Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our Schools Need Moratoriums on Common Core & High-Stakes Testing!

The Common Core State Standards package is the linchpin of a mechanism to sell policies, high-stakes tests such as Oregon’s Smarter Balanced Assessment, confidential student data, and other practices that pose immediate harm for a whole generation of our children, public education, and democracy. We need to stop the Common Core from doing more damage.

Do not be fooled. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) package is sold falsely as a “state” effort to achieve equal educational opportunities and assure that all U.S. students can compete globally. In reality, the CCSS package nationally centralizes education policy to serve the interests of an elite group of rich and powerful people. The CCSS sales effort threatens the real source of success and innovation in the U.S. - a decentralized system of school governance responsive to local needs and priorities.

Oregon Save Our Schools supports local and state standards to guide teaching. The CCSS package is part of a national campaign to privatize school management, de-professionalize teaching, turn learning into a sales commodity, and limit our schools to producing workers instead of informed citizens. Ways the CCSS package is built on misinformation:

1.    It is based on a false corporate media narrative about “failing” public education.

2.    The standards are unfounded, untested, and often developmentally inappropriate.

3.    These falsely labeled “state” standards are nationally mandated for federal waivers and Race To The Top grants, and copyrighted to assure uniform application.

4.    It was “adopted” in Oregon without real public input or analysis of whether it was an improvement over the previous Oregon standards.

5.    It doubles-down on more than a decade of failed corporate education reforms, such as test-driven accountability (like Oregon’s upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment), that have already caused collateral damage to schools and tapped school budgets; especially schools serving kids with the greatest needs.

6.    It diverts attention from the factors affecting student achievement -- poverty and income inequality – and wrongly blames teachers for national economic issues.

7.    It imposes a national curriculum, which the federal government is banned from doing, and preempts local control of schools to expand lucrative national markets for testing companies, education technologies, and pre-packaged curriculum kits.

8.    The associated "longitudinal database” systems sold along with CCSS to deliver “personalized learning” mean tracking keystrokes along a “curriculum continuum” and compiling personal student data profiles of our kids’ interests, beliefs, and behaviors to be stored and sold away from parental, student, or school control.

Oregon Save Our Schools calls for a moratorium on CCSS implementation, and urges fellow citizens to act to put the public back in public education.

PDF flyer of our position statement

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Oregon SOS at the Gates Foundation Protest in Seattle

On Thursday, June 26th, members of Oregon Save Our Schools joined Oregon Bad Ass Teachers (BATs) in Seattle in solidarity with Washington BATs and Washington Save Our Schools at an event designed to bring attention to Bill Gates’ undue influence in our public schools. A group estimated to be between 150-300 teachers, parents, and supporters marched from Westlake Center, where the event began with a rally, to the headquarters of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about a mile away.
Oregon SOS members Deb Mayer, Catherine Carroll, Kris Alman, and
Kathleen Hagans-Jeskey with teacher & activist Anthony Cody

The event began with singing, led by Washington BATs Chorus, and speakers at Westlake Center. Speakers at the initial event site included Dr. Wayne Au, Assistant Professor of Education at UW Bothell and editor of Rethinking Schools, and Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant. The event was full of music. Singing continued as the group made their way to the Gates Foundation. There, more singing followed as well as dancing and more speakers.

Speakers at the Gates Foundation event site included Susan DuFresne, co-founder of the website Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates.

Ms. DuFresne read a letter of the group’s demand that the Gates Foundation divest from corporate education reform and then presented bound hard copies to a Gates Foundation representative of the hundreds of letters which teachers have written on her website to Bill and Melinda Gates with the hope that they would be read and would receive a response. Ms. DuFresne was followed by speakers Morna McDermott of United Opt Out and Anthony Cody. Cody’s Living in Dialogue blog appears in Education Week and his first book, The Educator and The Oligarch, which analyzes the destructive influence that the Gates Foundation has had on national education policy, will be released this fall. Along with education historian and former Assistant US Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody is also co-founder of The Network for Public Education.

We would like to give a big thank you from Oregon Save Our Schools to the Washington BATs for organizing this high quality event. It was a pleasure to attend and hopefully a wakeup call for the many residents of Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and the nation who see Gates as a benevolent benefactor in the sphere of public education when the policies he promotes are in fact harmful to our students.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sen. Ron Wyden Doesn't Get It On Common Core

Pat Eck, an OSOS member, recently wrote to Senator Ron Wyden concerning the Common Core State Standards. Here is Wyden’s responding email which is confusing as he recognizes that many constituents have raised concerns to him, yet he continues to think Common Core and the testing to be what is best for Oregon students.  Furthermore, he urges Oregonians to contact their legislators with these concerns as well.

Dear Mr. Eck:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about testing in Oregon schools.  I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

As you may know, the State of Oregon adopted Common Core Standard testing in 2010.  The aim of the Common Core Standards Initiative is to give students a clear understanding of the expected proficiency levels in reading, writing and mathematics while in school.  It is important to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter college programs and the workforce as soon as they graduate.

I have heard from many Oregonians in opposition of these standards for many well thought out reasons.  I understand how Oregonians can be frustrated with a national policy that compels states into heavy testing, and how that testing could handcuff local curricula.  At the same time, I believe our schools need to be held to a standard that promotes success for all Oregon students.  We need the policies in place that tell parents and teachers where each student stands, and what each student needs to work on for future success.  While this debate continues, and while we wait to see the results of the Common Core Standards in Oregon schools, I want you to know that I will not stop fighting for education reform and proper funding for Oregon schools as long as I am in office.

Please rest assured that I will continue to do all I can on the federal level to ensure Oregon students receive the highest quality education, but I also encourage you to contact your state legislators because the Common Core Standards are adopted by states independently.  Their contact information can be found at the Oregon State Legislature’s website at www.leg.state.or.us or by contacting your county election official.

Again, thank you for keeping me apprised of issues that are important to you.  If I may be of further assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Parent Child Preschool Organization Opposes Oregon's Kindergarten Assessment

Kathy Ems, the president of the Parent Child Preschool Organization, a membership organization for cooperative preschools with over 60 affiliated preschools in Oregon and Washington, has come out against the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment. Part of her letter is below. 

For more go to http://oregonka.weebly.com/

May 5, 2014

Hello, PCPO parents and teachers,

Your kindergartner, upon entering an Oregon public school, will be given a state-mandated kindergarten assessment. The PCPO board - as well as many PCPO teachers and other early childhood professionals - are very concerned about this test for a number of reasons.

We are urging all parents to investigate this testing further. The test itself could be detrimental to children who do not already know the end-of-kindergarten items. Imagine the effect of having one of your first kindergarten experiences clearly show your teacher that you do not know "anything," or being given a final exam in high school on the first day of class. The test also does not help or inform teachers, because they do not get the results. The kindergarten teacher will have his or her own assessment to help her plan for the class and your child.

The use of letter names and sounds and addition and subtraction as a beginning kindergarten assessment can only increase the "schoolization" of preschools. We know, through much research, that young children perform better in elementary school if they explore their environment and interact with others in preschool. We call this play, but it is really the important work of early childhood. It is wrong for preschoolers to be drilled on letters instead of learning them through their play activities. We also know, through the same research, that this early drilling of information shows no benefit to children in later years.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vigor not Rigorrr Part 2


Another local commentary by a parent on the overuse of the word 'rigor' in the constant push for corporate education reform in Oregon.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Schools Need Vigor, Not Rigor

by Joanne Yatvin

Though my years in the classroom are long past, at heart I am still a cranky old English teacher who bristles at some of the neologisms that have crept into public language.  I never tack “ly” onto ordinal number words, or say “myself” when I mean “I” or “me.” I won’t use “access” or “impact” as verbs because I consider them to be only nouns. Even so, I remain politely quiet when others commit such grammatical transgressions. But there is one word I dislike so intensely when used in connection with education that I can’t remain silent under any circumstances.  That word is: “rigor.”  Part of my reaction is emotional, having so often heard “rigor” paired with “mortis.” The other part is logical, stemming from the literal meanings of rigor: harshness, severity, strictness, inflexibility and immobility.

None of these things is what I want for students at any level. And, although I don’t believe that the politicians, scholars or media commentators who use the word so freely really want them, either, I still reproach them for using the wrong word and the wrong concept to characterize educational excellence.

Rigor has been used to promote the idea that American students need advanced course work, complex texts, and longer school days and years in order to be ready for college or the workplace. But, so far, the rigorous practices put in place under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and various school reform plans have not raised test scores or improved high school graduation rates.

Since I believe it is time for a better word and a better concept to drive American education, I recommend “vigor.”  Here my dictionary says, “active physical or mental force or strength, healthy growth; intensity, force or energy.” And my mental association is to all the Latin-based words related to life. How much better our schools would be if they provided students activities throbbing with energy, growth and life.  Although school buildings happen to have walls, there should be no walls separating students from vigorous learning. No ceilings, either.  To learn, students need first-hand experiences with real-world problems — not only in math and science, but also in civics and nutrition; knowledge garnered from multiple sources, not only from textbooks and the internet, but also from talking to people of all ages and from different backgrounds.  They also need a variety of skills: the traditional school ones plus at least a taste of the skills of gardeners, craftsmen, mechanics, athletes and sales people.

Instead of aiming for higher test scores, a vigorous school would care more about what students do with what they have been taught.  At all levels such schools would foster activities that allow students to demonstrate their learning in real contexts.

As a result of the vigor that these activities exemplify, there will come the intellectual intensity, precision, critical alertness, expertise and integrity that critics of education are really calling for when they misuse the word “rigor.” These habits of mind, body and spirit are the true fruit of educational excellence. In the end, vigor in our schools is the evidence of life, while rigor is the sign of an early death.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Where is the Time for Learning?

Recently a teacher friend and I were asked about how much time is spent on testing in our classrooms. This discussion could have been prompted by an article that appeared in the Washington Post last summer.  While we don’t have the kind of detail discussed in this article, between the two of us, we as teachers are able to provide a K-8 perspective on testing and how it really goes at school. Many of us remember, when we were kids, that once a year we took a fill-in-the-bubbles test that took an hour or two and that was that. My friend and I came to the conclusion that maybe the general public just doesn’t have enough information about what really goes on today. So here goes!

The vast majority of students in Oregon currently take a minimum of two tests each year, in grades 3-8 and again in high school: OAKS Reading and Math. The OAKS manual states that each of these tests take between 60 and 75 minutes to finish. However, some students take up to 3 hours to finish them. These are usually students who really want to do well but struggle with either the content or some form of test taking anxiety. Additionally, there are many other required assessments at various grade levels. You can see the current list here http://www.ode.state.or.us/wma/teachlearn/testing/schedules/testschd_1314.pdf As you can see, these include an English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA) which takes about 45-60 minutes and is administered to all students designated English Language Learners beginning at kindergarten. Yes, you read right: a 45 minute computerized assessment for a kindergarten student, complete with sections where they must record oral answers by manipulating a start/stop on the mouse. This includes a large number of children who do not have a computer at home. Next year’s SBAC Reading and Math tests, tied to Common Core standards, are predicted to take students around 3 hours.

You can do the math and extrapolate.

In the past students were given three opportunities to pass these tests, and all three of these “opportunities” were frequently fully utilized as schools attempted to get higher numbers of students to “meet” or “exceed” OAKS requirements. This year, the opportunities were reduced to two, and those are available only to those students who do not meet (unless a parent specifically requests a retest for their child who has already met). The result of this is that those students who are struggling to meet experience the most time out of the classroom learning environment. Schools in high poverty areas, where study after study has shown that children do not do as well on standardized tests as their middle and upper class peers for a variety of reasons, often have large numbers of students who do not “meet” on their first attempt. In a school where many students do not meet on the first attempt, regular instruction cannot continue even for those students who do not have to retake the test, as so many students are out of the classroom for two to three periods of instruction. Some new and different lesson must be planned until all students return; a lesson those who are testing will still miss out on. Next year, we are told there will be one opportunity only. Whether that is an improvement or not depends on your perspective.

There are schools and teachers that attempt to help students pass by providing lots of test prep time. My colleague and I have both been involved in that in the past, but we both agreed that “test prep” really did not do much to help more students who did not meet the first time to meet on the second try. I did recall one year when we flooded a grade level with extra staff, which allowed us to make very small, fluid, flexible groups to meet students’ individual instructional needs. We split three classrooms between six teachers, basically halving the size of the instructional groups. That year was our most successful year at getting significantly more students to pass OAKS. However, that year was followed by multiple rounds of budget cuts that decimated our ability to ever do it again, as our district lost 20% of its staff by the time it was over.

My colleague and I have also both noticed that many kids, by the middle school years, are experts at all the “tricks” they’ve been taught, but are really, really bored with taking tests and if they usually don’t pass, pretty discouraged as well. Some of them will be the first ones done! Click, click, click as fast as you can and finish! Of course there’s no prize for being first, except being done, which is apparently enough of a “prize” that kids who are beaten down by “failing” year after year will step up to claim it. The unfortunate thing is that nearly every student shows growth from year to year, but those who don’t “meet the standard” don’t ever see that, even if you point it out.  It’s still a pass/fail sort of system where students are not rewarded for improving. If they don’t achieve a certain score, they get the message “does not meet the standard”. No wonder they become discouraged.

We both agreed that the kids who like to read and read at home for pleasure do far, far better on the reading assessment. Most kids like that pass! But how to require that “intervention”? We have known many students whose parents are illiterate, some only completing a few years of primary school. Did they, do they, read to their small children at home? Of course not! How could they? And then there are the parents who work multiple jobs, the parents who have severe or chronic health problems, the parents who have mental illness, the parents who are substance abusers. All of these things factor into the literacy and numeracy skills that children arrive at school with. I have had children in kindergarten to whom I have handed a book and they did not know what it was or even how to open it. And when we get those children, in order to make sure they pass the tests upon which our schools’ funding and teachers’ evaluations hang, we must provide required “interventions”. Those interventions frequently consist of “drill and kill” type reading exercises where “fluency” (ability to read aloud quickly) is frequently measured, sometimes as often as weekly. Children may also be asked to answer comprehension questions after reading a passage, which they were timed while reading! This can begin as young as first grade. Nothing fosters love of reading like hurry and stress and tests, right?

And then there are the older struggling readers, who might be motivated to read if they were presented with something of high interest at their reading level. However, the implementation of Common Core standards, wherein all students must tackle “rigorous” grade level passages to develop “grit and tenacity” makes this more and more difficult. I wonder if the people who love to use those terms are aware of how rigorous some kids’ lives are and how much grit and tenacity it requires for them to just show up at school every day?

One last item that may interest the public about these tests: The students are virtually on their own while taking them. Teachers cannot define a word, even a word like “previous” on a math test. Teachers cannot evaluate a question in the middle of a test, nor after a test, nor ever. In the past, if a test had no correct answer or was poorly worded or poorly translated, there was a way for teachers to flag and message the state about this. No more. Now only students can flag such things... beginning at third grade, or in the case of ELPA, beginning at kindergarten. The only thing teachers are allowed to do during the tests is read the verbatim instructions to students: the same verbatim instructions used from grade K through 12. The exact same words, which are far more appropriate for the high school audience than the kinders.

So, who spends the most time taking these tests? The students who struggle the most: Special Education students, who nearly all must take grade level tests regardless of what their instructional level is or has been; English Language Learners, who are required to take the tests after one year in the US regardless of language level; and students who experience test anxiety and  “choke” when they are placed in a high stress testing situation. And let’s not leave out the chronically absent students, who must immediately be snatched from the regular classroom if they DO happen to show up, so that we can meet the requirements for participation. (That does not encourage better attendance in the future, by the way.) And while the other students wait for them to finish testing, regular instruction is paused. Additionally, in most schools, the computer lab (if there is one)  is closed to everything but testing for a period of one to two months. Those one to two months fall sometime between January and March, either one-half or two-thirds of the way through the school year AND one-half to two thirds of the way through the curriculum that is being tested that year.

We should be asking ourselves the following: Is this the most effective use of our students’ time? Is this the most effective use of our tax dollars? And how much is all of this costing, anyway? We should be demanding from our elected representatives an audit of expenses associated with the testing systems to include not only the costs of creation and maintenance of those systems but instructional time spent, teacher prep time and professional development time spent, and physical resources utilized (i.e. computer lab time). At the very least, we need to be able to make an informed cost/benefit analysis of all these things and compare that to the cost/benefit of simply providing struggling students with more instructional time in the classroom as well as in many other programs we have lost due to budget cuts, like summer school and after school programs. Time for the public to learn what’s really going on in the testing business.

If you are interested in particulars of Oregon OAKS testing requirements, here is the OAKS administration manual. It is a public document, available online through ODE.