Tag Archives: Testing

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 The one-sentence amendment which will be repealed in six years, reads: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

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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


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

_______________________________________

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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