Monday, September 8, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Our press release: Parents Say No to Kindergarten Test

For immediate release August 31, 2014

Parents, Teachers Say No to Kindergarten Test

“I have opted out both my Kindergartner and my Second Grader,” says Jennifer Lewis, a Portland Public School parent. Lewis is just one of many parents across Oregon opting their child out of a new Kindergarten Assessment.

The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment was instituted last year by Governor Kitzhaber. Many early childhood and educational experts disagree this test measures kindergarten readiness at all. Parent Child Preschools Organization, an organization of sixty preschools in Oregon and Washington, has sent out information to all parents at their member preschools.
Kathy Ems, PCPO Vice-President says, “PCPO is very concerned about the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment and its effects both on the very young children taking the test and on preschool curriculum. A substantial body of research supports play-based preschool, without formal academic instruction. Learning the names and sounds of letters in preschool may happen naturally (your name starts with J), but is not part of the curriculum of a play-based program. In fact, much of the research supports starting formal academics after kindergarten, when children's brains are ready for the task of reading.”

In the first days of kindergarten students are tested on letter recognition, math skills and behavior skills. Test results cannot be released to teachers or parents, and teachers are not allowed to use them to inform instruction. Teachers are strictly prohibited from coaching or helping students.  Teachers do their own evaluations of students for normal classroom instruction

Lewis’ 2nd grade son did take the kindergarten readiness test and she didn’t like what he went through. “No 5 year old should have to go through a testing regimen, where they are repeatedly asked the same question. My son noticed this in his kindergarten assessment and started rocking and stopped responding. They know inherently they got it wrong when asked twice.” says Lewis.  
In Oregon parents can ask to opt their children out of tests by contacting their school principal or school district or teacher.  Oregon schools allow two reasons for opting out, disability or religion.  Washington and California allow parents to opt out without providing reasons. Ems says “We encourage parents to share their concerns with their principal and other school officials.  It may be possible for parents to opt out of the testing for reasons of disability or religion, including philosophical beliefs."

“Parents should not feel pressured or bullied by their school to participate in standardized testing. The state shouldn’t be pressuring and bullying schools and teachers to participate in standardized testing,” says Kathleen Jeskey an Oregon SOS member and Canby teacher. Jeskey helped co-found Oregon Save Our Schools, a group of committed teachers, parents and retired educational researchers who are trying to get the word out about the dangers of high stakes testing.  Oregon SOS is holding opt out parties to encourage parents to learn more about the tests. Kindergarten tests will be administered all over Oregon with many being done the first week of September.  “Why diminish a child's self confidence at 5?” asks Lewis

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.