Part 2: Spring 2015 NYS ELA Exam – An Inside View

The first post in this series was viewed by nearly 9,000 readers at the time of the posting of this update. So many views that I felt compelled to give my readers exactly what they wanted: more of the same. Again, the comments below are not my words. These were all publicly found in the Facebook group, Long Island Opt Out, from the morning of Friday April 17 up until today. Please feel free to comment below or share this post with others. I will also work to compile any new comments this week about the Math exams. No comment posted below was edited by me.

Heartbreaking anonymous post:
I work in a poor neighborhood. A student of mine, a little boy, lost his dad in the fall. I gather his mom either doesn’t work or doesn’t make enough money and they lost their housing situation as well, recently. They are now living in a shelter. In its infinite wisdom, NYS requires that children take the state assessments in the last school they were registered in. So this kid travels from a shelter in Brooklyn to Queens to take the ELA tests. How absolutely ridiculous. As if this kid stands even a remote chance of being successful. What’s more important here? How about some compassion?

Anonymous post:
My son said the third day of third ELA had an excerpt from a book called an American army of two. I googled it but found nothing. He said the content was hard and it had rhetorical questions in it. They were asked why they thought the author asked questions of the readers. He read at a fourth grade level in first grade. He gets 4s on reading in report card. He was so frustrated that his eyes well up with tears. The teacher said she was so sorry but couldn’t help him and he understood. He said he felt like they were not real questions?? He took the test alone with a teacher away from the rest of his class. He does have an IEP. He said a few class members that were strong readers cried that day. He had anxiety about refusing and begged us to to take it. Now we feel awful.

Anonymous post:
3rd grade tests for ela…..3 of my major issues were one reading passage entitled aurora borealis (how are they even supposed to know how to pronounce that let alone know what it is?). A constructed response on why the character was described as swaggered…..total misuse of the term….also there was a question about a shrew. …..I didn’t study the test completely, but read enough to know that I would have issues picking out the right answer bc of the ambiguity of the choices

Anonymous post:
4th grade test: Two short responses for Hattie Big Sky. The first question was describe Hattie’s personality and give two examples to support your answer. The 2nd question was “How were the chickens presented as characters in the passage. Give two examples from the text.” The second question was so abstract that none of the kids I tested were able to answer it correctly. The extended response was a written comparison of those two stories. Pure torture today.

Anonymous post:
I proctored the 5th grade. Day 1 and 3 were awful. So labor intensive. The 3rd grade post was accurate it was so hard. There was a passage about swagger. Yes, swagger. Also a part about the drive thru bank. How many city kids even know what that is? One of my co workers eyes filled with tears when her students left he room

Anonymous post:
8th grade test
Day 3 was awful. The first reading was an excerpt from Jules Verne, around the world in 80 days. There were 7 words defined in footnotes in the first two paragraphs. Generally, if there are that many words on a page that you don’t know the definition of, you should choose a different book. The words were: avaricious, taciturn, conjectures, whist, congenial, grenadier and Monsieur. There were many others that were difficult including sumptuous and valet, which they defined as manservant on Tuesday’s exam, but didn’t on Thursday. The question for this passage was about his relationship with money and how do the words straight laced, & steadfast describe the main character. The turn of phrase in the selection was so difficult that comprehension was nearly impossible. Phrases like ‘the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled’ intimate acquaintances, and itinerant singer, but the absolute best was the reference to Saville Row, as if American 13 year olds would understand that this is a fashionable street in London. There was a sentence in the passage ‘the habits of its occupant were such as to demand little from the sole domestic.’ Honestly this was for 13 year olds.

After that there were two passages (non fiction) on playground safety. Here’s the vocabulary from them:
Bowdlerized, habituation techniques, counterintuitive, common phenomenon, orthodoxy, circuitous, risk averse culture, litigious society, per se, & cognitive. I thought these were hard. Also straight laced, steadfast, scabbard.

Then there were references to a Dan Zanes concert, and these phrases:
‘Far from the tax brackets of the south street seaport’ and ‘assuage paradoxical parental anxieties’

But the kicker was this sentence:
‘Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.’

That sentence was on a test for 13 year old children. I proctored an honors class. No one finished in under an hour, most finished between around 75 -90 minutes. They were exhausted when finished. When I had their class after, I used some of the words on the test in our discussion, and a few kids raised their hands to say they didn’t know what it meant. These kids are going to a specialized NYC HS in the fall. They are bright kids. One of my special Ed students who gets double time was testing until noon. Many regular Ed students barely finished as time was called.

There was a question on the 7th grade test about ‘how does dialogue reflect the author’s purpose’ or something like that. It was awful

Anonymous post:
THE OPTOUT MOVEMENT JUST BOUGHT TEACHERS AND THEIR STUDENTS BACK A DAY OF INSTRUCTION. Instead of being pulled out for a third day of scoring tomorrow, we’ll be back together where we belong: in the classroom (fewer tests to score=fewer days to score). Awesome

Anonymous post:
I was part of the team to grade my district’s 4th grade ELA exams. The state provides sample responses at all levels (1-4) in both the training set and practice set packets for teachers to use as comparative models when grading. In all of the sample essays provided (which, I assume, are copied from real student responses on last year’s field test), there was not a single sample essay that was scored as a “4”. The state cannot even provide a sample examplary essay!

Anonymous post:
At _____ Middle School, the principal was made to read from a script to all parents who refused the test. My district is a high minority, poverty district. Many parents, after hearing “the importance” of the test let their children take the ELA exam. A few parents were yelling at their children for trying to get out of the test. Children were crying. So much for schools being bully free zones!

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Spring 2015 NYS ELA Exam – An Inside View

UPDATE: A Part 2 for this post can be found here.

Parents: If you are in the Long Island Opt Out Facebook group make sure you check in this week to get a sense of what the ELA exams for grades 3-8 were like. You can just lurk and skim. Everything posted below was publicly posted in that group. No comment posted below was edited by me.

Understand as you read these comments below that it clearly shows that THESE tests are not about the students. It isn’t about how much they know, how well they write, how well they find facts, etc. Very many of the questions have multiple good answers and the little minds have to choose the best one. And quickly. Note the very high reading level necessary for the passages. Additionally some of the questions are embedded field tested questions meaning they don’t count towards the scores, but do count against their time. It is obvious to me that the tests were designed for student failure…no doubt in my mind.

This quote was posted as a comment in a different group regarding the exams themselves: “I would like to remind parents: after they are scored, you have the right to view your child’s test ELA book 2,3 and math book 3. It’s in the administrators manual page 46.” Ask your test taking friends to do that for you if you can!

Anonymous post:
“3rd grade test. 3 passages. 7 mc, 3 short response paragraphs. I extended response which is an essay. First passage why do animals play. Fair and mc was ok. Second passage about a girl coming over from China separated from her parents etx. Questions required time and thinking. Higher level. Third passage about drag racing short response was really tough kids god stuck and many siding get to finish test and last question which was ok. Not enough time and many tears again. I feel like an imbecile. Quote from smart student.” (Comment on this post included: “The China passage and questions required inferencing on an adult level. It was ridiculous! Our students are set up to fail.”)

Anonymous Post:
“One of the third grade stories today was an excerpt from a book called eating the plates. According to scholastic it has a grade level equivalent of 5.2 and a 720 lexile level which is on the high side for an 8 year old. Another reason why these tests are not fair.”

Anonymous post:
“Today’s third grade ELA had passages from Drag Racer. Grade level 5.9 and interest level 9-12th grade.”

Anonymous post:
“Today’s 4th grade assessment had a passage from “The Clay Marble” from Mingfo Ho. I googled it. Here’s the grade level: Interest Level Grades 6 – 8, Grade level Equivalent: 6.8, Lexile® Measure: 860L, DRA: 50, Guided Reading: V”

Anonymous post:
“This mornings ELA exam was pure child abuse! There were 5 passages (2 which appeared on last years assessment). Each passage was 2+ pages long. The kids had their 70 minutes to complete 30 questions. Of the 30 questions 17 required the students to look back at various paragraphs! Most of my children didn’t finish and were very upset that they might have disappointed me or their parents when in truth many adults wouldn’t have been able to look back and find the correct answers in a 70 minute time frame. The students were deflated as they tried to find the best answers when MANY of the questions had more than one possible answer to choose from. Children appealed for help but all we could do was pat them on the back and say “keep trying your hardest”. How awful we felt that we couldn’t comfort or help OUR kids on a test that was so far above their level. Of the 10 children in my room during the assessment, I had three gifted and talented students and only 2 kids who receive remediation- they all struggled! Word back from my colleagues in 4th grade was more of the same. Instead of 6 2-page passages like they had last year, students had 5 3-page passages. The vocabulary used most adults wouldn’t be able to define. Overall we had a school of deflated students. I’d also like to point out that their were TONS of grammatical errors. I’d love to share but we are under lock and key!”

Anonymous post:
“Are You Smarter Than a 4th Grader? Well, here are the words you would need to read (decode) and comprehend. Now some of these words may seem okay, but in the context of many being grouped in the same passage, it is overkill. The words with parenthesis were defined with a sidebar. But still, too much fluff! stifling, ajar, hassock (a padded footstool), erratically, frenzied, rabic, illuminated, peculiar, Canuck, plodded, “the crusty guardian”…crusty?, dour, rummaged, floundered, blithely, insurmountable, obscured, obliterated (wiped out or blocked), event horizon (the outer layer of the black hole), scrutinizing (examining or observing with great care), summoned, astounded, maneuvering, arsenal, precautions, straggle, hemp, stammers, coincidence, enormous, glimpsed, precious, whittle, triumphantly, awestruck, gunnysacks, plowshares, laden, wordlessly, encased, refuge, assurances, amulet.”

Anonymous post:
Fourth grade day 3 passages from WHICH WAY TO THE WILD WEST BY STEVE SHEINKIN Lexile 940
HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson Lexile 700 but lists interest level grades 6-8
IF WISHES WERE HORSES BY NATALIE KINSEY WARNOK Lexile 796

Anonymous post:
“5th grade test OUTRAGEOUS! Children had to read over 3,000 words and answer 42 questions that were sooooo ambiguous and such difficult language. All this in 90 min. Many gave up. Just bubbled in. Some didn’t finish. Just wrong.”

Anonymous post:
“The second reading in 6th grade exam given today was titled A Master Teacher by Helen Bledsoe. It was a story about Confucius and how he was credited with the exam system in China. Printed in bold letters on the second page was: Let exams do the ranking
It spoke about how people had to take exams and how those that did well received positions in government based on the results. We were appalled and angry that this found its was onto the exams today. To us it spoke to how little NYSED and Pearson care about parent wishes, students and the testing climate and quietly “attacked” it yet again.”

Anonymous post:
“Here is what middle school kids were subjected to today… 6 lengthy passages to read and 42 questions to answer in 90 minutes. The passages were boring and included subjects and words that the children would not know. When was the last time you used cherimoya, mirth, or bethought?”

Anonymous post:
“The grade 6 test was ridiculous. 6 lengthy passages of 2-3 pages and 6-7 questions based on each passage that required students to constantly to locate paragraph numbers to figure out answers. Within 90 minutes a student had to read all the passages and answer the questions. So that means 15 minutes per passage. Lets pretend that a student took 1 minute to read and answer each question, that would take 7 minutes per passage leaving a total of 8 minutes to read and comprehend the 2-3 page passage. My students were taught all year to annotate / jot notes in the margins. Ummm that is what they were doing as the time was ticking….tick ..tick….tick….tick. I had two students my two that are reading at a 9th grade level able to complete the entire test. The rest of my students had to play color in the bubbles because they ran out of time. They had to guess / select any answer for at least the last 12 questions. This is an adequate measure of my students reading? This is OKAY? This is developmentally appropriate? THIS MY FELLOW EDUCATORS IS RIDICULOUS, UNFAIR, ABUSE OF POWERS, WASTE OF TIME and downright SAD and SICK! My students have worked so hard all year to be treated like this? To feel “dumb” to be graded and labelled with a number? I am so fed up with the profession I so LOVED. My dream job was ROBBED from me. My students self-esteem that I have built up all year was ripped from them today.”

Anonymous Post:
“The NYS Assessments should be used in a court, as evidence of child abuse! NYS ELA Grade 6 Day 1 had a passage, written by a British author in the 1800s, with a readability/ text complexity range from Grade 9-College!”

Anonymous Post:
“6th grade test was ridiculous and frustrating to all. Some passages were readable, but the majority of the questions focused on text structure and specific lines of the text. Students were forced to continuously return to the text to analyze lines for almost every answer choice, which made it virtually impossible to finish in 90 minutes. Most of the selections were science based and a poem was two pages long and way too advanced for sixth graders.Vocabulary was so far over their heads in several passages as well. There were some questions where teachers could not determine the correct answer. It was heartbreaking to watch students struggle and give up. By the end, many were randomly bubbling just to “finish”. This test is no where close to bring an accurate measure of skills taught in any 6th grade ELA classroom!”

Anonymous Post:
Grade 6 Day 3: Open the booklet to see an article titled ” Nimbus Clouds: Mysterious, Ephemeral, and Now Indoors”. The word ephemeral was also used in the text and there was no footnote! I know several adults who could not define this word! After reading this painful article, they were then asked again how a photograph helps them understand certain lines of the text! The paired passages were both focused on the relationships between dogs and their owners. Here are more vocabulary words – paroxysm, sufferance (footnoted) clamorous, furlong, “queer throw back trait” (not footnoted). The children were very confused because people did not have names in the story, but the dogs did. The second paired passage was “That Spot” by Jack London, written in 1908. Again, very confusing with a lot of old English and extremely complex sentences. Vocabulary included “beaten curs”, “absconders of justice” (in the same sentence) surmise, “savve our cabin” , and “let’s maroon him”. Students were asked to determine how the author’s use of the word “that” repeatedly in front of the dog’s name shows the narrator’s relationship with the dog. Think of how difficult this must’ve been not just for general Ed students, but also for our ELL’s and Students with Disabilities! They were then also asked to determine the theme of a paragraph! Most English teachers will tell you that theme is the message the author is trying to convey throughout a WHOLE text. Asking the theme of one isolated paragraph is ridiculous! The essay was a comparison of the challenges of both dogs, which isn’t a poor question. However, the texts were both so difficult for the kids to understand that it made it difficult for them to organize their thoughts. Throw in the fact that they once again had a time limit of 90 minutes and you guaranteed frustration, anxiety, and many not finishing. Thank goodness this test is over!

Anonymous post:
“I’ve proctored the 7th grade ELA this morning and the test has become even more difficult then last year. In one section the students had to read a story and the only question regarding it was a writen response question that asked “how does the dialogue add to the meaning of the story? List two details to illustrate your point”. 11-12 year olds are not able to do this. It was devastating watching them try. They all had no idea what the question was asking. The multiple choice questions asked them to read stories and define difficult words using context clues. However every answer to define the words used even higher vocabulary so even if they could figure out the meaning of the word in the passage was they weren’t able to answer because the had no idea what the definitions of the words in the answer. I would compare the vocabulary in the answers to SAT words”

Anonymous post:
“Grade 7: Excerpt from Under the Lilacs by Alcott. Published in 1878. Included 10 footnoted vocabulary, some with 2 in one sentence. It also included “old” English such as “recognising”, “humourous” and “attind”. There was also Gaelic dialogue mixed in with the vocabulary to really add to students’ confusion. It was extremely difficult overall and most did not finish on time.”

Anonymous message:
I think it is safe to make an assumption that multiple versions of the ELA test are given. That being said, is it reasonable to question IF all the tests are equal? Do all districts receive tests with the SAME number of passages ? Are some students burdened with MORE READING than others to obtain the same number of answers? Are lexiles equal? Is the totality of all the words read in the passages the same for all students? How can a test be standardized if there are multiple versions? Could there be a purposeful distribution of tests so that districts continue to maintain certain standings?

What Does Unchecked Tech Spending Look Like?

So, here’s why unchecked spending on tech costs taxpayers, teachers, and students. I predict a similar situation in NY after the recent passing of the $2 billion NY Smarter Schools Bond. Are the systems currently in place able to track what will be purchased under that bond? Doubt it. Do your local districts have control over their tech inventory right now? Doubt it. Ask ’em what their annual IT audits look like. Is everything accounted for? Having been responsible for the audit in a local district many years ago, if only for a brief time since I inherited it as a job task, I can tell you with certainty that most districts can’t match their in-use inventory with actual live databases. Old and outdated equipment is probably equally an inventory mess.

One story from the west coast:
FBI seizes LAUSD iPad documents; 20 boxes carted away in surprise visit
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fbi-agents-take-ipad-documents-from-la-school-district-20141202-story.html

One story from the east coast and closer to home:
Stringer Audit: New York City Schools Lost Track of Technology
http://observer.com/2014/12/stringer-audit-city-schools-lost-track-of-technology/

The NYC story is even more distressing than the LA one. The audit only checked 10 schools and the actual NYC DOE offices! Imagine if they looked at all 1800 schools. Disgraceful misuse of funds, equipment, and public trust. Plus, how did the prior city comptroller not uncover this? Who the heck does the annual IT audits? But hey, your kids data … that’s safe with us. Don’t worry about this. Data … we got that over here … over maybe here … or there.

Does Healthcare Data Mirror Education Data

I’ve long predicted the education world will look very similar to the healthcare world in terms of data breaches. The education folks haven’t been learning from the 15 years or so of breaches in the healthcare industry. As education moves very rapidly into the cloud, to mobile devices, to unchecked data collection/sharing/transmission and more, it would be a wise move to slow down for a minute and actually think about this from start to finish.

Why do we collect so much educational data? Who has access to it? Who needs access to it? Why? For how long? How is data destroyed? Who audits the security of said data? Who audits the Terms of Service (TOS) of every 3rd party with access to student information and data? The questions at the moment (many of them unanswered or uncertain) far outweigh the desire for any more data collection, use, and sharing tied to questionable benefits in both short and long term. The “don’t worry, we’ve got this” approach that the data-lovers in the education world take just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Data = money and the education world is the next target.

To borrow a comment from an online post about education data: “And the slew of data breaches gets ignored, and the sale of PII student information continues unabated. When will we wake up to how our children are being used as poker chips in the big gamble for education money.”

Here’s the link that got me thinking some more about this topic:
State data breach numbers sound alarm – Healthcare ranked second worst behind retail in California
http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/state-data-breach-numbers-sound-alarm

NY’s Proposition 3 Passes – Now What?

NY’s $2 Billion Smarter Schools Bond Act passed statewide:

Yes 48.97%  1,806,939 votes
No 30.29%  1,117,639 votes
Blank 20.72%  764,417 votes
Void 0.02%   760 votes

Total statewide votes 3,689,795 out of 10,827,434 active registered voters (approx 34% voter response). Only approx 10% of registered voters marked a Yes on this proposition. Totals as of Wednesday Nov 5 11:30pm

Results from the two counties here on Long Island:
Suffolk
Yes 47.07 %    151,325 votes
No 34.35 %    110,442 votes
Blank 18.56 %    59,669 votes
Void 0.02 %    53 votes
Total votes  321,489 out of  ??

Nassau
Yes  49.84 %    155,187 votes
No  30.66 %    95,446 votes
Blank  19.44 %    60,524 votes
Void 0.06 %    189 votes
Total votes  311,346 out of ??

Once again, a minority of the voting population makes the decisions that impact the majority of us. In the NY City counties of Bronx, Queens, Kings and Manhattan the blanks were even higher varying in the upper 30% to mid 40% range. I feel there should be a 60% minimum needed to pass any statewide proposals (Florida and other states have this threshold).

Here’s what this means for ALL NY’ers.

1. Blanks? Really? 1 in 5 voters did not vote on it statewide. However, 100% of NYers will suffer the long term debt and interest payment for these expenditures. The man filling out his ballot next to me mumbled under his breath “I don’t have time to read all these” after he flipped his ballot over. That’s exactly what the politicians expect and it is exactly what they get. Nearly as many blank votes as No votes is incredible. It impacts every single tax payer. Everyone complains about school taxes being too high and here we have a chance to prevent a massive borrowing scheme used for questionable items that NO DISTRICT ASKED FOR. Only roughly one-third of registered voters even bothered to have their say on the issue. That is very depressing.

2. I’ve documented enough why I felt this bond  should have been voted down. What to do now? Hammer your local district once they release the spending plan for their share of the bond money. Question everything and ask for detail. Find out not just how and why they are buying and building now, but how they plan to pay for it next year, in 3 years, in 5 years and more. For example, if they want to build out classrooms for new pre-K programs, how will they pay for staff, supplies, and more? How many kids are they expecting will fill those rooms? Based on what data that they have? How many pre-K kids do they anticipate they will have in 5 years from now? Etc…

3. Districts are REQUIRED to involve parents (see FAQ posted here). Make sure they do and make sure you have the chance to publicly comment and discuss the expenditures. Send emails so you have a documented paper trail of questions and responses.

4. Hold the districts accountable for the expenditures. In 1, 3, 5 years time make sure they prove the worth of the expenses.

5. These new tech purchases will cement computer based Common Core testing in NY. The state can now move to quickly adopt the PARCC exams. Wait till you see how much these tests will costs districts (and the state) next year and the year after and after. After the dust settles, start to do your own research about PARCC and ask lots of questions of your districts. When they say they are now buying new devices, get them on record as saying they will not be used for testing purposes (or that they will be used for that purpose). Districts across the country have literally bought computers and tablets that are used for nothing more than testing.

6. This vote was actually about an education issue that the people could change. We could have made a difference and prevented a massive amount of financial borrowing. Instead, voter apathy won the day.

7. Governor Cuomo threw this bond, seemingly from out of nowhere, into the state budget in January 2014. No one asked for these funds including the state Board of Regents who only asked for $1million more in the budget for tech spending. So now he got what he wanted even though he recently said this about NY public schools:
““I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly. The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo said. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Problem is that’s not what the teachers have said. At all.

8. Once an expenditure plan is created, start looking into any and all possible data privacy issues associated with any new purchases, subscriptions to online services, contractors, etc.  All the data related questions you’ve heard about over the last two years are in play here with any 3rd party service and vendor. It is finally on everyone’s radar so make it the focus on your research.

Above all, please educate yourself, family, and friends on not just candidates, but the issues and proposals before heading to the polls the next time. A 20% blank rate is not acceptable. Take a stand for or against something and leave your mark.
________________
References:
http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html
http://www.empirecenter.org/publications/smart-sounded-good-to-62/
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html

NY’s Smart Schools Bond Commission Report – Followup Post

First, thank you to all who read and shared my original post about the Nov 4th vote on Governor Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Bond Act.

Gov Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Commission just released a detailed report yesterday (Oct 27, 2014), to the governor, outlining suggestions for spending the bond money … a week before the vote on the bond. I asked my local district last week if they saw the report since the Governor’s Office had previously indicated it would be available this fall. The district did not reply to that question, but I knew they did not see it because last week it did not exist. It does now and in my opinion, the report makes several suggestions that do not appear to jive with the four bullet points listed as items that can be obtained with the grant.

Specifically the new report lists the following 7 “Keys to Success”

1. Embrace and expand online learning which will break down geographic barriers, provide access to the best sources of instruction in the world, and level the playing field for students in rural and smaller school districts.
2. Utilize transformative technologies, such as tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards to deliver differentiated instruction tailored to students’ specific abilities and needs that lets them learn and advance at their own pace.
3. Connect every school to high-speed broadband using technology that is capable of scaling up over time and deliver sufficient wireless capability to serve every student.
4. Extend connectivity beyond the four walls of the classroom so students from all backgrounds have equal access to the information superhighway.
5. Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience.
6. Focus on in-demand STEM skills to ensure that students graduate with 21st century skills.
7. Plan, plan and plan again.

I say #4 and #5 are not listed as items you can obtain via bond money when you compare it against the list available here. Am I wrong?

#6 is even debatable as everything I have read says there are currently too many STEM graduates and not enough STEM jobs (see here and here and here). Plus, in-demand today is not in-demand in say 10 or 20 years. It is a short-sighted approach that panders to certain audiences.

Additionally, I found the example of a shining school on page 16 of today’s report to be suspect. The district mentioned, Colton-Pierrepont Central School District, is a Chromebook district. Chromebooks are Google. Google is Eric Schmidt. Eric is one of the 3 on Cuomo’s Smart Schools Commission who prepared the report and will help determine how funds are used. Here is district mention of their Chromebooks here and here.

Page 33 of the report also lists Clifton Fine Central School District listed as shining example in the box at the top. Also a Chromebook district here.

Showcasing the Chromebook districts in the report is exactly what I, and others, ‘feared’ with Schmidt on the panel. He clearly has an interest in seeing this bond pass. Hold up, as a shining examples, what districts have done with his Chromebooks.

The Mineola School District shows up as another example of districts that are integrating tech. What I found odd about that mention is how this bond will ‘work’ compared to a district’s regular budget process. Here the Superintendent of Mineola details how districts can pay for tech purchases through regular budgets while working with their local BOCES offices. As far as I understand it, that is clearly not what this bond is setup to do.

“How did you afford all of this technology? (from interview here)
There are many ways you can afford to purchase things. We go through our local BOCES, which is a collaborative which allows us to pay for things over time. So we purchase everything on a five-year lease purchase on the end. What that allows us to do is that in year six we can go back to year one and determine do we want to replace everything that we purchased in year one or do we want to buy new technology? But the beautiful thing is that it’s already built into your budget. If you build a budget over time, you won’t feel the massive effect of $100,000 hitting your budget at one time. You can pay for that $100,000 of equipment over five years so it’s only $20,000 hitting your budget at one time. Those methods really make it easy if you plan how you can phase things in.”

Additional points about the report include:

Page 23 lists CK-12 as a resource for Open Educational Resources, which they are. However, one of their technology ‘partners‘ is Google.

Page 30 discusses expanded student broadband access AT HOME! Put taxpayers on the hook for increasing home broadband speeds? Don’t think so. “As was previously discussed, students’ connectivity needs do not end when they walk out of the school building at the end of the day, so districts may consider pursuing community projects that enhance students’ connectivity outside of school as well, including projects that impact public libraries and students’ broadband access at home”.

Also from page 32: “By improving access to reliable, robust and cost-effective broadband in school and at home, we can ensure that New York’s students are prepared for digital learning.” I wasn’t aware that this bond covers improving HOME Internet access. That’s not listed in the talking points from the Governor’s office.

I can’t spend the time to research line-by-line and page-by-page the details in the report. However, I did immediately see this inconsistent wording:

(bottom of p.31): “Over 500,000 households lack access to basic broadband service that meets New York State minimum broadband speed standards.  More than 4.6 million households in New York lack access to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps. Worst of all, five percent of all New York students lack even basic access to the Internet at home, leaving students in these households unable to complete even simple school-related online tasks at home.”

(bottom of p.32): “Addressing broadband gaps not only requires robust broadband networks at the school and home, but also includes affordable broadband service and computer equipment. With more than 6 million New Yorkers not subscribing to Internet services, broadband affordability at home presents a major challenge. In New York State, approximately 30% of students, particularly those from low-income households, are still not connected to the Internet at home.”

Funny, how one can play with data, isn’t it? Which is it 5% or 30% of students don’t have access to the Internet at home?

The jury isn’t out on anything technology related in schools. Not use of mobile devices, interactive white boards, computers in lab settings, etc. This new report mentioned NOTHING of any opposing viewpoint about use of technology in, and out, of schools. The report also fails to show what success might look like. Does getting all this tech mean increased test scores? Guarantee employment? Make for happy and healthy kid and teachers? Define it. The report ends with :”The Commission was charged with advising the State and school districts on how best to invest the proposed $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance teaching and learning through technology” (page 49). I think the report suggests using the funds for purposes (professional development and student home Internet access among other questionable items) that are not listed in the bond act proposition.

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Related resources:
https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10272014-smart-schools-commission
http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/SmartSchoolsReport.pdf
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/223333/smart-schools-commission-releases-report
http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5389-how-bright-smart-schools-bond-act-prop-3
http://nypost.com/2014/10/07/new-yorks-school-bond-boondoggle/
http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/10/26/editorial-new-york-proposal-schools-bond-misplaced/17848377/

NY’s $2 Billion Smart Schools Bond Act – My View

Let me go on record as saying that I love technology. I love our public schools. I love adding technology components to school assignments and classwork and learning. I love technology used to solve very specific academic and administrative problems. I love helping my kids prepare for their future and not my past.

Let me add that I am not anti-educational technology, not anti-technology, not anti-preK, and not anti-security. Not one bit.

On November 4th I will be voting no on the $2 billion NY Smart Schools Bond Act. Here’s why.

1. I oppose:
– Money thrown at solutions to problems that don’t exist. In this case we will have state residents paying for ‘things’ that may be needed outside their region.
– Additional money added to our state’s overall debt putting NY really close to the debt ceiling limit.
– Money thrown towards administrators who haven’t expressed a need for the money ahead of time in the form of a plan or rationale for why such money is needed.
– Money borrowed and used to buy technology that will be outdated and in need of upgrades just two or three years after purchase.
– Having to pay millions on interest for the bonds each year that could be better spent on other more pressing educational needs.
– A member of a the appointed state Commission that oversees the distribution of these funds may possibly profit from the spending of bond money.

2. In the related studies section (linked here) and provided by the state as ‘evidence’ that we need this, two of the four links are vendor supported ‘research’; one from guess who, Pearson, and the other from guess who, Gates Foundation. They can’t even find non-vendor, non-interested party, research that warrants this massive expenditure. The state provided zero non-vendor related resources in their measly “Related Studies & News” section. No long term study on the effective use of “interactive white boards”. No needs analysis. No real rationale for why this is needed other than, “…build out schools and classrooms for the 21st Century to ensure that our students graduate with the skills they need to thrive in the economy of today and tomorrow.”

3. Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch is ambivalent about the bond according to recent reports. (Read here) Governor Cuomo threw this proposal into the state budget that passed last January without any consultation with educators. Note the quote here from a recent story about this act: “Even the State Board of Regents, which nearly always recommends at least a billion dollars more per year be spent on schools, only asked for $1 million in additional money for technology for schools.”

“No education group is actively backing the proposal. And many, including the teachers union and the state school boards, have expressed reservations.” (Read here)

4. Tech will be bought and curriculum won’t be adjusted. I mean REALLY adjusted. Not just the technology side-show that takes place in most schools now. Schools have had over 20 years to figure out what to do with technology. Ask yourself this: “What does my child’s school actually do with technology? How is it used to improve student learning and experiences?” I’ve lived this for nearly 20 years working in the ed-tech field. If the plan doesn’t come first, and the devices do, the initiative always fails. What are the pedagogical reasons for requiring more technology? For increasing WiFi access? For getting tablets? Have districts evaluated their use of technology to date? If so, where are both the local and statewide reports? Where is the local report that examines the return on investment to date of any past technology expenditures? Where is the list of schools districts who asked for this money that also outlines how much they requested?

5. Money randomly thrown at technology for the stated purposes of catching our kids up to the rest of the world (whatever that means) rarely works. The most glaring example of this was on the west coast where the LAUFSD school superintendent recently, and abruptly, resigned. Let’s learn from the Los Angles UFSD’s iPad debacle, shall we. I am all for adding more technology into the curriculum when it has a purpose other than test taking or simply “getting students prepared for the competitive world” nonsense that is used as a rationale for these initiatives.  (Read here)

“All told, the nation’s second-largest school system has purchased 109,000 iPads so far; 62,000 contain the Pearson curriculum. It was left off devices purchased late last year for use in state standardized testing. To date, the district has spent $61 million on the iPads, including carts to charge them.” (Read here)

Check out one of the comments on the site here:
“Our principal just sent out a message that we are getting 40 iPads for taking the new smarter balance assessment. They will be not used for anything else and when the children are done with the test we are sending them back. They do not get to practice the assessment on the iPad or use it for anything else. That is an expensive test taking machine. I wonder who’s forward thinking this is.”

That’s the predictable road we are heading towards in New York State.

6. I had a lengthy back and forth email exchange with my local district administrators about it (well one admin … no one else chimed in to date). I’ll give you the short version and frankly the wrong administrator responded. The curriculum admin should have stepped up to explain the need for new tech, not the business admin. I was sent a hastily organized series of documents and files as rationale for why our district needed the funds. It was basically a wish list of needs. Computers are old, we need new ones. Servers and infrastructure are old, we need to update it. A long term investment in pre-k is needed. More high tech security cameras, more WiFi, interactive white boards, projectors, art centers (did not realize that was allowable), publication centers, etc. Bullet points of desires. Nothing in the supplied files sent to me, nor in the email exchange, tied these purchases to increased, or improved, student learning or teaching. I scoured my local district site to try and find a current Technology Plan. There is none publicly posted that could find. I was told there is one and I asked to be sent a copy. Still waiting. I also asked if that plan clearly expressed the need for any and all of these ‘things’ the bond may cover. No response to date.

Also as part of this exchange I frequently mentioned two additional points:
– Since I bought my house in this district (10 years ago) enrollment is down 1150 students.
– I asked for the 1 yr, 3 yr, and 5+ yr costs associated with any new purchases.

No comment from district officials to either point. Enrollment down 1150 students at what $15000 per student cost to educate = $17.2 million savings, right? There’s your money for tech upgrades. The pattern of borrow and spend, borrow and spend all while enrollment is declining must stop.

Summarizing: First, show me the curriculum plan, the research on improved pedagogy, the drive towards creativity and innovation. Then, explain to me what tools you need to get there. Anything else is unacceptable and laced with profit driven motives only.

I will be voting no on this bond. My no vote isn’t a vote against my district. Rather, it is a clear protest against the wrong way to pay for technology. I recommend that districts first develop the plan that outlines how much they need, what they need it for, and what educational goals the expenditures are linked to. The plan must include a multi-year approach to using the technology that includes an upgrade or removal path. Take that plan and present it to your community. Then, take that plan and present it to the state. If warranted, funds are granted, used to implement the plan, oversee the plan, assess the plan, and act accordingly.

Telling my local district you may get a blank check for $11.06 million is absurd. Of course they will try to spend that. Almost every district would. After all it’s free money that grows on trees, right?

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Questions for your local district
I would suggest spacing them out over a few emails to the entire board of ed and the superintendent and any other local admin who may have answers (business, curriculum, testing, technology, …). Also, scour your local district web site to find the documentation that indicates there is a need for more ‘tech money’.

1. What is the plan for spending up to $_____ million as our district allotment from the possible passage of the NY Smarter Schools Bond Act on Nov 4th?
(Find your tally to include on the blank line at the web site here.)

2. Considering enrollment is trending down, why should district residents vote yes/no on this?
(Question obviously used if your local enrollment is trending down … mine is and is on a 10 year spiral down.)

3. What are the short and long terms costs associated with any expenditures made as a result of this bond? What is the cost of the migration and upgrade both in the immediate first year of install, the 3-yr projected cost to maintain and upgrade (e.g., those 1000 new computers will need a memory upgrade by year 3 … I’ll discount the memory upgrade at that time to $40 a computer x 1000 = $40,000 plus time for technicians to install it), and then 5-year projected cost which is exactly where the NEXT upgrade path will begin. Do the math on all these costs for each server, switch, backup system, etc. that need to upgraded now. What is the 1-yr, 3-yr, and 5-yr cost for training, maintenance and support, then the upgrade path for the replacement of this new tech?

4. As stated here: “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, the Smart Schools Commission will lead a research effort into best practices into technology-enabled education and broadband connectivity efforts. In preparation for the Commission’s final report that will be developed in Fall 2014, we will invite local and national experts to present best practices for the Commission’s consideration over the coming months at public symposiums and Commission meetings.”

Has the district received this report? Have any district administrators attended these public symposiums and Commission meetings?
(I’ve not been able to find the “Commission’s final report” posted online. There are three presentations from public forums at the link above, but no final report.)

5. Have you had any discussion with parents about this bond and how the money could be spent? If so, are there public records of this?
(The FAQ posted at the link above clearly states schools must discuss this with their community.)

6. Is the district concerned that one of the three Commission members selected by Governor Cuomo, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, has a clear interest in seeing this pass since his company could easily benefit financially from any purchases made as a result of bond spending?

7. Are you concerned that in each of the three public events listed on the web site above, there was no speaker who opposed the use of technology in the classroom? Shouldn’t we hear from both sides before asking taxpayers for this amount of money? Shouldn’t we see verifiable research that this is both needed and useful?
(That leads me to the next question …)

8. Where is the verifiable, non-vendor specific, research that indicates OUR district and students need more “… interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers?”

9. What are the specific educational goals you feel the district will reach with the purchase of these new devices that you just can’t obtain without them?

10. How will curriculum be adjusted to integrate the new high-tech purchases?

11. Is this bond driven by the fast statewide move towards PARCC? Do you know if the purchase of any new technology from this bond will be used to administer computer based testing? If so, how much?
(Yet another NEW high stakes testing system…this time one that is computer/tablet based. Read more here.)

12. Where is the local report that examines the ‘return on investment’ to date of any past technology expenditures?
(This is a big question in my opinion because I’ve not yet seen a district have this kind of report. How can you ask for money of anything before first seeing if what you last purchased is actually working and you have evaluated it’s effectiveness?)

13. If the district wants to use the bond for pre-K, there are a whole host of other questions: What does the pre-K program look like now and how will the bond change the picture of it? How many new students will the bond cover? Does it cover costs associated with staffing pre-K? If not, how much will that cost and where will the money come from? Are classrooms going to be reconfigured? If so, how many? Are students going to be shuffled to new buildings? Buildings going to close, open, etc.? How many pre-K students will be accommodated?

14. Does every single classroom need an interactive white board? If so, based on what non-vendor supplied educational research? If only a few classrooms would ‘need’ these boards, which ones? Did teachers specifically ask for them or are administrators deciding the classes need them? How about for the tablets?
(Question obviously used if the district has made it clear they desire interactive white boards and tablets.)

15. Same is true about any stated desire to “incorporate wireless technology in buildings.” For what purpose, a BYOD initiative? What will connect to that expanded WiFi access? Will WiFi be installed only to then be secured and locked down so students can’t use their devices on it? Or teachers as well? Who is asking for an expansion is WiFi? What does WiFi look like now and what do you hope it will look up with acquisition of this bond money? What are the stated educational goals and objectives for needing expanded WiFi? Will there be public access to use of WiFi for open meetings, concerts, sporting events, and other events where the public use the facilities outside of regular school hours? You get the point.

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Related resources:
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
https://www.diigo.com/user/the999ers/Smart_Schools_Bond_Act

Brief Late Summer 2014 Data and Testing Update

Apologies to my blog readers for a quiet summer. It was a busy few months for my family and I just did not get a chance to post. I was reading and researching … that I did not put aside. This post is still a summer update even though fall has started. Better late than never.

It was a surprisingly busy summer, as well, in the education world with regards to protecting educational data and the administration/use of high stakes testing. I wanted to use this blog post to pick out a few of the stories that made the news either locally on Long Island/New York or elsewhere.

There are two major areas I think we should address between now and the November elections:
1. The failure of the NYS Education Department to comply with the new legislation put forth by the state last spring with regards to protecting student data. NYSAPE  has posted their letter on this topic here and Class Size Matters has blogged about this extensively (here’s a sample). Additionally, two informed Long Island moms have also been leading the charge to get NYSED to comply (see here).

Try doing a search on the NYSED web site for any details about all these wonderful new privacy changes they are working towards. I’m not finding anything about it. See here. Only thing there is the link to the Parent Bill of Rights on the main page. Try doing a search for the new interim privacy officer on the site and there is nothing about her bring appointed to that position, no office page … nothing. So much for openness and transparency moving forward. I can only explain this using two terms: it is either intentional or incompetence.

2. The pending $2 Billion NYS Smarter Schools Bond Act. The voting public needs details on this massive new expense. Details from both local districts and from NYSED/Governor Cuomo. So far all we have is a web page with some seemingly random links and files that try to explain the purpose of the bond. My post and thoughts on this topic will be available mid-October here on this blog.

Data and Data Privacy
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US Senate Ponders Student Data Privacy Bill :: here

US Senators Markey and Hatch submitted a student privacy bill :: PDF here

Student Privacy Matters response to Senators Bill :: here

Student data: New guidance from the feds :: here

Delayed student data ‘bill of rights’ met with concern :: here

NYSED Posted a Prelim Parents Bill of Rights :: PDF here

[ If you want to send comments to the new interim NYSED Privacy Officer, Tina Sciocchetti, or urge her to hold hearings so that she can hear directly from parents their views on this critical issue, you can email the new privacy officer at CPO@mail.nysed.gov ]

10 privacy steps for every district :: here

A National Look at Student Data Privacy Legislation :: here

NY State Testing
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State education department releases test questions – via Newsday :: here

Details of NY’s test cut scores :: here

Meet the NY panel that set the cut scores :: here

Time For An Investigation Into New York State’s Test Score Results, Data Tracking :: here

NY Teacher Ratings (APPR) :: here and here and here

But, then there’s this: “States Given a Reprieve on Ratings of Teachers” :: here

Critics Question High Ratings on New York State Teacher Evaluations Amid Poor Test Scores :: here

US schools give kids standardized tests so much more than top performing countries. :: here
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“The bottom line is that students are getting hurt, money is being wasted and precious time is being spent on high stakes testing at the expense of more meaningful instruction,” Dutchess County parent Anna Shah said in a statement from New York State Allies for Public Education, a parent-teacher coalition seeking an overhaul of the state Education Department.

“Teaching and learning in our state would benefit if we could reduce the fixation on testing and test results,” the New York State Council of School Superintendents said. :: here

Here’s another:
Do New York State Education Officials Ever Tell the Truth? :: here

Outside NY
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From Florida (this should honestly be a crime for waste of tax payer money and damage done to these kids)
A school system’s stunning standardized test schedule for 2014-15 :: here

From Vermont: Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like (or a lack of testing at least) :: here

From Oklahoma: “Oklahoma education department says it will withhold fifth-, eighth-grade writing scores from report” :: here

From California: California Protects Student Data Privacy with Two Bills :: here