Standardized Testing

Open Letter to Stephen Pruitt

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

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?

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?

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