Good evening. My name is Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith.
Thank you, once again, for this opportunity to speak.
This evening I stand before you as a parent advocate. As evidenced by the easy passage of the last school levy, this community and its parents support Cleveland schools, and that respect and support deserves consistent reciprocity. I don’t believe that I need to rehash recent media reports in order to justify bringing attention to this issue.
As I briefly share some reasons why families have refused to allow their children to participate in high stakes standardized tests, I hope that you will consider adopting a policy that is respectful and supportive of families who express the desire to direct their children’s education, as protected by the 14th amendment.
This is why we refuse…
Because children should not have to attend a school labeled “failing,” or labeled anything at all
School buildings shelter children with vast amounts of untapped potential. Not failures.
FAILURE should never be the name of a monster hovering over a school building making children afraid of how they will do on a test
Children shouldn’t have to be afraid of how their teacher will be hurt by their performance on a test
Or how their school or community or city will be labeled because of how they do on a test
What sort of sane society that supposedly cherishes its children puts that sort of pressure on a child?
We refuse because without the data, they can’t label our children or anyone else’s children
Because we know that standardized test scores have only been good at proving one thing: childrens’ life experiences and backgrounds far outweigh the impact that a school or teacher has on their test performance
Because we don’t want our children’s privacy violated & we don’t want test companies profiting off of our children
Because we know that things like art, music, gym, and recess have been shown by research to increase academic success and shouldn’t be reduced or eliminated because kids need to take or prepare for more standardized tests
Because we know that the emotional and social growth of children in school is not measured on a standardized test
Because the teacher who delivers groceries to a family in need, advocates for a student, or becomes a student’s confidant, counselor, or role model will never have that data show up in test results & we trust our children’s teachers to assess their progress
Because struggling students should not be made to feel like less than the developing human beings that we ALL started out as because tests are used to label
We know that the long term consequences of labeling & retention are profound
NONE of our children are “limited,” “basic,” or “common”
Words that label can and do. Hurt and Divide.
Because over 2000 education researchers, experts, and professionals signed a letter pleading with our President and Congress to stop relying on high stakes standardized testing to improve education – we have a decade of data proving that it doesn’t work
Because there are mountains of research that provide more effective and research proven methods to educate our children and to evaluate teachers and schools
Because when we look at our children, we see their smiles, their talents, their goofiness, the crumbs around their mouths, the dirt on their skin, and the hope in their eyes
And when we look at our kids
We never see them as data or test scores
And neither should you
Thank you for your time and attention.
For additional information, please visit:
Or take a look at recent articles and blog posts:
I just read a comment posted by a reader, who pointed out that Pearson has an official policy about the use of social media.
Here is a portion:
How we use social media
Here you’ll find details of how we use social media such as Facebook and Twitter and the kind of response you can expect from us.
We have an active presence on social media and encourage students to use it too. It’s a great way to find information and share ideas, particularly when you’re revising for exams……
review Tweets about our brands (e.g. ‘Edexcel’ and ‘BTEC’) that don’t directly tag our profiles
monitor social media platforms such as Google+ and other online forums
We may not reply directly to these types of posts, but we monitor them to make sure that any of you with questions are getting the answers you need.
Monitoring activity on…
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High Stakes Standardized Testing Sent Me to Jail & Saved My Teaching Soul
Last April (2014) I poured myself into a narrative that I titled, “My High Stakes Testing Story.” Within it I described the struggles that I encountered with testing and my 3rd grader at home. Then, I related events from the high school I taught at, which had morphed from a beacon of learning to a den of despair because of the burdensome emphasis on tests attached to unknown chimerical numbers that students were supposed to ascend to. I explained how I chose to return to the reason why I entered the profession almost 18 years ago: students. When I learned last spring of yet another standardized test that the district bought in order to gather student scores to represent 35% of my composite educator rating, I told my students to choose their favorite lettered bubbles, color them, and take a nap. My students complied. I was on the brink of leaving the profession entirely, and began applying for non teaching jobs all over the country. In June 2014, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) published my teacher rating on their website as “skilled” for seekers to view. Apparently, my students had met “average” expectations on their test in April. I have no idea how. I never saw the results. Students never saw the results. I have no idea what the expectation was. At that point, I was already committed, with a laser-like focus, on fleeing the asylum that had disguised itself as education and accountability.
Meanwhile, around the end of the school year, a rare opening occurred at the juvenile county detention facility school. Ohio has not figured out how to tie test scores to teachers who work at detention facilities (although they are trying to), and the curriculum is not driven by tests because county facilities serve multiple school districts, and the student population changes daily. Instead, there is a general curriculum based on state and district scope and sequences. After an application process, I was offered a position. For twenty percent less money per school year, I accepted an instructional placement at the county juvenile detention center in order to stay in a profession that I cherish. Now, each school day, I walk through sheriff security scan number one, swipe my ID card for the first door, go through sheriff security scan two, get “buzzed” through two more locked doors, and finally swipe my ID card one more time for access to the school part of the facility.
Concrete white block, by concrete white block, working with detained young men has rebuilt and renewed my vehemence for teaching. However, a persistent weight remains on my heart because the utopian conditions for my teaching are partially the result of the scarcity of research based, intelligently designed, properly funded, fully accessible schools in our nation. It is unfortunate for our country’s children that the most consistent place for an education, replete with all of the services and educational opportunities that students need, is in a detention facility.
What makes working at this juvenile detention facility so idealistic?
- On site medical and mental health services for students every day
- Physical Education class for an hour each school day
- Every student is fed
- Every student is clothed and warm
- Every student gets plenty of sleep
- Every student is escorted to school on time each day
- Students are free from non prescribed chemical influences
- Role models that they can relate to surround students
- A full time volunteer coordinator is on site
- Full time social workers are on site
- Full time activity coordinators are on site
- Full time 24 hour housekeeping staff (it is the cleanest place I have ever worked)
- Staff and students feel safe because of the high security and 24 hour detention officers present
- Class size does not rise above 18 students
- Campus administration not only trusts the teachers to navigate their instruction along the most beneficial course for the students, but they support any endeavors the staff presents that may help children
- Educators are trusted (This has been foreign to me for a while, so I have to reiterate.)
- A state of the art classroom with a smartboard, whiteboard, laptop, chromebooks, projector, WiFi, desk phone, and always-available supplies for students and teachers
What if this was how all schools were in underprivileged urban areas? Would there even need to be a juvenile detention center? Would states need to continue to spend four times more on incarceration versus education? Could that spending trend actually be reversed?
Many people give me an odd glance of sorts when I tell them where I teach. They have no idea how much these young men inspire me with their potential and the positive possibilities. They are, scientifically and legally speaking, still children, and their adolescent brains are malleable. If they are with me long enough to chip away at their walls built upon blocks of self doubt, tragedy, fear, addiction, and systems that usually fail them, then their curiosity, creativity, social skills, and confidence can be rebuilt. THAT is what school should be about! (Notice there is nothing about high stakes standardized tests in “My Ultimate School.”) If all urban schools were like mine, educators all over could be gathering blocks mistakenly labeled as “poorly performing,” “academic emergency,” and “failure,” and begin building steps, instead of walls, to a better future for these students, and for all of us.
Humans of New York Jan. 20, 2015
“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”
“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”
“How has she influenced you?”
“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”
From the mouth of a babe (Alright. He’s really a teen.)
There have always been challenges for young African American males in our country. Although we have a President who is biracial and considered the first African American President of the United States, there is still de facto segregation in our schools and neighborhoods. With all of the progress that has been made, thanks to the sacrifices of people who joined the Civil Rights Movement and participated in civil disobedience and acts of protest over fifty years ago, some of the struggles underprivileged or non-white young people encounter make the movement of the past feel closer to today than it should. As Martin Luther King, Jr. and others were accosted with violent acts and threats, the goal of securing individual liberties for people of color with a chance at self-determination may have seemed distant. With every step that those leaders took, whether it was the first, second, or third time from Selma to Montgomery, their goal of voting rights for all qualified citizens was always in sight. As a 15 year old, I realize that I will also be taking many steps and may even have to repeat some of the same routes in my life before I get it right, but I have learned that each small step leads to a bigger step and more goals, and my future is always in sight.
Sadly, just as geography and race led to oppression, violence, and even death during the marches of 1965, geography and socioeconomic circumstances today can provoke tragic endings. I am fortunate enough to live in a diverse middle class suburb next to Cleveland, Ohio. Haunting my comfortable existence is the fact that a young boy, named Tamir Rice, was shot outside of a Cleveland recreation center by a police officer, and bled to death on the ground. His self determination had not even had a chance to begin. That is just one story of many with similar horrible endings, as the people in Ferguson, New York, and other cities across America know all too well.
I know that as a teen male who appears African American, I am held to different standards. The first appearance I make to people who do not know me gives an impression that I feel like I have no control over.There is a perception that African American males are prone to foolishness. Yet, I can determine a lot of what happens next. My behavior and choices are directed by how I was raised and the community that surrounds me. Showing respect in order to earn it, courtesy, celebrating academic as well as athletic accomplishments, and speaking with confidence and self assurance are qualities that currently help me defy stereotypes, and should lead me to a promising future. I have the ability to determine positive next steps for myself.
Just twenty or thirty minutes away from where I live, young African American males, who look a lot like me, do not necessarily have the same circumstances that I do. The police presence in areas of poverty restricts individual liberties as often as it protects them. Education is uncertain. Schools are treated like solutions to homes without heat, electricity, food, or access to medical care,and as mental health providers rather than as a step to a goal that can lead to more goals. In my school, house, and world I have art, music, parks, and recreation at my disposal to enrich, encourage, and inspire me. That access should not be a privilege. I feel safe the majority of the time and do not worry about my basic needs being met. That security provides me with liberties that should belong to everyone.
I think Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that the indignities and injustices of poverty were preventing self determination for people trapped in it. Before his assassination he seemed to understand that poverty is not only harmful to the poor, but that income inequalities hurt all of us. In a TED Talk, Richard Wilkinson explained that we can improve the quality of life for everyone in developed nations by reducing economic inequality. Although I am not sure where all my steps will take me, I would like to build on my experiences, keep developing my leadership skills in my community, and find a way to reduce income gaps in our country. When our economics are more equal, our liberty will be too.
February 5, 2015
Dear Ohio Department of Education, State Board of Education, and Ohio Legislators:
Recently I submitted an open “opt-out” letter to my district administrators and school board members through a blog post titled My Sons and Their Teachers Deserve Better. Apparently my words resonated with others because within ten days it received approximately 15,000 views. I freely allowed others to use parts of the letter that were relevant to their situations for submission to their schools and districts. This letter was a result of culminating frustration with high stakes standardized testing personally and professionally as described in My High Stakes Testing Story. Today a two-page document published by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) dated February 4, 2015 and titled “Information on Student Participation in Tests” was digitally shared with me. The creation and need for such a document implies that there may have been an inundation of inquiries by individuals who are actively organized and invested in education in our state. Unfortunately, upon review of the document it appears to be a combination of facts, propaganda, and fear mongering. The purpose of this letter is to clarify the intent of my prior letter,and to address the February 4th publication by the ODE.
The beginning of this ODE document contains some accuracy, such as the fact that Ohio does not have an “opt-out” procedure or form. It failed to note that Ohio does not have a law against refusing the test though either. According to the U.S Constitution which supersedes state laws, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” The ODE document also correctly indicates that possible consequences for Ohio’s children in third grade who do not take the test include the risk of not being promoted to fourth grade. Also, high school students who do not take the tests or ones that do take it and do not obtain certain scores may not be eligible for diplomas. Yet, the document neglected to inform readers that Ohio did not have to choose to be one of the approximately 20 states to link high stakes to tests. This harmful, punitive option was an ill-fated decision that Ohio legislators and the Department of Education will have to concede to eventually, even if its original intentions were genuine.
Clearly, the semantics used for the process of “opting out” are irrelevant. As a parent I have the right to refuse to allow my children to participate in activities that are physically and emotionally harmful, particularly when the activities being protested have not provided any data or evidence that my children’s participation will be beneficial. Thus far, high stakes standardized tests in our state have failed to meet mathematical standards for test validity. According to Dr. Randy Hoover (2014) “Test validity is only meaningful in terms of how the test is used and what it is used for. In other words, test validity is a formal examination to determine the degree to which a test is appropriate and accurate in serving what it is used for. Formal examination reveals that the assumption of Ohio’s tests being valid is false.” The tests this year are new as schools transition to teaching Common Core, according to the ODE. Therefore, data to support test validity through adherence to mathematical standards and to the criteria for psychometric validity is nonexistent. I do not want my child to be a guinea pig in this experiment.
The ostensibly threatening nature of the second part of the ODE document, which seems intent on inspiring consternation among families like mine that are considering utilizing their rights in our democracy to direct their children’s education, is latent with details that lack evidence to support them. Previous results of state standardized tests in Ohio have only produced evidence that how students perform on those tests is directly and statistically significantly correlated to factors beyond a school or educator’s control. In fact, the results of these tests emphatically prove that socioeconomic status, environment, emotional stability, food security, and health are the major determining factors of how students will perform on standardized state tests. Therefore, results from the tests that are used to determine the effectiveness of districts, schools, and educators in Ohio, or are used to assign an “A-F” rating are really reflecting the income and education levels of families in the community that the students are from, not necessarily the efforts of school systems. The claim that these tests are part of an authentic accountability process for school systems and their educators is ludicrous and it is unethical to continue to purport this information to the public as credible.
Yet all of this testing does portray pseudo accountability, as educators across the state are well aware. With this in mind, the ODE “Information on Student Participation in Tests” document offers the following: “A district may have additional consequences for students. For example, a district may include the state’s end-of-course test score in a student’s grade instead of a final exam. Students attending a nonpublic school may have different testing requirements.” I suppose one might conclude that the state never wants to bypass an opportunity to promote the mostly unaccountable nonpublic charter schools in the state. One might also surmise that the state would like to offer suggestions to districts in the event that schools would like to unite with them as they blackmail families into participating in state testing. To assist with this, the ODE recommends districts raise the stakes even higher, and include state tests as part of a student’s overall grade in a course. Even though evidence from research is plentiful and conclusive that classroom teacher created assessments are the most accurate and authentic measurements of student achievement, this endorsement of further detriment to students through high stakes standardized testing is shamelessly asserted. However, it is commendable that there were no false claims in the document to imply that high stakes standardized testing has in any way assisted with closing achievement gaps, because it indisputably has only widened those gaps.
As a result of the release of this document February 4th, 2015, that states districts may want to request refusals in writing, I wish to make my intentions and permissions completely unambiguous. I refuse (instead of opt-out) to allow my 4th grader to take any more standardized tests. These high stakes standardized tests have increased educational disparities and inequities including contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline and sustaining generational poverty. I REFUSE to allow my child to be part of a system that promotes and perpetuates social injustice for ANY of our country’s children, but especially the most vulnerable. I trust his educated and experienced teacher to monitor his growth and progress ALL year long, and I am insulted when his education is reduced to numbers on isolated tests not generated by his classroom teachers. I am exercising my rights under the 14th amendment, under precedents set in court cases cited within this letter and within my notice to my district, and as a citizen in a country that is by definition governed through the consent of the people. Scare tactics and threats are usually the tools of a totalitarian regime when it is challenged, or tools utilized by individuals who feel cornered. Those methods will not work on families in Ohio like mine who are protecting our youngest citizens from emotional and physical stressors. The education and development of our children as contributing citizens is too vitally important to our country and the sustainability of our democracy for us to halt the movement to end high stakes standardized testing.
The text of the “Information” document on February 4th, 2015 is indicative of possible concerns that the ODE may have or may be hearing from individuals in the state. Please persist in exploring these concerns as they are presented and consider formulating educational policies that are intelligently designed, supported by research, and done in conjunction with educators and parents. Our children, educators, and the future of our state deserve better than what is currently being promulgated. I believe many other parents and individuals involved in education would express the same sentiment.
In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I am just one parent, one teacher, one citizen, but there is a formidable, thoughtful, and committed group of citizens inspiring me. Do not doubt that fact.
Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith
Update! My Sons and Their Teachers Deserve Better: An Open Letter to School & District Administrators as well as the Ohio Department of Education as 2/5/2015.
The High Cost of High Stakes Standardized Testing
(Spoiler Alert! It Hurts Students with Disadvantages the Most!)
I have a dear friend who values my input on matters in his personal life, then becomes flushed with gratitude after I offer meager scraps of wisdom rooted in experience, which then prompts him to inquire as to how he could ever repay my acts of friendship. I have to remind him that people are not commodities and that not every interaction requires a cost and benefit analysis or exchange. He’s a financial analyst in the healthcare industry, so this fact is not always as evident to him as it may be to someone who has spent 17 years in education, and even longer as a parent. Apparently this tidbit of information that I shared with my friend has not been obvious to those formulating education policy either. If students were not viewed as profit potential, or as indistinguishable data, then the research that conclusively demonstrates that 80% of a student’s academic performance is linked to factors beyond school walls such as environment, family, health, and socioeconomic status would actually be utilized to implement effective societal and educational reform. Doing something productive with regard to the issues that impact a student’s educational advantages or disadvantages, would be much more beneficial than adding more lard to the already obese test company profits. More tests and pseudo accountability are not going to address a single one of the family or societal factors currently affecting student academic performance.
In order to provide a more comprehensive portrayal of what our country is now spending on testing, the American Federation of Teachers published a study in 2013 of two mid-size urban districts with the pseudonyms “Midwestern School District” and “Eastern School District.” The costs of testing ranged from $200-$1100 per student based on the grade level of the student. Hours spent on testing and test preparation ranged from 65-165 hours across the two districts based on grade level, as well.
What has been lost as a result of testing absorbing dollars and time? Physical education, the arts, and recess have been reduced or eliminated, especially in schools serving underprivileged or special needs students because the curriculum becomes hyper focused on trying to cram test knowledge into students who arrive grade levels behind their middle and upper class peers. Countries with the highest performing students have an approach to education that is exactly the opposite of what we are doing in the United States because there is a bountiful amount of research that reveals children are better students if they have physical activity, exposure to the arts, and when their most basic needs are being met.
In order to maximize academic opportunities, students need to be well rested, well fed, feel safe, and have stability in their lives. Unfortunately, for the first time in fifty years, over half of the children in our public schools meet the criteria for free or reduced lunch, which means they are from low income households that fall within federal poverty guidelines. Educators have always known that it is harder to engage hungry students in learning, and researchers have had evidence for over a decade that food insecurity impairs reading and math development in children. Can we use high stakes standardized tests to feed these hungry children who come from homes with food insecurity? Can we use high stakes standardized tests to eradicate poverty, violence, police mistrust, or feelings of hopelessness? Will high stakes testing assist our students suffering from a lack of exposure to early childhood literacy development or improve the social skills of a generation growing up dependent on electronics? Have high stakes standardized tests and promises of merit pay inspired our brightest high school graduates to flood the education colleges with admissions applications, or assisted at all with retaining the 40-50% of teachers who enter the profession then leave within five years? Are current educators pleading for positions in “low performing” schools to serve students who possess performance potential not yet reached, where they need additional resources and the best educators the most? There is one answer to all of those questions: NO.
Worse yet, high stakes standardized testing has negatively impacted students of color, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic environments, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. I have witnessed and possess evidence of schools removing children from their enrollment lists because a student does not have a history of performing well on tests. I have also seen schools retain students on their rosters because there is a potential for the student to perform well on a high stakes standardized test, even if the student requires accommodations and services that cannot be provided by that specific school. I have serviced students that have become entangled in the school to prison pipeline partly because they are viewed as liabilities that may drag down building test scores. The focus on what is best for students is lost when schools and their staffs are forced to chase chimerical numbers that will determine the effectiveness of their school and possibly their salaries.
The idea of merit pay for educators is a concept fraught with illogical fallacies, not surprisingly concocted by capitalists hoping to profit off of children under the guise of education reform. These capitalists also seem to have convinced politicians to support nonsensical policies, or they have enough discretionary funds to ensure that research and evidence play no role in decision making when it is time to produce or enforce education legislation. I am not even going to waste time inserting a link here about the lack of correlation between improved instruction, student learning, and merit pay. Could anyone who enters the teaching profession possibly be monetarily motivated by an average starting salary of a little over $36,000 per year? Individuals do not enter education to build tangible wealth, but we are not the martyrs that we were once historically portrayed as either. As professionals with degrees and advanced educations, we deserve salaries that are commensurate with our skills and knowledge. We enter the profession consciously sacrificing material reward for the personal fulfillment that accompanies teaching. However, we also have families that we love and that rely on us for their support. If a consistent salary is contingent in any way on high stakes standardized test scores that actually reflect a child’s upbringing rather than the effectiveness of the teacher, how could any individual choose to risk their livelihood and the ability to support their family in order to work at a school with students who have challenges and are predicted to perform poorly on standardized tests? This leaves students who need the best educators the most at risk for a continued pattern of teacher attrition and high staff turnover rates, which exacerbates the struggles that already exist. High stakes standardized testing contributes to the perpetuation of educational inequities entrenched in high poverty areas. They do nothing resolve them.
Due to the erroneous and morally egregious high stakes associated with standardized testing such as the ability to graduate from high school, grade retention, or linking teacher evaluations to scores, we have punished the most vulnerable members of our society. How did our country arrive at a point at which OUR CHILDREN could be viewed as potential liabilities? Stakeholders may need to be reminded that we are judged by how we treat our weakest and most powerless citizens. I have great hope for the future if education reform is intelligently designed and research based. However, the prospect of generations yet to come examining our current educational structure should provoke tremendous trepidation among those who helped create this quandary.
In 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren stated with regard to Brown v. Board of Education “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunities of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms.” High stakes standardized testing has completely failed to create equal terms. Instead it has intensified educational disparities. It is unfathomable that a statement made sixty-plus years ago concerning school segregation, is still so completely relevant in 2015.
January 25th, 2015
Dear Ohio Department of Education, Berea School Board Members, Superintendent Sheppard, & Principal Grimm,
My sons have been in Berea City Schools since we moved here almost 15 years ago. I chose this community, in part, because I perceived the community as diverse and progressive in addition to having a reputable school system that celebrated the arts and seemed to have a “whole child” approach to educating. Although I still believe in public education, the current trends mandated by politicians and promoted by wealthy capitalists who have no background in education or knowledge of current research that outlines best educational practices are destroying our children’s curiosities and love for learning. Simultaneously, these mandates are sending a message to current and preservice teachers that the profession is nothing but a conglomerate of robots who need to be fed information to spew at students. And these students must be perceived by these ignorant reformers as a collection of identical mini robots that will easily absorb this information being emitted, rather than allowing educators to cultivate students’ minds utilizing the knowledge and expertise that teachers bring to classrooms from their extensive education and experience. Not only is it egregious and morally unethical to continue enforcing high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations under a guise of accountability, but it is the exact opposite of how top performing countries approach educating their youth.
Below is the test schedule for 4th graders in our district:
Fall, Winter & Spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Gr. 1: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 2: Reading & Math (by Sept. 30th) Gr. 3: Reading & Math Gr. 4: Reading & Math Grades 1-4
Fall, Winter & Spring Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) Kdg.: Fall, Winter & Spring (all) Gr. 1: Fall (all), Spring & Winter (targeted) Gr. 2: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 3: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Gr. 4: Fall, Winter & Spring (targeted) Grades K-4
Nov. 10-14, 2014 Iowa Assessments (IA) (Complete Battery; achievement assessment)Grade 4
Feb. 16 – Mar. 6, 2015 Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 3: English Language Arts – dropped Math (2/23-24) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (2/18, 19, 20) Math (2/25-26)
Mar. 2 – Mar. 13,2015 Next Generation Assessments [ODE] (Performance-Based Assessments) Gr. 4: Social Studies (3/4)
Apr. 13 – May 1,2015¹ Next Generation Assessments [PARCC] (End-of-Year Exams) Math (4/14 & 16) Gr. 4: English Language Arts (4/20) Math (4/22 & 23) Grades 3-4
If my 4th grade son was an English Language Learner (ELL) or had Cognitive Disabilities (CD), he would have even more tests scheduled.This list doesn’t include assessments that are teacher-generated such as spelling or math tests which might cover material learned each week in class. Nor does it cover practice tests given during class in order to prepare students for the high stakes tests. Making this testing craze even more reprehensible is the fact that scores from non-classroom generated tests are used to evaluate the effectiveness of educators in classrooms. Do teachers even have time to actually offer meaningful instruction to students when so many of their minutes are stolen by standardized tests that mathematical analysis and metrics have shown fail to meet standards for test validity? Researchers know that 80% of how a student performs academically is due to family, environmental, and health factors beyond a teacher’s control, yet half or more of their performance as educators is based on that faulty data. Could it be any wonder why half of new educators leave the profession within their first five years of teaching? As a principal in Finland stated “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” My sons and their teachers deserve better. Our city, state, and country deserve better.
My son, Julian Svigelj-Smith, is in 4th grade for the 2014-2015 school year at Grindstone Elementary. This letter is to inform you that I refuse to have my child take part in the OAA’s, PARCC, or any other forms of high stakes standardized testing. I have been advised that my spiritual and psychological concerns meet the criteria for honoring my request. In lieu of the high stakes standardized tests I request that my child be given alternative forms of assessment to include, but not limited to, teacher made assessments, projects, and/or portfolio, etc., to be determined at the discretion of Julian’s teachers, who are the educational professionals with the education, experience, and expertise to provide the best educational environment for my child. There is no current state law in Ohio that requires my child to take these tests, and my child cannot be retained or punished in 4th grade as a result of refusing to complete these tests. Over a decade of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from the University of Pennsylvania to Harvard conclusively prove that high stakes testing like the “3rd Grade Reading Guarantee” harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society — children with special needs and children in poverty. It also contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline that is most likely to harm students who are already fraught with disadvantages.
Additionally, achievement goals for teachers and students are arbitrary without regard for students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.The metrics are designed to place all non-school achievement variables on the teacher and is not a valid reflection of my child’s abilities. This goes to the heart of pseudo accountability and the metrics machine that perpetuates the system of false claims and lies about public schools and their students and teachers. This high stakes testing approach also goes to the heart of the validity problem with standardized tests for students and teachers, which measure the historical effect of the living conditions of the student, not the teacher effects. The entire section of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) dealing with student growth measures is 100 percent indefensible from a mathematical and psychometric perspective. I am a certified OTES evaluator for the state of Ohio, and I recognize this blatant disconnect between reality and the data produced by standardized tests and subjective evaluative professional domains. The high stakes tests nor the dozens of OTES components truly measure the long hours and emotionally exhausting efforts by Ms. Prohaska that have reignited a love for school in my son that 3rd grade reading guarantee demands nearly destroyed in him less than a year ago. Her integration of current and substantial research into her classroom that includes, movement, competition, tactile activities, rewards, and a classroom that nurtures the social and emotional development of the students she obviously adores, will never be fairly evaluated in a system that emphasizes standardized test scores and factors that are a result of the students’ personal and socioeconomic factors.
According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom and this federal law supersedes state laws in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)
High stakes tests are harmful to my child and all children socially, emotionally and physically, and diminish opportunities for educational equity in public schools where my sons have been guaranteed the right to a quality education. As a mother and educator, I find it difficult to believe that any of us entered the field of education or became parents so that we could harm children. Yet we have allowed politicians and wealthy elitist capitalists to try to force us to do just that. I present this letter to you not only to make certain that my son is not participating in the travesty that is PARCC, OAA, or any other invalid test taking, but also as an invitation to be part of a movement for justice, equity, and intelligently designed education. A crusade to meet the potential that public education holds can reclaim the joy of learning for our young people through what is research proven, will stop arbitrary unfounded evaluations of educators, and introduce equity and intelligent design to education in America. Advocates for quality education for all students regardless of income, race, gender, ethnicity, ability, or geography cannot remain bystanders while others continually produce mandates that injure children. If our oblivious, discriminatory, and unenlightened state board of education refuses to begin advocating for the students that it is supposed to be protecting, then it is up to parents, local school boards and their employees, and community stakeholders to stand for what is right. If we are not going to become part of the solution, then we remain part of the problem.
Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith
On February 4, 2015 Ohio’s Department of Education published “Information on Student Participation in State Tests.” Although there are severe consequences mandated by Ohio (passing high stakes standardized tests are not part of graduation requirements in all states) that could impede a student’s ability to graduate or advance to the next grade level if a student does not pass a test, these harsh consequences are limited to 3rd grade and high school at this point. Opt out groups typically do not recommend opting students out of tests that will hinder their ability to make progress in school or graduate. However, the rest of the “Information” published by Ohio’s Department of Education is part propaganda and a partial attempt at a scare tactic so that families will stop refusing to allow their students to participate in these tests that fail to meet mathematical standards for test validity. According to Dr. Randy Hoover (2014) “Test validity is only meaningful in terms of how the test is used and what it is used for. In other words, test validity is a formal examination to determine the degree to which a test is appropriate and accurate in serving what it is used for. Formal examination reveals that the assumption of Ohio’s tests being valid is false.”
Before learning about this latest publication from the Ohio Department of Education, I published a blog post last night about the high cost of high stakes testing. Do not let anyone intimidate you about choosing to do what is right for your child and the future of education in our cities, state, and country. There wouldn’t be a need for this latest “Information” from the state if they were not getting anxious about families speaking out and taking a stand. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
I live in a unique community in which I am surrounded by many other interracial families. It is one of the many reasons that I chose this liberal, progressive city, that is also the location of a small university, when I was seeking to purchase a home for our family with four sons. Yet, with all of the comfort that accompanies our suburban, diverse, and sheltered community, members of families here, or not here, that have a composition of members with multiple race labels and appearances sometimes feel the discomfort that the social construct of race perpetuates.
Let me begin by explaining the heritages of my family. I am of European ancestry and receive the majority of the privileges that white, middle class women my age most likely frequently take for granted. My oldest son is also of European ancestry and is very aware of the privileges that can be affiliated with the label of “white, college-educated, male.” My bonus son from my former marriage and three other sons that I gave birth to are biracial with white mothers and an African American father. Their whole lives my children have heard the questions from acquaintances and strangers “Are they all yours?” and “Is he yours?” Sometimes my reply of “Yes” was not enough to satisfy the inquiry and a form of the additional question and statement would follow: “I mean, did you have all of them?” Because I try to believe that people’s intentions are positive, I reply patiently again, and explain that I knew what they meant and that “Yes, I gave birth to them. They are mine.” Occasionally, I try to insert some humor to eliminate some of the lingering awkwardness, and I add a silly comment about pushing the size of their large heads out. I might even attach some gentle sarcasm to my reply about not being able to put them back where they came from even if I wanted to.
At first, the question stung. Although I am always as polite as possible on the outside, on the inside I feel rather indignant. What do they mean are they mine? Who the hell else is around making high pitched cooing nonsensical statements to entertain them while we shop? Do you see anyone else around here wiping their noses or leaking from their nursing bra when they hear the baby’s cry? Doesn’t it look like they love me and I love them? Of course they are mine! After a while, I thought I got used to it, so I thought the question had less bite. I tried to come up with standard comments for when I am not in the mood to be conversational, comments for when I am feeling sassy, and replies for when maybe I am misinterpreting a person’s intentions and take it a little too personal. We even laugh as a family at the time we arrived at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant and the boys ran into the place so excited about being there that the owner asked if they were from Ethiopia. I rationalized their excitement as the owner’s reason for asking about their origin, not the fact that they were browner than usual because of baseball games in the July sun. We can even chuckle now about how the woman at the specialist’s office asked me at least three times after she asked my son twice if I was, in fact, his mother. After being a mother for 24 years I thought I had a handle on this “Bringing Up Biracial” in an interracial family thing. Until tonight.
Let me preface this narrative by stating that the person involved is completely innocent and meant absolutely no harm, and I am positive she has no idea that the incident had any effect on me at all.
Not having to wash my long, thick, curly brown hair myself is actually a treat, so tonight I stopped by a local franchise for a quick wash and trim to reward myself for the work I have put in so far this week. I was operating on a time crunch between picking up and dropping off boys. My second youngest son was with me, but opted to eat dinner at the Subway next door rather than sit in the salon and watch his mother get her hair done. As I was sitting in the clever beauty chair that seems to go up and down easily no matter how much a person weighs, the cell phone in my coat pocket began to ring. A nearby cosmetologist asked if I would like to get it. I replied that it was probably my 15 year-old, and that he could just come to me if he really needed me because he was next door at Subway. Near the end of my very-well-done-wash-and-trim my head was down and I was facing the woman caring for my hair, while she was comparing the hair on each side of my face to make sure the hair lengths were even. Simultaneously as my head was down and my back was facing the front, the door to the salon opened and I could not see the person who entered. The cosmetologist mentioned to me that she thought my son had finally decided to come to the salon. She said she wasn’t sure, but that she thought so because I had stated that he was about 15. I replied “Yes, 15” and asked her “Is he tall?” She nodded in the affirmative at my question. In my mind, as I am asking, I am picturing my 5”11 beautiful son with a heart-shaped face like his mama and a smile that matches mine also. Yet, there was a nagging thought that was also clawing at the back of my brain begging my consciousness to take notice. Remember your son is brown. And you’re not. Stop being a nit-witted optimistic, Pollyanna-rainbow-and-crystals, dummy!
As the chair spun around and the hair-covered cape was lifted off of me, I rose from my seat and began walking towards the front where a young man, who appeared to be white, was waiting for a haircut. In an attempt to avoid or alleviate any possible awkwardness, I said to my cosmetologist as I was paying at the register “Not mine” and smiled. I am not sure she understood what I meant until I left the salon without the young man because she didn’t immediately respond. A little part of me was charred with disappointment as I scurried to my vehicle with wet hair in the icy temperature outside. When I got in the car, my son was stretched out in the passenger seat with his empty Subway wrapper in between us. I recounted the story for him and told him how there was a moment when my spirit was elevated in one of the many sections of parental joy that my heart holds, because I thought that someone may have possibly recognized my son as mine without knowing our family background. I had all sorts of applause and cheers in one part of my mind for the progress that has been made in our country these past couple decades, and it was temporarily drowning out the harsh reality voice that doesn’t want to ever let me get too comfortable.
I’m not positive, but I don’t think that uni-racial families have to constantly explain to people they encounter that the children with them are, or are not, little beings that they had a role in biologically producing or not biologically producing. There was absolutely no malice in the entire salon encounter. Her assumption was completely reasonable based on the information she had from the twenty minutes she knew me. Anyone could have arrived at the same possible conclusion that she did; except possibly a member of a family that is multi-racial. From the moment that a child is welcomed into a family, parents are overwhelmed with love and an instinct to protect and nourish, but only parents of biracial, multiracial, or other race children understand that from that day forward there will also be another aching desire: to have that child (children) recognized as belonging to them.
Yes, they are mine. Yes, I carried them 40 weeks or more, gave birth to them naturally, nourished their bodies and souls inside of me, continue to cultivate their bodies, minds, and spirits even if they were not inside me 40 weeks, have the stretch marks to prove it even if they didn’t cause them, and don’t you recognize the all encompassing, all consuming love that connects me to them and them to me?
For one fleeting moment this evening, I thought someone who didn’t know us was able to validate my motherhood like so many other mothers have theirs confirmed every day as they walk through the store or play at the park. This motherhood of mine that so many strangers have questioned for over a decade and continue to question is obviously real to me and those who know us, but the disappointment of not having someone else recognize it was a surprise to my consciousness. This experience didn’t have the sour taste that I get when people ask me if my children belong to me. It was just a balloon of hope that I let get too close to the stingers left behind by the questioners of my motherhood, and it burst. Luckily, the reality I have returned to is full of all of the things that remind us of how real parenting is when you sign up for it, regardless of whether or not you contributed biologically to the new human that you are charged with rearing. So, I am ending here to review homework, force hygiene upon the unwilling, call time out on the wrestling match on the sofa, kiss warm dimpled cheeks, and secure us all for bedtime, which is enough affirmation for today.
Where do I begin? Should I start with the fact that education is what saved me as a teen mother with 2 sons from the welfare roles, but that my story is even less likely in today’s grossly segregated and inequitable educational structure? Or should I list the 18 years of impressive credentials that I accumulated through long hours, never ending learning, networking with families and community organizations, experience, and my passion for social justice? Perhaps I should take a cue from others who have been influencing educational policies and start with some sensationalist, biased statement that completely lacks foundation, but that generates emotions and draws self-serving attention. If I lie and say that I have never actually taught in a classroom but I am wealthy and know capitalism, would that prompt the politicians, legislators, civil rights organizations, or media outlets to finally acknowledge the valid concerns I have been contacting them about this past year? Should I begin by asking any of them to admit that paternalistic policies, whether they are from liberal elitists with good intentions or wealthy conservatives hoping to cash in on education, that dictate educational practices to a PROFESSION in which 76% of its members are female is just perpetuating the blatant discrimination that began over 100 years ago, when women were recruited for the profession because they could be paid half as much as male teachers? So much is wrong with educational policy right now that it is difficult to know where to start.
Let me begin in my own home where four boys are nurtured to be curious and enjoy learning almost as much as they like playing. Two sons are in public universities and avoided much of the high stakes testing craze that currently exists in the lower grades. My youngest two have not been as lucky. Last year, my fourteen year old son had to attend an 8th grade science class at 7:20 am every morning which was 45 minutes before the rest of the students began school. Even though early start times like that are in exact opposition to adolescent brain research and development, we had to find him his own transportation every morning to take this 8th grade science class in order for him to be enrolled in the 9th grade advanced science class that he was recommended for, because the 9th grade science curriculum is not on the 8th grade Ohio Achievement Test which he had to take in the spring. Luckily, I am a middle class suburban mother who was able to arrange carpools with friends in the same situation as us, or my son would have had to miss out on his recommended science class for a lower level one that could accommodate Ohio’s testing requirements. How many lower income students were not as fortunate and remained stuck in a science class that stagnated their growth? I do not want to start asking thoughtful and relevant questions again as teachers have a tendency to do, so I’ll move on.
The experience of my cheerful, kind, curious, and active 9 year old last school year still creates a knot in my stomach and lump in my throat. Although he had a fantastic teacher who nourished his mind and soul, she could not shelter him from the stress of Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires students to either pass the high stakes test or prove that certain interventions occurred that would get them on track to grade level performance, in order to be promoted to the 4th grade. Even though my son began his 3rd grade school year with a reading performance score on his measure of academic progress test that indicated he was already reading at a level he should not have been at until the end of 3rd grade, he was recommended for Title I because he could not answer poorly constructed and confusing standardized test questions correctly on the fall state reading test. The current standardized test practices are not supported by research as improving student learning, or being a valid measurement of their academic progress based on what is known about children’s brain development, and what we know about factors that contribute to successful schools and students. Yet, this one state test mandated intervention for my third grader with the very real risk of his retention in the 3rd grade if participation in intervention did not occur, or if he did not meet state reading proficiency levels on the spring test. He began having stomach aches, crying over homework, started hating school, and lost confidence in his academic abilities. Meanwhile, I was at a loss to explain to my son how any part of his experience could be justified, or how these high stakes standardized tests, after tests, after tests, were improving his learning. According to Ph. D Randy Hoover (2014) Ohio achievement tests fail to meet the accepted mathematical standards for test validity, yet instead of reducing testing the state continues to roll out more tests and to write legislation that ties these tests to teacher evaluations.
My frustrations with testing and my own children were exacerbated by this legislation and policies that were directly impacting my profession as a high school social studies teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. Due to Ohio Revised Codes written by legislators, not educators, like ORC 3311.80 and 3319.112, Cleveland teachers are to receive an Effectiveness Rating each year 50% of which is based on student test scores. However, no one knew what tests or which scores were going to comprise that 50% for every subject. Some teachers were exempt from the testing portion of scores because they were foreign language teachers or digital media teachers and there were no tests available. Some teachers had tests that were already being used to measure academic progress and those were continued in addition to other tests. Unfortunately for the rest of us, a scramble by administrators working at the board of education, and a hustle by salespeople representing test companies resulted in numbers that were supposed to determine my effectiveness as an educator, yet had nearly no directly attributable teacher data that linked the students’ performance on the tests to my instruction.
Fifteen percent of my Effectiveness Rating in Ohio was based on students’ scores on the social studies portion of the tenth grade Ohio Graduation Test (OGT). The test is based on 9th and 10th grade curriculum that is sequenced across an entire school year which ends in May, yet the test was given the 2nd week of March. Students were not only tested on items that they were supposed to learn two months after the test according to state and district curriculum guidelines, but they were also tested on material that they should have learned in 9th grade. I had no contact with these students their ninth grade year, but I was held accountable for the curriculum and rated according to their performance. The other 35% percent of the test portion effectiveness rating was unknown to me until immediately after students had completed OGT testing in March. At that time, I received an email from our building test coordinator that we had to administer a U.S. Studies end of course exam by April 9th. The district had purchased an exam from QualCore and I was emailed the blueprint for it. Content on nearly half the test did not match what the district and state require me to teach, or it was content I had not been able to teach yet because testing and inclement weather days took away from instructional time. Plus, in April I still had two months of teaching left to do when this “end of the course” exam was to be administered. Were the district and state trying to prove that students do not know what they are not taught? Well dear readers, even that data was not effectively produced.
After contemplating my seemingly hopeless situation during sleepless nights and anxiety driven days, I considered what I would want a teacher to do if my son was in her class. I knew the fifty percent of my evaluation that was based on observations and evidence throughout the school year would contain accomplished and skilled ratings because I am a certified evaluator for the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System as part of my role as a mentor for new or struggling educators in our district. So, on the morning of April 7th, 2014 I stood before my students as they fidgeted all lined up again in their testing rows, and asked them if they trusted me. It took this group longer than most to figure out that I expected a lot, but that it was because I was on their side. One young lady who worked diligently to overcome the special education and English language learner labels that clung to her responded that she did until she “walked in today and found out about this test.” I sighed and gave her a sad smile as I asked her not to give up on me yet because I would never give up on any of them. Once test materials were distributed and the test coordinator stepped out of the room, I interrupted the silence and asked for the students’ attention. They looked up warily with grimaces and disappointment laden eyes. I explained to them that I had not warned them about the test because I only found out about it a couple weeks ago and that I had to figure out how I was going to approach it. One option was to try to cram test knowledge into them that they could then regurgitate. Another possibility was that we could work on our collaborative project that integrated technology, asked them to solve a problem, and provided opportunities for critical thinking, and presentations. The project’s question was: How can WWI be taught to students in a way that engages and informs them? I scaffolded lessons and collaborated with the 9th grade social studies teacher to have my students create mini lessons for workshops with his students. I figured it was never too early to start building some empathy for teachers, and my students were excited about the opportunity to assist their younger counterparts.
When the students realized they had spent two weeks on a project, not test cramming, their faces began to soften. I further explained that the test they were taking meant nothing to me or to them. I work hard to make sure my students feel successful. I was not about to let the incompetence of others tear them down. I asked them to pick their favorite lettered circles, color them in with their number two pencils, and put their heads down for a nap. Naps are actually better supported by research to improve learning than standardized tests. Although relieved, some students expressed concern about how their performance would reflect on me. I told them not to worry, and with veiled angst stated to them that my job was secure. Some students wrote comments above where they had to sign their names on the answer booklet expressing their distaste with testing and how it is used in connection with teacher ratings.The test coordinator made them erase those, but that moment of social protest said more to me about what they learned in U.S. History than any of the answers they could have bubbled in for another standardized test.
At the end of the school year all the teachers with test scores tied to their evaluations received notification that we could check our final Effectiveness Rating online. According to the test data gathered by the district and state, my students “met expectations.” I was never told what the expectation for the QualCore vendor assessment that amounted to 35% of my score was, or what the results of the test were. My principal informed me that even though the OGT scores for my students were ten percent higher than the district average, and my observation scores were weighted more in the accomplished categories than in the skilled, she could not give me a composite rating of “Accomplished” because of the test scores, and she even moved me from a few accomplished marks to skilled on the domain chart, even though evidence met the accomplished criteria on the rubric. However, other teachers in the building without test score data as part of their Effectiveness Rating received composite ratings of “Accomplished” and were given raises this year. The fact that a formal analysis of Ohio’s tests and the linking of those tests to teacher effectiveness has failed to meet mathematical validity or a degree of acceptable integrity makes this entire system even more egregious and frustrating.
On the verge of resigning from teaching entirely, and firmly resolved to never go through another experience like the one I had last year, I accepted a position at our county juvenile detention facility where test scores are not tied to evaluations, and for about a $20,000/year pay cut. As a single mother of two sons in college and two at home who does not receive court ordered child support, the financial effects have not been felt lightly by any of us. I also left an incredibly talented staff of colleagues and friends in a new and innovative educational network that I believe in and was passionate about. However, the positive impact that this new position has had on me professionally and personally is invaluable. Those are stories for another time though.
During an exit ticket reflection at the end of class one day this year a young man wrote that he would “like to get better at thinking.” What an incredible and enlightening concept, I thought. He does not want to get better at memorizing test answers. He wants to learn and to be better at learning. Do you think he can imagine the source of inspiration that his statement is for an educator? How can I convince politicians and misinformed educational reformers that it is students, not poorly construed, meaningless test data, who motivate us to be better teachers? Most importantly, how can I convince those reformers and politicians that this young man is on to something? Metacognition and getting better at thinking when formulating education policy might just be the first step in ending the current insanity.
Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith considers herself an educational ninja warrior and queen advocate for the students who need the best educators the most. She is featured in an ASCD documentary about project based learning, was interviewed by NPR’s Mindshift for an article about happiness in schools, has an online petition with over 2100 signatures to stop the testing that hurts students and teachers at Stop hurting students and punishing good teachers, has to shrink her resumé to an unreadable font in order to place all of her experiences and skills on it, and always assumes that people’s intentions are positive.