Standardized Testing

This letter was presented at the JCPS Board Meeting on May 10, 2016 by Dear JCPS Co-founder Gay Adelmann.

Dear JCPS,

gay speaksAs 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.

MURDERED!

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!

Dear JCPS,tshirt back

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.

Kelly Rice
JCPS Teacher

This letter was submitted via our open letter form. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Dear JCPS.

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.

3rs flyer HS smOur 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.

photos

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.

 

Dear JCPS,

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

–TJ

This speech was presented to the JCPS Board of Education on April 26, 2016. The video replay can be found here.periscope

Dear JCPS,

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.

3rs flyer HS smWe 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:

Dear Gay,

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.

Sincerely,
Allison


On April 19 at 4:59 PM, I received the following email:

Dear Gay,

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

Allison Gardner Martin
Communications Director
JCPS
502-485-3551


On April 19 at 9:52 PM, I responded:

Hi Allison,

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).congressmen letter

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.

Thank you,
Gay


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.

Gay

pruittFrom Gay Adelmann, Dear JCPS Co-Founder

Dear Commissioner Pruitt,

I am glad to hear you say that new accountability system should not involve ranking schools.

But if a metric exists, how can we help BUT rank our schools? We can’t help ourselves. Everyone seems to feel their child must get into the “best” school or it’s the end of the world. And since we are a district of choice, we have the option of trying to get into the best schools in our cluster, and in some cases, the entire district. And those who score well on the test “miraculously” get into the schools with the history of the highest test scores. This “crabs in a bucket” approach creates huge disparities between the “best” schools and the “worst” schools. I would like to suggest that we put better parameters in place so that one school doesn’t have huge advantages over another. Everyone needs to take on their share of the “village”. This is Kentucky. I think we know a thing or two about making a fair horse race. Currently, the fillies and the thoroughbreds are held to the same standards. Make the race fair or change the standards, but don’t do both.

The current configuration pits not just districts, but it pits schools against each other, labels students and incorrectly evaluates teachers. This creates competition instead of collaboration, ties up funds and classroom resources, pre-empting art, music, and badly needed wraparound services, saps the love of learning from the children, creates an even greater burden on our most vulnerable populations, causes educational gaps to widen, which leads to decreased teacher morale, increased teacher turnover, increased student behavior problems, increased number of families exiting JCPS, and even leads to excessive test prep and yes, in some cases, cheating. We can’t help ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong. We are not opposed to tests. We just want them to be teacher-led, authentic and used to guide instruction. None of which the high-stakes, standardized tests are. The questions our students missed are not provided in order for them to have the opportunity to learn from them. The scores are not received until October of the following school year, which is too late to plan any corrective course of action.

Whatever accountability measures we come up with, it needs to ONLY be about the kids. And we all know that the test doesn’t measure important characteristics such as innovation, leadership, creativity, talent, I could go on and on. Like a fit bit that only measures steps, it doesn’t tell me if I’m fit. I might be a weight lifter, which is not tracked on a fit bit. But I would still be fit.fish

Federal law still requires that schools that are struggling be identified. Since wealth is the greatest predictor of test scores, the first way to identify a struggling school would be to look at the average income, parents’ education attainment and zip code of students in the school. Not drown the child with excessive tests that do more harm than good, especially to students in high poverty, high needs, high trauma situations. They end up taking more tests, test prep and remediation than the average student. Which means they get less of the services and instruction they truly need, much less none of the art, music, or play that simply make learning enjoyable. They become disengaged, disruptive, or worse. Come test time, they have figured out that the scores mean nothing to them, so they don’t even try. You have an entire population of students who have “opted out” of high stakes tests. They just didn’t know that’s what it was called.

Suggestion: Try testing students in 3rd and 8th grade, and again in high school. Not every grade. Not every year. You’ll get trendlines about the school’s improvement by comparing classes year over year.  You don’t need to take all of the blood from a patient to tell if they are well. And a thermometer never made anyone well. Especially not a broken thermometer. Furthermore, schools can be focused on and rewarded for competing with their previous numbers, not an advantage school across town. Imagine my motivation if every day my fitbit told me how poorly I was doing because I wasn’t as good as the younger, slimmer, more active users.

You want accountability? Great, what do you use in your private schools where many of your own children attend to determine if a teacher/program is working, if a child is learning? You want to impose something on us that you don’t use for your own children. Well, we don’t want it either.

My husband is in new product development for a local appliance manufacturing firm. His latest project is a pizza oven. Imagine if his boss said to him, “you have one metric that the pizzas that come out of this oven will be measured by:  Temperature.” Do you think he would use the finest ingredients? Or do you think he might skimp on sauce, cheese? Do you think he would take it out when the crust had turned the perfect shade of brown? Heck no. He’d leave that pie in until it was burned and possibly on fire. Because what gets measured, gets done. We are cutting out anything that is not part of the test and then ride these kids like a jockey rides that thoroughbred. And it’s magnified in a district like ours because of our district of choice and the competition between schools that that environment creates.

You have a rule that PLA schools must get out of the bottom 5 % to exit PLA status. Even if the reason the school is lower performing is because they serve a high needs population. Really? Plus, there will always be a bottom 5%, so that metric is useless if everyone is improving. Instead of collaboration among schools, we end up having to root for another school to fall because that is the only way we can rise in the rankings. We’re like crabs in a bucket.

You also have a rule that the state comes in to the PLA schools EVERY TWO YEARS. It’s well known by the staff that everyone’s job is on the line every time they do. Or that a school could even be closed. That’s no way to plan for long-term turnaround success, to help with hiring of dynamic leaders, to recruit and retain quality staff. And what about our most at-risk students who need relationships and continuity more than anything? Have we even thought about what that does to them?
Questions:

In your parent letter, you mention that “under the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution, parents have general right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, the federal courts have not expanded this right to include controlling every aspect of a child’s public school education. While parents do have the right to choose between public and private schools or home schools, “they do not have a constitutional right to ‘direct how a public school teaches their child’”. (Parker v. Hurley, 514 F.3d 87, 102 (1st Cir. 2008)), or the information to which their children will be exposed.” I would argue that testing is not teaching, and therefore is not protected under this decision.

If a student does meet the requirements for opting out as posted on the KDE website, and they opt out, do they receive a novice score or a zero? There is differing information depending on where you look. If they opt out of the test, will they also be able to opt out of test prep? What does this look like?

Why is JCPS intimidated from providing any answers to our list of FAQs or serve on our panel that they originally accepted an invitation to, regarding opting out or refusing the tests? We have a forum next Thursday night about high stakes, standardized tests, which they originally agreed to serve on, and today they tell us that the letter from the state is clear and they will not be participating. The letter, which was also sent last year, so it contains no new information, only addresses state exams, not district exams, and only addresses opting out, not the good faith effort many of our schools require for admission to their magnet or traditional programs. Are you aware that the district holds the threat of participation in these tests over the heads of parents and students in the form of admission to certain programs and exclusion from incentive programs if participation is not deemed best effort or achieving a certain score? Parents want and deserve answers.
Are you aware of the number of district assessments and amount of test prep that many school conduct in addition or in order to prepare for KPREP?
How much money does the state or each district spend on test materials, test prep etc. that could be used to fund the badly needed programs instead of an unproven methodology that is doing more harm than good? Since we all agree the testing needs to be cut, why not cut it while we figure our a better plan instead of continuing what we already know isn’t working. It reminds me of the expression, “beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Why can’t parents be informed of upcoming tests and hours and days of preparation ahead? This should be a requirement. We have a right to know what is going on in order to make a more informed decision about the education and treatment of our children.

Lastly, the new ESSA law changes the game going forward, and affords teachers, administrators and school districts increased flexibility regarding opt out. congressmen letterSee the attached letter from 19 congressmen pertaining to ESSA, which states, “the new law makes a fundamental change by giving individual states sole responsibility for determining the importance of the 95% requirement in school accountability.” Furthermore, it states, “Hundreds of thousands of parents have chosen to keep their children from taking state-mandated tests, and these parents have every right to determine what is in their children’s best interest.”

Why can’t we use this as an actionable justification to place a moratorium on the state assessment, as has been done in other states? Why is the option to CONTINUE this experiment that we all know isn’t working, when we have every reason to PUT IT ON HOLD?

From a parent of an ECE Student:

1. Why does my child frequently receive grades for district “diagnostic” tests? I have a very different understanding of the word, “diagnostic”. Using the tests in a diagnostic manner would be fantastic. Giving grades for them – not so fantastic.

2. Because my child is an ECE student, he requires significantly more time to both prepare for, and take exams. The majority of the rest of the current school year will be spent doing just that. The state mandates 4 End of Course exams and “recommends” that they count for at least 20% of the student’s final grade. So, for the next two weeks, instead of receiving instruction in English, he is prepping for the 10th grade English exam because without doing so, his semester grade will likely be negatively impacted. These are not tests we can “opt out” of. Will he receive compensatory instruction in English for the time lost?

Dear “Dear JCPS,”3 rs of HS Tests

While I do not work in JCPS, I am a lifelong Louisville resident. I believe in the work you are doing, and think it’s a necessary component of public discourse about our schools. I am a [central office administrator] in a neighboring county.

Many, many of us from the classroom to central offices throughout the state are sick and tired of the grind of testing. While we value data, it is my personal belief that we have gone far overboard with accountability testing, and furthermore tied too many stakes to testing that have no business being associated with the ‘test’.

I think now that an advocacy organization [like Dear JCPS] could … help stop this insane amount of testing we do, and the insane amount of money we are paying educational conglomerates to do it.

Thank you.