Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why, O, Why? All About the Bias

Kathleen Jeskey

On Sunday, October 19, Portland area teachers held a party in Pioneer Square. 

The Quality Education Festival included a book giveaway, a pumpkin give away, free face painting and henna tattoos, and a booth from Outdoor School among the activities designed for family fun. There were also performances from local area schools which included theater, music and dance. 

Oregon Save Our Schools sponsored a booth at the event designed to educate parents on their rights to opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing (also handing out stickers, pencils and clown noses to the kids). 

The overall theme of the Festival was that our students are more than a test score and that they deserve to be a priority when it comes to funding. It highlighted many of the programs that students enjoy, which make school meaningful to them, that our schools have lost due to funding cuts and an inordinate focus on test scores as the only possible measure of student achievement.

Many volunteer groups that participated paid for their booths at the event, including ours, which was provided by our own Joanne Yatvin. The funding for the event came from local area teachers associations membersdues. Hours and hours of volunteer time were put in by local teachers, as well as support from Oregon Education Association staffers and leaders (whose salaries are also paid by the local teachersdues) to organize the event.  The event was on Pioneer Squares calendar as well.

The calendar the event was apparently not on was the calendar of the Oregonian. 

Many teachers and other local volunteers who helped organize the event, including members of Oregon Save Our Schools, eagerly awaited the Oregonians coverage to see if their picture, or their childs picture, appeared in the O. But in spite of the fact that the Oregonian routinely prints news about events in Pioneer Square as well as stories which question the quality and commitment of Oregons teachers  stories which question the quality and commitment of Oregon’s teachers not a peep was heard in the Oregonian about this event.

The OEA staffer who was designated to communicate with the Oregonian about the event tried three or four times unsuccessfully, as reported to this writer, to have news of the event included somewhere in the paper. Those attempts included the following: a request to submit a guest opinion promoting the Festival and its mission, an invitation to send a reporter and/or photographer to the event, a follow up reminder prior to the event, and a press release after the event.

After all the hard work that many community members put into this event and not so much as a human interest report on it, educators and their supporters are troubled by an impression of editorial bias from the Oregonian. 

We hope that as a news organization, the Oregonian will report all sides of the complex education issues that face our state, not just those with which its editorial board agrees.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

OEA Needs to Follow its Members' Vote Against High-Stakes Testing

On September 17, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) made a report to the Oregon Senate Committee on Education & Workforce regarding Common Core and Assessment. While OEA's report was a welcome change from its previous responses (ranging from silence to full support of the "reform" agenda) to teacher concerns, there remain areas in this report that are problematic, especially for OEA members who approved resolutions at their most recent Representative Assembly that denounced high-stakes standardized testing and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

The report begins by discussing the Common Core, repeating the questionable conclusions of an 2013 NEA poll:  “More than 75% of NEA members either support the Common Core wholeheartedly or with some reservations”. This writer has always found that to be an odd conclusion drawn from the actual numbers, in which 26% of members said they supported the standards wholeheartedly, 50% reported that they supported with some reservations, and 11% were strongly opposed. One could have just as easily said that 61% of OEA members strongly oppose Common Core or have some reservations. But NEA has a financial stake with Common Core. As Dr. Mercedes Schneider observes: “NEA must spread this ‘strong’ approval message, for it has accepted millions to promote this message” from Bill Gates. One is also left to wonder why a more recent poll done by EducationNext shows that while Common Core support is slipping among the general public, support has plummeted among teachers who have now met the Common Core sales package face to face in their classrooms.

The OEA report cites a more recent poll that 2 in 5 Oregon teachers oppose the Common Core (hardly a 75% “strongly support” statement). OEA then states at least half of teachers believe that implementation is taking the wrong direction, and a wide margin (80%) believe that if they had been allowed to give input at all (only 40% believe that; 60% said they were not allowed) they would not have been listened to.

The report speaks of teachers feeling that their adoption of Common Core has resulted in a huge disconnect between what they are getting and what they actually need. It goes on to express teachers’ extreme frustration with standardized testing. It then states OEA’s official recommendations regarding Common Core and high stakes testing, which are clearly resolutions that came out of the most recent Representative Assembly of OEA members:
  • Call for a moratorium on new high stakes tests.
  • Work with parents and education stakeholders to determine the appropriate use of assessment
  • Invite legislators and all public education officials to take the SBAC test
  • Call for congressional hearings on the misuse and abuse of standardized testing
  • Ask that testing programs originate from and are approved by licensed educators instead of a for-profit testing system.
The final part of this report should be troubling to all members of OEA and most particularly those who worked very hard at the Representative Assembly to get certain business items passed. One particular business item called for a moratorium on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. There was a great deal of discussion around the word “moratorium” versus “postponement”. Webster’s Dictionary defines moratorium as “a temporary prohibition of an activity.” While the OEA report claims to support a moratorium (as it members supported), OEA then waters that down by calling for continued use of Smarter Balanced field tests during this current school year and enacting a true moratorium only on using the results for rating teachers & administrators. This is significantly weaker than the intent of its members who worked so hard to make “moratorium” the essential concept.

In calling for a moratorium, OEA members demanded a halt to the damaging effects of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for EVERYONE, not just teachers. OEA's own members feel that this assessment will be harmful to students. Teachers' major objection to the Smarter Balanced Assessment is not that they will be rated based on its results. The major objection is that high-stakes testing should not be given at all. Research has shown that does not improve instruction. Teachers wanted the support of their state union because they believe the test will be harmful to many students. Many teachers are opting their own children out of the test.

Washington Education Association surveyed its members on the Smarter Balanced field tests and found its members felt that the test was disruptive to the school day. They found that the average amount of time for students to complete the assessments was nearly 5 hours for the English Language Arts and 4 hours for the math assessment. This is above the 3 and 4 hour estimates for completion (which seem ludicrous enough) made by the Assessment Consortium. The things Washington teachers found problematic about the tests were numerous and mostly involved the quality of the tests. Smarter Balanced also has been predicted by Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton to have a predicted failure rate of 65%. If the rosy picture painted of predicted completion time is any indication, the failure rate could be even higher. Many students in the field tests have struggled to even finish the exams

Why OEA leadership has decided to be timid about the call from its members regarding the moratorium remains a mystery to this OEA member. Has a deal been struck with the state, Saxton, ODE, and Governor Kitzhaber to keep these unwelcome and harmful tests rolling along? If so, why? Pressure from Washington, DC? Pressure from NEA, due to its receiving pro-Common Core millions from the Gates Foundation? Pressure from Bill Gates himself? These are questions for OEA members and also for parents whose children attend the schools and sit in the classrooms. OEA members thought they had won a reprieve for their students at the Representative Assembly. OEA leadership is letting members, parents, and students down.

OEA leadership should be asking whose goals they are following? If OEA is not member-driven as it claims, it should rethink its position. Teachers have grave concerns about the high-stakes Smarter Balanced tests. They feel that they have been shut out from giving input, and ignored when they warn of the dangers to their students. OEA members have clearly stated that they want the tests halted.

If OEA leadership wishes to truly represent its members, they should announce immediately that because the Smarter Balanced testing is harmful it be must be completely stopped until changes are made that will adequately protect Oregon students. Determining those changes should be come from a panel composed primarily of teachers.

See the report from OEA.

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.