With the release of Kentucky schools’ test scores, parents, district leaders and legislators are cautioned to keep in mind that our schools (and our kids) are more than a test score. The notion that this single metric, which has been shown to correlate more closely with income (or wealth) than it does a student’s intelligence or potential, or a school’s ability to provide a quality education, is harmful to students, teachers and schools. This unhealthy overemphasis on state test scores:
- results in a “test-and-punish” mentality that devalues students and demoralizes teachers for factors beyond their control, instead of supporting and acknowledging the hurdles and accomplishments of those serving our highest-needs populations,
- promotes a competitive vs. collaborative environment that pits schools against each other, instead of encouraging nurturing learning environments that reward the sharing of best practices and resources,
- forces legislators and administrators to place pressure on teachers to focus on short-term, adult-centered concerns instead of permitting highly skilled educators to use their training to teach the lessons that are truly in the best interests of students,
- creates unnecessary anxiety, health and self-esteem problems for students, while simultaneously snuffing out their love of learning,
- squeezes out meaningful subjects and activities, such as art, music, and extracurriculars, as well as time for lunch and play,
- results in disproportionate emphasis on remediation for our high-poverty, high needs (GAP) populations as compared to mainstream populations, which comes at the expense of enrichment, interventions and meaningful instruction for high-needs students who might benefit from it the most,
- contributes to excessive teacher turnover in persistently low-achieving schools or schools with higher needs populations,
- increases incidence of behavior and discipline problems, and
- leads to age-inappropriate activities and content, including teaching our children to properly fill in bubble tests as early as kindergarten!
Worst of all, persistently low test scores have been linked to closing neighborhood schools that serve our most vulnerable students, while opening the door to privatizers and swindlers who are more interested in getting their hands on our tax dollars than they are in improving student outcomes.
“High-stakes test scores are the blood diamonds of public education,” says Gay Adelmann, co-founder of Dear JCPS and founder of Save Our Schools KY. “Well-meaning adults who buy into the hype that these test scores measure the success of a school, or the ability or potential of a child, unwittingly perpetuate the war on public education.”
With the passage of ESSA, local school systems have the opportunity to design a broader, more student-centered accountability system, such as a “dashboard” approach. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said during a town hall meeting in April, “If we don’t come out with an accountability system focused on students, then we’ve failed. It can’t be about adults chasing points. The system needs to promote what’s best for students.” The new federal act requires the system to be in place by the 2017-18 school year, too late to mitigate the detrimental effects of this year’s test results.
No Child Left Behind created an accountability system that highlighted standardized testing. The Every Student Succeeds Act (passed by government in 2015) gives states the opportunity to redefine what accountability looks like for each state. However, the draft regulations provided by the US Dept. of Ed don’t remove NCLB’s emphasis on testing, and seem to be working against the intent of the new legislation. For example, the new draft regulations state that “robust action” – read: punitive action – must be taken against schools that don’t test 95 percent of students.
Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt recently provided testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (29 minute mark) and expressed many of the same concerns many educators and stakeholders have been echoing in JCPS and in school districts across the country.
They are seeking public feedback on these ESSA regulations to maintain flexibility/autonomy for states and local districts, and to get free of onerous federal testing requirements before they are finalized.
Feedback is open to all educational shareholders. He’s looking for 1,000 comments by August 1.
You can find guidance and information here: http://www.getESSAright.org
For more information on the specifics of this new federal law and decision making points on the local level please see:
This letter was presented at the JCPS Board Meeting on May 10, 2016 by Dear JCPS Co-founder Gay Adelmann.
As a newcomer to Louisville a few years ago, and upon our selection of a magnet, (which happened to be a priority school in the West End), I was immediately sucked into the dysfunction that is JCPS. I saw some blatant disconnects and easy fixes and I made an effort to be part of the solution. Along the way, I met many people who said “you’re wasting your time.” “The district is going to do what it wants to do.”
The Pollyanna in me said “They just don’t have the info they need to make good decisions.” Teachers were afraid to speak up. But the answers were clear if you knew where to look. So we spoke at board meetings. We wrote proposals. But we were shut out. Calls were not returned. We were treated as hostile. And we were lied to. Sure enough, the district continued to “do what it wanted to do.”
That’s when I said, “un uh.” These are our schools. Our kids. Our tax dollars. So we started Dear JCPS. And that’s when we found many more who were been beaten down, ignored, had issues swept under the rug. Parents who had no choice but to resort to lawsuits. We were drawn to each other like a moth to a flame. Suddenly, the district’s ability to “ignore the problem long enough so that it would go away” was in jeopardy. Repeated attempts were made to discredit and derail our group.
Because district leaders did not authentically respond to our questions and concerns early on, they appear to have a hidden agenda. And now, the district’s lies and misdeeds are becoming undeniable.
When you sign off on out-of-touch recommendations that are obtained with no genuine input from stakeholders; when we are asked to pick one of three options, of which two are not even viable, that is not brainstorming. That is manipulation.
A state senator “shadowed” my son yesterday, but some of our district leaders, entrusted with making some of the most important decisions in our city, can’t be bothered to do the same.
Public education is under attack nationwide. Your complicity that allows them to undermine the success of our district, and expedite — not thwart — its demise, is criminal.
Your negligence is not only filling the pipeline to prison, it is filling the pipeline to the morgue. Two of my son’s classmates have been murdered this year.
Imagine if you lived in a war zone, not knowing if you or someone you loved could be killed at any moment. And you are required to come to school – in many cases bused across town — and forced sit for ridiculous tests and test prep that do not teach you what you need to escape the war zone, but instead are used to label and place more hurdles and burdens in your way.
Yes! We need a more equitable code of conduct, but more importantly we need the supports in place to make sure it’s successful.
These are our children’s lives and futures you’re playing with. We did not elect you to boost your resume, to satisfy your philanthropic goals, or so you could throw your influence around on the golf course or the board room. We elected you to fix our broken school system.
If you think the media is to blame for this debacle, you’re still not getting it. But the community is – and we’re outraged. Our school board is our last hope to save public education in Louisville. You either take this bull by its horns, or we will VOTE YOU OUT!
Tomorrow I will administer the KPREP for the first time in my teaching career. This expensive, artificial, high-stakes test will spit out labels for my 8- and 9-year old babies, essentially deciding whether I’ve been an effective teacher, and ultimately labeling our school’s performance. However this test is not going to provide any new information for me. I know which of my students are struggling and who grasps concepts quickly and thinks deeply. In fact, there is so much this test cannot tell us that the amount of emphasis placed on it throughout the school year is, frankly, ridiculous. The test will label one of my students as Novice. It will not tell you that he came to me in second grade as a non-reader who speaks English as a second language and has a speech/language disorder and now, 2 years later, converses in full sentences and reads on a first grade level. The test won’t show you the number of times I’ve comforted my kiddos who are acting out because they are thinking about their parents- the one who was murdered over the summer, the one who’s been away in treatment for anger management, the one in jail, or the ones who just aren’t around. The test won’t show you the number of conflict resolution discussions and class meetings we’ve had so that my kiddos learn how to interact with each other before guns are readily available to them. Our school’s label won’t show you that we are truly a family for over 700 kids whose lives at home are often chaotic, affected by poverty and violence. That rather than kicking out our most challenging kids like some schools do, we surround them with a support network of sincere love and concern. So as we face a week of testing, may we all, students and teachers alike, remember we are so much more than any test can tell us about ourselves.
This letter was submitted via our open letter form. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Dear JCPS.
I find it very interesting that teachers are constantly reminded that we should have high expectations of all of our students.
Students will rise to your expectations.
Accept nothing less than a student’s best effort.
Students need to know that you believe in them.
So DOES all of JCPS have high expectations of students? It appears that our school board does not. Is it reasonable to expect high achievement and gains in the classroom even while we lower our expectations for behavior? Can children learn in a chaotic environment? Will our all-important accountability scores go up after we lower our expectations of students? Am I the only one confused by this double standard?
It is time for reasonable citizens of this community to speak out. Parents, taxpayers, teachers, voters. Let your voices be heard!
NOTE: While the author’s identity is protected here, they are not anonymous to Dear JCPS. Any board member wishing to address the concerns shared here can contact our administrators to make a connection.
Our Public Forum on #The3Rs of High-Stakes Testing was held on April 28. It was livestreamed on Twitter via Periscope. We also accepted questions via survey and via Twitter. Our handle is @Dear_JCPS.
Our PowerPoint can be found here: The New 3 R’s.
Links to documents referenced during the forum will be posted here, as well.
KDE Opt Out Forms can be found here.
I am already hearing whispers about a teacher strike. I guess the last one was in the 1970’s. Perhaps Dr Hargens needs to see that we can only be pushed so far. #Deweyhensleywasright
This speech was presented to the JCPS Board of Education on April 26, 2016. The video replay can be found here.
My t-shirt says:
We LOVE our teachers
Our school’s the BEST
We are more than a
SCORE on a TEST!
KPREP is May 9-13. Many schools started test prep, boot camps, pull outs, etc. as soon as we returned from spring break. We are already receiving reports of test prep violations, misinformation, and anxiety leading up to the tests. Parents are aware of the national opt out movement and are asking questions about their rights. KDE has provided direction about opting out but there is no information available about how that plays out in JCPS.
Therefore, Dear JCPS and a few partner advocacy groups decided to put on a forum to get those questions answered. It’s this coming Thursday night at the Aeroclub. It’s called the 3R’s of High-Stakes Testing: Parents’ Rights, Responsibilities and Repercussions. We hope you can join us.
On April 11, we sent an invitation and a list of these questions to JCPS. They originally accepted our invite with three names attending.
On April 19, nearly a week after marketing resources had already been expended and wheels were in motion, JCPS suddenly declined citing a recirculated KDE document from a year ago. What changed?
We were informed that the district wants everyone to participate in the assessments so they will not be answering any of our parents questions. Why?
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).
Many feel the high stakes, standardized tests and test prep that do not guide instruction and instead are used to test and punish have become excessive, and we have a right to this information. So I will ask again.
- How much money does JCPS spend on KPREP testing, materials, software?
—->> Instead of freezing teacher salaries, get rid of high stakes tests!
- How many tests per year/per grade are given and how are they used to guide instruction?
- How many classroom hours are estimated to be spent on test prep (broken down by grade, subject, school)?
- How many staff hours are dedicated to assessments?
- Our parents have been told by many in JCPS that it is not possible to “opt out”? Yet some parents have shared with us that a process exists, while others have had this information withheld from them. And KDE offers two forms. So please provide the process and repercussions for doing so.
- Is it possible to also opt a student out of test prep? What will the student do during this time instead?
- How can excessive test prep even be allowed to happen when it is forbidden by statute? (KRS 158.6453)
- Why are teachers prohibited from speaking up against which of these tests are unnecessary? Or which test prep they feel is ineffective or unnecessary? Is their input being sought to accomplish the Vision 2020 goal sooner rather than later?
- What impact do these test scores have on admission requirements into magnet and traditional programs?
- What other potential consequences exist at the district level?
- How do any of these rights change with the new ESSA law, and when will they be implemented in JCPS?
You say you want more involved parents. Yet we are treated as if we don’t have the capacity to be part of the decisions necessary to educate our own children.
We have a great list of panelists for this Thursday night’s forum entitled The 3R’s of High-Stakes Testing: Parents’ Rights, Responsibilities and Repercussions. They have the experience and information to answer your questions regarding high-stakes tests, and will empower parents with the information you need to do what is best for your student, as well as recommend actions you can take to encourage district and state leaders to do what is best for all students when it comes to assessments and accountability.
Unfortunately, JCPS has decided NOT to participate in our forum, despite originally agreeing to send three top-level administrators to serve. We are uncertain what new information would have prompted JCPS to suddenly decline our panel after our marketing and communications had already been placed into motion. As of this writing, JCPS has declined to respond to our list of parents’ questions, claiming that a document they forwarded from the state answers many of our questions (which it does not). For purposes of transparency, we wanted to share the conversations following our initial invitation to JCPS to participate in our panel regarding the forum so parents are aware of the dialogue that has taken place, and the district’s unfortunate unwillingness to provide the answers we feel parents are entitled to.
We have forwarded the list of the questions to an attorney at the state, as well. We will share everything we have learned on Thursday night. Join us!
Timeline of Conversations:
On April 14, I received the following email:
Thank you for the invitation.
Dr. Dena Dossett, Karen Branham and Dr. Alicia Averett will attend the forum on behalf of JCPS. They will be happy to answer questions during the forum.
I am sorry, but we are not able to provide Stewart Auditorium as a location for the event.
Please let us know at your earliest convenience when a location has been secured, so we can communicate that information to our staff. Also, please advise once you have a final list of panelists.
On April 19 at 4:59 PM, I received the following email:
Today JCPS received the attached communication from KDE regarding “opting out.” I believe it answers many of your questions, and in light of the guidance it provides, JCPS will not be attending the forum next week.
The KDE guidelines are clear, and you may make copies of this letter to distribute to parents. KDE and the legislature sets the rules and JCPS follows those rules.
I apologize for the change in plans.
Allison Gardner Martin
On April 19 at 9:52 PM, I responded:
I am already familiar with the information in this document. It is not new information. We have done our research and had reviewed this document, along with many others, prior to collecting and sending our list of questions to you.
Although KRS does not allow a student to “opt out,” they can “refuse” the test. Doing so will result in a zero or novice score (there is contradictory information about this, which is why we continue to ask the question). The repercussions of “refusing” the test is what many of our parents’ questions revolve around. In addition, this document only pertains to the state test (KPREP). Our parents have questions about district assessments, test prep, and more. Furthermore, we are aware of an “opt out” letter than has been afforded to some parents, under “rare situations.” Lastly, the new ESSA law changes the game going forward, and affords teachers, administrators and school districts increased flexibility regarding opt out (see attached).
In light of the fact that the document you provided is not new information, we would appreciate if you could review our list of questions again and provide answers to the best of your ability, as well as continue to plan to have representatives on our panel. The marketing has already been purchased, flyers have already been printed and distributed, and parents still have the same questions as before. Nothing has changed since your acceptance of our invitation on Thursday. Declining now would be an affront to all parents and panelists who have expressed an interest and/or made plans to participate in the event.
We continue to look forward to your responses to our FAQs by the 21st, as well as your honoring your commitment to answer parent questions on the 28th.
On April 20, I received a call from Tom Hudson, Chief Business Officer, asking why I was continuing to promote JCPS’ attendance at our forum. I responded that I had not heard back from Allison, but felt that since nothing had changed since they first accepted our invitation, and the event was now less than a week away, it would be impractical and imprudent to not continue with our marketing that was already set in motion. Creating new graphics and flyers is a considerable drain of resources and expense, and takes time away from other important tasks at hand. Furthermore, I had every reason to believe that my bringing her attention to the fact that the information she forwarded was “old news” would encourage them to stay on our panel. Tom informed me that they do not support the parents’ rights to opt-out, and therefore would not be participating in our panel. I sent the below message in a follow-up email to Tom.
[Allison’s] statement that the “attached document” answers many of our questions was false. I had not heard anything else from Allison after sending my reply email, so I was operating under the assumption that my arguments were persuasive enough to continue with the panel (and still believe they are.)
I am disappointed that JCPS has decided to decline our invitation after we have already expended our resources designing and purchasing marketing materials and promoting the event, when nothing has changed from when the invitation was initially accepted. Meanwhile, our parents’ questions still remain unanswered.