Sunday, August 24, 2014

Oregon SOS Position on the So-Called Achievement Gap

Ah, The Achievement Gap. 

We keep hearing all about it when discussing public education.  The reformy types, like Stand for Children, feel that the gap can be erased by "raising the bar", advocating for charters and high-stakes testing, collecting more data, and making sure teachers are "effective". 

Last week, State Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland District 3, held an education forum with the topic: "Strategies to Bridge the Achievement Gap."  Oregon SOS has provided our own set of solutions in how to help our students who continue to struggle under the decade of the NCLB/NCLB Waiver model.  A shift in philosophy and values with regards to rebuilding our public education is long overdue.

Our position paper and list of suggestions of what we are for on this topic is listed at the link below. 

Oregon Save Our Schools:  Strategies that Bridge the Achievement Gap

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kindergarten Round Up: It’s Not What It Used To Be

by Kathleen Jeskey
Last year, Oregon implemented a sort of kindergarten entrance exam: an assessment designed to determine each childs readiness for kindergarten. One small part of the assessment consists of a one minute test on the childs ability to identify approximately 65 letter symbols by name or sound. When three reporters from The Oregonian attempted this, none of the three were able to complete more than 50 of the 65 in the time allotted. Their confidence as adults and writers seemed to be unshaken by this experience, as they were okay with it being published in the newspaper.  

Im worried. Lots of kids start kindergarten next year and Im not sure theyre all quite as mature and self assured as newspaper reporters. The news that they arent ready for kindergarten on the very first day of school (let alone on track for college and career) might be a little daunting.  And Im not worrying by myself. Many people who are well respected in the field of education are also worried about what all this readiness testing means, not only for kindergarten but for college and career. 

I have a grandson who starts kindergarten this fall. My grandson has great self confidence. This is a kid who lives in the country and collects eggs from under live chickens. He plays outside and runs around with two enormous German shepherds, each of which probably outweigh him by double. He sleeps in a tree house sometimes. But as a teacher who has seen what happens when kids fail assessments, Im not sure even this little superheros self esteem will survive the gauntlet of tests hes about to be subjected to. Im even less sure his love of school and reading and learning will survive. Again, Im not worrying alone.

My daughter and son-in-law have done much to instill self confidence in this little guy. They allow him to try things, to fail, and to try again. They give help when he needs it, unlike what will happen in the state kindergarten assessment. Teachers are not allowed to help and answer questions during the administration of a standardized test. It is standardized, with standardized responses that administrators of the assessment (aka your childrens teachers) are allowed to respond to questions with. In fact, administrators must sign a document stating they will follow all the regulations outlined for administering the assessment or risk disciplinary action up to and including the loss of their teaching license. This is the same kind of agreement that every teacher must sign prior to administering a standardized test in Oregon.

I know a lot of parents are considering opting their children out of standardized testing, including the kindergarten assessment (see Oregon Opt Your Kindergartener Now--September 2014 Facebook page here). These are parents who dont tend to let their little kids try things that might hurt them, like driving a car. As in the case of  driving, these parents consider the assessments potentially damaging at this point in their childs life and better saved for a time when they have had a chance to develop skills and maturity. A number of groups dedicated to the education of young children feel the same. Parent Child Preschools Organization, an organization of over 60 preschools in Oregon and Washington sent a letter to all parents participating in their preschool programs at the end of last year stating that the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment is not a good thing for children entering kindergarten. You can find that letter here: (Click on Oregon Kindergarten Assessment.)  The Alliance for Childhood is not only worried about giving our youngest students standardized tests, they have been worried for some time about the standards themselves. 

But theres a lot of pressure. I have a friend whod like to opt her child out of testing, but shes worried about doing it. She knows that there are schools that are suffering because they dont have very good test scores: schools that have large concentrations of poor, minority or non-English speaking students, who typically dont score as well on standardized tests as the kids at her mostly white, all English speaking, middle class school do. She thinks the tests dont mean much and she really wants to help stop the unfair practices that are being used to bring about privatization, closing public schools and opening in their place for profit charters, in many of Americas cities. The problem is, she was a good student herself and she wants to follow the school rules. She worries the school may tell her that if she opts her child out, it will hurt her childs school, maybe lower its state ranking. Her school has a very good state ranking. Their school community is very proud of that. She doesnt want to have the people at her school upset with her. Besides, she thinks her child will probably pass anyway and if not, her kid has plenty of self esteem and wont be affected by this one little test.

Lots of parents will feel this pressure. My hope is that they will consider all the data that is now being collected on their children at a level far above that of the local school, beginning on their childs first day of kindergarten. My hope is that they will consider asking questions like Who is using this data? and Where is this data stored? and Can I get access to my childs data that is stored from the state at any time, now or in the future? You can learn more about data privacy concerns here and here.

I also hope that parents who arent worried about their childrens self esteem will choose to stand in solidarity with those parents whose childrens self worth is being damaged when they do not pass the tests. I hope that will stand in solidarity with parents of children who struggle to pass a standardized test: children with disabilities, children who are not yet proficient in English, children against whom the test is culturally biased, or children who live in poverty. Poverty and getting low test scores have a really high rate of correlation.  

I hope that parents who want to maintain the standing of their school in the community stand in solidarity with those parents who live in neighborhoods that have a high concentration of immigrant families or children who live in poverty, whose schools will always struggle to get a high rating if that rating is based on scores on a standardized test. In many areas of the country, those childrens neighborhood schools are being closed based on standardized test scores.I hope that they will stand in solidarity with the children whose self esteem and skills are not in tact when they first arrive at school due to neglect or abuse at home.

My hope is that they know that these tests are not designed for the majority of students to do well on. The test many kids will be taking starting in third grade this coming school year are predicted by Oregon State Superintendent Rob Saxton produce a 65% failure rate among Oregons students.  I wonder how he knows that?

But back to kindergarten.

Kindergarten teachers are professionals who can assess children in a kind and sensitive manner without having their responses scripted. While our state and federal government may have an interest in a well educated populace and a responsibility to ensure equity in our schools, it is ultimately the parents who have the right to make decisions about what and how their children learn. This is  what real school choice would consist of: letting parents whose children attend their local public school choose, in a democratic fashion, how that school is run. We should let parents decide whether they would prefer their child to have a standardized education or a humanized education. Parents should decide whether they want a kindergarten classroom designed around experiential learning and research on child development or standardized evaluations and reportable data that proven to have little to no effect on educational outcomes. 

Parents should not feel pressured or bullied by their school to participate in standardized testing. The state shouldnt be pressuring and bullying schools and teachers to participate in standardized testing. 

Since I dont teach kindergarten, I wanted to include the voice of someone whos taught kindergarten for many years.  She doesnt like the the tests nor the requirement that they be given right away.  She says that she learned through experience that it was better to wait until a couple weeks into the school year to do any kind of formal assessment with her students. About the quality of the new assessments she says, I hate the whole thing as it is a waste of my teacher time and in my opinion, the data is not valid due to how poorly the questions are set up and scored.  And the behavior piece is another whole kettle of fish. Many years ago, she gave her own assessments at that first parent/child meeting but learned through experience that this was not a good idea: I found that students were shy and afraid the first few days, especially some of my Latino students, and often wouldn't talk.  As a result the information was often incorrect.  It wasn't they didn't know their colors, they just weren't confident enough to talk to you. The final straw for me was when (my son) started kinder. He is now 16!  We went for a pre-k meeting with the teacher and at that meeting she did her beginning of kinder screening.  My late bloomer didn't know his ABCs. All he wanted to do was build with Legos and blocks (go figure for a 5 year old). He didn't write his name, but had an amazing vocabulary etc. etc.  At the end of the meeting I felt shamed about what my kid didn't know and that this teacher didn't see any of his strengths and school hadn't even started yet!!  I swore I would not make another parent or child feel like that starting kinder, their first school experience.  That was when I moved all my assessing a couple of weeks into the year and used the beginning of school meeting to talk to the parent about their child's strengths, concerns, any info I should know.   Now we are back to creating the negative interaction I swore to avoid.  UGH!   

All this testing isnt good for our little ones. Lets stop it. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

ODE Asks: Is Your Kid a Potential Criminal?

From our August newsletter (subscribe here)

The Salem Statesman Journal ran an article on July 7 about data sharing among several state agencies—“the Department of Corrections, Oregon Youth Authority, Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education have signed an agreement to share data among them, something they are not typically allowed to do.”

The idea, they say, is to spot correlations that can identify children at risk of bad outcomes. Data are already being used to predict which convicts may be more prone to recidivism (repeat offenses). Comparing models for school outcomes to the prison system strikes us as Orwellian. Examples of supposedly relevant data include test scores, low birth weight, and who knows, probably in-school disciplinary information if they want to predict criminal behavior.

The article says “nowhere in this project can the state analyze an individual child.” But they want to be able to say, “This child is exhibiting three crucial behaviors that make him likely to drop out of school.” Now wait a minute. Of course they can analyze an individual child. Correlations are calculated on the basis of individuals’ data on different measures. If they couldn’t identify the child, they couldn’t run the correlations. And if they can identify that a child has certain troubling characteristics, that information had to be retrieved from somewhere, probably from that shared database.

These plans should set off lots of alarm bells. Oregon Save Our Schools tried two years ago to promote legislation that would guarantee parents’ rights to know what information is being collected on their children and to challenge incorrect information. ODE scuttled that effort. We also have a real concern about the self-fulfilling prophecy. If they identify a child with certain behaviors and start treating him like a potential problem, the child could be led to conform to those expectations.

It’s like the state has this great new plaything, a huge database that can correlate all kinds of information on everyone, including our children. The capabilities of technology are outpacing thoughtful policy on data use and the experience to use the technology wisely. And remember that correlation is not destiny.

We support the ethical and appropriate use of data, but the big data moneyball approach is untested and fraught with problems.

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 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

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.