Tuesday, October 7, 2014

School Committee Comments Oct 6

Below are the comments I gave at the October 6th School Committee Meeting.  I was prompted to give these comments by discussion about testing and teacher evaluations at the PTO meeting the week before as well as by my reading in Diane Ravitch's The Life and Death of the Great American School System, particularly her epilogue. 

"I am excited about the new K-2 report card. This new local work proves that true standards based education is not about national curriculum or standardized testing for four year olds or laws and funding.

However, I am cautious of how standards based systems will be used in the future. The current vision looks to offer teachers wide possibilities for assessing students and offers students many opportunities to try without penalty for missteps.

The possibilities for both greatness and detriment reminds me of standardized testing. What was once a tool for educators has now been warped into something completely different. The education landscape is dominated by discussion of testing, yet, it remains that a standardized test is just one type of tool at an educator's disposal.

I know I may be preaching to the choir, but please bear with me. There is abundant research on how excessive or high stakes standardized testing is not best for students, but what I would like to take a moment to address is how standardized testing data is not appropriate for evaluating teachers.
  • The tests are designed for assessing students on specific content. When the scores are transferred to evaluating teachers, the validity of the data is destroyed.
  • There is significant research against the use of value added method, include criticism about how reliable it is year to year or depending on who is applying it, as well as how the outcomes contradict other criteria for excellent teachers.
  • Teachers are punished or rewarded for factors outside their control, such as the make up of their student population.
  • It is proven to not motivate teachers. In fact, I've heard from at least three people within Lewiston district that merit pay associated with high test scores caused negative outcomes.

When Maine applied for Race to the Top, our laws surrounding testing changed. State law currently requires tests be administered and that their results be used to evaluate teachers. Do we follow laws that we know to be wrong? Ideally, we should take action. Just today the Washington Post published statements from leaders of NEA and AFT supporting teachers refusing to administer tests. Theoretically, all of Lewiston's teachers could refuse to administer standardized tests starting tomorrow with national union support. There is no longer need for teachers to remain silent in the face of mandated bad practice. What if the school committee, superintendent, and principals joined with teachers and chose to take action against what is bad for students and schools? Lewiston could become a leader in Maine for positive education reform.

However, I understand the repercussions for refusing to administer the tests may be too great for Lewiston at present, but there are no penalties for informing parents and citizens. Inform parents that these laws exist and how they came to be. Inform parents as to how their children's data is being used to directly affect the district and teachers. Inform parents that they have a right to choose. Empower the citizens of Lewiston to choose – to use their voices and votes.

The community looks to the educational leadership in this room to guide them. Public silence is not an option. You must lead."

I got no response other than a thank you, but when the K-2 report was presented during the meeting, the chairperson did ask the presentor if the report card is currently being used for teacher evalautions and if there are any plans for it to be used in that way in the future.  (The answer to the first question was a no, and the answer to the second question was not clear).  The chairperson as stated to the superintendent that if the proficency based report card was to be considered for use for teacher evaluations in the future that the school committee would want to be part of that discussion. 
The day following the meeting, I thanked the chairperson for those questions and further explained to him my excitement at the work with standards based reporting and my hopes it will stay true to its intended purpose. 

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