Our Open Letter on Opt-Out to Oregon Superintendents and School Boards

OptOutButtonIt’s time for school administrators and boards to step forward and speak out against high-stakes testing and the test-and-punish culture. This is happening in other states, our state should join them. Oregon Save Our Schools sent the following letter to as many Oregon superintendents and school board chairs as we were able to gather. Our volunteers spent many hours going to district websites in order to reach out to them. We apologize to districts we may have missed, and post the open letter to hope more will get our message.

Send a copy of this letter to your local school board, superintendent, state legislator, or anyone else you think needs to hear this message!

Dear Superintendents and School Board Chairs of Oregon school districts,

As testing season approaches, Oregon Save Our Schools would like to address you on behalf of the many parents in Oregon who will be choosing to opt out their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year.

As you know, HB 2655 was passed last legislative session. Undoubtedly you have received instruction from the Oregon Department of Education regarding participation and informing parents of their right to opt their children out of the assessment. While we understand the need for you to attempt to comply with ODE directives, we write to urge you to respect parental rights as outlined in this bill which was a hard won battle led by parents who did not wish to have their religious beliefs nor their right to direct their children’s education questioned by local school districts.

With that in mind, we ask that you not put up roadblocks that are not required by the law. Parents are not required by law to meet with anyone in the school district to obtain approval to opt their children out of testing. Further, asking principals to do anything other than accept forms handed in places a problematic burden on them which can result in a mistrust of the principal by parents. That could also be a recipe for division among parents at a school site. This was happening prior to the HB 2655 and the hope was that it would end with its passage.

While the Department of Education encourages parents to submit the form no later than February 1 in order to help districts plan, there is nothing in the law that requires parents to do so. ODE representatives, when questioned, have confirmed for OSOS members on more than one occasion that it is a parent’s right to opt their child out of testing at any time, even if the child has already begun testing and the parent does not wish their child to continue. We have also been forwarded an email by a founder of Eugene Parents Concerned About High Stakes testing in which Holly Carter, ODE’s Interim Director of Assessment states that crossing out any statements on ODEs form about the value of testing which parents do not agree with should not prohibit parents from exercising their rights.

Additionally, opt out forms should be easily obtainable in school offices, not just available to download, and in parents’ native languages to assure equal access for all parents.

The intent of the law was to stop making it difficult and onerous for parents to exercise those parental rights. If that is at all in doubt,  you can read letters from HB 2655 co-sponsor Representative Lew Fredrick to Dr. Noor here and from co-sponsor Representative Chris Gorsek here.  We urge you to follow the spirit of the law and allow parents who wish to opt their children out to do so without interference.

We would also like to call on any of you who feel so moved to speak out publicly against the Smarter Balanced Assessment and high stakes standardized testing in general. Note that you would not be alone. In Vermont, the State Board of Education sent this letter to parents in November of last year.  Back in 2011, a Florida school board member took their state assessment and, after seeing his results, felt it was imperative that he speak out.  And more recently, Idaho’s Superintendent of the Year gave a TEDX talk about his concerns regarding high stakes standardized testing. The full talk can be seen here.

We share the concerns of Oregon teachers regarding SBAC and look forward to all of us working together to finish the work begun by OEA and ODE towards a better assessment system.  We hope you will question assessments that do not follow the guiding principles found in the linked “New Path for Oregon” document nor “Student Assessment Bill of Rights” found on page 18 of the document. Our students deserve quality assessments that their teachers can use to inform instruction. We hope you will join us in advocating for that.

In the meantime, we hope you will heed our recommendations, made in the interest of respecting parent and student rights and minimizing divisiveness in local school communities. The new ESSA gives us great opportunity to make local decisions and while it continues to require a 95% participation rate, we believe there is no legal basis for either the federal or state government to withhold funds from a district or school based on parental decisions.

We ask you to join us in advocating for creating an assessment system that works for teachers and students and respects and restores the power of local school communities.

Thank you for all you do for your students and families.

Respectfully yours,
Oregon Save Our Schools
http://oregonsaveourschools.blogspot.com

Cross-out ODE statement on the opt-out form

We have it from the ODE that if you redact the wrong-headed language on its opt-out form for the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the form will still be accepted by your school. That’s welcome news!

The false language meant to dissuade people challenging high-stakes testing that appears above the signature:

“I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English Language Arts and Math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.”

We’ve commented on the problems with this ODE form (“ODE sniffs at the law and thinks you’re stupid for opting-out“), and some parents cleverly created a mock form to make fun of ODE and emphasize the importance of opting-out of high-stakes testing.

So, let’s cross this language out on our opt-out forms!

OptOutCrossOut

Opt-out in Oregon success and odd political bedfellows

How goofy is education policy nowadays? It unites both left and right-wings in opposition. The Washington Post brought the happy news that Oregon is in the Top 5 states opting-out of high-stakes testing, and touts how the Oregon SOS-supported HB 2655 has expanded student & parent opt-out rights even further. The building opt-out movement does not come out of one political party. It is broader than that.

Conservative & libertarian types often see Common Core and excessive testing as more than a waste of public funds and resources, they see it as an illegal action by the Federal government to set a national curriculum. And they are correct in these concerns.

TestKillJoy

Progressive types often see that high-stakes testing, and the corporate interests pushing them and Common Core, are not addressing the true core of what affects student education: high student poverty. Yet we do nothing other than insist on taking more expensive redundant measurements instead of acting to improve student and family lives and restore cut wraparound programs and broader curriculum.

And people’s concerns about high-stakes testing don’t necessarily fall into tidy political categories, either. Parent-driven discussion groups about opting-out are often driven by people who vote very differently for U.S. President. It can create fascinating tension when topics veer from opting-out, but these different perspectives do work in harmony when it comes to challenging Common Core and harmful, ignorant education policy.

To this day, one can still hear policymakers, education group insiders, and corporate front groups like Stand for Children think the opposition to high-stakes testing and shoddy, unproven, expensive dreck like Common Core is exclusively the realm of “wingnuts”.

Hopefully, critics of opting-out will notice their numbers are dwindling and that they are on the wrong side of research and history. Then maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize they don’t know what they’re talking about and listen to those who do.

ODE sniffs at the law and thinks you’re stupid for opting-out

Don’t be patronizing to parents, students, and teachers. Easy enough? Yet education bureaucrats misunderstand the opt-out movement and do things that antagonize and build up the movement further.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) was given a simple job: provide school districts with an Opt-Out FAQ and Opt-Out Notification form that is factual and unbiased. Similar to the information provided by the Albuquerque Public Schools. Now ODE has put Oregon school districts and school administrators in the unenviable position of having to intimidate, coerce, and misinform parents and students about our constitutional right to opt-out of the SBAC tests and their potential consequences. Shame on ODE for pitting parents and students against their school leaders.

Our nation has had 15 years of high-stakes testing due to No Child Left Behind and has sunk millions/billions of dollars only to prove…students in poverty do worse than other students. That’s it. Over and over again.

But these people don’t want to talk about shamefully high student poverty and inequality, they’d prefer to fund more high-stakes testing that, even if done well, will only get the same result and keep us away from fixing student poverty and inequality.

Yet ODE has messed up this simple job, and cops an attitude while doing so, claiming that it knows better than students, parents, and teachers who see high-stakes testing as the waste of time and resources that it is. Check out this from above the parent/student signature line of ODE’s new opt-out form (red ink comment is not from ODE):

ODEoptoutform

Does ODE truly have no idea how many teachers and educated parents and students object to high-stakes testing? Does ODE not sense how many administrators and testing experts are talking to each other about the harmful effects of test-and-punish approaches?

As in other states, Oregon will start to see building principals, district administrators, superintendents stepping forward about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing. School board members, teachers, specialists, parents, and students have been speaking up, and the numbers continue to grow. ODE adding that phrase above the signature is not only misleading, it’s obnoxious, and on the wrong side of history.

Our letter to legislators & policymakers on Obama & over-testing

OvertestingStatements by President Obama criticizing a culture of over-testing in our schools, a culture Obama has in large part fostered, motivated us to send the following statement to Oregon education policymakers and legislators. If you agree, share this out!

Oregon Save Our Schools welcomes President Obama’s statement and the release of his testing action plan on Saturday, October 24. We are pleased that the President has publicly recognized what we and others have been saying for quite some time: too much time is being spent on testing in our public schools.

We also welcome the statement’s promise to encourage states to develop innovative assessments and to invest in those assessment models. This is also something which we have been advocating for: a move towards more authentic assessment and away from the limited ability of a computer based assessment like OAKS or SBAC to measure student achievement. Specifically, we have supported the sort of performance based assessment used by the New York Assessment Consortium. We feel the best hope for achieving a truly high quality assessment system like this is to continue to move forward with the work begun by OEA, OEIB, ODE and the Governor’s Office last year.

We, like many opponents of annual standardized testing of all students, are skeptical of parts of President Obama’s statement. We agree with the Network for Public Education’s statement that a 2% cap on testing (equivalent to over 20 hours) would still allow for far too much time to be devoted to a single test and that it is long past time for the federal government to stop attempting to fix this badly broken policy and scrap it. We believe that this will eventually happen, as the American public is tired of the failed policies of NCLB and the subsequent waivers offered by the Obama administration. Because of this, we continue to urge that you stop focusing on compliance with these failed policies and move forward with policies that are decided on by Oregonians and better serve our students, parents, and teachers.

We continue to support developmentally appropriate, authentic assessments that inform instruction and are free of cultural and linguistic bias and high stakes consequences. We continue to support opting-out of assessments that do not meet these standards.

Signed, Oregon Save Our Schools, including:
Steve Buel
Emily Crum
Rex Hagans
Kathleen Hagans Jeskey
Betsy Salter
Bruce Scherer
Tricia Snyder

Steve Buel takes on The Oregonian over high-stakes testing

Steve Buel
Steve Buel

A letter to the editor that Steve Buel, a school board member of Portland Public Schools and a co-founder of Oregon Save Our Schools, sent to The Oregonian. Alas, The Oregonian has become a lousy paper in recent years with a weird and irrational urge to insist its editorial board, consisting of education amateurs, always knows better than teachers how and what to teach. Here’s the letter:

School testing: Regarding “Low-income students are still waiting for Brown’s leadership,” (Aug. 31): I am amazed by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s continued editorials suggesting the testing we are doing is both important and good for underserved children. Neither is the case. The tests we are using tell teachers hardly anything about their students since the teachers can’t even see the tests or the specific questions children missed or got correct. And the students whose precious school time needed for learning is most negatively impacted are often underserved children.

I am at a loss to understand why the editorial board can’t see this corporate reform, money-making sham for what it is.

I grew up around dairy farmers and know the cow doesn’t get bigger if you measure it. You have to feed it.

Steve Buel

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.

Gov. Brown signs Parent & Student opt-out bill, some concerns we have…

GovBrownReleaseToday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown sent out a media release announcing she has signed House Bill 2655 into law. This is welcome news, and expands the rights of students & parents to opt-out of high-stakes testing. Some elements here have us concerned, though.

The statement wrings its hand over the possible loss of federal funding if the opt-out rate gets too high. Additionally, there are elements that point to an ongoing effort to intimidate parents & students from opting out. For example:

As educators and policy makers, it is important to demonstrate for parents the connection between high levels of student participation in assessment and system accountability – ensuring the success of every student.

The success of the national opt-out movement is based almost entirely on parents, students, and many teachers knowing education and what’s best for students far better than policy makers.

As we have posted before, high-stakes testing is not a realm of reason. It is a hostage situation. The stakes and expenses will simply increase, to the detriment of students, the more the high-stakes testing culture is appeased. It is well-past time for this practice to stop.

Gov. Brown’s action represents an important step forward in expanding parent & student rights. However, much education of policymakers remains to ensure we stop tossing our funds and students’ futures down the high-stakes testing sinkhole.

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.