Monday, May 6, 2013

My 52 Views on High-Stakes Tests

Today marks the second week of NJASK testing here in New Jersey. Grades 5 and 6 began testing this morning, and make-ups are being conducted for 7th and 8th graders that weren't tested last week.  

Last week parents were told that if they insisted on opting out their child's test would be scored a zero and their child would be placed in remedial classes next year.

Reports are coming in today that students are being forced to sit through make-up sessions even though they opted out last week. The only options presented to parents are to keep children home during the make-ups or have their child pulled from class only to sit in front of a blank test booklet. 

NJ opt-outers are attempting to work with administrators to come up with more student-centered solutions for their children.  

Diane Hewlett-Lowrie is one of the brave moms starting an opt-out journey this week. Here is a guest post she wrote clearly demonstrating that New Jersey parents know EXACTLY why they are opting out!  

Generally, I am opposed to high-stakes standardized tests because: 

  • They constitute an undue burden of stress on young children;  
  • They constitute an undue financial burden on schools; 
  • They don’t tell the classroom teacher anything about how well any child learned new skills or topics; 
  • 21st Century skills include cooperation, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. These skills will not be developed in a ‘pass the high-stakes test at all costs’ world;  
  • Teaching students how to do well in these tests will result in this generation of children acquiring skills that are NOT required in the work world they will enter, while losing valuable lessons in the skills they DO require;  
  • Linking test scores to teacher evaluation over such a short time period is inappropriate, untested, untried, still in the developmental stage, not recommended even by the test companies, and will result in the loss of many good teachers;  
  • Linking test scores to teacher evaluation does not take into consideration the top reasons for students doing well in school or not, that is parental involvement and socio-economics; 
  • Linking test scores to teacher evaluation that may result in teachers losing their jobs will result in a lot more pressure on students to perform well in these test;  
  • Good teachers are leaving the profession because they cannot educate the children in an innovative and creative way, meeting the needs of every child - they are being forced to teach-to-the-test;  
  • It is inappropriate to use our children to resolve labor issues;  
  • No professional writer would produce a finished product essay in 30 minutes. Why then ask kids to do this 3 or 4 times in two days?; 
  • Teaching the children how to write a finished essay in 30 minutes is only teaching them how to write to pass this test, it is not teaching the real approach to the writing process;
  • The tests are too heavily weighted in favor of people with strong language arts skills; 
  • Numeracy evaluations are polluted with language arts portions. This is not fair on students who are very strong in math, but weak in writing;  
  • These standardized tests are biased against budding scientists, engineers and mathematicians; 
  • These tests tell children if they can’t write, they can’t excel. Wrong!; 
  • Over-emphasis on testing is narrowing the curriculum in all schools; 
  • Test scores are being used inappropriately to close down schools in poor neighborhoods leading to overcrowding of the schools that remain; 
  • The current tests were never designed to be ‘high stakes, they were supposed to be ‘snapshots’ to let school know if they are on the right track; 
  • Policy makers, legislators, and big business are using “the test” in ways it was never intended to be used; 
  • The high-stakes nature of these tests and the curriculum they assess force teachers to teach subjects and concepts to young children who are not developmentally ready under the guise of being ‘rigorous’; 
  • Too much time that could be spent learning is spent getting ready for the test, or taking tests and this is only going to get worse when there is a test for every subject in every year; 
  • The time, money and other resources that have been spent on establishing these tests could have been better spent on instruction of students and professional development for teachers; 
  • There is inappropriate product placement (aka free advertising) in the tests; 
  • One company seems to have a monopoly on these tests, and therefore the text books. Last week, a passage from Pearson’s text books showed up in a standardized test. MASSIVE conflict of interest; 
  • There is too much emphasis on learning via ‘informational text’ leaving no time for real-life, hands-on, exploratory learning; 
  • There is too much emphasis on learning via text books, leaving no time for field trips, museums, historic sites, environmental education centers, etc; 
  • The writing that is being taught is formulaic – probably because it’s easier to score on a test, not because it’s the best way to write; and 
  • Nobody I know in the real work world has to produce a 5-paragraph persuasive essay in 30 minutes – without being able to research and verify facts via good sources.

Personally, I am opposed to high-stakes standardized tests because

  • Participating in four days of testing is not in the best interests of our child; 
  • Preparing for and participating in four days of testing is destroying our child’s love of learning; 
  • Participating in four days of testing does not help our child’s learning, especially as the neither the teachers nor the parents are permitted to view the completed and graded test; 
  • Preparing for four days of testing takes away from a well-rounded exciting and engaging education; 
  • Our child is good at math, reading, and science, but the test will not show that as it is so heavily weighted with language arts (e.g. writing in words how a math problem was solved); 
  • Our child has a writing disability, yet will be forced to write for hours during these tests. This will cause pain and anxiety; 
  • Our child has a writing disability, yet will be evaluated on writing skills (One does not evaluate a person with a mobility disability on how well they can run); 
  • Our child has a writing disability, but can type very well. He is not able to type his answers on these tests;
  • An education psychologist told us that our child’s brain ‘shuts down’ under high pressure situations, like timed tests, because of a low-performing ‘working memory’. All standardized tests are conducted under pressure with an enforced, unworldly time limit;
  • I refuse to have my child be a part of a research project for a testing/curriculum company; 
  • Please note, our child consistently gets As and Bs on report cards. Our arguments with the standardized tests are not related to our child’s academic ability, but are everything to do with the numerous reasons listed here.

International perspective

  • Other successful developed nations are moving AWAY from this type of ‘education’ because it does not prepare children for the real world; 
  • Wales outlawed national testing under the age of 14; 
  • The Scottish education system uses a balance of continuous assessment, mixed with
  • end-of-year exams, to evaluate learning; 
  • Finland – known to have the best education system in the world - does EXACTLY the OPPOSITE of what are currently doing in the US; 
  • In Finland, teachers are valued and paid as well as doctors – and the students excel; 
  • In Finland, there are no mandated standardized tests, except one at the end of senior
  • year – and the students excel; 
  • In Finland, the teachers are free to mold their own instruction – and the students excel; 
  • The Scottish education system doesn’t have national tests for children under the age of 16; 
  • The Scottish education system evaluates students through assessing them, not teachers; 
  • Teachers in England boycotted the national tests for 11-year-olds because it took away from valuable teaching time and put an undue burden of stress on young children. The United State’s education system and its current direction is becoming the laughing stock of the world. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

How Do Education Foundations in New Jersey's Top Towns Stack Up To Billionaire Philanthropy? Not So Well.

A comment I received on my post Hebrew Charters Hit The Broadway Stage kind of irked me.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE a good debate, and have no problem being challenged. In fact, I welcome it. 

I just wish anonymous commenters that take the time to do some research and go toe to toe with me would let me know who I have the pleasure of debating.  

Anonymous brought up an interesting point, that when I compared the Hebrew Charter School Center's (HCSC) Broadway fundraiser to my school's PTO collecting boxtops, I was leaving out the fact that often Education Foundations raise far more money for districts than PTOs or PTAs.

Point well taken.

So it made sense to look at how Education Foundation giving stacks up to the likes of the HCSC.

As I was doing some research for my response to Anonymous' comment I realized there were lots of links I wanted to add, so here is the comment and my response as a post instead.

AnonymousMay 2, 2013 at 6:29 PM 
Darcie, really? 
It seems to me that that the Hebrew Language people may have learned from Highland Park what a good fundraiser theater can be: This past year the Highland Park Education Foundation hosted an evnet using its Broadway connections to raise money when they featured Amy Herzog at the Italian Bistro.  
The Highland Park Education Foundation has boasted over the years raising thousands of dollars for the Highland Park Public schools, and I would think that the Highland Park Education Foundation folks would love to leverage other famous HPHS grads like Sam Hoffman, Willie Garson and Soterios Johnson. So while the Matilda fundraiser may have been a bit more sucessful, Highland Park is hardly limited to boxtops. 
And while the Highland Park Education Foundation may have not been sucessful raising big money for the Highland Park public schools, other public school supporters have been very effective in raising very large sums: 
The Princeton Education Foundation has boasted giving their district $113,000 this past school year. 
The Rumson Education Foundation boasts having raised $15 Million since its inception for their school district. 
The Somerset Hills Education Foundation just raised over $100,000 at their chiili cook off. 
The Summit(NJ) Education Foundation just raised $150,000 at their Casino night fundraiser. And the foundation boasts giving their public school districts $342,000.00 in grants in 2012.

My response

Ah, I love it when Anonymous posters make a point to call me out by name. 

Really, I do. 

Anonymous, I can't speak for Rumson, Princeton, Summit or Somerset Hills.  Those districts have nothing to do with my district, or Hatikvah. 

But I do appreciate your point that often Education Foundation fundraisers pull in more money than PTO, PTA or parent driven fund raisers, and I ignored that.  

So lets compare the Highland Park Education Foundation (HPEF) and the Amy Herzog fundraiser you mention with the HCSC and the Afternoon at the Theater fundraiser I wrote about and see if you have a valid point when you claim that "other public school supporters have been very effective in raising very large sums."

Amy Herzog is an HP alum, and is now a successful, albeit still off-Broadway, playwright. She came back to her home town and gave a talk at a local restaurant. I forget the ticket price for the event, but I can assure you it was far less than the $50,000 some of New York's wealthiest families paid to see a private showing of a Tony Award nominated Broadway production of the Royal Shakespeare Company.   

According to their website, in the last two years the HPEF has awarded a little more than $25,000 in grants. That's two years worth of work to raise HALF of the $50,000 some folks shelled out for just 12 of the 1460 seats at the Shubert Theater.

According to HCSC's 990, in 2010 alone Hatikvah received $248,596, and that DOES NOT include the $142,000 that was given to their after school programs.  

So Anonymous, your attempt to equate a home town girl done good helping to raise a little bit of money at a local bistro and the HCSCs ability to commandeer an entire performance of a hit Broadway musical kind of falls flat.    

I'm kind of intrigued now, so let's explore this idea a little further. Above I said I wouldn't address the other Education Foundations you mentioned, but doing so may in fact be interesting. The towns you list are some of the wealthiest in the state, so I wonder how they stack up against the giving power of the HCSC?  

NJ Monthly says Rumson is number five in NJ's Top 20 Towns, so let's use them as our test case. Their Education Foundation has raised a whopping 1.5 M since it's inception 17 years ago. (In your comment you erroneously state it was 15 M - I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that this was an honest mistake.)

That sounds like a lot of money, right?

Except according to that same 990, HCSC gave out 1.2 M in 2010 alone and had 4M in total assets. 

And let's take this comparison just one step further.  Rumson has about 1,000 students and Hatikvah has around 200. 

If Rumson schools get about $90,000 per year from their Education Foundation, that breaks down to approximately $90 a student.

We've already established that Hatikvah got almost $400,000 in 2010 for their charter and after school programs.

That's $2,000 per student. 

Anonymous, while you may have a point that Education Foundations raise more money than the bake sales, book fairs and box tops I wrote about in my original post, they're not exactly raking in the "very large sums" you indicated. Even Education Foundations in New Jersey's wealthiest towns fall FAR short of the giving power of billionaire backed foundations like HCSC.

So yes, REALLY Anonymous. 

Traditional public schools can not match the private money that flows into charter schools backed by hedge fund billionaires.

But thanks for stopping by!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Are Children Being Used As Pawns In The Game Of High Stakes Testing?

Today marks the end of NJASK testing for 7th and 8th graders in New Jersey, with 5th and 6th graders in the hot seat next week. NJ parents across the state are opting their children out, and we are working together to find ways to make the experience as smooth as possible for our children.

NJ mom Lisa Grieco-Rodgers has chosen to have her 6th grade child opt out, but her 4th grade child will take the test. She explains that her daughter is a strong student and has taken the NJASK in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. This year her daughter has already sat through end of the marking period tests, district placement tests and now weeks of test prep.

Grieco-Rodgers asks, "when is enough, enough?"

Guest post from Lisa Grieco-Rodgers  


We can all appreciate the need for standards and guidelines and the people that must enforce them.  However, when the pendulum swings too far and these standards and guidelines become counterproductive, adversely affecting our children, then the constituents who voted in our representatives need to speak up.
We chose to keep our 6th grade daughter home during NJASK testing this week, because enough is enough.  Our daughter has taken the NJASK for 3 years now, and based on the NJ DoE changes that are coming in 2014, she along with her brother will be tested until 11th grade.  Our   daughter is a straight A student, in AP Math and in general actually finds testing to be a fun challenge – go figure. 
However, when NJ ASK prep started 2 weeks before the actual test, she came home saying.  “Mom, I just finished all the trimester tests and the district placement test.  Do I really need to go through 10 more hours of testing?”  Her father and I said “NO!”  Enough is enough.
As her parents we are actively involved in her and her brother’s education.  Each night we review their homework and weekly, we discuss their work to determine if they need more support. 
In her particular case, this year, NJASK proves no value to her.  In fact her placement into 7th grade will be decided on before the NJASK results are published in September 2013.
As for our son, we chose to allow him to take the NJASK in 4th grade for after discussing his abilities with his teacher and the principal we decided that since he has not gone through the battery of testing our daughter has the NJASK will help reinforce what he has learned and strengthen his test taking abilities.   
Many folks have said to me, aren’t you contradicting yourself?  No, it’s OUR CHOICE based on the needs of the individual child.  We are their parent’s, we decide what is best for our kids.
NJ DoE however, does not believe we have the right to decide and in the end could potentially penalize the school districts and our kids for OUR CHOICE!
We understand that the school district must follow State regulations – for they have NO CHOICE.  But it is time for each district to take a stand and speak out that the district should NOT be adversely affected financially or otherwise, because of a parental right.  The State is holding the district hostage.  Less than 95% participation could potentially impact district funding from the state.  The children also have to miss 10 hours of class during test make up week, because the State DoE has stated that they cannot attend class if they don’t take the make-up test.  How ridiculous is this! We have already decided that they NOT take the test!
Since when do we live in a communist state?  Please tell me we have not fallen into a dictatorship! Why should the state penalize the school district because of OUR CHOICE?
There is nothing wrong with assessment testing, when administered appropriately, but when is enough, enough?  Whether or not you believe the pendulum has swung too far already, wait…. NJASK currently tests kids for 10 hours per year from 3rd-8th grade.  When PARCC testing is implemented, it will bring this to a whole new level with FOUR new rounds of tests totaling 12 hours per year from K-11th grade.
We hear over and over from state regulators that parents are using their children as pawns.   Really?
When the State withholds money from the district if the district does not achieve 95% participation rate on the NJASK and when the State does not allow our children to attend class during test make up week – then who is REALLY holding our children as pawns?