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standardized testing Tag

The Alt Right Has a Friend in Common Core

  Let’s say you’re a modern-day hipster Nazi. You’re bummed out. No one wants to hang out with you because of your bald head and your red suspenders and your commitment to the ideals of a defeated and disgraced totalitarian regime. What are you to do? REBRAND, son! It’s simple. No more National Socialist German Workers Party! That sounds too pinko! Now you’re simply a member of the Alt Right! It’s not racist! You’re just committed to traditional attitudes and values — if those traditional attitudes and values come from 1945 Berlin! Heck, you don’t even have to call yourself Alt Right. You can call yourself a White Identitarian. You aren’t over-concerned with any one side of the political spectrum or other. You just strongly identify with whiteness — and by extension increasing the political power of white people at the expense of all others. That’s all. It should be obvious that this isn’t merely rebranding. It’s propaganda. In today’s fast paced information age – where every fact is merely a Google away – that can be hard to get away with – UNLESS… Unless you already have a readymade tool to protect propaganda from the kind of informed critical thought that can pop it like a bubble. Something to insolate the ignorance and keep out the enlightened analysis. I am, of course, talking about Common Core. What!? How does Common Core have anything to do with white nationalism? Common Core is just a set of academic standards for what should be taught in public schools adopted by 42 of 50 states. Academic standards aren’t political. Are they? Actually, they are. Quite political. Just take a look at how the standards came to be adopted in the first place. The Obama administration bribed and coerced the states to adopt these standards before many of them were even done being written. Hold your horses. The Obama administration!? That doesn’t sound exactly like a friend of the Third Reich. And it wasn’t. It was a friend to big business. When first created, these standards weren’t the result of a real educational need, nor were they written by classroom educators and psychologists. They were written by the standardized testing industry as a ploy to get federal, state and local governments to recommit to standardized testing through buying new tests, new text books, new software and new remediation materials. It was a bipartisan effort supported by the likes of Obama, the Clintons and Bill Gates on the left and Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos and Bobby Jindal on the right. After Obama’s success pushing them down our collective throats, many Republicans vocally decried the standards – often while quietly supporting them. That’s why after all this time very few state legislatures have repealed them despite being controlled predominantly by Republicans. Okay, so what does this have to do with the Alt Right? People like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are engaged in redefining the conservative movement. Instead of circulating ideas with a merely racist and...

The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Everybody wants to fight the good fight. Until the battle begins. Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before. To paraphrase Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman. I see this almost every day in our schools. Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face. They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore. The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy. To which I say – Amen, Sister! Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest. Two conflicts of interest, actually. First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell. Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools. So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks. But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors. What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today. Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests. We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment. I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight. But I find myself standing there alone. “You can’t do that,” I say. “It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.” (Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.) Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote: “If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…” Or how about...

New York Regents Chancellor would Opt-Out

Controversies over the Common Core roll-out ultimately led former Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents Merryl Tisch to step down. To create more support for the Board of Regents, Betty Rosa was recently elected to replace Tisch as the chancellor. On her first day as Chancellor, Rosa said, “If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time.” Rosa stepped into office after 200,ooo New York students opted out of taking these standardized tests. Her job now is to bring together the Common Core opponents and supporters. Rosa herself is called a "renegade" because she and five other board members often vote against the majority on divisive issues. For example, she is against teacher evaluations because she, herself was once a special education teacher and a district superintendent. In a recent interview she said, “I’d like to get back to a system that is not one size fits all, a system that really is focused on children’s needs.” Rosa was also endorsed by the New York State Allies for Public Education, which organizes opt-out rallies and information forums, and is an organization The Franklin Foundation considers crucial to ensuring real change in the support for public schools in New York. But Rosa's success depends on how well she will work with others on the board. In the past, she had some issues with former Chancellor Tisch. In 2010, Rosa urged Tisch not to publish test results because she felt that they inaccurately portrayed a marked improvement in student performance. Now, Rosa is going to have to work with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who had said that Common Core tests need to be tweaked, but not change completely. And at the press conference where Rosa was introduced as Tisch's successor, Elia and Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown stressed the changes to this year's tests, including that the tests will be shorter and students will have unlimited time to take them. And Rosa understands that this is going to be a problem.“When you have an institution as large as [the state education department] is and you have changes…you still have to proceed in a way that doesn’t create more turbulence in the field,” she said. “It’s going to be a process." For her first year, Rosa would like to work with the board to discuss how best to proceed....

Education should be our #1 topic in 2016

As we go into a new year new challenges will come to the forefront for our evolving American society and education should be our #1 topic in 2016. There will be a Presidential election, amongst others, and the country will enter into yet another year of toxic testing, corporate-led educational reforms, and declining school quality due to continued budget cutbacks and charter school lobbying. I for one, am hoping beyond all hope that education is at the forefront in 2016...

Academics v. social skills: The case of disappearing recess

Circa 1995. A kindergartener skips up to school, hangs up their jacket in their cubby. Practices reading or math with their teacher. Checks on the eggs the class is hatching. Plays in the sandbox. Has lunch. Goes to recess. Naptime. For half day students, heads home. This scenario would sound like a fairy tale to most of Dallas’s current kindergarteners and their families. While things like nap time and recess used to be a typical part of the school day, especially for younger students, they have largely gone by the wayside as schools have tried to rearrange the school day to fit in more instruction. However, recent studies (including a survey specific to Dallas ISD incoming kindergarten students) has found that students are not only lacking in academic skills, but many students come to school unprepared socially. Recess is a key time for developing social skills, and can have other impacts such as improving general school culture. In a recently published article entitled “Playing Fair: The Contribution of High-Functioning Recess to Overall School Climate in Low-income Elementary Schools” high-functioning recess is correlated with a positive school environment. The study authors define high-functioning recess as a recess that supports students by offering optional activities and and emphasizing pro-social skills development. The schools in the study were supported with a Playworks coach who assisted teachers during the recess period and students reportedly took the skills they were taught on the playground back into the classroom, improving school culture and morale. Despite the positive associations with recess and the importance of developing social skills, recess is disappearing from many school campuses across the country. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, while recess time began decreasing in the 1980s the trend accelerated with the passage of No Child Left Behind and the increasing emphasis on test scores. Some districts have a policy regarding recess, and others allow principals or teachers to make the call as to whether a class has recess. A 2003 nationwide survey of 1st through 5th grade students found that 21 percent of students did not have recess. 44 percent of students living below the poverty line did not have recess. In Dallas ISD specifically, a post by former superintendent Mike Miles in January explained that recess time is determined at each school individually. 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon is recommended, and “the State requires at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise every day.” However, on at least one campus, teachers rarely felt they had the time to send their classes outside; a class might have gym once or twice a week and recess only in the spring once testing ended, making those recommendations seem a bit optimistic. What do you think? Is recess a valuable use of student time? Is there recess in your school district?...

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A New Way to Assess Test Results?

I came across an interesting read by a professor at Union College on how their tenure process is run. Basically it consisted of student reviews/interviews, assessments by fellow teachers, class sit-in assessments, and lots of paperwork from every class syllabus, lecture note, published work, teaching method statements, and so on. His point was that this intensive method of assessment, while thorough and effective, is too expensive to do regularly. Admittedly, I don’t know much about what it’s like to apply for tenure, or what the process entails at other levels, but this method seems to be on the right track with regards to how to make proper assessments in general....

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Administrators are standing up

We received this letter from a passionate and experienced superintendent in PA's award-winning West Chester Area School District. It should serve as an example of how passionate administrators all over the country are standing up for what's right and calling an end to our nation's toxic testing culture. Enjoy! May 22, 2015 Dear Parents, Many of us are quick to fault the U.S. public education system, comparing it to other small European countries, and finding deficits and gaps. The system, and the way it’s funded, are far from perfect. However we manage to educate generations of children who go on to do incredible things. Now we are asking our students to do something that’s entirely unfair: To spend weeks and weeks filling in bubbles, taking standardized tests and having their entire educational ambition directed toward passing them. This is not what public education was intended to do, nor should do. As the superintendent of the West Chester Area School District, I believe in very high standards for our students. I believe in accountability. I do believe that tests can be a good thing. But not the way we are being forced, by the government, to give them. We officially began the PSSA testing window on April 13 and we will continue to test through May 27 when we finish with the high school Keystone Exams, a new graduation requirement. Beginning with the class of 2017, even a straight ‘A’ student who doesn’t do well on these tests won’t receive a diploma, under state law. State and federally mandated testing has been around for a long time and is certainly here to stay. But it’s become a massive burden that is stifling creativity and love of teaching and learning. West Chester has consistently ranked in the top 10 percent among school districts in the state with testing data. In 2012 a new set of rules said we need to calculate how well our schools are doing using a system called School Performance Profiles (SPP). This system requires a new set of metrics but also includes a teacher/principal evaluation model tied to student achievement on state tests. Our district SPP ranks fifth among 500 school districts in PA. While our district has embraced high standards and accountability, we now spend the first seven months of the school year preparing to take three standardized tests, then we spend approximately six weeks giving tests to students. Unlike private and parochial schools, public schools are mandated to use these tests to determine graduation for students, and for teacher and administrator evaluations. It is positively stressing us – and our system – to the max. Our teachers, students, and parents all say the extreme amount of time focused on testing is causing ridiculous amounts of stress in the classroom, faculty room, and at home. The angst is palpable as you walk through our hallways. Where is there time for creativity in teaching? Where is there time for exploration and collaboration? Our talented staff do their very best to find ways to incorporate what needs to...

Standardized Testing: A harsh reality

Standardized testing has been an ongoing topic of discussion for many years, and it has become a topic surrounded by controversy. Those in favor of standardized testing say it is a fair way to measure student achievement, holding teachers and schools accountable to taxpayers. Opponents claim standardized tests promote a narrow curriculum that some would say, “teaches to the test”. I have no data to support my findings, all I have is my experience with one particular standardized test. Let me take you back to 2011, my junior year at Garden Spot High School. This is the last year students have to take Pennsylvania’s standardized test (PSSA), which tests reading, math, writing and science. I viewed these couple days delegated to testing as a break, a time to sit next to friends I didn’t have any classes with. I also looked forward to the muffins and Sunny D that was given out for free before the tests, my mind was focused on everything but the test. Why would I care about a test that has no effect on my report card? I would just fill my little dots without even reading the questions sometimes. I looked forward to finishing so I could draw sketches on my notepad. I recall a lot of pressure being put on us to perform well, which never made sense to me. I knew we were not held accountable as individuals for our test scores, why were should I care? Looking back I realize it was the administration just needing us to do well to keep the state off of their back, also a time for the school district to flex their muscles and prove to the others that they were superior. There was no room for the individual learning experience, either learn the stuff of get lost, students were not important. Students were prepared for the test with material specific to the PSSA, “teaching to the test”. This would not be a problem, if the material was not so specialized and tailored for the PSSA. The test put pressure on the school districts to make sure their students are prepared for certain questions pertaining to the PSSA which put the individual child’s learning needs on the back burner. Standardized tests promote black and white in a world of gray that we call education. As an advocate for innovative learning with The Franklin Foundation, standardized testing is a figurehead for the problem with education. Teaching the master plan to all students just so the district can be deemed successful, all while overlooking the individual needs of a student. If you don’t learn in a manner that the PSSA is designed for (like myself), you’re going to get left behind. Evaluation is very useful tool within a class curriculum for a student. However high-stakes testing in which schools and teachers are labeled as failures is destroying our education system. Schools and teachers are so terrified of being marked as inadequate that they forget their real purpose, to help nurture and...

Every Child Achieves Still Leaves Children Behind

I was initially excited to hear about a rewrite on the infamous No Child Left Behind Act since it was not only outdated, but justified high stakes testing and unrealistic standards by using financial aid as a hostage. The majority of news articles I came across mostly discussed things like how it was a bipartisan agreement to propose the rewrite, that people on both sides of the congressional aisle are divided on how it should be enforced, how it was a republican based rewrite and democrats didn’t get enough input, how it’s taking multiple sessions and debates on whether the amendments are fair, and how much the federal government should be involved in education. If I didn’t know beforehand that I was reading about an education law, I would have thought that I was looking up information on how the federal government was attempting to run the country as a whole. Every time I clicked on a new page I was met with political debates on everything from poverty to presidential accountability. But very little was mentioned on educators and those actually in the education field, and how they were involved in the process; because they basically aren’t. Education has become just another political platform for people in Washington to use to their advantage (or to other’s disadvantage). I’d like to believe that the congressional debates on education reform stem from a desire to really want to bolster American education, but I know that regardless of the issue at hand, if congress is involved there is no greater good that will benefit from the results. These days it seems like every issue brought up in Washington is just fodder for politicians to use in their speeches on how they want to “improve America,” but not take any realistic or progressive actions toward. We’ve mentioned countless times how big businesses are really the ones running the show, and this is no different; everything still comes down to who profits the most. You would think that when it comes to education standards, those directly involved in the field should have the most say in how things are run, but you don’t see teachers across the country giving their input to policy makers who, in turn, make changes based on those assessments. It’s standardized evaluations that are given the most weight – a faceless, impersonal statistic is what governs action. So now we will have the Every Child Achieves Act (summary available here) which promises to place less emphasis on evaluations from standardized test results, and allow states to evaluate teachers as they see fit. But the new law still mandates testing every year, which to me says that they aren’t completely abandoning using test results as a way to evaluate. Even if the federal government won’t be as involved in what happens based on test scores, the fact is that it will still be a test-driven system which, once again, only guarantees profits for those involved in test making. More money going to places it isn’t needed. Plus, as mentioned...

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