John Oliver Takes On Standardized Testing and the Common Core

When I first started watching this video I thought I would post it immediately.  As I watched more of it, I decided I wasn’t going to post it because of some offensive language and subject matter.  Even with some material that might offend some,  John Oliver provides some excellent and entertaining analogies and criticism of standardized assessments and the Common Core.  I shared this video with a number of people across the country.  They acknowledge the video may be R rated but responded favorably to the video and indicated the presentation caught the attention of many who otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to some of the issues addressed.  As a result, I decided to go ahead post the video here.  Watch at your own risk—and you may want to make sure there aren’t any children in the room when you watch it.

What Ails Nevada? Starvation?

I would rather ask, “What Ales Nevada?” but that would quench a thirst and not satisfy the driven need to consume vast quantities of data, much of which is indigestible. What in the world am I talking about?

There are a places in a number of states that have had technical difficulty administering online assessments. There have been reports of hacking, Denial of Service attacks, exceeding server capacity, and incompatible code resulting in students having difficulty completing their assessments. Will there be similar problems in Washington State? Have there already been problems in the state? If there are problems will it be reported to the public (taxpayers and voters)?

Nevada has experienced some difficulty in their online assessment administration. You can read a little about this difficulty in an article in the Las Vegas Sun. Clark County School District, the largest district in Nevada and one of the 10 largest districts in the country, has discontinued administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment as a result of the experienced difficulties. The Las Vegas Sun says this move “will starve the state of vital data”. That phrase jumped out of the article at me and did the same with some others with whom I had shared the article. That phrase, creepy as it is to some, made me think it could lead to an article that might read something like this:

Nevada has been suffering now for some time.  Up until a recent diagnosis, the cause has been unknown.  Doctors at the highly acclaimed Super Hyper Information Technology (S.H.I.T.) Clinic who specialize in digital disorders, have determined that Nevada’s suffering is a result of being starved of vital data.  The diagnosis is data deficiency malnourishment (DDM).  This is a newly discovered condition.  Other less severe cases have been identified scattered around the country as a result of the assessment opt out movement.  Experts are predicting the possibility of a nationwide epidemic.  The pathology of this much larger and more serious case in Nevada is still being studied. The cause of this case is still being determined while a number of companies and state agencies are pointing digits of blame with no one willing to be accountable. Everyone seems to want accountability yet no one is willing to be held accountable. It is uncertain if Nevada will make a full recovery as treatment for DDM is still in the experimental stage.  This case is so severe that normal and required research protocols are being abandoned in an attempt to treat this case.  The first course of experimental treatment will be student level data infused intravenous therapy.  This will be done without informed parent consent since it has been determined that the outcome of the experimental treatment will be the same whether informed parent consent is obtained or not.  Some may consider sending Nevada a Get Well card while others may wish to send Get Worse cards.

An advocate in another state has raised the chant, Starve the State!

Opt Out, Refuse, and State Assessments

A brief article titled As Students Refuse Tests, Washington Superintendent Warns Of Consequences has an audio clip with parts of an interview with Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Dorn.

The article says SPI Dorn does not like the phrase “opt-out”. He uses the term “refusal”. Other school officials across the country have started using refuse instead of opting out.

Let’s examine the terms a little here before getting into some of the other issues. For file000220042365the purpose at hand, I am using The Free Dictionary online.

Opt is defined as to make a choice or decision and opt out is defined as to choose not to participate in something. Some synonyms for opt are choose, decide, prefer, select, elect, and see fit. It is indicated that opt does not equal reject, dismiss, exclude, eliminate, rule out, turn down, or preclude.

Refuse is defined as to indicate unwillingness to do, accept, give, or allow. Some synonyms for refuse are decline, reject, spurn, and rebuff. It is indicated that refuse does not equal accept, take, or have.

Parents in Washington have the legal right to have their child not participate in state assessments. In exercising their legal right, they are making a choice or decision to not have their child participate in something. They are exercising their option, or opting out. SPI Dorn and others can call it what they want, and it may be splitting hairs, but opting out seems to be a more positive term than refuse. It may depend on one’s perspective. Those opting out may see their action as a positive while school officials likely see this action as a negative and opt to use the term refuse.

SPI Dorn is quoted as saying and can be heard on the audio as saying,

“It’s really a refusal to take an assessment that’s required by the federal government.”

file8441235839775Let’s be clear on the issue of the assessment being required by the federal government. No Child Left Behind requires states to administer state assessments. That is the requirement of the federal government. Requiring state assessments to be administered does not mean that every student has to participate. So, to restate, it may be mandatory for schools to administer assessments, but that does not mean it is mandatory every child take the assessment.

SPI Dorn is also quoted as saying.

“There could be an investigation to see if teachers did file0001529644054encourage not to take the test – and that to me, is an ethics violation, a code of conduct violation, and a teacher could be disciplined.”

Can you imagine how it will play out if there is an investigation?


Dorn Speaks Yet Provides No Evidence and Fails to Follow the Law

page1page2aThe above is the press release with Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Randy Dorn’s statements about assessment opt outs.

SPI Dorn says statewide testing is important. It may be important, but for whom? For the students and parents who won’t see results of an assessment that is not valid and reliable until the late summer or the following school year? For the teachers who no longer have the students in their classroom? Or for SPI Dorn and DSC02792-Bhis standing with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who is also making bullying and threatening noises? Did both of them attend the same professional development session on bullying?

We have had statewide testing for decades and have never seen the number of opt outs we are seeing now. What is different? Is it the assessment? Should decision makers pay attention and take action to effectively address the situation or should they just double down with bullying, threats, punishment, and consequences?

SPI Dorn says statewide assessments are important because they help ensure finger printall public school students receive a quality education. Great sounding statement. SPI Dorn needs to provide evidence and explain how statewide assessments ensure a quality education and specifically how SBAC ensures this better than previous statewide assessments used in Washington.

SPI Dorn says:

“But the Smarter Balanced tests, with their emphasis on real-world skills, are better than any standardized test our state has administered before.”

Like so many other statements, this sounds nice. Where is the proof that backs it finger printup? Evidence, evidence, evidence—please provide it if you are going to make such statements. There’s not even any proof the Smarter Balanced Assessments are valid and reliable. Is that what makes them better?

SPI Dorn says:

“we are able to see where learning gaps exit and know where to target funds for additional help.”

Show when and where such assessments as SBAC have shown where learnifinger printng gaps exists and how targeting funds have shown successful results in improving student academic achievement. Evidence, evidence, evidence.

Let’s not forget parent rights.   Were parents consulted and involved in the planning and development of the assessments or the policies related to them? If you want to do something with a parent’s child, it is advisable to consult the parent and obtain their consent. This is a missing aspect of the education reform movement, including the use of the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

file000817447890Why are SPI Dorn and OSPI bowing down to the federal government instead of the will of the people in the state of Washington? Since parents were not included in the decision making regarding statewide assessments, opting out is one way the people have of expressing their will. Why is it being ignored?

Instead of paying attention to the will of the people, the system, with SPI Dorn as spokesperson, is threatening and bullying the people into compliance with measures that have become not only unreasonable, but are illegal.

SPI Dorn says:

“If you don’t like the federal law, don’t refuse to have your child take the tests; call your U.S. representative and senators and tell them to change the law.”

Would it make any difference if the laws were changed? Would SPI Dorn adhere to those laws any better than he does existing law? SPI Dorn should comply with federal law and the Constitution of the United States. More than comply, he should be held accountable for not complying. Why is he allowing the federal government to make decisions about education in our state when the Constitution and the 10th wethepeopleAmendment clearly makes it the responsibility of the state and the people, not the federal government? The Race to the Top Assessment Grant awarded to Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium required the development of a valid and reliable assessment. No proof or evidence of SBAC’s validity and reliability exists. NCLB requires the state to administer valid and reliable assessments. By using the SBAC, WA is not in compliance with federal law. Why is SPI Dorn having the state administer an assessment that does not meet the requirement of federal law? The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an illegal interstate compact under the Compact Clause of the U. S. Constitution. Why did SPI Dorn commit and allow the state to participate in an illegal interstate compact using taxpayer dollars?

It is legal for parents to opt out of, or refuse, the assessments. Yet when they do, many get bullied and threatened. By making decisions that violate federal law and the U.S. Constitution, SPI Dorn is acting illegally by opting out of or refusing to adhere to federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Where are the sanctions and consequences for violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution? Is this a case where elected officials are exempt from the law?

While SPI Dorn points out academic and monetary consequences in his press release, parents are pointing out the consequences of imposing these assessments on their children by taking action. The consequences of such imposition will be a growing number or parents opting out or refusing to have their children subjected to these assessments.

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Why I Quit My Teaching Job

David Xirau was a math teacher at Weymouth High School (MA) until late January of this year.  Below is the letter he wrote about why he quit his teaching job.  What he expresses in his letter could be expressed by teachers in most any state these days.  How many teachers are we losing to the education reform movement?  How long will it take before citizens reclaim local control of their schools and allow teachers to teach?

     To whom it may concern:

Why am I leaving? Long story short, our current school system and certain administrative practices are not letting me do my job. I cannot work in an environment where only half of my time can be devoted to the art of teaching. I retired from the military to become an educator, and I am compelled to go where I can do this more effectively. Authentic teaching is done free of the restrictive standards, unattainable objectives, and insanely burdensome administrative minutiae that are imposed upon us every day. I became a teacher to serve the kids and the community, not the greedy, idealistic inexperienced administrators, corporate interests, and politicians who are destroying our beloved profession. I find myself each day spinning wheels trying to stay ahead of their game, crunching numbers, while our students’ true education suffers.

Year after year, “they” keep piling more and more tasks onto our plates with no extra compensation and no extra time to execute the tasks properly while none of our old responsibilities are taken away. Shouldn’t this FACT raise a red flag somewhere? Apologies do not solve the problem. Silence won’t make it go away. A real teacher knows that on any given day, every minute counts. With our limited time constraints, we find ourselves cutting corners to make everything fit, making difficult choices: “Do I call the parent of a student who is failing, or do I collect evidence for my evaluation”?

At what point will we break? How much more can we realistically be expected to sustain upon our backs before the stress is reflected in our teaching? In our home life?   In our health?   When our first thought in the morning is, “Sigh…only 10 more years to retirement,” instead of, “I am going to make a difference today,” something is very wrong. Administrative apologists claim they are bearing the weight as well – a curious thing how a $100,000-plus salary can help lighten the load for some people. Please.

What is the real cost of this extra work? Who is paying the price when our minds and energy are devoted to endless testing, development of standards and objectives, rubrics, measurement, results, analysis, DDMs, improvement plans, PLCs, “Smart” goals, evidence collecting, percentages, alignments, core curriculum, cross curriculum, accommodations, modifications, incessant IEP paperwork, meetings, data, data, data, and more data? Read the list again!! Where is the pedagogy?   When do we get to teach?

It has gotten to the point where each of us, literally, needs a secretary and a data analyst just to manage all of the extra work so that we can focus on the kids and perform our traditional duties. At the rate we are going, we will soon need lawyers in our classrooms… I have never worked in a place where so many people are afraid to make a decision or speak their mind for fear of losing their job, or for fear that the school will get sued. This mindset is unhealthy and unproductive.

How does this affect my job? As a result of having to devote more time, energy, and attention to the aforementioned tasks, I have had to turn down students for after-hours tutoring; I have had to decrease my outreach to parents; my planning has suffered; my creativity is limited; and my grading, attention to details, and other essential pedagogical tasks are also taking hits. There is no time to meet with peers to discuss shared courses or to mentor new teachers. I have students with learning disabilities that need my extra time and attention, but I have very little to give. I can no longer perform as much community service as I used to. I can go on, of course….

Many of the things that authentic teaching should be about are being sacrificed because our focus is divided into as many new “21st Century” objectives. I think that we are getting ahead of ourselves with our mission. How can we focus on 21-st Century skills when it is clear that our students have not yet mastered 20-th Century skills? The educational model of the previous century gave us Steve Jobs, Civil Rights, and took us to the moon. Thus far, the present model has only gotten us a lower standing and less respect on the International academic achievement scale. This is the indicator, the evidence, that we are not headed in the right direction. We’re losing track of the basics, trying to get our students to run when they haven’t yet learned to walk.

The business-minded, boilerplate approach to education through standardization, measurement, and analysis, greatly curtails teachers’ most valuable gifts, decreases morale, and as a consequence, affects our students. Our student body’s most prominent quality is its diversity, yet here we are, trying to measure them all by the same yardstick. We are trying to control output when we have no control over the input. It is folly to believe that we can adequately compare results across school years when so much changes every year. What is the control group in this social experiment? Diversity and standardization are not good bedfellows – the terms are oxymoronic at best. Authentic teaching cannot be done with a script.

I guess my decision to throw in the towel boils down to an unwillingness to serve two masters at once. I can either devote my time to teaching or I can help the District produce its precious data – but I can’t do both. I am morally and ethically incapable of doing each task at only 50%. Students need to be taught, not analyzed. They are human beings, not an experiment, not parts of a machine coming off of an assembly line. My students need and deserve my full attention, something I cannot give under the current circumstances.


STANDARDIZED Lies, Money, & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education

The community is invited to see a special showing of the movie “Standardized”

6:30 P.M.

Sponsored by The Facebook groups:
Pierce-Thurston County Common Core Concerned Citizens (375+)
Washington State Against Common Core (3000+)

For decades, standardized testing has been a part of public education. Within the last ten years, however, education reform has promoted even more testing. Test scores, mistakenly viewed as effective assessments of student ability and teacher/school effectiveness, are anything but. STANDARDIZED sheds light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved.