Monday, January 27, 2014

High Stakes Testing: Exciting Opportunities for Information and Action

I really liked something Diane Ravitch wrote at the beginning of 2014:

More and more parents and teachers are awakening to the realization that the word “reform” has been hijacked by people who want to dismantle public education and the teaching profession. Those who have boldly named themselves the “reformers” are all too often working on behalf of turning public dollars over to private interests and to strip teachers of any due process, any collective-bargaining rights, any salary increment linked to their experience or their education. These so-called “reformers” reify test scores, making them the be-all and end-all of education and are eager to fire teachers and principals whose students don’t get the test scores that the computer says they should, and equally eager to close public schools with low scores and replace them with privately managed schools that all too often escape the same scrutiny as the public schools they replaced. The “reformers” care not at all about class size, indeed, they say they would prefer larger classes with “better teachers,” even though teachers say they can be better teachers with smaller classes, especially given the diversity of students in most public schools today, some of whom have disabilities, some of whom are learning English.Our educators and schools now live under a Sword of Damocles fashioned by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Those who cannot produce higher scores are doomed. This is madness. This is a game rigged to harm public schools, which is a fundamental institution of our democracy.
The good news is that in Ann Arbor, the agitation of parents and teachers across the district around testing and evaluation has caught the eye of the administration.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Assessment Task Force Announced: 

Apply by February 7, 2014

I am very, very, very excited that one of the first actions coming out of the Listen & Learn Tour is the formation of an Assessment Task Force to look at assessment, overall, in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. High-stakes testing (and low-stakes testing, for that matter) are part of assessment, but other things can go into assessment as well. For instance, the production of portfolios and principals' observations of teachers are both forms of assessment.

The task force needs members! For years, I have been asking the district to create opportunities for parent involvement that go beyond the school PTO, site improvement committee, or fundraiser.

Well. . . BONANZA! Finally somebody responds.

Let's talk about the time commitment for you if you were to join the task force. It's a short-term project (right now they are saying February-June), meeting approximately twice a month in the later afternoon.

Students taking a computerized test. From Wikimedia. (Link.)
They are looking for people from across the district. Count yourself in if you are the parent of a kindergartner or the parent of a high school student. Count yourself in if you are a parent at Scarlett or Forsythe or Clague, Eberwhite or Logan or Ann Arbor Open, Pioneer or Skyline or Community. (I'm not trying to list everybody here...but you're all welcome to apply.) Count yourself in if you are the parent of an elite athlete or the parent of a child who loves orchestra or a parent whose child has an IEP and struggles in school. Count yourself in if you bring professional evaluation skills or simply the skill of being a concerned parent. In fact, count yourself in if you are a teacher or an interested community member because the task force is meant "to be comprised of school leaders, teachers, parents, and community members."

From the announcement:

The purpose of this task force is to examine current assessment practices, understand state requirements, which are currently in transition, clarify core values around assessment and bring forward proposals to inform and advise an amended Assessment Plan for 2014-2015.

I've been told there will be other task forces coming later and I hope that's true. In the meantime, I'd be happy if there were 50 or 100 applicants for 25 slots, because I think it will show the district how important this issue is to a lot of people, and how much interest there is in having these kind of shorter-term, project-based, district-wide opportunities for parents.

Don't delay! Apply today! Here is the application link. The deadline is February 7, 2014.

(And by the way--I'm not applying. Between my full-time job, and my blog, and my kids--AND the fact that I was appointed to the Superintendent's Blue Ribbon Community Advisory Panel [which is another good thing Jeanice Swift has done],  I feel that I have enough influence in the school district, and way too much to do in my life. So I'm hoping to influence you to apply, if you think you will be able to devote some time to the project.)

Two Upcoming Events

Issues & Ale: High-Stakes Testing
Beer stein from Wikimedia. (Link.)

On Thursday, January 30th, Michigan Radio is having an Issues & Ale discussion about High-Stakes Testing at Wolverine Brewery. 
Here is the information:
Thursday, January 30, 6:30-8:00p.m.
Wolverine State Brewing Co.
2019 West Stadium Boulevard
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
According to Michigan Radio, 
High stakes tests, like the MEAP, can have a big impact on kids, teachers, and entire school districts. But are the stakes higher for some kids and schools than others? Do low income children and children of color have less of a chance of performing well on these tests? And do these tests really reflect whether a child is getting a good education?
It looks like an interesting event (they list great questions) and it is free, although you may want to buy a beer. I should warn you that the last time I tried to go to an Issues & Ale event, I got there 10 minutes late and it was standing room only (very crowded). So if you want to go, I'd suggest you try to get there a little early. Find more information here.

Opt Out Options--A Community Discussion

I'd like to invite you to an event that will be held on Monday, February 3d, 7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library

From the Facebook page, this event is meant as:
A conversation on "Opting Out" of testing from how to and why it is an important tool in stopping education reform. Our panel consists of parents, teachers and community members who are concerned about the current state of public education and how high stakes testing will effect the students.

Find out more here. I imagine you will get some great ideas.

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  1. Congrats on the blue ribbon panel - clear recognition of your efforts and passion!

  2. Yes, Congratulations on the appointment to the Blue Ribbon Panel! Can you let us know who are the other people on it?

  3. I don't have a complete list and there were a lot of people I didn't know. I sat with Scott Westerman (former Supt.), Mary Cooperwasser (exec. director of the AAPS Education Foundation), Bob Rorke (was once on the school board), the head of Ann Arbor SPARK (Paul?).

  4. When you find out will you list them?
    I think it would be good to know who all is advising Dr. Swift.