Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action: Oregon SOS Opt Out

Oregon SOS Opt Out Video

With the Smarter Balanced tests looming this spring, teachers are now being advised to give kids practice time to get used to the test; teach keyboarding, not for research projects--but for the test; order curriculum that helps with being comfortable online--for the test; teach writing--for the test; it is time to really start thinking about not only the increased cost to implement this test, but also, more importantly,  the lack of validity and value that these tests provide to teachers and students.

These tests have been piloted, but not calibrated.  The Portland Public School Board has so far voted to not have the SBAC count as a valid measure in their Achievement Compact.  The Oregon Education Association has been allowed by Arne Duncan to not have teacher evaluations tied to the results of the tests--yet.   OEA members have demanded a moratorium on these tests until they are researched and evaluated.

The tests are taking hours beyond expected.  Students are overwhelmed and frustrated.  Teachers have had little or no time to understand and learn what the SBAC expects, let alone teach students how to prepare for it--even though, many argue, teaching to a test isn't teaching authentically.  And then of course, there is this: quality instructional time being lost in order to have students learn how to prepare and perform for a test that has no strong calibration set yet, has technological difficulties, is unreliable, and has an extremely high failure rate.

So those that are truly left to struggle and feel the negative effect--are the children.  The students.

This is nothing but disgraceful.

In light that the adults and school districts in this get a pass until the process is evaluated, one has to wonder why this is allowed?

The only answer really seems to be that the testing company needs more data to strengthen their need to calibrate.  This means,  students are guinea pigs.  The testing companies get to use our students to put their product on trial--at the expense of taxpayers, money not going into the classroom, and children feeling stressed and demoralized.

However, until legislators, school board members, administrators, and superintendents start to question and stand up for our children (teachers have a harder time as they could lose their job) parents do have the power and the right to opt their child out of these tests.

Check out our easy to access opt out information here. Oh, and enjoy the show of our Opt Out video that reminds us why opting out of high-stakes testing is important.

“There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner-city child only eight years old "accountable" for her performance on a high-stakes standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years before.” 
― Jonathan KozolThe Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Can You Judge a School By Its Report Card?

by Elizabeth Thiel,

teacher, parent, member of Oregon Save our Schools

A lot of people look at state report cards to a get glimpse of what a school is like, especially when they’re considering a new neighborhood. If you looked at the recent report card for Vernon Elementary, you might have been shocked or disturbed to see that our neighborhood school received a score of one, the lowest possible score.

I am writing to tell you that this score is deeply misleading; it reflects not the caliber of the school but instead the defective nature of the state’s evaluation criteria.

In case you haven’t spent time at Vernon lately, let me tell you a little about it. Vernon is a thriving, diverse neighborhood school. My two daughters go there, as do about 400 other children from this neighborhood. We have fantastic teachers, engaged parents, and dynamic students. We also have a International Baccalaureate program, a garden that stocks our cafeteria with greens, rich after-school offerings through our SUN school, and art, music, and Spanish and Mandarin language classes during the school day.

This year, Vernon’s state report card score was docked two points from a three to a one. The reason is simple. A growing number of Vernon parents have – in protest – been opting out of the state’s high stakes, standardized testing protocol that ranks and punishes public schools. Whether you agree or not about the value of the testing itself, parents exercising their right not to participate is a punishable act under the current system.

In the 2012-2013 school year, five students opted-out of testing. Last year, eighteen students followed suit. The state’s response to this small protest by individual families has been to deduct a point from the state report card for each year that families opted out. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of education at Vernon.

In Oregon, parents have the right to opt their children out of high-stakes testing, just as they have the right to opt their child out of any school activity they believe is harmful or inappropriate for their child.
The reasons that parents make this choice are varied and personal, but in general, parents are acting on deeply-held beliefs about education and social justice. In opting-out of high stakes testing, Vernon parents are joining a much larger national movement to reject top-down education policies that are harmful to students and communities.

High Stakes Testing Undermines Public Schools

Some parents opt-out of high-stakes testing because they don’t want to participate in a system that is undermining public schools.

Since the No Child Left Behind policies of over a decade ago, states have been required to ramp up standardized testing to a level never before seen in American schools. The intent of these policies may have been to ensure a quality education for all students, but the result has been the opposite.

One reason these tests are considered “high-stakes,” compared to past standardized testing, is because the fate of a school is tied to its scores. In the last decade, over 4000 public schools across the country have been closed using test scores as justification. The overwhelming majority of these closures have been schools that serve low-income families and students of color.

A fundamental flaw in the system of judging schools by test scores is that test scores reflect a student’s family income more than it reflects the quality of their schools and teachers. Across all states, and all school districts, students in poverty tend to score lower than students with more home resources, even when those same students go to affluent “successful” schools. Yet, test scores are often used to label schools as “failing” or “ineffective,” and even to justify their closure or privatization.

High Stakes Testing Narrows Curriculum

Some parents opt-out of testing because they do not want their child to equate their learning with a single number. Beginning in third grade, new tests this year are expected to consume eight hours per child each year. These tests create unneeded stress for students, resulting in a single label of “meeting” or “not meeting” standards. They also take away precious instructional time from meaningful learning experiences. Because of the high stakes for schools, testing encourages schools to narrow the curriculum to the tested subjects.

Opting out of high-stakes tests is a concrete way for parents and students to voice their disagreement with these policies.

Looking Beyond the Score

In our neighborhood, report card rankings are often the only information a family has about a school before they enroll their child. I challenge parents to look beyond these numbers and spend time in their neighborhood school before judging perpetuating false perceptions that Vernon – or other neighborhood schools – are “bad schools.”

I feel so fortunate to be part of the Vernon family. It is invaluable to have a great school within walking distance, to be part of a village of parents here in our neighborhood, and to see my children thriving academically and socially in our diverse and unique community.

I am proud of Vernon parents for standing up against a system that is undermining public education. It is one more reason that I am proud to be an Owl.

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