Friday, February 6, 2015

My response to John Merrow

I do hope you will respond as well. See his latest post here: What a Difference a Dash Makes! 

Well John, as you know, the numbers are much greater than a few hundred. New York had easily 60,000 refuse the test last year and this fall in Colorado we had 5,000 refuse the senior CMAS test. On our general FB group page for United Opt Out we have been adding hundreds a week. On the Indiana page they added 1,000 this past week.
I appreciate your comment about a democratic society – because that is what we, the opt out movement, are attempting to preserve. There will not be a free and democratic society if the privatization of public schools continues, using high stakes tests, which promote fear-based school environments – an environment which teaches solely to the test and is completely void of practices which create a democratic school or classroom.
At my school, we have testing all year (DRA2, MAPS, CMAS, PARCC, BAS, ACCESS, PALS. TSGOLD). I believe I’ve had perhaps two weeks this year in which I wasn’t somehow involved in administering a high stakes test and/or had my schedule interrupted due to a high stakes test. I have refused to administer the PARCC, but of course there will be someone to take my place. In addition we’ve been instructed to have daily PARCC practice. And we are desperately trying to stay true to the goals of a democratic , inquiry-based public school – can you imagine how exhausting it becomes to try to do the right thing, when everyone is asking you to implement curriculum and tests that truly amount to educational malpractice?
We know how to assess. We’re teachers . We have portfolios, report cards and we actually talk to parents. And if everyone is so terribly concerned about how we are doing we also have the NAEP. All of this testing is a distraction from the true issues that plague our public schools – poverty. And of course the learning is most narrow in our high poverty schools where these mandates are used to shut down our schools. I work in a so-called “failing” school (we prefer the term abandoned school). Our children are smart and creative and there are over 40 languages represented in our school . But our children are also hungry. We attempt to fill 180 food bags weekly in the midst of all this madness of teaching to the test and testing which takes us away from the inquiry-based learning that creates engaged, problem-solving students .
So – how big is the movement? It’s big and it’s picking up speed fast. The only way I can quantify it for you is to state that I help parents opt out before work, on my way home from work, and each evening. United Opt out has approximately 70 opt out leaders who support parents in their respective states. In addition, if you ever visit our FB group page you will see immense numbers of comments, questions, and support offered as parents find out how to refuse the tests. Another facet of opt out that is most frightening to the reformers who wish to privatize our public schools is this – when a parent becomes educated around the issues of high stakes testing they find their voice and they become an advocate for public schools and for their children. It’s empowering, and it is grassroots organizing at its best. We build relationships while the reformers continue to tear them down as they destroy public school communities and create policies which fail children and fire teachers. We’ll keep fighting back and we’ll keep growing in numbers – there is something to be said for speaking with truth and heart, John. I watch those who make policy and those who pontificate about public education speak with such arrogance – arrogance backed up by money – and the truth is they know nothing about education. And in a mainly female profession, it does not go unnoticed that many of those who pontificate and create policy are males. It’s time that public school teachers are respected for what we know, based on our education and our experience in the public schools. We will continue to fight back. And those of us who opt out – well, we have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. And this spring, you can watch it firsthand.
Peggy Robertson, United Opt Out National

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What it Will Take to Win

The one thing I have learned over the past four years is the importance of keeping one's focus. For myself, and those at United Opt Out National, the focus has been strategic and free - simply refusing to take the tests.   Right now we are working on a three-pronged approach - parents refusing to allow their children to test, students refusing to take the tests (typically older students), and finally teachers refusing to administer the test.

Right now I have one fear. I fear for the future of a generation of children living in a country void of democracy.

The harm that has been inflicted is already so great and so extreme, I can't fathom allowing any more harm to come to these children.  Doing nothing  - saying nothing - is like rolling out the red carpet for privatization to occur. So - fight without fear. The fear is what is allowing them to move at such a fast pace to destroy our public schools. I'd rather go down fighting for a win, then stand fearful as they continue to strip away our democracy. 

And we could win. The revolution is in progress.

We are at the tipping point. The question will be - can we work hard enough - and fast enough to increase the momentum for opt out? Can we work hard and stay true to what is honest and in the best interests of all children? I've watched quite a few activists get lost along the way  due to ego, a shot at a career on the dark side or a chance to make a profit in some shape or form.  It can get ugly out there. And as this war on public schools picks up speed it's essential that we do not lose our focus - do not be distracted by compromises or empty debates that ultimately take away all of your time. Time is our precious commodity. I protect mine fiercely.

My focus is simple. There is absolutely no need to make this complicated. The fact that it is so incredibly simple is what frightens them the most. 

No data = no profit. 

Opt out - targeting it through parents, students and teachers is the key. We are making mainstream media these days and that coverage is the spark we needed to push this forward.  As the crowds get bigger - as the stakes grow higher - it will be very easy to get lost. Take your pulse daily and remind yourself of your focus. There are many ways to fight back - but right now - truly - opt out is the golden ticket.  Opt out saves public schools. Every opt out by a teacher, parent or student is a vote for public schools. 

Build relationships and be ready to hold up folks who are tired, bullied and fighting hard against immense pushback. Our greatest challenge is the pushback - will we be ready for this? Do you have your activist crew in place to handle the phone calls, emails, and text messages as folks are told to obey unjust laws? As teachers are told to commit educational malpractice? As children are forced to labor for the corporations and while poverty is ignored?

I plan to keep my message simple.  I opt out/refuse the tests because I have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. If folks want to know how unjust these laws are - I am happy to provide them with information, stories, and more.

I'm ready.

The next few months quite honestly are everything. Or nothing. The next few months are an open door to save our public schools and our profession. If we do not walk through this door - fearless- and ready to fight - hands joined - then we will be in great danger. The door will not open quite so widely next time. Eventually they will nail it shut.

Now is the time to schedule your opt out meetings - meet at a coffee shop if you can't afford to rent a room. Meet at a house, or a park - whatever works. Canvass your neighborhoods. Use social media to get the word out to #defendchildren as we #optout #refusethetests. 

Understand that right now  - we will get the biggest bang for our time by getting our feet on the ground and talking face to face with those in our communities.  Because we have no money, time is our gold. Use social media to advertise and educate - but then,  meet in person to plan strategy and in order to lift one another up in what will be one of the hardest times in our activist lives.  We will need one another to get through these next few months. Stand strong and stand together.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Do Not Support Colorado Parents' Bill of Rights (SB15-077)

Colorado Alert everyone!!!!

Parents and students are reaching out to me, asking questions after having been encouraged to testify on February 5th in support of a bill known as the "Parents' Bill of Rights" or SB15-077. Beware! Any positive elements of this bill - like opting out in limited circumstances - will be cancelled out by horrifying provisions that will have lasting impact on our children and public education system.

The bill's prime sponsor, Jeffco Sen. Tim Neville, is the brother-in-law of Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams. Last fall, Williams received national attention after hundreds of students walked out in protest over her proposal to create a curriculum review committee aimed to censor and sanitize the A.P. U.S. History program and elementary health curriculum. Weeks later, Sen. Neville and Sen. Laura Woods, who is a co-sponsor of the Parents' Bill of Rights, received a slap on the wrist for using the Jeffco Public Schools logo on their campaign propaganda. When reached for comment about the Jeffco controversy and his use of the logo, Sen. Neville stated "The crisis we're seeing in Jeffco Schools could be eliminated by giving more control back to parents and students."

This statement is the genesis of Sen. Neville's Parents' Bill of Rights  - giving more control to "parents and students." So how does Sen. Neville propose to give control to parents? His bill would mandate that school boards create policy that must include procedures for parents such as:

Public review of textbooks and courses of study.

You read that right. The Parents' Bill of Rights would legally allow any ideological board of education in the state of Colorado to follow in William's footsteps and select which version of history, science and health should be taught to our children. (Read full bill text here.)

Please DO NOT support the Parents' Bill of Rights. Like most pieces of legislation, anything positive in this bill will be overshadowed by the negative. In this case, the shade is even darker and colder than the black cloud hanging over Jeffco.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teachers who Refuse to Administer High Stakes Tests

The list is growing by the day.  Who else will join? As the list grows I will update this blog post.

Judy Dotson – Washington (objects to administering the test)
Susan DuFresne – Washington (objects to administering the test)
Becca Ritchie – Washington (objects to administering the test)

Dan Hornberger - Pennsylvania (refused to administer PA Keystone Exams)

Anonymous refusal: A teacher has successfully refused to administer the upcoming common core test by stating anxiety as a medical issue, which makes it impossible for her to administer the test. I know there is some concern that this might lead to a teacher dismissal/stating they are unable to perform their job, but regardless, in this case it was successful and I think it's important to share as it might work for some!

Kathleen Jeskey - Oregon

Jan Hayden Well - Oregon 

Solidarity to all of you.

We refuse to obey unjust laws. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stand Between the Children and Those Who Wish to Harm Them

Recently I wrote a post entitled "It's Time to Break the Rules." I intend to keep my posts over the next few months focused on the common core aligned tests that are now coming to fruition in 2015.  As we reach the tipping point - breaking rules - acts of civil disobedience - are a necessity

At our fourth annual UOO conference this past weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Barbara Madeloni reminded us of the importance of grassroots organizing as she stated: "Look down here. That's where the vectors of power are."  We must gain our strength and power from the local grassroots movements that surround us.  UOO's FB page has been soaring in numbers over the last six months as the word of opt out continues to spread through the nation. As all of us spread the word of opt out we are increasing the power of the masses  - we can reclaim our democracy, by beginning with the cornerstone of our democracy - our public schools.  No data = no profit.

This weekend, Ira Shor reminded us of the importance of protecting our children.  As an adult it is our job to stand between our children and those who wish to project harm on innocent young minds -  children  -  who come to school to learn, to create and to express themselves in a safe environment which should allow for risk-taking.

I question how we can stand by and watch the danger of high stakes testing mandates permeate our schools, and our children - without standing up for action - without standing between our children and those who wish to project this harm upon them. 

I can promise you  - if anyone dared to harm either one of my boys - I would stand between that harm and my boys - and I would project the greatest amount of power I possessed physically and mentally to stop that harm from touching my children. And I would ask for help from others if need be - and I can promise you - I would win.  As I say this, I must state that I feel the same way about the children within my school.  The time is now for us to harness this power within our schools as we bring together parents, citizens, students and teachers to create strategy to stop the cold and hard cruelty of corporate education reform.

We  must stand between the children and the harmful mandates that are being used to fail them mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Colorado's suicide rate has increased 16.7 percent from 2012 to 2013 alone.  We must question why countries, such as China and Japan, where high stakes testing is rampant, have such high suicide rates.  We must question - what is becoming of our country? And do we care enough to stop it? Or have we been placated by the consumerism that surrounds us? 

The majority of our public school children live in poverty - yet we feed them tests? 

At #UOO15 in Ft. Lauderdale Krashen continued to focus on the need for nutrition, health care and books for our children living in poverty. Krashen asks - does anyone really believe that as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that test scores will improve?   

Does anyone really believe that this achievement gap is "new" information that could only be gathered via NCLB and RTTT?  We have had the NAEP since 1969 - enough said. And as we test our way to the bottom, our achievement gap continues to tell us the same thing again and again - we have under resourced schools - we have abandoned schools - we have poverty and no equitable funding.

It is time to stand between our children and these unjust laws.  How we choose to take that stand will vary, based on our ability to gain strength from our local unions, based on the support we receive in our individual school buildings, and based on our own fortitude. 

Teachers - the time is now.  As Krashen states, the K-12 budget is 800 billion - most of it is for teacher salary, retirement and benefits - and Bill Gates wants it.  The elimination of the teaching profession is in the works.  We must speak up now.

It is not enough to simply shut the classroom door. It is not acceptable to ignore what is happening around us and walk on by. It is not acceptable to remain uninformed. It is not acceptable to say, "This too shall pass."  We must gather out strength, on the inside and outside - we must use our words, our increasing numbers as we work together, our creativity, and  our fortitude to move forward and stand between our children and those who wish to harm them.

I look forward to the day when I can go to work at my school, knowing that we, as teachers, simply refuse to allow this harm to take place. We refuse to be a part of it. We refuse to allow it. And we stand together with our parents, our children, and our communities as we opt out of high stakes common core aligned testing and as we opt into democracy.  Everything is possible. We simply must harness our own strength. And we must shift our own narrative; as teachers we must take the lead as we inform the public about the wrong-doings of these district, state and federal mandates. 

The power of fear will be weakened as we hold hands.  Fear will be extinguished as we find our voices and we claim the conversation. Fear becomes obsolete when we realize that together - we hold the power.  The time is now.

 Many thanks to all who attended #UOO15 and sent me back to Denver replenished, and ready to fight.  Solidarity. 

The wind at your back.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It's Time to Break the Rules

I have to be honest. I have never been good at following any rules that harm children or harm anyone in the public schools -  throughout my entire profession as a teacher. As I stand in the midst of my 18th year of teaching, I am amazed by the aggressive force with which the gauntlet is being thrown down across the nation as a threat or challenge to any students, teachers, or parents,who dare not to follow these "rules" or laws, that we know are unjust. We must administer these high stakes tests, force feed them to children, and the children must like them, and persevere with grit and rigor - for the good of our nation.

I am also fascinated by those who believe that a teacher's refusal to administer harmful high stakes tests is an act of insubordination, and THEREFORE (they believe), these teachers deserve to face the consequences and be punished.  Somehow, I have this image of folks throwing rocks at these teachers as the teachers stand in the middle of the circle - folks mocking them and jeering at them - casting stones with glee.

I can't erase that image from my mind for some reason.  Having been in the presence of folks who are such strong "rule followers" - that they would indeed cast the first stone if we lived in another time in history, or perhaps another place; is truly, an eerie, chilling experience.  

I, personally, can't imagine shaking my finger at ANY parent, teacher, or student who wishes to participate in an act of civil disobedience that indeed breaks some rules as a necessity - IN ORDER to protect children and do what is just and right in the name of humanity and in the name of a democracy that has lost its way.

When I think about this as a reality - I really question, what has become of our society? Our democracy?

If we are truly in such a space, a space in which adherence to horrible, cruel, life-destroying rules trumps doing what is right for our children, what indeed, is to become of us?

I'm not sure.

There are folks out there who believe we should simply wait for policies to change - and that we should work patiently with these policy makers.  Okay...I'll do that, while I scrape the paint off the walls in my living room using my finger nails - heck, we've got NOTHING but time, right?

And as PARCC, SBAC, and the other common core tests rear their ugly heads in 2015?  Tick. Tock. Tick Tock.

There are folks out there who are happy to accept the smidgen of cake that will be offered to all of us this year as policies are tweaked in order to appease those who are not "rule followers."

There are also folks out there who are happy to watch the entire public school system come crumbling down as they set their sights on careers, profit and status in the near future.

Finally, many out there are quietly moving forward, not mentioning the fact that the "less tests, better tests, common core stays" mantra is permeating every policy across the nation in order to keep the data mining in place and keep the cash flowing as they privatize public schools. (They don't mind moving at a bit slower pace...the end goal is the same for them.)

Few, if any, are mentioning poverty.

When I do mention poverty, I find that I receive one of the following reactions:

Kudos to you Peg for mentioning poverty (almost like they punched me in the shoulder to show their approval) followed by.....moving on to the next action item.  In one ear...out the other..

Or - they get angry with me. How dare I use poverty as an excuse for children? These children are every bit as capable as children in high income areas!!! That's right - they can do it...on an empty stomach, living in a car, without books, healthcare - they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carry on! How dare you presume otherwise, Peg? 

Or, finally, first they do this *yawn* *brief eye roll, stare at ceiling, then look at clock as though in a terrible hurry *  - and then they say,  yep...nobody's gonna change any policies that create equitable funding and erase childhood poverty this year - what else ya got, Peg? Give us something we can DO something with -  sheesh (as they think...omg would this Pollyana shut up already....)

The most beneficial response I have received from a fellow activist is this (after I bombarded her with questions about why folks ignore poverty - minus of course the obvious ones...  .01% stays in power and we become serfs).  The truth is this, most simply can't fathom what it is like to live in poverty. Therefore, when you describe scenarios to them, it simply doesn't sink into their soul, their toes, and it sure as hell doesn't light a fire under their asses, requiring them to do something to create change.

And sadly, we live in a country grounded in consumerism; a country where folks will stand in line - in the cold - over night - in order to be the first to get the new iPhone. 

We don't need gold stars for mentioning poverty. We need action to protect children from poverty. We need the masses to wake up and defy the slow conditioning that has been used to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, as they have stripped us of our ability to think, make decisions, and act.

And I wonder, how far is "rule following" going to get us this year? 

As we follow the rules to introduce bills in the legislature, as we follow the rules and dutifully give tests which are not proven to be reliable or valid, all within a high stakes testing environment, just how far will this "rule following" get us?

Not far.  

That is why, this is the year for nonviolent civil disobedience, in the name of children everywhere.

This is the year we must stand tall and refuse to allow the policy makers to believe that they have indeed appeased us - just enough - in order for them to continue to move forward with their corporate ed. reform agenda, simply using new strategies and a bit of a longer timeline.  

(Seriously read the Zimba piece in NPR if you want to see their newest strategy...Zimba is JUST as frustrated as we are by the rollout of common core..he's so frustrated that he has no choice but to create CC curriculum for our schools! I mean..sheesh....he's just a guy trying to help his daughter with math on Saturday mornings!)

The arrogance is forever astounding. We are surrounded by it at all levels of this game.

It is time to break the rules. 

Nonviolent civil disobedience is necessary if we hope to save public schools and if we hope to halt the harm that is currently occurring to our children across the nation, as they are required to take high stakes tests which harm students, teachers, schools and communities.  

Parents must refuse high stakes tests in mass.  Teachers who are able, must refuse to administer the tests. Student activists must educate other students and share with them the knowledge necessary to determine if they indeed #choosetorefuse. Citizens everywhere must stand up and help our communities fight back.

For those rule followers who stand ready to cast the first stone in the form of firing teachers, bullying children who come to school with opt out/refusal letters, and more - drop your stone in this crumbling democracy and stand with us  - as we fight back. And as we win.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Test Scores = Zipcode

The Colorado social studies and science CMAS has been a true wake up call for the citizens of Colorado. I want to share this Colorado story as an example of what will be replicated all over the country this spring as PARCC and SBAC take hold. We have already seen it happen in other states - it pretty much goes like this. The test results come back and the majority (70 to 80%) of the students fail the test. The community and the media come forward with all sorts of possible explanations of why the scores are bad.

Jeannie  Kaplan, former Denver school board member, and a person I respect greatly,  wrote a blog sharing her thoughts on the dismal CMAS scores for 4th, 5th,7th, and 8th grade. 

As she reviews the scores she asks, "Why would you say Social Studies has been a long-ignored subject in Colorado public schools? If you answered, “because Social Studies has NOT been tested,” you would be correct. Which is pretty empirical evidence that our public schools are turning into test prep institutions, rather than incubators of curiosity and developers of life long learning. If the subject isn’t tested, educators are not allowed to teach it, even if it is truly important in preparing one not just for college and career readiness but for life readiness as well. How can we expect our students to be productive citizens if they don’t know and appreciate the history, socio-economics, geography, language, and cultures of the world’s population?"

She states,  ".......if you are not allowed to teach the subject, children in any kind of school will not learn the subject. And if you can’t speak, read and write English with fluency, you most likely won’t do well on a test in English."

I agree with her on many things, but I want to share several thoughts.

First - we knew what the results of the social studies and science CMAS test would be BEFORE the results came back, so spending time examining them only tells us what we already knew. So, it's really very cut and dry. They set the cut scores at around 70% for science and around 80% for social studies, therefore, we knew that only 20 to 30% of students would be successful on the test, and therefore, that's what happened.  And, if they were successful we could assume that they were typically from neighborhoods with high real estate value and/or at charter schools where students are kicked out and they only keep those with high test scores.

Standardized test scores will always tell us zipcode, and therefore, I ask - why do we keep examining them - which gives them value and power?

Chris Tienken has done extensive research on standardized tests. He states, " It goes without saying that there is over 100 years of evidence that demonstrates that commercially prepared standardized tests are influenced too much by out-of-school factors to provide important results. The results we receive tell us more about the child’s home life and neighborhood than what he or she is capable of as a human being. Colleagues and I have spent the last several years using US Census Data to PREDICT the test results on every NJ mathematics and language arts test in most grade levels administered since 2010. We just completed the same research in Connecticut. We have been able to predict the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in a majority of the school districts in NJ and CT using only community and family census data (Tienken, 2014)."

Once again, what do we find out from these scores? Zipcode.

He also states,  "The teacher is still the best assessment tool because classroom assessments are formative (immediate) in nature, and over time they provide a cumulative, running record of achievement that is more reliable than any standardized test. Maybe that is why high school GPA is a better predictor of first-year college success and overall college persistence than the SAT when controlling for wealth characteristics of the students (Atkinson & Geiser, 2009).

Jeannie Kaplan states that teachers are unable to teach social studies and science because only subjects which will be tested are taught, and as a result, social studies and science CMAS scores are low.  

I agree with Jeannie that the subjects tested are the main focus for instruction - I do not agree that CMAS scores are low because they were not taught. 

If that were the case - then why were my school's scores low, not only in social studies and science, but also in math and language arts?  Does that mean our teachers taught nothing?

No. Once again, it tells us zipcode.

And let me share a bit more here.   The teachers at my school last year DID teach social studies and science.   When we simply look at test scores and analyze them, rather than talking to teachers, we get very little information about what is going on in a school.  Why don't people ask teachers instead of wasting their time typing up and analyzing these pointless test scores?

Back to my school and what we taught last year.....

I am the literacy coach at my school so I spend time in all of the teachers' classrooms. I co-teach, model, work with groups of children, and I get to watch teachers create and implement lessons with such skill and nuance, that only an experienced educator could truly see and understand all that is happening - much like watching a surgeon with only the experience of having surgery, versus observing as another experienced surgeon.  I say this, because it's important that citizens understand and respect the skill of our teachers - and especially, respect the skill of teachers who are working in high poverty, under resourced schools. 

Last year, I saw teachers at our school support children in creating amazing Colorado history projects. I watched the younger grades learn about community.  I saw the fifth grade learn all about economics and prepare and attend a field trip at Ameritowne where they - for a day - become a community, with a mayor and with jobs in which they buy and sell products and learn about business and economy.  I saw teachers and students delve into amazing inquiries around insects, endangered species, plants, crustaceans, and more.  I saw the upper grades fold historical fiction into history lessons to support the students in seeing the relevance of these historical facts.

Yet, my district, Aurora, had the worst scores, in the top ten largest districts, on CMAS social studies and science for 4, 5, 7 and 8th grade.

And, not only that, my school's scores in math and language arts placed my school back in turnaround status for the second time.  

Again, does that mean we didn't teach math and language arts too?

No.  But it does indeed tell us, once again, zipcode.   Approximately 70% of the students in Aurora Public Schools receive free or reduced lunch.  Our students come from more than 132 countries and speak over 133 languages.

Let me share my school's story a bit more...and forgive me if my anger comes out a bit in this next thread.

We are a turnaround school as a result of our low test scores. We are considered a failing school. And that means that when I go to professional development opportunities, I am viewed as a literacy coach in a failing school - the implication being, I have failed my school.  It also means  that parents get a letter that tells them our school is in turnaround status and the implication being, that we are failing their children.

It also  means that you get scrutinized and emotionally stripped naked by folks from all over the state who want to figure out WHY you are failing. If you're really unlucky, your school gets audited by absolute strangers who interrogate you one on one and in small groups, asking questions in an effort to reveal any deep dark secrets which might EXPLAIN WHY we have failing test scores. They ask you questions which might pit staff against staff. They want to know who gets along and who doesn't. They want to know if you LIKE your colleagues and/or your principal. And they say with a smile, that they are here to help.  These auditors spend a few days in your building, going where they want, when they want, and they write down pages and pages of information about you and they tell you that this will HELP you. You might discover that the person observing you teaching has only one year teaching experience, as she smiles and jots down notes that will be added to the audit. They leave, after a few days, with their secrets on reams of paper and write a report on potential recommendations to "turnaround" your school.  When they finish interrogating you, you might find that you are shaking and suddenly in tears - as though you have been violated and you aren't really sure what. just. happened.  You might find that the rest of the day you can't talk without feeling a lump in your throat rise to the surface or perhaps the hair on the back of your neck stands up as you think about what you'd really like to say to these auditors who pose as "helpers." 

And when you get the report, you may find it filled with words like grit, perseverance, and college and career ready - and you will find it void of any recommendations to protect your children from poverty - all at the tune of around $30,000 for the audit. And you might be angry. You might want to scream and lash out at every person who continues to give these test scores VALUE. Because you know why the auditors are there - one reason - low test scores. This is the reality for those of us in turnaround. 

So, back to these low test scores and poverty, and a  few deep breaths on my part.

As we, a turnaround staff in a turnaround school,  attempt to refute the low test scores that everyone and their mother want to analyze, we also scramble to piece together wrap around services for our school . We juggle our current funding, grants, volunteers and more to  attempt to provide food for our 180 families who need weekend food bags. We try to make sure that our homeless children, 36 of them, are safe and not sleeping in cars in below freezing temperatures.  We reach out to the community to find additional services to support our children who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, and other emotional and mental health issues to make sure they are safe and able to function in society - inside and outside of school.  We spend a lot of time running to stop potential crisis in the school - such as children running out of the building, children flipping tables and clearing a whole classroom, children crying, screaming, biting, hitting, all as a result of dealing with outside factors the children are coping with - situations that cause me to shudder when I hear of them - situations of abuse, murder, neglect, desperation, hunger, sickness and more.  We work hard to figure out ways to provide classes for parents.  Our parents care. They love their children. They love our school.
Poverty is expensive. And the system is set up to take advantage of them, of us.

We also organize partnerships with community businesses to stock our parent center with food and clothing.  We open our library to the public and we find grants to create a preschool center and parent library within our school library. We seek out resources to add a playground and flowers so that our school is beautiful - on the inside and outside. We want our children and our families to be proud of our school and the learners and teachers who learn, problem solve and create solutions and new ideas on a daily basis, as we develop learners who will be productive problem solving citizens. When the weather turns cold we make sure that every child has a hat, coat and mittens.

As we try to do all this, we must also prove that we will get better test scores - this part is very important. You must have a good explanation and plan to get out of turnaround or they will make a plan for you.  If they make a plan for you, it's guaranteed you won't be in it and the children will find themselves faced with a school disrupted -a  school filled with strangers and a school stripped of its culture and its way of life. A school where only test scores matter; a school where they will feed them only tests.

And all this time folks in the media - mainstream AND social media -  keep analyzing test scores. All this time folks keep spending time, words, and energy to keep the focus on the test scores. Meanwhile we, inside the school, look at the poverty, the large class size, the need for more books, the need for more teachers, and we know what we need to do and we know how to do it, but we are under resourced and so we do the best we can to piece meal together a plan, hopefully get us out of turnaround status, while also creating our own personal plan to protect our children from poverty (and there is no funding for protecting children from poverty).

We watch the district usher in new social studies and new science curriculum. We are not surprised when we see that the curriculum is written by Pearson, who also wrote the CMAS social studies and science test. And we are not surprised when items from the test appear directly in the curriculum. 

We continue to give test after test after test while folks continue to debate what these test scores mean. We don't bother to waste any time looking at the test scores  ourselves - other than what we are required to do - and we try to focus our energy on supporting our students to thrive and learn.

Yet, as I look back on this year so far, I can say that there have only been two weeks out of this year in which I have been able to focus 100% on the needs of the learners. Every other week has been filled with some sort of required testing.

I am tired, so tired of leaders discussing the test scores. The scores that do not inform my instruction. The scores that continue to tell us that many of our children live in poverty.

And to be quite honest, having the time and energy to analyze test scores is a privilege - while they continue to feed the students at my school tests, and while we continue to struggle to protect them from poverty.

I ask this - as a teacher in a high poverty school where we DID teach math, literacy, science, social studies, art, music, PE, social skills, library skills and more - and we still have low test scores - I ask - please, quit discussing these scores. Come and talk to us and we will tell you what we need.  We don't need outsiders analyzing our scores and deciding what those scores mean for our school.

Ask us what we need.   And I can promise you, these standardized tests will not be on our list.  

Here in Colorado the last two weeks seniors from affluent communities have opted out/refused to take the senior CMAS test. They have varying reasons for doing so, and I applaud all of them for refusing to take the tests. But, I watch with sadness as we hear nothing about our students in the high poverty schools refusing to take the tests. Perhaps we'll hear  more on this later, but as for now, it appears the seniors in my district took the test. It appears that the seniors in Denver did as well.

And I ask this of Jeannie Kaplan, and all leaders in districts of high poverty - why are we analyzing the scores when we realize they simply tell us zipcode? Why aren't leaders in these communities supporting parents, teachers, and students in understanding that these scores mean nothing? Why aren't  leaders supporting opt out/refusal of tests? Why did students in Aurora and Denver have to comply and take this waste of a test while the high school students in Boulder refused to do so?

I received a video from a high school in Denver in which they told the seniors they would have prizes for them if they took the test - prizes ranging from coffee mugs, clothing, gift cards, restaurant cards, up to 40 prizes so far she said! The woman speaking says to the seniors, "It's going to be worth your while." Are you kidding me??? The insults are so great I can't even go into it.

Why are we denying certain communities the information they need to determine how they might reclaim their public schools? How they might reclaim their education? How teachers might reclaim their ability to actually teach? 

If we aren't telling them this, then we are a part of the machine that continues to propagate the false narrative that these scores mean something and that these schools are failing.

The seniors who refused CMAS know that by denying them the data, this test may very well go away. Big picture, it may change policy.

As an excellent teacher, teaching in an amazing school with expert teachers and brilliant children, while scrambling on a day to day basis to protect the children from poverty, and at the same time keep the corporate reforms OUT of the school, I must tell you, I am angry that anyone is giving any air time to these test scores. 

Zipcode.  One word.  Now let's do something about it.

Refuse the tests, demand that the money be funneled to our neediest schools and let's watch what happens.  Just as we can predict zipcode via test scores, I can predict what will happen when these children are protected from poverty.  Just watch us.  

With great respect, I ask that we begin to educate the public. No data = no profit. Let's return our schools to our communities. Take away their data which predicts only zipcode and which continues the narrative of failing schools. These schools are not failing. They are abandoned.  

Our  students in Aurora are every bit as brilliant as students in Boulder. I demand that society recognize them for their brilliance and I demand that society protect them from poverty.

With great respect, I ask leaders in all communities to educate and act.  

Demand an end to high stakes corporate testing and common core, which together, are privatizing our public schools. Demand sampling, versus testing everyone. Demand that teachers be allowed to assess. Let's deny them the data - support opt out/refusal and force the policy makers to create policies which truly protect children from poverty and create equitable and democratic schools. And let's do this now - before PARCC arrives in the spring, and once again, proves that our schools are failing.  Think about the children in my school. Think about the children in Denver. We have no more time to analyze test scores while they suffer. As a teacher, I have refused to administer the PARCC this year. I continue to support parents in opting out. I know we are at the tipping point, and I know there are leaders out there who can help us tip this in the favor of all children. Let's do it