Archives for category: Students

A teacher wrote this comment in response to a post asking why English language learners, who barely know any English, are required to take the state English test.

 

 

I agree, it is painful to watch our English Language Learners struggle with these ridiculous tests, tests which label students 1,2,3,or 4. I have worked with refugees, many of whom arrive with little or no formal education, for over 20 years in what I consider to be one of the best schools in Buffalo. They, like all students, are much more than 1,2,3 or 4. The kids are remarkable in how they adjust to the cultural, academic, and linguistic demands of school. Their families are supportive and very appreciative of the what the school does to help them and their children. The staff is incredibly dedicated and rallies our school community to help provide many of the basics for our students’ and their families – clothes, food, boots, household items, books, school supplies, etc.

We have over thirty languages represented among our students, most are considered “low incidence languages” such as Burmese, Karen, Nepali, Somali, MaiMai, Karenni, Chin, Turkish, Kinyarwanda, and the list goes on… Some of our classrooms are over 70% ELL – English Language Learners. Of those non-ELLs in our school, many were English Language Learners who have tested proficient in years past or they come from homes of English Language Learners. The teachers are tuned in to the academic and language needs of these kids and provide safe, supportive, engaging, yet demanding environments for these students to learn and grow. There is not a teacher there who would trade a student in front of them for more “4′s.”

These immigrants have added to a culturally rich community, and have introduced their neighbors to amazing and interesting food, art, music, and traditions. Many of the students go on to great success in high school and beyond. Each June, when the local paper publishes pictures of all the local high school valedictorians and salutatorians, our former students are among them, English Language Learners who with enough time and support achieve great success. The operative word there is time.

Most research suggests that it takes 5-7 years (minimum) for English Language Learners to reach academic language proficiency – and that is for students with formal education in their first language. For all the “data” rage, it amazes me that this fact continues to be ignored by policy makers.

What does the state say? New York State labeled us a “PLA – Persistently Lowest Achieving” school in the first round of PLA schools. Why? Because we didn’t make AYP in ELA for our English Language Learners. Based on what? The N.Y. State tests.

Isn’t that obvious? The tests are used to label our kids as failing, our schools as low achieving, and our teachers as ineffective.

The following post was written by Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation, a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008. Its latest reform proposals (in Spanish) are called “La Reforma Educativa que Chile Necesita”, and were published in April 2013. A book on this subject (in Spanish) is also available. These proposals were mostly adopted by and included in the educational program of the recently elected government of Michelle Bachelet, and are starting to be implemented now.

Valentina Quiroga (32) was one of the student founders of this organization and is now Undersecretary of Education.

Although Educación 2020 remains as a fully independent movement, the positions stated thereon are in many ways similar to those of the current government.

Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

In August 2013 I wrote in this blog a three piece series, called “Chile: The most pro-market system in the world.” The first described the origins and structure of the system. The second explained its educational and social results, good and bad. The third pointed the way Chile should choose to get out of this mess. If the reader wants to fully understand this situation (the most “Milton Friedmanish” in the world), incomparable with any other country, it is advisable to read those beforehand.
Although some might disagree, from both extremes of the political spectrum, we are happy to inform that the proposals we made are very similar to those being implemented now. However, the political, financial and cultural obstacles will be formidable.

Bachelet was elected by a large margin of voters and has a majority in both the House and the Senate. Nonetheless, positions within the government’s coalition are not fully homogeneous. In addition, there is an impending tax reform that is vital for funding these reforms, costing no less than 2% of gross national product in gradual increments.

Of course, many powerful companies, with strong lobbying capability, are not happy about that. The educational reforms will include dozens of new laws and budgets, covering from preschool to tertiary education.

A warning for American readers. I am fully aware that many of you are criticizing charter schools, profit, teaching to the test, skimming, and the destruction of the teaching profession. I myself have cited Diane Ravitch’s books many times. But you have to be aware that, after 30 years of neoliberal schemes in Chile, charter schools subsidized by government are a majority (55%). One third of them are religious. Two thirds of them are for-profit, and one half of them charge anywhere from US$ 10 to US$ 180 a month on top of the subsidy, therefore skimming quite efficiently.

Teaching to the test, with consequences, has been taken to the greatest extreme imaginable. Policies to destruct public education are too numerous to mention here, and the result is that this system is in acute crisis financially, managerially and emotionally. The teaching profession is in far worse condition than in the US, by any statistical criteria.

In this situation, it is simply not possible to pretend now that charter schools could vanish. Less so if millions of parents have chosen to send their children to highly segregated charters, in a country whose social inequalities are far worse than those in the US, which I know are ugly by themselves.

In short, if the US is navigating towards hell, we are already there and are trying to get out without sinking the ship. It is a very different situation.

The most difficult hurdle in front of us is not legal, political or financial, but cultural. Parents have been led to believe, for decades, that the “best” school is that which is segregated, both academically and socioeconomically. We have a true cultural and educational apartheid. Therefore, the changes will have to be gradual and careful. At the same time, the government is sending strong signals: this is not going to be a minor adjustment but a major change in the overall orientation of the school system; not to make it fully state owned, but simply to resemble the vast majority of OECD countries, probably in a way similar to that of Belgium or The Netherlands. The whole strategy is described in more detail in the above mentioned entries of this blog,

Recently, the Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

This is an evolving situation. I will be most happy (if I can) to answer questions through this blog, and also to inform you about new developments in the future.

Myra Blackmon, a regular columnist for The Online Athens Banner-Herald (Ga.), frequently substitutes in her local elementary school and enjoys it. One day recently, the class of second-graders was rude and undisciplined. When the regular teacher returned, she did not discipline or punish the students. She had each of them write a letter of apology to Ms. Blackmon.

Ms. Blackmon was moved.

She writes:

“Instead of keeping them in from recess, which really accomplishes nothing and creates different problems, or some other group punishment, this teacher had them write letters of apology. They range from perfunctory to pleading for forgiveness. Some offer excuses or explanations for their behavior. One simply wrote, “I wasn’t in school that day.”
This simple act is a classic example of restorative justice. Instead of being punished, these children had to make it right with me — and their teacher. They had to use their writing skills, they had to think about what they had done. They had to take responsibility for their behavior.

“The concept of restorative justice is not new. In Exodus 22:1-14, we read of required restitution for a variety of crimes against people. The Pentateuch recognizes that crimes of theft or arson are crimes against victims, who must be made whole.”

And she adds:

“Research has shown that restorative justice in school settings — replacing suspensions and punitive practices that teach no lessons and leave perpetrators behind in their school work — leads to fewer repeat offenses. Coupling it with counseling, tutoring and helping students figure out better behavior has shown to dramatically reduce dropout rates.

“In a season where Jews have recently celebrated Passover and God’s redemptive release from bondage, where Christians rejoice that Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins, we should reflect on restorative justice. How do we teach people to right their wrongs and not just pay for them? How do we learn to forgive in the face of personal injury? How do we as a community make our lives whole and unite in learning to love one another?

“God never said it would be easy. Jesus encouraged us to go against our very nature in loving and forgiving those who wrong us. As we learn and grow together in love and forgiveness, can we better move forward to offer a community that encourages all its members to live their best lives?

“That is my Easter prayer.”

Peter Greene nails it with this post.

 

Students are not assets. Students are not
global competitors. Students are… well, children? People? On a
Gates Foundation website, seeking to persuade bussinesses how much
America needs the Common Core–even though it has never been
field-tested to gauge its real-world consequences–Alan Golston
wrote this execrable sentence: “Businesses are the primary
consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural
alliance.”

 

Greene almost jumps through the page–or, the
Internet–shouting NO!

 

He writes: “Output of our schools. Students
are not output. They are not throughput. They are not toasters on
an assembly line. They are not a manufactured product, and a school
is not a factory. In fact, a school does not create “output” at
all. Talking about the “output” of a school is like talking about
the “output” of a hospital or a counseling center or a summer camp
or a marriage. When talking about interactions between live
carbon-based life forms (as in “That girl you’ve been dating is
cute, but how’s the output of the relationship?”), talking about
output is generally not a good thing. Primary consumers. Here’s
another thing that students are not– students are not consumer
goods. Businesses do not purchase them and then use them until they
are discarded or replaced. Students are not a good whose value is
measured strictly in its utility to the business that purchased
it.”

 

How to say it nicely: the utilitarian view of education is
getting out of control, warping the ability of intelligent people
to see students as humans like themselves, not as economic goods
for the marketplace. Corporations are not people, but students are.
Each one is unique.

Read this disturbing article by Maggie Terry, who teaches at Locke High School in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and stop and think.

She describes the day that the tenth grade students were scheduled to take the math portion of the state’s exit exams.

The morning was disrupted by gunfire outside, and the school went into lockdown. The teachers immediately sheltered their students:

“When my colleagues and I began ushering kids into our school’s main hall, away from the outdoor lunch tables where they’d been chatting and eating their breakfasts, we held our arms wide like wings, like we knew exactly what was going on and that there was nothing to be scared or worried about.”

As if their arms were shields that were bullet-proof.

One commenter wrote that teachers like to whine about testing, but he missed the point.

I saw a different point altogether.

I see a snapshot of a society where the powers that be ignore the poverty and violence in children’s lives and think they are helping students if they take away any job protections for their teachers. The Vergara trial is about the claim that any due process rights for children violates the civil rights of their students. Garden-variety millionaires and billionaires agree with this assertion.

Maggie Terry, sheltering her children with her outstretched arms, understands the challenges these children face. Suppose they get a low score on their math test because of what they experienced that morning. Should Maggie Terry be fired? Is she a bad teacher?

Or should those millionaires and billionaires address the poverty, segregation, and violence that mar the lobes of the students?

I think they should. But it is easier to fire teachers. And cheaper.

Anthony Cody here describes teachers as “reluctant warriors,” as men and women who chose a profession because they wanted to teach, not to engage in political battles over their basic rights as professionals.

 

The profession is under attack, as everyone now knows. Pensions are under attack. The right to due process is under attack. The policymakers want inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who won’t talk back, who won’t collect a pension, who will turn over rapidly:

 

In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students. The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

 

First, the privatizers came for the schools of the poor, because their parents and communities were powerless and were easy marks for privatization. Then they came for the union and the teachers:

 

Schools of the poor were the first targets. It was easy to stigmatize schools attended by African Americans and Latinos, by English learners and the children of the disempowered. Use test scores to label them failures, dropout factories, close them down, turn them over to privatizers. But this was just the beginning. And now, as Arne Duncan made clear with his dismissal of “white suburban moms,” they want all the schools, and are prepared to use poor performance on the Common Core tests to fuel the “schools are failing” narrative.

 

Teacher unions are under ruthless attack by billionaires, who conveniently own the media, and provide the very “facts” to guide public discourse. Due process is maligned and destroyed under the guise of “increasing professionalism.” Democratic control of local schools is undermined by mayoral control and the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

 

Congress and state legislatures have been purchased wholesale through bribes legalized by the Supreme Court, which has given superhuman power to corporate “citizens.”

 

Teachers, by our nature cooperators respectful of authority, are slow to react. Can the destruction of public education truly be anyone’s goal? The people responsible for this erosion rarely state their intentions. With smiles and praise for teachers, they remove our autonomy and make our jobs depend on test scores. With calls for choice and civil rights, they re-segregate our schools, and institute zero-tolerance discipline policies in their no-excuses charter schools. They push for larger classes in public schools but send their own children to schools with no more than 16 students in a room. Corporate philanthropies anoint teacher “leaders” who are willing to echo reform themes – sometimes even endorsed by our national teacher unions.

 

Now, he says, as the truth gets out about the privatization movement and its bipartisan support, teachers are starting to fight back. They are joining the BATs, they are joining the Network for Public Education, they are speaking out, they are (as in Seattle) refusing to give the tests, they are organizing (as in New York City) to protest the low quality of the tests.

 

Join in the fight against high-stakes testing, which is a central element in the privatization movement. They use the data to target teachers, principals, and public schools. They use the data to destroy public education. Don’t cooperate. Join the reluctant warriors. One person alone will be hammered. Do it with your colleagues, stand together, and be strong.

 

 

 

 

Today, parents and students rallied against the state tests at dozens of schools across New York City, unassuaged by State Commissioner John King’s claims that the tests were better this year and consumed less than 1% of the year. Little children that had sat for three hours of reading tests did not take comfort in his words, and parents demanded transparency.

“The protests, which drew hundreds of people to some schools before the start of classes, followed a speech Thursday by New York State Education Commissioner John King, in which he fiercely defended the state’s education initiatives, including the new standards and tests.

“He described recent debates over those efforts as “noise” and “drama,” and attributed some of the outcry to “misinformation.” And while acknowledging that some schools spend too much time preparing for tests, he insisted that the state had worked to reduce testing time. He added that the new Common Core exams “are better tests” than previous ones.

“His comments struck a nerve with some of the principals, who usually avoid getting involved in education’s political fights, but felt impelled to refute the notion that misinformed members of the public were stirring up unrest about the tests.

“P.S. 59 Principal Adele Schroeter said the hundreds of parents and students who filled the streets around her Midtown school Friday morning were “more than noise and drama, in spite of what John King might say.””

Tomorrow, dozens of Manhattan principals plan their own protests. One of them wrote in a letter to parents: ““I have never seen a more atrocious exam.”

“Echoing criticisms of the exams that other educators have posted online, the Manhattan principals said the tests did not measure the type of analytical reading and writing they associate with the Common Core standards. They also argued that the tests were too long and many of the multiple-choice answers were bafflingly similar.

“I have a double masters and some of them could be A or C,” said Medea McEvoy, principal of P.S. 267 on the Upper East Side, one of the schools planning to protest.

“The principals also said that confidentiality rules shield the test maker, publishing giant Pearson, from public scrutiny. And because only a portion of the test questions are eventually released, they said, teachers cannot rely on them as instructional tools.
The school leaders added that, considering all the flaws they found in the exams, they do not trust the state’s new evaluations that rate teachers partly on their students’ test scores.”

Dr.Yohuru Williams and Maria Kilfoyle, NBCT, have a message for the corporate reformers: We will never surrender.

They write:

“Public education… is the cornerstone of democracy. It helps students acquire civic knowledge so that they can become participants in their democracy. It also requires students and communities to reflect on a continuous basis, through school board meetings, referendums and countless other exercises of local politics, on the nature of the democratic process. Public education further requires parents, teachers, and communities to work in partnership to solve problems on behalf of the public good. If we were to sit passively by and allow unscrupulous politicians and corporations to auction public education off to the highest bidder, we would also be complicit in its demise, but we, and scores of others do not intend to allow that to happen. For the future of our kids and these democratic ideals, we will fight.”

The corporate reformers claim the sky is falling, play on public fears, and advance “solutions” that have not a shred of evidence behind them.

They write:

“Even though democracy has been frustrated and many communities have fallen under the sway of the harmful machinery of Corporate Education Reform, we will not tire or retreat. We will stand and fight the deformers in the town hall meetings, in the governors’ offices and on the floors of state legislatures, on the local school boards, on the campuses of the nation’s colleges and universities, we will even fight at the gates of the White House and on the steps of Capitol Hill; we will never surrender.

“We will never surrender because the real issue that hinders education for children, poverty, needs to be addressed not ignored. The sound bites of education disaster that deformers thrust upon the public never mention child poverty. In fact, they go out of their way to marginalize it and ignore it. We will force the public and governments, at both the federal and state level, to address this.

“We will never surrender because the very social inequalities that deformers like Gates, Duncan, Rhee, and Broad are using to claim their agenda for public education are full of lies, a lack of research, and an alternate agenda that isn’t about equality or justice; it is about the dollar and continued oppression of the poor. Nothing they have presented as an agenda for education will cure child poverty or social injustice. We will never surrender until this lie is exposed and destroyed. Finally, yet importantly, we will never surrender because principle, morality, democracy, and justice are on our side. Our hearts are not bought by The Gates Foundation or The Broad Foundation – Our hearts belong to the children we teach, and the communities we invest in. For that, we will never surrender.”

Amy Prime is a parent and a teacher of second grade in Iowa. She is also a gifted writer.

 

Here she explains why she opted her children out of state testing, and she explains how to do it.

 

It is this simple:

 

“To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to inform you of my instruction to have my children opted out of any state testing for the 2013-2014 school year. “

If you live in the state of Iowa, this is all it takes to prevent your children from going through the week or more of Iowa Assessments that will be happening in most districts during the next month. You need to also write your child’s/children’s names and sign the note, delivering it to the district administration. Your child will then be registered as “opting out” and she will be provided alternate learning activities so that she does not have to stay home from school on those testing days.

There are many misconceptions floating around about this process, but it’s really that simple. Many people aren’t even aware that it is possible.

 

She added, for the information of district leaders, some important information about her decision:

 

The reality that the tests have become so important in deciding school funding and status, among other things, has led the district to begin to do constant “practice” tests on my children in the form of weekly and unit assessments going along with the current language arts and math curricular materials. I believe these tests have little to do with what my children need to know and be able to do as successful citizens and lifelong learners, and much more to do with readying them to score as high as possible on these state tests. I will continue to opt my children out as long as this district feels the need to place such importance on preparatory testing and devalue quality learning. These “standardized” tests send the message that all of our children need to be learning the same things, and proving their learning in the same way. This is a dehumanizing practice that reduces children to plots on a graph, showing only how good they are at filling in bubbles and not necessarily showing that they have a firm grasp on any given skill.

I have two children that receive enhanced instruction as gifted learners. When a child has already scored above the 12th grade level on a test while still in elementary or middle school, what purpose does it serve to continue to retest her in that subject area? I have a child who is diagnosed with autism. What purpose does it serve to force him to take tests that are known to not be a valid or appropriate way to prove what he knows and is able to do?

It is my belief that the decision to opt my children out of these tests will not negatively impact their ability to participate in any specially designed instruction that would be fitting for their learning. If I am wrong about this, please inform me immediately so that I—or their current teachers—are able to gather sufficient evidence in another, more authentic form (such as teacher referral, portfolio work, or student interviews) that would allow them to be placed correctly.

This is a account written by Lindsay Allanbrook, a teacher in New York City. Last year, when the first Common Core tests were given, 97% of English language learners failed the test of English language. What is the point of testing these children in a language they have not mastered?

She writes:

State Tests and Our Newest Arrivals, by Lindsay Allanbrook

It’s that time of year again, testing season. That time of year, right
before the test, when nothing is making sense. Even my own teaching
makes no sense. In the morning, I am able to find some time for Social
Studies. We analyze the Gary Paulsen book Nightjohn. We zoom in on
moments that show resistance to slavery. We create tableaux with our
bodies and then use art to represent those moments. It is exciting and
inspiring work. We are learning what it means to resist what is wrong and
to stand up for what is right.

Then in the afternoon we must sit quietly at our desks and work on
our testing stamina. We must read texts that make no sense and try to
answer questions, which trick us. Why are we doing this? Is this what is
right?

Although there is a lot that I could write related to the struggles of
testing season in my fifth grade dual language classroom, for now I just
want to tell the testing stories of four of my students: Marisa, Jose, David,
and Natalia.

These are my four “newcomers”, students who have recently
arrived to the United States from other countries. Marisa came from Peru
last April. Jose joined us from the Dominican Republic in December. David
was in the US in third grade. He was at our school for a year and then he
returned to Guatemala. In January, his family was back in New York and
he joined our class. Natalia came here last spring; she spent two months
in 4th grade and then returned to Ecuador. A week ago, Natalia’s family
once again came to New York and she is now in my class.

I consider these four students to be lucky. They are lucky because
they are able to attend a dual language school where they receive half of
their instruction in Spanish and half in English. They are able to learn
grade level content in Spanish without being hindered by their lack of
English proficiency. They are all working hard and making tremendous
growth, week by week. Although they are diligent, intelligent students, all
four of them are behind in most areas of the curriculum. They struggle to
follow our rigorous 5th grade Common Core based Math curriculum because
none of them had the necessary foundational instruction. Even so, all four
of them will be required to take the 5th grade Common Core State Math
Test at the end of April. At least, they will be able to do it in Spanish and
they will try their best to answer the few questions that they understand.
I knew when David entered my class that he would also be required
to take the 5th grade Common Core English Language Arts Test. David was
in the US for a year and a half before returning to Guatemala. According
to No Child Left Behind, students may only be exempt from the State ELA
Assessment for their first year in the country.
(http://www.p12.nysed.gov/biling/bilinged/faq.html#state)

Although I understood that
David would be required to take the test, I knew it was unfair. David is a
strong reader in Spanish, yet he is a timid boy who spent a year and a half
in a foreign country (the United States), returned to his home in
Guatemala for a year and then recently came back to the United States.
He is still struggling to re-acclimate to school in the US.

Marisa arrived a week after the 2013 ELA test. At first, we thought
Marisa was lucky. She started in our school right after last year’s test, and
therefore, we thought that she would not have been in the country for a
year when this year’s test rolled around and we believed that she would be
exempt from the test. We soon learned we were wrong. Even though
Marisa entered the school less than 12 months ago, because she entered
during the month of April, she is considered to be here 12 months. In
other words, even though she was only in the school for the last week of
April, it counts as one whole month and she is required to take the test.

I was surprised and upset when I found out that Marisa would be
required to take the ELA test, but Natalia’s situation shocked me even
more. When Natalia recently returned to our school, I was sure that she
would be exempt from the test. Natalia had only been in the US for 2
months. Students may be exempt from the test for their first year in the
country, but there is a catch. According to No Child Left Behind, students
may only be exempt from one administration of the test.
(http://www.p12.nysed.gov/biling/bilinged/faq.html#state)

The two months that Natalia was here last year happened to fall during the testing season.
Since she was exempt from the ELA test last year, she cannot be exempt
from the test again this year.

Out of my four newcomers, Jose is the only one who is exempt from
the ELA test this year. He came to the US in December (less than a year
ago) and he has never been exempt from the test in previous years. Of
course, next year he will have to take the test.

While we work on test prep, Marisa, Jose, David and Natalia practice
their English reading on the computer. You might think some of my
students would think it was unfair that these students are not being forced
to do test prep or that Jose does not have to take the test at all. But it
seems that my students have a deeper understanding of what is fair and
unfair. When a student overheard me talking to David and realized that
David would have to take the test, he was outraged. “Does he get to take
it in Spanish?” he asked. I told him David would have to take the test in
English. “But that’s not fair!” he said in shock.

Not only is it not fair, it simply doesn’t make sense. And of course,
no matter how much we do in the next few weeks, there is no way, we can
ensure that these children will pass. They couldn’t possibly and nor could
any one of us if we were required to move to another country and take a
reading test in a language other than English after just one year. These
children’s test scores will cause people to express concern over the low
performance of English language learners instead of causing them to ask
the more obvious question, which is, “Why, why did they have to take this
test?”

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