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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Privilege and the Common Good

Privilege = a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
Common good = the benefit or interests of all.
It is fascinating to watch how the two merge, or do not, as we move forward to reclaim our public schools. There are folks with privilege who opt out, not only just for their children, but for the common good. There are other folks - with privilege - who have made the executive decision, without sharing information with members of the community, that opt out is NOT the way to go for THAT community - and therefore, have denied the community the education to determine what they think about opt out. Finally, there are others who have decided that it's essential that they can compare their test results with test results in other districts to prove that their school system is failing DUE to privatization movements in that district - therefore opt out is not the way to go for their district - the ability to "compare" only comes from those who are in a very privileged position to do so - they still believe these test scores mean something.
And then, there are folks who are just trying to stay under the radar because no one in their district has been harmed yet - these are the folks who only give me an FB  thumbs up on my chicken photos or my family photos...they don't want to be noticed because right now, it's just not in their backyard, and they are okay with just protecting their own and allowing their children to test because the kids get good results and the district looks good, and real estate values stay high. Finally there are districts so harmed, so broken, that opt out is the way to go and they know this and understand it - but the fear, the high stakes and the lack of resources and the lack of support are so great, and the time is so short to figure out HOW to move forward, that folks aren't sure what to do - they aren't sure how to arm themselves ever so quickly with education and tactics to salvage and reclaim.
I watch each of these groups try to move forward, and I just keep thinking - if these groups worked together - for the common good - the truth would be clear - so crystal clear - that we would win. Opt out is a guaranteed win. No data = no profit. Money is the end goal here. Without the data, politicians, unions, chamber of commerce, school boards, EVERYONE would be required to listen - it would smack them in the face - and it would be clear who truly holds the power - WE DO. So, I put this post out to my Colorado friends - and I ask you to consider once again, how opt out - everywhere - will shut this down. And how we can support one another - in Adams 12, Adams 50, Aurora, Cherry Creek,  Denver, Dougco, Jeffco, Littleton, Pueblo, and more - to reclaim our public schools for the common good. Please consider that, as you use your privilege to make decisions, decisions that affect all children, decisions that others without privilege, cannot make.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let Arne and the Denver Post know that a full revolt is in progress

Please comment on this article Arne Duncan: A test for school tests. Even if you have time for just one line of comment - we must not allow these lies to stand as truth. Thank you everyone.

Here is my comment on the article:

First - we must understand that the call for less testing is simply an appeasement - and a distraction - from the privatization agenda which requires immense testing PLUS the full implementation of the common core standards. The high stakes testing and the common core standards MUST stay in place if corporations wish to continue cashing in on public education to the tune of 800 billion dollars and growing. So, Arne can say whatever he wants to attempt to appease the public but we must understand clearly that the goal is to privatize. And they will happily decrease the testing to appease the public so that they can continue to dismantle the public school system. 

These tests test what matters least. None of these tests support instruction, unless of course your goal is to teach to the test - which requires becoming savvy at multiple choice and formulaic writing. In our public schools the testing never ends. At the elementary school level we are testing weekly in some shape or form. The common core standards, upon which all this testing and curriculum is based, are developmentally inappropriate, not internationally benchmarked and not based on research. The PARCC test, which Arne claims is oh so fabulous, has no peer review research to demonstrate that it is valid. PARCC is an experiment. Experiments require informed consent. There is no parental informed consent for the PARCC experiment, which public school children in Colorado will be subjected to this year. 

The PARCC is already estimated to fail 70% of our children. When CMAS social studies and science scores come out on October 27th, the citizens of Colorado will also see that Colorado's children have failed those tests. Then, watch the corporate reformers say - YES - see??? Our schools are failing! Our children are failing! Our teachers are bad! Watch them add more common core curriculum (Which by the way is nothing but test prep of the worst kind...mundane, boring and requires children to practice for the common core tests day in and day out using all the new fancy technology necessary for these tests.) Watch them fire more teachers because our evaluation will be tied to these tests and since 70% of the children will fail it - well, you do the math. Watch the schools buy more technology in order to increase test scores  and watch the CDE gather more student data because data is the new gold. Watch this data get shared with corporations so they can churn out more products and better manage and monitor our children. 

Watch teachers spend more time getting trained to administer tests versus actual professional development to support teaching. In the last year I have received "professional development" on how to administer TCAP, ACCESS, PALS, and TS Gold and CMAS. I wonder what new tests will be ushered in next year? Oh yes - and I have received "professional development" on new common core curriculum which is scripted - for the day in which teachers will simply be teacher as technician. Look up Carpe Diem schools if you are wondering what that looks like. The end goal is to have very few experienced teachers - that would be dangerous as we know too much. Teacher as data puncher is all that is needed in the privatization agenda. Thinking is dangerous  - we might wake up the masses  - and then the cash flow would end. Teachers must be obedient and follow the rules of the privatization agenda, therefore, making sure that our evaluation is tied to these high stakes tests keeps us silent as we teach to the test. It also pits teacher against child as teachers soon realize that their livelihood depends on the test scores of these children. 

Watch specifically in the urban areas, where children live in poverty and do not have books or computers at home which already puts them at a disadvantage for these online tests. Not to mention that they are hungry, many are sick, and many are tired due to having no consistent place to sleep at night. These children in poverty already suffer from toxic stress which damages the pre-frontal cortex of their brain - add toxic testing and toxic test prep to the mix and the damage increases. Watch these schools get labeled as failing schools - when in truth they are abandoned schools. Watch the reformers come in and hand them over to a charter, fire the staff, and usher in Teach for America folks who have 5 weeks of teacher training. Watch them continue to ignore poverty.

Meanwhile, when teachers do nothing but test and test prep day in and day out, we have no time to actually support the learner. This nonsense about "college and career ready" is so short sighted. What about problem solving citizens?  The common core and high stakes testing together are designed to destroy our public schools. The federal mandates under Race to the Top have opened the door wide to allow corporations to cash in using our children's data . If we hope to stop it, we need to revolt by refusing to allow our children to take these tests. I, personally, have refused to administer the PARCC test. See here: and I will continue to support parents in refusing these tests - see here: .  If anyone expects politicians, or mainstream media - such as the lovely Denver Post - to listen to anything that speaks to the truth, it will require a full-on revolt from the parents. Starve the beast - no data means no profit - game over. If I can help let me know. My email is and my blog is 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Questions from Teachers: How Do We Move Forward?

I am getting many requests from teachers who are privately asking me, how do we move forward to refuse to administer high stakes tests? How do we support opt out? What can we do? How can we resist?

Teachers across this nation are recognizing that we are at the tipping point. It's now or never - which is why I refused to administer the PARCC. I have nothing left to lose - I believe that if we don't fight back now - and fight back hard - our profession will be gone in ten years. But please remember, refusing to administer the PARCC is only one strategy. And it could be a great strategy for retiring teachers or teachers simply willing to take that risk. However, there are many tactics - and each of us have to find what works for us. My blog on Resisting from Within might be useful to my fellow teachers in the trenches. 

Also, our (UOO's) Call for Support from the Unions at our website,, might be a post that teachers could pass along to their locals. Florida has already taken action - in great contrast to Colorado where CEA discouraged teachers from sharing opt out information directly. All of us here in Colorado will continue to push forward  - you can count on that :)

If you are working in a state in which your local and state are not supporting your efforts to take action to save public schools, I recommend forming a caucus. The caucus we created here in Colorado is an informal caucus, so we are not required to jump through any hoops. See here: If you are interested in learning more about our caucus and how we created it, please join our FB page and we will be happy to help. 

Next, I recommend finding ways to educate teachers. Educate. Educate. Educate. My local, Aurora Education Association,  asked me to write an article for our last newsletter. Here is the article. Feel free to take it and use it however it might support your efforts: 

This year is a big year for public education.  Our students will be required to take the PARCC test, a test that is predicted to fail 70% of our students.  I have grave concerns about this test and the ultimate harm it will cause for our children, our profession, our schools and our communities. It is clear that this test will increase the speed with which our public schools are being privatized.  PARCC is not just any test – it is a test that was specifically designed to test our national Common Core standards, in order to streamline data efficiently, while allowing profiteers to cash in on the 800 billion dollar K-12 market .

When we look at the big picture - the history behind the Common Core standards, the developmentally inappropriateness of the Common Core standards, the fact that the standards are copyrighted, and finally, the fact that these standards were not created using a democratic process, we must question -whose interests are being met by the implementation of these standards?  We must question this as we watch our schools become immersed in new CC curriculum, testing and technology for testing.

As a teacher, first, I must do no harm. I believe this test will be harmful – and especially harmful to children who live in poverty, children with exceptional needs, children who have anxiety, depression, children who are hungry, sick, and tired.  I believe that it is ethically wrong to administer this test.  As a result, I have refused to administer the PARCC and I will continue to support parents as they refuse to allow their children to take these high stakes tests.  I am thankful to have AEA standing by my side as I take this risk.  It is time to create a larger conversation – as educators  – about what we know is best for children.  We should be leading this conversation.  It is time to take action.

I hope this helps. I felt a need to post this in an effort to respond to the many teacher emails I am receiving. Solidarity to all of you. 

And onward we push,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Refuse to Administer the PARCC

First posted at R.A.V.E. (Re-igniting Association Values for Educators)

Citizens of Colorado, I address this letter to you, because you are my community, my people. You have the power to shift the momentum in our public schools – where our students are increasingly being taught to the test under the intense high stakes conditions created via Race to the Top. Meanwhile, child poverty is ignored. I send this letter to you because I have made attempts to have a dialogue with the decision-makers. I have spoken with Secretary Arne Duncan, I have written to President Obama, and I have spoken in front of the Colorado Legislative Education Committee, all to no avail. So, I address this letter to you, in the hopes that my words and my actions will create momentum across our beautiful state for the children of  Colorado.  Thank you. 

Dear Citizens of Colorado,

I am a teacher in the Aurora Public School District. I am writing to let you know that I will be refusing to administer the PARCC in the 2014-2015 school year. I do not stand alone in my refusal of this high stakes test. I join the ranks of educators across the country who are fighting back against policies and mandates that ultimately harm our children and destroy our children’s opportunities to become confident, active, problem solving citizens.

I have watched the testing increase over my 18 years of teaching in the public schools. I have watched what it has done to my ability to meet children’s needs and to allow children the opportunities to engage in learning that is authentic – learning that furthers the purpose of these children’s lives. This year, in particular, I am watching an onslaught of common core curriculum infiltrate our schools, along with additional tests and test prep to add to the test load which permeates every minute of every school day.  I hear again and again that I should find the “good” in this curriculum and make the best of it. I am a literacy coach, therefore, I work with many teachers and children in our building. I believe our children deserve better than simply, my ability to find the “good” in this common core test prep curriculum. I believe our children deserve what President Obama’s children have at Sidwell, where teachers have autonomy to teach without scripted common core curriculum and common core high stakes testing.  I take objection to the fact that our children are being used as guinea pigs in an experiment to implement standards which were never field tested, are copyrighted,  were not created using a democratic process, and were not created with the input of classroom teachers. Furthermore, the Common Core standards have placed unrealistic expectations on our youngest learners, many who now view themselves as failures, because they are unable to meet the developmentally inappropriate expectations set by the Common Core standards.

I also refuse to administer the PARCC because I believe that participation in such testing gives the test credibility – of which it has none. The PARCC test was designed to assess the Common Core standards which are not grounded in research, nor are they internationally benchmarked. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the Common Core standards, Common Core curriculum and Common Core testing, will in any way close the achievement gap. It will do the opposite. By funneling all of our tax dollars to corporations for curriculum, tests and technology to implement the test, we have ignored the elephant standing in the middle of the room – the number of homeless school children in Colorado, which has more than tripled in the last decade.  The poverty rate of black children stands at approximately 40% while the poverty rate of  Latino children is approximately 30%. Colorado also has the third fastest growing rate of childhood poverty in the nation. We know quite clearly that children who have quality nutrition, healthcare, as well as access to books via libraries with certified librarians, and all the other resources provided to children in particular zip codes, actually, have done quite well on standardized tests in the past. Yet, we continue to ignore this fact, and we continue to feed our children living in poverty only tests. In order to pay for these tests, technology, and curriculum, we strip our schools of much needed resources such as books, small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors and more. Closing the achievement gap requires closing the resource gap.

As we consider closing the achievement gap, it’s important to recognize that New York has administered the Common Core test two years in a row, both years resulting in approximately a 70% failure rate state-wide. Our achievement gap is increasing. And we continue to funnel our money away from the schools and directly into the pockets of profiteers.

I am responsible for making pedagogical decisions to support the learning of students and adult learners on a daily basis; the state and federal mandates currently in place hamper my ability to do what is best for learners. There are better ways to assess children. Currently, the assessments being used assess only narrow learning, derived through continual test prep in our classrooms. They assess what matters least, and such learning will not create innovative thinkers or citizens who can salvage our democracy.

I believe that refusing PARCC is the first step in taking down the Common Core boondoggle which streamlines student data (violating the privacy of children) to create more profit for the corporations. I also believe that refusing to administer PARCC is the first step in saving our profession, which is being hijacked in numerous ways by those who know a lot about increasing profit, but who know nothing about teaching children.

Our children are not gaining from the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing; instead, I see corporations profiting immensely, along with politicians and various other individuals who have jumped on the Common Core train. The link between the Common Core standards, curriculum, and testing, is inextricable. They are linked together intentionally in order to increase profit. Public education is the new cash cow; privatization is the end goal. We must begin to take down this profit machine by beginning with the data the corporations so dearly love. No data. No profit. I will not hand over Colorado’s children (and their data) to the corporations via federal mandates.

I encourage everyone who stands with me to sign in the comment section below. I also encourage everyone to share the letter with national and state leaders.  However, I do not believe that change will come from the top, which is why I have addressed this letter to you, the citizens of Colorado. We must be the change.  Sometimes change requires risk.

I must do right by the children of Colorado and the teachers of Colorado, therefore, I refuse to administer the PARCC.

Peggy Robertson
Public School Teacher
Aurora, Colorado

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Do NO HARM. That is Reasonable.

As this common core and high stakes testing war comes to a head I am watching lots of folks trying to mediate and ask folks to be reasonable. They want to talk about all the harm that could come to our schools should we refuse these tests or refuse test prep common core curriculum. When I hear this my hair stands on end. Number one. Don't flipping tell me to be reasonable. Don't insult me - as a professional - my first job is to do NO HARM. THAT IS REASONABLE. Two. Speaking of harm - what harm do you think is going to come to our communities? Our children? Let's see, they've stripped our schools of all funding for small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors, art, music programs, sports programs, REAL teachers, books, building repairs, classroom supplies and more. They've stripped our schools of democracy. They've stripped our schools of trust, and respect and safety - there is NOTHING safe for children in a high stakes environment. Countless communities have been destroyed and children no longer can go to their neighborhood schools. THEY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE POVERTY AND FEED OUR CHILDREN TESTS INSTEAD. So tell me again - hurt our schools? How?? Be careful around these reasonable folks who want you to adhere to mandates in order to avoid "hurting" your schools - they have something personal to gain or they are simply sheeple. Our schools and our children are already hurt. We are attempting to educate in war tents with damaged communities, children, teachers and buildings. Quite honestly, the way many folks act now in the public schools is the way folks who have been mentally or physically abused act. Folks have been so beaten down that they are hanging on by a thread. So - you - out there - who have the audacity to tell us to stop our acts of civil disobedience in order to stop "hurting" our schools - we know your game and we know where you stand. On the wrong side of history. Get out of our way.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Parents, I Cannot Protect Your Children

I will do my best. But my best isn't good enough - and I think that is the point I really want to make here. 

Across the nation teachers are fighting back hard. Across the nation - actually across the world -  teachers will shut their doors and do their best to protect children from high stakes testing, test prep, nonstop district and state mandated testing and more. But - the truth is this, our best is not good enough, because in order to attempt to do our best we are jumping through hoops, shutting our door to secretly do what is right for children, spending our own money on resources for our classrooms and on supplies for children who have none, and we are spending hours and hours gaming our way through "teach to the test" curriculum and massive amounts of mandated corporate formative and summative assessment - in order to attempt to "do our best."  

So, I'm going to be blunt here. I cannot do my best under these conditions. I can attempt to do my best, but my best under these conditions is not good enough. And my attempts to play the game and resist where I can will not be enough to protect your children from what is happening.

Also - I want to make it clear that by shutting our doors and attempting to do our best, we are able to protect your children a bit more, but shutting our doors and keeping quiet about the harmful practices that have infiltrated our schools is only adding to our problems - if we think long term. Short term, yes - it helps us do what is right for children. Long term, it only promotes a false reality that allows parents to think, it isn't really that bad. Long term, it assists in the dismantling of public education and our profession. Finally, shutting the door doesn't allow teachers to hide from the databases which demand us to enter your child's data on all these assessments. The data mining has begun full force.

So, yes, I'll do my best. I have even refused to administer the common core PARCC assessment this year - I can do that to protect children. But let's be clear on this - even though I have refused to administer the PARCC test, there will be someone there to take my place.

And I cannot protect children from certain non-negotiables within common core curriculum and on-going assessment. We cannot protect the children from the common core professional development which takes us away from our buildings and leaves children with substitute teachers.  As a literacy coach,  I do what I can to rephrase and rid my school of corporate reform language such as rigor, grit, calibrate, accountability, no excuses and college and career ready.  I can even replace these words with language that represents inquiry, heart, relationships, community, equity, creativity and more. But ultimately, all of my attempts are simply band aids.

Even though I have done my best to make writing "on-demand" prompts developmentally appropriate for kindergarten (let's face facts -there is NO such thing), it is still an "on-demand" writing prompt for kindergarten. Even though I will do everything in my power to support children in their inquiries about bugs, outer space, poetry, sports, cooking, their favorite authors, music, art, history and more; I cannot stop the testing train which makes stops in every classroom every week in some shape or form. The classroom is no longer driven by the rhythm of learning, it is driven by the testing schedule which continually interrupts our children's talk and exploration of their interests - the testing schedule extinguishes the passion for learning.  It makes all of us tired with the constant stop. start. stop start. as we try to regroup and get back on track with the real learning that is occurring in the classrooms.  I can't tell you how many "ah ha" moments have been lost for children as they had to break away from their projects, their thinking, their conversation, in order to hunker down over an assessment as they labor for the corporations.

And in the midst of all this testing, we are surrounded by new common core curriculum that is embedded with test prep, scripted lessons and more - and this is what we are doing - we are trying to read through all this curriculum while asking ourselves, "How can we use this curriculum and still do what is best for children?  How can we make the best of this? How can we pull out the good stuff and leave the rest? How can we look like we are being good little soldiers and still do what is right for children?"

Now - as teachers swim through this new common core curriculum, because we are expected to do so, understand that this takes immense amounts of time away from what we should be focusing on - the children.  It takes time to figure out which parts of the curriculum will be non-negotiable and which parts we can skip or substitute what we know is best for children.  So, as I swim through mounds of new common core curriculum in order to "do my best" I simply will not be doing my best because being required to maneuver through such madness in order to TRY to do my best - let's face facts -  is simply not good enough for your children.  They deserve better.  Our attention should be on the children - not the demands of the common core curriculum and high stakes testing.  

I ask this - do you believe that the teachers at Sidwell (school of President Obama's children) are asking these questions and jumping through these hoops? Does anyone believe that Malia and Sasha are faced with the stop. start. stop. start. of continual onslaughts of corporate testing throughout the year?

Of course not. Sidwell students have ample resources and no common core curriculum or testing.  Sidwell teachers are allowed to do their best and focus on the children.

Now, some might say I exaggerate, but I promise, I don't. Test prep and common core curriculum come in many disguises. Publishers and those who write this curriculum are slick at embedding test prep into the curriculum. They are slick at trying to convince teachers and the public that this is good for children. 

Sadly, there are many teachers who do not realize what is happening to their profession or to our public schools. Some still say, "This too shall pass." They think it's just one more new thing that will eventually move along like every new mandate. Some laugh at me and think I am extreme. Heck, my own state and national union supports the common core, while I sit here and watch it dumb down my own school and my son's school every week.  I watch it take autonomy from teachers and turn creative thinking into carefully disguised skill/drill.

The depth of this reform is not always visible to the naked eye - intentionally so.  But for those teachers watching keenly, we have eagle eye vision for these changes - as this is OUR profession - our turf. If I was doing my best, I'd tell every parent every thing I know about these reforms. But if I did that, I'd get fired.

You see, we are not supposed to share with you the developmentally inappropriateness of kindergarten classrooms in our buildings. We also sign agreements that prohibit us from telling you about the child that cried through the entire high stakes test or the child who bit his finger nails to the quick during the test. We are not supposed to tell you that the report cards are a joke and mean nothing. We are not supposed to tell you that your children don't even have to take these tests and that these tests are culturally and racially biased. We are not supposed to tell you that the children are bouncing off the walls because they only get one fifteen minute recess a day. We aren't supposed to tell you that the new "big thing" is brain breaks in order to help your children cope with the fact that they aren't allowed to have more recess. 

We are supposed to make the best of it. We are not supposed to explain that the new curriculum and new chrome books are really here for one reason - to increase performance on the common core tests. We are not supposed to tell you that every year your child is spending more time laboring for the corporations as new tests and test prep get added. There are lots of bells and whistles that disguise the truth of this common core curriculum and testing regime surrounding your children - and we are supposed to do our best and ring those bells and smile when you are around.

If you want to protect your children, you must begin by refusing all the tests. Even as I, a teacher, refuse to administer the PARCC, it will not stop the PARCC from moving forward. My union is not behind me ready to organize and back all the teachers if they were to refuse to administer the PARCC, so I stand alone. And even if my union did organize the teachers to refuse to administer the PARCC test, my union still supports common core - so I still can't protect children and I still can't "do my best" because common core and high stakes testing cannot be decoupled. Believe me - I'll keep working hard at the grassroots level to shift our union, but it won't happen over night. In the meantime, your children are suffering.

Some days I feel like a nurse inside a war tent with wounded soldiers. And no matter how brave I am, no matter how much I stand up to these reforms, it is not enough - they have taken away so much of my power, and my ability to make professional decisions in order to protect children and do what is right for all children.

I teach at a school with 73% free/reduced lunch. Over 40 languages are spoken within my school. I know what our children need - they need wrap around services for poverty, books, librarians, small class size, health care, nurses, counselors, recess, quality food, and the opportunity to express their interests as they talk, read, write, play, sing, dance, create and smile. But you see, that doesn't create corporate profit. Poverty must be ignored in order to keep corporate profit churning.  

Parents, I cannot protect your children. I must be honest in telling you that the war is alive and well in our classrooms, and children are being harmed every day. What is happening is evil, cruel and abusive. Refuse the tests and deny the corporations the profit, deny the district, state and federal government your child's data (which they can share with corporations), deny the publishing companies the opportunity to create more common core products.  Without the data, the profit ends and we have an opportunity to reclaim our public schools, our profession. We have an opportunity to do what is right for all children.  I am done smiling and saying, I am doing my best. I'm not.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Loss of Libraries and Librarians

The subject of libraries is near and dear to my heart. In a second life I may come back as a librarian – if there are any libraries left.  My elementary school had a tiny little library; it was lovely.  I looked forward to checking out books every week – sometimes I checked out books that were big and fat - books I couldn’t read yet, but books that gave me great pleasure to carry around while I periodically turned the pages. At our public library I would check out books by the dozen. I would check out books that were meant for adults, books on topics I had never heard of and I would stack them in my bedroom to look at - without any pressure or requirement to reach a certain reading level or to write a paragraph when I finished reading them.  I also read books meant for children my age – I read Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, and more. As I got older I found myself enamored with various mystery series, then on to studies of various religions, anthropology, a spattering of science fiction, and poetry. I read what I wanted when I wanted. As I grew my tastes changed, but I knew that at the library I could pretty much find anything, and if I couldn’t find it the librarian would be there to help me sift through the card catalog (yes I am that old). I must confess that my parents rarely read to me, but I was continually surrounded by mounds of books as they were both avid readers.  I knew that books were important – sacred – and could answer my questions and solve my problems. I knew that books could help me dream big. There was something about the library and the librarian that made me feel at home – I felt I belonged.

As a child, I knew that the librarian was always close by to assist in my exploration of the world – and ultimately, myself. I could share my interests with a librarian and suddenly – voila – I was surrounded by books that spoke to me - books that made me feel whole - books that gave me a better sense of my identity, who I was and what I might become.  Just as a child plays dress up, I found that I played dress up through books. One day I was an anthropologist surrounded by books that an anthropologist might have. The next week I was a poet carrying Emily Dickinson with me everywhere I went. For a bit I was an artist and I became quite good at water color painting with the assistance of some lovely library books. I can only imagine what it must be like to observe children come and go from a library, while helping them find resources, and watching as they grow and their interests grow with them. Those stories can only be told by the librarians of the world. I am not a librarian so I cannot speak for them – but it seems like it would be such a joyful job to help people find resources that fill their souls or lead them down their life’s path. I have never taken libraries for granted - to be allowed to take home all of these resources for free still amazes me.  And truly, it has always felt like a bit of a celebration for me when I visit a library.  I cannot anticipate what will happen – what I will find – and what lovely gifts will come home with me and somehow, alter my world. 

I watch libraries closely now, in this world that feels much harder and colder. Libraries seem to shut down by the day  - hitting hard in areas where access to information - for free - is desperately needed. There are also many libraries with no librarian to steer the ship. My own son has no librarian at his public high school. The elementary school where I teach has no librarian yet we have a phenomenal library – but without a librarian, truly, the library has no heart – or perhaps, it’s like it has been lulled to sleep via some cruel curse - and only a librarian can bring it back to life. It’s a strange phenomenon. If you have ever spent time in a library where no librarian exists, perhaps you understand. The feeling of community and belonging does not exist. The feeling of excitement and the possibility of discovering the unknown is flat – I can’t sense it and I can’t see it.  I watch the children check out books, but many of the children who have questions, many of the children who are unfamiliar with authors and particular series, many of the children who don’t know that the library is a world that can and will open new doors for them, often end up randomly picking a book and sitting in line until check out time is over. Meanwhile, the teacher is busy doing the check out – there is no time to talk to the children and find out what makes them tick – there is no time to walk them to the bin of books that will light up their faces and change their thinking or their view of the world. 

I think about my own knowledge of books and how I can navigate a library fairly well due to the fact that I grew up around books and I am surrounded by books in my own home.  Many of the students I work with do not have any books at home – when one doesn’t have books at home – how does that affect their experience in a library with no librarian to help them along the way? I think about my first time eating sushi – small town girl from Missouri no less – and I remember being incredibly thankful that I was with experienced sushi eaters who could assist me in knowing what to get, how to eat it and how to enjoy it and feel at ease in the restaurant. I know it’s a weak comparison – but I am trying to think of how I might feel in an environment that is new to me – and how do I react? And how would I react in a sushi restaurant if I had to pick and choose without the help of experienced restaurant staff or friends? Might I simply walk out? 

Now imagine being a young child. 

I just wonder, what is it like for the children who have not grown up in a literacy rich environment as they attempt to navigate a library on their own – without a librarian? What literacy experiences have been denied to them because they are unsure of how to navigate a room full of books, other informational resources, and technology? What solutions to problems have been denied to them because they didn’t know the answers to their questions were sitting on the shelf  to the right? Which authors – who might have spoken to their souls – were denied to them because they had no idea – for example – that Gary Paulsen’s love for dogs was as great as theirs? And at what point – did the child simply stop asking questions?

Do you remember that moment when you read a book and you said to yourself – this author speaks to me – and you were certain that you and that author would be good friends if only you had a chance to meet over coffee. I remember that moment. I remember it again and again. I am certain that Emily Dickinson and I would have been fast friends. Also Anne Frank - I devoured every single book I could find about her. I also connected with characters in books. Without question I would have been Ayla’s closest friend and ally - if only I could have leaped into the Jean Auel Earth’s Children series. These experiences – these books – these authors – these characters - these librarians who have assisted me in pursuing my interests - have helped shape who I am today.

I want to dig even deeper – I want to dig into the concept of a library as the cornerstone of democracy in each public school – and/or community.  Simply put – knowledge is power. Access to knowledge is expanded through the experienced librarian who is ready to help – the experienced librarian who listens to the young child as he or she shares his/her life stories. Don’t think for one second that Google can match a librarian – Google is only letting you discover what Google thinks you ought to discover. Google manages us, maneuvers us, and gathers data every step of the way as we search for information.

Let's also consider Red Box. If you can’t afford to buy DVDs these days, and you can’t afford Netflix, Direct TV, whatever it may be – you might find yourself headed to Red Box. Red Box will give you limited options. You can pick from a few things and that’s it – Red Box controls what you can view – therefore, ultimately, it could shape your view of reality – your view of what is out there in the world. Can you imagine the "Red Box" of libraries?

The library, as the cornerstone of democracy in each school, is the hub for problem solving, the hub for exploration, action, talk, debate, research and more - this is where ideas are formed.

If the library lacks a librarian – who do you go to in order to get the resource you need - or perhaps find out if such a resource exists – whether it be a website, a book or any other form of media? Who chooses the resources for a library if there is no librarian to purchase them? The librarian is the person who has a keen sense of what each individual in the library community wishes to discover – and the librarian has the knowledge and expertise to find these books and resources.  I can attest to the challenges in ordering for a library – I have had to do this for two years now at my school and I cringe to think about how I could have done it better – I am not a librarian and I do not possess the knowledge needed in order to purchase thousands of books for a library. If there is no librarian – and you more or less are stuck with the “Red Box” of libraries – who is deciding what you view – what information you have access too?  If you think even more deeply about this – a librarian  has no financial profit  to be gained from you – the librarian is truly there to help you pursue your interests and ultimately your life’s dreams. What does Red Box want from you?  What does Red Box have to gain? Think about that when you see or hear about the new libraries that are strictly online. The librarian is not gathering data points on you like Google or Red Box– the librarian is developing a relationship with you and simply wishes to help you as you think, question and dream.

The librarian opens the door to democracy.

Let’s take a look into what we know about research on libraries and librarians. We know that librarians and excellent libraries improve student reading achievement. I could go on about this for pages and pages. It’s been stated again and again. Just view this link And this link. And this. Or how about this or this or this. Krashen states, "In recent years two studies have confirmed that investing in the school library can not only make a difference, it can actually offset the impact of poverty on reading achievement." 

Yet libraries and librarians do not create the profit that come from online testing, online common core curriculum and chrome books galore. 

Libraries and librarians increase the opportunity to think – they increase questioning – they increase problem solving and the ability to discover truths. Discovering truths and solving problems is a dangerous thing in a country that is determined to keep things standardized  -  in order to keep data flowing quickly to the corporations  - in order to manage us while profiting and privatizing. Democracy and thinking is messy and cannot be standardized – that makes profit and privatization via standardized data collection rather difficult.

I have been told on occasion that there is no need for libraries and librarians!  We have technology!!!! Technology will not notice the small shy child who enters the library with questions in his head that crave an answer. Technology will not notice the young girl wandering aimlessly amidst the books – the young girl who is unsure of what books interest her because she has never checked out a book and has no books at home. Technology will not hold a child’s hand and smile while headed to the "books on CD" section.  Technology will not share books with the child, after building a relationship with a child over the past month and now knowing clearly that this child loves castle books and anything related to natural disasters. Technology will not continually try to tap into a child’s interest by reading aloud stories again and again while listening to the child’s cues as the child laughs, or her eyes light up, or she leans closer as the story builds – or she simply grabs the book and says to the librarian – can I take this home? Technology will not hand the young five year old a library card and say, “Welcome, you are now a member of our library.” Technology will not offer a warm chair to the elderly homeless man who comes in daily to read the newspaper, while also checking to see if he has eaten that day. Technology will not develop a relationship with the young mother who is trying to find a job (and comes to the library daily), while simultaneously learning English, and is unsure of what resources - books, media and/or individuals - might best help her in her community.  Need I go on? 

I watch the disappearance of librarians and libraries across our country and with each disappearance I see another stone removed from the foundation of our democracy.  I see another obstacle placed in our way as we attempt to organize as communities and come together to support one another in reclaiming our democracy. Racine, Wisconsin just purged 8,000 books from their public school libraries. What does that mean? What is the reasoning? Who is controlling access to information in Racine and how did they make the decision that the children of Racine no longer need these 8,000 books? What information will now be denied to the community of Racine – and why?

We are at war with those who wish to tear down our democracy by denying us access to information that is developed and maintained by librarians who can advocate for the needs of their communities. We know that libraries and librarians increase reading achievement. We know they build and support community. We most certainly know that their existence is vital if we are to reclaim our democracy and develop problem solving citizens. It is not enough to simply have a library. We must remember that libraries create community – and community is created by building relationships – and relationships and free access to information in our libraries are fostered by human beings, by librarians who care about the individuals in their communities and will speak up for them. We must remember that at this crucial time in our country – it will be the grassroots efforts of communities that will reclaim our public schools and our democracy. Denying communities and children access to libraries and librarians, who are advocates for our communities,  is an excellent way to stop us - isn’t it?