Archives for category: Honor Roll

A group of teachers at a progressive public school in Néw York City have formed “Teachers of Conscience” and written the Chancellor of the school system to say that they could no longer administer the state tests to their students.

For their willingness to act on the demands of their conscience rather than serve as compliant enforcers of actions intended to rank and rate their students, I place them on the honor roll of this blog. They are indeed Teachers of Conscience. They are resisters and conscientious objectors. From small acts of conscience, multiplied, grow revolutions.

They were inspired to act by the Seattle teachers’ boycott of MAP testing, but also by their conviction that the tests distort the purpose of education. They act in opposition to market-based reform and the Common Core.

Here is their letter to the chancellor from Teachers of Conscience:

Teachers of Conscience

A Letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña

“The ongoing wars, the distortions of truth we have witnessed, the widening gaps between rich and poor disturb us more than we can say; but we have had so many reminders of powerlessness that we have retreated before the challenge of bringing such issues into our classrooms. At once, we cannot but realize that one of our primary obligations is to try to provide equal opportunities for the young. And we realize full that this cannot happen if our students are not equipped with what are thought to be survival skills, not to speak of a more or less equal range of literacies. And yet the tendency to describe the young as “human resources,” with the implication that they are mainly grist for the mills of globalized business is offensive not merely to educators, but to anyone committed to resist dehumanization of any kind.”

- Maxine Greene, In Search of a Pedagogy

Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.

The policies of Common Core have been misguided, unworkable, and a serious failure of implementation. At no time in the history of education reform have we witnessed the ideological ambitions of policymakers result in such a profound disconnect with the experiences of parents, teachers, and children. There is a growing movement of dissatisfied parents who are refusing high-stakes Common Core testing for their children and we are acting in solidarity with those parents. Reformers in the State Department of Education are now making gestures to slow down implementation and reform their reforms. Their efforts represent a failure of imagination — an inability to envision an education system based on human development and democratic ideals rather than an allegiance to standardization, ranking, and sorting. State policies have placed haphazard and burdensome mandates on schools that are profoundly out of touch with what we know to be inspired teaching and learning. Although the case against market-based education reform has been thoroughly written about, we feel obliged to outline our position at length to address critics who may see our choice of action as overstepping or unwarranted. You will find a position paper attached to this letter. We are urging you, Chancellor Fariña, to articulate your own position in this critical and defining moment in the history of public education. What will you stand for? What public school legacy will we forge together?

Sincerely,

Colin Schumacher, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Emmy Matias, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Jia Lee, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

If you have written a letter or statement regarding market-based education reform and the Common Core state standards, please consider submitting it for publication on our blog.

Bob Braun has been writing about the abusiveness and insensitivity of Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. He has written that it has disrupted the lives of children and families, with no goal other than to sweep away neighborhood schools and impose charter schools. Newark has been under state control for nearly 20 years. In short, the people of Newark have had no say in the governance of their city’s schools, and now Chris Christie and Cami Anderson have decided to turn them over to private management.

Braun reports that the real heroes in this struggle for democracy are the high school students of Newark. While most of the adults seemed resigned and ready to bow to authority, the high school students went into the streets to protest. A group of them chained themselves together, sat down in the city’s main thoroughfare, and blocked traffic. The newly elected Mayor Ras Baraka tried to protect the students. He ran for office as an opponent of Cami and “One Newark,” but he has no power to stop her.

Braun wrote:

“Newark’s public schools will be saved from privatization only if supporters are willing to take risks. Yesterday, Newark finally saw some risk takers–the high school students and handful of adults who blocked Broad Street for eight hours, refusing in a very adult way to give up their lines despite an effort by police to plow through, and a mayor who risked criticism for not arresting the students.

“The children are doing what the adults are not doing because the adults are too scared to do it,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson about the siege of board headquarters at 2 Cedar Street organized by the Newark Students Union. The school board member spent most of the day monitoring the protest.

“But did it make a difference? Will the risks taken by the students and Mayor Ras Baraka–the courageous actions taken yesterday by both –hasten the end of Anderson’s tenure? Will it quickly end the “One Newark” plan that has brought so much pain to so many city families?

“Maybe not. But this is what they will do: They will keep the fight alive, keep the light shining, in the face of the inertial forces that would try to gloss over the pain Anderson is causing and bring on a complacent, apathetic business-as-usual attitude that will allow Anderson to continue her plans unimpeded. Without the students, Anderson would be free to act without, not just restraint, but even without notice.”

Braun wrote:

“They’re coming for you.

“They’re coming for you in Wisconsin. In California. In New York–and, yes, in New Jersey. In places like Newark and Paterson–ask Paterson teachers about the great contract they “won” from the state-operated district. And. remember, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the people who almost made Shavar Jeffries mayor, believe tenure and other protections are the dam that “must be burst” to reform education.

“Think about it. Those are Democrats. They might eat your rights elegantly with some fava beans and a little Malbec–but they will do it every bit as effectively as the Koch Brothers who would just as soon have public employee union leaders jailed and shot.”

The kids were heroes. It is a very small gesture on my part to add them to the honor roll as heroes of American education. They are standing up for public education. They are standing up for democracy.

Superintendent Mark Cross joins the honor roll for his willingness to stand up and be counted on the side of students.

Cross sent a letter home to parents in which he criticized high-stakes testing and Common Core. He spoke critically of federal and state initiatives whose purpose is to rank students rather than educate them. Many educators are fearful of saying what Mark Cross said because they are supposed to be docile and keep their professional ethics to themselves. A test score is like stepping on a bathroom scale, he said. It tells you something but not everything you need to know about your wellness. So, he told parents, we won’t be talking much about PARCC or Common Core. We will continue to focus on helping them become well-rounded people, with time to develop their creativity.

Read his letter. He makes clear that he and his staff take their responsibility to the children and the local community very seriously, and they will continue to do so.

If every school board, principal, and superintendent were equally willing to speak their convictions, there would be a genuine conversation about education, rather than the current top-down authoritarianism that typifies relationships between the federal government and everyone else.

The original letter can be seen here.

August 20th 2014

Dear Parents,

Today is the first day of the 2014-15 school year and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some personal thoughts regarding the current state of education at the national, state and, most importantly, local levels. I am very fortunate to serve as the superintendent of this great district and we are all very proud of the incredible progress we have made in recent years, building on previous years of excellence. At the end of the day, our kids and their safety and educational growth are all that matters to us. We work hard to keep anything from distracting us from these priorities.

Unfortunately, there are many federal and state education initiatives that can very much be a distraction from what matters most These initiatives are based on good intentions and are cloaked in the concept of accountability, but unfortunately most do little to actually improve teaching and teaming. Most are designed to assess, measure, rank and otherwise place some largely meaningless number on a child or a school or a teacher or a district. That is not to say that student growth data is not important, It is very critical, and it is exactly why we have our own local assessment system in place. It is what our principals and teachers use to help guide instruction and meet the needs of your kids on a daily basis. In other words, it is meaningful data to help us teach your child.

But no more than a number from a bathroom scale can give you a full assessment of your personal wetness, a test score cannot fully assess a student’s academic growth. Does stepping on the scale tell you something? Of course. But does it tell you everything? Absolutely not.

As one specific example, Peru Elementary District 124 puts great value on the fine arts. We believe that music and art enhances cognitive growth, creativity and problem solving. In fact we know this, and this is exactly why your children have access to an outstanding fine arts program with five music and art teachers from PreK through 8th grade. The state does not assess music or art or science or social studies for that matter. Only language arts and mathematics are assessed with the state’s new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.

This is why I wanted to let you know that we will not be talking to you that much about the PARCC assessment or Common Core or other initiatives that have some importance, but they are not what matters most to us. YOUR CHILDREN are what matter most and we believe that kids should be well-rounded, with an emphasis on a solid foundation for learning across all subjects by the time they get to high school and later college. We believe that kids need to be creative and learn to solve problems. We believe that exposure to music and art science and social studies, physical education and technology and a wide variety of curricular and extracurricular activities will serve them very well as they grow into young adults.

We further believe that there is no replacement for high expectations, and we must expect our students to achieve to the best of their individual ability. We believe that all children can learn, but not all at the same pace or in the same way. We believe that reading and literacy are the foundations of learning. We believe that children are each unique and have a wide variety of talents and skills, very few of which can be measured on a state assessment

The state and federal government have failed epically in their misguided attempts at ‘reforming’ public education. Public education does not need reformed. It may need intervention in school districts that are not meeting the needs of students on a grand scale, but it needs to be accountable to and controlled by our citizens at the local level. And in Peru Schools, this will continue to be very much the case.

So, I wanted to let you know that we will not let these other things serve as a distraction from educating your children in Peru Schools. When appropriate, we will use these opportunities as a chance to improve but we will not let political nonsense distract us from our true mission, which is to keep your kids safe and to provide them with a world class education. One of my favorite quotes is,

*Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least’

And the ‘things- which matter most here are your kids and their education. Nothing you read or hear about will distract us from that effort.

Thank you for your support of our children and our schools and as always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns at all as we start the new school year!

Sincerely,

Mark R. Cross Superintendent

Opt Out Orlando posted the following letter by Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher. For her courage and dedication to her students, Susan Bowles joins the honor roll.

Her husband wrote this introduction:

“I tried to share this post by my wife, Susan, last night. I just found out her privacy settings don’t let others see it. I am very proud of her stance and completely support her, even if it means she loses her job. That would mean someone whose passion has always been about teaching little kids would be out of the profession. She began teaching in 1977.”

Susan Bowles wrote:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have just sent emails to my principal and CRT, the superintendent, my colleagues at school, the school board members, ACEA (local teachers’ union) and the Gainesville Sun. I have a letter ready to go to the parents of the children in my class, pending principal approval which is standard protocol.

WHY I AM REFUSING TO GIVE THE FAIR TEST TO MY KINDERGARTNERS!

We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. FYI: Kindergartners aren’t born with mouse skills. Many of them are proficient on tablets or smartphones, but the mouse can be tricky. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This child double-clicked three times and triple clicked once. There is no way to go back. There is no way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child.

This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!

I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.

I am heartsick over the possibility of losing my job. I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than teach. I have cried and cried over this, but in the end, it’s not about me. I feel God wants me to stand up for what is best for children. So, come what may, this is my stance. I WILL NOT ADMINISTER THE FAIR TEST TO MY STUDENTS.

If you are wondering what you can do, first and foremost, pray that the testing situation for children in Florida will change. Secondly, if you are a teacher or administrator, tell your story. This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem.

Whom should you contact? Governor Scott sits at the top in the chain of command. I say, voice your concerns to him. He actually might listen since he’s up for reelection. Just Read Florida is the group that masterminded the new version of FAIR. Let them know what you think about it. This issue isn’t about one teacher. This is a springboard for educators and parents to tell their stories. Please, let your voice be heard.

Thanks to Becky Jones Young, my childhood friend and fellow lifelong teacher, for taking a stand of her own in Ohio. She was an amazing middle school English teacher, who quit teaching (her love, joy and passion) because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning – in the name of education.

Susan Bowles
Kindergarten Teacher
Lawton Chiles Elementary School
Gainesville, Florida

Dawn Neely-Randall is a teacher in Ohio. She is in her 25th year in the classroom. For a long while, she watched in silence as the testing mania absorbed more and more instructional time. And then she decided she had to speak out. She had to defend her students. She had to defend her professional ethics. She could not remain silent. And speak she did. Here is an article that she wrote that appeared on Valerie Strauss’s blog.

If every state had 1,000 teachers as brave, bold, and outspoken as Dawn Neely-Randall, we could stop the insanity that is destroying children’s lives and debasing education. For her courage in speaking out, for her refusal to remain docile and silent, I add Dawn Neely-Randall to the honor roll.

Here are a few choice excerpts from her impassioned article.

“Last spring, you wouldn’t find the fifth-graders in my Language Arts class reading as many rich, engaging pieces of literature as they had in the past or huddled over the same number of authentic projects as before. Why? Because I had to stop teaching to give them a Common Core Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) online sample test that would prepare them for the upcoming PARCC pilot pre-test which would then prepare them for the PARCC pilot post test – all while taking the official Ohio Achievement Tests. This amounted to three tests, each 2 ½ hours, in a single week, the scores of which would determine the academic track students would be placed on in middle school the following year.”

“In addition to all of that, I had to stop their test prep lessons (also a load of fun) to take each class three floors down to our computer lab so they could take the Standardized Testing and Reporting (“STAR”) tests so graphs and charts could be made of their Student Growth Percentile (SGP) which would then provide quantitative evidence to suggest how these 10-year-olds would do on the “real” tests and also surmise the teacher’s (my) affect on their learning.

“Tests, tests, and more freakin’ tests.

“And this is how I truly feel in my teacher’s heart: the state is destroying the cherished seven hours I have been given to teach my students reading and writing each week, and these children will never be able to get those foundational moments back. Add to that the hours of testing they have already endured in years past, as well as all the hours of testing they still have facing them in the years to come. I consider this an unconscionable a theft of precious childhood time……”

“And most disconcerting of all, in my entire 24-year career, not one graded standardized test has EVER been returned to the students, their parents, or to me, the teacher. Also, for the past three years here in Ohio, released test questions have no longer been posted online. In addition, teachers have had to sign a “gag order” before administering tests putting their careers on the line ensuring they will not divulge any content or questions they might happen to oversee as they walk around monitoring the test.”

Today, Marge Borchert, principal of Allendale Elementary School in the West Seneca Central School District, an inner-ring suburb of Buffalo, NY. joins our honor roll. She loves the children who attend her school. She sees each of them as beautiful human beings, growing and learning, not as data points. Many of her children opted out of the state tests. This caused Ms. Borchert to get a zero growth score. She is so proud of her children that she wears her score as “a badge of honor.”

She wrote the following letter to her students:

Dear Boys & Girls,

I wanted to write you a letter telling you how very much I enjoyed and continue to enjoy all of the painted rocks that you made. They are a great addition to our beautiful garden. I loved looking at each and every one of them this summer. I stopped to admire them when I checked on the flowers that were planted by your parents. Quite honestly, they brought a smile to my face even on rainy days. The rocks are as unique and colorful as each one of you. Each rock is painted with your own unique story.

The butterfly bush that is growing outside of my office window is blooming, and it is the most beautiful shade of purple that I have ever seen. A ruby throated hummingbird has been visiting that bush every day since it bloomed. I am looking forward to seeing a butterfly visit. The baby sparrows in the birdhouse have learned to fly, and have moved away. The crow that was tormenting the baby rabbits seems to have learned not to poke its beak in their home. Several of us watched in astonishment as the mother rabbit chased after that crow, jumped in the air and batted at that crow with its front paw. This was the first time that I have ever seen such a sport! That mother rabbit had strong protective instincts– just like your moms. We can learn so much by observing nature. Who knew that there was so much to !earn by just taking some time to stop, look, and listen.

So…..by now all of you are wondering why I was inspired to write you such a long letter. It is simply for this reason. I want each and every one of you to know that you inspire me on a daily basis. Each and every one of you is unique and colorful in your own special way. Each of you has a special talent, and you are loved. I intend to hold on to these thoughts when I look at the New York State scores, and I encourage your parents to do the same. The scores are not a true picture of who you are in this world. You can and will bloom when you are ready. You will fly when you are ready. It is entirely up to you to decide what you will grow up to be in life. It all depends on you. Remember the mother rabbit who used her own unique talents and skills to “fear that nasty crow nevermore. “

In my heart — you truly rock!!! I can’t wait to see you in September!!

Love Always,

Mrs. Borchert

P.S. These are the books that I read this summer:

The Diary of Anne Frank

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Recidicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Story Killers by Terrence 0. Moore

David & Goliath by Macolm Gledwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Children of the Core by Kris L. Nielsen

The Bible

Dr. Nicholas Gledich, Superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11 has proposed a three year moratorium on high stakes standardized testing. This takes courage in test-happy Colorado.

Dr. Gledich understands that high-stakes testing cheapens education, demoralizes teachers, and makes testing far more important than it should be. Tests should be used periodically to see how students are doing and if they need extra help. But today they have become the be-all and end-all of schooling. That’s not what the best private schools do. That’s not what public schools should do.

Thank you and congratulations, Dr. Gledich! Welcome to the honor roll!

Ken Previti tells the story on his blog about Julianna Mendelsohn, a teacher.

Julianna wanted to help the children of Ferguson.

““As a public school teacher, my first thought is always about the children involved in any tragic situation like this,” she writes. “When I found out school had been canceled for several days as a result of the civil unrest, I immediately became worried for the students in households with food instability. Many children in the US eat their only meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, at school. With school out, kids are undoubtedly going hungry.”

“Julianna is from Raleigh, North Carolina. She knows that all the children in school are our children. The children in Ferguson are our children with their own needs. Our children need many things, and nutritious food is at the top of the list. Julianna’s efforts have raised over $125,000 to feed our children during this crisis.”

Read the post and send whatever you can to feed the children.

Julianna is a hero of public education who, like so many teachers, truly puts children first. She wants to feed them. Please help her.

Washington State declined to ask Arne Duncan for a waiver from NCLB because the legislature thought that the price was too high. In exchange for gaining freedom from NCLB’s demand that 100% of students would be proficient by 2014, the state would have to agree to endorse Arne Duncan’s inane idea that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Apparently some wise policy makers saw the research and the universal failure of Duncan’s idea and said “no thanks.”

Now virtually every school in the state of Washington is a “failing school.”

The superintendents are required to send a letter to parents informing them that their child attends a failing school. But 28 superintendents sent a cover letter explaining that the law required them to say something untrue.

““Some of our state’s and districts’ most successful and highly recognized schools are now being labeled ‘failing’ by an antiquated law that most educators and elected officials — as well as the U.S. Department of Education — acknowledge isn’t working,” the cover letter states. The letter is signed by John Welch, superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which represents the 28 districts.

“The signees include many of the larger school districts in King and Pierce counties, such as Bellevue, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Lake Washington, Northshore, Renton and Tacoma.
They announced the protest letter at an event Wednesday.

“Seattle Public Schools did not sign it, but supports the letter’s sentiments, a spokeswoman said.”

NCLB is a pathetic hoax that was intended to label almost every school in the nation a failing school. Kudos to the superintendents of Washington State for standing up to abusive federal power—not only NCLB but the coercive waiver too.

28 superintendents in Washington state join the honor roll for courage in support of public education.

This is a good news story about a state commissioner of education who stood up and said, with quiet determination, that the emperor has no clothes.

That state commissioner is Rebecca Holcombe of Vermont. She wrote a clear and eloquent letter to the parents and caregivers of Vermont, explaining the punitive and incoherent nature of federal education policy, which (under NCLB) requires that every single school in Vermont be labeled low-performing, even though many national and international measures show that Vermont is a high-performing state. She explained that Vermont refused to apply for a waiver from NCLB offered by Secretary Duncan because it would have forced the state to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores, which is unreliable and unfair to teachers and students.

Commissioner Holcombe wrote that Vermont believes that schools have purposes that are no less important (and perhaps more important) than test scores.

For her thoughtfulness, her integrity, her devotion to children, her understanding of the broad aims of education, and her courage in standing firm against ruinous federal policies, Rebecca Holcombe is a hero of American education. Most people go along with the crowd, even when doing so violates their sense of personal and professional ethics. Not Commissioner Holcombe. If our nation had more state commissioners like her, it would save our children from a mindless culture of test and punish that the federal department of education has imposed on them and our nation’s schools.

This is the letter that State Commissioner Holcombe wrote to every parent and caregiver in Vermont:

“Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as of 2014, if only one child in your school does not score as “proficient” on state tests, then your school must be “identified” as “low performing” under federal law. This year, every school whose students took the NECAP tests last year is now considered a “low performing” school by the US Department of Education. A small group of schools were not affected by this policy this year because they helped pilot the new state assessment and so did not take the NECAPs last year. Because these schools had their federal AYP status frozen at 2013 levels, eight schools are not yet identified as low performing by federal criteria. However, had these school taken the NECAPs as well, it is likely that every single school in the state would have to be classified as “low performing” according to federal guidelines.

The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.

In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study comparing the performance of US states to the 47 countries that participated in the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, one of the two large international comparative assessments. Vermont ranked 7th in the world in eighth-grade mathematics and 4th in science. Only Massachusetts, which has a comparable child poverty rate, did better.

“On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Vermont consistently ranks at the highest levels. We have the best graduation rate in the nation and are ranked second in child well-being.

“Just this week, a social media company that compares financial products (WalletHub) analyzed twelve different quality metrics and ranked Vermont’s school system third in the nation in terms school performance and outcomes.

“Nevertheless, if we fail to announce that each Vermont school is “low performing,” we jeopardize federal funding for elementary and secondary education. The “low performing” label brings with it a number of mandatory sanctions, which your principal is required to explain to you. This policy does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being. Further, it takes our focus away from other measures that give us more meaningful and useful data on school effectiveness.

“It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day.

“We know that statewide, our biggest challenge is finding better ways to engage and support the learning of children living in poverty. Our students from families with means and parents with more education, consistently are among the top performing in the country. However, federal NCLB policy has not helped our schools improve learning or narrow the gaps we see in our data between children living in poverty and children from more affluent families. We need a different approach that actually works.”

What are the alternatives? Most other states have received a waiver to get out from under the broken NCLB policy. They did this by agreeing to evaluate their teachers and principals based on the standardized test scores of their students. Vermont is one of only 5 states that do not have a waiver at this time. We chose not to agree to a waiver for a lot of reasons, including that the research we have read on evaluating teachers based on test scores suggests these methods are unreliable in classes with 15 or fewer students, and this represents about 40-50% of our classes. It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools. Also, there is evidence suggesting that over-relying on test-based evaluation might fail to credit educators for doing things we actually want them to do, such as teach a rich curriculum across all important subject areas, and not just math and English language arts. In fact, nation-wide, we expect more and more states to give up these waivers for many of the reasons we chose not to pursue one in the first place.

Like other Vermont educators, I am deeply committed to continuously improving our schools and the professional skill of our teachers. I have heard from principals and teachers across the state who are deeply committed to developing better ways of teaching and working with parents and other organizations to ensure that every child’s basic needs are met. If basic needs are not met, children cannot take advantage of opportunities that we provide in school. However, the federal law narrows our vision of schools and what we should be about. Ironically, the only way a school could pass the NCLB criteria would be to leave some children behind – to exclude some of the students who come to our doors. That is something public schools in Vermont will not do.

Matching Our Measures to Our Purpose

Certainly, we know tests are an important part of our tool kit, but they do not capture everything that is important for our children to learn. With this in mind, our State Board of Education clearly outlined five additional education priorities in our new Education Quality Standards, including scientific inquiry, citizenship, physical health and wellness, artistic expression and 21st century transferable skills.

As parents and caregivers, we embrace a broader vision for our children than that defined in federal policy. Thus, we encourage you to look at your own child’s individual growth and learning, along with evidence your school has provided related to your child’s progress. Below are some questions to consider:

• What evidence does your school provide of your child’s growing proficiency?

• Is your child developing the skills and understanding she needs to thrive in school and
the community?

• Are graduates of your school system prepared to succeed in college and/or careers?

• Is your child happy to go to school and engaged in learning?

• Can your child explain what he is learning and why? Can your child give examples of
skills he has mastered?

• Is your child developing good work habits? Does she understand that practice leads to
better performance?

• Does your child feel his work in school is related to his college and career goals?

• Does your child have one adult at the school whom she trusts and who is committed to
her success?

• If you have concerns, have you reached out to your child’s teacher to share your
perspective?

Be engaged with your school, look at evidence of your own child’s learning, and work with your local educators to ensure that every child is challenged and supported, learning and thriving. Schools prosper when parents are involved as the first teachers of their children.

The State’s Obligation to Our Children

Working with the Governor, the State Board, the General Assembly and other agencies, and most importantly, with educators across the state, the Agency of Education will invite schools across the state to come together to innovate and improve our schools. We hope your school will volunteer to help develop and use a variety of other measures that will give parents, citizens and educators better information on student learning and what we can do to personalize and make it better. These measures include:

• collaborative school visits by teams of peers, to support research, professional learning and sharing of innovative ideas,

• personalization of learning through projects and performance assessments of proficiency,

• gathering and sharing of feedback from teachers, parents and students related to school climate and culture, student engagement and opportunities for self-directed learning,

• providing teachers and administrators standards-based feedback on the effectiveness of their instruction,

• developing personalized learning plans that involve students in defining how they will demonstrate they are ready to graduate, and basing graduation on these personalized assessments of proficiency rather than “seat-time”,

• analyzing growth and improvement at the Supervisory level as well as the school level, to identify systems that seem to be fostering greater growth in students, as a way of identifying and sharing promising practices across schools.

Vermont has a proud and distinguished educational history, but we know we can always do better. We are committed to supporting our schools as they find more effective and more engaging ways to improve the skills and knowledge of our children. As we have done before, we intend to draw on the tremendous professional capability of teachers across the state as we work to continuously improve our schools. Our strength has always been our ingenuity and persistence. In spite of federal policies that poorly fit the unique nature of Vermont, let’s continue to work together to build great schools that prepare our children to be productive citizens and contributors to our society

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