Boycotting the ISAT: Your Own Personal Decision

3 Mar

I have heard through the grapevine that a teacher at my school is seriously considering refusing to give the ISAT test on Tuesday.  Through that same grapevine, I’ve heard that another 2 teachers may be interested in doing so if they weren’t alone and I am seriously considering making it 4.  It’s a tough decision.  I like my school and my principal.  My only real problem is with CPS.  However, this is a chance to really make a statement about the over testing that we’re forcing on our students instead of teaching them.

Barbara’s Byrd-Bennett’s own email explains just why this is such a waste of valuable time.  She wants us to give these tests in part because next fall, we’ll be able to see what some $10 an hour worker in a mini-mall who was evaluated on how many tests he graded thought of our students’ writing.  There will be no information about where they were strong or weak and the students will have moved on to a new class, but that seems to be the only academic value of the test.  The state has already made it clear that schools won’t lose funding because of low testing rates.

So, what do we as educators have to weigh?  For me, it’s my home and my family.  I can’t afford to lose my job.  However, I know that if we have solidarity, the chances of this having much of a negative impact on my career are greatly reduced.  If this were a movie, this would be our Henry the fifth moment.  This would be the time when all the Hispanic children in Los Angeles walk out of their school or when Norma Rae shuts down the factory.   We really have a chance to strike a blow for sanity in CPS’s testing policy.

Parents throughout the city and suburbs are opting out and it’s becoming a real avalanche of non-participation.   We can stand and we must stand.  I’m not sure if I can do it and I agree that it’s an individual’s choice, but I don’t want to be the person who meekly went to the back of the bus or turned around because British troops were blocking the road.

The Time to Make a Stand on Testing is Now

28 Feb

ImageI have been in semi-retirement from the blog lately, but I received an angry email in my mailbox today from none other than Barbara Byrd-Bennett.  It seems like once every couple of weeks, she feels the need to write to me to let me know just how much she thinks of the teachers of the city of Chicago.  The email was nice enough to include some “Facts” and “Repercussions” for me to ponder.

Facts

  • The time spent on the ISAT is less than 1% of the entire school year. 

The test at my school, is taking 4 days.  During those 4 days, the students will be having two test sessions.  Special education and ELL students will be testing practically the entire time.  During this time there will be no gym, library, music, computers, or art.  During this time upper grade students will not be having their departmental classes.   This is 4 days completely disrupted.  Plus makeup tests.  If 4 days of missed education are no big deal, why are we making up the snow days?

 

  • The test DOES NOT take up the entire 2-week window as some would claim.  It takes about 3 hours each for reading and math, and 2 hours for science in only grades 4 and 7.  (See here and here—page 6, and here—“ISAT Summary” for more details).  The 2-week window allows for maximum flexibility in scheduling at the school level, and for make-up testing of students who were absent.  Make-ups do not interrupt the instructional time of other students as they are conducted in a separate room.  
  • ISAT is not a drain on the CPS budget because CPS pays nothing for it.

Even if that is true, the state is paying big bucks for this and that’s money that isn’t going to CPS.  Also, you’re paying teachers and support staff to watch kids fill in bubbles rather than teach.  That’s a waste of resources.

  • Although ISAT will not be used for accountability, selective enrollment or student promotion, it is not meaningless.  It will be completely aligned to the Common Core standards in both the range of skills assessed and the depth of student-response expectations in writing.  This will provide educators an important first look at how well their students are doing on these more rigorous expectations.  Other current assessments do not offer this depth of information.

So next year, at some point, teachers will be able to see how students that they no longer have in class did on a test without any information on what kind of problems they got right and what ones they got wrong.  The writing is 1 day out of four.  Furthermore, the writing is scored by people in a mini-mall making $10 an hour.  Their evaluations don’t fill me with confidence.

Repercussions

  • Federal and State law require all students to be assessed in grades 3 – 8.

OK, so what are the Benchmark Tests, the multiple NWEA tests, and the REACH assessments for?

  • Schools with low testing participation are in jeopardy of losing federal funding as this test is a required component of NCLB.  
  • ISBE may review the accreditation of schools with low testing percentages.
  • Low percentage participation will also affect AYP status.

Isn’t this the year in NCLB where students don’t make AYP unless 100% of their students meet or exceed?  Good luck with that.

  • If an individual teacher refuses to administer the test, you should direct that teacher to swipe out and leave the work place.  You should direct another employee to administer the test.

Because all schools have plenty of teachers with nothing better to do.  I’m sure that if, say 20 teachers refused, a school could do great.  It almost makes me just want to use my 3 personal days this week,

  • Notify your staff that:

The State Certification Board may take action to revoke the certification of any employee who encourages a student to boycott the ISAT.

That, of course, would be up to the state.  Would they revoke the certification?  They can try, I suppose.  I don’t see it.

The Chicago Board of Education will discipline any employee who encourages a student not to take the ISAT or who advocates against the ISAT on work time for insubordination and for any disruption of the educational process. 

If parents or students make unsolicited inquiries regarding testing or opting out, staff shall explain that the ISAT is required by state and federal law and Board policy, and shall refer the questioner to school administrators to address any further inquiry or request.

I believe that they can require that I do not encourage my students to opt out on work time, but they certainly can’t make me tell parents or staff that their child is required to take the test, when that simply is untrue.

It is critical that all parents, students and staff understand these potential repercussions.  While employees may voice their opinions on matters of public concern, they have an obligation as government employees not to undermine or interfere with state and federal law and with Illinois/CPS Testing policies by encouraging students to opt out.

Breaking the law?  Just a little over-dramatic.  However, every time BBB sends something like this out and it makes the news, the parents learn the truth anyway.   And that is the scariest thing for CPS.

Please direct any additional questions about testing policy to Didi Swartz (773-553-1161 or cmswartz@cps.edu).  Please direct questions on potential repercussions to Tom Krieger (773-553-1193 or tkrieger@cps.edu) or David Ruhland (773-553-2321 or druhland@cps.edu).

Sincerely,

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Despite promises to the contrary, testing continues to expand.  They are taking a considerable amount of teaching time away so that a perhaps the one day they do the writing tests, there may possibly be data generated that next year will possibly be useful to someone.  I’m sorry, you don’t lose weight by weighing yourself and you don’t cure a patient by taking their temperature.  Testing is big business and that is the true force behind this ridiculous and abusive over-testing.

 

We Have Altered The Deal, Pray We Don’t Alter It Any Further

3 Dec

Harry S. Truman once said, “Given a choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican,  the public will choose the real Republican every time.”  Those words have a lot of wisdom in them.   If you can’t give people a reason to vote for you, giving them a reason to vote against the other guy will only vote for so long.  Again and again, however, I am seeing the Democrats fail to learn this important lesson.

I am writing this just moments after the Illinois Legislature rammed through a pension gutting bill and then immediately began spending these savings by passing them along to ADM.  I truly believe that this is the final blow for Pat Quinn  after pension theft and naming Paul Vallas as his Lieutenant Governor will find moderate public employees moving to Dan Rutherford and the more liberal ones voting green.  In fact, if he gets a Republican opponent who can appear to be a common sense moderate (I don’t think any of them are–we’re talking appearance here), he’s going to lose big.

Illinois Democrats helped to spearhead legislation being pushed by ALEC and they should know that it won’t end well for them.  Labor traditionally has been in your corner while ALEC is made up of a bunch of people who give to Republicans.   How you expect to win, I don’t know.  When the election rolls around even if the CTU leadership wanted to support you, they’d never get it past the House of Delegates.  It’s quite possible the Illinois Supreme Court will undo the damage to the pensions, but it won’t be able to undo the damage done to the Democrats.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in Wisconsin where a real movement was mobilized to take on Scott Walker.  That movement quickly dissipated when Democrats championed a Milwaukee Mayor who was from the Rahm Emanuel wing of the party.  Now, the Democratic insiders are trying to foist another anti-labor non-progressive candidate on the state in Mary Burke.  This is a losing strategy.

I could explain just how morally reprehensible this pension grab was, but politicians don’t usually respect that sort of thing.  Instead, I will make it very clear that we will remember and there are a lot of us.  We could have worked with you, but instead will fight you and if we can’t do it at the ballot box, we’ll do it in the streets, and in the hearts and minds of every voter we come in contact with and we talk to a lot of people.

One Teacher’s Look at Politics – The Governors

19 Nov

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I remember when things got down to the wire in the 2010 election.   In the Democratic Primary, I had wanted Dan Hynes.  He lost in a heartbreaking election with no turnout and I was disappointed that teachers who should have known better had stayed away in droves.  At the last House of Delegates meeting before the election, a Chicago Teachers Union with very mixed feelings about Quinn who had already pushed through an attack on our pensions, had a very close vote to endorse him.

I pushed for us to endorse Quinn despite not believing he was a very good Governor.  I was scared of Brady getting in and when we saw what Scott Walker was able to do in Wisconsin, I think the movement of the teachers union and other organized labor to Quinn saved us from having a string of right to work states from Wisconsin to Indiana.  Some of my friends wanted to support any third party candidate.  However, a teacher who is gay, posted on a mailing list that I am on that she didn’t have that luxury.  She wanted to marry her long term partner and Quinn was her best chance of that happening.  In the end, supporting Quinn was a good move.

Things changed when Quinn chose Paul Vallas as his lieutenant Governor.  Even though they run separately in the primary, choosing an out of state Republican with a track record of education reform failures as his running mate was a slap in the face to the Chicago Teachers Union.  When local pundits analyzed it, they all said “well, who else are they going to vote for?”  We have other choices besides Rauner and Quinn and I want to go through them point by point.

Rauner – I believe he’d be like Emanuel, but worse.  However, the Governor has less control over us than the mayor does.   Also, it may be easier to fight a Republican Governor than a Democrat.   Voting for him is not an option

Voting for a more moderate Republican – There are none.  Senator Kirk has refused to endorse any of the candidates because he doesn’t think any our moderate enough for the state.  I think he knows.

Vote for third party – If you want to get behind a third party, that’s great.  I understand the desire to say a pox on both of your houses.  However, with so much at stake, I don’t see why I should give up a vote in order for the green party to go from 5% to 7% of the vote.  If the greens or any other party can run a quality candidate with a chance, I definitely would be for supporting them, but that’s a huge “if”.

Run our own candidate – To what end?  Do we want to play spoiler?  There probably isn’t enough time to really be credible a year from now.  Also, with limited resources should teachers be putting all of them here?

Vote for Mickey Mouse – The inability to find an actual candidate probably has as much to do with your unwillingness to be informed as it does with the quality of the candidates.

Endorse Pat Quinn – I think that ship has sailed. 

So what do we do?   I think we need to continue to advocate for our issues.   We should fight for a fair tax, for pensions that we can live with, for an elected school board, and for more funding for our schools.  We should get involved in the elections where we can make a difference and where there are candidates who have championed our issues or are willing to do so, we give them our full support.

In the race for Governor, we play the game.  Maybe we do endorse Quinn, maybe we don’t.  However, we don’t throw our resources into this election.  I will probably not take a Democratic primary ballot and will instead vote for Rauner’s closest challenger int he GOP primary.   We can vote for Quinn, we can choose not to, but I do think we need to get political.  We need to advocate for our issues and for those who champion them and let the race for Governor take care of itself.

One Teacher’s Look at Politics

14 Nov

ImageThis is the beginning of a series of blog post that attempt to put the political situation into context in light of today’s city council votes and Pat Quinn’s selection of Paul Vallas as his candidate for Lieutenant Governor.  I am looking at things from the point of view of one Chicago Public School teacher, but a lot of this will probably apply to parents and teachers in Chicago and in other school districts.

Today, we found out who are real friends in the Chicago City Council are.   Aldermen Fioretti and Arena attempted to rescue both the TIF Surplus bill and the Elected School Board bill from the rules committee today and though neither measure passed, we learned a lot about who our friends are in the City Council.

Voted Yes on Returning TIF Surplus

Arena
Brookins
Fioretti
Foulkes
Hairston
Moreno
Munoz
Sposato
Sawyer
Smith
Waguespack.

 

Voted Yes on Elected School Board

Arena
Cappleman
Cochran
Cullerton
Chandler
Ervin
Fioretti
Hairston
Holmes
Sawyer
Sposato
Munoz
Pawar
Waguespack.

Are these are only allies?  I’d say “no”.  Some alderman like O’Shea are glaring in their absence.  Some alderman like Foulkes and Pawar who voted for one measure voted against the other.  I don’t think that a candidate has to be behind us 100% to be worthy for our support.  However, there is a track record and if a candidate is voting against me as often as they’re voting for me, it’s time to replace them.  Aldermen aren’t the most powerful public employees around, but aldermanic races are also the easiest ones for a dedicated band of teachers to influence.  Whether we’re talking about the district where you live or you teach (if you’re a teacher), you can make a big difference by volunteering.

Next time, I’ll look at the race for Governor. 

CPS Fun with Accountability

12 Nov

ImageSometimes, CPS misses the reality boat by so much, you can only shake your head and laugh before weeping and sobbing uncontrollably in distress.  It seems the Office of Accountability, which is brimming with 6 figure salaries, doesn’t have anybody who understands statistics. 

Last week, our school was given targets for improvement based on last year’s ISAT, NWEA, and attendance figures.  These targets were calculated by looking at the scores a grade achieved the previous year and figuring in a solid percentage growth to that score.   For instance, in 2013 the third grade had 42.6 percent meet or exceed on the NWEA so in 2014 the third grade has a target of 47.1.   The problem is that the 2013 third graders are now fourth graders.

This is roughly the equivalent of giving a doctor high marks because the patients that he saw on Friday were healthier than the ones he saw on Thursday or calling the Bulls a much improved basketball team because they did better playing against the Utah Jazz Friday than they did against the Miami Heat in the opener.  Students change for year to year and they are not only different people, but their classroom behavior and attitudes are affected by the other students around them.

As a result of the mathematical genius that is the CPS Office of Accountability, my grade must improve our students’ ISAT reading scores by 21.3 percent over the scores they achieved last year.  However, in math we only have to avoid a loss of less than 11.7 percent.  Did anybody even think about this or read these targets?   As a result, I will be going to my principal tomorrow during report card pick up and asking that we discontinue mathematics education at our grade level in favor of double reading.  Are they that starved for data at central office, that the quality of the data has become irrelevant?

CPS Continues their “Fuzzy” Math

29 Sep

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I received an email this week from a CPS teacher including an email that was sent out by their principal.   The principal wrote, “Effective immediately we will transition to a no zero policy.  Additionally on Friday we will have a brief meeting 4th & 5th periods.  In exchange I will give one of your prep periods back next week.  By Monday, September 30th please change all past zeros to the lowest possible grade designated for each grade level as identified in the staff handbook.”

In effect, the principal has banned grades lower than 50% at his high school.  The Principal admitted to this teacher that he had been under pressure from the Southwest Area Office to make this change.   Now, I personally give students no lower than a 50% on assignments with the exception of missing assignments.   I do this for mathematical reasons to allow students a chance to recover from a bad test.  However, if a student wants credit for a project or homework assignment, I don’t think it is unfair to require the student to actually do the assignment.  However, I believe teachers should have the right to set standards for their own classrooms.  These policies should originate in the classroom and not in the principal’s office and certainly not at the area office.

This isn’t the only area of fuzzy math in Chicago this week, however.   CPS enrollment is dropping fast and it’s probably no wonder.  When you sabotage the neighborhood schools where most families send their children to school, you shouldn’t be surprised when they respond by looking elsewhere.  However, charter schools in Chicago have been claiming a waiting list of 19,000 students.  Lost in all the hand wringing over CPS’s decline in enrollment this week was the fact that the city’s charter schools have 1,000 students less than projected in the CPS FY14 budget.   It seems to me that if they’re on a waiting list, they should be enrolled when an opening occurs.  Then again, if I had students on a waiting list I probably wouldn’t be spending big money in marketing my charter school like so many of them do.

Of course none of this is any wonder with Mathematician in Chief Rahm Emanuel in charge–he of the $1 Billion CPS deficit that neither grows nor shrinks depending on what savings or expenses are found.  The TIF plan continues to work as intended, siphoning off money from school children to give basketball arenas to private universities and liquor stores to felons.   Of course, Rahm’s new safe passage program seems to make the news every day or two.  

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