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Weekly Update: Opting out in Florida and Oklahoma, protests in Philadelphia and Bill Gates enters The Twilight Zone

This week more push back against standardized and high stakes testing.

In Florida:

11 school districts sign national resolution criticizing “over-reliance” on testing; Orange and Seminole could discuss joining at meetings today

UPDATE: Now it’s 12 districts, as Pinellas schools this afternoon signed on, too, reports FairTest.

Eleven Florida school districts, including Osceola County’s, have signed the national anti-testing resolution that calls for states and the federal government to scale back on standardized testing, according to FairTest, the national organization that put the resolution together.

“The Florida school boards signing the resolution, along with thousands of other organizations and individuals across the nation are saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” said  Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director, in a statement.

Schaeffer, who lives in South Florida, added, “It’s time to reexamine and overhaul the FCAT, test-based school grades and the state’s other non-productive assessment policies.”

And in Tulsa…

Tulsa area schools join protest against high stakes testing

More Oklahoma educators and parents are joining a growing movement against high-stakes testing, with school districts throughout the United States protesting that the exams are unfair, unreliable and punitive.

In the Tulsa area, Union Public Schools aligned itself Monday with Jenks and Sand Springs schools by adopting a resolution that calls on state and federal officials to institute a different system of assessments and accountability.

The term “high-stakes testing” refers to when the results of an exam are used as the basis for promotion or graduation.

In Oklahoma, high school seniors must pass at least four of seven exams to get a high school diploma. Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, third-graders will have to pass a reading exam to move on to the fourth grade.

The national push-back was sparked by growing frustration with what educators and parents see as a proliferation of high-stakes testing and the overuse of standardized tests. The movement is backed by some powerful national organizations.

The resolution was developed by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, along with 12 other groups and education experts such as the National Education Association, Parents Across America and the Forum for Education and Democracy.

“We are not against testing, but it is not the end-all,” Union Superintendent Cathy Burden said. Testing should be just one element of many to create a picture of the whole child and that child’s progress made during a school year.

“Teachers have an opportunity in the classroom to get a more robust picture of a child’s ability to learn,” Burden continued. “For instance, you can’t evaluate a child’s problem-solving ability or creativity or ability to interact by a multiple-choice test. That is the expertise of a teacher.”

Even Reuters is taking notice of this backlash against standardized testing:

Parents protest surge in standardized testing

(Reuters) – A backlash against high-stakes standardized testing is sweeping through U.S. school districts as parents, teachers, and administrators protest that the exams are unfair, unreliable and unnecessarily punitive – and even some longtime advocates of testing call for changes.

The objections come even as federal and state authorities pour hundreds of millions of dollars into developing new tests, including some for children as young as 5.

In a growing number of states, scores on standardized tests weigh heavily in determining whether an 8-year-old advances to the next grade with her classmates; whether a teen can get his high school diploma; which teachers keep their jobs; how much those teachers are paid; and even which public schools are shut down or turned over to private management.

Parents frustrated by the system say they’re not against all standardized tests but resent the many hours their kids spend filling in multiple-choice bubbles and the wide-ranging consequence that poor scores carry. They say the testing regime piles stress on children and wastes classroom time. In elementary schools, they protest that a laser focus on the subjects tested, mostly math and reading, crowds out science, social studies and the arts. In high schools, they’re fighting standardized exams that can determine a student’s course grade in subjects from geometry to world history.

“I see frustration and bitterness among parents growing by leaps and bounds,” said Leonie Haimson, a mother who runs Class Size Matters, an advocacy group in New York City that pushes for reduced testing and smaller class sizes. “What parents are saying is, ‘Enough is enough.'”

“KIDS ARE NOT A TEST SCORE”

More than 500 school boards in Texas have passed resolutions demanding a reduced focus on high-stakes standardized tests. So have several big school districts in Florida, including Broward County, the sixth-largest district in the United States. Parents in northwest Washington state organized a boycott this spring and kept hundreds of children out of state exams.

And in New York City last week, several hundred parents and children rallied outside the offices of Pearson Education, a division of Pearson Plc, the nation’s largest testing company. To the jaunty accompaniment of a marching band, the protesters chanted, “More teaching, less testing” and “One, two, three, four … Kids are not a test score.”

Pearson’s North American Education division, which last year reported sales of 2.6 billion British pounds ($4.03 billion) and operating profit of 493 million pounds, up 5 percent from 2010, designs tests for many U.S. states and scores hundreds of millions of standardized exams each year.

To start an opt put campaign in your district, check out United Opt Out, prepare flyers like this one and start a Facebook page as they did in Snohomish.

Father of High-Stakes Testing, Paul Vallas, now opposes them

Here is PAA founding member, Julie Woestehoff’s take on this walking disaster:

Reuters reports that former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas thinks end-of-year assessments are “not useful” and that it’s “a big mistake” to use them for high-stakes purposes.

Well, he needs to apologize to about 125,000 Chicago Public School students who have been flunked because of the high-stakes testing policy he started in 1996 as CPS CEO. And maybe his “education consulting firm” can figure out how those students who were thrown off-track by retention can recoup their educational losses and how taxpayers can recoup the more than $1 billion CPS has wasted over the years with Vallas’s failed student promotion policy. That kind of money would come in pretty handy right now, what with CTU contract negotiations underway.

In fact, Vallas is the Father of High-Stakes Testing. He was the first to flunk huge numbers of students every year based solely on their end-of-year Iowa test scores. You may have read this powerful story by one of the first students to be affected by Vallas’s “ending social promotion” fiasco; we’ve had it posted for a while under the Take Action menu on our home page. Read it again (or for the first time) as you consider Vallas’s apparent change of heart, according to the Reuters story:

Even some advocates of testing are beginning to publicly complain about the system.

Many state assessments are given in March or April, so they capture only what a student has learned in the first two-thirds of the school year. The results often don’t come back until the summer, too late for teachers to use the scores to guide their approach in the classroom.

“They’re not useful,” said Paul Vallas, a veteran superintendent who has helped turn around districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans and is now running the schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Vallas is hardly anti-test: He favors giving abbreviated versions of standardized tests every six weeks, all year, so teachers can monitor student progress and adjust accordingly. But a single high-stakes test? “A big mistake,” Vallas said.

“The assessment systems are not reliable,” he said. “They need to be more sophisticated, more accountable, more fair.”

The teachers in Chicago have finally had enough after years of high stakes testing, charter schools draining away funding and resources and the vilification of their profession. Arne Duncan was the previous CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and led the way in terms of ed reform with the help of Eli Broad and others. Now Rahm Emmanuel as mayor of Chicago along with Broad trained CEO Brizard are continuing the assault on public education but teachers are pushing back.

Chicago Teachers Turn Up the Heat on Rahm Emmanuel

Diane Ravitch provides some background on the teachers union within CPS:

The Chicago Story: Karen Lewis 1, Jonah Edelman 0

On Diane Ravitch’s Blog:

A few days ago, the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to strike.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Just a year ago, Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children boasted at the Aspen Ideas Festival how he had outsmarted the teachers’ union. He described how he had shaped legislation not only to cut back teachers’ job protections but to prevent the Chicago union from ever striking. He told the nation’s elite, ‘if it could happen in Illinois, it could happen anywhere.” Stand for Children was once a grassroots group but has now become one of the active leaders in the corporate reform campaign to advance privatization and bring teachers to heel.

Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s elite at Aspen, Edelman offered a template to beat back public employees in other states. Armed with millions of dollars supplied by wealthy financiers, he hired  the top lobbyists in Illinois and won favor with the top politicians. He shaped legislation to use test scores for evaluating teachers, to strip due process rights from teachers, and to assure that teachers lost whatever job protections they had. In his clever and quiet campaign behind the scenes, he even managed to split the state teachers’ unions.

His biggest victory consisted of isolating the Chicago Teachers Union and imposing a requirement that it could not strike without the approval of 75% of its members. Edelman gleefully told the assorted corporate reformers, charter sponsors, and equity investors in his audience how he had skillfully outfoxed the teachers, leaving them powerless. He was certain that the CTU would never be able to get a vote of 75% of its members. It would never be possible.

Guess what? Jonah Edelman was wrong. Nearly 90% of the members of CTU voted to authorize a strike to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policies of more work for no more pay, privatization of public education, and increased class sizes. To be exact, 89,73% of the CTU voted to authorize a strike, 1.82% voted “no,” and 91.55% of members cast a vote.

To read Diane’s entire post, go to Diane Ravitch’s blog.

In Philadelphia the ed reformers want to close 40 schools and open charter schools in their places.

As Parents Across America founding member Helen Gym stated:

“For 10 years we’ve lived with promises that privatization and choice options would be the magic bullet to a lot of the problems, what we found is chasing after these silver bullets has really drained schools of resources and starved them to the point of dysfunction.”

To read about the push back by students, teachers and parents in Philadelphia see:

Anger, frustration envelop Philadelphia schools

In the category of “The Bizarre” goes Bill and Melinda Gates’ idea of monitoring the galvanic reaction of students. Remember the theme from The Twilight Zone? Hum it to yourself while reading this article.

Biosensors to monitor students’ attentiveness

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured more than $4 billion into efforts to transform public education in the U.S., is pushing to develop an “engagement pedometer.” Biometric devices wrapped around the wrists of students would identify which classroom moments excite and interest them — and which fall flat.

The foundation has given $1.4 million in grants to several university researchers to begin testing the devices in middle-school classrooms this fall.

The biometric bracelets, produced by a Massachusetts startup company, Affectiva Inc, send a small current across the skin and then measure subtle changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. The wireless devices have been used in pilot tests to gauge consumers’ emotional response to advertising.

Gates officials hope the devices, known as Q Sensors, can become a common classroom tool, enabling teachers to see, in real time, which kids are tuned in and which are zoned out.

(Like a teacher doesn’t know that by simply looking at a student?)

To read the rest of this story that goes beyond the pale, go to the Chicago Tribune.

In Texas, students will start wearing tracking devices around their necks while attending school:

Gone Too Far? Texas School Will Microchip Students

Next year, students in San Antonio, Texas, will be greeted at school with a warm smile and a tracking device they are to wear around their necks. The Radio Frequency Identification System will monitor middle and high school students’ movement during school hours.

There are a few reasons that the Northside Independent School District is putting the tracking system in place. District spokesperson Pascual Gonzalez explained: “We want to harness the power of the technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in school, and increase revenues. Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”

To read the remainder of this article go to Take Part.

And now for a breath of fresh air after all of the insanity is the following article. It appears that Michael Gove, a politician who is now Secretary of State in Education in Great Britain,  has been taking a few pages from Arne Duncan’s playbook but others are responding quickly to his narrow focus on education:

Michael Gove’s curriculum attacked by expert who advised him

Michael Gove‘s proposed reforms of the national curriculum have been attacked as “fatally flawed” by a member of the expert panel involved in drawing up the changes.

Andrew Pollard, an academic who was one of a team of four involved in the review, said the published proposals – which include officially mandated spelling lists – were so prescriptive they denied teachers the scope to exercise their professional judgment. He described Gove’s initial instructions to the head of the review team as “crude”.

Teachers will be presented with “extremely detailed” year-on-year specifications in English, math and science that risk wrecking “breadth, balance and quality” in children’s school experience, and fail to acknowledge that children learn at different speeds.

Pollard told the Guardian there were two key problems with the proposed changes.

“It is overly prescriptive in two ways. One is that it is extremely detailed, and the other is the emphasis on linearity – it implies that children learn ‘first this, then that’.

“Actually people learn in a variety of different ways, and for that you need flexibility – for teachers to pick up on that and vary things accordingly.

“The government is keen to have high expectations but they have to be pitched at a level which is realistic. If they are pitched too high, they will generate widespread failure.”

To read this article in full, go to The Guardian.

And now for your viewing pleasure,  Diane Ravitch and Deborah W. Meier in conversation on June 5th in New York City when Dr. Ravitch received the Fair Test Hero in Education Award .

For the shorter versions, Ed Online has edited the following:

Deborah Meier Introduces Diane Ravitch
https://vimeo.com/43747985
Diane Ravitch Acceptance Speech
https://vimeo.com/43748488

Have a nice weekend.

Dora

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