Opt-Out opponent crazy talk on wrong side of civil rights & equity

TestingBusMsgsToya Fick, the Executive Director of Stand for Children in Oregon, added her two cents to the frenzied talk among opponents of the right to opt-out of high stakes testing. In a recent Op-Ed in The Oregonian, Fick wrote: “Standardized tests are an accountability measure put in place to protect disadvantaged children.” If the Governor signs the opt out bill (HB 2655) into law (which Gov. Brown eventually did), Fick worried “our state takes a giant step backward to a time when we did not measure how students of color, poor students or special education students perform in comparison to other peer groups. Ironically, the majority of those currently refusing these tests come from wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods, and not from the communities that stand to lose the most.”

For the troubling ethical problems with Stand for Children, read our blog post: “Stand for Children is a corporate front group and should stop telling the public how to run public schools“.

Fick’s reference to middle-class whites as the drivers for the opt-out bill brings to mind U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s comments when he sneered that the opposition to Common Core comes from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Here is the thing. Opting-out of high stakes testing is a protest movement. The Oregon Department of Education refuses to look critically and carefully at the negative impacts of high-stakes testing. Hence, people are protesting in about the only avenue left open to them. Many protests have a large number of white middle-class types. Look at the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the environmental movement, the abortion issue, gay rights, and on and on. To deride the protests based on the background of people protesting misses the point that it is much harder for some groups of people to spend the time, energy, and money to protest than for others.

Many people of color are adamant about opposing high-stakes testing and their negative effects. Go on YouTube and listen to two of the finest African American educators in the country talk about this issue – Brian Jones and Jesse Hagopian.

Jesse Hagopian on Book TV: More Than a Test Score

Brian Jones on the cost of testing and who benefits

And by the way, Stand for Children’s claim that “Standardized tests are an accountability measure put in place to protect disadvantaged children” is false. High-stakes tests don’t protect anyone. They don’t make schools better. More instruction time gets lost to preparing for tests. High-stakes tests label schools, kids, and teachers in a negative way, while making it much tougher for “disadvantaged” children to get a good education. And we spend millions to get results that aren’t used to help one school, one kid, or one teacher.

We need to know how our schools and kids are doing, but in a way which helps our schools do better, not in a way which makes it more difficult for kids to learn. High-stakes testing, including the poorly constructed SBAC test, doesn’t do that. The faster corporate front group Stand for Children and Arne Duncan figure this out, the better off we will all be.

From our July 2015 monthly newsletter, out soon. Subscribe at this link!

Stand for Children is a corporate front group and should stop telling the public how to run public schools

Despite an adorable brand name, Stand for Children has been a corporate front group for many years now and regularly does real harm to public schools. This article from Rethinking Schools does a good job laying this out. Same for this video:

Oregon Save Our Schools was largely founded by many former Stand for Children activists and leaders who were increasingly disturbed by Stand for Children being directed not by research and sound educational practices, but by a corporate agenda and funding from Bill Gates and Walmart, among others.

StandProtestYet, despite its lack of education expertise, Stand for Children continues to elbow into education discussions and pretending it is a grassroots organization, simply because many of its members have not yet discovered Stand stopped being a grassroots group back in 2009 or 2010. For instance, this week Stand had a presence in this program on OPB about opting-out. Not surprisingly, Stand for Children’s opinion was that it, not parents and students, know what’s best for parents and students. That stance is not only obnoxious, it is harmful.

High-stakes testing is unsound. It does not make schools better. It narrows school curriculum and hurts high-poverty schools. But note on the OPB program, Stand for Children has no testing expertise. The testing expert makes essential, research-based points and runs circles around Stand for Children’s talking points.

If you are a Stand for Children member, consider stopping your donations and encourage your friends to do the same. Your contributions won’t come close to matching their corporate funding anyway, and the fewer people they can claim as “grassroots members”, the better.

Stand for Children started in Oregon. For many of us at Oregon Save Our Schools, the instinct to apologize to the rest of the country runs strong.

Smarter Balanced lessons not screened for sexually-charged ads

KimKardashianFrom a teacher via our Send Your Story webpage:

So, we received our SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] lessons we have to teach before the 5 day writing test. There are 3 websites I had to show the kids, so I created a document so all I’d have to do is click and not have to type in the address. I checked out the first one, fine.

The second one had links to articles on orgasms and 10 things men wished women knew about sex at the bottom, and the third one was blocked by the district. I notified the district and they unblocked it. That one had ads all over with large bosomed, scantily clad women (10 Famous Wardrobe Fails!, Kardashians! etc.). I notified our VP and she sent screen shots to IT. They said they “blocked” the ads, but no, they were still there. Then they blocked the site again and claimed that hackers put in inappropriate ads.

So, word to the wise: when you receive your lesson, check the ads (all the way to the bottom) so there are no unpleasant surprises. Also, SBAC should be ashamed – I cannot believe that outside sites are part of the test and that they AND our district didn’t vet the resources.

Parent: “Who are the students projected to fail? How will this help?”

What one parent sent to our OptOutOregon.org Send Your Story:

It’s enough for me to see the projection that 60% or more of the students will fail this test! Who are the students projected to pass? Who are the students projected to fail? How will this help? Also it is very computer dependent, making it even more inequitable for the kids who don’t have technology at home!


Eugene school district doubts parent religious beliefs are legit

OptOutAgainstRacismWhen a system is pressured irrationally, it will start going haywire. The Eugene 4J School District decided to pressure parents to think about whether their personal/religious beliefs are legitimate. Oregon law provides that parents/guardians or students may opt-out due to physical disability or “religious beliefs” (read our How to Opt-Out page). Here’s the essential phrase from Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 581-022-1910:

(1) The school district may excuse students from a state required program or learning activity, where necessary, to accommodate students’ disabilities or religious beliefs

Districts and administrators being told to produce-test-scores-or-perish are tempted to lose sight of the rights of students, families, teachers, and principals. They will lose sight of the humanity of the people in their schools in favor of widget production quotas and other assembly line & factory metaphors. We’ve heard of building principals here and there challenging parents & students on their personal/religious beliefs, but Eugene is the first major Oregon school district that has stepped into this dehumanizing territory in a big way.

As reported in Eugene Weekly in a terrific piece about the growing opt-out movement in Eugene, the local school district has decided Oregon law isn’t enough. Read this galling maneuver (emphasis ours):

The 4J district’s form elaborates on this by adding the words “sincerely held” and requiring parents to initial a statement that reads, “The term ‘religious beliefs’ means religious, moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious convictions. Merely wishing to avoid testing, or having political or social objections to testing not based on sincerely held religious belief, do not meet the requirements for the exemption.”

Districts are not completely obliged to accept opting-out requests due to religious reasons, but the smart ones do. Smart school districts do not want to get into the muck of telling parents and students whether held personal/religious beliefs are legitimate or not. By adding its own bureaucratic-ese to Oregon law, and acting like a religious legitimacy detector, the Eugene School District is being shortsighted and stupid. Take that dumb scare tactic off your form, Eugene 4J School District. You’re better than that.


Great Discussion with Education Heavy-Hitters

Diane Ravitch, teacher-activist Jesse Hagopian from Seattle, teacher-activist Brian Jones, and parent-activist Dao X. Tran had a lively discussion about high-stakes testing and opting-out featured on Book TV. Three people of color debunking the “failed schools” narrative and why it’s important to opt-out. High-stakes testing rooted in the racist eugenics movement. Great, spirited insights. Humor. A little bemoaning about the Seattle Seahawks losing the Super Bowl. You won’t regret watching this.


Opt-out in Pacific NW with parents, students, teachers pushing the envelope

On Sunday at Powell’s Books in Portland, a “More Than a Score” panel discussion took place about the pressure placed on students & schools when class time is traded for high-stakes testing. Video at the end of the post. It was a standing room only event. Some of the highlights from the #MoreThanAScore hashtag on Twitter:

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One of the panelists, student activist Alexia Garcia, described the time she asked Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in 2013 to take one of the high-stakes standardized tests. In the moment, Kitzhaber accepted [watch the video]. Two years later, he has not followed through, despite being contacted many times. Garcia is now in college and during the panel discussion also talked about the rising opt-out movement among students.

Students are so often way ahead of adults in being aware of problems, bad education policies, and showing courage about taking action. The Portland-area student activist movement has been inspiring and critical to the fight for doing what’s right for schools and defending them against wealthy education amateurs and corporations.

Race, equity, and social justice were recurring topics in the group discussion. High-stakes standardized testing has its pedigree in the eugenics movement. Many people in between may think these tests are mild, but the intent of the tests is to punish, and is steeped in the history of needing to prove one race is less intelligent than another race. We need to do something about poverty. That is the true detriment to student success. Testing & punishing does not work to help students.

Jesse Hagopian is a co-author and editor of the featured book, More Than A Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, with chapters written by education heavyweights like Diane Ravitch, Karen Lewis, Alfie Kohn, Alexia Garcia, and many others. Hagopian, his students, and his colleagues were the flashpoint for a successful shutdown of high-stakes testing in Seattle public schools.

The energy is rising. Parents, teachers, students, communities are becoming better informed and building power to reclaim our schools. This is an exciting time. Check out the discussion:

Oregon’s high-stakes testing at the expense of school funds and student stress

Oregon is facing an expensive absurdity where the state itself expects between 60-65% of students to not pass the new Smarter Balanced Assessment test taken statewide this school year.

These tests don’t help teachers improve instruction in the classroom. The results are too vague. Do you think the Smarter Balanced Assessment has been proven to work anywhere? No, it has not. It’s a new program, yet several states have felt pressured to pay for the test and new computers and to waste even more time prepping students for these tests instead of regular teaching instruction. Students are overwhelmed and frustrated.

We have a new blog post at Oregon Save Our Schools that covers a great deal about why opting-out of high-stakes testing is so important.

Why is Oregon doing this? One big component: testing companies need more student data. Students are guinea pigs. Testing companies get to use our students to put their product on trial — at the expense of taxpayers, money not going into the classroom, and children feeling stressed and demoralized.

We need legislators and elected leaders to see these efforts as the boondoggle they are. Please contact them. At the very least, opt-out your student to show this system is not acceptable, and you will not allow your child to become a guinea pig.

We need school libraries reopened and school librarians restored. We don’t need more testing-only computer labs and classroom instructional days lost to high-stakes testing and test prep.UnfundedLibrary

Testing isn’t bad, but high-stakes testing is corrosive

The standardized testing you remember as a kid worked as intended: a quick read on how things were going on a particular day. The principal and district looked at the scores and maybe compared them to previous years. But now the stakes have risen, and our schools are worse because of it.

High-stakes testing, basing the existence of a school or principal’s job or teacher’s evaluation on a test score, does not work. It is not supported by research. Even worse, when jobs are on the line, human nature is to game the system to preserve jobs and schools. As the stakes escalate, cheating starts.

This has happened in Atlanta, and also in Washington D.C. in recent years. It may even have happened in Portland.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), started in 2001 and supported by both major parties, was a national fiasco that pushed high-stakes testing and set the stage for the test-and-punish approach we see today. NCLB did not help schools, it degraded schools, especially schools with high student poverty, and it was based on a lie.

NCLB was copied from the so-called “Texas Miracle” led by then-Superintendent of Houston Schools Rod Paige, who later became George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education. Job evaluations were based on test scores, and scores went up. The same for graduation rates. One huge problem: the “test scores or perish” approach led to cheating citywide. Students expected to score low were encouraged to leave the public school system, or were held back from a testing grade that year, only to be promoted past that testing grade the next year.

Another problem with “The Texas Miracle”: at-risk students were ejected from the school system to game the graduation rates. And the students affected most were those in poverty and in ethnic minorities. “60 Minutes II” covered this scandal back in 2004, and despite the harm done to students and “The Texas Miracle” being a sham, it became the national model for applying extreme pressure on producing high standardized test scores.

NCLB has been largely discredited, but its failed approach has actually intensified under the Obama Administration despite leaving only a wide trail of misery behind. With high-stakes testing, with pretending that we can actually teach students out of poverty, we miss as a society the root causes of student poverty: economic disparity and stagnant earnings for almost everyone in a time of record national wealth and productivity. Opting-out is a way of showing the system and policy makers that high-stakes testing is wrong.