Overprepping and Overtesting in Louisiana

I just received this letter from a parent named Stephanie Riley in Rapides Parish.  This letter echos the sentiments expressed by many parents across the state that I spoken with this year and last year. Education has been replaced with test preparation.  It’s a disgrace, and a reason many parents have abandonded public schools and started homeschooling their children.

If any folks in the traditional media would like to interview a mother that sees her children’s futures being stripped away in pursuit of a meaningless “score”, Stephanie would be a good person to contact.

The results of this test won’t measure what children learned, merely which parish wasted the most time on test preparation. Ironically districts with the highest test scores may have the least “educated” children.

This isn’t just about Common Core anymore, now it’s about Common Sense, and a lack thereof being shown by many of our current educational leaders.

To whom it may concern,

As a parent of 2 children in the Rapides parish school system in Louisiana I have finally reached the end of my rope. This letter is being sent to multiple individuals throughout Louisiana (and outside the state) for a reason. I have had enough and I want a response. Since returning from the Christmas holidays my children have done absolutely nothing but practice and prepare for the PARCC – like test. First, let me make it perfectly clear that both of my children have been opted out of this test. In this situation however, that is irrelevant. They have both been sitting in a classroom all day for the last 6 weeks training to take a test!They, and most every other child in this state grades 3 – 8 are been denied their right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Did you catch that? Federal law – F.A.P.E – is being broken. Drill and kill for ANY standardized test is NOT an appropriate education, which I pay for with my taxes.  I have questioned both of my children about activities in the classroom. While there is definitely a focus on testing for my third grader, it is even worse for my sixth grader. He has told me that they will no longer be using the textbook or stories from the curriculum this parish chose because neither addresses the ELA items on the PARCC – like test. Instead, they work every single day on practice writings for the PARCC – like exam. Half of an entire school year wasted with no reading!  And my third grader has only used her reading textbook a few times since January. Third graders not reading!! This is NOT a teacher issue. Teachers throughout this entire parish are being instructed to drill and kill. Practice, practice, practice! Test scores are what matter, not children.

Well, I am just a mom, so it has been easy for our school administrators to ignore me. Although I have had many positive interactions with our school board members (they do at least appear concerned) nothing has been accomplished and I feel as if we are all just trying to make it to the end of the school year. But that means that the children of Rapides parish are missing out. They are going to lose a minimum of a half of a year’s worth of instructional time (due to testing practice), and for some an entire year due to classroom instruction that has not been supported through the use of appropriate instructional materials. I am now reaching beyond our local administrators and will continue to reach beyond until someone listens. I am one of MANY parents with these concerns and we are not going away. 

I have already expressed my concerns locally that adequate instructional materials have not been provided for the math curriculum (Eureka), and now we have the same problem with the ELA material currently being taught in the classroom. Louisiana Title 28 Bulletin 1794 states that;        

“§505.   Local Implementation (of instructional materials)

A.            Adequate and Appropriate Instructional Materials

1.            Textbooks and materials of instruction for all curriculum areas at the local level shall be supported with adequate and appropriate instructional materials, equipment, and available community resources that support the stated philosophy and purposes of the school system”

where instructional materials are defined as;

“Instructional Materialslimited to items having intellectual content that by design assist in the instruction of a subject or course.”

Currently, neither of my children is in receipt of instructional materials in either math or ELA. Worksheets, practice pages in a binder, class room activities, etc… do not meet the definition of instructional materials under state law. I want my children to go back to a normal instructional environment in the classroom where emphasis on statewide testing is left where it belongs – on testing days. I want them to be TAUGHT not TRAINED! Let their teachers teach them! At least I know that they actually care about the well-being of my children!

Finally, I want clear, printed instructional materials for both of my children grades 3 and 6 for both the Eureka math curriculum and the Journey’s curriculum. These were the curriculums chosen by Rapides parish for this school year and if they are to be used then they should be supported in the classroom. There are no instructional materials for Eureka other than a “binder” that is filled with copies of computer print outs of classroom and homework practice problems. Textbooks were not purchased or provided by the district for this curriculum.

The ELA Journey’s curriculum has a textbook for each grade level and we received a copy of this at the start of the school year. However, this curriculum has been abandoned since the beginning of January in order to focus on practice for the PARCC – like exam. The provision of public education is not for the purpose of passing a single test (a test which is unproven and is not supported by ANY valid research I might add). Therefore, I also want my children to return to their regular educational and instructional activities in the classroom.

Should you have any questions I can be reached at this email address or at the cell phone number listed below. I look forward to a response as soon as possible.

Respectfully,

Stephanie Riley,

cell# 504-669-0803

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Background On the High Stakes Testing Opt Out Movement in Louisiana

Unless you are already opting your kids out of testing this spring, most folks have probably only heard about this movement to “opt out” (parents refusing to permit children to take) of high stakes tests in Louisiana in the past couple weeks.  Here are some recent stories:

The opt out movement has been building momentum in this state and throughout the country for the past few years.  I have been consulted numerous times by various organizers of this movement to promote it or provide information about possible consequences and implications.  I actually don’t have a firm stand one way or the other on the “opt out issue” but I have been linking people up with individuals that do for the past year or so.  A few of the opt out information providers in our state are Ann Burruss from Lafayette and Lee Barrios from St Tammany.  You can generally find them on Facebook if you have any questions and want to keep up with the latest developments.  This post is not going to delve too deeply into whether parents should or should not do this.  I will leave this for them to decide. What I did want to do is provide some background on this issue.  I found the background on this situation to be lacking in most mainstream outlets.

First let’s define what High Stakes Testing means.  This is a term that has come to mean annual tests that are tied to consequences for teachers, students, schools and districts.  Low scores on these tests can mean teachers are fired, students are retained, schools are closed, districts are seized by the state.  For a pro side you can review this edreform site that describes what education Reformers are hoping to accomplish.  For the argument against High Stakes testing you might try looking through www.fairtest.org and this link: http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html

High Stakes testing became all the vogue in 2001 with the passage of NCLB (No Child Left Behind act).  NCLB is actually being debated and right now in Congress and even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is telling Congress that standardized testing has gone too far and needs to be scaled back.  (The original was co-authored by John Boehner and Edward Kennedy so you know it has to be good, right?)

Today some school systems may spend a third of their class time taking standardized tests or preparing for them.  I’ve spoken with parents in districts in Louisiana that claim test prep booklets sample tests start getting sent home in January for the high stakes tests we give in April each year.  Parents are outraged about how much time is consumed in taking and preparing for tests, and I don’t blame them.  I send my kids to school to learn, not to take or prepare for tests endlessly.

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.  I honestly have no idea where any of that stands right now.  One judge has ruled the state can’t block White from procuring the tests.  Jindal has vowed to seek repayment of any funds spent that way.  Lawsuits are still pending. I’m not sure anyone else can tell you how this will ultimately play out with any degree of certainty either.

Still, John White has made it clear Louisiana will be giving the PARCC exam this Spring and districts need to be prepared for it.  According to previous statements and decisions by White and BESE, no students will be held back based on this exam, whatever it is.  No teachers should be penalized based on the scores their students get for this year either.  However (SPS) School Performance Scores will still be based on these test results.  Schools and districts that do poorly on these mystery exams could be subject to seizure by the State Recovery School District (RSD) and handed over to charter operators.  Students that “opt out” will be assigned a zero on the exam.  If schools end up with a lot of zeros it could severely impact their SPS score and make takeover very likely if the school is already in a borderline achievement category and has been for several years.

Louisiana has not defined a formal way to “opt out” of testing.  Currently tests are mandatory.  Some parents are writing letters to their principals that they wish to opt out of testing.  It’s unclear whether any principals will honor these requests. My guess is students that get sent to school will be given tests regardless of any letters.  To prevent this from happening parents are considering keeping their kids home on testing days and makeup test days or bringing them to school late.  These would be considered unexcused absences.  I would caution parents that do this that they could run afoul of LRS 17:221 and LRS 14:92.2 that outlines possible fines and jail time for parents of kids who are habitually absent or tardy (truant). Enforcing those laws would probably be worse case scenarios but some districts might play hardball with parents trying to keep their kids home during testing. Some parents have taken a third route.  They have instructed their kids to bubble in all the same answer or to make “pretty pictures” on their scantron answer sheets if they have given tests against their parent’s permission.

I’m not very clear on what the value of these tests could possibly be.  Unless John White made a secret deal with PARCC to get the assessments for free (he is still a PARCC Governing board member so I wouldn’t rule that out) or PARCC has accepted the risk of contentious legal battles over any payments made, they are not true PARCC assessments.  They will not be comparable to last year.  They will not be comparable to next year. They may be rigged to be similar to PARCC using combinations of last year’s test and new items the state may have used micro contracts to generate.

What I can tell you is this.  These test booklets have already been printed or are in the process of being printed by DRC, the State’s longtime testing vendor.  When I worked at LDOE 3 years ago it took months to print the hundreds of thousands of test booklets they have to prepare each year.  DRC needed enrollment data from us in November or December to “precode” (pre-fill site code, name, DOB, grade level, etc) the majority of the test booklets give to students.  Someone should be able to require John White turn over a sample test booklet to see how they are portraying the test they will be giving in a few months.  Will they be calling it PARCC, iLeap, iPARCC, ParccLEAP?  Who knows?  What I am sure of is I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision on this till at least next year.

Would you like to see a sample/practice PARCC test?

http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/

I was recently told by a parent that they tried the 7th grade math portion with their child and failed miserably.  Common Core, which these tests are based on, was not phased in.  That means many kids in higher grades will not be able to pass these tests because they were never taught the material.  Because these tests are designed for kids to fail initially in the higher, unprepared grades as has happened in States like New York that gave these exams last year, parents are concerned this will lead to school takeovers anyways, as well as some mental anguish for their children.  In some schools these tests are emphasized a great deal and a lot of stress is put on kids to perform.  Some kids can shrug it off, and others can take this type of failure pretty hard and it can damage their self-esteem.

I know from experience I hate this type of situation.  I’ve had teachers that tested us on subject material we were not taught or even assigned and it did impact my attitude towards school and my teachers in very negative ways.  I lost respect for those teachers, lost respect for the subject material, and tuned out.  It did not inspire me to “try harder”.  It just made me think tests and schools were stupid.  Perhaps now I would handle that differently?  It’s hard to say, but children are not little adults.  Scholastic achievement might be tied to their self-esteem and identity, and they may not have other experience or achievements to anchor themselves.  If I had this concern, if I thought my children would be impacted like I was, I can guarantee I would consider opting my children out.

Jindal scrutinizes micro-contracts

I’ll be honest.  When i piggybacked ( http://wp.me/p2iZLF-Kp )on Mercedes  Schneider’s post about John White seeking to stealthily contract out PARCC like questions on the sly last week, (and recommended someone notify the Jindal administration I didn’t really think that anyone would do it, and if they did I didn’t think it would amount to much.) 

Then i saw this article:

http://www.wbrz.com/news/jindal-administration-questioning-education-contracts/

This situation bares watching.  This could get interesting.  Jindal is now public about knowing about this, and John White is running out of time to build or buy some tests for the Spring.

You guess is as good as mine as to how this will turn out.  Get some popcorn though, this cluster might be fun to watch pop.

Nice tip, sources who will remain anonymous.  🙂

Plan B: One-Step for Addressing PARCC and Common Core

Plan B: One-Step for Addressing PARCC and Common Core

Today was an interesting day at the Claiborne building in downtown Baton Rouge. Today was the much anticipated climax of significant back and forth politicking between Governor Jindal and his mail ordered State Superintendent of Education, John White. Today was the day Louisiana got a front row seat to the attempted abortion of the illegitimate Education Love Child known as Common Core and the testing consortium known as PARCC, conceived in back room deals and between these two star-crossed (and now double-crossing) education reformers.

Of course John White insisted on boring and dubious analysis of the situation that everyone who was there already knew all too well. Usually this is simply annoying and infuriating, but today was a little different since he didn’t have a trusty and redundant PowerPoint to stall over and guide him through the highlights. It appeared White was talking somewhat off the cuff. When you talk for hours on end you eventually make some mistakes. When you lie about everything to everyone, it is inevitable that you will contradict yourself and your previous statements.

Let’s discuss some of them.

John White confirmed that the test questions for next year will be different than this year and that test questions always change every year, regardless of who cast the testing contract and regardless of the test containing PARCC questions or not. This contradicts John White’s earlier testimony and assertions to the legislature related to disclosing previously administered tests to parents to review. White claimed this would cause a lot of unnecessary expense and force the department to create new questions. When White testified before the legislature this spring he claimed if test questions were released the tests would need to be reworked because those questions could never be used again. However today, before BESE, John White confessed these questions are changed every year. They are not used every year anyways so releasing these tests should not be a problem, right? Inadvertently he defeated his own argument against allowing parents to review the exams being administered to their children.

Today John White made an assertion that the current environment is very confusing and clarity was needed for teachers, parents and students. (Who wouldn’t agree with that?) He claimed this clarity could only be achieved by seeking a legal expert, seeking a legal opinion and filing a lawsuit to resolve the legal conflicts between BESE, LDOE and the Governor’s office. He was partially correct. What is going on is very confusing. Bobby Jindal and BESE conceived this chaos 4 years ago today when they adopted Common Core without it being finalized. John White midwifed Common Core for Jindal and BESE, but then snuck around on the state and cheated on us, conceiving a PARCC contract during his philandering with other reform organizations. White tried to pass off PARCC as the governor’s offspring by adopting it through an old non-bid contract. White thought he could force Louisiana and Jindal to adopt PARCC and pay to support this progeny of his relationship with CCSSO and the PARCC board – both organizations he holds leadership positions with. White obviously wants to hold onto these relationships, while also courting Louisiana and Jindal as the sugar daddy that will pay for him and them. Where John White was incorrect was in his proposal for resolving this conflict in time to bring clarity to our teachers. I have never heard of a situation where bringing lawyers and lawsuits into a dispute resolves that situation quickly. White also claimed lawyers and lawsuits will bring clarity. . . Maybe in a few years. . . but school starts up next month. Can anyone say with any confidence getting lawyers involved with resolve this situation swiftly or with clarity in the next few weeks? This is a recipe for complete disaster; one which John White could mitigate by simply putting everything on hold while these questions are resolved to the clarity level he feels comfortable with.

John White previously made the statement that there was no Plan B, because there was no legal option no Plan B was conceivable. Today however White backtracked and not only admitted that he had a Plan B, but that the situation is beyond his legal expertise and does not look like it will be resolved before the start of the school year. That’s why he and BESE President Chas Roemer are seeking legal experts. . . because they recognize this is a complex situation that will need to be decided in the courts based on the decision made by Jindal, John White and Chas Roemer. That was the ultimate decision of today’s meeting; to acquire the services of legal experts to council and perhaps file a lawsuit. This decision to make this issue complex is entirely John White’s and Chas Roemer’s, but they will not be the ones that have to bear the brunt of their decision. Teachers will be impacted. Students and parents will be impacted. Just about everyone but the ones creating this chaos will be harmed by the confusion they have chosen to sew into this situation. They are content to consult a lawyer and point their finger’s a Jindal while this slow moving train plods towards the August cliff of the imminent school year.

When you find yourself in a hole, and decide you need to get out, you stop digging. Before implementing new changes that may harm one of the parties, judges initiate injunctions to prevent either party from proceeding while the courts resolve the differences. As was brought up multiple times during today’s BESE session by BESE members Lottie Bebee, Jane Smith and distinguished educator and blogger Michael Deshotels, Louisiana had some of the highest regarded, nationally recognized standards in the nation. They were defined as one of the top 2 sets of standards in the United States. We used them for the most part last year and all the years before. We have those standards to rely upon while we await the rulings John White and Chas Roemer feel we need to bring clarity to this situation. We have our tests from last year that were aligned with the current curriculum. We spent quite a bit of time and money developing them. They contain some questions based on the national standards White and Roemer claim we are obligated to benchmark our tests against. We can stay the course while the courts resolve these questions Roemer and White claimed multiple times they are unqualified to clarify for themselves without involving lawyers and filing lawsuits. We adopted these standards 4 years ago blindly and without any input from parents – because they weren’t finalized and there was nothing to comment upon. Now that we have seen these standards implemented parents see they are worse than what we had. Education Reform has put our state in hole and riled up parents across the state to reject this corporately driven and funded agenda of which PARCC and Common Core are a significant part. The hole we find ourselves in is just getting deeper and less stable. Even our political leaders can’t decide among themselves what to do without resorting to lawyers. This was a mistake born of too much inexperienced enthusiasm without enough thought towards consequences or protection. It’s time for plan B. It’s time to stop digging. After 4 years, it’s time to stop screwing around with education and start being responsible.

True Leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes and correct them

True Leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes and correct them

It’s been a few thousand years since anyone was able to make a credible claim of being perfect. Anyone who expects perfection from our political leaders is setting themselves up for inevitable disappointment. I do not judge leaders based on whether they make mistakes, but whether they can own up to their mistakes and take the necessary steps to correct them. A true leader listens to criticism of their policies from their constituents and evaluates those critiques against their own actions. Factors on the ground can change. A decision that seemed correct at one time can be revealed later to have been flawed, based on incomplete or inaccurate information, or based on assumptions that turned out to be false.

I have seen two different approaches to providing leadership from our political elite lately about the same issue. The issue is Common Core. A few weeks ago, Senate Education Chairman Conrad Appel explained why he endorsed Common Core. In his post reported by Lee Barrios on her blog, Appel claimed he would explain in depth why he supports it. What his post boiled down to was, he had already made up his mind about Common Core when it was first introduced, and once he makes up his mind about something he never budges no matter what.

I call this the head in the sand approach or the adult equivalent of covering up ones ears and saying loudly “Na! Na! Na! I can’t hear you I can’t hear you!” This approach is just as juvenile in adults as it is in children, and is not very becoming on a high ranking elected official.

My life has not been that of a politician. I started my own business forty years ago and have been dedicated to family, hard work, and self sacrifice. This personal history taught me one great rule that career politicians often ignore. The difference between my personal philosophy and theirs is that once I evaluate an issue and make a careful decision upon its merits, I will not alter my position to make my political life easier or because it would further my political ambitions. I find that too many of our leaders are far too willing to flip-flop on ideas or principles because such ideas frighten or offend one small segment of the political spectrum, or because such ideas create a politically uncomfortable situation for themselves. This is intellectually dishonest and I will never pander to special interests by abandoning my fundamental beliefs.

Senator Conrad Appel’s governing approach

 

The latest example I saw completely surprised me. Governor Bobby Jindal came out strongly against Common Core.

“We support higher standards and rigor in the classroom, but every day, concern among parents is growing over Common Core. The feds are taking over and rushing this. Let’s face it: centralized planning didn’t work in Russia, it’s not working with our health care system and it won’t work in education. Education is best left to local control,” said Jindal through a written statement.

I kept expecting a retraction or “clarification” that would have mitigated some of the sting of this prepared statement, but none was forthcoming. Instead what I saw was piling on by “former” allies like Chas Roemer, who dismissed and characterized Bobby Jindal as just another desperate politician taking a popular stand to further his national presidential ambitions.

“This is presidential politics,” said Roemer, a Common Core supporter, about the governor’s statement. “This is the politics of our governor, who is running for president.”

Wow.

My how the political winds have changed.

For years and Jindal has taken a wait and see approach to Common Core. I probably accused him of talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue in previous comments or posts. However, nothing is standing in Bobby Jindal’s way of continuing that tactic. To come out so strongly and decisively against Common Core, which is still more popular than not (at least in statehouses and legislatures across the nation), would be a very strange tactic to pursue at this point. Jindal could have safely sat on the sidelines and allowed the Senate and Conrad “the ostrich” Appel to effectively block any and all Common Core legislation. The session is almost over and every bill proposing any form of modification has been defeated without Jindal having to take a definitive stand one way or the other. To come out so strongly against Common Core, which carries with it bazillions of potential donated dollars from corporations that stand to make a great deal off of it, makes no political sense whatsoever. The battle over Common Core is far from over, but in most states across the nation, Common Core is still the law of the land and many communities and parents are strongly divided over it. Siding with one side is bound to alienate the other side, and the “other side” has most of the money, lobbyists and power.

I have relayed in the past that my opposition to Common Core was a conversion after being exposed to how it was interpreted by the chief stakeholders (textbook and test making companies), deceptively and coercively imposed, and poorly implemented. Could it be that Bobby Jindal took a similar approach, and over time came to the realization that what he had been endorsing had too much wrong about it for him to stand passively by on the sidelines and let the conversation go where it wanted?

A strong leader in my mind is someone who confronts their mistakes and does something to correct them, even at some personal cost. It’s not someone who never makes mistakes in the first place or sticks their head in the sand and refuses to listen to opposing points of view for fear of being swayed. While I still differ with Jindal on a lot of issues, if he does act upon his latest set of words, and rejects PAARCC and removes Louisiana from being obligated to use Common Core, I will have to give him props for taking a politically risky move and perhaps following his conscience.

Could it be a gambit to court ideological conservatives? Perhaps. But there are much easier ways to do that with less potential fallout. Taking this stance now could seriously impact his fundraising potential and alienate folks who feel very strongly about supporting Common Core.

It will be interesting to see if these words blossom into actions. Bobby Jindal donated 5000 dollars to Chas Roemer’s last election campaign for BESE. While it would have been entirely reasonable and appropriate to explain his difference of opinion between the Governor’s stance and his own, to call him out publicly and ridicule him in the media was probably not the wisest course for Chas. I will be surprised if Chas runs for BESE again and receives another maximum contribution from the Governor, who Chas Roemer also unfavorably compared to President Obama.

“I don’t recall that ever happening…where a governor overrode or vetoed [school board] regulations,” Roemer said. “This is a maneuver that’s outside of the Legislative process. It is the same kind of maneuver that he attacked President Obama for doing.”

Chas Roemer has a funny way of supporting his allies. I wonder how that will work out for him next year when he’s looking for endorsements and support from presidential panderers, like he thinks Bobby Jindal is?

This brings me to a third type of leader . . . the really, really, dumb ones.

A Chas Roemer and John White feature presentation