Our children have spent the majority of the year testing or practicing for tests - and now they must take. Another. Test.
The teachers have posted standards, targets, success criteria, given pre/post assessments, given on demand writing assessments (via Lucy Calkins writing program now tied ever so efficiently to the common core - cha ching), issued exit tickets, and now this past week children have completed PARCC practice tests online - all in an effort to get our school out of turnaround status. Teachers have unpacked standards, repacked standards, created long term planning with the standards. We have administered BAS (Benchmark Assessment System - reading test) to children again and again and dissected the BAS in an attempt to teach to the BAS - there by destroying the value (at this point I question that there is any) in giving the BAS. We have given PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) numerous times (an isolated reading skill assessment) which is worthless but must be reported to the state . We have given Acuity (by McGraw-Hill) - THREE times - and will give it a fourth time after PARCC. The Acuity supposedly aligns with PARCC - it is racist, classist and of course developmentally inappropriate. The English language learners have taken ACCESS (by WIDA) - an online language test that is beyond worthless and incredibly difficult to pass - I believe intentionally so - continued testing means continued profit. The kindergarten teachers must give TS Gold (Teaching Strategies Gold) - read here and here about this intrusive assessment. These tests all have multiple parts - they take hours upon hours - they disrupt and destroy any chance of instruction. As teachers have been required to dissect the results of BAS, PALS, Acuity they have lost time to plan for authentic instruction based on their teacher observations and teacher created assessments (such as formative running records) After PARCC, and after the 4th round of Acuity, we will give BAS and PALS - AGAIN.
And then the year will be over - it will be the end of May.
The corporations and federal mandates have successfully turned our school into a test prep factory. And the district has not only fulfilled the federal requirements for testing, they have ADDED to the testing.
There is a sad joke in our school that after winter break school is over. But it is over. And when there was an opportunity to teach even before winter break - our hands have been tied - the teaching has been constricted and void of student input, democratic thinking and teacher autonomy. When learning is compiled into a busy looking agenda of standards, success criteria and data driven instruction, the result is really minimal learning - if any. The learning that does occur is the most dumb-downed learning one can imagine - full of formulaic writing, skill/drill, and regurgitation of facts - because that is what the tests demand. The end goal is not educating the whole child, the end goal is raising mind-numbing test scores.
I am always fascinated by the dog and pony show of posted standards and children who can regurgitate the learning target - in order to appease the district administration and the Colorado Department of Education who sadly have bought into a test/punish system - a system that is being used to dumb-down the district and the learning that occurs in our classroom. A system that continues to create more jobs at the top, rather than on the ground, in the schools, with the children. A system that continues to demand that educators adhere to a false reality - while keeping parents in the dark about these truths.
When a district decides it's a good idea to allow non-educators, such as Relay Fake Graduate School, to TRAIN (and I can assure it's training, like dog training) REAL educators with teaching degrees - we know that we have a serious, devastating problem. A heartbreaking problem, considering that this district, by far, has been known in the past, for having some of the best professional development in the state. Relay is all about test scores. Therefore, my school is now all about test scores.
All that being said, I write this knowing that I have ten weeks left in this district (more on this later). And I am looking around at a learning environment that has been devastated, destroyed, and demolished - using fear tactics, top-down management and blatant teaching to the test. The word "child" is rarely used in any discussion of our work. Our work is about data - gathering the data, handling the data, entering the data online in various data banks. We are data technicians.
Next week our children will be subjected to a racist, classist test (PARCC/CMAS) that will be used to rank, sort, and order our children - ONCE AGAIN - to prove that our school is "failing" (not so - we are UNDER-RESOURCED). Once again we will subject ourselves to a vicious game that is meant to fail everyone - the children, the teachers, the district and the community. Our brilliant, creative children, many who speak two languages, many who come from homes lacking books, adequate nutrition, and health care, will be asked to "persevere" on a test that is developmentally inappropriate and demands that they sit for hours each day staring at a screen (7 days for 3rd/4th and 10 days for 5th). The children are not allowed to read when the test is done; this is educational malpractice upon education malpractice. How this decision was made I am unsure, as I am not a part of the testing team. I do hope that this decision will be abandoned before testing begins on Tuesday. These children deserve to read a book when this horrific test is done - and to require them to sit/stare rather than read, is denying them their right to learning time during the school day. I wonder if the parents know this is happening?
The fights and the battles to do what is best and right and just for children are never ending. Exhausting. And crushing.
Our school has already been told that we will be given less money next year. As the district allocates school funding it appears we've been cut two teachers, we've been cut specials time (art/music/pe/library - down to 3.5 days) and we've been cut READ Act money (READ Act money funded most of my position as literacy interventionist). There is no money for my full-time position next year. By contract the district is required to offer me another position within the district (or place me in the sub pool) but I will not be staying. Perhaps I'll share more about that later - but let's get back to what I said about the funding at my school.
A school in turnaround has been CUT funding - let that sink in. I have no words for these cruelties that are placed upon our children. But pay attention - this is how it works - this is how they shut down public schools and eventually increase the number of charters. This is how they bring in TFA (Teach for Awhile) or Fake Relay teachers who cost less and will work like crazy for two years in order to add this stepping stone to their resume. This is the privatization of public schools. Under-resourced schools ultimately cannot survive - the system is designed to devour them and allow the corporations to cash in on them - as it is, the corporations practically own us now.
I will not be at school next year when the PARCC results come back and the teachers are required to sit - once again - and look at the scores and ask....What do you see? What does this mean? What action will we take? That meeting was useless, as you can imagine, as we continue to be denied resources, small class size, a certified/licensed librarian, a registered/licensed nurse, and so on. The list is never ending in regard to what we need. Our parents need a living wage. Our children need food, health care and books.
It is clear to me that the powers that be will continue to enforce mandates that are now past my ability to fight on the inside. It has become soul crushing. The complexities of this situation are so many that I cannot attempt to express it in this one blog. Perhaps if you scroll back through the rest of my posts this year you might get the bigger picture. And within the bigger picture, the ESSA will bring more testing, more charters, and less teachers with true four year teaching degrees to my district. The writing is on the wall. Will I continue to fight it? Of course.
As I have talked to people over this past year who have come into our school, it has been interesting to hear them say that they "sensed" something was different. You can feel the layers of democracy as they are ripped - ever so harshly - from the classrooms, leaving behind a void or a silence.
"This is not good for children" is the phrase I have heard quietly through out the building all year long. It's a phrase that has caused many a teacher to suffer from physical and emotional stress this year. The tears I have seen this year, and still see, as we attempt to express what our loss feels like, and how that loss impacts our children, is truly, never ending. And at this point, there is not a mass outcry to stop this, and so it continues. Those lone soldiers who do speak out are shunned, silenced, and alienated. Attempting to hold on to your humanity is a daily battle as you are bombarded with language, procedures, and mandates that ask you to forget that you are human.
So, as our children are forced to test beginning next week, I shake my head, at the district's absolute silence on Opt Out. There is no humanity here. Why not tell the parents about their right to opt out without negative consequences?
While administrators and teachers and parents speak up all across the country to educate, the Aurora Public School District stays silent. The parents have been denied information they could use to make a decision regarding their child's participation in this racist, classist and developmentally inappropriate test. And this is not a white movement that only exists in suburbia. The Opt Out movement impacts all communities and communities of color are increasingly joining the Opt Out movement. See here and here.
It would be amazing if Aurora Public Schools joined, wouldn't it?
House Bill 15-1323 requires that Colorado districts must implement and adopt an opt out plan for parents who wish to opt their children out of PARCC. I looked up some of the districts in Colorado to see how they handled sharing this opt out procedure. Aurora did not share their procedure. They simply placed it in the board policies - and it is no easy feat to find this policy. How does one adopt and implement a policy for parents, if the parents don't know about it?
Here is how Denver Public Schools handled their Opt Out Policy (be sure to zoom in on each of these screen shots):
Here is how Jefferson County Public Schools handled their Opt Out Policy:
Here is how Cherry Creek Public Schools handled their Opt Out Policy:
And here is how Littleton Public Schools handled their Opt Out Policy:
Aurora simply created a policy and placed it here: http://aurorak12.org/about-aps/district-policies/ .
Good luck finding it.
And how does one search for an Opt Out Policy if one doesn't know such a thing exists?
How does a district implement a policy if no one knows such a policy is out there?
Implement by definition means: to fullfill, peform, carry out.
This Opt Out Plan has not been implemented.
Shame on Aurora Public Schools.
Please share. Let the parents know. And please encourage Aurora Public Schools to do right by their children.
As we say at United Opt Out National:
We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.
Tell the parents. Let them help the district fight for what is best for our children and our communities.
Here is a basic opt out letter to send in with your child next week. Your child is allowed to stay at school and the school cannot inflict any negative consequences on your child for refusing the PARCC/CMAS. Let me know if I can help. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
My child, __________________________________, will not be taking state assessments (PARCC/CMAS) during the 2016 school year. My child should not be asked about my refusal to allow participation, should not be pressured to participate, and should not be asked to make up the test—even though he/she attends school within the testing window.
Mi hijo, ______________, no tomará las evaluaciones estatales (PARCC/CMAS) el año escolar 2016. A mi hijo no le pregunten acerca de mi negativa a permitir la participación, y tampoco no debe ser presionado para participar, y no le hagan tomar ninguna prueba, a pesar de que él o ella asiste a la escuela dentro el periodo de pruebas.