The Need for a Return of Local Control

The decision this week, for those not following, by the Lee County School Board in Florida to NOT have their entire district opt-out of their state testing is showing the nation exactly why we need to refuse the over testing of our kids; loss of local control. The board listened to those who voted them in, voted to refuse the testing, then was pressured by the state and others to rescind the vote, decided to revote, and went ahead and over turned it. The state came in with multiple threats then threw in the loss of federal money. That’s what flipped this decision. The LOCAL school community wanted to make their own local decisions and they were strong-armed by both the state threats and the federal money dangling at the end of the line. That is why we fight on. It is exactly the situation you would see here on Long Island, I suspect, if a similar situation were to arise. Follow the money. As one commenter on the article linked below said:

“…as long as they need the funding…”
NOT “as long as it’s good for students,” NOT “as long as it helps schools,” but “as long as they need the funding.”
There it is, in a nutshell.

Click here to read one of the many reports about Lee County.

Don’t let them hide behind “the law.” Laws can be overturned, changed, etc. Force the schools, school boards, and parents to pressure the politicians to “fix it.” The reforms brought to ALL of our schools now are not moving forward because they will benefit the kids. They just aren’t. You can’t find me one instance of any of these reforms (e.g., Common Core standards, new high-stakes testing, massive data collection efforts, etc.) being tested and piloted for many years in a district and shown to have helped kids learn. It is all speculation. All an experiement. It is time we end the experiments and let local schools figure out what is need in their own communities. Standards used as guidelines? Fine. However, that’s not what we have now.

PS: The Palm Beach County School Board in Florida is also investigating opting out of all state testing.

The Fight to Return NY Schools Back to Local Communities Enters Year 3

Back to school already? That’s right parents and that means it’s time for that game we like to call “high stakes testing that is used to judge and grade your teachers and principals, but has no real purpose”. Have you asked your school and/or principals when testing starts? You think it is the spring-time you say? Guess again. Here’s the early testing schedule for our local district:

Math SLO and Local – September 4th and 5th
ELA SLO and Local – September 9th and 10th
Special Area SLO and Local – September 8th-19th

That’s right. Starting the year off with a few high stakes tests (these count toward the teacher’s APPR scores and can be a test of content the kids have not yet learned…a real confidence booster there.) For our kids’ teachers the APPR score is 60% observation, 20% State tests and SLOs, 20% Local assessment.

NYSED’s previous statement that referred to “no standardized testing for K-2″ is BS. There was none to begin with. These are not considered standardized tests.

Now here’s the kicker…among all the others…ALL of our local area school districts are spending millions to give, track, and monitor these early assessments. And for what? Neither the SLO or the local is being used to guide instruction. There are purely used as a “judgement” tool at the waste of precious early bonding and learning time in the classroom. And guess what? NYSED wants the tests scores to count for 40% and get rid of the SLOs and locals. Can you say even more “teach to the test” worksheets and curriculum. (see here)

So, yeah…here we go again and welcome back to yet another year of meaningless high stakes testing. The fight to bring back local control of our classrooms enters the 3rd year for not just our family, but pretty much for all of the Long Islanders who have researched, studied, questioned, and fought hard against the well-funded corporate driven takeover of the state/local public school system. This will most certainly be the most important yet because once our state gets too far into this mess we call “education reform”, there will be no turning back.

I ask you fellow Long Island parents of school-aged children: take note of what happens in your child’s classroom this year. What kind of work comes home? What is hanging on the walls when you visit? What does school look like before and after winter break? What message about testing is your kid’s teacher conveying? What do YOU want your kid’s classroom to look like? Do you want performance or innovation?

Wish your kids well this week and help them achieve happiness and success. Tell them to always do their best and to try not to let the pressures of school break them down. Wish your kid’s teachers and principals well this week and tell them you will help to fix the mess that is NY public education.

Oh, and don’t forget those green laces, bracelets, and scrunchies.

Royal Screwup on Day 2 of NYS Math Exam

Per upstate parent/teacher Chris Cerrone: BREAKING NEWS: “The 3rd Grade math test (Form D version) across the state contained blank pages with missing questions #33-37 & #43-48. Some schools caught the mistake and delayed the state of the test until copies of the missing questions could be obtained from BOCES were made. Other schools did not catch the error until the test began. These schools will be bringing their kids back to take the test once copies are made.

Another huge Pearson and NYSED fail.

The Third Grade test should be declared INVALID.”

The first news story to report this is here. Other reports have followed here and here and here.

According to page 14 of the NYSED testing guidelines (linked here to PDF): Testing materials can only be obtained from regional centers ON THE DAY THEY ARE TO BE ADMINISTERED.

So, replacement pages obtained today must be administered today. Not tomorrow or another day.

Also reports of some 5th grade tests pages not being cut (pages were connected and couldn’t be turned). Admin had to cut the pages open.

Additionally and unrelated, Wantagh High School, here on Long Island, was evacuated today as a result of a potential bomb threat. The neighboring middle school was also evacuated during the testing time. What are those kids supposed to do?

According to the NYSED testing guidelines page 25 (linked above): No student may be permitted to leave and then return to the testing room during any part of the test unless the student is accompanied by a proctor for the duration of his or her absence from the testing room.

So does that mean that the students who have seen the test today CANNOT come back tomorrow and take it because they will have left the testing room and returned to the same test?

Per page 43: Any breaches or irregularities, except interruptions caused by power outages or alarms, may be determined by the school or by the Department to invalidate a student’s test results.

This would include seeing the test, leaving the building, then returning to take the same test. Wording from page 43 seems to indicate students leaving for “alarm” does not invalidate the results.

 

Oh the glitches, those lovely glitches

So it appears there’s been some technical issues with the latest round of computer based testing. The question I will most certainly ask of my local school administrators when the time is right is: What will be considered tolerable? When 10% of students experience online testing “inconveniences?” Will it be 20%, 50%? The tests are high-stakes enough, then they have to go throw a Denial of Service attack on top of it, or random screen crashes, or back-end server failures, or whatever it will be next.

When these tests, across many states, are attached to such high stakes as grade promotion, teacher effectiveness, federal grant money, and more, these “glitches” are entirely unacceptable. Oh, and in many states, this is the second straight year of “glitches”. The phrase “Not Ready for Prime Time” comes to mind.

April 2, 2014: Kansas (here)

April 22, 2014: Oklahoma (here and here)

“A similar glitch stalled testing last year in Oklahoma, as well as in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota. Of those, Indiana also used CTB/McGraw-Hill as its testing vendor.”

April 23, 2014: Florida (here)

I am pretty certain we will probably be adding New York to this list next year or the subsequent year.

So now tell me how these test results can be used to measure anything of value? Or used to make any high-stakes decision? Not only can you not compare these tests to results of prior years of pencil/paper based testing, you can’t even begin to set the baseline for the new CBTs.

Here’s the recent response from Pearson: A Message Regarding Pearson’s Online Testing Services

The US federal government’s attempt at getting a web site ready to handle the crush of simultaneous visitors was very unsuccessful this past October. Do we think that the mad rush to get SBC or PARCC testing up and running will be any different. I don’t … and I really don’t think these testing consortium’s are heading any warnings nor learning from past non-education sector mistakes.

Related:
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2014/04/oklahoma_students_face_second_.html
http://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/22/fairtest-computer-test-failures-are-common/

Pretty decent summary of the upcoming computer based testing.
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/04/23/29cc-promises.h33.html

All I Can Do to Say Thanks

Thank you to my online friends and followers for putting up with my education posts and not all blocking me, unfriending me, or unfollowing me. At least, not yet.

Whether you had your kids refuse testing or not, or if you discussed it with family and friends or not, today was one of the greatest days in parent activism this nation has ever seen, led by knowledgeable and concerned NY parents.

Last year it was estimated between 1000-1200 refused the tests on Long Island out of nearly 215000 who could be tested. Today, we are over 15000 refusers and still counting out of 204000 possible test takers. My home district, where my son was only one of 3 in his whole building last year, topped out at 1398 refusers, 20% of test takers. His school had 32 this year. These numbers will go up in 3 weeks when the math exams are thrown at these kids. There were massive numbers in many districts. Numbers so high the tests are completely invalid and these kids are “More Than a Score.”

Consider this: no other nation over-tests their kids, especially their youngest and most vulnerable (those with special needs), every year from grades 3-12 with countless hours of high stakes exams. None. We stand alone in abusing these kids, hammering their confidence, and killing their creativity all so we can “evaluate their teacher”. Actually, so we can find a way of labeling them ineffective all because these kids could not sit for 540 minutes of high pressure exams. Almost every other nation simply tests students entering high school (or vocational school) and exiting. No, not us.

LI Principal Carol Burris, Education Historian Diane Ravitch, and CW Post Professor Arnold Dodge can sum up this movement much more eloquently than I can. Please read their thoughts here and here and here respectively.

So, one of the many points of this movement was not to coddle our kids, teach them to rebel against authority, nor shake up the schools this week. It was to send a message to Albany. A clear and loud message to NYS Education Commissioner John King and our Governor Andrew Cuomo: You refused to hear us for 2 years, now deal with us. And look what breaking news we have today. Low and behold…it’s our Governor with a “deal.”

Now, Cuomo plans Common Core changes for teacher evaluations

Oh and PS: just watched him on ch 5 news and he said the tests will not count for students and it will be good practice for them. I don’t even think he can make that decision. So, the kids now know it means $&@” and will not care how they do. How could he possibly allow that to be part of teacher evaluations. What a mess!!!!

All You Need to Refuse the NYS Elementary State Exams

Send the letter below via email and snail mail (hand delivered) to your child’s teacher(s) and principal. Refer to NYSAPE if you receive any push-back. Add in the Science exam if your child is in the 4th or 8th grade.

That is all.

Dear (name of administrator)

We are writing today to formally inform the district of our decision to refuse to allow our child (name) , to participate in the ELA and Math standardized assessments imposed on children across the state for the 2013-2014 school year. Our refusal should in no way reflect on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we have no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources.

We believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administration. We believe in the high quality of teaching and learning that occur in our child’s school. We hope our efforts will be understood in the context in which they are intended: to support the quality of instruction promoted by the school, and to advocate for what is best for all children. Our schools will not suffer when these tests are finally gone, they will flourish.

We do apologize in advance for the inconvenience or scrutiny that this decision may cause the administration, the school, and staff.

Sincerely,
(your name)

Thoughts on Data Protection Wording of NY Assembly Bill A8929

Here’s my take on the data collection/storage/sharing wording in the much discussed and debated NY Assembly bill A8929 that passed in the NY Assembly by a vote of 117-10 this past week. See the full bill here

I’ve copied out the data related sections and added my comments. I had to remove the ALL CAPS to make it easier to read (why is it in all caps like they typed it on a typewriter?)

_______________________________________________________

S  12. 1. Prior to July 1, 2015, the commissioner of education and the state education department are  hereby  prohibited  from  providing  any personally  identifiable information or de-identifiable student information to any third party vendor pursuant to any contract or memorandum of understanding for the purpose of collecting, storing  and/or  organizing student  data  or information in order to provide access to such data or information to third party vendors operating data dashboard solutions.

The wording above does not mean the state still can’t collect massive amounts of student, teacher, and parent personally identifiable information (PII). It just indicates NYSED can’t provide it to any third party for a year. Then, this gets revisited again next school year which simply prolongs this and we have to go through this all over again next year. The state can, and most likely still will, collect all the data it wants and will keep using it, just not work it into the new inBloom type systems. They won’t be able to provide the data dashboards to parents for at least another year. The wording below does not halt data collection.

_______________________________________________________

2. A parent of a student, a person in parental relation to a  student, or  a  student  eighteen  years  of  age  or older may request that such student’s personally  identifiable  information  and/or  such  student’s biometric  record  not  be  disclosed to any third party. The department and/or any school that receives such request shall  be  prohibited  from disclosing such information to any third party unless such disclosure is required  by law, pursuant to a court order or subpoena, for the purpose of a state or federal audit or evaluation to authorized  representatives of  entities  identified in section 99.31 (a)(3) of title 34 of the code of federal regulations implementing  the  family  education  rights  and privacy act, or is necessary due to a health or safety emergency.

The wording above indicates disclosure of PII might be required by law. So, spell it out. Which laws and when applicable?

_______________________________________________________

3. The department shall develop a form that shall be used for requests made pursuant to subdivision two of this section. Such form shall be made publicly available and shall allow such individuals the option to opt-out of disclosure of personally identifiable information and biometric records to any third party or to certain types of third parties. The department is authorized to identify a list of types of third Parties that individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such information and records and such individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such Information and records to any type and/or all of the listed third parties. Such list developed by the department shall not require the Names of such third parties to be listed. Such list may identify the Types of services such third parties provide.

This section above could cripple current school technology practices, which would be bad. The key phrase is “or to certain types of third parties.”  In modern-day 2014, we have to permit districts to use tech systems to facilitate transportation, scheduling, and other educational technologies including those used for instruction and learning by classroom teachers (Learning Management Systems, free/paid web based tools, cloud based email systems like Google Apps, etc.)

Wording also indicates NYSED will develop the list of services third party vendors can provide. The state doesn’t have to indicate the name of the vendor (e.g., inBloom) just what they do (e.g., data store). So NYSED can simply list out one of the possible services that parents cannot opt out from as “data store”, “data organization” or any other clever term used to continue their needs for collection, storage, analysis, mining, and sharing. Again, the prior paragraph indicates the storage tied to sharing is on hold until July 2, 2015, so NYSED can simply use next year to work on the list of services necessary and wait for July 2 hoping that no new legislation is brought forward to extend that temporary halt. This is also going to be a nightmare for schools to monitor and track what parent has opted out of what database/system/tool. The better approach is to simply eliminate PII from moving its way up the data levels to the ultimate spot of the NYSED offices.  Long term, I’d like to see a rework of the data levels 0, 1, 2, etc so PII never reaches the state level and never leaves the local BOCES offices. I still have not heard from NYSED why they need student/parent/teacher PII.

_______________________________________________________

5. Schools and the department may not under any circumstance  disclose personally  identifiable  information  or biometric records to any third party unless such third party has agreed in writing to:   a. Provide the department or the  contracting  school  with  a  breach remediation plan acceptable to the department or the school;   b.  Report  all  suspected  security  breaches  to  the  department or contracting school as soon as possible but not  later  than  forty-eight hours  after such suspected breach was known or would have been known by exercising reasonable due diligence; and   c. Report all actual security breaches to the department or  contracting  school  as  soon  as possible, but not later than twenty-four hours after such actual breach was known or would have been known by  exercising reasonable due diligence.

This section above is a good common sense approach. I would like to see added to that section details about performing security audits and making the results of such audits public. A state representative should be working with these third party vendors to verify that data is secure and not just take their word that it is.

_______________________________________________________
The major item I think is missing from not just this proposed bill, but any relating to data that I have seen to date, is what our fellow citizens in Oklahoma added to their new legislation on this topic last summer: an explanation of data fields. There bill isn’t perfect, but it better than what they had there. I want to see a law that mandates that ANY state department or entity that collects, stores, share, and uses data or is in contract with any third party vendor to collect, store, use, share  any PII related to the citizens of the state outline for citizens the specific types of data it collects (field names), the very specific purpose of the field (so in the NYSED databases they would have to explain in detail why every piece of data is needed), the length of time the data element is keep in the data base, if it is connected to any other state databases, and the specific details about any third party use of the data. Notice should be given to state citizens in much the same way the health care providers and insurance agencies have to notify customers of data use.

Go Ahead and Get the PARCC Testing Experience

Ok, you want to get a sense of what is coming in perhaps just two years in New York? Take a glimpse at the online based PARCC testing system developed by Pearson called TestNav8. As you go through the tutorial understand that 8/9 year olds will use this to take the spring state tests. The state put PARCC implementation on hold (NYSED’s favorite term) for one year. It is being field tested this spring and probably next fall and other states are already moving towards it.

In your mind think about taking these tests on pencil/paper and computer based (or tablet based with an external keyboard.) First thing that comes to mind for me: in school computer labs there are no kid sized keyboards. Typing anything of length is a challenge for them because of it and based on sample questions I’ve seen so far, there is a chance the students will be typing their long responses in a very small text editor where they can’t see the majority of their paragraphs on the screen. Add to this, the simple sound of keyboard tapping and we have an entirely new testing environment that was previoulsy devoid of outside sounds.

PARCC description of this tutorial: “This tutorial should be used to familiarize students with how to navigate the TestNav 8 computer-based environment (advancing, going back, tool bar, embedded supports and accommodations).”

Here is the site to check on a regular computer, not from a phone. The questions are not PARCC type questions. You can find some of those at this link.

Once again, we don’t even have short term studies from our state that indicate how students take tests differently on pencil/paper v. computer based testing (CBT). You’d need results from probably five years worth of tests that are half administered old way and half new way. Same test, different methods. Did it take more time on CBT or less? Were scores close to one another or not? What did students say about CBT? Teachers? Not just a one test, spring pilot. They are simply piloting this to check the tech end of things. The state will plow ahead with the “all in” approach instead of a gradual phase-in…again. I’d argue that the pencil/appear results from this year should not even be compared to future CBT.

Think about student erasing content/answers/their work. Easy in pencil world. On computer how many times does someone make a mistake in the beginning of a line and try to erase it only to erase the entire line. That could easily frustrate CBT’ers since they have a great chance at wiping out more work. The simple new distractions the online test brings to the screen are enough to distract a kid. There are two areas to work on math problems, turning ruler on and off, the reading guide on and off, changing color of the screen, and more.

Read more on the PARCC testing samples here at Chris Cerrone’s recent post on this topic. How about the potential for nealry 18 weeks of computer based testing under PARCC? Read more here.

The PARCC cost estimate is $29.50 per student, up from the current NY cost of around $15 per student (while I’ve seen a few posts online estimate the current NY costs, I have yet to find mention of it from NYSED.) The cost estimate does not include technology infrastructure and equipment upgrades necessary to deliver and administer the test. NY will be asked to come up with an estimated $30+ million more just to administer the test with districts having to come up with millions more to technologically prepare their schools. Also, PARCC is offering the test in paper-and-pencil format for an additional $4 per student in the first year.

Let’s hope PARCC remains permanently on hold. I want my kids to start using tech in schools to create, communicate, collaborate, not take tests.

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