Archives for the month of: December, 2012

Earlier today, I published an essay about testing (“The Voice of a Data-Point”) by a sixth-grade student, Noa Rosinplotz. Her story was so thoughtful and well-written that some commenters could not believe it was written by a sixth grade student. I emailed Noa and asked her to read the comments and respond. This is what she wrote:

“This is Noa, original writer of the letter. I’m responding to all the comments that I’m not actually in sixth grade or that someone else wrote my letter for me. While my mom did read what I wrote, to make sure it wasn’t “obnoxious” (as she put it), she didn’t make any written edits and I wrote the letter entirely by myself. I used other sources, like Diane Ravitch’s book, for information, but every word in the letter not in quotation marks was entirely my own. The fact that I’m not a certified adult educator shouldn’t make people doubt the authenticity of my letter, it should make what I write all the more accurate, as a student taking the tests. No one “guided my hand”, and protesting standardized tests was my idea and my idea only. I love to write and to make my ideas public, and I thought that if anyone was going to pay attention to my letter, I had to make it as mature and detailed as possible. I wrote a few letters to DCPS in response to their tests at the end of last year, and when I received no response, decided to make my opinions more public. I’m very interested in No Child Left Behind, especially because I’ve never experienced school without standardized tests. It’s not weird that I’M interested in researching tests, it’s weird that adults who have never taken them are. In response to “sixth graders just don’t write this way”, they obviously do, since I’m a sixth grader.”

Education Week has an article by Catherine Gewertz saying that defenders of the Common Core are out in full force to quell the uproar about whether CC will mean less fiction.

It is interesting that the two loudest voices defending CC are Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, both quite conservative groups.

The way the issue is framed unfortunately misses the point, at least the point that I and others have raised.

Why do the CC standards mandate a proportionate split between fiction and non-fiction?

Who thought it was necessary to turn NAEP’s instruction to test developers into a mandate for teachers?

Who will police the implementation of the arbitrary ratios of 50-50 or 70-30?

If the ratios apply to all courses, can’t we assume that students will read “informational text” in math, science, civics, history, and other subjects, leaving teachers of English language arts to assign as much fiction or non-fiction as they want?

In the interests of clarity, here’s what I want: the ratios should be eliminated. They are an overreach. They have no basis in research or experience. There is no justification for imposing them.

I urge this not as a partisan of fiction or non-fiction, but as a partisan of common sense.


The New York Times had a front-page story yesterday about a non-profit corporation that runs halfway houses in New Jersey.

It may be non-profit, but the owner and his family are making millions.

Does this remind you of anything else you have read lately?

Robert Rendo, a National Board Certified Teacher, has offered his talents as an illustrator to help all those fighting misguided reform. He writes:

Dear Diane,

I am a veteran teacher of 19 years, Nationally Board Certified, and teach a low income immigrant population. I am also an editorial illustrator with works in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Sacramento Bee, the Society of Illustrators, and the American photography/American illustration show. My work is a tool for advocacy, and I believe firmly in the power of the image to speak more than a thousand words against this horrendous reform movement in public educaiton.

I recently put out a blog, and anyone and everyone who is like minded is invited to use the images in a free license with my express permission to incorporate into their advocacy material, in any medium they wish. The blog is about the education reform and all the reasons why it’s a catastrophe.

This is a very different sort of blog; it’s almost all imagery and no words.

Illustrations from my blog have been featured on Stephen Krashen’s “Schools Matter”, “Susan Ohanian”, “Change the Stakes”, “Education Notes”, to name a few.

the blog is at:

It is my sincere hope that everyone who is pushing back against this nefarious coporate reform in educaiton use my free images as much as they’d like. This is no promotion or sales pitch. In trying to be pro-active, I want to empower my fellow colleagues in what promises to be a difficult and complicated fight to preserve education as a public trust.

This is not just a fight for the equitable educaiton of all children; it’s a fight for democracy.

Thank you for all the work you do, Diane. I hope you know how valued you and your work are by parents and educators alike throughout the country.

Robert Rendo

PS from Diane: I added capital letters, since Robert expressed his wish for them.

This is a story written by Noa Rosinplotz, a sixth-grade student in the District of Columbia public schools. It first appeared on a Facebook page called “Children Left Behind,” a protest site for students and families. Noa sent it to her story, and she also wrote a letter, which follows the story. Students are not widgets; they are not pieces of clay. They don’t like what is being inflicted upon them. Once they become active, everything changes.

Please help Noa’s letter go viral!

The Little Datapoint and the Big Bad Test

Once upon a time, there was a little datapoint named Rosin Plotz, Noa. Her friends called her by her ID number, 9——, or 9 for short. She liked her job-most of the time. But 6 times a year, or 19 days in total, came the Big Bad Test. The Little Datapoint completed the test dutifully each time, mulling the possibilities of Paul Revere’s horse’s emotions and checking her work not once, but twice. She and the other Datapoints together formed a Chart, which was their Job. The Little Datapoint felt very proud at having been a part of such a great endeavor. Then one day, the Little Datapoint felt a different emotion. The Little Datapoint felt ANGRY. The Little Datapoint thought: Is this all I am good for? Providing data on tests? That can’t be all there is to life, can it? These questions are dumb, thought the Little Datapoint. I should not spend my life answering these questions. Paul Revere’s horse will never change the world, she said to herself. Paul Revere’s horse is dead. But I can still change the world. And I will never do that by answering these questions, day after day, year after year. And that Little Datapoint did not answer her questions. That Little Datapoint RIPPED UP HER TEST AND THREW IT INTO THE DEEP DARK RECESSES OF THE TRASH CAN TO FESTER AND EVENTUALLY DIE A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH LASTING FOR ALL ETERNITY!!!!!!!!!”

My name is Noa and I’m a sixth grader in DCPS. I got your name from my friend’s grandmother, Joan Leibovich. Joan sent you the story I wrote, “The Little Datapoint and the Big Bad Test”, along with the link to a protest Facebook page against standardized testing (I attached them both at the bottom, just in case.) She said you might post these on your website, which would be great.

I’m writing this e-mail just to explain my position better: I have spent 28 hours up to now filling in bubbles on the Paced Interim Assessment, or PIA, and I consider those hours parts of my life that were dumped down the drain. These particular tests are confusing and occasionally contradictory. We take them five times a year through most of elementary and middle school.

Entire school systems are judged just on one number-the percent of kids who made proficient on their standardized tests. That’s millions of dollars in funding, the education of thousands of children, and who knows what else depending on that number, which means nothing, since the tests are, for lack of a word that makes me sound less like the twelve-year-old I am, bad.

I have started to read your book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” I’m very interested by the concept of “seeing like a state,” which you mention in the first chapter. While I agree that this is necessary for most federal laws and problems, I think it’s exactly what we don’t need in our current education system. If education officials would descend those 20,000 feet and spend time examining and working with the 49.8 million children and 3.3 million teachers in US public elementary and high schools, they would better understand how actual students, schools, and teachers experience the tests they help to implement and create. We could learn so many things in the hours spent bubble-filling that would INCREASE our knowledge, not just show it. Maybe tests aren’t the best way of assessing schools. Actually, tests AREN’T the best way of assessing schools. So please, please, read on.

The PIAs (our current benchmark assessment in DC) are created by Intel-Assess and based on the Common Core Curriculum. Each testing window has one math test and one English language arts test. On top of that, DC has the DC CAS, which is administered between the 4th and 5th PIA and lasts five or six days, depending on the grade. The DC CAS bears no relation to the PIA at all and assesses a different range of skills. Grades 2-8 are all tested. As a result, about 10% of the year is spent on standardized tests, not counting all the preparation and practice for each test.

Each ELA test has 30 or so questions, give or take a few. The questions are related to several passages presented in the test booklet, which can include poems, nonfiction texts written exclusively for the test, and fictional stories. There are usually two written response questions on each test. Sometimes the questions are fine. More often than not, they don’t make sense in context or have multiple or no right answers. For example, question 11 on the first test this school year was as follows:

If “Nasser of the Shaduf had been written in the third person, the reader would probably have learned less about which of the following?

a) Nasser’s childhood

b) Nasser’s sisters

c) how Nasser felt about working the shaduf

d) how his father felt about Nasser

I think they’re all a little bit wrong.

Another, which I don’t have word for word, has a picture of the general store where the main character works. On the storefront is a list of items sold by the store. The question asked why the author included a picture with the passage. One option was “to show where Joey [the main character] works.” Another was “to show what is sold at the general store.” The question appeared on the first 5th grade PIA this year. If you can answer this, I will be extremely impressed.

Here’s a different one, on the second-to-last 5th grade PIA last year. It’s about the sinking of the Lusitania and the start of WWI.

Which is the best support from “Tragedy at Sea” for the argument that the U.S. should NOT go to war with Germany over this incident?

a) Many people in the U.S. were hoping to remain out of a war with Europe.

b) The Lusitania was a British ship and not an American ship.

c) The Germans had warned British ships to stay out of these waters.

d) The American military was not fully prepared for a war with Germany.

Aren’t these all correct?

The math PIAs are less obviously flawed, but flawed all the same. The first test in the 2012-2013 school year had lots of questions asking the 6th graders to count the shaded squares inside a rectangle. The second often asked us to use the distributive property, which we hadn’t yet learned. When I posted one question from test #2 on the protest Facebook page (I included the link at the bottom), several adults debated the answer for a while. If the first test has counting, which is easy for a kindergartener, and the second is appropriate for a grown adult, that’s not going to show progress correctly. I never thought I’d complain that a standardized test needed to be more standardized, but here I am doing it. Our scores might plummet on test two, but only because it was disproportionately harder than test one. I have no problem with challenging questions, they just need to be more reasonable.

Another question, which appears often, in many different forms and using many different math skills, on the PIA goes something like this:“Martin used the distributive property to write this equation: 10(x-y)+5(x-7y)=15x-45y. Explain Martin’s reasonableness and the steps he took to arrive at his answer.” This isn’t word for word, but that equation was the hard one I talked about in a problem asking for the reasoning (not “reasonableness”) of the person who completed the problem (correctly.) We get lots of questions asking us to explain the steps taken to arrive at an answer, which is fine. They just are worded terribly. The way I explained it asks the question SO much better. Mostly the math questions are multiple choice, but ones like my example are written response.

There is an awful countrywide disregard for special circumstances regarding ESL students. I’m not sure if this is very prominent in DC, although I know it’s definitely an issue in other places. According to NCLB, ESL students are given three years to take the test in their native language, and occasionally an extra two, but only under some conditions. Only 10 states follow this rule. In the other 40, a kid can arrive in September speaking as much English as his #2 pencil, and be expected to score proficient on the test in October. So schools with high ESL populations have almost no chance of making AYP on any standardized test whatsoever. A study in California and Illinois showed that schools that made AYP were comprised of 40% minority students or less, while the schools that didn’t were made up of 75-85% minority students. Most of this is due to the kids not being tested in their native languages when needed.

Special education students make up 14% of the country’s public school students, but only 3% of state scores are based on tests modified for the abilities of kids who are disabled in any way. In Maryland and DC the Alt-MSA (Maryland) or DC CAS-Alt (DC), an alternate, individually altered or simplified version of the state test, is given to only 1% of students. According to the Washington Post article by Daniel de Vise, “Trying Times for Special Ed”, Maryland teachers were allowed to guide students’ hands to the correct answers when necessary. The article was written in 2005. In DC, students with extreme cognitive disabilities are allowed to take an alternate exam, and “officials” say they have not heard any complaints from teachers. These modified exams can take hours, even days longer than the standard tests, and if teachers can guide students to the right answer, then that is a supreme waste of time. Children with IEP or 504 plans have their scores counted exactly like everyone else’s. Because improvement does not impact whether a school makes AYP or not, a severely disabled 8th grader can go from not knowing the first letter of their own name to reading proficiently on a 1st or 2nd grade level, but fail the tests because they weren’t up to 8th grade standards.

This is important for very obvious reasons. We can’t afford to waste so much time, money, and brainpower on completely useless tests. We hold the graphs and charts and other “information” we get from tests in bafflingly high regard. Just because it’s printed on expensive paper doesn’t mean it’s good information. If the students guess on a quarter of the questions, and there are three wrong answers and only one right one to each question, that’s a considerable number of the questions gone completely to waste (at least 3-5 a test).

My mission isn’t to abolish standardized tests entirely; schools need some way of judging academic performance and I’m not about to suggest something better. I just think if we have to spend 10% of the school year on anything, it should be something a little more worthwhile. Maybe we could have a three-year moratorium, like Joshua Starr (MCPS superintendent of schools) suggests, to focus on improving our assessment system. The only good tests are ones created by teachers who know their students and know what they’re teaching. We could be assessed in ways testing our creativity and knowledge, not only our capacity for making small-minded inferences by looking at short, meaningless passages. If the school system spent more time planning the tests, using information from schools and the people in them, and thinking about the many, many cons of shutting kids in classrooms for 20 hours a year to fill in bubbles on answer sheets, then maybe, just maybe, we could get some valid information from those very answer sheets. Maybe students could learn things FROM TESTS. Maybe we could all spend time thinking about the answers, not because they make absolutely no sense, but because they require our brains to think. And maybe our #2 pencils will grow wings and fly to Montreal.

Thank you for reading this.


A datapoint

Please read about Mr. Wright, a brilliant physics teacher in Louisville.

An award-winning film was made about him, not just because of his vivacious, unorthodox teaching style, but because of his love for his son, who was born profoundly disabled. Please read the story about him in the New York Times and watch the video.

The video is amazing.

It will make you grateful for your blessings.

It will humble you.

It might change your life.

In response to Katie Osgood’s post, “A Message to Reformers,” Maureen Reedy wrote the following:

“Katie, Diane and Friends,
I am loving your article Katie, it is right on in every way.

No more! No MORE!!! NO MORE!!!!

I have contacted Ed Schultz, a production company in California, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow who teaches at Ohio State, state senator and superintendents in Michigan, I have a panel ready to go with the media when we get someone to pick up the ball and run with it.

I have been in touch with Parents Across America about a project based on “Hands Across America,” where, state by state, we join together, simultaneously, on the same weekend afternoon, and celebrate public education and present the cold, hard facts of privatization to the public, across America… remember “This land is your land, this land is our land?”

I have been relentless since running for state rep in Ohio as former Ohio Teacher of the Year and being kept out of the Statehouse by a malicious 1.5 million dollar ad campaign the last 2 weeks of the election of which Michelle Rhee was a player. I am determined to join others and take action from the Outside/ In where ever, whenever and however we can.

As a 29-year veteran educator and supporter/supervisor/facilitator for over 250 IEP/IAT meetings in my elementary school each year, you have got it right!!!

These are perilous times for our kids who are fragile, vulnerable and at risk. Taking the experts out of the equation and ping-ponging children across town in the name of for-profit avarice and greed is destroying our children and their crucial connection to community.

We ALL have momentum and the power to get moving on CIVIL / HUMAN rights issue of our time, namely, protecting our children and preserving public education.

It is time to take action from the Outside/ In.
Keep contacting people in a position to bring Katie’s facts to light, keep going with reaching your contacts, newspaper columnists, talk show hosts, etc.

Keep moving with your words, your expertise, your stories, your ACTIONS.

Keep doing what you can to save our children and public education.

Thank you Katie, thank you Diane, thank you to all friends who are fighting for our precious children, the real victims of corporate reform.

Maureen Reedy
Parent/29 year Public School Teacher
Columbus, Ohio

This is one of the most important posts you will read this year–or next.

The Rocketship charter chain hopes to be the mass-produced model for poor kids in America. It intends someday to enroll one million children.

Jersey Jazzman takes a close look at John Merrow’s PBS episode about Rocketship charters. .

The children in these charters get no music or art. None.

The leaders of Rocketship don’t see this as a problem.

In their view, poor kids need basic skills, not the arts.

Affluent parents wouldn’t accept this kind of schooling.

It is not education. It’s just schooling.

It’s schooling on the cheap for Other People’s Children.

Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas is devoted to equity for students of color.

This has made him a critic of corporate reform.

And it may account for the name of his blog, which is “Cloaking Inequity.”

You should browse his blog archives. He writes with verve and humor, which we know is rare indeed among the professoriate.

His latest piece reveals the interconnections among the reformers associated with the IDEA charter chain, Teach for America, and the U.S. Department of Education.

IDEA claims that all its graduates enter a four-year college, but as Bruce Fuller recently explained, almost half are failing in college. They were not well prepared. Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Education recently plopped $29 million into the IDEA coffers.

In the latest wrinkle of an ongoing reform saga, the Austin Independent School Board held its regular election and got some new members. They severed AISD]s connection with IDEA.

An English teacher explains that she always teaches non-fiction in her courses. What she can’t understand is the mindset of those who want to impose a statistical straight jacket on teachers. She wonders if the people who did this have sound educational values.

“The argument that English teachers are opposed to non-fiction because they love literature is an unsubstantiated generalization. Just because you love English doesn’t mean you don’t love non fiction as anyone of my English colleagues could attest to. One does not have to have a bias against non fiction to find arbitrary percentage points embedded in a badly conceived aspect of Common Core suspect. In fact, what interests me is the notion that pointing out weaknesses in the Common Core is a bias of any kind. Is the Common Core so well conceived that it would never need to be refined or reconsidered in any aspect? Really?

“I am an English teacher that does not fit the generalization against non fiction. In fact, I have a specific preference for non fiction feature and argumentation which is evident in my classrooms and my own personal reading. In my middle school classes, students read good writing (both fiction and non fiction), although they write mostly non fiction. They write non fiction feature, argumentation and research papers. They write and read for a meaningful purpose: including for magazines created in class, for debate, for a wikipedia style encyclopedia…all of which requires substantial non fiction reading. I use fiction as a focal point of some units, but always I support those units with related non fiction (now called paired passages in our brave new world). I do not, because I love English, have an overwhelming love of literature above all other forms of quality writing. However, I do love quality reading and writing over read a passage answer some multiple choice questions about it, although that kind of instruction is necessarily a part of my teaching now.

“From my point of view, the reform movement is a failure not because it won’t ramp up some teachers’ efforts but because it doesn’t actually know what to value in education. The absurdity of requiring or inquiring about specific percentage points of fiction to non fiction as a means to insure rigor just illustrates the idiocy of data idolatry and the somewhat studied attempt of non educator reformists to nail down learning to a specific, codifiable set of skills and guides for teaching them. I think that is the case that needs to be made and the one that real reform minded people would not reject out of hand.”