Monthly Archives: March 2013

Would I Lie to You?

Apparently, If you are a Commissioner of Education, the answer is YES! Lies abound from the offices of NYSED.

The lies are scary – intended, one can only imagine, to stop the recent vocal resistance through REFUSALS of the State Exams slated to begin in mid-April. The good folks at WNYers For Public Education ( http://www.wnyforpubliced.com/index.html)  have done a great job of exposing the lies told to Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Parents. (See FAQ)

They have also created a great “Tools” section which includes what_you_need_to_know_about_refusing_state_tests.

As a teacher, let me tell you one of the BIGGEST lies being told, being bought, and being argued as PROOF that we actually NEED and should LOVE High Stakes Testings. The lie is that:

“These tests and the results help teachers inform and improve their instruction for all children.” 

My beautiful, funny, intelligent, inquisitive, creative first graders have taken both the STAR Reading and the STAR Math tests twice this year, unless of course, they have been “identified” as needing intervention – those poor kids have taken the tests MANY, MANY times. After the test, each student’s score is available to me immediately, you know, so that I can inform and improve my instruction. For my convenience, there is even an “Instructional Planning Report” for each child! Well, hallelujah, because you know – without it I wouldn’t have a clue where each child has room to improve!

These are direct quotes, taken from multiple “planning reports” for both Reading and Math:

“Understand that nouns can also be verbs”  “Identify the topic of a text”  “Recognize playful uses of language such as riddles and tongue twisters”  “Identify how words or phrases in literary text appeal to the senses” “Apply the vocabulary of position or direction” ” Count back by ones between 20 and 100″ “Count objects to 20”

Guess what?? I already know those things about the students that these comments were generated for! I knew most of it within the first month of school, and I could have predicted for the makers of the STAR tests, which of my students would score in the “watch” “intervention” or “urgent intervention” bands of their lovely color-coded charts. Additionally, I have already planned my instruction based on my DAILY INTERACTION with my students!

For those who teach grades 3 and up, the idea that a test score helps them plan and inform instruction is even more laughable. Test scores are not returned until mid-summer – by then isn’t it just a little too late to plan instruction?

They’re Starting to Feel It!

This is another of the many Messages from the Commissioner that just makes my blood boil!
I have deleted much of the message, and left this part all about the new COMMON CORE TESTS.
One has to ask, Why this sudden “push” to tell everyone that these new tests are so amazing?  Could it be that the powers in Albany are starting to HEAR US when we talk about having our children REFUSE to take the tests? Could it be that they are sort of like the Wizard that was just a sad fraud when the curtain was pulled back and not the “Wonderful Wizard” at all?
Reading this passage, on the heels of NYSUT’s “Listening Tour” and our own WNY4PE “Opt Out Forum” this past weekend, I’m guessing that we are finally being heard and taken seriously in Albany! Notice how the “Commish” reminds us that we all expect student scores to fall, but that no one expects it to adversely affect teacher, principal or school ratings.
Notice how he tells us (teachers, principals and anyone who subscribes to his updates) that he understands our stress. Notice how he makes a point about the CCSS being part of “Local Control”.
These are all LIES! Since APPR is in effect, the declining scores will most certainly affect ratings! How can they not, when it’s someone in Albany determining VAM scores? Local Control? That’s a lie too – there is NO MORE LOCAL CONTROL with the adoption of the CCSS! In fact, NYSED is producing a state – wide curriculum of “Modules” that are scripted an paced, and by the way even include a list of the books you’re supposed to have your students reading. To everyone who says “What’s the problem with Standards?”, I say – THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE CCSS!! NYSED has, in fact, made them a curriculum – with no local input, no teacher input!!
Message from Commissioner King

So, what do Common Core assessments really mean? Here are five key points – emphasized in a recent field memo from Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education Slentz – that should help address some frequently asked questions about the transition to the Common Core.

  1. In 2013, New York State, for the first time, will be reporting 3rd through 8th grade student grade-level expectations against a trajectory of college- and career-readiness as measured by tests fully reflective of the Common Core. As a result, the number of students who score at or above grade level expectations will likely decrease.
  2. As mentioned above, we expect the assessment scores will decline. But we also expect that decline will have little or no impact on principals’ and teachers’ State-provided growth scores. Based on New York’s approach to measuring growth relative to demographically similar students, similar proportions of educators will earn each rating category (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective) in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12.
  3. The number of students meeting or exceeding Common Core grade-level expectations should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or a decline in educator performance. The results from these new assessments will give educators, parents, policymakers, and the public a more realistic picture of where students are on their path to being well-prepared for the world that awaits them after they graduate from high school.
  4. No new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority Schools based on 2012-13 assessment results.
  5. Local policies and practices should balance the need for increased rigor against legitimate student expectations for access to educational programs, including local promotion and admission policies.

There’s much more information about the Common Core and the new assessments below and on EngageNY.org. Take a moment to check out what’s posted there. 

Again, I understand how stressful change can be, especially when you’re asking students to read more challenging texts, to better support their arguments with evidence drawn from text, to write from sources, to achieve deep conceptual understanding of the most important math concepts of each grade, and to apply their math skills to real-world problems. But we owe it to our students to move forward; opportunity awaits them and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re equipped to seize that opportunity.

Thank you for your dedication and perseverance over these last three years and now as we continue to move forward to implement the Regents Reform Agenda. Our students, schools, communities, and state are all the better for the work you do every day.

 Dr. John B. King, Jr.

Interestingly, I also found out that today, this NYSUT Ad is running across the state. So, folks, now is the time to REALLY put the pressure on Albany. Go to http://www.nysut.org/testing and sign the petition. While you’re there……..take the opportunity to “Tell It Like It Is” – no worries if you don’t consider yourself an “educator”, you have the chance to let the “man behind the curtain” know that you’ve pulled the curtain back and see him for what he is – NO FRIEND OF PUBLIC EDUCATION!

They’re HERE………….well, some of them anyway……..

I stopped by the Principal’s office today for a quick social visit. I had no big agenda or concern. His door was open and I knocked to say hello.

I noticed, lying on his table, some interesting looking books – very pretty sprial bound books with the words “3rd Grade Math Module 5” printed on them. I asked if I could take a look. They were emblazoned with “engageny” and our local BOCES logo. The engageny caught my eye and asked if I could take a look. I was told “Sure, but just so you know, it IS scripted.”

UGH………..well, I already knew that because I’ve been to the engageny website looking for Primary Grades Modules. Not that I WANT them, but I do know that they’re coming and I do know that I’ll be asked to be trained to in “unpacking” them. You can visit engageny for yourself see a Third Grade Module here

So, I flipped through the “Teacher’s Guide” to find the scripted parts:

T: What is the length of the first string shown?

S: 4 cm

T: Correct.

I am NOT kidding when I tell you that is EXACTLY what is in the Teacher’s Guide! I laughed and said “Well, you know, we need that because TFA teachers need that, and now Buffalo has fallen, so who knows where they’ll show up next.”

So, here’s the deal………..our district can buy these Teacher Guides for $14 and the Student books for about $8. Not a big deal, actually, when you consider how small we are – but there are MANY MANY Modules for each grade! And………there are MANY MANY Modules for Math AND ELA! So, it gets a little pricier.

This led to a discussion of the “PreK-12” book list that is also available at engageny. (Have I mentioned before how much I detest that website?) I have printed that list – it’s about 170 pages long! You can take a look at it for yourself:  p-12-ela-text-list The premise is that all of NYS will be on the SAME PAGE on the SAME DAY! So, who is getting rich publishing all these books that are now apparently required?  And, by the way, if our BOCES is printing these suckers up, why do they cost us anything? Plenty of RTTT money and each school’s COSERS go to BOCES now! Shouldn’t this stuff be FREE?  Additionally, BOCES has told us that they will NOT buy the multiple copies of the books that are ‘required’ even as they train us all to use them!  Wow – the cost of implementing the Common Core just skyrocketed – well beyond what we’ve spent on all the required TESTING!

My next question was “When do they expect to have any Primary Grade stuff available?” The answer: before September! Let’s get just a little more vague shall we? So, Primary Grade teachers will, in all honesty, have to be trained in the summer – something that the District cannot COMPEL me to attend and something they would have to PAY me to do since I am, after all, ONLY a 10 month employee.

I do not LIKE the CCSS – in fact, I rather despise the CCSS. I don’t believe that just by saying “Well, if we ask them to do more, read more complex texts, and expect it – they’ll do it.” This is pedaled as one of the big LIES of the CCSS – you know, we teachers just haven’t been expecting ENOUGH of our students. The truth is……….no matter what you shove at them, if they aren’t ready – they won’t be able to do it! I could have expected to have my infants talking and walking and toilet trained at 6 months – but that sort flies in the face of what we know about babies right? Same thing – if they aren’t developmentally ready, it’s not going to matter how sweetly I ask them to do something! I can tell them and their parents all I want that this is the expectation, but if they aren’t ready for the concept, it won’t matter.

So………..when your child enters PreK, K, First or Second Grade next fall………just know that his or her teacher has NOT had the ‘required’ material nor has the teacher had adequate time or training to have a CLUE! We will be “building the plane while we fly it”. Would YOU put your child on that plane? I know I wouldn’t!

We’re Only HUMAN

It’s been almost a year since I attended the first “Occupy the DOE” in Washington, DC. I had been feeling pretty good about my own personal “activism” in the past year. That is, until earlier this week when I read a comment on some Facebook page that basically insinuated that unless teachers quit, walk out, strike, or refuse to give standardized tests we are NOT fighting hard enough.

I’m not saying that all of those aren’t good ideas and have merit – but for many of us, that type of action is not an option. Why? Well, many of us are the sole or major income earner for our families. AND, believe it or not, we have kids who need homes, food, clothing and college educations if they choose.

People like me are doing what we can where we are. We are the ones earning the “bad” reputations in our schools. We are seen as the trouble makers, the ones who question everything and the ones who are stirring up trouble. We are the ones passing copies of model opt out letters around our schools in plain envelopes to our colleagues.

We are at school resisting Pearson Test Prep workbooks. We are doing what we know is “good for kids” to the best of our ability. We strive to make our students’ learning meaningful and downplay the “tests”. We are working at breakneck speed to keep up with all the mandates, tests, ridiculous evaluations and standards that are thrown in our laps with a simple phrase : Just do it!  We resist when and where we can – by not giving the Pearson homework, by talking to parents about children and not about test scores, and by approaching our School Boards imploring them to make a resolution against high stakes testsing.

We come home from a day at school – where many of us talk all day to colleagues about standardized testing, CCSS, reforms that are not good for kids – and we power up the laptops to check our favorite “anti-reform” pages and groups. We share articles, we comment on blogs, some of us even write blogs.  We eat, sleep, dream and live the opposition to reform and high stakes testing every single day. We do our best to encourage and enlighten our friends and families. We often do this while our spouses wonder if we will ever SHUT UP about it or  while our kids wonder if we’ll ever give up the laptop for homework.

Some of us have been “targeted” by administrators. Some of us have been told that we shouldn’t attend anything having to do with opting out. Some of us work in one district and opt our kids out in another. Some of us feel the need to use fake names so that we can air our feelings without becoming “targets”.

Most of us have days when we just feel too defeated, too worn out, too much like we’ve been pounding our heads on a brick wall and maybe, just maybe everything would be better if we just quit.

BUT……..don’t forget that second wind!

Just when I think it’s not worth it – when I read a comment that vilifies teachers – I find a parent blog or post that puts the wind back in my sails! I read about another school district that has no problem with students who opt out and a Superintendent who actually supports that action. I read about parent groups forming and holding information sessions. I read shared documents and advice. I find teachers, like me, who are doing what they can.

When I see a child sitting at a computer monitor staring at a meaningless, useless STAR Assessment question, I know that I have to continue to FIGHT in whatever way I can! When I hear the stories of 3rd graders sitting and crying because NYS embedded field questions in last year’s tests, I know I have to FIGHT! When my Occupy The DOE 2.0 T-shirt shows up in the mail, I am reminded of how many more are out there fighting and I know I have to keep FIGHTING!

About that test…………..

As a first grade teacher, I do not give NYS ELA and MATH exams. (YET!) I expect that I will be giving some sort of STATE or NATIONAL exam before I retire in 5 years.

I do give “tests” in my classroom – I have always assessed my students. But now, my first graders – some of whom were 5 years old when the year started are tested 3 times a year using the following:

STAR TESTS :They take either Early Literacy or Reading depending on how many sight words they know which means I had to assess their sight word knowledge in September. They also take the Math test.

DIBELS: Keep in mind that the DIBELS tests are timed – they have one minute for each of the following portions on which they are tested: Initial Sound Fluency, Letter Naming Fluency, Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, Oral Reading Fluency, and Oral Reading Retell.

RUNNING RECORDS: My students are expected to be reading at a LEVEL K by the end of first grade, and a LEVEL D and the start of the year. We use the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system, and got our benchmarks from Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project.

Sight Word Knowledge: They are expected to know 75 words by November, and 175 by June.

Math Fact Fluency: They should be “fluent” in addition and subtraction to 10 by June.

This year, also for the first time, I am REQUIRED to give letter grades to my students in ELA, MATH, SOCIAL STUDIES, and SCIENCE.

I dutifully put my grades into the electronic grade book (of course, that DATA is being compiled into a state-wide and possibly nation-wide database) and the report cards are printed. Three times a year, I send home a separate report with all of the above mentioned testing DATA on it.

So, when circumstances present themselves, and I need to meet with parents, what do I talk about? Well, it’s NOT that TESTING stuff! All that data tells me is what that child did at one moment in time. When I talk to parents, we talk about the WHOLE CHILD. In fact, that’s the only time they’re going to hear about social and emotional growth and development because that is no longer included in any report I send home. We talk about our shared hopes and concerns.

I watched all three of my children take NYS exams in ELA, MATH, SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES. Every summer we would wait and wait to get the test report in the mail. While my children typically scored a 3 or 4, I usually threw those reports out and told them “I’ve seen your report card, I know how you’re doing. Don’t let one or two tests define you.”

Now, I’ve watched as my two oldest have applied to and been accepted at the universities of their choice. I’ve watched them both take and retake the SAT. I once again told them “Don’t let one test define you.”  Interestingly, the NYS Regents Exams, which we’ve always been told are so important, aren’t even considered on college applications!  I’ve listened at University Open Houses and always asked “Are the SAT and ACT OPTIONAL?” For the most part, I’ve been told yes.

So, PARENTS, about that test………….it doesn’t matter!! There is no one test that should EVER EVER define your child! Your children, my children……..all children are so much MORE than a TEST SCORE!

Where do you eat your lunch?

Dr. Mark Naison posted this yesterday on the Facebook Opt Out page:

“Just received confirmation from a former student that during training, TFA tells is Corps members not to interact with veteran teachers at the schools they are placed in and not to eat in the Faculty Cafeteria because those teachers are “jaded.” ”

If there were really any more proof needed that TFA and its privatizing buddies were out of touch with real education, real teachers, and real schools – we have it here!

I have not had lunch in the Faculty Room in over 2 years. This is not because I don’t enjoy the company of my colleagues, it’s because the policies of  Race to the Top have destroyed  collegiality  among teachers.

It used to be, once upon a time, that the Faculty Room lunch was a place to get to know the newly hired teachers in your building, to share a laugh, to talk about how to address students’ needs, how to motivate students, to share successes, to get advice, to be PEOPLE that cared about one another.

The Faculty Room was the place where sympathy cards, birthday cards, get well cards and retirement cards were left for signing because everyone went there. It was the place where you could find a lively debate about politics, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Emmys, educational practices, sports teams, or even simply which is better – coffee or tea! It was a place full of loud voices, shared laughs, and sometimes quiet tears. We walked in knowing that there would be “friend” there.

Now, the Faculty Room is a ghost town. The newspapers still litter the long tables, but most days they are still perfectly folded at 3 PM. If not for a copy machine, a soda machine, and our mailboxes, I would hazard to guess that someone would be considering making it an office!

Why has this changed? Do we suddenly care less about one another as people? NO! We have been bombarded with policy changes that have made us competitors and not collaborators. School administrators may say that they have encouraged and even developed Professional Learning Communities in the name of collaboration for the benefit of our students, but the reality is that each of us stands alone at evaluation time with the scores of our students looming overhead. In fact,  think about this – our lunch times have even been scheduled (in many cases) to PREVENT us from talking to someone who is not in our PLC! We are encouraged to use our lunch time to meet with our PLC – under the guise of a “relaxing atmosphere in which to discuss student outcomes and analyze data.” Talk about an appetite suppressant!

If we’re not meeting with our PLC, then most of us are sitting at our desk with a cup of yogurt, or a piece of fruit reading the emails that have been piling up in our inboxes or working on our SLOs or grading interim tests, or collecting “evidence” of our professionalism or communicating with parents. Conversations about our “real lives” happen in quick snippets between classes or after school in classrooms with the doors closed – lest it be discovered that we are NOT analyzing data. Cutting us off from one another is a means to an end – the END of a school community, the END of public education.

We have lost our way as a collective group of people who will “see us through”. We don’t have the “group history” that once had.  We have been forced into a world much like The Hunger Games – kill or be killed………all for the enjoyment of those in the Capital.

PRESSURE!!

Well, it’s done………..the lesson plan, the pre-observation conference form and all the materials for my formal observation are finished.

When I heard last week that some of my colleagues had spent upwards of 10 hours on this ONE lesson, I thought that they were going a bit overboard. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would spend that much time on a plan for a 40 minute observation. Well, I didn’t spend 10 hours, but my estimate is that I spent about 6 hours on mine.

Why? Well, it’s not necessarily because I’ve planned something more elaborate than anything I would “normally” plan to do……… in fact, my observation will be during a period when my students are working through some Math Centers – mostly games! I will not be the “sage on the stage” – instead I will be walking around watching them play the games, guiding them, and pretty much keeping some order to the classroom. I figure that this will either kill me or make me some sort of “hero”………it’s a gamble I suppose.

And, let’s get one thing STRAIGHT…… I don’t want to be “hero”! I just WANT TO TEACH!  I want to do what’s FUN and MEANINGFUL……..not what some stupid rubric calls “highly effective”. I want to do what I KNOW is developmentally appropriate for each and every one of my students. I want to guide them to their fullest potential while they’re in my classroom. I want to be in a school where there is actually TIME for free play, exploration, and things that I miss so much – like putting on Fairy Tale plays for parents.

Why did I spend so much time on THIS ONE PLAN? Well, there’s pressure – the pressure (or fear) to get a “good grade”. There’s the pressure to fill out all the paperwork ‘correctly’, and since this is the first time working with these forms, there’s the pressure of not knowing exactly what to expect. In my heart of hearts, I KNOW that I’m a good teacher, but it is nice every now and then to have that validated – and this is my ONE SHOT at getting that validation.

So, I came up with the games that will be the Centers. I made the sheets where my students will record their work. I have everything set to go, and on any other day I would go through these with my students bit by bit, piece by piece and it would all be very relaxed and FUN! We would work out the kinks together – with me getting their input on what games are fun and which ones are “boring”. BUT – this time I want it to all go as perfectly as possible. And while I know that isn’t going to happen, I’m already stressing over what I imagine could go wrong…….the thing that could sink me.

The paperwork was not difficult to complete – heck, I KNOW what my goals are, I KNOW what I want the students to do, I KNOW how it fits into my ‘big picture’, but there is pressure to put it all on paper perfectly. I had to: describe the lesson content, explain where it fits in my curriculum, tell the ‘big idea’ of the lesson, explain how I would differentiate and actively engage the students, list my criteria for success, describe the feedback I will give my students, and tell what examples of student work I will bring to my post-conference. That’s just the Pre-observation form! On the lesson plan, I had to list my objectives, tell which standards I’m aligning with, describe connections with prior and subsequent learning, list all the materials, give all the academic vocabulary, provide class data, give my success criteria, detail my assessments, describe my learning activities, and list possible adjustments to my lesson.

My observation is on Thursday, and already today, the familiar stress-induced ache in my left shoulder reappeared today. I know this feeling well – I’ve had it a lot this year. So, I’ll spend the days up until Thursday losing sleep, obsessing over this ONE lousy period, popping Advil for the shoulder, and in general being on edge.

I still have the “unannounced” observation to look forward to. This is not a time when my Principal comes in and takes a look at what happens in first grade. Unfortunately, this is a time when my Principal comes with a clipboard and a form and checks off any items for which he can find “evidence” of my teaching ‘skill’ and then gives me a score. More PRESSURE!

AND………..before June, I have to collect 18 “artifacts” of my professional conduct – parent communication, evidence that I’m involved in Professional Learning Communities, evidence that I’m involved in the school community – you know, that I actually do something other than work from 8-3 for 180 days, and evidence of my continuing professional development. These items have to be submitted for another score. More PRESSURE!

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean a damn thing if you get rated “Ineffective” based on student test scores – because in NY, 40% (the student test score portion of your evaluation) actually equals 100% of your evaluation- you’re simply “Ineffective”. PRESSURE!

Now, imagine yourself as a 6 or 7-year-old coming to school this week to a teacher who is already feeling anxious about something that’s going to happen on Thursday.Do you think this teacher will be the same carefree, high-fiving teacher you left on Friday? I doubt it. Try as I might to NOT let my anxiety overtake me, I’m sure that I will be short-tempered – fearing that “normal” 6 and 7-year-old behaviors are going to somehow affect me.

Imagine that you are 6 or 7 and every day is like this – teachers on edge, information coming at you at break-neck speed. There is no time to PLAY (which is what you really want to do) and hardly anyone at school smiles any more…………and YOU feel the PRESSURE too – take this test, read this book, solve this math problem, read another book, but please read it faster this time, memorize your math facts, learn your sight words, take another test……..wouldn’t your inner child be screaming “STOP IT!”? Wouldn’t you have stomach aches and headaches? Wouldn’t you cry? Wouldn’t you want to stay home?

And just when you think that maybe, just maybe, you can shield your students from some of this – it’s BUDGET TIME! Get those requisitions done! PRESSURE! We may be cutting teachers – what do YOU think could go? PRESSURE! There may not be electives for your high school aged child next year – what do you do as a parent? PRESSURE! Your friends and neighbors go to the school board meetings and name the names of teachers that they feel should go. PRESSURE!

Maybe that’s the goal – to put so much PRESSURE on veteran teachers that we’ll just go away……at this point, I don’t know any more…….I just know that the PRESSURE will increase until June. Then I’ll have a few weeks to get over it and jump back into the PRESSURE COOKER……..