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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Overtesting is Driving Away the Best Teachers

(Are you a supporter of public education and concerned about the overtesting of our children in the Suburban Philadelphia area? If so, please like this new facebook page:
Overtesting is driving away the best teachers. Ever wonder why there are so many new tests to assess our kids in the fall and spring (often called benchmark assessments)? The State is testing our children even more to use their scores to evaluate teachers & principals... Even if a teacher doesn’t teach a tested subject!

Pennsylvania Public School Teachers will be evaluated 50% by our kid’s data.
In a NY Times Op Ed, a teacher questions this practice: "… Why do we want a narrow, inaccurate, partial and costly evaluation of teachers through additional student testing? It flies in the face of the best that our “Common Core Standards” promises and demonizes teachers, chaining them to a myopic view of their job: pushing students to constantly meet meaningless short-term goals...If the purpose of evaluating teachers was to help improve instruction, we wouldn’t be testing children overtime and further narrowing curriculum to figure it out. We would be developing tools to measure the quality of the instruction teachers provide every day, and we would focus on only those qualities of sound teaching that are critical to student learning.

How long can our best teachers hang on in this plunge to the bottom? Sadly, I think we’ll find out sooner than we’d like." 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Double Dare you to send an email to a teacher - I did.

The demonizing of teachers may be something you are unaware of—or maybe you have heard teachers disrespected in the news.  Perhaps you heard the way newly re-elected Governor Chris Christy, treated a NJ teacher who had the nerve to ask him why he called NJ public schools "failure factories" when their test scores are near the top in the country.

As an avid reader, I know about the micromanaging and unscientific teacher evaluation practices that are being instituted in our country (in cities, suburbs, and rural districts - yes, most likely yours, too.). As a parent, I can see the difference in the way my children's teachers are being told what to have kids read, what kind of tests to give, when to give them, and to collect data, data, data, in just the four years between my oldest and youngest child. Same school. Same teachers. Multiple disappointing changes. Too much test prep. Too much multiple choice format - even in math. Too little autonomy for highly qualified and educated teachers.

In this Salon article, David Sirota states that we need a war on poverty, not on teachers & unions. 

He writes,  " ...we know that American public school students from wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. This proves that the education system’s problems are not universal — the crisis is isolated primarily in the parts of the system that operate in high poverty areas."

  "...we (also) know that many of the high-performing public schools in America’s wealthy locales are unionized. We also know that one of the best school systems in the world — Finland’s — is fully unionized. These facts prove that teachers unions are not the root cause of the education problem, either. After all, if unions were the problem, then unionized public schools in wealthy areas and Finland would be failing."

I am always amazed and dismayed at the incredible spin that some people are able to put on news about our public schools. Our wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. Great. Then leave them alone and let the teachers teach their hearts out. It's not the unions. Finland, with the best public school system in the world, is fully unionized. Scratch that myth.

Hey, it's the poverty...

David Sirota adds, "....If (The US) were serious about education, then our education discussion wouldn’t be focused on demonizing teachers and coming up with radical schemes to undermine traditional public schools. It would instead be focused on mounting a new war on poverty and thus directly addressing the biggest education problem of all."

Here is what I did and what I challenge you to do. I went to my 5th graders conference and told her teacher that I didn't want to discuss any data. He seemed to have a twinkle in his eye when the statement registered in his mind. 

 I asked him about my daughter as a learner. Does she seem excited to learn? Does she work well independently? In groups? Does she participate? Does she enjoy writing? Reading? Math? Social Studies? Science? He expertly answered all of my questions and more. He asked me what I wanted for her in school this year. HE ASKED ME WHAT GOALS I HAVE FOR MY CHILD. I know my child better than the state and I happily shared my goals. Then, this teacher proceeded to take notes, and design a special book club that would read for pleasure (FOR PLEASURE, I SAY), so my child could get into the reading zone and learn to like reading, which is my goal. 
No passages, no bubble sheets, no test prep. 
Reading for pleasure, as it should be.

So I wrote him an email the next day sharing that I was thrilled my daughter was in his most capable hands. And he wrote me back that I inspired him. And I wrote him back that he inspired me. And now my daughter's teacher knows that he is valued and respected more than any numbers could ever show. And I bet that my daughter's year will be just a teeny tiny bit better than if I didn't tell her teacher that he rocked.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

PA Keystone Exam Update, Cheers or Jeers?

Just a little education update on the state of Pennsylvania's new graduation requirement  from The Pennsylvania School Board Association.

 Every Pennsylvania parent of a child who will be graduating in the year 2017 or after, must learn about the Keystone Exam graduation requirements. There are currently 3 subject areas tested, with more to come.


"The state removed language requiring the transcript to designate whether the level was achieved by taking a Keystone Exam or by a project-based assessment..." 

Should we celebrate the removal of the "Scarlet Letter" on the transcripts of students who take Keystone projects (for kids who have difficulty passing the exams)? Nah, the Keystones should have been eliminated as a high stakes, graduation requirement. This is a really tiny "Cheer."

The state threw us a bone on this one. Our kids who take the project will now not look as bad to colleges as the state originally intended.


Just when we were wondering if we can opt our kids out of this, we learn that we may for religious reasons... but our children still have to do the project. I recently learned that the project for Algebra 1 is... DRUM ROLL, PLEASE.... an on-line assessment that takes 8 - 10 hours before or after school. It sure sounds like a longer, on-line version of the paper exam.

"Parental opt-out – The regulation gives parents/guardians the right to review any state assessment to determine whether the assessment conflicts with their religious beliefs. In asserting a religious objection to the assessment, a parent/guardian must explain the objection in their (sic) written request for excusal. 

Project required for opt-out students – Students who are not taking Keystone Exams under the parental opt-out provision must take the project-based assessment for each subject area required for graduation. This provision was added in the March draft."

Q: Is there a religious opt out for the Project Based Assessment

A: The religious opt out applies only to state assessments. Chapter 4 defines a state assessment as "a valid and reliable measurement of student performance on a set of academic standards as measured by the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment or the Keystone Exams." Thus, the religious opt out does not apply to PBAs.

Did the state of Pennsylvania actually just admit that its projects are not a "...valid and reliable measurement of student performance on a set of academic standards..." ? Hmmm....

Here are the most recent Pennsylvania Department of Education Keystone results, from the spring 2013 exams:

38.6 percent of 94,939 tested students passed the Algebra I test.

35.7 percent of 46,998 tested students passed the biology exam. 

49.9 percent of 42,815 tested students passed the English literature exam. 

They want us to think that our kids have failed because our schools have failed. Yet we know their tests have failed. It is wrong to send the message that our kids aren't successful from one high stakes exam.

"Tracy Karwoski, a parent and vice president of the Garnet Valley School Board in Delaware County, said her daughter, whose weighted GPA stands at 3.987, isn’t a great standardized test taker and is very concerned by them. Karwoski’s daughter took the algebra I exam, one of three proposed, and has not scored proficiently on one yet.

“'It’s painful to hear a child ask repeatedly if she’s stupid. Again, from a student with a 3.987 GPA,' Karwoski said."

A 3.97 GPA suddenly isn't enough, according to Governor Corbett. 
I wonder what his high school GPA was...