Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

Peter Greene has been following the conversation at EducationPost, the blog funded by Broad, Walton, Bloomberg et al for $12 million, he says that the new spin from reformsters is that education is too politicized. He agrees but asks how it got that way. Who took the decision making power away from educators and gave it to legislatures, governors, the President, and Comgress? Not educators.

Peter Greene knows who did it:

“As it turns out, I think I have an answer for this one. Asking why the Common Core are wrapped up in politics is like asking why human beings are so involved with blood.

“The Common Core were birthed in politics. They were weaned on politics. And every time they have looked tired and in trouble, they have been revived with a fresh transfusion of politics.

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

“The states signed on to a Memo of Understanding (a political tool for out-politicking politics) and many of them did it before there were even any standards to look at. This was a political move, using the political power of legislatures and governors’ offices to impose rules on educational systems– in many cases, before educators in particular states even knew that such a systemic overhaul was being considered.

“Common Core’s Pappy, No Child Left Behind, was a creature of politics, right down to its spin-ready title. It was created to put a glossy shine on bipartisan action for the kids. Educators (and other people with rudimentary math skills) pointed out early on that the NCLB end game of 100% above average was ridiculously improbable, but the political shininess plus the political notion that future politicians would find a political solution drowned out good sense. Because, politics.”

He concludes:

“At no point in all this reformy baloney have we seen the spectacle of bottom-up reform, a reform movement driven by teachers and other educators saying, “Hey, we have some ideas that are so revolutionary and so great that they are spreading like wildfire strictly on their educational merits!”

“No– Common Core and its attendant test-driven high stakes data-glomming VAMboozling baloney have come from the top down, by politicians using political power to impose educational solutions through the political tools applied to the political structure of government. Why do people get the idea that all these reformy ideas are linked? Because they all come from the same place– the linkage is the political power that imposed them all on the American public education system.

“Look. We live in the real world and politics play a part in many things. But for some reformsters to offer wide eyes and shocked dismay and clutched pearls as they cry, “Oh, but why does it have to be so political!” is the height of hypocrisy. It’s political because you folks made it political, every step of the way, and it’s not humanly possible for you to be too dumb to know that (particularly at a site like Education Post that is larded with career political operatives). So if you want to have a serious conversation about any of this, Step One is top stop lying, badly, directly to our faces. I can’t hear you when my bullshit detector alarm is screaming in my ear.”

Paul Karrer, who teaches in Castroville, California, writes a scorching review of what is laughingly called “reform.”

He begins:

“Arne Duncan and his patron President Barack Obama have gotten themselves in a bit of an educational bind. Big news came out of the White House on Aug. 21 but a lot of America missed it. It seems a collision course of: 1. sunsetting of the year 2014 and the imbecilic impossible fatwa of No Child Left Behind (the obscenity of schools held accountable for testing without a morsel of input for poverty); and 2. a large push by teacher unions to dethrone he of the basketball — Sir Arne Duncan.”

So Duncan made his statement about testing “sucking the oxygen” out of teaching, a typical Duncanism in which he denounces the policies he promote and still enforces.

Says Karrer of Duncan’s fancy step:

“Is it a complete flip flop? No, it is a little greasy middle-of-the-road weaseling meant to gain favor from Obama’s once-upon-a-time education supporters and to patch the rebellious hemorrhaging of his pet bamboozle Race To The Top and its ugly stepsister Common Core. Ever since Obama initiated his slash and burn policy regarding public education with pro-privatization, the green light to pro-charter corporations, his relationship with publishing-testing companies, and his knee in the groin and knife in the backs of teachers with rigorous evaluations based on kids’ test scores, he’s been trusted about as much as a pedophile at a playground by those who once-upon-a-halo included him in their sacred prayers.”

Karrer says time is running out for the Age of Test and Punish. More and more people are speaking up and the public is catching on to the failure of test, test, test. The momentum is growing. Time is running out.

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

Beverley Holden Johns, a nationally recognized expert in the field of disabilities, strongly disagrees with Arne Duncan. Duncan wants children with disabilities to be able to perform on the highest level of NAEP tests. She points out that NAEP was not designed for this purpose. Duncan unilaterally changed the requirements of the IDEA act, without Congressional authorization. Having changed NCLB without Congressional authorization, he must think that ignoring the law is routine. In Néw York, we learned how students with disabilities do when they took the Common Core test: 95% failed.

Beverley Holden Johns writes:

————————–
NCLB required all students to be proficient on State tests by 2014.

Failure of the public schools to reach that goal has been widely
viewed as the failure of public education, requiring movement
to Charter Schools and even increasing the talk of Vouchers in the name of Choice.

Now Arne Duncan seeks to require ALL students with disabilities to
demonstrate proficiency or advanced mastery of challenging
subject matter on the NAEP tests?

As this is impossible (students without disabilities do not
come close to doing it and are making very little progress
toward meeting that goal), what will be the impact on special ed?

Special education will be deemed to be an utter failure, and
some will urge Response to Intervention, RTI, often called MTSS,
and Full Inclusion for all (although there is no evidence that will
cause students to meet the NAEP goal).

What is wrong with using NAEP?

(1) National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, was not designed for any such purpose, or validated for any such purpose.

(2) NAEP is given at only a few schools in each State to get
a sample of how the State is doing in the 4th and 8th grades
in math and reading every 2 years.

NAEP makes no pretense of testing all children or all schools.

So NAEP offers no accountability whatsoever at the vast majority
of schools in each State.

(3) There have been consistent problems on whether students
with disabilities even take the NAEP, and on whether the NAEP
tests will offer accommodations for students with disabilities
(on which each State has made tremendously varying decisions).

So the percentage of students with disabilities in each State
taking the NAEP varies tremendously from State to State
(making State to State comparisons totally invalid).

(4) NAEP is not aligned with the Common Core so it does
not reflect what may be taught in the classroom.

What does Arne Duncan state that the goal of special ed Results Driven Accountability is?

“While the goal is to ensure that ALL Children with
Disabilities demonstrate proficient or advanced mastery
of challenging subject matter, we recognize that States
may need to take intermediate steps to reach this benchmark.”
(emphasis added)

Please see footnote 7 at

http://www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/idea/partbspap/2014/2014_part_b_htdmd.pdf

Can anyone provide a complete description of this accountability
system that parents and educators can understand?

On August 4, 2014, all 8 Republicans on the U.S. Senate
education committee in a 3 page letter asked Arne Duncan
detailed questions about this special ed Results Driven Accountability:

“It is troubling that the department made unilateral changes
to the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] compliance
framework without seeking legislative approval, disregarded
congressional intent, and appears to have violated the clear letter of the law.”

“The changes spelled out in your ‘Results-Driven Accountability’
framework clearly amount to federal influence on the standards
and assessments states and school districts use to direct the
education program of students with disabilities and would give
the federal government authority to use students proficiency as
measured by the NAEP to evaluate and either reward or
sanction school districts.”

No Child Left Behind, the joint product of George W. Bush and
Ted Kennedy, has positives and negatives, but overall it has
been a disaster for the public schools because it had unrealistic
and utopian goals.

We cannot allow special ed Results Driven Accountability
to be a similar disaster.

Bev Johns

Anthony Cody was not heartened by Marc Tucker’s vision of a new accountability system with fewer tests. In this post, he explains why. If ever there was a need for close reading, he believes, this is it.

Cody writes:

“Tucker’s plan is confusing. In a proposal in which accountability remains closely tied to a set of high stakes tests, Tucker cites the “Failure of Test-based Accountability,” and eloquently documents how this approach doomed NCLB.

“Tucker speaks about the professionalization of teaching, and points out how teaching has been ravaged by constant pressure to prepare for annual tests. But his proposal still seems wedded to several very questionable premises.

“First, while he blames policymakers for the situation, he seems to accept that the struggles faced by our schools are at least partly due to the inadequacy of America’s teachers. I know of no objective evidence that would support this indictment.

“Second, he argues that fewer, “higher quality” tests will somehow rescue us from their oppressive qualities. He also suggests, as did Duncan in 2010, that we can escape the “narrowing of the curriculum” by expanding the subject matter that would be tested.

“It is worth noting that many of the Asian countries that do so well on international test contests likewise have fewer tests. This chart shows that Shanghai, Japan and Korea all have only three big tests during the K12 years. However, because these tests have such huge stakes attached to them, the entire system revolves around them, and students’ lives and family incomes are spent on constant test preparation, in and out of school.

“Third, and this is the most fundamental problem, is that Tucker suggests that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better. Tucker writes:

“Outsourcing of manufacturing and services to countries with much lower labor costs has combined with galloping automation to eliminate an ever-growing number of low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs and jobs involving routine work.

“The result is that a large and growing proportion of young people leaving high school with just the basic skills can no longer look forward to a comfortable life in the middle class, but will more likely face a future of economic struggle.

“This does not represent a decline from some standard that high school graduates used to meet. It is as high as any standard the United States has ever met. And it is wholly inadequate now. It turns out, then, that we are now holding teachers accountable for student performance we never expected before, a kind and quality of performance for which the present education system was never designed. That is manifestly unfair.”

“Tucker then repeats what has become the basic dogma of education reform. The economy of the 21st century demands our students be educated to much higher levels so we can effectively compete with our international rivals. Education — and ever better education to ever higher standards — is the key to restoring the middle class.”

But Cody objects:

“I do not believe the economy of the 21st century is waiting for some more highly educated generation, at which time middle class jobs will materialize out of thin air.

“Corporations are engaged in a systemic drive to cut the number of employees at all levels. When Microsoft laid off 18,000 skilled workers, executives made it clear that expenses – meaning employees, must be minimized. Profits require that production be lean. There is no real shortage of people with STEM degrees.

“On the whole, it is still an advantage for an individual to be well educated. But the idea that education is some sort of limiting factor on our economic growth is nonsense. And the idea that the future of current and future graduates will be greatly improved if they are better educated is likewise highly suspect.

“Bill Gates recently acknowledged in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute, “capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set.”

“This is the future we face until there is a fundamental economic realignment. Fewer jobs. Continued inequality and greater concentration of wealth.”

Cody argues for a different vision, in which accountability goes far beyond teachers and schools:

“For far too long educators have accepted the flagellations of one accountability system after another, and time has come to say “enough.”

“We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.

“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.

“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.

“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.”

Cody says:

“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”

Peter Greene discovered an article in the Vanderbilt Law Review by University of South Carolina law professor Derek W. Black that argues that Arne Duncan’s waivers from NCLB are unconstitutional.

Greene writes, quoting the article by Black:

“Two of the most significant events in the history of public education occurred over the last year. First, after two centuries of local control and variation, states adopted a national curriculum. Second, states changed the way they would evaluate and retain teachers, significantly altering teachers’ most revered right, tenure. Not all states adopted these changes of their own free will. The changes were the result of the United States Secretary of Education exercising unprecedented agency power in the midst of an educational crisis: the impending failure of almost all of the nation’s schools under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Secretary invoked the power to impose new conditions on states in exchange for waiving their obligations under NCLB….As a practical matter, he federalized
education in just a few short months.”

Greene then says:

“This allows the kibbitzing to start immediately in response. Black does not distinguish at all between Common Core Standards and a national curriculum, a distinction without a difference that reformsters have fought hard to maintain. Nor will reformsters care for the assertion that states did not all adopt reform measures of their own free will. But all of that background in the first paragraph of the article is simply setting the stage for Black’s main point.

“This unilateral action [writes Black] is remarkable not only for education, but from a constitutional balance-of-power perspective. … Yet, as efficacious as unilateral action through statutory waiver might be, it is unconstitutional absent carefully crafted legislative authority. Secretary Duncan lacked that authority. Thus, the federalization of education through conditional waivers was momentous, but unconstitutional.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to punish Oklahoma for revoking the Common Core standards, according to Caitlin Emma in Politico. Oklahoma will lose its federal waiver from the structures of No ChildLeft Behind, which mandates that all students in grades 3-8 must be proficient in math and reading by this year. Since this is in fact an impossible goal, all public schools in Oklahoma will be “failing” schools and subject to a variety of sanctions, including state takeover, being turned into a charter school, or closed.

Indiana, which also revoked the Common Core standards, received a one-year extension of its waiver because it has not yet replaced the Common Core standards.

““It is outrageous that President [Barack] Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”

“This marks the first time the Education Department has stripped a state of its waiver on the grounds of academic standards, said Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst for Bellwether Education Partners.

“This is obviously dicey water for the Secretary [Arne] Duncan, given growing opposition to Common Core,” she said.
States had to adopt so-called college- and career-ready standards to escape some of NCLB’s requirements, including offering school choice and tutoring or reconfiguring schools that are considered failing under the law. But most states with waivers adopted the Common Core.

“Fallin did an about-face on her support of the standards this year and signed a bill in early June repealing the Common Core after previously supporting the standards. The state reverted to its old academic standards, the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills standards.”

Even Michael Petrilli of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a fervent supporter of Common Core, denounced Duncan’s decision:

“Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli called the Education Department’s move a “terrible decision.”
“While Bobby Jindal doesn’t have a case against Arne Duncan, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin sure as heck does,” he said. “I hope she sues. Nothing in ESEA gives the secretary of education the authority to push states around when it comes to their standards.”

Whatever your opinion of the Common Core, Duncan’s actions make clear that the U.S. Department of Education is coercing states to adopt them through the waivers, and that Duncan is asserting federal control of state standards, curriculum, and instruction, all of which are interwoven in the Common Core standards and tests. The fact that this role is forbidden by federal law should concern someone somewhere.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/08/oklahoma-common-core-no-child-left-behind-waiver-110421.html#ixzz3BmReC5XW

Give it up, reformers. The scores on the ACT are flat from 2010-2014, despite the billions wasted on testing, test-based teacher evaluation, and merit pay. Your reforms have reformed nothing. They have failed. Pay attention.

Improve the lives of children and families. Improve working conditions in the school. Demand equitable resources for schools. Reduce class sizes for needy children. Do what works. Throw your punishments and sanctions into the ash-heap of history. It will happen sooner or later.

Start now to build the structures that work for students and teachers.

FairTest_______________________
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468
for use with annual ACT scores on or after Wednesday, August 20, 2014

STAGNANT ACT SCORES SHOW TEST-DRIVEN U.S. SCHOOL POLICIES
HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS,
EVEN WHEN MEASURED BY OTHER TESTS

Another year of flat scores on the ACT, the nation’s most widely administered college admissions exam, provides further evidence that a decade of test-driven public school policies has not improved educational quality.
Reacting to ACT scores released today, Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) said, “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ ‘waivers,’ and similar state-level programs promised that focusing on testing would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between racial groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes,
K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in stubbornness, not meaningful school improvement.” (see http://fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-factsheet)

Stagnant scores and racial gaps have also been reported on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test.

Schaeffer continued, “The lack of progress toward excellence and equity will provide further ammunition for the country’s growing testing resistance and reform movement. Ending the counter-productive fixation on standardized exams is necessary to create the space for better assessments that actually enhance learning and teaching.” FairTest actively supported this past spring’s opt-out campaigns and other protests that focused attention on testing overuse and misuse.

FairTest is also a national leader for test-optional higher education admissions. More than 830 accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities now do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores (see http://fairtest.org/university/optional). Eight more schools – Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Hofstra University, Temple University, Montclair State University, Beloit College, Bryn Mawr College and Emmanuel College — dropped test-score requirements already this summer. In addition, Hampshire College, which long was test-optional, is now “test-blind.”
– – 3 0 – -

2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS AVERAGE ACT SCORES
1,845,787 million test takers

COMPOSITE SCORE FIVE-YEAR SCORE TREND
(2010 – 2014)
ALL TEST-TAKERS 21.0 0.0

African-American 17.0 + 0.1
American Indian 18.0 – 1.0
Asian 23.5 + 0.1
Hispanic 18.8 + 0.2
White 22.3 0.0

Source: ACT, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014

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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