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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Suburban kids & Fear of Failure

noun: fear; plural noun: fears unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous,

 likely to cause pain, or a threat.

 I used to live in fear. I was scared to speak up, scared to share what I had learned about the planned destruction of public education, scared to say what no one I knew was saying out loud. I couldn't believe that although we all knew better, we were being forced by our government to standardize our schools, change our teaching, focus on high stakes standardized testing, and pretend that these changes were good for children. It was when I decided to no longer be afraid that I started this blog.

Fellow blogger and PA teacher, Peter Greene, writes here about the fear facing students in today's educational culture. And he says parents are feeling it, too. I agree. I think that we are unaware of the new normal of living with fear for our kid's futures.

Greene reports on the elite Silicon Valley communities with student suicide rates four or five times the national average.  He asks, "If students from wealthy families in one of the most affluent communities in the country are feeling driven to these sort of extremes-- what the heck can that mean.

And it's not just the issue of suicide. Rosin writes:

The rich middle- and high-school kids [Arizona State professor Suniya] Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average. Starting in seventh grade, the rich cohort includes just as many kids who display troubling levels of delinquency as the poor cohort, although the rule-breaking takes different forms. The poor kids, for example, fight and carry weapons more frequently, which Luthar explains as possibly self-protective. The rich kids, meanwhile, report higher levels of lying, cheating, and theft."

 I live in an affluent, suburban area and my kids are in middle and high school. I see the truth in these words. Why the pressure? Why the depression? Why the cheating?  The lying? The drug and alcohol use? 

Our government has marketed the idea of education as a Race to the Top. Races have clear winners and losers.  In authentic education, everyone can be a winner. As parents, teachers, school leaders, school boards, and others swallowed this bitter pill, the race mentality trickled down to our kids.

If you have not seen this film, make sure you do.... with your whole family.

"In the U.S., adolescents represent the only age group where the mortality rate continues to increase. Combined, the top three causes of death — accidents, suicide and homicide — account for 75% of adolescent deaths."

When we feel fear we cannot and do not make our best choices. 

Living in constant fear "... weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome and decreased fertility. Fear can impair formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This can make it even more difficult to regulate fear and can leave a person anxious most of the time. To someone in chronic fear, the world looks scary and their memories confirm that. Moreover, fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately. Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression accelerated aging, and even premature death. So whether threats to our security are real or perceived, they impact our mental and physical well-being."  

The time has come for the conversations to return to each individual, local community (Those of us who still have locally elected school boards should be extra thankful). We must speak up and insist that we end the culture of fear. Do not try to change my children's mindsets or instill more grit. Do not make them feel like their standardized tests scores define them. Do not send a conscious or unconscious message to them that their future depends on filling in correct bubbles or passing sections on robotic adaptive technology.

Schools must set their teachers free of the testing shackles and encourage them to bring back creativity, passion for learning, learning for pleasure, teaching kids that intrinsic motivation feels good, that reading books is fun, and that math can make sense. We must return the importance of science, social studies, art, music, physical education, health, cooking, sewing, industrial arts, and recess k - 8. High school students need to take electives that interest them and stop the obsession with doing what they think will make their college applications look better. 

How can we help our kids? We can stop the toxic environment of living in fear. Consider opting out in 2016. Parents, not the government, know what is best for our children.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Exxon Exec's Love Letter to the Common Core in PA


Our children have been and are being used as pawns by business leaders who support the common core state standards. Don't believe for a minute that our PA core standards are not the common core. They are almost identical.

The idea of business leaders having a say in public education best practices is not only a conflict of interest, but a laughable idea. Business leaders are good at running their businesses and making money. Education policy and practices should be left to those who have studied education, learning theory, psychology, pedagogy, technique, and curriculum.

Want a top quality education for your kids? Keep the corporations out of it. Read this letter to Pennsylvania's former Governor, Tom Corbett, from the Exxon CEO. If you want to know who is behind this push for the common core, add big corporations to the list of players we already know, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, The College Board, The Pearson Corporation, and other names you will recognize.

Diane Ravitch explains more in this article. She answers a big question for us,"Who supported the standards? Secretary Duncan has been their loudest cheerleader. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee urged their rapid adoption. Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice chaired a commission for the Council on Foreign Relations, which concluded that the Common Core standards were needed to protect national security. Major corporations purchased full-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers to promote the Common Core. ExxonMobil is especially vociferous in advocating for Common Core, taking out advertisements on television and other news media saying that the standards are needed to prepare our workforce for global competition. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the standards, saying they were necessary to prepare workers for the global marketplace. The Business Roundtable stated that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. All of this excitement was generated despite the fact that no one knows whether the Common Core will fulfill any of these promises. It will take 12 years whether we know what its effects are."

In this Bill Moyers post, Ravitch explains, "The leading funders of the (corporate education) reform movement are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports charter schools and test- based teacher evaluation; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools and trains urban superintendents in its managerial philosophy; and the Walton Family Foundation, which funds vouchers and charters. These powerful and wealthy foundations have overlapping interests. They subsidize many organizations in common, such as Teach for America (which recruits young college graduates to teach for two years in low- income schools), the KIPP charter schools and Parent Revolution (the chief advocates of the “parent trigger” idea). They jointly funded the digital learning policy statement issued by Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia, which promotes the proliferation of low- quality virtual charter schools. Many other wealthy foundations support the corporate reform agenda, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Fisher Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation, as well as fabulously rich individuals, including the Bezos family (, Reed Hastings (Netflix) and Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation)."

See the Exxon letter here.

This is just one of myriad reasons why so many people are pushing back against the common core and high stakes standardized testing. Education is a local, highly interpersonal, multi-faced, complex process.

Education is NOT a business.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Why we can boycott PSSA's without hurting our schools

Have no fear.

 We are all trying to figure out how the new ESEA law (formerly NCLB) will impact our local schools and our kids. One thing to check off your list of worries is what will happen to our schools if we opt out. In this post from, it is simplified for us.

"Some states, districts and schools continue to claim they will lose U.S. Department of Education Title I aid if parents, students or teachers boycott standardized exams required under federal law. The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) specifically allows parents to opt their children out if their state allows them to do so. ESSA does require that 95% of all students and of all students in any “subgroup” be tested. However, it leaves it to the states to decide what actions to take if too few students take the tests."

"As far as we know, no school or district anywhere in the country has ever been penalized by the federal government for failing to test enough of its students. Further, seven states (Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California) have laws specifically allowing opting out, and none have been sanctioned. In fact, Oregon made it easier for students to opt out in 2015, but DOE did nothing. Nor has any state taken steps to cut funds to schools. New York State had threatened to do so, but like the feds, it backed down."

"Therefore, parents, students and teachers should not fear harmful federal financial penalties to their schools if parents and students boycott standardized tests."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Standardized Tests Show Testing Gains NOT Learning Gains

This morning is my first morning of winter break. I was relaxed, sitting down with a cup of coffee, going through my emails, and then I saw it—Alfie Kohn's new article called, What 'No Child Left Behind' Left Behind. Alfie has been an educational inspiration to me for years and years. (I can't help it, I always call him Alfie, like he is a personal friend. That is how long it feels like I have known him through his work.) He gets the big picture, says it like it is, and keeps me questioning. This article made we want to text and email my friends and fellow activists, but on the day of Christmas Eve, I knew better. So I am blogging the letter I would have written to them.

Hey my friends,

You have got to read Alfie Kohn's article on what NCLB left behind. I love this:

"Standardized testing — especially when it’s done to every child every year, and when bribes and threats are employed to coerce better results — was never necessary to tell us which schools were failing. Heck, you could just drive by them and make a reasonable guess. (The eminent educator Nel Noddings once called that “the windshield test.”) For years, I’ve been challenging NCLB’s defenders to name a single school anywhere in the country whose inadequacy was a secret until students were subjected to yet another wave of standardized tests."

That is so true, right?! Can anyone name a single school in the country where the standardized test scores revealed something we couldn't have guessed? Love the term, "Windshield Test."

I am worried about our schools losing our most creative, innovative, experienced, and child-centered teachers. Before NCLB and now ESEA, I rarely heard teachers talk about retirement if they were more than a few years away. I hear it all the time now, and it saddens me. If we want to keep the kind of teachers who make kids love learning, we need to stop the push for lock-step teaching and assessment. Alfie knew this 15 years ago. And he was right.

"But testing isn’t just superfluous; it was, and remains, immensely damaging — to low-income students most of all. As I argued 15 years ago, standardized exams measure what matters least about learning and serve mostly to make dreadful forms of teaching appear successful. Pressure to raise scores has driven out many of our best teachers and many of our most vulnerable students. It has taken second-rate schools and turned them into third-rate test-prep factories."

To my teacher friends here in the burbs and even more so in our cities: Please, don't leave. Don't let the demoralizing things they are making us do and say and write on our boards kick us out of our classrooms. Stay. The kids need you.

As you know, I care a lot about racial equality and the lack thereof in our country and in our schools. I have learned over the years to question the policies made in the name of the achievement gap. An expert on this topic is another education hero of mine, Jonathan Kozol. Click on the hyperlink. We should all know who he is and what he stands for. As a civil rights activist, author and teacher, Kozol knows that standardized tests are a civil rights issue and he wants them to end.

"What’s true of testing is, not surprisingly, true of the law that should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act. Tests constitute not only its enforcement apparatus but its very definition of success and failure. As no less a champion of marginalized children than Jonathan Kozol concluded, 'NCLB widens the gap between the races more than any piece of educational legislation I’ve seen in 40 years. . . . [Its] gains aren’t learning gains, they’re testing gains.'"

And that, my friends, is important for all of us to know. That quote should go viral. Memes should be made, posted, and shared. Don't be proud when our kids do well on these tests. They are not indicators of learning gains, they are testing gains.

The federal government is so scared of us—of parents—that they wrote a 95% participation demand into the Every Child Succeeds Act. They are telling us their Achilles heel. We are the parents. The government does not own our kids and they cannot and will not be able to stop American parents from parenting. 

We never had a vote on this, so we will vote with our feet. We will vote with each and every opt out. We love our local public schools and want them to focus on what matters. With each opt out we are telling our state and federal government that we don't want what they are pushing on us. WE ARE THE PARENTS. THESE CHILDREN ARE OURS. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM UNTIL THEY CRY. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM ON BUBBLE SHEETS. YOU CANNOT TEST THEM ON COMPUTERS. WE ARE PROTECTING OUR KIDS AND OUR SCHOOLS. WE ARE OPTING OUT.

Thanks for reading this note and hey, have a happy, healthy, and joyful new year!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

High School Juniors Should Take ACT, Not SAT

Respected Pennsylvania pubic education activist, author, slightly acerbic blogger and dedicated teacher, Peter Greene, warns parents of 11th grade students (of which I am one) about the new SAT:

"I've looked at the marketing and the samples and I feel comfortable saying that every failure of true educational assessment that we've seen on the Big Standardized Tests is right there in the New! Improved! SAT. This test is a crapfest-- and not just a crapfest, but an untested, unproven crapfest from a company that just rolled out the first part of its new suite of tests and now can't get the results back to students on time."

He continues:
 "The New! Improved! SAT has the potential to be a disaster of epic proportions, and that might be an occasion for schadenfreude if not for one thing-- a whole host of eleventh graders are counting on those scores to help them get into college. Yes, we can talk about how screwed up that whole business is, but in the meantime it's the world our students have to live in, and in that world, this spring, the ACT is their best shot."

Student protesters against standardized testing.

"This will be a real wrenching change for some folks. In many schools, taking the PSAT and SAT is just something you do, and students believe these issue forth from the same immutable government authorities as vaccine requirements and rules about how many courses one must complete to graduate. But as always, folks need to understand that the College Board is a company that makes a living selling a particular product, just like Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola. That means it's caveat emptor time, and this time around, the smart emptors should avoid the SAT, and those of us who teach juniors have a responsibility to say so."

"You don't have to take the SAT-- and this year at least, you shouldn't. "

And besides, your child can attend one of the outstanding colleges on this incredible site that is test optional.

Consider ourselves warned. Thanks, Peter.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Very Little to Celebrate in the new "No Child Left Behind" Law

In the education world there has been a lot of worry and hype about the passage of the new No Child Left Behind Law - The Every Child Achieves Act. Frankly, the wording our politicians use is foreshadowing enough for us to know that the game plan won't be good for American kids. This bi-partisan name game is an insult to American citizens. If politicians write a title that sounds unrealistic to attain, it will be. If you search for bills with misleading names you will get some great results or just check out this article, and this article, and this one.

Now back to The Every Child Achieves Law. There are several reliable articles on it here, here, and here. But when I want to see what the opposition thinks, I pay close attention their perfectly polished spin doctoring. I read in this Education Reform Now post all I apparently need to know about the new law. They even produced a beautiful infographic (below). Note what makes them the most saitisfied with this new law - they made it the first point. Testing remains unchanged. Yay for the testing companies. Too bad for our kids.

 The HUGE change is the elimination of much federal overreach, which is great if your state has a Governor who supports pubic education. If not... I can't even write it.

As reported here, the original 1965 law that NCLB and ESEA replaced stated, 

"FEDERAL CONTROL OF EDUCATION PROHIBITED SEC. 604. Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system."

So ESEA returned much (but not all) of the power back to the states, and it sure will make Wall Street happy with its Pay for Success plan, which is woven into this law. Pay for Success allows for private investment in underfunded public services.

"There’s no free lunch. Yet across the country, advocates of Pay for Success (PFS), or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), serve up this alternative private financing model as a cost-free, risk-free silver bullet to support critical, yet underfunded, public services. As local and state governments rush to pass enabling legislation and strike deals with investors, a closer examination of these schemes is warranted." 

What is Pay for Success?

"PFS (Pay for Success) brings venture capital to the provision of public services. Investors, such as Goldman Sachs or Bank of America, provide up-front funds for critical preventive services with the expectation of receiving a return on their investment. The theory is that the private investment dollars can fill a funding gap when government doesn’t have adequate financial resources to spend on prevention activities.
Under a PFS arrangement, the government repays the loan with interest if pre-determined social outcome targets are met. The theory presumes that even after paying the investors and service providers, the state ultimately reaps financial savings through foregone budget dollars spent to address future more costly, but now avoided, social problems. But PFS looks better on paper than in reality. A closer look at how they operate raises issues that warrant careful consideration for decision-makers looking to undertake a PFS."

Our government is basically inviting Shark Tank into our schools.

“Ultimately, Pay for Success ignores the deeper cause of many of our growing social problems: underinvestment in the public interest. America desperately needs more investment in all our public services. Prevention-focused public funding of critical public services—like pre-K for all children and help for juveniles who end up in the criminal justice system—is our simplest and least expensive solution.”

As always, Caveat Emptor. There is very little to celebrate in this new law.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"We’re destroying our kids — for nothing: Too much homework, too many tests, too much needless pressure "


If you have children who are stressed out in elementary, middle, or high school, this post is for you. If you have heard about the "new" SAT and have concerns, this post is for you. If you worry about high stakes standardized tests and the pressure cooker our government has thrown our kids into, this post is for you. If you wonder what is best for your children or grandchildren in education today, this post is for you.

Vicki Ables, the mom and filmmaker who brought us the award winning and eye opening documentary, Race to Nowhere, now brings us a new book, Beyond Measure.
Beyond Measure asks the important questions. The book is quite different from the film of the same name, and I found the book much stronger in content and facts.

"Rather than ask why our students fail to measure up, this film asks us to reconsider the greater purpose of education. What if our education system valued personal growth over test scores? Put inquiry over mimicry? Encouraged passion over rankings? What if we decided that the higher aim of school was not the transmission of facts or formulas, but the transformation of every student? And what if this paradigm-shift was driven from the ground up? By students, parents, and educators? By all of us?"

In this Salon article Ables states, "The most painful irony is how badly out of step our frenzied educational practices are with science. Psychology and neuroscience journals abound with studies about how children learn and thrive, and how their brains grow, and none of it bears a remote resemblance to the spirit-crushing contest we’re putting our kids through."

As if growing up weren't hard enough. As if the inherent stress of school courses weren't enough. As if the pressure of SAT's, ACT's and Keystones Exams weren't enough. We now find our kids at the precise moment in time when the corporate titan, The College Board, is messing with our children and aligning the new SAT (coming out in March 2016) with the controversial Common Core State Standards. There is no motivation in the "business" side of education these days except how to generate more profits on the backs of our children. The only people I trust are the teachers, professors, and school leaders who freely speak the truth—without the Orwellian Doublespeak.

Activist, public policy expert and ally, Jonathan Pelto, warns, "[David Colman] the 'primary author' of those Common Core Standards—a system that is causing so much controversy—took over as President of the College Board and immediately announced that he would do for the SAT what he did for the nation’s education standards. And many of the same problems and issues that have arisen with the Common Core SBAC and Common Core PARCC tests are likely to appear with the new SAT. Remember that the Common Core testing scheme was designed to fail the vast majority of public school students, and it did, because the tests included a significant amount of content that students had not learned prior to taking the tests."
If you are as sick as I am of the money grab in education (including in our public & private schools), you are likely to find this post by Drexel Professor, Scott Warnock, as helpful as I do. He writes:

"Recently, I read a book I think should be required reading for parents and students entering today’s college admissions trudge: Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be, By Frank Bruni. Read this book: If it doesn’t change your life, it may make it at least a lot more pleasant. Using a variety of evidence, Bruni strongly builds the argument depicted in his title. For instance, he cites the Gallup-Perdue Index study of 30,000 U.S. college graduates; according to that study, graduates who had these experiences 'perform markedly better on every measure of long-term success compared with graduates who missed the mark on these experiences':
  1. professors who cared about them as a person
  2. a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams
  3. worked on a long-term project
  4. had a job or internship where they applied what they were learning
  5. were extremely involved in extra-curricular activities"
I just ordered my copy and it is on the way. Warnock sites the Gallup-Perdue Index study and it sure makes sense to remind ourselves, our school boards, and our school leaders that the six items on the list above are what parents want for our kids pre-k through grad school. It seems simple, and it should be. Unfortunately, in 2015, that is far from true.

Somewhere along the line we, the citizens of America, started to trust the school ranking of various "news" sources, such as US News and World Report. Just go ahead and google "US News rankings a sham" and see what comes up. The same goes for rankings of our public schools. The Atlantic has excellent articles about why we should ignore them, both here and here.

To all parents: We are being used, our children are pawns in the game, and not only must we educate ourselves, we must spread the truth. Please share this information with everyone you know. Write editorials, speak to school boards, speak firmly and loudly to politicians. Our voices are stronger together. We must protect our children and their schools (pre-k to 20).

The slick PR of the corporate education reform world is a sham. Let's take care of our kids, and fight to prevent our future grandchildren from suffering in this Madison Avenue marketed manipulation and destruction of our school systems (both private and public) that is stealing the joy of childhood from our children.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Politicians are suddenly worried we have too much testing? Hmmm.

As reported in this and many other articles, it seems President Obama & our leaders are supporting parents who know the policies of the past 15 years (including over testing) are hurting our kids. But don't get too excited, it looks like the Madison Avenue spin doctors are earning their paychecks (paid for with our tax dollars) again. Here is the new spin:

The White House said Saturday the proliferation of testing in the United States — a problem the administration acknowledged it has played a role in — has taken away too much valuable time that could be better spent on learning, teaching and fostering creativity in schools. To curb excessive testing, Obama recommended limiting standardized exams to no more than 2% of a student's instructional time in the classroom.

‘‘Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,’’ Obama said in a video posted on Facebook. ‘‘So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.’’

Obama said in “moderation, smart, strategic” tests can help assess the progress of children in schools and help them learn. But he said that parents are concerned that too much time is being spent on testing, and teachers are under too much pressure to prepare students for exams.

Sadly, this is another example of politicians trying to trick us with positive sound bites. However, in most states 2% means 20 or more hours of testing, NOT including test prep.
In many cases, 2% leaves room for even MORE testing. 

What it looks like to many of us who spend our personal time fighting to save public education is that politicians are scared of the opt out movement.

Parents are smarter than our elected officials and their PR experts think. Show them that parents are in charge of our children and preview the PSSA this year & consider opting out. Our children are NOT their guinea pigs or their cash cows.

Read this post  and this post about careful reviews of the Obama administration’s “Testing Action Plan.” The conclusion is that " is phony, a duplicitous confirmation of the status quo." In other words, "It is a fraud."


Sunday, October 11, 2015

People are not "human capital"

A well funded, anti-public school organization, called Education Reform Now,
is a "think tank" that is trying to sell the public (and the legislators we elect) on ending public education in this country. They want to "open the market" in education and get as much of our tax dollars as possible into the hands of corporate CEO's. And to this end, they use the civil rights movement and the achievement gap in their own interests.

To add insult to injury, they have a training camp that perpetuates their warped ideas, and reduces education to insulting pseudo business terms. Unbelievably, they use the very same term for teachers as the slave traders used during triangle trade: human capital. In this Harvard Business School article the author states, " These account books played a role in reducing slaves to 'human capital,' Rosenthal says, allowing owners who were removed from day-to-day operations to see their slaves as assets, as interchangeable units of production in a ledger, instead of as people." 

 She continues, "If today we are using management techniques that were also used on slave plantations," she says, "how much more careful do we need to be? How much more do we need to think about our responsibility to people?"

There is not a single member of the Education Reform Now board with education training or experience. They are, however, big in venture capital, business, and apparently charity poker tournaments.

Check out their staff, too. No friends of public education in sight. This group, and many others are NOT looking out for children. They are experts in making money, not educating future generations of American children.

Be aware of groups like this & watch for the jargon. Make sure that your children's teachers are treated with appreciation & respect, and not in the dehumanizing ways of "human capital."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Is your college on this list?

Whether you have kids who are ready to look at colleges or not, I cannot urge you enough to check out this impressive list of schools that deemphasize SAT/ACT in their admissions process.

I am proud to say that my alma matters are on the list:

Are yours?

Thank you fairtest for creating these lists, guiding parents, and fighting to get the focus back on our kids and off of the money making schemes of the College Board and other profit-seeking ventures.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Wondering why SAT, ACT, and state tests are failing our kids?

It pays for test companies to set kids up for failure and artificially create demand for more testing. The questions are not developmentally appropriate, are designed to purposely confuse, and are mostly written above grade level.

Diane Ravitch concurs, "The tests are written above grade level. The cut scores (passing marks) are equivalent to 85%, more or less, probably more. Most kids will fail. The SBAC and PARCC have said so when they aligned the tests with NAEP proficient, which is not average or grade level but a high passing score."

In order for children to understand what they are reading, the content must be at the correct reading level. A lexile score is used to determine if a text is grade level. Here an Illinois teacher did the work for us. She explains how the "new and improved" standardized tests are setting our kids up to fail, as they are written beyond student frustration levels.

"Frustration reading levels include text for which a reader does not have adequate background level for a topic and/or cannot meet criteria for instructional levels of accuracy and rate. Think of frustration levels as those levels that require extensive or even moderate assistance from an educator. To get a sense of frustration level text, think about a skill or ability for which you have expertise (e.g., skiing, knitting, writing, playing a musical instrument). It is very likely that you developed this ability gradually, and with assistance. You took on more challenging levels when you had mastered your current level. Now imagine being a beginner again, and facing advanced, or even intermediate level tasks every day. Would working at "frustration level" help you to make progress? What might happen to your motivation for learning? Now, think about the fact that many children read at frustration level for most of their day. It is a tribute to the resiliency of children that they forge onward!"

Teacher, Gerri K. Songer, analyzed the English/Langugae Arts questions available on the
ACT, PARCC, SAT & Smarter Balanced websites. She reports, "...  Students should ideally independently comprehend 100% of text in order to accurately respond to assessment questions."

What did she find?  

"The Grade 4 reading passage requires an independent reading level of 1230L. This text would be appropriate for the score band of students in Grade 12..."

 How about this:

"The Early High School (Grade 9) reading passage requires an independent reading level of 1250L. This text would be appropriate for the score band of students above Grade 12, post-secondary education (Grades 11 and 12 – 940-1210L). The text in this passage should be in the range of 855-1165L."

It is time our legislators learn about developmental psychology or get out of education decisions. Songer knows her stuff, and explains just a bit below. 

"High school students are at varying stages of their cognitive development, and the average student should not be expected to complete the multi-step, finitely detailed, mental manipulation of text needed to process information at the level of sophistication used by PARCC. The frontal lobe of the human brain is not fully developed until after age 20.  The frontal lobe is concerned with reasoning, planning, problem-solving, parts of speech, executive functions (organization), judgment, emotions, and behavioral control.  It allows for abstract thinking, an understanding of humor (subtle witticisms and word plays), sarcasm, irony, deception, and the mental processes of others.  Other functions include: memory, sequencing of events, flexibility in thinking processes, attentiveness of focus."

 Need more reasons why "rigor" is an excuse to set our kids up for failure?
Read the entire analysis. You may be shocked and dismayed... Or perhaps you have known it all along.

Monday, September 28, 2015

ACT and College Board Sued for Selling Student Information

This is one of the many reasons why parents need to pay attention to student privacy issues....  As far as I can tell, there has been no settlement or verdict yet. If you know of any updates, please comment below and leave a link.

 November 1, 2013 


A standardized test taker filed a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against ACT and the College Board for selling personal information about her and millions of American high schoolers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in a federal district court in Illinois, seeks more than $5 million in damages from the test makers for “unfair, immoral, unjust, oppressive and unscrupulous” conduct. Namely, the plaintiff, a Cook County woman about which little else is known, alleges that ACT and the College Board do not tell test takers what will be done with their personal information. She said test takers are asked if ACT and the College Board can "share" personal information with others. That is misleading, the lawsuit alleges, because the information is in fact sold and test takers -- almost entirely high school teens -- become part of a multimillion-dollar money-generating machine for ACT and the College Board.

The test makers have long sold high school students’ personal information to colleges that want to market to students. The current price is about 37 or 38 cents per name. Colleges are using increasingly sophisticated data mining techniques to recruit and shape their classes. Colleges can use such information to deny admission to students and perhaps reduce financial aid rewards.

Read more about data mining students here.

Make 2016 the year you preview the PSSA

A friend texted me that today PSSA scores were sent home. As my daughter opted out for the first time, I asked her if the state still sent us anything. Her response was, "Yes, and it is gloriously blank!" I rushed out to find my younger daughter's PSSA report. Here is what an opt out report looks like:

Aside from all of the NS (No Scores), it states, "Your student was not assessed due to a parental request." I cannot emphasize the number of hours children sit for these tests. If you take a close look at the photos above, you may ask yourself how 8, 14, 16, 18, and 20 points for EACH section can give the state, our schools, parents, or the children, themselves a real picture of their proficiency. Vocabulary was only 8 possible points - if a child scored 6/8, that is a 75% For those who are good test takers, getting these scores back reinforces their feeling of success, but what about the rest of the kids? The public has been sold a bill of goods, which has been pushed on us by a Washington DC PR firm, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pearson.

In Pennsylvania, Secretary of Education, Pedro A. Rivera sent home this letter with PSSA scores:

He writes, ..."a change in your student's score should not be interpreted as a decline in their learning or in their teacher's performance." Many teachers are wondering why these tests are even part of their performance measures.

Mr. Rivera also writes, "The tests' more rigorous standards included more complex, multi-part questions, and required more thoughtful reasoning by the students..." As a parent, the state requires you to preview the PSSAs before opting your child out. I read the 6th grade test last year. It is not "rigorous," unless you use the actual dictionary definition of rigor: the difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something.

Nor does the new test require more thoughtful reasoning. However, the complex, multi-part questions were present, and they were more confusing.  If test writers hired by the state wanted to stress kids out and artificially lower test scores, they created the perfect test.

Some parents I know say they want their children to get lots of practice for SAT tests, so they don't opt out. I understand that worry, but wouldn't it be even more powerful to lobby the best colleges and universities to weigh SAT scores less on applications? All it would take to disempower the College Board would be for colleges and Universities to go test optional. For the exorbitant tuition fees parents (and often times students) pay, shouldn't these schools take the time to read our kid's essays or to interview them?

Another reason some parents worry about these tests is the ethically questionable Keystone exams lurking over all of our heads - the ever present threat to the diplomas of our children.  I blogged here about the cockamamie reasons the PA legislature passed the Keystone as a graduation requirement.

"...Retired Senator, Jeff Piccola said... "It is important to note that the Keystones are the first instance that the students are held accountable for their academic achievement since Pennsylvania began developing these standards in the 1990's. Heretofore,  the PSSA's could be blown off by the individual students because it didn't count anything for them. And I recall visiting schools in various school districts and elementary school students can be cajoled, and bribed, and encourgaed to do well on the PSSA's, but by the time they get to 8th grade they've figured out they have no stake in the exam..." (Emphasis mine.)

When do parents and citizens get to VOTE on these ideas? It has been almost 15 years since No Child Left Behind was passed, and it is clear that PSSA and Keystone results are merely reflections of the state set cut scores. In this post, Diane Ravitch reports what we have known all along. "High school grades are much stronger predictors of undergraduate performance than are test scores."

Of course they are.

Parents, it is time for us to think this through. Do we want more "rigor" and fake critical thinking? In 2016, preview the test. Read it for yourself and if you still want your kids to take the PSSAs, go for it. My hunch is that you will leave wide-eyed and ready to contact your legislators demanding they put an end to these exams, especially the Keystone Exams, which are sure to leave many children behind and without a high school diploma.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why would anyone teach?

My sister, Debbie, and me. Circa: the years I tortured her.

 When I was in second grade, I used to take the extra dittos out of Mr. O'Malley's trash can and bring them home to "play school" with my sister. She would always fail her work because she is about 3 years younger than I am. I would require her to get a parent signature, and my sweet sister would drop her head and shamefully head to the kitchen to get our mom to sign her worksheet. It wasn't long before my sister would run away from me and cry out, "I don't want to play school!" Many of us in the teaching profession tortured our siblings before we became real teachers who don't torture our students!

I think that many of us were born to be teachers. We recognized at an early age that we naturally have an inclination to lead a classroom. I imagine it is the way some kids pretend they are police officers, firemen, or doctors. My youngest daughter has wanted to be a teacher since she was in pre-school (She is now twelve). I was so proud when she told me this year after year, but now I worry about her in a field that has politicians and business people making uninformed decisions that impact students and teachers. In this article, California teacher, asks, "Why would anyone teach?"

He notes the highly reported teacher shortage in our country. Why the shortage? Perhaps parents, like me, are dissuading their kids from the field. I told my daughter that if she still wants to be a teacher, she will need to have a dual major. You just can't be limited to education in these times. It breaks my heart.

Crosby notes many concerns that I also have about the teaching field, as well:

“It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of site-based management was seriously championed as a way to involve teachers in the decision-making process at a school. But that grand idea vanished."

“So, education bureaucrats continue to mandate so-called reforms such as Common Core standards and standardized testing that teachers are expected to deliver with little input…."

“Let’s face it. We all hope that selfless people join the military to protect our country. We all hope that decent people become firefighters and police officers to protect our society. And we all hope that quality people join the teaching ranks to mold our future commodity — children."

“But hoping will only get so far. If schools expect a line outside human resources of people applying for jobs, then a major overhaul of the teaching profession has to happen. And it will take teachers themselves to blast the clarion call since those in the upper echelon of education show no interest in changing the status quo."

I worry about working conditions for my daughter, because I have seen mine decline with the overwhelming increase in state mandated paperwork, which my 8th graders would surely call busy work. We used to use our prep time for grading, dreaming up new ideas for lessons, setting up projects and labs, and other details that make the learning experience better for kids. Even though my district has tried to develop ways to help teachers manage this busy work, it is copious and demoralizing. It is not only statistically invalid, but it is shameful that we know this and still have to play along.

Why would a system be designed that would create a teacher shortage? Perhaps the bureaucrats who think that Teach for America's untrained, but well-intended volunteers, who give a 2 year commitment, are good enough for public school kids (Of course their children go to private schools, no doubt.) Perhaps they think that public school kids deserve blended learning, flipped classrooms, and on-line learning, while their children get small class sizes and a passionate, well-treated teacher in every classroom.

I don't want a volunteer corps of teachers for my future grandchildren. All children deserve the best, not a two tier system, where those who can afford it are Common Core and high stakes free. Make your voice heard if you agree. Since the citizens of the United States have NEVER been asked to vote on these ideas, our loudest and most powerful voice comes from opting our children out of PSSA's (or whatever state tests your state uses).

I think my sister has forgiven me for my inexperienced teacher torture, but there is no excuse for what our government is doing to our public schools today. It will take a long time for me to forgive them, but probably not as long as it will take for them to admit their mistakes and return public schools to the people.

So, why would anyone teach? Why do so many of us stay?
It is simple, we stay for the kids.

My daughter in my classroom after school... hopefully, she will have her own public school classroom someday.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why opt out? "The test scores of 15-year-olds do not predict our future."

Don't let our kids be used.
Disrupt the standardization of America's schools.
“The United States used to lead the world educationally, but we’ve fallen to the middle of the pack. Our students are lagging behind, and the global economy is growing more competitive every day.”


"The U.S. never led the world on test scores. When the first international tests were given in the 1960s, the U.S. students came in last. Yet over the next 50 years, our nation surpassed the other 11 nations that took the same test by every measure: economic productivity, technological innovation, military might, creativity, and democratic institutions. The test scores of 15-year-olds do not predict our future. The policies of our government, the decisions of corporations to outsource jobs, our treatment of our children and communities matter more." Read more here.



Read THIS BOOK  to learn about the history of education so you can recognize the lies.