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by Jody Sokolower, managing editor
and lead editor for Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality

v28-3The cover theme of our spring issue of Rethinking Schools  is “Queering Our Schools,” and the thought-provoking and inspiring articles will be included in our new book Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality

Our editorial takes up the question: How do we create classrooms and schools where each child, parent, and staff member’s unique, beautiful self is appreciated and nurtured?

High school teacher Adam Grant Kelley was disturbed by the conflicts fueled by homophobia and racism at his school. In “500 Square Feet of Respect: Queering a Study of the Criminal Justice System” he describes the curriculum he developed to build bridges as well as academic skills.

 

Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality is filled with insightful articles like these on dozens of critical topics. You can be a part of publishing this needed classroom resource: Watch our short video below, which tells the story of how this book got its start, meet the editors, and join our campaign to publish Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality.

Resisting Teach for America

Our spring issue also features a special section on Resisting Teach for America. “Organizing Resistance to Teach For America,” by Kerry Kretchmar and Beth Sondel. tells the story of former TFA members joining with parents, students, and veteran teachers to organize a people’s assembly and nationalize efforts against TFA.

In “An Open Letter to New Teach For America Recruits,” Chicago teacher Katie Osgood urges new TFA recruits to think twice before they sign up.

Articles in Spanish!

Three articles in this issue also appear in Spanish:

Enjoy the spring issue, and don’t forget to support our Indiegogo campaign to publish Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality!

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by David Morris

Editor’s note:  This news has been making the rounds in education activist circles, and we wanted to further amplify this important message. Turns out corporate style reform isn’t just bad for schools, it’s bad for corporations.

Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, declared Bill Gates in an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. He pointed to his own company as a worthy model for public schools.

BillGatesBill Gates foisted a big business model of employee evaluation onto public schools, which his own company has since abandoned. “At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.”

Adopting the Microsoft model means public schools grading teachers, rewarding the best and being “candid,” that is, firing those who are deemed ineffective. “If you do that,” Gates promised Oprah Winfrey, “then we go from being basically at the bottom of the rich countries [in education performance] to being back at the top.”

The Microsoft model, called “stack ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, certain groups as good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

Using hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for public schools (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door). To be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach to improving public education. Today more than 36 states have altered their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the worst and rewarding the best.

Some states grade on a curve. Others do not. But all embrace the principle that continuing employment for teachers will depend on improvement in student test scores, and teachers who are graded “ineffective” two or three years in a row face termination.

Needless to say, the whole process of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting. According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of public school teachers say they experience great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has plummeted from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent last year.

And now, just as public school systems have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that this model has pushed Microsoft itself into a Race to the Bottom.

In a widely circulated 2012 article in Vanity, award-winning reporter Fair Kurt Eichenwald concluded that stack ranking “effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stacked ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

This month Microsoft abandoned the hated system.

On November 12 all Microsoft employees received a memo from Lisa Brummel, Executive Vice President for Human Resources announcing the company will be adopting “a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact.”

Ms. Brummel listed four key elements in the company’s new policy.

  • More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
  • More emphasis on employee growth and development.
  • No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating employees.
  • No more ratings of employees.

Sue Altman at EduShyster vividly sums up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development. “So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is in?”

Big business can turn on a dime when the CEO orders it to do so. But changing policies embraced and internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school districts will take far, far longer. Which means the legacy of Bill Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with many other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model in the dustbin of history.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Related Resources

Taking Teacher Quality Seriously: A Collaborative Approach to Teacher Evaluation, by Stan Karp

Neither Fair, Nor Accurate:  Research-based reasons why high-stakes tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, by Wayne Au

Professional Development: New terrain for big business? by Rachael Gabriel and Jessica N. Lester

Special collection from Rethinking Schools: Keeping Quality Teachers Teaching

CovrPencilsDown120229.3_42Pencils Down:  Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schoolsedited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel

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We’re pleased to announce that the summer issue of Rethinking Schools magazine features a special forum with three perspectives on edTPA, the high-stakes test for new teachers that is being piloted in teacher education programs around the country.

V27-4

We know edTPA is an issue of great interest to everyone in the field of education as we consider how best to maintain teaching as a profession.

In that spirit, we invite you to read the articles and join the critical conversation about edTPA in the comments section of this blog post.

We also invite you to consider donating or subscribing to Rethinking Schools if you don’t already do so.  Because we feel so strongly about the need for education and reflection on the edTPA, we opened up the majority of this issue to nonsubscribers, but as a nonprofit independent publisher, we rely on your donations and subscriptions to keep us going.

Thanks for reading, donating, subscribing, and supporting critical conversation.

Sincerely,

The staff and editors at Rethinking Schools

The articles in “A Forum on the edTPA”

Linda Darling-Hammond and Maria E. Hyler argue that the edTPA will lead to better teachers and more professional respect. Their article is titled “The Role of Performance Assessment in Developing Teaching as a Profession.”

In “Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question,” Barbara Madeloni and Julie Gorlewski disagree. The edTPA distorts the teacher education process, they say, and opens the door to Pearson reaping more profits and power.

What’s a Nice Test Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” by Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au, puts the discussion in the context of corporate education “reform” as he shares his experience with the test in his own teacher education program.

Read Full Post »

As you are no doubt aware, increasingly powerful corporate interests are attempting to reduce teaching and learning to what’s on a standardized test.  We have all seen these tests be used to punish students, discipline teachers, withhold funds from our schools, and even close schools down. However, a movement of parents, students, and teachers has been growing around the country that has been pushing back against these tests and calling for education and assessment that is relevant to students and empowers our youth.

In Seattle, teachers at the school where I teach, Garfield High School, announced in January, 2013 that they would refuse to give the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, calling it a waste of time and resources. The boycott soon spread to other schools around the city.  Our boycott was very successful during the winter testing period.

However, now the Seattle School District is asking us to give the MAP test again for the spring testing session. In response, we are calling for an international day of action in the struggle against flawed tests and in support of the MPA test boycotting teachers on May Day, Wednesday, May 1.   We encourage you to participate in the day of action in any way you and your fellow educators feel is appropriate. Please read the call to action below and send us your statements of solidarity.

In struggle for educational justice,

Jesse Hagopian
Teacher, Garfield High School
Editorial Associate, Rethinking Schools

Educational Justice Has No Borders

Join the May Day International Day of Solidarity with the Seattle MAP Test Boycott

Seattle’s boycotting teachers need your support for their “educators’ spring” uprising against the MAP test.

ScraptheMap

Seattle Education Association in solidarity with Garfield High School.

Dear educators, parents, and students around the world:

On January 9, 2013, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle announced a unanimous vote to boycott the district mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which they said was not aligned to their curriculum, was a waste of their students’ time and resources, and unfairly targeted the most vulnerable populations. Specifically, Garfield’s teachers expressed their opposition to the fact that English Language Learner students are required to take the MAP test most often, causing them to miss out on vital instructional time in the classroom. In this way, the boycott of the MAP test should be viewed as part of the movement for the rights of immigrants and people from all cultures, nationalities, and linguistic backgrounds to have access to a high quality public education. Garfield High School’s Parent Teacher Student Association and the Associated Student Body Government both voted unanimously to support the teachers’ boycott of the MAP test.

Soon afterwards, several other Seattle schools joined the boycott—Orca, Chief Sealth, Ballard, and Center School.  Teachers at those schools were originally threatened with a 10 day suspension without pay, but because of the overwhelming solidarity from parents, teachers, and students from across the country, the Seattle School District backed down and declined to discipline any of the boycotting educators. Since then, several other schools have joined the boycott, a survey of Seattle teachers was conducted that shows overwhelming opposition to the MAP test at every grade level, and the movement for quality assessment has spread throughout the nation.

Now the Seattle teachers need your support again.

The spring offering of the MAP test produces the scores that are supposed to be used in Seattle’s teacher evaluations.  For this reason the Seattle School District could take a harsher stance against boycotting teachers this time around.

May Day is traditionally a day of international workers solidarity. What better time to show your support for the teachers who have risked their livelihoods to advocate for quality assessment and for our resources to be used to support learning rather than endless testing?

We, the Seattle MAP test boycotting teachers, pledge our solidarity to teachers around the world who are struggling for an education system that supports and empowers our students with curriculum and assessments that are relevant to their lives. In turn, we ask for your support as we struggle for these very goals.

Possible solidarity actions include:

Furthermore, we, the MAP test boycotting teachers, would very much appreciate being informed about struggles teachers are engaged in around the world.  Please let us know if there are any ways we can support your efforts for educational justice.

In Solidarity,

Seattle MAP Test Boycott Committee

Learn more:

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bobpeterson_classroomBob Peterson, a Rethinking Schools founding editor and president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, reflects on the Atlanta testing scandal and the lessons we might learn from it.  This post was previously published at Bob’s own blog “Public Education: This is what democracy looks like.” 

Friday’s indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for a massive testing scandal should give pause to all people who care about the future of education and our children.

The indictment by a Fulton County grand jury charged the former superintendent Beverly Hall with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She could face up to 45 years in prison.

The underlying story behind this scandal is that when school “success” is reduced to data-driven standardized test scores, the consequences are devastating. Cheating is only the tip of the iceberg.  An even more troublesome consequence is that the very definition of education is hijacked. Learning is narrowed, dulled, and reduced to measurable data bits. Teaching as a craft and profession is redefined as script-following and data collecting.

During Superintendent Hall’s decade of being superintendent in Atlanta test scores rose and she became the darling of Arne Duncan who hosted her at the White House. Duncan’s policies have coerced state legislatures to increase standardized testing and to tie educator evaluation to test scores.

According to Friday’s indictment, “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated.”

One teacher, who turned a state’s witness, told officials that teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets.

The New York Times reported that Hall “held yearly rallies at the Georgia Dome, rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front, close to her, while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.”

The New York Times also noted “Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools.”

Time to Ask Questions

While some policy makers and test-obsessed school “reformers” may dismiss such cheating scandals as exceptions, these scandals should serve as a wake up call to anyone concerned about the future of our schools.

We need to ask some basic questions.

  • Should our children be subjected to endless test prep and hours of narrow skill-driven curriculum? Or instead should they get a well rounded education like what President Obama’s daughters receive at the Sidwell Friends School or what Arne Duncan received as a child at the Chicago Lab School?
  • Should students of color and those from economically disenfranchised families be subjected to narrow, test-driven schooling while children in the most affluent communities receive well-resourced, well-rounded education with much less testing?
  • Why should transnational textbook/testing companies and corporate-backed philanthropic organizations determine the curriculum for our schools?

Time to Act

Increasingly parents, teachers, principals, and even school superintendents are speaking out on the over use and negative impact of mass standardized testing.

The courageous teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School not only started a boycott of the MAP tests, but also allied parents and community groups to their cause.

Principals in New York spoke out against the use of test scores to evaluate staff and schools. Parent organizations across the nation have stepped up, recognizing that using tests to declare public schools as “failing” is part of a larger plan to close public schools and replace them with privately-run charter schools.

Let’s use scandals like that in Atlanta to continue to push to change the national narrative on school accountability. Let’s unite with progressive school board members to hold community reviews on the impact of testing in our schools and to examine reasonable alternatives.

Let’s do what’s right for our students.

Some good resources on standardized testing

Read Full Post »

In a public statement released today, more than sixty educators and researchers [UPDATE: now 130+], including some of the most well-respected figures in the field of education, pledged support for the boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test initiated by the teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, calling the action a “blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.” Among the signers of the statement are former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, author Jonathan Kozol and professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige. While the MAP test is used exclusively for rating teachers, “the test’s developers (the Northwest Evaluation Association) have noted the inappropriateness of using tests for such evaluations” the educators wrote.

“We’ve had more than a decade of standardized testing,” Ravitch said, “and now we need to admit that it’s not helping.” She added: “By signing this statement, I hope to amplify the voices of teachers who are saying ‘enough is enough’.”

“On Martin Luther King Day, we celebrate people who are willing to take personal risks to act according to their conscience,” Lewis said. “The teachers at Garfield High School are taking a stand for all of us.”

New York City public school teacher and doctoral student Brian Jones drafted the statement last week and received help with revisions and outreach from University of Washington professor Wayne Au. “I’m overwhelmed by the response to this statement,” Jones said, “I feel like this is the beginning of a real movement to challenge high stakes standardized testing.”

“We contacted leading scholars in the field of education,” Au said, “and nearly every single one said ‘Yes, I’ll sign.’ The emerging consensus among researchers is clear: high stakes standardized tests are highly problematic, to say the least.”

“When I look at this list of names, I see the people whose work helped to make me the teacher I am today,” Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School said. “Their support really means a lot to me, and I know that many teachers at Garfield High School feel the same way.”

The Statement: 

We Support the Teachers of Garfield High School

High-Stakes Standardized Tests are Overused and Overrated

The Use of Standardized Tests is Spreading

To fulfill the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools in all 50 states administer standardized tests to students, often beginning in third grade, in reading and math. Now, in response to the demands of Race to the Top and the trend toward greater “accountability” in education, states are developing even more tests for more subjects. Standardized tests, once used primarily to assess student learning, have now become the main instrument for the high-stakes evaluation of teachers, administrators, and even entire schools and school systems.

Tests Consume a Great Deal of Time and Money

Standardized testing is consuming an-ever growing proportion of education budgets nationwide. The total price tag may be nearly two billion dollars (1). Texas alone spent, last year, $90 million (2) on standardized testing. These tests are not a one hour or one day affair, but now can swallow up whole weeks of classroom time (3). In Chicago, some students must complete 13 standardized tests each year (4).

Testing Hurts Students

In the name of “raising standards” the growth of high stakes standardized testing has effectively lowered them. As the stakes for standardized tests are raised higher and higher, administrators and teachers have been forced to spend less time on arts, sciences, social studies, and physical education, and more time on tested subjects. The pressure to prepare students for standardized exams forces teachers to narrow instruction to only that material which will be tested (5). With the fate of whole schools and school systems at stake, cheating scandals have flourished, exposing many reform “miracles” in the process (6). Worse, focusing so much energy on testing undermines the intrinsic value of teaching and learning, and makes it more difficult for teachers and students to pursue authentic teaching and learning experiences.

Research does not Support Using Tests to Evaluate Teachers

As a means of assessing student learning, standardized tests are limited. No student’s intellectual process can be reduced to a single number. As a means of assessing teachers, these results are even more problematic. Research suggests that much of the variability in standardized test results are attributable to factors OTHER than the teacher (7). So-called “value-added” models for teacher evaluation have a large margin of error, and are not reliable measures of teacher performance (8).

Educators Are Taking a Stand for Authentic Teaching and Learning

In a nearly unanimous vote, the staff at Garfield High school in Seattle decided to refuse to administer the district’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Research has shown that this test has no significant impact on reading scores (9). While serving other low-stakes district purposes in the Seattle Public Schools, it is only used as a high-stakes measure for teachers, even though the test’s developers (the Northwest Evaluation Association) have noted the inappropriateness of using tests for such evaluations. In taking this action, the educators at Garfield High School have struck a blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, and deserve support. We, the undersigned (10), stand with these brave teachers and against the growing standardized testing industrial complex.
Signed*,

Curtis Acosta
Chican@/Latin@ Literature Teacher, Tucson

Lauren Anderson
University of Southern California

Sam Anderson
National Black Education Agenda

Taiwanna Anthony
Prairie View A&M University

Jean Anyon
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Michael W. Apple
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza
Retired Superintendent

Wayne Au, University of Washington, Bothell
Rethinking Schools

Ann Aviles de Bradley
Northeastern Illinois University

Bill Ayers
University of Illinois, Chicago

Rick Ayers
University of San Francisco

Jeff Bale
Michigan State University

Johanna Barnhart
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Ann Berlak
San Francisco State University

Kenneth Bernstein
Maya Angelou Public Charter Middle School

Bill Bigelow
Rethinking Schools

Elizabeth Bissell
Putney Central School

Steve Brier
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Maureen T. Boler
PS17K, New York

Steve Brier
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Jacqueline Grennon Brooks
Hofstra University

Anthony Brown
University of Texas, Austin

Jim Burns
South Dakota State University

Kristen Lynn Buras
Urban South Grassroots Research Collective

Carol Burris
Keith Middle School, New Bedford

Keith Campbell
Saint Mary’s College of California

Kenneth Carano
Western Oregon University

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Lesley University

Elizabeth Carroll
Appalachian State University

Cynthia Carvalho
Keith Middle School, New Bedford

Noam Chomsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Linda Christensen
Rethinking Schools

Anthony Cody
Education Week Teacher Magazine

Ross Collin
Manhattanville College

Kevin Cordeiro
Social Studies educator

Kim Cosier
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Keith Danner
University of California, Irvine

Antonia Darder
Loyola Marymount University

Noah DeLissovoy
University of Texas, Austin

Susan DuFresne
Teacher, Washington State

Susan Huddleston Edgerton
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Jeff Edmundson
University of Oregon

Shanti Elliott
Francis Parker School, Chicago

Christopher Erickson
Great Neck South High School

Pete Farruggio
University of Texas Pan American

Joseph Featherstone
Michigan State University

Anita Fernandez
Prescott College

Donna Fielding
Plainview–Old Bethpage  John F. Kennedy High School

Michelle Fine
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

B L Buddy Fish
Jackson State University

Nancy Flanagan
Education Week Teacher Magazine

Esther Fusco
Hoftstra University

Ofelia Garcia
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Ruth Wilson Gilmore
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Alice Ginsburg
Author

Gene Glass
University of Colorado, Boulder

Noah Asher Golden
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Joanna Goode
University of Oregon

Avery F. Gordon
University of California, Santa Barbara

Julie Gorlewski
State University of New York, New Paltz

Paul Gorski
George Mason University

Tim Goulet
Pipefitters Local Union 274

Karen Gourd
University of Washington, Bothell

Judith Gouwens
Roosevelt University

Sandy Grande
Connecticut College

Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs
Seattle University

Rico Gutstein
University of Illinois, Chicago

Helen Gym
Asian American United
Rethinking Schools

Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters

Zoe Hammer
Prescott College

Nicholas D. Hartlep
Illinois State University

Barbara Hawkins
Teachers College,  Columbia University

Nick Henning
California State University, Fullerton

Jane Hirschmann
Time Out From Testing

Brian R. Horn
Illinois State University

James Horn
Cambridge College

Diane Horwitz
DePaul University

Nora Hyland
Rutgers

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality Public Education, Atlanta

Shaun Johnson
At the Chalk Face

Brian Jones
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Denisha Jones
Howard University

Marc Kagan
New York City School

Richard Kahn
Antioch University Los Angeles

Stan Karp
Rethinking Schools

Judith S. Kaufman
Hofstra University

Kenneth Kaufman
NYC High School Teacher

Bill Kennedy
University of Chicago

Joyce E. King
Georgia State University

Jonie Kipling
Hofstra University

Sid Kivanoski
Brooklyn Technical High School

Rachel Knoll
Mother, Educator
Madison, WI

Pamela J. Konkol
Concordia University Chicago

Jodi (Sacks) Kostbar
Professional Performing Arts School

Jonathan Kozol
Author

Steven Krashen
University of Southern California

Kevin Kumashiro
University of Illinois, Chicago
National Association for Multicultural Education

Raina J. Leon
St Mary’s College of California

Zeus Leonardo
California State University, Long Beach

Karen Lewis
Chicago Teachers Union

Pauline Lipman
University of Illinois, Chicago

Barbara Madeloni
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Tim Mahoney
Millersville University

Sallie A. Marston
University of Arizona

Victoria J. Maslow
New  York City Department of Education

Kavita Kapadia Matsko
University of Chicago

Morna McDermott
United Opt Out National

Kathleen McInerney
Saint Xavier University

Elizabeth Meadows
Roosevelt University

Erica R. Meiners
Northeastern Illinois University

Deborah  Meier
Coalition of Essential Schools

Nicholas Michelli
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Gregory Michie
Chicago Public School teacher
Concordia University Chicago

Alexandra Miletta
Mercy College

Alex Molnar
University of Colorado, Boulder
National Education Policy Center

Steevenson Mondelus
HOFSTRA graduate, Social Studies

Terry Moore
Save Our Schools

Mark Naison
Fordham University

National Association for Multicultural Education

Monty Neill
FairTest

Donna Nevel
New York University

Sonia Nieto
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Pedro Noguera
New York University

Isabel Nuñez
Concordia University Chicago

Dr. Tema Okun
National L0uis University

Edward Olivos
University of Oregon

Celia Oyler
Teachers College, Columbia University

Lisa (Leigh) Patel
Boston College

Thomas Pedroni
Wayne State University

Emery Petchauer
Oakland University

Bob Peterson
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association
Rethinking Schools

Anthony Picciano
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Bree Picower
Montclair State University

Irene Plonczak
Hofstra University

Theresa Plue
Easton Secondary School

Thomas S. Poetter
Miami University

Anthony Pravin

Courtney Prusmack
Adams 14 Schools, Denver

Therese Quinn
Teacher

Annette Quintero
United Teachers of Dade

Rachel Radina
Miami University

Jessie Ramey
University of Pittsburgh

Diane Ravitch
New York University

Kristen A. Renn
Michigan State University

Rethinking Schools

Yolette Rios
Hesperia Teachers Association
California Association of Bilingual Educators

Peggy Roberston
United Opt Out National

Georgiena C. Robinson
John F. Kennedy High School
Plainview, NY

John Rogers
University of California, Los Angeles

Jerry Rosiek
University of Oregon

Leilani Sabzalian
University of Oregon

Kenneth J. Saltman
DePaul University, Chicago

Lily Sanabria-Hernandez
Hofstra University

Karyn Sandlos
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Mara Sapon-Shevin
Syracuse University

Karen Saunders
Spark Teacher Education Institute
Brattleboro, Vermont

Al Schademan
California State University, Chico

Eric Schmitt
Teacher, New York

Nancy Schniedewind
State University of New York, New Paltz

William Schubert
University of Illinois, Chicago

Ann Schulte
California State University, Chico

Tim Scott
Education Radio

Brad Seidman
John F. Kennedy High School
Bellmore, NY

Doug Selwyn
Plattsburgh State University

Susan Semel
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Carla Shalaby
Wellesley College

Jessica T. Shiller
Towson University

Ira Shor
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Alan Singer
Hofstra University

Elizabeth A. Skinner
Illinois State University

Timothy D. Slekar
Penn State University, Altoona

Christine Sleeter
California State University, Monterey Bay

Ceresta Smith
United Teachers of Dade Phoenix Rising MORE Caucus

Jody Sokolower
Rethinking Schools

Jim Sommerville
Cudahy Middle School

The Southeast Massachusetts & Rhode Island Coalition to Save Our Schools

Mariana Souto-Manning
Teachers College, Columbia University

Joi Spencer
University of San Diego

Joel Spring
Queens College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Sandra L. Stacki
Hofstra University

Lester Stasey
Alvarez High School, Providence

David W. Stinson
Georgia State University

David Stovall
University of Illinois, Chicago

Simeon Stumme
Concordia University Chicago

Katy Swalwell
George Mason University

Cathryn Teasley
Universidade da Coruña

Melissa Bollow Tempel
Milwaukee Public Schools
Rethinking Schools

Chris Thinnes
Curtis School, Los Angeles

Paul Thomas
Furman University

Maris Thompson
California State University, Chico

Carol L. Tieso
College of William and Mary

Joe Tonan
Claremont Faculty Association

Victoria F. Trinder
University of Illinois, Chicago

Eve Tuck
State University of New York, New Paltz

Jesse Turner
Children Are More Than Test Scores

Wayne Urban
University of Alabama

Angela Valenzuela
University of Texas, Austin

Bob Valiant
Dump Duncan

Jane Van Galen
University of Washington, Bothell

Manka Varghese
University of Washington

Michael Vavrus
The Evergreen State College

Sofia Villenas
Cornell University

Shirin Vossoughi
Stanford University School of Education

Federico R. Waitoller
University of Illinois at Chicago

John Walcott
Calvin College

Stephanie Walters
Rethinking Schools

William Watkins
University of Illinois, Chicago

Kathleen Weiler
Tufts University

Lois Weiner
New Jersey City University

Matthew Weinstein
Teacher Educator
Tacoma, WA

Kevin Welner
University of Colorado, Boulder
National Education Policy Center

Angela Wheat
Freeport High School

Barbara Winslow
Brooklyn College

Kathy Xiong
Milwaukee Public Schools
Rethinking Schools

Diana Zavala
Change the Stakes

Yong Zhao
Author and Scholar

Al Zucker
New Day Academy, Bronx

NOTES
  1. Chingos, M. M. (2012). Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems. Brookings Institution.
  2. Cargile, E. (May 3, 2012). “Tests’ price tag $90 million this year”. Kxan Investigates, Kxan.com (NBC).
  3. Dawer, D. (December 29, 2012) “Standardized Testing is Completely Out of Control”. PolicyMic.com.
  4. Vevea, B. (November 26, 2012) “More standardized tests, more Chicago parents looking for ways out”. WBEZ.org.
  5. Au, W. (2007). High-stakes testing and curricular control: A qualitative metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 258-267.
  6. Pell, M.B. (September 30, 2012). “More cheating scandals inevitable, as states can’t ensure test integrity”. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  7. Baker, E. L., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., … & Shepard, L. A. (2010). Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. See also: DiCarlo, M. (July 14, 2010). “Teachers Matter, But So Do Words”. Shanker Blog, The Voice of the Albert Shanker Institute.
  8. Schafer, W. D., Lissitz, R. W., Zhu, X., Zhang, Y., Hou, X., & Li, Y. Evaluating Teachers and Schools Using Student Growth Models. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 17(17), 2.
  9. Cordray, D., Pion, G., Brandt, C., Molefe, A., & Toby, M. (2012). The Impact of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Program on Student Reading Achievement. Final Report. NCEE 2013-4000. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
  10. All signatures represent individual opinions, not institutional endorsements, unless specified. To add your signature to this statement, send an email with your name and affiliation(s) to: GHSstatement@gmail.com.
*  The last update was Jan. 23, 2013, 5:32 p.m. CST.

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Last week, we sent the following message to the folks who have signed up for our e-news, and we didn’t want you to miss out on this special deal. 

If you would like to be among the first to know about current education news we think is important, articles, curriculum, and of course, deals and discounts, you can sign up for our e-news here

- Kris Collett

Dear Friend of Rethinking Schools:

The folly of high-stakes testing looms large right now, particularly because late fall is the time when many public schools givethe state-required standardized tests. My teacher friends in Wisconsin are busy giving their students the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. How’s that for a euphemism?

At Rethinking Schools, the increasing reliance on test scores to assign a number value on a student’s academic accomplishments, to evaluate teachers, and to label schools has long troubled us. We have published countless articles about the dangers of an overreliance on high-stakes tests, and we collected the best of those in our new book Pencils Down: Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in our Public Schools.

In hopes of boosting morale and inspiring resistance movements among the ranks of teachers and progressive education activists, we are offering a free chapter download from Pencils Down: “High-Stakes Harm” by beloved writer, teacher, and Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen. Linda asks important questions in her article, like “How do we retain our critical stance on assessments while preparing students for them?” and “Can we ‘teach the tests’ without compromising what we know to be true about teaching and learning?”

These are the kind of popularly written, story-rich articles that can help clarify issues and mobilize opposition to the test-dense curriculum that is at the heart of corporate education reform.

Please download this chapter, draw inspiration from it, and share widely.

If you like what you read, you can purchase the book at a 20% discount through December 5, 2012. Use code TEACHINGK12 at checkout on our website or when calling our order line 1-800-669-4192.

Thank you for your important work.

In solidarity,

Kris Collett
Outreach/Marketing Director

More on Pencils Down and High-Stakes Testing:

Read the complete introduction by editors Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel.

Read a review by Samuel Reed, III of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook:
“This hard-hitting anthology may rail against the high-stakes test, but that doesn’t mean the writers are opposed to assessment or accountability. Many of the articles, essays, and analyses in this collection demonstrate that teaching and learning are more complex than numbers. Pencils Down works to demystify, for readers ranging from teachers to parents at the PTA meeting, the Holy Grail of high-stakes testing.”

Check out the National Center for Fair and Open Testing for more excellent articles, resources, and the latest news. (Fun Fact: Monty Neill, who is Executive Director of the Center, and authored or co-authored three of the articles included in Pencils Down.)

Join more than 11,000 individuals and 400 organizations in signing the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing.

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Many of you are familiar with the work of Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta. Acosta is the warm and eloquent—and photogenic!—language arts teacher featured in the film, Precious Knowledge, about Tucson’s now-outlawed Mexican American Studies program. The program is still suppressed, but the work goes on, as Acosta describes in this letter, recently posted to the Education for Liberation email list. Rethinking Schools continues to support this fine program and we urge you to show your solidarity in whatever way you can.

And, speaking of which, if you live near Seattle or plan to attend the upcoming National Council for the Social Studies conference, please join us for the presentation of our Zinn Education Project’s Myles Horton Award for Teaching a People’s History to Sean Arce, a key architect of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program. Arce will be speaking and showing Precious Knowledge. Details here

- Bill Bigelow

Curtis Acosta

Dear Compañer@s and Supporters,

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the situation in Tucson. However, there are a few links that I felt I should share with those interested in our continued lucha to reinstate Mexican American Studies in Tucson. First and foremost, I would like you all to know that I am still teaching my Chican@ Literature classes at a youth center on Sundays. I have a great group of youth that have joined me. The classes are free and it has been healing to have the freedom to engage in critical dialogue about literature without the threat of demonization hanging over our heads. However, we are only a handful in our Sunday class,  and those good feelings are not balanced by the injustice of thousands of students who are not able to take our courses in their regular public school experience. It is shameful, but we are dogged in our determination to see MAS back in TUSD.

The following link is to an essay that I wrote for renowned author, and personal hero of mine, Ana Castillo. It is a part of her amazing online magazine La Tolteca. I decided it was important to explain in more detail how I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes. If that interests you, please take a look.

How I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes.

Here is a documentary that was filmed about how our classes have been dismantled and the fall out. It’s another unique perspective that may serve as good discussion and dialogue for you and your students.

I hope that we can count on more support for my colleagues Sean Arce and José Gonzalez as they continue to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit.

Support the Raza Defense Fund

Since our classes were eliminated there have been many different rumors and such about the future of MAS and the Tucson Unified School District, so I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by award winning writer, Jeff Biggers of the Huffington Post. It was a great way to actually address what the future may bring for us with a  federal desegregation order and plan to be revealed on Friday.

We have two new members of the school board as of last night, and the feeling in town is one of optimism. However, the administration is very much the same and our curriculum and books are still banned. I’m not sure what type of future there will be for my colleagues and myself, but we will keep fighting for restitution of our program. I hope this interview answers any questions you may be having, but if not, feel free to reach out and contact me or my colleagues for further details.

Will Tucson School Board Reinstate or Replace Mexican American Studies? Interview with Curtis Acosta.

We hope you are all doing well all over the country toward liberating and inspiring our youth to not only dream, but to have the will to act!

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta

Tucson, AZ

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by Stan Karp

Maybe we’re finally reaching the tipping point.

After more than a decade of accelerating damage fueled by NCLB, the standardized testing regime that is the engine of corporate school reform is running into growing opposition from all directions.

Last week Rethinking Schools joined nearly 200 other organizations and thousands of individuals who, in less than a week, signed on to this National Resolution on High Stakes Testing.

This national campaign seeks to build on state and local efforts across the country, including:

These are all signs of growing resistance to the use of highly flawed standardized tests to sort and label students, close schools and fire teachers—purposes for which they were never designed and have no validity. Instead of producing useful information for better instruction, the tests are producing junk data for bad policy. Test scores are being used to move control over schools away from educators and classrooms to political bureaucracies and corporate test-makers. It’s way past time to take them back.

Pencils Down, Rethinking Schools’ new collection about “rethinking high stakes testing and accountability in public schools,” is another useful tool in this growing campaign. Pick one up today and sign on today to the nationwide effort to reclaim our schools for our students and ourselves.

 

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by Terry Burant

Recently, a friend told me that a former high school student of mine named his car “Terry” after me. When she asked him why, he explained, “She’s a little older, she’s strong and tough, and she can handle anything, just like my old car; watching her as my teacher made me realize that I can be strong and accomplish things too.”

This former student of mine struggled mightily with sophomore chemistry and, before every test, he spent hours in my classroom after school working problems on the board with other students and taking periodic breaks for making jokes, watching a silly YouTube video, or writing with the dry erase markers on the arms of his friends. I thought I was teaching him chemistry; turns out, he learned how to stay strong and succeed. His comment, and the picture in my mind of an old beater car with my name cruising the streets of Milwaukee make me think about the unintended lessons teachers teach, about the things we leave with our students of which we might not be aware.

An all-night-long Glee-watching marathon over winter break also made me think about our legacies as teachers. While I realize that Glee isn’t free from criticism, particularly for its lackluster, individualistic treatment of the many forms of bullying going on in the school (see “TV Bullies: How Glee and Anti-Bullying Programs Miss the Mark,” by Gerald Walton, p. 216, Rethinking Popular Culture and Media), the last ten minutes of the final episode made me think about the kinds of impressions we leave with our students and the unintended lessons we teach, so much so that I decided to use a segment of the episode on the first day of the spring semester in an undergraduate teacher education course I teach.

For those not well-versed in Glee, the show centers on a high school singing club in Ohio. Resurrected by a former Glee Club member and current Spanish teacher at the school, Mr. Schuster, the club is often on shaky ground with the administration and always in danger of having its funding cut. The first season ends with the club convinced that after not placing at the Regional competition, the club is history.

The last ten minutes of the season begins with the Glee club members inviting Mr. Schuster into the auditorium where the students are on stage ready to say goodbye to their teacher, in song of course. Yet they begin, one by one, describing the ways in which he and Glee club made an impact on their lives.

Santana, a bit of a badass cheerleader, always ready with a cutting remark for her fellow Glee club members, states that as the year started, “she hated everyone in the club.” Michael Chang, one of the best dancers in the group, says that before Glee club, “he only danced in his room.” Kurt, a young man who comes out as gay during the school year, points out that he “wasn’t honest with who [he] was” until the camaraderie within the group helped him realize that he could be himself. Finn, a young man whose father died when Finn was a young boy, tells Mr. Schuster that he was a like a father to him, showing him a model of “how to be a man.” Finally, Rachel, the quirky diva of the group, tells Mr. Schuster that “no matter what the judges said, we won. We had you as a teacher.”

After their statements, the group sings “To Sir with Love” to Mr. Schuster, and seasoned Glee fans will completely understand the looks between members as well as the appropriate lines of the song as sung by specific members.

As I listened to the students’ comments and the lyrics of the song, I noticed that not one student mentioned meeting standards, using a packaged music curriculum (for Mr. Schuster’s curriculum often came from student interests and concerns), getting a good ACT score, or mastering a specific objective that was listed every day on their classroom board. While I realize that this is an after-school club on a television show in which people burst into song in school hallways, the stark contrast between the students’ statements and official school goals made an impression on me.

In my class, towards the end of the first day, after showing this clip, I asked my students to think about and write from the following prompt and return with their writing for the next class:

Imagine yourself as a teacher, about 5-8 years from now, in a situation similar to the one in which Will Schuster finds himself in this clip from the Season 1 final episode of Glee. What would your students say if they were expressing some thoughts about what you’ve given them? In other words, what do you hope your legacy might be as a teacher?

My students wrote things like “I want my students to think for themselves, to be advocates for justice and equity, to realize that I cared about them as people, to be critical readers and thinkers, to know that I wasn’t just a teacher of math or science, but a person who noticed and cared about them.” Similar to the Glee episode, not one mentioned hoping that his students would remember meeting math standard 1.11.12 about linear equations, about being a teacher who recorded grades in the electronic grading program on time, about following the Success for All reading scripts to perfection, or about only using the district-approved curriculum. All of the future teachers in my class, most of them juniors or seniors in their teacher education program, want far more for their students than teaching them what’s on a test.

I worry about my students, just a little over a year away from their first teaching positions. Will the craziness of testing, of school district officials entering their classrooms to take away materials, of control of their curriculum from outside sources, lead them away from realizing their dreams as teachers? Will their students have the kinds of experiences in school that lead them to sing in gratitude for the larger life lessons they learned in school?

As an in-class follow-up activity, I asked my students to re-read their responses and to write an additional paragraph stating one specific way in which they would work this semester to make their desired-for legacy come true. They shared those paragraphs with a partner in class, making commitments to one another to stay true to their larger goals.

In these times, perhaps now more than ever, all of us who teach might remind ourselves of why we do what we do. If the conditions are making it harder and harder to be the kind of teachers we want to be, we might make the extra effort to commit to act in and beyond our classrooms to realize the legacies that mean the most to us and to our students.

Terry Burant is a Rethinking Schools editor and an instructor in the department of Educational Studies at the University of Wyoming.

Related Resources

Rethinking Schools has long been attentive to the messages in popular culture and media that saturate our lives.  We devoted an entire book to it, and carved out a section on “Minding Media” in our upcoming Rethinking Elementary Education.

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology includes outstanding articles by elementary and secondary public school teachers, scholars, and activists who examine how and what popular toys, books, films, music, and other media “teach.” The essays offer strong conceptual critiques and practical pedagogical strategies for educators at every level to engage with the popular.

Rethinking Elementary Education, edited by Linda Christensen, Mark Hansen, Bob Peterson, Elizabeth Schlessman, and Dyan Watson.The articles in this volume offer practical insights about how to integrate the teaching of content with a social justice lens, how to seek wisdom from students and their families, and how to navigate stifling tests and mandates. Teachers and parents will find both inspiration and hope in these pages.

Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, edited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel. Through articles that provide thoughtful and emotional critiques from the frontlines of education, Pencils Down deconstructs the damage that standardized tests wreak on our education system and the human beings that populate it. Better yet, it offers visionary forms of assessment that are not only more authentic, but also more democratic, fair, and accurate.

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