Saturday, February 21, 2015

Get Rid of Public Schools? Parent vs Superintendent over Opting Out? Required Reading

 Required Reading

Did you know that there is a move among conservatives to suggest that public schools should not exist?  There is and MSNBC has a good article about this issue.  One place it came up is at FOX News in a discussion over Oklahoma wanting to get rid of AP History.

The Fox host said, “There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?  I mean we should really go to a system where parents of every stripe have a choice, have a say in the kind of education their kids get because, when we have centralized, bureaucratic education doctrines and dogmas like this, that’s exactly what happens.”

Apparently former Senator Rick Santorum agrees.  Jeb Bush, who is likely to run for President, isn't quite there but loves the idea of vouchers.  He "recently condemned public education as “government-run, unionized monopolies.”  Senator Rand Paul also doesn't like public schools.

I fully expect public education to be a very talked about issue when the presidential election season really heats up and this may be a new theme.  Well, not new as this article from Barbara Miner at Rethinking Schools in 2002 shows:

Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential Republican strategists in Washington, has long recognized the partisan value of vouchers, sometimes euphemistically referred to as "choice." "School choice reaches right into the heart of the Democratic coalition and takes people out of it," he said in a 1998 interview with Insight , the magazine of the conservative Washington Times. 

Lastly, a lengthy column from The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post from a mother, Sarah Blaine, to a the superintendent of her district in New Jersey about Common Core testing and opting out.

(To note, my Twitter feed is hugely about Common Core testing.  Groups that like Common Core are almost frantic in finding ways to try to rebut any opt-out argument.)

The superintendent, James A. Crisfield, wrote a piece about why opting out is terrible. He seems to believe it is all about politics, not education. He calls it "hysteria" and then broadly states:

[W]hat’s to stop a parent of a high school student in 2015 from opting out of a bunch of other things that school does, too. What’s the difference? Why not opt out of having one’s child take that nasty calculus exam that she didn’t study for because she was out of town over the weekend? Why not opt out of her having to go outside for PE during first period because she doesn’t like the cold, and then opt her out of having first lunch, because she is way too cranky in the afternoon if she eats lunch at 10:30 a.m.

I do give him credit for saying this:

I do understand the concerns people have with the PARCC tests, and I in fact share some of them. I feel the PARCC tests as currently configured take too much time to administer, and I strongly object to how they are used to compare districts (or schools) to one another. And worse yet, very few educators, anywhere, will agree with the notion that standardized test results are either a valid or a reliable way to evaluate teachers.  

Blaine's long and careful rebuttal is thoughtful and she gives ideas about how to work together on this issue but first:
Contrary to your mischaracterization of parents’ motivations, I did not join the opt-out movement because I am “looking out for what [I] feel is [my] child’s best interest.” You state:

I know the PARCC opt-out movement is popular, and I know the people who are part of it are only looking out for what they feel is their child’s best interest, so I do not blame them personally. But from the systemic perspective, opting out is a concept that cannot work. Even though it will be unpopular and will attract an aggressive reaction, somebody has to stand up and point out that the opt-out movement has to stop. It is just not a practical or viable approach to public education.
Frankly, my kid (like most of her contemporaries in Millburn) will be fine whether she takes the PARCC test or not. I joined the test-refusal movement because the systemic pressure placed on public schools by high-stakes standardized testing must be stopped for the sakes of all of our children. We can and must do better by our kids, and if educational leaders like yourself are unwilling to step up to the plate, then we parents have no choice but to step in to preserve our vision of what public schools can and should be.

In point of fact, I have yet to meet a parent or teacher involved in the test-refusal movement who thinks that we shouldn’t assess kids.  

Me, neither.  I have never met a single person who says that.


Some of her ideas:
  • What if, instead of fighting your parents over their legitimate concerns with the narrowing of world-class curriculum I benefited from in the Millburn Public Schools, you instead helped to lead the test-refusal movement, and in leading it, worked with your local parents to craft a test-refusal form that was limited to the specific issue at hand: high-stakes statewide standardized testing?
  • What if you gave your students hands-on education in the democratic process by allowing them to participate — during school hours and of course on an elective basis — in the democratic processes aimed at reducing the annual high-stakes testing requirements by, for instance, lobbying their state and federal legislators in favor of bills like A-4165, A-4190, and A-3079 and a grade-span testing version of the ESEA reauthorization; attending and commenting at local and state school board meetings; and testifying before the NJ Assembly and NJ Senate’s Education Committees?
  • What if you had led your parents through consensus building and educating them about the issues facing public schools today (e.g., that the proper target of their anger with Common Core is activism at the state and federal levels, rather than local refusals) instead of berating them with your own “hysterical” slippery slope arguments (e.g., your “opting out will destroy public education as we know it today” argument discussed herein) against the straw-man of parents’ inartfully crafted refusal letters that include opting-out of Common Core curriculum as well as PARCC?
  • I think your community would have been better served if you’d met your parents halfway by responding to their concerns about, for instance, the Common Core ELA standards’ emphasis on reading texts without considering their broader literary and historical contexts.
  •  What if, instead of drafting a poison pen op-ed criticizing your students’ parents, you instead led them in effective protest against PARCC and other high-stakes tests, as, for instance, Principal Carol Burris has done over on Long Island? Then you’d be controlling the message and ensuring that the PARCC refusals were limited to PARCC (and perhaps NJ ASK), rather than seeking to refuse everything under the sun.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Data is a commodity like other commodities--it has value, it is bought and sold, it pays people's salaries, and it contributes to the revenue stream of for-profit and nonprofit corporations alike.

To the extent that a given test is educationally useless for students, their data-production amounts to uncompensated child labor.

The same ethical standards that we have for children participating in human experiments should be used when they are asked to participate in standardized testing. If their parents want them to participate in the testing, they should have to opt them in, and the testing agency should have to fully disclose how the data will be used.

David Edelman

Melissa Westbrook said...

That's it in a nutshell, David (except for the dangers of a data breach).

mirmac1 said...

What kills me and should enrage those who ill-advisedly push for a split district is: JSCEE staff just uses data to print graphs and calls it their plan for closing the opportunity gap. They use data to serve whatever new shiny thing they have to have like PreKs, language immersion, and downtown schools. They don't use it to know WTF is going on with recess and lunch, special education and student discipline.

n said...

I think that is because "data" simply redefines the problem. It does not suggest a solution. Yet we are spending much needed teaching hours on it as well as prep time on it. It's exhausting.

Anonymous said...

David, your entire argument rests on the premise of "educationally useless assessments for students." And that is the crux of the debate IMO.

I would argue that the state assessments, including the SBAC assessments, have educational value. Apparently, policymakers agree with me. You might disagree with me and the policymakers.

But until policymakers come around to your way of thinking, the rest of your "uncompensated child labor" argument is moot.

--- swk

Lynn said...

swk,

Would you say that the SBAC has any educational value for the juniors taking it this spring?

Anonymous said...

Lynn, I would say that the 11th grade SBAC assessments have value for this year's juniors.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think there is more value for juniors to take the SAT over SB.

Anonymous said...

Let's take the case of 11th grade IB diploma candidates. What possible value could there be for those students in taking the SBAC in April?

These are students who are already striving to achieve in ways that go well beyond Common Core standards.

They would be much better off back in their classrooms, reviewing for their upcoming IB exams in May.

David Edelman

Lynn said...

Students can use passing scores on the SBAC to meet graduation testing requirements. What do juniors who've already passed the HSPEs and a math EOC get from the SBAC?

mirmac1 said...

To get an idea of where our scarce SPS PD time and money is going, see this:

http://professional-development.district.seattleschools.org/modules/locker/files/get_group_file.phtml?gid=2213995&fid=23128632

The bulk is CCSS and assessment. Little on equity and MTSS. Nothing on SpEd, IDEA and positive behavioral supports. Nothing on disproportionate discipline or cultural competency. My guess is its because SPS only values that it can measure on a bubble test or computer. All that other fuzzy stuff has less value.

Then they wonder why there is an opportunity gap....

Anonymous said...

Lynn, et al --- The 11th grade SBAC assessments are aligned to college readiness expectations of our state's colleges and universities. They have all committed to basing remediation determinations on the results of the 11th grade SBAC assessments.

The colleges and universities do not use the SAT/ACT for placement purposes and so the SAT/ACT do not hold the same value as the SBAC assessments, although they do hold some college admission value.

And despite people's false claims, the state assessments have been shown to be valid and reliable instruments for evaluating the English/language arts and math programs of a school and district. Therefore, I would want the IB students' scores to be included in an overall school's scores. To not include these high-achieving students would give a false view of the school.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

swk,

You might want the IB scores included, but the IB students themselves will have other priorities. They will know that their scores on the SBAC will have no personal value or meaning for them, and they will hurry through to get them over with, so that they can get back to more important matters.

The data that they will have then produced will not be for them. It is for adults who profit from their labor. Thus, their data-production is uncompensated child labor.

David Edelman

Anonymous said...

David, my experience with IB/APP students is that they will do very well on the SBAC assessments because of their intrinsic drive to perform exceptionally well. In other words, if you put an assessment in front of them, they will do their best --- it's just what they do.

But on your other point, are you suggesting that every activity required of the students should require students to opt in if it doesn't have personal value or meaning for them? I taught and worked in high schools and I'd have to say this would be challenging and would change the entire dynamic of the school. For example, you can kiss most assemblies goodbye.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

swk,

My experience with IB students informs me that many of them are quite impatient with tasks they consider to be useless. They do not do their best on them, especially when they already feel stretched with the more serious tasks they are confronted with.

With regard to whether students find their work personally valuable and meaningful, I was only suggesting that they would not do their best if their work lacked this form of relevance. In other words, I was speaking to the question of motivation.

Again, the purpose of the SBAC is to produce a commodity for adults who will profit by it. If we required students to participate in assemblies for the sole purpose of producing data for extra-school institutions and companies, then I would have a problem with that, too. Thankfully, it hasn't come to that. Yet.

Anonymous said...

David Edelman, above.

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, did you read the article with the superintendent's thoughts in this thread? Because you are now using the exact same strawman argument he did.

No one is against testing.

No one is saying opt out of everything should be the norm.

My own personal experience is that juniors on their way to college have little interest or need for one more test.

Anonymous said...

David, to what data do you refer? Regardless of your answer, I would disagree that state assessments are designed "for the sole purpose of producing data for extra-school institutions and companies."

This is a unfounded claim, but it obviously doesn't keep people from claiming it. Essentially, I assume you believe that testing companies drive testing policy. And if so, you have no idea what you're talking about. I know it's really popular in the opt out movement, the anti-CC movement, and even among anti-government movements. But it's popularity doesn't make it so.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, I guess you're right, Melissa. You got me. But in my defense, I recall thinking when you first posted this thread that I appreciated the superintendent's arguments vis-a-vis opting out and what else kids should be allowed to opt out of. I don't support his "hysteria" claim, but the other stuff I agreed with.

With that said, I would disagree with your statement that no one is against testing. If by testing we mean standardized testing, then there are lots of people --- including people who regularly post here --- who are opposed to ALL standardized testing. It's not such a straw man fallacy.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

swk,

The data to which I refer is the data produced by the SBAC. This would include aggregate test score data--the kind that one sees on the OSPI website and in various reports.

Who profits from this? Any person whose job depends on the production of the data. That would clearly include OSPI employees. Any service involved in any phase of the production line--from constructing the test to compiling, sorting, communicating, and managing the data--profits from it. If the data is made available to research institutions, other people profit from it. Again, the data is a commodity. It has value, and people want it.

It's interesting how you keep attributing arguments to me that I haven't made.

Anonymous said...

David Edelman, again above.

Anonymous said...

OK, David, now that we're clear about the data, I would still make the same argument. I will agree with you that the state assessments, SBAC or otherwise, generate data and that data is useful to others aside from the students. I will also concede that there are people who profit from it.

I disagree with you that the state assessments, SBAC or otherwise, are "educationally useless for students" and that they are designed "for the sole purpose of producing data for extra-school institutions and companies."

Students benefit, albeit indirectly at times, from the state assessments. Because people may profit from the assessments doesn't necessarily mean that the use of data generated by the assessments is unethically gathered nor unethically put to use.

To whit, there has never been a successful lawsuit claiming a violation of ethical standards of social science research based on the administration of standardized testing.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

"With that said, I would disagree with your statement that no one is against testing. If by testing we mean standardized testing, then there are lots of people --- including people who regularly post here --- who are opposed to ALL standardized testing."

Find me someone (or show us something on the blog). I have never met anyone who said no testing.

Anonymous said...

"Students benefit, albeit indirectly at times, from the state assessments. Because people may profit from the assessments doesn't necessarily mean that the use of data generated by the assessments is unethically gathered nor unethically put to use."

Let's take the NAEP as an example of a state (by which I mean "government") assessment. It could be argued that we all, students included, benefit from the data produced by this assessment. I still think that the selected students (or their parents) should have to opt in, just as someone who would potentially benefit from a drug trial has to opt in, with full disclosure.

However, the SBAC isn't the NAEP. I don't believe the former is useful. But if students and their parents disagree, let them opt in.

J.S. Mill, in On Liberty, essentially made the liberal case for state involvement in student assessments. He also warned of too much state involvement. In my view, the SBAC represents too much state involvement.

How that came to be is a complicated issue. It ultimately goes back to the question of what we think education is for and who gets to decide this question.

David Edelman

Watching said...

Despite swk's claims, I"ve been in touch with college admission offices. They are having "discussions" around SBAC and college admissions. There are many unknowns and I agree with David Edelman- our children are being used to determine cut scores. They are missing valuable class time and there is such a thing as test fatigue. 11th graders are taking final exams, SAT, AP exams etc.

Watching said...

I also agree with David- 11th grade IB students time is better spent preparing for IB exams over SBAC.

We've reached a point of ridiculous amount of exams. I can only hope the opt-out folks make their way into the IB programs.

I'm sure there are plenty of folks wanting SBAC results from IB students--it makes good research--you know.

Anonymous said...

Watching, these aren't my claims. These are commitments from the 6 presidents of the state universities and all community and technical colleges in our state.

You can read their joint press release here:

Commitment to use 11th grade SBAC in placement determinations

And just to be clear, I never claimed that SBAC would be used in admissions decisions. I only made reference to placement decisions.

-- swk

Anonymous said...

@ swk, but don't you think this is a waste of time for many students? There are a lot of kids who aren't in any danger of needing remedial courses, and who will be able to avoid placement testing altogether (e.g., via AP or IB scores, college courses in high school, etc.). What exactly is the benefit of this additional standardized testing for these kids?

"This agreement is intended to use the Smarter Balanced Assessment as a way to help high school students avoid additional placement testing and prepare for college. However, students who feel this approach does not serve their needs may also choose other methods as defined by local colleges and universities to place into the appropriate level of college course, including traditional placement tests, transcripts, or completing dual enrollment,
college-credit courses in high school. For example, a student who scores at a level 3 or 4 might wish to place into a higher-level of course than established under this agreement. In this case, the student might choose to pursue traditional placement testing."


HIMSmom

Anonymous said...

HIMSmom, I would agree that there will be students for whom the 11th grade SBAC assessments will provide little to no predictive value of their college readiness.

But there will be many, many more students for whom the results of this test will provide valuable information about their college readiness.

Regardless, it is my belief, informed by my own experience/career, research, and education, that statewide standardized tests provide policymakers, taxpayers, educators, parents, and students valuable information about our public schools. And that the participation of nearly all students, excluding students with significant cognitive disabilities, in these assessments is critical to capturing this information. Exempting high-performing students invalidates the results and gives a false sense of these results and the performance of the school.

With that said, I have no problem with parents opting their children out of the tests. I wholeheartedly believe in that right.

--- swk

Lynn said...

swk,

Students at the UW can use SAT or ACT scores to fulfill the English Language Proficiency Requirement. AP Calculus and IB Higher Math scores can be used for UW math placement.

My child will have other test scores that exempt her from remedial math courses in college. She'll have AP exams to study for during the weeks the SBAC will be given this year. Finally, she will lose over 30 hours of instruction this year so that other students can take standardized tests. We won't be volunteering for the SBAC.

Anonymous said...

Exempting high-performing students invalidates the results and gives a false sense of these results and the performance of the school.

swk, including them can also distort results. Based on your concern, would you suggest, then, that kids who get outside tutoring or whose parents have supplemented their education not take the tests? If the tests are supposed to tell us about the performance of the school, including those kids would misrepresent what's happening in the classroom. (And yes, I opted my child out of MAP tests for this reason--his scores reflected independent study, not anything he learned at school.)

If these tests are supposed to show how well schools are doing , then shouldn't the analysis somehow account for how well-prepared kids are when they arrived, and any additional preparation they've had since? To what extent do these scores really reflect the teaching and learning that happens on site, vs. other student-level factors?

HIMSmom

Anonymous said...

Our child homeschooled for math and still took the state tests. For homeschoolers, WA requires an annual standardized achievement test (MSP was free to us) or an independent assessment ($). The MSP score reflected what was learned outside of school, yet the results got lumped into the school's results. In the same way, my child's reading scores are strongly tied to the volume of reading done outside of class.

Should I opt my child out of the tests so I don't skew the data?

If my child were a junior in high school and the SBAC was not required for graduation (as for this year's students that have passed the EOCs), we would not hesitate to opt out. The SAT and ACT will provide ample feedback.

But there will be many, many more students for whom the results of this test will provide valuable information about their college readiness.

Having read some released sample questions, I am not convinced they will be a meaningful measure. The SBAC tests look hateful. One year I viewed my child's MSP tests and I found them fairly straightforward, with few ambiguous or convoluted questions. Washington's old math standards were strong and the tests seemed a fair assessment of a basic understanding of those standards. I can't say the same of the SBAC samples I've seen. It's all speculation, however, until students have taken the tests.

opt out?

Anonymous said...

HIMSmom, it would be difficult to assign a student's achievement on a large-scale summative assessment to tutoring, supplemental support, etc. In other words, if a student meets standard or exceeds standard on an assessment, it would be hard to conclude that the tutoring is the factor that most strongly correlates to or predicts their performance. And given the number of students being assessed within a school, it completely dilutes that factor, if it is a factor at all, as a determining influence on the school's overall performance.

So, no, I wouldn't suggest that students who receive outside tutoring, etc. be exempted from the assessments.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

opt out?, your homeschooled children's scores were not factored into the school' scores. Those students who take the assessment at a given school but are not enrolled in that school are not part of the data file from which a school's proficiency rates are calculated.

Students enrolled in a public online school have to take their tests at a physical location. Their schools too are not included in a school's performance.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Meant to say that their "scores" too are not included in a school's performance.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Part-time attendance means a student is enrolled with the district, but homeschools part time and attends school part time. They are enrolled students and can take 1 class or any combination of classes offered to students at their school. If they take the standardized assessments at their school, they are most likely included in the school's data.

opt out?

Anonymous said...

opt out?, students enrolled less than .8 FTE but who might have taken the state assessments for whatever reason are not included in the school's accountability calculations per WAC 392-121-182.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Hmm...that WAC reference is for ALE (Alternative Learning Experience) students. While a student enrolled in Cascade Parent Partnership (CPP) falls under the ALE umbrella, a part-time enrolled student falls under WAC 392-134-010 and if they've filed a "Declaration of Intent to Provide Home Based Instruction," they also must comply with WA State homeschool requirements. Some part-time enrolled students are private school students.

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=392-134-010

-opt out?

Anonymous said...

Students enrolled less than .8 FTE, regardless of whether they are homeschooled, private school, or ALE are not counted in a school or district's AYP calculations.

From the OSPI Adequate Yearly Progress Questions and Answers document:

Are home-based students and those from private schools who take the MSP/HSPE/EOC included in AYP?

No. Students enrolled less than .8 FTE in a public school or ALE program do not need to take the MSP/HSPE/EOC. If they test, their results are not included in any AYP calculations. (WAC 392-121-182)

--- swk

Anonymous said...

So say a parent was less than impressed with the district's math curricula, so always provided their own lessons at home. Maybe bought some workbooks, got the kid hooked up with some online resources, etc. Next thing you know, the kid is working several grades ahead in math. When they take those grade-level standardized assessments, they naturally score pretty high. Looks like the school and teacher are doing great work, when in reality, they would likely have scored just as high if they'd taken that assessment at the beginning of the year, prior to the standard instruction.

There are a lot of kids working above grade level in math and/or English--and a lot of frustrated parents taking on the role of part-time educator. If kids are exceeding standards, there's a good chance it's not due to the work of classroom teachers--who are generally only teaching up to the standards. At least that's been our experience.

And re: the .8 FTE requirement, doesn't that mean single-subject homeschooled kids would be included in the school's data--whether or not your kid has ever taken that subject at that school--unless you opt out?

HIMSmom

Anonymous said...

Having read through this entire thread, all I can say is thank goodness my daughter went straight from 10th grade to a full load of Running Start classes, and avoided all this nonsense.

-- Ivan Weiss

Linh-Co said...

@Ivan

After your daughter went to full time Running Start, did she still do after school sport or joined school clubs? I'm wondering if these students are still expected to do all the extra-curricular activities to beef up their college applications.

Anonymous said...

Linh-Co:

She front-loaded all her classes at North for early in the morning, then bused to Hale for lunch, spent the rest of the school day doing her college work in the Hale Library (on her own laptop with her own account), then participated in Drama for thosee two years.

In short, she did everything at Hale but attend classes. She enjoyed the full social life. Her eagerness to accept the (far) higher-level and more challenging work than she would have gotten in AP at Hale earned her a full tuition and fees scholarship to UW. She graduated UW two years ago with two majors and a 3.5 GPA, and she tells me today that she owed it all to Running Start.

-- Ivan Weiss

Linh-Co said...

Thanks for the info Ivan.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone gotten Amplify test results for their children? My child has taken several tests this year, but we've never seen the results. We aren't even notified of testing days should we want to opt out.

-testy