who have either spent little or no time in the classroom with the students that these very policies affect. Why not allow the individuals in direct contact with students to mold and shape the environment of the students? Education is the only industry that is developing a product without any valid market research from its users! Students aren’t asked what they want or need. Teachers aren’t asked what would work for their students. Teachers are not the enemy: it’s the private companies like Pearson and interest groups like ALEC, that write policies and laws that are passed over steak dinners with words like “accountability” and “rigor” to perpetuate their bottom lines on the heads of our students. Follow the money: of all the tax dollars that go into education, how much goes directly to students? How much goes directly to a teacher’s relationship with students (which by the way are another leading indicator of student success)? Compare that to how much goes to private companies for materials and resources, as well as bureaucracy? Just follow the money.

We must change the public narrative on education. We must fight our Toxic Culture! We must end high stakes testing for the sake of “accountability”. Let’s have education policy that builds up our students with sensible human standards instead of fitting them into robotic boxes for “college readiness”. Let’s focus on getting students out there in the evolving global economy. Let’s focus on teaching them the important things: how to read, how to think, how to research, how to reason, how to master basic skills, and how to be good citizens. Let’s talk about the Non-Cognitive factors that are the true measures of student achievement: persistence, integrity, character.

Let’s teach them how to learn and how to innovate, NOT how to take tests. We must change the focus of our Toxic Culture away from curriculum, teachers, and schools, and WE MUST focus on our students!

Let’s stop measuring fish by how well they climb trees.

 


An 8-year Old Talks About Test Prep

By Sandy Stenoff

Thank you to Valerie Strauss for featuring this piece in the Washington Post.

Until last year, I had shielded my, then, eight year old daughter from my activism, my personal convictions about high stakes testing and why I believe it is harmful to her education.  In spite of helping to start the Opt Out Orlando group locally and all of my involvement in the national grassroots movement against market-based education reform, with just a few months to go before testing season last year and even with all the information I had, I STILL had not made the decision to personally opt out of testing for my daughter in the Third grade.

One night before testing season started last year, I was putting her to bed. It had been a really stressful week. Usually an even-tempered child, she had been having meltdowns like she hadn’t had since she was a toddler. It was time for a bedtime chat.  As I talked with her, it became more apparent that I needed to record what she was sharing with me. I grabbed the laptop and just typed sitting on her bed next to her.

This was our conversation, verbatim:

Honey, you’ve seemed really stressed lately.  Do YOU think you’ve been stressed?
—I HAVE been stressed, Mom.
Do you know why? Can you tell me?
—Yes… This week has been SO much testing. We haven’t been able to do anything else. And it was hard because our teacher (was sick all week and) wasn’t there.
But you seemed stressed before that.
—Because I knew we were going to have testing all this week.
What do you mean you haven’t been able to do anything else? (After I pressed later, she did tell me they did specials and science and math in the afternoons, but this was her initial recollection of her week.)
—It’s just been testing every day, except for Monday. And it was hard because we didn’t get to do anything else from the time we got to school.
What if you had to go to the bathroom?
—We can only go one time.
How do you feel about what you did in testing this week?
—I felt like we’ve been doing it all over again.
What do you mean by doing it all over again?
—I felt like we were doing the same thing over and over. It was all multiple choice.
Why is that stressful for you?
—Because everything is multiple choice.  We have to fill in this little bubble completely.  And perfectly.  And if you don’t, there’s a lady there who makes sure that your bubbles are PERFECTLY bubbled in before they can put it in the machine. And it’s really hard to do that for 90 minutes every time, over and over, day after day.  It’s hard because I get nervous, and it’s hard for my hands to keep steady when I’m nervous.
Can you tell me what that’s like for you?
—There are seven tests all stapled together.  All mini-assessments.  There are 5 questions, a bubble sheet, and there are 7 of them. Math and Reading. Two Reading tests and two Math tests on different days. One day is Reading, the next day is Reading, the next day is Math, and the other day is Math. So this is like taking FCAT twice, because ———Benchmark is a mock of FCAT.
How did your teacher prepare your class for Benchmark testing this week?
—We’ve been practicing. She told us it was like FCAT, but shorter. She told us what the questions are like. But they asked me something I didn’t know and it was complicated for me.
Can you tell me about that?
—I didn’t know what the units were, or what the sq. ft. was.  And it was hard for me.
Would you like to learn about sq. ft. and units?
—Yes.
OK, we can do that.  How do you feel about the FCAT?
—A little nervous.
What makes you nervous?
—What makes me most nervous is when I don’t know the answer, I worry that if I get it wrong, I don’t know what will happen.
Has your teacher talked about what will happen if you don’t do well on the FCAT?
—No.
Is there anything you want to ask me?
—I want to know why there’s so much testing.
What would you want to be doing instead of testing?
—I want to do more science and learning more things.
What do you learn from testing?
—Nothing. I study what I already know TO test. Everything we learn, there’s a test afterward.
Is it always a multiple-choice test?
—No. Sometimes we have free response, but mostly it’s multiple-choice.
In everything?
—Yes, even in Time For Kids, our social studies, we have questions that are multiple choice and then on the back, they have the same exact questions, just placed in a different order.
How do you study to test?
—We pre-test.
So you practice taking tests?
—A week before the test, we do a review of the benchmark test.
How often do you practice taking tests?
—Every time we learn something new.
What is that like for you?
—Like doing the same thing over and over again.
Do you like school?
—I like school. I love school, but I just don’t like to test all the time.
So how do you feel about school now?
—I have to do everything over and over again.
Do you enjoy that?
—No, I could be learning new things instead of doing it twice.
So how do you feel about school the way it is for you now?
—Like I’m wasting a lot of time when I could be learning something.
If you could tell your teacher how you would like school to be, what would you tell her?
—I would tell her that I don’t want to do things over and over again.  I want to learn new things.
____________________

A few weeks later, my daughter asked me, “Mommy, do I have to take the FCAT?”

Your school says you have to. —But do I HAVE to…? Well, no, you don’t, actually. —What if I don’t take the test? If you don’t test, they could try to keep you in the third grade, but I talked to your teacher and you would be fine. —I don’t want to take it. Why not? —My teacher keeps saying it’s really easy. We spent all day today taking Benchmark tests and she says it’s just like that. It’s a stupid waste of time to do it again and it doesn’t TEACH me anything. AND we still have to test the rest of this week. (Testing before the test. Great.) What would you like to learn? —Social Studies. We hardly do any Social Studies. Would you like me to talk to your teacher? —Can my teacher MAKE me…? No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do. Ever. —Mom, Why don’t you like the FCAT?

And so, we began another conversation that night…

____________________

I shared these exchanges with Becky Smith, fellow Opt Out Orlando rabble -rouser and brilliant educator/activist/friend. Becky responded:

“I am happy to hear that you decided to have this conversation with Emma. Children undoubtedly know what’s going on (the meaningless abounds every piece of legislation), and the most perceptive teachers and parents are keen to the children’s awareness. The problem is that youngest children are waiting for us to tell them it’s OK to question and resist what’s being done to them. We, as parents and teachers, have to give them the ‘go ahead’ to do so. We have to bring them into the conversation so they can learn to be critical of what’s happening in their schools, what they’re being taught, and how they’re being treated (You know as well as I do, that such vital discussion are not happening in the schools).

I have struggled immensely with how much of this reality to share with my own 6 year old daughter.  She’s so loving and joyful, and I worry that too much ‘reality‘ will make her cynical and distrustful. I came to the realization, though, that if I didn’t involve her in the process now, I was setting her up for a life of servitude and manipulation by a system that sees humans as nothing more than dollar signs.  Our children get it because they confront it everyday in ways that you and I don’t.  All children know, and that is both the beauty and the tragedy of it.  The youngest children simply lack the language to bring it into a cohesive form, like the Love Letter to Albuquerque Public Schools.

Keep engaging her in the conversation, encourage her to question and to be critical. These qualities form the essence of democracy.”

My discussions with my daughter were not about school not being fun.  At eight years old, my daughter understands that school is not always fun.  She is not a ‘spoiled‘ child, who is at school to be merely entertained or occupied.  She is, at eight years old, a very serious student.  She is creative, artistic, imaginative, generous, and she is allowed to question anything, even when I might prefer it if she would just be compliant.  She looks at and sees things beyond the surface. School might not always even be interesting, but she is a child who craves learning and loves going to school.  At eight years old, she is very clear that she goes to school to learn.  What is most important about my discussions with her is that she believed she wasn’t learning, and that I believed her.  She also learned that night that I would listen to her, that I believed her, that she had valid reasons for concern and that I, her Mom and fierce advocate, would look out for her interests.

Even young children probably get it more than parents think they do. Children have amazingly accurate internal alarms when something doesn’t make sense to them, but they may not always know how to start the conversation, if they even know what to call it. What happens to their unasked questions if we don’t teach them how to ask?

My children no longer attend this school.  We did opt out of the third grade FCAT with no consequence. Except for my daughter’s teacher compiling a portfolio as an alternative assessment, my daughter was promoted to the fourth grade without much fuss.

Talk with your children.  They already know.  If you’re hearing a similar bedtime story from your child, you might consider whether you approve of their ‘new normal’.  If not, you might consider opting out.  We can show you how.

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