Friday, March 28, 2014

Voices of Testing Season


Testing season is in full swing these days.  Below are some snippets of typical conversations heard during this time of the year by teacher and students:


"These kids need testing strategies to succeed.  They have no clue!"

"We were told to teach Common Core State Standards but OAKS is based on the old standards!"

"We have to retest all of those who didn't pass?  Is this under the new formula for growth or for meeting benchmark scores or not?"

"But I still have two months left to teach curriculum!  They won't know enough of the material to be tested on it!"

"We're going to interrupt our high-interest hands-on learning project to have those who didn't meet on the state test, take the test again?!  They will get behind and be left out!"

"I'm not surprised by the test results of some students; I could have told you they weren't being successful based on my assessments in class.  Why waste time with a high-stakes test?"

"Sorry you didn't meet benchmark, but you grew so much!  You did great, don't feel bummed!  You should be proud of your efforts." (as students' faces turn grim)

"I feel like such a failure."

"Why are the assessments you as a professional teacher not good enough when it comes evaluating  the success of your students?"

"State testing started today. Ugh."

"Those on the outside look at these test results and see failure."

"I am not taking time out of teaching to teach test prep."

"Have you looked at your data strands?"



Imagine what we could be hearing from students and teachers instead such as, "This is such a fun project!" or "I love this science experiment!" or  "Enjoy your book!" or "My students and I are having an amazing time learning about math this week!"

What version do we want for our kids and teachers?  Time to silence the voices of fear, worry, and shame, and instead, replace them with voices of joy, curiosity, and inspiration.

One way is to Opt Out and send the message that high-stakes testing has no place in our public education system. Another way is to join The Network for Public Education in their campaign to ask Congress for hearings into the overuse and abuse of high-stakes testing.

Anthony Cody of TNPE also recently wrote as a response to a reader of his blog about what one can do, and he responded:

"You ask what we can do to turn this around.

I am putting my energy into the Network for Public Education, which is working to support candidates willing to defend public education. We are obviously going to be outspent every time, but if we can get people informed and energized, the power of money can be defeated.

http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/

Students are organizing nationally through a group called Students United for Public Education.

http://supe.k12newsnetwork.com/

There is a gathering of student activists in Los Angeles this weekend -- check them out here:

http://empowered2014.com/

There are people organizing around Opting Out of standardized tests -- see here:

http://unitedoptout.com/

There is a group called FairTest that is fighting the buss of tests:

http://fairtest.org/

The folks at Rethinking Schools do a great job chronicling these issues.

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/index.shtml

And depending on where you are there may be some local or regional grassroots organizing going on. This movement is growing fast."

The time is now to take back our public schools and protect them for everyone.












Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Educating Kids, Yes It Is Personal!


On Wednesday, February 5th, 2014,  two members of OSOS, both veteran classroom teachers, visited, by invitation, the office of Senator Mark Hass, chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. Senator Hass has worked on some positive pieces of legislation related to education, so we were hoping we might get at least a listen regarding teacher concerns about the consequences in Oregon’s middle and elementary school classrooms regarding the focus on high stakes standardized testing and implementation of Common Core State (sic) Standards. That meeting was not very positive. Here, one of the teachers writes an open letter to Senator Hass about that meeting from the teacher’s perspective. A private email was sent to the Senator’s assistant earlier this week expressing disappointment in the meeting and asking what the Senator’s position is on moratorium or repeal of the Common Core in Oregon. At the time of this posting, there had been no response from his office.

Dear Senator Hass,

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment with our meeting on Wednesday, February 5th. When I spoke at Beaverton’s 40/40/20 meeting about my frustration with sloganeering over true action to improve education for Oregon students, what I said clearly struck a chord with the audience as evidenced by the fact that I was the only speaker who received a round of applause. Afterward, when I approached you and spoke to you in private, I expressed my dismay at Oregon Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton’s assertion that teachers support the current reform agenda. I told you that I could put you in touch with many, many teachers who, like myself, feel that these policies not only do not help students but in fact are harming them. You invited me to make an appointment with your assistant to come to Salem and speak to you. I took his card that night and contacted him the next day via email.

My fellow teacher, Tricia Snyder, and I arrived about five minutes late. That was totally my fault because right as I was dismissing my sixth graders, a former student who just started high school this year stopped in to see me. He’s a great kid. I’ve known him since he was in my pre-K class in summer school, his first time in a school. He didn’t even know how to write his name when he got there but 3 weeks later, he could write it perfectly. He was in my class in 5th grade too, and attended the elementary school where I work during the years in between. He wasn’t the very best student, but he was a hard worker and a good, average student. He was a happy kid and had lots of friends. He was very outgoing. I always thought he’d be great on stage.

He had a lot of struggles during those years. He had to learn English. His mother was almost deported and had to return to Mexico for a year. She took him with her. When he came back, he told me he didn’t like school there because “they hit you”. He comes and sees me every once in awhile, usually when something’s bothering him and he needs help.

That was the case on the Wednesday before I had the meeting with you. I asked him how high school was: “Better than middle school, right?” I joked. His answer was no. He hated high school. I asked him why. He told me it was boring, but I dug a little deeper and he told me he was failing two classes. He said it was because he had gone to Mexico with his family this year, like he always does, and when he got back he was far behind. Now he is trying to catch up so he doesn’t fail and thus not get the credits he needs to graduate. I offered to help him after school. I told him I had to leave right then (to meet with you, Senator Hass) but he said he’d come back Friday. I hope he does. I wouldn’t have left normally, but I had hoped that you might listen to me and my concerns about how current “reforms” are failing kids like him and that I would be helping him by meeting with you.

When we arrived you weren’t there yet, but Tricia and I sat down at a table with the two legislative assistants who greeted us. We were told that you would join us shortly, as you were still in committee. We expressed some of our concerns and the assistants began to try and explain to us certain things about how government works, how schools work, and to fill us in on some current issues in educational policy. I may be off base, but at that moment I felt a little insulted that someone who is younger than my oldest child was explaining to me, a 26 year veteran teacher in the public schools with a Master’s degree equivalent, who has been politically active since the 1970s, how the public schools and government function and what the current issues are. I felt we were being talked to, not listened to. I felt we were being interrupted. And you were still nowhere in sight.

I told them that my number one concern is the use of high stakes testing. I asked why we needed to have a common set of standards for every student when students are so different. I was told that if we didn’t have standards and tests, there would be no way to measure “accountability”. Tricia asked exactly what accountability meant. We were told that teachers had to be accountable, that we can’t have bad teachers in our schools. Tricia stated that there is a system of accountability in place: that’s what principals and other administrators are for. I told them that’s what locally elected school boards are for as well, and that we are also accountable to parents. We were told that school districts get a lot of money from the state and therefore must be accountable to the state for how they use that money. Things I wish I’d said moment: Where does the state get that money? Isn’t it from the citizens, the very ones who should be allowed to have the local control I spoke of?

I tried to be respectful and listen to what those young men had to say, but at some point I wanted my turn to speak. I probably interrupted, but I had felt they were interrupting and I was determined to be heard. No one raised their voice. No one insulted anyone. Tricia and I merely disagreed with their assertions. One of the young men felt our tone was “angry” and for some reason felt that the argument was “personal,” although none of us ever spoke about anything but education policy and philosophy. I was truly careful about what I said to the assistants because I actually felt sorry for them being put in the position they were in. However, I did tell him that this whole thing was very personal to me: this is my career, my kids, their lives that are being legislated.  I also told them that it does make me angry when I hear that we need to rate schools and teachers using students test scores in the name of “accountability”. I told them that I am angry because when I hear that, what I hear is, “You teachers suck.” 

At about that point is when you finally arrived. I’d say we’d been there at least half an hour by then. You did not introduce yourself to Tricia. You asked what the discussion was and your assistant told you, “They want an end to all testing.”

I responded, “That is not what I said. You’re mischaracterizing my statement. I said what I want is an end to all high stakes standardized testing.” He got defensive (as I felt he had throughout the entire conversation whenever we contradicted his assertions) and said something to the effect that he was just kidding and trying to “lighten the mood”. 

Then you pointed your finger at us and told us, “Don’t beat up on these guys, they’re good guys!” I replied that I was sure they were but that I had come to Salem to speak with YOU. You had, in fact, invited me to do so. I brought some reading for you as well. Supporting articles from education experts like David Berliner , Stephen Krashen and Yong Zhao were among the papers in my folder. You told your assistant to leave the folder on your desk, that you had to pick up your son in Beaverton by 6:00 (it was now about 5:20) and that you needed to go. You may have been in the room for 5 minutes, tops. You popped in and dashed out. You never even sat down at the table with us. I know you’d been at an important meeting. So had I, before I left school. I cut it short to talk to you. I know you had a kid there waiting, depending on you to be there. So had I, before I left school.

I drove 40 minutes each way to come and see you. For Tricia, the drive was over an hour each way. We had hoped to have a real dialogue about the false hopes and misguided actions that are driving this runaway train. Instead, we heard a lot of platitudes and excuses about why things must be the way they are. And we didn’t even hear them from you. We felt that our concerns as teachers were simply dismissed. Again. And we are tired of it. At least it’s good to know where your office stands.

Is my tone angry?

I do hope we ended our meeting without the two assistants feeling upset. They really do seem like good guys, I just feel they have a lot to learn. As we closed the meeting I told one of them, “I just hope you understand, you can’t know all about a kid, how a kid’s performing, based on two data points. You have to look them in the eye.”

He replied, “There are too many kids in Oregon. We can’t look them all in the eye.”

I replied, “That’s what you have us for. You need to trust the teachers.”

Is that too personal?

Regards,

Kathleen Jeskey
6th grade teacher at a Title I school

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Please Support Lew Frederick’s HB 4062 on Student Privacy

State Legislator Lew Frederick, a real champion for education, is sponsoring a bill in the coming legislative session protecting student records and privacy. We urge you to contact legislators in support of this bill. 

BACKGROUND: Recent administrative decisions by  the U.S. Department of Education to FERPA (the federal law governing student data privacy)  have weakened  privacy safeguards and shifted the burden of privacy protection to the States.  The creation of a network of Statewide Longitudinal Databases (SLDS)  containing  individual student records  has further put students at risk.  The student records include information about grades, test scores, attendance data, disability and health, family relationships and disciplinary data.

Rep. Frederick's bill (HB 4062) protects and limits the use of student data by specifying it may only be used for the educational benefit of the student and by protecting parent, student and teacher rights. This is a continuation of a bill which Oregon Save Our Schools helped draft. We are indebted to Lew for his work in this area and for his continual work in understanding Oregon’s educational system and standing up for its children.

What you can do to help:

1) Contact your legislator and ask them to support this bill.

2) Contact your school board members and ask them to support this bill.

3) Read more background information on data privacy from Lisa Shultz's testimony last year on HB 2666

4) Come to the February meeting of Oregon SOS where we will have a presentation on student data privacy (2nd Sunday of the month, Feb. 9th, 6-8 pm)

Privacy protections won't happen without public support.  Working together with legislators like Lew Frederick and the other sponsors of this bill we can create laws that put the safety and security of our children first (not corporate profits).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's Testing Season: Be a No-Show and Opt Out!



Testing "season" is gearing up and your student's school newsletters will start to fill with messages about making sure children get a full night's sleep, having them eat regular healthy meals, and supporting them with encouragement to do their best.

However, a better approach to helping your child do their best, might be to not allow them to take the test at all.  This practice is called "opting out" of testing, and it is a trend more and more parents are following in order to protect their child from the negative effects of high-stakes standardized testing to include student anxiety.

You may be thinking, "It is just a test, no big deal," but in reality, these tests carry a lot of weight, value, and ramifications that go beyond being "just a test." These tests, in Oregon it is the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) and soon to be Smarter Balanced (SBAC) to test Common Core State Standards, are the key to the success of the corporate education reform model which seeks to run public schools more like a business with competition as a foundation to making schools better rather than seeing schools funded equitably and valued as a public service for the common good.

More specifically, these tests need to be recognized for what they really are: "high-stakes" tests.

With high-stakes tests, students, schools, and teachers are measured and ranked based primarily on the results of these tests.  As a result:

  • those schools who shows the best results are rewarded
  • the lowest resulting schools are invaded by coaches and experts to analyze what seemingly went wrong
  • students who don't meet lose out on electives and programs in order to be assigned more remedial classes
  • students are often subjected to test prep during their instructional time
  • teachers fear poor evaluations as their jobs get tied to test scores
  • under the Oregon NCLB Waiver model, there will always be 15 percent of our schools in priority status--a label a school is stuck with for four years despite improvement--and if no improvement is shown these schools can go into "receivership" or run by a for-profit company
  • High-stakes testing and the data it provides drives everything
  • Many students experience high-levels of stress
  • High stakes tests cost millions of dollars
  •  
    And your child is lost in the data.

Furthermore, testing companies, most notably, Pearson Inc., creates tests that no one can really question.  In Oregon, teachers cannot discuss the test items or concerns about the validity of such items, or else they run the risk of losing their teaching license.  So who has the control? The testing companies--who seek profit.   And they want students, schools, and teachers to struggle so they can validate the message that schools are "failing" and then turn around and feed states and school districts their curriculum and test prep materials to help fix things--with your tax dollars.  Students swim in large class sizes. Students have lost valuable and enriching programs.  Students have lost school days.  Teachers have lost autonomy in the classroom.  Teachers have lost retirement funding.  Teachers have lost time to teach.  Why?  To make room for the testing and data is provides--for the companies that seek to profit with the wares they are peddling.

So, how do parents know our kids are successful without these tests? Authentic work samples assessess by professional teachers are great.  Discussion with teachers are valued.  The words and moods of our children are meaningful. Visiting our schools tell us a lot too.

But what do these high-stakes tests really tell you as a parent? Not much.  They are a snapshot of a moment in time over random questions designed by a testing company.  If we must have tests as some kind of measure, they should be a small part of a whole picture designed by teachers. However,  under our current model, these high-stakes tests are THE only part of the picture that counts.

Our children are more than that. Our teachers and students can tell us more than any standardized test.  In order to help our kids and teachers, parents can question and challenge this model.  Opting our children out of this testing process is the first step.

Be a "no-show" this testing season.  In doing so, you starve the profiteers and corporate education reformers from the data they need to survive.  They survive at the expense of our much-loved and valued neighborhood public schools.

For more information on how to opt out, check out our updated Opt Out tab on our web page.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

When Students Speak, We Should Listen

photo by Bette Lee

When it comes to public education, it seems no one ever asks those who know best: students and teachers.  Doing so would save our state a lot of grief, stress, and wasted time and money.

In Portland Public Schools, where the district is inching closer and closer to a strike as contract negotiations drag out, students express their voices over what they value in their education.  In the following article, "Portland Students Pack School Board Meeting, Back Teachers Union," Alexia Garcia shares insight regarding not only what our students think and want for their quality public education but also why they protested.

Oregon Save Our Schools founder and school board member, Steve Buel, was the only board member to stay and honor the voices of the students.  He and Oregon SOS are proud of Oregon students standing up for themselves, their teachers, and those students who will follow and benefit from their words and actions.

Students, keep up the fantastic work! Your voices are important, powerful, and they do make a difference!






“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf
“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf
“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf
“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf
“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf
“My parents received an email from PPS claiming that their contract was the contract that supported students,” said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia yesterday. “How can PPS say that, when we’ve had three student walkouts and seven total student actions in support of the PAT’s contract proposal? Last night was especially telling that the board has their own agenda. They refused to listen to students when we came to their own meeting to speak.”
Edwards said students’ goals are aligned with teachers’ goals—and are very different from the goals of the school board and corporations who want a say in our public education system.
- See more at: http://labornotes.org/2014/01/portland-students-pack-school-board-meeting-back-teachers-union#sthash.Xqd7sCY1.dpuf

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Money? For What?

Recently, Kari Chisholm wrote a piece for Blue Oregon about education funding titled, "Bottom Line for Our Schools? What We Need Here is More Money."  We at Oregon SOS feel we are definitely underfunding our schools to levels way below the Quality Education Model, but there is more to think about than that.  One Oregon SOS member, Tricia Snyder, responds:

"Clearly we are underfunding our schools, especially when you look at the Quality Education Model. With that said, I think we also need to take a critical look at making sure money is being maximized on student learning in the classroom. Unfortunately, our state with Governor Kitzhaber's and the OEIB's plan along with the NCLB Waiver still value high-stakes testing with expensive longitudinal data systems. This priority and value clashes with what is best for kids and creates more bureaucracy that gets in the way of real teaching and learning. Oregon Save Our Schools (Oregon SOS on Facebook) is watching how this has rolled out in Oregon since 2011 and have challenged it all the way. We see what happens in other states who have already implemented Common Core and expensive disastrous testing. We see how talented teachers are leaving the profession in droves as they refuse to be micromanaged, valued by test scores, and pushing an agenda they don't believe to be best for kids. Oregon needs to wake up. PPS is working to protect kids and teachers from this corporate reform model with this contract negotiation process. More money, sure, but for what? What is best for kids, teachers, and public education? Oregon SOS feels we need smaller classes, a well-rounded education, an end to high-stakes testing, and schools working with their community to decide what is best.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Oregonian's Anti-Union Agenda

Current contract negotiations between Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers are faltering.  Local media, thought to be responsible for investigating and writing in an objective manner in order to inform the community of the situation appears to be serving more as a place to bash teacher unions instead.

A recent piece came out which this phenomenon is analyzed.

"Since bargaining started, the Oregonian's editorial board has written a series of commentaries about negotiations that have become increasingly one-sided and anti-union. In multiple editorials, the Oregonian is misleading the public by distorting evidence and removing facts from important context. In doing so, they surreptitiously paint a picture of a powerful and greedy teachers union locked in a contract battle with a flawed but ultimately well-meaning school board."

Here is the full write article here.