Thursday, March 26, 2015

Activism Means Action: Performance Art and School Board Activity on Safety and Dangerous Weapons

Guns With History: Performance Piece or Educational Video?

This is a very interesting performance art education piece on the implications of carrying a gun around. I am still trying to think about whether I like it or not, think it is effective, or not. There is something about it that bothers me a bit, but as performance art it's definitely dramatic. And it's so sad! What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Update 3/29/2015: I was asked by a reader who found the Guns with History video very upsetting to take it down, and I have done so. [Even though I don't agree with her reasons--I did ask what people thought about it, and that was the only reaction I've gotten.] It'a s youtube video uploaded by Prevent Gun Violence, and anyone who really wants to see it can do a web search.

Thank You

Meanwhile, it's time to give thanks to the Ann Arbor school board and administration, for trying to write up policies that will restrict weapons on school property, and at the same time will stand up against a likely court challenge!  I am pasting in, below, the policies under consideration. As usual, you can share your thoughts with the entire school board and the superintendent, by emailing: (And yes--even if they don't respond--they do read their emails.)

I, for one, am very appreciative of the school board's efforts.

DRAFT POLICY 5410 – Safe & Disruption-Free Environment

In accordance with the authority granted by the Revised School Code to ensure the safety and welfare of students while at school or a school sponsored activity or while en route to or from school or a school sponsored activity and to exercise powers incidental or appropriate to the performance of functions related to educating pupils, the Board of Education designates all property owned or by the Ann Arbor Public Schools “Dangerous Weapon & Disruption-Free Zones”. 

The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families, and citizens.

The Superintendent may exercise any power necessary, as granted and required by Michigan law, to educate students and maintain a safe and productive educational environment at all times.

The Superintendent shall ensure our commitment to the least disruptive school environment possible by refusing any person (students, employees or the public at large) attempting to access school property in order to preserve order in the educational process or to protect students from potential harm without violating any fundamental right to go onto or access school.1 This refusal may occur if the person causes either actual or a reasonable forecast of material disruption to the educational process.

1 WD Mich 2002

The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families, and citizens.
The Superintendent may exercise any power necessary, as granted and required by Michigan law, to educate students and maintain a safe and productive educational environment at all times.
The Superintendent shall ensure our commitment to the least disruptive school environment possible by refusing any person (students, employees or the public at large) attempting to access school property in order to preserve order in the educational process or to protect students from potential harm without violating any fundamental right to go onto or access school.1 This refusal may occur if the person causes either actual or a reasonable forecast of material disruption to the educational process.
1 WD Mich 2002

DRAFT POLICY 5420 – Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones

The Board of Education, operating within their legal duty to ensure student safety while at school, en route to school, or at school sponsored activities, and an educational environment free from disruption, declares all properties owned or leased by AAPS as Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones. 
No person in possession of a dangerous weapon will be allowed to remain on property owned or leased by AAPS at any time when students are at school, en route to or from school or at a school sponsored activity in accordance with Board Policy 5410 to maintain the least disruptive educational environment and to ensure the safety and welfare of students. 
A dangerous weapon shall include a firearm (including a starter gun or pistol) or any device which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, any destructive device or any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas bomb, grenade, rocket having a propellant charge of more than four (4) ounces, missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce, mine or similar device; a dagger, dirk, stiletto, knife with a blade over three (3) inches in length, or pocket knife opened by a mechanical device, an iron bar or brass knuckles or, any other weapon as set forth in 18 USC&921. Also, any electronic device that inflicts or causes pain or suffering is likewise considered a weapon.* 
This prohibition does not apply to officers duly sworn to and in good standing with public law enforcement agencies. The Superintendent or Superintendent’s designee may authorize additional exceptions with subsequent and timely notice to the Board. 
The Superintendent shall create and implement any regulations and procedures necessary to enforce such Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones in order to prevent and mitigate actual or potential emergencies, disruptions and threats to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, families and citizens.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Worth Your Time! Parent Presentation to AAPS Assessment Committee on Opting Out of the MSTEP

Angie Smith, one of the parents on the Ann Arbor Schools Assessment Advisory Committee, shared this powerpoint presentation with the committee this week, and has given me permission to share it with the rest of the world.

One more thing: in the "settings" on Google Slides (the little wheel option on the right side of the black bar at the bottomo), you can choose to look at the speaker notes, and I think you will find them helpful.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sample Opt-Out Letters: You Can Opt Out of Standardized Testing

I visualize opting out of standardized testing as a wave.
By Ruth Kraut. Creative Commons license.
Well, I asked for some sample Opt Out Letters. And I got them! Some of them are long, some are short. Some of the longer ones, I have edited for brevity (especially if the point is made in a different letter.) I have also--of course--edited for privacy.

Please take a sample letter, and make it your own!
To my mind, the best letters are:
--specific in delineating what you are not allowing your child to do--does that include practice tests? does that only mean the M-STEP, or other tests as well
--mention that the parent does not allow the use of student data for this work

And then, it's up to you want to be short and to the point or really explain your reasons? 

Also--click on this link for a resource of several sample letters--you might recognize some of them (but not all of them) down below. Most of these I got from parents. Thank you parents!! [And feel free to paste more sample letters in the comments.

I took a screen shot from Facebook (March 2015). This parent wrote,
"This is the April calendar for Pontiac MI. It shows how much
time will be spent on testing and this is directly after they
give the kids a week off."

Letter #1:

Dear Principal,

I write to you with a heavy heart. I know the funding for our schools is based on standardized testing, a political injustice I find nauseating. I know that my son's wonderful teachers are evaluated based on his performance on these tests: a ludicrous measure, not based on any reliable scholarship or research regarding the abilities of educators. I know you didn’t make the rules, and I do not want to make your professional life difficult. But tonight, I declare, enough.


My son was sobbing this evening, refusing to read a short sheet his teacher sent home, because, as he haltingly told me, he had taken the NWEA “practice test” today and could not understand the “40 questions” after reading. I did not know how to comfort him. He asked me if there was any way he could stay home and not take any more tests. My son has drunk the Kool-Aid that these tests “measure his brain,” and he knows he doesn’t understand them, so he thinks his brain is not big enough. My heart is broken.


My son will not be taking any more of the so-called “Common Core” focused tests designed to quantify his educational progress. These tests do not, and never will, measure his brain, his talent, the quality of his education, or his potential. I will no longer allow these instruments to impose on my son the feeling that he is “below grade,” “stupid,” and not learning. I will no longer tolerate the anxiety these ridiculous legislatively-imposed measures have caused my son. He has never, to my knowledge, been told the results of his testing, but he feels it in the environment of his school—his cherished school—the place he has come to love and a place he felt safe and loved. Enough.

We are opting out. My son will not be participating in state standardized testing during the current school year. I ask that no record of this testing be part of his permanent file, as I do not wish my child to participate in standardized achievement testing for promotion, graduation, or school/state report cards.


Contrary to the idea that these tests measure my son’s brain, this is what I know. [Letter goes into a long list of problems with the testing, which are largely repeated in other letters.]

Federal law provides each parent the right to refuse standardized testing when such testing violates beliefs. My beliefs are firmly rooted in a moral code that embraces equity and fairness; I believe such testing is not in the best interests of my child. I believe that not everything that can be measured matters, and that everything that matters can’t always be measured. I believe this testing fosters competition instead of cooperation, contributes to separate and unequal education for minorities (both racial and developmental), and ignores my son's intellectual, creative, and problem-solving abilities. Both the NWEA and the M-STEP present a fictitious picture of the gifts imparted by my son's individual and cherished teachers: perhaps the greatest injustice of all delivered by the swallowed-whole idiocy of standardized testing.

If the school district does not see these truths, I do, and I opt out for my son.

Principal, we love you, we love our elementary school and all it has given my son. My son will be able to complete his elementary education at this wonderful school. I call on you to speak against this hurtful and unscientific measurement of education. If you had been here tonight, in my home, and seen my son sobbing and refusing to read because he thought he would fail, I believe you, too, would join me in opposing this politically-imposed (and profit-centered) oppression of my sweet son.

Please consider this my formal request for alternative, appropriate learning activities during the testing window, as my son opts out of standardized testing. I love him too much to allow this regular assault on his psyche.


A Michigan Parent

Letter #2

To Whom it May Concern:

Last school year our family “opted out” or withdrew our children ***** from all mandated assessments imposed on children by state and federal regulations. We truly appreciate the cooperation and  professionalism of the ***** staff in helping our family boycott harmful education policies.

Our decision to opt out in no way reflected on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we had no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources. The explosion of high-stakes tests, student data collection and teacher evaluation systems are draining scarce financial resources from our schools.

This year we will continue our effort to eliminate unnecessary and harmful assessments in our public schools. Our children will not participate in any assessments other than those solely for the use of the individual classroom teacher. We refuse to allow any data to be used for purposes other than the individual teacher’s own formative or cumulative assessment. Any assessment whose data is used to determine school ranking, teacher effectiveness, state or federal longitudinal studies or any other purpose other than for the individual classroom teacher’s own use to improve his or her instruction will not be presented to our children.

To be clear, our children will not participate in the following:

Any state assessment

Pre-assessments connected to “Student-Learning Objectives” in all subjects, including art,  music, and Physical Education

Any surveys, or “field tests” given by corporate or government entities or testing companies

Any progress-monitoring or RTI assessments such as AIMSweb, STAR, or DIBELS

Any exam used to formulate an evaluation or score for our children’s teachers or their school.

We will be encouraging other parents to stand up against the testing fad and, more importantly, the corporate and government takeover of our schools. We believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators. We believe that our children’s education should be trusted in the hands of those who are most experienced and who personally know the needs and individual requirements of each child. Teachers already know how to determine those needs and requirements without mandated standardized testing. Ironically we hear the phrase “college and career ready”  bantered about quite often, but the current testing madness will not prepare our children for their lives after graduation.

***** should have a unified policy in place to address children who will be opting out of assessments.

Our schools should also send a letter to all homes informing parents of the dates of all mandated testing. Very few parents are aware of the amount of required testing that our children face on a regular basis. Our schools have the obligation to inform the families of our community about all aspects of our children’s education.

Thank you for your time.



Letter #3:


Every morning when we drive OUR CHILD to school, we grateful that she is able to be part of the learning community that is THIS SCHOOL. You all put your heart and soul into each child and help them develop cognitively, emotionally, and socially. This year in particular, we have seen OUR CHILD grow by leaps and bounds. 

After much deliberation and research, we would like to respectfully refuse that our daughter OUR CHILD take the M-Step tests. We are firm believers that assessment is a fundamental component of education and we highly value that formative assessments conducted by the teachers at OUR SCHOOL. 

However, we are not comfortable with:

(1) the time and resources that are involved in purchasing, training teachers, administering, scoring, and reporting on tests especially in a time of limited resources and budget cuts. 

(2) the potential that tests might be used for evaluating teachers or schools (i.e., value-added measurement). The American Statistical Association has an excellent policy statement that points why this approach is flawed Note in particular the conclusion "Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality."

(3) the specific nature of the M-Step test. We have carefully reviewed the items presented on the M-Step and do not think even the sample items are of high quality. Performance on many items is dependent on very specific types language or representations used rather than the concepts being tested. We are extremely worried about the potential that in the long run such poorly constructed items will require teachers to help students learn how to take this particular test rather than learning specific concepts. At first, we thought maybe at least the test would be a learning opportunity for our CHILD in that OUR CHILD would learn how to take standardized tests but after reviewing the sample items we do not have any confidence whatsoever that practice taking the M-Step will help our daughter take tests such as the ACT and SAT in the future.

(4) the possibility that teachers (throughout Michigan) may feel pressure of any kind to "teach to the test." We truly value cognitive and dispositional (and even physical) skills that are not tested and would hate to see educational systems devoid of focus on critical thinking skills, creativity, mindfulness, emotional regulation, love of learning, sports, music, arts, and so on. 

We realize that our refusal to allow OUR CHILD to take the M-STEP test is an added burden on OUR SCHOOL resources. As such, we would very much like to volunteer our own time to help with supervising our daughter and other children who are not taking the test and we would be delighted to help provide alternate educational activities for them. 

Again, thanks for all that you do.

With best wishes,


Letter #4:


Please accept this letter as record of respectably refusing for my child, NAME, participation in the upcoming M-STEP test.

I did not take this decision lightly.  While I feel strongly that standardized testing is hurting education and my child’s learning opportunities, the M-STEP is particularly concerning to me.  I feel that the testing time is too extensive, the disruption to multi-grade classrooms is too significant, and the value of the test is too questionable (not validated, obscure questions, no progress measures, etc.)    While I cannot solve for the disruption and lost teaching time by simply refusing this test for my son, I do believe that I have a responsibility to take a stand on what I feel is right for him personally, as well as the needs of our broader school community.

THIS SCHOOL is an amazing school and I appreciate the opportunity to refuse this test.   I would like CHILD'S NAME to be offered other learning activities during the testing timeframe.  Should additional support be needed to accomplish this, I would love to discuss possibilities to help.

I, in no way, want my personal decision as a parent to reflect poorly on you, THIS SCHOOL, or our teachers.  My hope is that it will demonstrate the opposite – that with amazing educators, thought leaders, and creative thinkers – our school community can take the lead on finding and implementing more effective measures of school success and individual student progress.

Warm Regards,


Letter #5:


We are refusing the M-STEP for OUR CHILDREN this year. We believe the current climate of high-stakes testing is harmful to children, disrespectful toward the teaching profession, and ultimately damaging to public schools across the state. We also find this current testing incarnation particularly disruptive of our children’s classrooms and the wonderful learning environment they enjoy at OUR SCHOOL.

Our understanding is that they will not be legally required to leave the school building during the testing window, but we will accommodate the school however necessary. We are also happy to help OUR SCHOOL provide on-site alternatives for our children and others who refuse the M-STEP this year if that would be helpful.



Letter #6: United Opt Out's Sample Letter

To Whom It May Concern:

Please be advised that our child will not be participating in state standardized testing during the current school year. Furthermore, we ask that no record of this testing be part of our child's permanent file, as we do not wish our child to participate in standardized achievement testing for promotion, graduation, or school/state report cards. We believe the following of forced, high stakes testing:

• Is not scientifically-based and fails to follow the U.S. Government's own data on learning
• Fosters test driven education that is not meeting the individual/intellectual needs of students
• Presents a racial and economic bias detrimental to second language students, impoverished students, and students of color
• Violates fiscal fairness in funding schools
• Supports complicity of corporate interests rather than democracy based on public concerns
• Fosters coercion over cooperation with regards to federal funding for public education
• Promotes a culture of lying, cheating, and exploitation within the school community
• Has used the achievement gap to foster a “de facto” segregation that has resulted in separate and unequal education for minorities

We understand that federal law provides the parent or guardian the right of choice regarding standardized testing when such testing violates beliefs. In contrast to our beliefs, which are firmly rooted in a moral code that embraces equity and fairness, we believe such testing is not in the best interests of our child since it fosters competition instead of cooperation, contributes to separate and unequal education for minorities, and belies our child's intellectual, creative, and problem-solving abilities, while presenting a fictitious picture as to the impact of the pedagogy provided by our child's individual educators.

Ultimately, our state is required to provide our child with an education in a least restrictive environment that does not force us to go against our core beliefs. My child should proceed to learn and develop at an individual pace following education standards that are imparted under the guidance of education professionals, not market-based reformers, who are able to provide quality pedagogy without fear of reprisal if students - who mature at vastly different levels and come from diverse backgrounds that may or may not be supportive of intellectual pursuit - do not hit the bulls' eye of a constantly moving achievement target.

Therefore, we request that the school provide appropriate learning activities during the testing window and utilize an alternative assessment portfolio or concordant college testing score to fulfill promotion and or graduation requirements, as our child opts out of standardized testing. Sincerely, Child's Name ____________________________________________ ID#_________________________

Letter #7


We are choosing to opt out of the M-STEP for OUR CHILD this year. We believe that this particular test is unnecessary, since its results will not be used in any kind of assessment, and we’re annoyed by the extent of its uselessness.  

We also think it will be highly disruptive; unfortunately our opting out can’t change that disruption since it will still be administered.  

However our refusal is our way of showing our disapproval. We’re grateful for the freedom to make this decision, and for the knowledge that our teachers and school will not suffer any negative consequences from our decision.


Letter #8

Dear Administrator(s):

Please be informed that I am writing on behalf of my children, ******. This letter is my formal notice to you and the ******** School District that I officially and respectfully refuse to allow ******** to participate in any standardized assessments or activities tied to the Common Core, SBAC, PARCC, and/or M-STEP assessments during the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, I refuse to allow ANY data pertaining to my  children to be used outside of the school or for any purpose other than for the individual teachers’ classroom instruction. This includes but is not limited to personal data of any kind or statistical data used to determine school ranking, to evaluate teacher effectiveness, or to be included in state or federal longitudinal studies. 

To be clear, my children will not participate in the following (included but not limited to):

• Any “test-prep” activities associated/ aligned with SBAC, PARCC, M-STEP, or Common Core.

• Any “benchmark” exams associated/ aligned with SBAC, PARCC, M-STEP, or Common Core.

• Any progress-monitoring tests or assessments associated/ aligned with SBAC, PARRC, M-STEP, or Common Core.

• Any computer-based activity associated/ aligned with SBAC, PARRC, M-STEP, or Common Core.

• Any surveys or field tests given by government or corporate entities or testing companies.

• Any test used to formulate an evaluation or score for our children’s teachers or school.

I respectfully request that alternate plans be made and/ or alternate assignments be given during times when standardized tests are being administered or standardized prep exercises are taking place. Please allow ********* to pursue other educational activities such as independent reading, creative writing, research projects, etc.... Similarly, I request that an alternative portfolio-style system be used to evaluate *******’s academic performance, especially in regards to determining placement in academic classes.

I also request  written confirmation that my children will not face any punitive consequences in areas such as grades, attendance, behavioral evaluations, or placement in current/ future classes.

Please know that my decision to refuse Common Core and standardized testing has no bearing on the education I feel the district offers my children. I am proud of this district and all it does to ensure academic success for its students. I hold the schools and teachers in the highest esteem. I implicitly trust the highly-qualified teachers in the classroom to do the job that they were trained to do— create a learning environment that supports the individual needs of all children and develop their talents to become critical thinkers and productive, contributing members of our democratic society. 

I am taking this step because I refuse to support the ill-contrived public education reform propagated through Common Core and high-stakes testing.

I oppose the manipulative policies and mandates devised by policymakers and corporations that forced the illegitimate implementation of Common Core and imposed high-stakes standardized testing.

I oppose the harvesting and selling of student data and the use of high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended. 

I oppose the agendas of profit-seeking corporations like Pearson who have created a multi-billion dollar system of profiting off student failure and who have bullied their way into the classrooms, forcing their ideas of curriculum into instruction, thus taking away the teacher’s authority to make decisions about what is instructionally appropriate or relevant.

I oppose the damage that high-stakes tests are inflicting on our students, cultivating anxiety and a fear of failure rather than igniting a passion for life-long learning. 

I oppose the damage that high-stakes tests are inflicting on our teachers, stripping teachers of their instructional authority and minimizing teacher competency and efficiency to single set of data points that in actuality reveal nothing about a teacher’s ability to transform students’ lives.

I oppose the damage that high-stakes tests are inflicting on our curriculum, over-emphasizing test prep to the point where students cannot think outside of the bubble.

I oppose the damage that high-stakes tests are inflicting on our schools, diverting the appropriation of millions of tax-payer dollars to testing infrastructure at the expense of educational staff, support services, extra-curricular activities, and programs in foreign languages, the arts, and sciences.

I oppose the damage high-stakes tests are inflicting on the quality of public education as a whole, transforming the idea of education as something that expands your horizons into something that is standardized, finite, and measured by the content of a standardized test.

I stand in solidarity with countless parents across the nation who feel enough is enough. I stand in solidarity with countless parents across the nation who refuse to tolerate the manipulation of the public education system. I stand in solidarity with countless parents across the nation who refuse to have their children sold out to the highest corporate bidder. I stand in solidarity with countless parents across the nation who support, trust, and value our school teachers. I stand in solidarity with countless parents across the nation who refuse to compromise the quality of their children’s education. Thank you.



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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Michigan's Got Pesky, Wasteful Standardized Testing--You Can Opt Out

The Bird is Back--it's Spring!
Photo by Ruth Kraut
If it's Spring--and I really think it is, because the Bird has emerged from under her snow blanket--then you know that it is also, in the schools, TESTING TIME.

This is true at many ages, but most especially in grades 3-8 and grade 11. For grades 3-8 there is still the NWEA MAP test (for the third time this year), and also there is the M-STEP, the MEAP replacement (but really it's like the MEAP on steroids). For the 11th grade there is the M-STEP, but there has already been the ACT and the Work Keys. And I think I might be forgetting another standardized test. [I've written about the NWEA a lot. If you do a blog search you will find numerous posts. so I'm not putting in any links here.]

And here's where I tell you: 

I am fully in support of you, as a parent, deciding to Opt Out your children from these tests. [Look for sample Opt Out letters this week.]


I am fully in support of you, as a parent, telling the schools that you REFUSE to let your student participate in practice testing for these tests. [Practice testing definitely takes up even more time than the actual testing, distracting from the core mission of the schools!]


I am fully in support of you, as a teacher, telling the schools that you REFUSE to do any practice testing. [Gutsy]


I am fully in support of you, as a teacher, telling the schools that you REFUSE to administer these tests. [Really gutsy; maybe dangerous if you want to keep teaching.]

I drew this as my "logo." (I'm happy to share it with others in
the Opt Out Movement.) I view the
Opt Out Movement as a Wave. Drawn by Ruth Kraut.

And here's where YOU say, "Well, that's easy for you to say. But you don't actually have any children in any of those grades." And that's true. I currently have a 10th grader and an exchange student who is a 12th grader attending Ann Arbor schools. I don't have any 3-8th graders, or any 11th graders.

So you might think that they are unaffected by all this testing. NOT SO.

Already this year, when the 11th graders were taking the ACT and Work Keys, the students in my house were sleeping in--because there was no school for 9th, 10th, or 12th graders, for 1-1/2 days that week. [And really--those half-days are useless, so it was more like losing 2 days of school.] And they didn't have school, so that somebody else could take a meaningless test. [Whatever you think about the ACT, I have no idea what the point, purpose, or use of WorkKeys is. But I'm pretty sure it's not helping those 11th graders with Reading, Writing, or 'Rithmetic. Or History, Science, Art or Health.]

Why Now?

Well, the M-STEP is a made up test. We were supposed to use the Smarter Balanced test, but our legislators got cold feet about its relationship to Common Core.

The M-STEP test has not been validated [tested in advance to see if it makes any sense in a statistical way], and based on the sample questions I've seen [see the link in the "quote" below] the clear answer is that NO, they don't make any sense. Plus it will be replaced next year by a different test. So there won't even be any comparison data.

Take a look at some sample M-STEP questions here: The MSTEP testing window is quicky approaching. Have you looked at the test? If not you can see the samples here (Username is math#samp for math and ela#samp for English language arts, with # being replaced by the grade level you want (so math6samp for 6th grade math). The password is test1234.

So they have designated the M-STEP this year as a "pilot" year. It's not going to be used to count for anything as far as school participation goes, or as far as teacher evaluations go. It's ONLY going to be used to waste our children's time, and to divert our children from much more important (and interesting) activities.

Teachers I have talked to are terrified by the M-STEP. They are terrified about the idea that these tests will be used to judge them. They are terrified that students won't do well on them (probably true, when you see the questions you realize they are completely developmentally inappropriate).

But wait...there's more! There are, to my knowledge, very few protections as to how your child's data will be used. In other states, the testing agencies are surveilling social media (twitter, and more) to see if kids "give out" information about the tests.

Administrators are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are mandated to give these tests, but if they tell you that they can't "let you" opt your child out, just remind them that this is not their decision. You are the parent, and you decide what is best for your child. That is your right.

Tomorrow or the next day I will post some sample Opt Out letters.

In the meantime, here's why this is important. When we allow the tests to be given, we lose all the things that we hold dear in education.

The combination of the M-STEP and the NWEA MAP test means less time for everyone else in the computer labs, and fewer field trips. Fewer math problems. Fewer science experiments. Fewer books in free reading time. You get the idea. You don't have to allow it.

I encourage you to opt out, and to tell the district why. 

If you are thinking, "I agree with you, and yet I don't want to be disruptive, and I'm not comfortable going all the way," I should tell you that there is a third way, but it involves really engaging with your learner about why this testing is so disruptive. And it involves your student agreeing with you [not a guarantee, with peer pressure!].

Tell the school that your child may take the final test but is not to participate in any--any--any practice testing options.

Meanwhile, tell your child...

Tell your child that you don't care about this test. And mean it. 
Talk to your child about why this test is different from the math test the teacher will give next week, the one that you do care about.

Tell your child that you don't care if they answer "a" to every multiple choice question, and type gibberish in the box where they "write" an essay
Explain why that is different from the two page paper that you do care about--the one where they have to write about the cultures of Spain or Cameroon for the 8th grade Global Cultures curriculum.

Tell your child that you don't care if the only thing they do is put their name on the test. Tell your child that taking this test is this is the least important thing that they will do all year.

This "softer" opt out option might sound easier, but I think it might be more difficult. It's hard to sit in a test and not really do it--we've been trained to try our best, and that's what all of the "encouragement" will be. Plus if you are sitting there, there won't be anything else to do. And not-doing-anything boredom is different from doing-anything-boredom. Opt out, and maybe you get to do some math or read a book.

The other thing we all have to do--and this requires training ourselves, and it is hard--is IGNORE the test results. Don't validate them by discussing them. Ignore them.

I used to think that the testing wasn't really so harmful. I was wrong. It's part and parcel of a profit-making machine that has as its core mission the destruction of our beautiful public schools.

So in my mind, I envision the wave of opting out as part of a broader social movement to save our schools. Whatever you do in opposition, is worthwhile.

I'll close with a favorite quote of a favorite author, Audre Lorde: 

When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

AAPS Trustees Lightfoot and Stead Step Into State Policy Debates--Thank You!

I didn't know that AAPS Trustee Simone Lightfoot has been sitting on a subcommittee of the "Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren," but she has been--and now she has resigned. Her letter is below, where she articulates why she had to resign.

Meanwhile, AAPS Trustee Stead deserves overdue (from February) recognition for pushing the school board to oppose the Education Achievement Authority and to support local control of public schools--and her memo to the school board is below as well. The entire school board approved the resolution.

Thank you to both of them!

From Simone Lightfoot: 

Today, I submitted my official letter of resignation from the COALITION FOR THE FUTURE OF DETROIT SCHOOL CHILDREN policy subcommittee. The statement needed to made. The Skillman Foundation and United Way along with our Governor and the corporate community are fully committed to destroying public education in Michigan....unacceptable!(See below my official letter of resignation) 
The sole member of a fully empowered, locally elected school board (Ann Arbor Board of Education) has resigned from the Coalition For The Future of Detroit School Children policy sub-committee to: evaluate the current-education related political and policy landscape and developing strategy and policy recommendations for the Coalition as it relates to the goal of transforming education in Detroit - in protest, criticizing the atmosphere of predetermined solutions, prioritized profit centered education, and an unwavering commitment to maintaining the EAA and other practices not evidence, achievement, or solution based. 
Dear Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children Policy Sub-Committee Members:
After much deliberation and multiple attempts to consider all pathways and outcomes, it is with great disappointment that I submit my official letter of resignation from the Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children policy subcommittee effective immediately.
I did not enter into this role lightly nor am I easily discouraged. I recognized from the outset that the eleven consecutively scheduled, Monday morning meetings would not be without sacrifice, conflict or compromise.
With that, I welcomed the opportunity to join other respected colleagues from across Southeast Michigan to lend my public policy, public education, civil rights and social justice expertise to our stated purpose of “evaluating the current education-related political and policy landscape while developing strategy and policy recommendations toward the goal of transforming education in Detroit”.
However, with just four meetings remaining, questions continue to plague the sub-committee as to our actual charge. This reality is incompatible with advancing thoughtful, sustainable best practices through collective review, consideration and feedback. Further concerns are exacerbated by the fact that no policies have been allowed to emerge from the fragmented, evolving and nuanced process in the manner promised. And which required we look at methodological and evidentiary-based solutions that focus on the unique challenges facing DPS and public education in our state.
To date, our only collective and deliberative action as a body has been to review proposal responses from several lobbying firms seeking to contract with the Coalition. In that process, each participating member had three options to exercise for their final choices, however the selected firm was presented to the body as the finalist without the benefit of witnessing or fully understanding the process by which that decision was made.
Moreover, our sub-committee has been continuously dissuaded from specific, expert, and thoughtful best practice solutions and persuaded toward broad, overarching and non-specific recommendations subject to broad interpretation. When questioned about this approach, we were directed to believe that the issues raised were somehow beyond our scope. In reviewing the charge of “developing strategy and policy recommendations toward the goal of transforming education in Detroit”, it is hard to imagine much of what we wanted to consider to be beyond that scope.
As time passed and multiple media accounts reported out important and relevant information not brought before our full body, more questions were raised. Each time the subcommittees concerns were brushed aside as unwarranted.
And rather than convening this outstanding group of vastly experienced education and policy leaders to cooperate and help shape solutions in a systematic way, those leading the conversation consistently re-directed it toward support for EAA, charter schools and for profit models of education.
At this point, it is without question clear that the direction and narrative dominating our work is to uphold the EAA (although another apparent failure to join the ranks of the other failing charter schools and for profit education experiments fostered on our students in the State of Michigan). I have become less and less satisfied with the apparent predetermined direction, solutions and commitment against public education of this effort and it appears we are no longer tasked with improving public education for Detroit – or anywhere else in Michigan.
Our work should leave Detroit Public Schools stronger and more empowered than before, with greater student learning outcomes and fiscal solvency. This sadly appears will not be the case.
I have a great deal of appreciation for my colleagues and their enormous time and travel commitment. Many of us volunteered for this work because we want a strong, vibrant and high achieving public school system across this state.
Unfortunately, those that lead this effort have prioritized preserving the EAA, for profit education ventures and charter schools over educational expertise, common sense dialogue and student centered, data driven decisions. In doing so they have also squander the educational legitimacy that at one time had been Michigan’s most potent offense, defense, economic and social driver. All while dismantling the largest and most effective institutional structures our nation has known, the public school system.
In keeping with this trajectory, we are straining beyond the limits of both the Detroit Public School and the Michigan education system in order to advance destructive educational outcomes that ensure instability to families, municipalities and school districts.
While it has been a privilege to witness first hand the inner workings of this policy sub-committee, it has become impossible for me to escape the conclusion, that the fervent political and profit centered policy pursuits of the Skillman Foundation, the United Way Foundation, the Governor and others on behalf of the EAA, charter schools and unproven educational experiments are not compatible with the interests I represent. The systematic manipulation of the subcommittee’s expertise intelligence is unacceptable.
I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask that you receive it in a manner that conveys my passionate concern and intimate awareness of the outcomes disparately impacting public education, education policy and urban school districts.
It is my contention that both my colleagues and I have extended more credibility than the current structure and destined outcomes deserve. And so, for the reasons outlined, I have determined my continued service on the Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children policy subcommittee is not the best use of my experience, public education expertise and time.
Simone Lightfoot
Ann Arbor Board of Education
Christine Stead's memo to the school board: 

TO: AAPS Board of Education Trustees FROM: Christine SteadDATE: February 8, 2015SUBJECT: Resolution to Preserve Local Governance of Public Education
WHEREAS the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) maintains a governance body that is designated primarily by the Governor; and
WHEREAS the current school districts that comprise the EAA are the 15 original schools that were part of the Detroit Public Schools, and;
WHEREAS the right to a free and public education, governed by locally elected officials, remains the foundation of public education in the United States, and;
WHEREAS the elected Board of Education for the Detroit Public Schools continues to be excluded from the governance of the EAA, and
WHEREAS a recent academic review performed by the Educational Policy Center of Michigan State University was unable to document any improvement in student outcomes under the EAA1 and;
WHEREAS this same study shows that the EAA continues to exceed cost expectations, while realizing a negative economic return on investment, and;
WHEREAS the citizens of the current EAA school districts have a right to representation in the governance of their schools, which is currently being denied them;
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
• Stands by the right of the people of Detroit to elect School Board Members for the Detroit Public Schools and upholds their right to be fully empowered to govern their schools and represent their community; and
• Opposes the continued erosion of local governance across the State of Michigan; and
• Opposes any efforts to expand the EAA until the model can be realigned with local governance in a way that enhances public trust and until the model has demonstrated positive educational and economic results; and
• Opposes any further efforts to remove the oversight of education away from education-focused governing bodies, including the Governor’s recent suggestion to move the school reform office (where the EAA resides) out of the Department of Education and into the Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
• Directs the Executive Assistant of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education to transmit copies of this resolution to:
Governor Rick SnyderSenate Majority LeaderSpeaker of the HouseSenate Democratic leaderMinority Leader of the HouseChair, House Education CommitteeChair, Senate Education CommitteeChair, House Appropriations CommitteeChair, Senate Appropriations CommitteeSenator Rebekah Warren, 18th DistrictRepresentative Jeff Irwin, 53rd DistrictRepresentative David Rutledge, 54th DistrictRepresentative Adam ZemkeRepresentative Gretchen DriskellJohn Austin, President, State Board of Education and all members of the State Board of EducationDon Wortuba, Executive Director, Michigan Association of School BoardsLocal print, voice, and internet media.
[1] “Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals”, Working Paper #3; Mary Mason and David Arsen, The Education Policy Center, Michigan State University, December 2014.

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