Opt-out Letter 2015

March 23, 2015

Dear New Hampshire School District,

I am refusing to allow my child, Ian Hawkins, to take Smarter Balanced assessment, the Science NECAP, or any other state standardized tests. I believe that my child’s educational progress can best be measured using his daily school work and regular classroom testing.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, we are protected by our rights 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.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35)

I believe that a single “snapshot” test, such as Smarter Balanced, cannot adequately assess Ian’s skills. I also believe this testing creates undue stress and anxiety for him. The elementary school has been wonderful in assuring Ian’s educational progress this year; it is because of this growth that I am also frustrated that instruction time is being taken away from him in order to administer these tests. Neither the school district nor his teachers will have access to the results of these tests until the next school year, which will not help anyone improve my son’s education now.

Ethically, I cannot support a test that is taking away time, money, and resources that should be used for my son’s edification.

It is for these reasons that Ian will not be taking any of the state tests this school year. I respectfully request that Ian’s class grades, class placement, and eligibility for future endeavors not be affected by refusal of this test. Please contact me so we can discuss alternative class work and/or activities for Ian while his fellow students are testing. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Pauline Hawkins

 

Posted in Advice For Parents, Education Reformation, Letters I Need to Write, Pauline's Soap Box | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March

“What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?”

The biggest mistake teachers make is thinking that the technology is more important than the lesson. No matter what teachers use in the classroom, the goal has to be to help students understand concepts and to move them forward on their educational paths. If the technology is not presenting engaging material, then it is a waste of teacher and student time.

Technology for technology’s sake is also a waste of money. In the past ten years, the only technological innovations that have improved my English classroom’s learning environment have been projectors, computers, and Internet access. The only technology/applications I use (in and out of my English classroom) are electronic discussion boards, review/edit features in Word, electronic submissions for essays, Internet, intellectual database subscriptions, email, and a projector. These innovations, which are no longer novel, have helped teachers and students communicate easily and access important, relevant material effortlessly. Everything else that I have tried or have seen other teachers use complicates communication and adds another application or device that students will be annoyed with or flat out refuse to use.

The most successful technologies in the classroom are one-stop programs–giving students access to their classes and teachers with one device or application, rather than multiple ones. If a teacher truly wants to help students, then the teacher should make sure all course material can be accessed from one location without multiple passwords, usernames, and websites to remember.

Another mistake teachers make is thinking that the technology will help engage students. Our students, for the most part, are not impressed with the technology we introduce to them at school. By the time the school gets wind of the technology, gets the budget approved to buy it, figures out how to make it “safe” for student use in schools, and then trains teachers to use it in the classroom, the technology is ubiquitous; it is no longer novel for students. Teachers who think the new technology will be a cool way to get the students engaged are probably not technologically savvy themselves.

When teachers do use cutting-edge tech, it is likely to be unreliable technology, which students hate because it fails to work correctly. Students are already more knowledgeable with technology than most teachers are. For the school districts that are in middleclass and above neighborhoods, students’ home technology is better than anything the school can acquire. The only thing we truly accomplish with the “bells and whistles” technology in schools is to increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

To read the answers from the other Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers, go to

CMRubin World

or

Huffington Post

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: February

“What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?”

The tide is turning—Educators, parents, and even some government officials realize that the attempt to mass-produce educated children is not working. The biggest innovation in the classroom will come in the roles of teachers and students. If we start with the end goal of education in mind, which is to create life-long learners, effective communicators, and people with a sense of civic and global duty, then we need to create a classroom that will allow for that.

Students need to drive their own learning and to be problem solvers and collaborators in every aspect of their lives. One way to do this is through experiential learning communities rather than course content classes. This type of community will be similar to a journalism class. A student-run newspaper is experiential learning at its best. Students are engaged; they have taken ownership of the newspaper because it is theirs, not the teacher’s. Students are proud of their work. Students and staff read the journalist’s accomplishments every issue. If any grammar or content errors are found after publication, journalists learn how to correct those errors, so they will not make the same mistakes twice; they do not want to be embarrassed by shoddy work.

Using Journalism as a model, experiential learning classrooms can have students create their own textbooks instead of reading what others have deemed important. Students will search the internet, book sources, and eye-witness accounts for information about their subject matter that is valid and interesting, and then offer commentaries as to why the materials they have chosen are necessary for this subject. All students in the classroom will be responsible for the validity of the information.

Teachers will guide, facilitate, or coach students in their pursuits of knowledge in this type of classroom, rather than be knowledge transmitters and test proctors. Teachers will help students determine the validity and importance of research. Students will learn to answer the questions that drive the subject: Who are the key people? What did they do/discover? How did the great thinkers in these fields influence history and literature? Students will read the works of Jung, Marx, Einstein, Darwin, and Pythagoras, to name a few, and discover how these great minds influenced our world.

Creating experiential learning classrooms will foster student-centered education, allowing students to pursue their education, rather than have it dictated to them. Students can have an individualized education that is typically associated with the online environment, but without the isolation in their own homes. With this innovation, students will have reasons for learning skills that are necessary to succeed in this world with the added benefit of engagement. Students will share and collaborate with other students; they will ask their own questions and research answers. This classroom will be true training for the workplace. Students will discover problems and figure out how to solve them, becoming those life-long learners, effective communicators, and people with a sense of civic and global duty that education aims to create.

To read the answers from the other Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers, go to CMRubinWorld.com

or Huffington Post: The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs

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Hope Found: Lessons from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I have a confession to make: I’m suffering.

I say this not to elicit sympathy; I just want to be truthful. So please don’t think I need a pep talk, want attention, or that I’m just trying to bring other people down. My truth may not be other people’s reality, but I think there may be a few people who can identify with my suffering. Maybe we can lean on each other through this painful time.

As a writer, I also find tremendous healing through writing. It helps me to unpack my emotional baggage: When it is all out in front of me, I can decide what I can release and what I need to look at more closely, so I can heal. If I try to dismiss all my pain too soon, I will do more damage than good.

I could do this privately, but in this social media world we live in, so many of us walk through our days, seeing glimpses of those around us who seem to be living perfect lives. I don’t want to be put into that category. I know I have some great things happening in my life; I’m not trying to negate those things. But I also don’t want people to think that a few good turns erased all my pain –that it was easy for me to get over the events that crumbled my world.

Lord of the RingsRecently, I was able to re-watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Ian. He had never seen the movies, so I was able to enjoy a favorite journey with the innocence of a child. It spoke to me so deeply from this vantage point that I now have to use the movies’ words: They so succinctly mirror my own.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

What is my ring, the thing I wish never happened? There are quite a few, actually.

  1. My marriage of 23 years fell apart. It was not just because two people decided they couldn’t be married to each other anymore. It was so much more than that: I trusted completely and loved unconditionally, and I shouldn’t have. As I continue to unpack my emotions around my divorce, I’ve realized that it’s not the end of my actual marriage that brings me the most pain; it’s the end of the marriage I had hoped it would be some day that makes me suffer. I had convinced myself our marriage was so much more than it was. I placed all my hopes and dreams in my ex-husband’s hands. I wanted to grow old with him, but he was never the man I thought he was. I have to let go of that hope and create a new vision for my future. It’s not easy at my age to see a different future. I am working on it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
  2. I am now a single mother. I never wanted to navigate through this life alone; I fought it so hard that I hung on to my marriage longer than I should have. Now, every day I struggle with the things I didn’t have to worry about when there were two adults in the family. Can I pay my bills? Will I have to get another job just to survive? How can I raise my son if I am working all the time? Can I raise my son to be the man he needs to be without a man in his life? Will I have enough money to help my daughters with their weddings? I can offer them nothing — I can’t even offer an example of a successful marriage. I can only be an example of what not to do. I have failed at the one thing I truly wanted to succeed at more than anything else.
  3. I have squatters in my house. I left my house in Colorado to move out east to be closer to my family. I left, trusting that my house would sell quickly. In November, I had my first legitimate offer. Everything seemed to be going along well, until I found out I had squatters. These people told my real estate agent that they had been scammed. Someone “rented out my house” to them. I felt bad for that family, so I let them stay until after Christmas. The house was scheduled to sell in January. In the mean time, instead of that family being thankful for my compassion, they destroyed my house–so much so that the buyer rescinded the offer. Now, the squatters are holding my house hostage; they are keeping me entrenched in a past that is filled with pain.
  4. I am at war with myself. The optimism that defined me is wavering; cynicism is making headway in every part of my life. I used to trust, almost instantly, the people I met. I used to believe in the inherent goodness of all people; some just needed more help finding that goodness than others. But now I battle daily with every person I encounter–I see a person’s potential, and then I see his or her potential to hurt me. I’m keeping people at bay; it’s so much easier than allowing anyone to get close enough to hurt me again. However, this cynicism hurts as well. It goes against my core being: I want to believe in the goodness of people, but every time I trust someone, I find out I shouldn’t have. So what do I do? I know I have to develop new ways of interacting with people before the wall I’m building gets too high, if it’s not too late already.

So, yes, I am suffering.

But thankfully, my story does not end there. I have to believe that there is more at work in my life than the will of evil. Like Frodo, I have to decide what to do with the burdens I was meant to carry. I’m not ready to say that these thoughts encourage me, but they are turning me in the right direction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the perfect inspiration to help me move forward.

We watched Frodo’s journey and his mythical battle of worldly proportions with awe. Ian and I cheered as the fellowship fought great battles: our hearts swelled when Boromir redeemed himself; when Aragorn defended Frodo with honor; when Pippin and Merry took up arms with courage; when Gandalf stopped the Balrog with “You shall not pass!” These mythical creatures fought against unbeatable odds. Everything was caving in around them, yet they held onto hope. I watched with fascination and then asked myself: Would I fight as bravely if I were there?

Then it hit me: I am there. I may not be fighting Sauron and Orcs, but I am fighting my own battles. I started to see Frodo’s journey, not as a mythical battle, but as the day to day suffering I must battle and overcome. There is a war waging against me–the battle of despair. Will I let despair win or will I fight it with hope?

Like Frodo, I stopped believing in myself. But Sam’s words gave me strength:

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

~The Two Towers

In the midst of my suffering, I have had dark days where every moment was spent either releasing or choking back sobs. However, I have to believe that this darkness is only a passing shadow. My current suffering will pass–I have to believe it will pass. I’m holding on to Sam’s words, that there is good in the world, that the sun will shine out the clearer. I will believe them because these are the things I need to believe in. Believing in them is winning half of the battle, isn’t it?

I’ve discovered it’s all about choices. It may not be the choice between good and evil, but it is about choosing to keep fighting rather than giving up, choosing to love rather than hate, choosing to hope rather than despair.

Near the end of his journey, Frodo could not carry the ring to Mount Doom to destroy it. The burden had taken its toll on him and his strength waned. But thankfully, Sam was there:

Sam: Then let us be rid of it once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!

~The Return of the King

We all need a Samwise Gamgee in our lives. Thankfully, I have had many people who were my “Sam” through this journey; people who carried me and are still carrying me to the pit of doom so I can release my burdens.

The final element to this healing path is that I have to accept that things will never be the same again, and I have to be okay with that.

Frodo: [voiceover] Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey, we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold. . . . My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.

~The Return of the King

If I’m strong enough to fight through this suffering, the reward will be a better life than the one I have but not without great cost. Indeed, there is no going back. I can only move forward. I also have to understand that there are some things that time cannot heal; there are some hurts that go too deep–I just have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that I cannot build a new dream with my family; I just can’t have the old one, and that has to be okay. I cannot be torn in two over this suffering. I have to find a way to become whole again for Ian, Carol Linn, Nicole, and myself.

One way I can become whole again is by finding ways to be a “Sam” for others who need help carrying their burdens.

I hope, in some small way, this post has done that.

Posted in The Beauty Around Us, The Moments of Impact | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Picking Favorites

I have had students in high school accuse me of picking favorites. At that age, it’s understandable that they would have difficulties with the way the world works. They are still young and look at how unfair everything is; a fact they can’t seem to accept. So when they see a teacher showing perceived favoritism to someone, they want to call him or her on it.

ClassroomRecently, I had a college student accuse me of picking favorites. He or she wrote it in the comments section of the course evaluation that goes to my supervisors, citing it as proof that I’m the worst teacher ever. I had to laugh. That comment says more about the student than it does about me.

As a teacher, I try to be fair, ethical, and professional in all of my dealings with students. Truthfully, I am not always perfect at this: I have good days and bad days; I don’t always handle difficult situations or students in the most professional manner. When I have made an error in judgment, I try to right my wrong through an apology or another action that makes sense. However, picking favorites does not fall into this category.

If this student would have had the courage to talk to me about this perceived slight, this is what I would have said to him or her:

You are right. I do have favorites.

My favorite students are the ones who talk to me with kindness and respect. I am a collaborator with them in their education. If a student does not put value on that teacher/student relationship for this reason alone, then he or she will never be my favorite. I am only an enemy to those who see me that way.

My favorite students are the ones who work hard in and out of class. They may not be the brightest students, but they are working hard to become the writers they need to be in order to be successful on their academic journey. I don’t care if they have perfect spelling, grammar, and/or sentence structure or not; if they are working hard, then they are my favorites. Students who expect a passing grade for failing effort have failed themselves. Their experience in my class had nothing to do with me.

My favorite students are the ones who are respectful to their classmates. I really love the students who contribute appropriately to classroom discussions, who wait their turn, and who acknowledge that everyone has an opinion. The students who make snide remarks under their breath and who can’t respect someone who has a different opinion will never be my favorites.

My favorite students are those who are courteous, instead of rude; who talk to me, instead of about me; who ask me clarifying questions, instead of complaining about me.

So, yes. I do have favorites, and I always will.

Posted in Education Reformation, Letters to My Students, Pauline's Soap Box | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

10 Things I Learned as a New Adjunct Teacher

This semester I taught two college composition classes at a community college. I started with 23 students in one class and 24 students in the other. Halfway into the semester, 7 students out of 47 just stopped coming to class.

At the end of the semester,

  • 5 students out of 47 earned A’s;
  • 23 students out of 47 will be able to transfer their college composition grade to a four-year school (only Cs or better transfer);
  • 4 students out of 47 passed the class with a D;
  • 20 students out of 47 failed the class.

But that’s just the data I collected. Here is what I learned about myself, my students, and education:

 

  1. Student response 1

    Without any doubt, I know I am a teacher. I love being in the classroom, and I know I am doing right by my students. My students this year told me they wished they had me as their high school English teacher. It confirmed for me that I taught my honors’ freshmen in high school well. I have no doubt that the students who did well in my honors’ class will do (and have done) well in their college English classes. However, it has become obvious that not all high-school English teachers did the same, and I’m sure it is for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their teaching abilities (but I’ll get to that later). This semester, most of my college students had no idea how to use a comma, semi-colon, or colon. Most struggled with quotation integration and parenthetical citations. Their essays were filled with vague generalities and awkward, wordy, and, often times, fragmented sentences. What’s more frustrating is that most students had no idea what I was talking about when I made these types of comments on their papers. Because I am passionate about teaching, this weighs heavily on my heart. I will change what I teach and how I teach college composition in the spring because of this experience.

  2. Grammar has to make its way back into the high-school curriculum–not in isolation–but as a way to teach students how to communicate with the language of writing. I taught it that way in high school, not because I had to, but because it made sense to teach it that way. Only a handful of my college students said they had any kind of formal grammar instruction in high school–and it showed. I don’t know how to help my students become better writers without first teaching them the language that helps us understand writing–grammar is a way of thinking about language; once we know how to “think” about language, we can use that knowledge to communicate clearly and effectively and correct our writing when it doesn’t do that. Therefore, I will have to add intensive grammar instruction to the curriculum so that my students can learn how to think about language and their writing.
  3. Writing teachers need to be writers. Writing helps us to think clearly and logically; writing helps us to know and understand ourselves better. With such an important skill at stake, doesn’t it follow that writing teachers should be writers? Think about it: Would anyone hire a piano teacher who does not know how to play the piano, or a karate instructor who does not practice karate? There is an art to teaching, so not all writers can be teachers; however, shouldn’t all writing teachers be writers? Writing teachers don’t need to be published authors, but they should be able to write, without a lot of effort, the essays they ask their students to write so that they can help their students work through the thought processes, techniques, and organizational methods that go into good writing. If all writing teachers were writers, then I would not have had students in my college course who graduated from high school without knowing how to write a logical sentence; I would not have had students tell me that they never received feedback from their teachers on how to improve their essays; I would not have had students who doubted that their teachers even read the essays they assigned their students. Please know, I am not teacher bashing here; I know there are issues that prevent good teachers from fully engaging with their students and the writing process: They have over-crowded classes, disengaged students, and limited teaching time for actual learning. Add to that the movement towards objective tests, rather than subjective assessments and high-school teachers have an impossible task to accomplish. It’s definitely a Catch-22. This knowledge has led me to two conclusions: 1) I will always fight to eliminate this paradoxical problem in high schools, no matter where my path takes me; and 2) I will always be a writer and work on my craft, so I can be a better writing teacher.
  4. Summative standardized testing has ruined education. What is summative standardized testing? In the general sense, it is an end-of-year objective test that can be graded quickly. These tests usually consist of multiple choice, true-false, and/or some short answer questions that have a right or wrong answer. As a formative assessment, these types of tests can be helpful as a quick glimpse at the problems students may be having so that teachers can re-teach concepts; however, as a summative assessment, there are too many problems with these tests for them to be useful or worthwhile, no matter how much time they save. We see these tests in the form of common finals, high-stakes state tests, SAT, and ACT tests as well, especially since the writing portion for both college entrance tests have become optional. The only way truly to test knowledge is through the written word. In an attempt to collect data quickly, to lessen teachers’ grading time, and to pack classes with more students (more students means more money coming in to the school, and fewer teachers means less money going out of schools), testing has almost exclusively become standardized. I am convinced after this semester that the only way to improve education and to help our students become successful is to eliminate summative standardized testing and replace it with essays. If this actually comes to fruition, the only way teachers can function with this improvement is to cap writing classes at 15 students and to limit those teachers to no more than two or three writing classes per semester (for the other classes, teachers can teach courses that are more discussion and performance/project-based, rather than essay-based). I cannot see any other way teachers will have the time to help students become better writers.
  5. Some students need to take at least a year off from school, if not more, before going to college. Some students are just not ready to deal with the expectations at the college level. Some need to grow up; some need to get out of the classroom and experience life a little before sitting in a classroom again; and some need to figure out what they want to do with their lives before they take more classes that are meaningless to them. I know; the greatest fear for some parents is that if their children don’t go right away, they will never go to college. But if they go right away, they will waste a lot of money finding out they weren’t ready; they may also lose the confidence they need to move forward if they fail the majority of their classes.
  6. For those parents (and students) who are now wondering, if number five is true, how will I get them (or me) out of the house? The answer is we need to make vocational school a bigger and better option for students in high school. Children develop at different rates. Some may not do well all throughout high school, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive members of society. It doesn’t mean that they can’t take care of themselves and work at a job that they are good at until they find out what they really want to do and seek advanced training in that field. We have too many students wandering aimlessly through life–getting discouraged and depressed because they couldn’t function in a school setting; they weren’t taught a skill that they could use right out of high school. Imagine how different it would be for some students if they could work as technical, medical, or business assistants–becoming independent and paying their own bills–while they figure out what they want to do. I don’t have to imagine it because I had a student who did just that. She received certification as a nursing assistant and has been working in the medical field for the past couple of years. She is independent, confident, and ready to work towards her degree in nursing now.
  7. For those parents who refuse to believe number five is true, they need to require their children to take classes at a community college for at least the first year, if not for two years of college. Most students have no idea what they are in for when they go to college. A four-year college or university will have more distractions and will cost more money. If their children don’t do well, it is a less expensive lesson in work ethic and college readiness.
  8. Parents need to know when to help, how much to help, and when to let their children learn the hard lessons. I had too many 18+ year olds unable to function in their new adult world. They carelessly threw away their opportunities to grow and push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of in this class. They couldn’t make decisions on what to write about; they couldn’t solve their own problems; and they couldn’t research topics they said they were passionate about. Sadly, I had a student who could not write a decent essay at the college level, but miraculously (or with a “little bit of help” from his father), he turned in a beautiful research essay that helped him get a C in the class. If this boy’s parent had helped him understand his educational responsibilities throughout high school, the father wouldn’t have had to write his son’s research essay in college to save his son’s grade. I just hope that this student sat next to him while dad wrote the essay.
  9. People are dealing with a lot of crap in their lives. I knew this before teaching at the college level (obviously), but what I didn’t know is that most people don’t know how to function while dealing with their crap. What the previous generation had that this generation doesn’t seem to have is role models: People who got up every day and dealt with their crap, or put their crap aside so they could get done what needed to get done. I watched my mother work a full-time job and nourish, clothe, and provide for her children as a single mom–all while dealing with a lot of crap. I learned from watching her. Admittedly, my students had difficult situations they were dealing with, but so many of them had no idea how to function because of them. They made excuses. They got drunk, high, or worse to numb themselves, instead of dusting themselves off and putting their heads down to get the job done–whatever that might have been. One way I try to help is by sharing personal stories. I want my students to know that I have far from a perfect life, but I keep plugging away because I have to–we all have to. We cannot escape our problems, but we can become better and stronger people because of them.
  10. Student response 2

    Learning to write well is one of the most rewarding skills we can acquire, and I love being the person who helps students find and develop their writing voice. It is time consuming and, at times, tedious, but working with students and witnessing the transformation of their written work from mere words on paper to thoughtful written communication is beautiful and rewarding in itself. Regardless of the grade, students who engaged in the writing process, who worked hard to break free from their fears, walked out of my classroom with confidence and a readiness to meet their future challenges. They may not have discovered everything about themselves and who they want to be, but they know they can move forward on their journey. I can’t think of a better investment of my time.

Posted in Education Reformation | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

An “Open Letter” to the CDE

Ben FranklinFor those of you not aware what has been happening in Colorado the past few weeks, high-school seniors in Boulder started a mass protest and opt-out movement against the CMAS test seniors were required to take last week. Instead of staying home, these students protested in front of their school; they wrote a letter to the CDE explaining why they refused to take the tests; they created a video expressing their concern for the direction in which education is headed; and they collected food for a food drive in their community. To see the letter on the CDE website and the hundreds of students who signed their names to this document click here. I’m so proud that these students decided to be movers and make things happen!

~Pauline Hawkins

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

We, students in Colorado, value our education, and therefore stand in firm opposition to the Colorado Measure of Academic Success (CMAS) testing program. By doing so, we are in no way, shape, or form, trying to disturb the learning environment at any of our high schools or in Colorado, but rather we hope to initiate dialogue between policymakers and students about issues that directly impact our future and the future of education in Colorado.

This year’s CMAS testing is the pilot of a statewide testing program for high school seniors.  The Colorado Department of Education’s Assessment Unit, which deals with standardized testing, plans to evaluate at the end of this year whether or not this standardized testing program is an effective means of measuring student and teacher progress.  We are concerned that if we fail to act, students will be forced to endure these tests for the foreseeable future.

Our grievances regarding Colorado’s expanded standardized testing program are as follows:

 I. Excessive standardized testing is harmful to our learning.

Standardized testing costs valuable teaching and learning time.  Our school is losing eight hours of class time, the equivalent of eight days of a class curriculum, in order to administer CMAS.  This deprives students of time to connect with their teachers and prepare for tests, such as AP and IB exams, which provide students with the opportunity to receive college credit. The test is particularly difficult for high school seniors, many of whom are in the midst of the college application process around this time of the year.

As high school seniors, we are subject to significant testing fatigue.  Students are mandated to take the CSAP or later TCAP exams from third through tenth grade, and the ACT in eleventh grade.  Many high school seniors are in the midst of SAT and SAT subject tests, which, unlike CMAS, have a bearing on students’ future success. At this point, we, who value our education and postsecondary readiness, feel that our time has been disrespected by policymakers who treat standardized tests, in which students had no input,  as a fix-all solution to our education system.

Furthermore, schools spend weeks organizing testing schedules, which forces administrators to prioritize standardized testing over needs of the school and the student body.  Adding more standardized testing only worsens this problem, a reduction of learning time for testing does not better education.

 

II. The CMAS standards do not represent the material taught in Colorado high schools.

The current CMAS tests do not parallel Colorado’s high school curriculum.  Colorado high school students are required to take only three years of a social studies; therefore many students do not take social studies during their senior year. The CMAS social studies test includes an economics section, but economics is not a required course for high school students in the state of Colorado. Testing someone on something they do not know, will not teach administrators anything. The goal of CMAS is to gauge our learning, but this is not possible when we have not learned, or been required to learn, what is on the test.

 

III. Studies have repeatedly shown that standardized testing does not accurately measure teacher or student performance.

Standardized testing has never been an accurate measure of student or teacher performance, and there is no reason to expect CMAS to diverge from the trend.

Firstly, standardized testing forces teachers to “teach to the test,” thereby neglecting students’ individualized needs.  The content of standardized testing rarely reflects the content that students are learning.  One student remarked: “As a sophomore, I was taking precalc. When I came along to the Math TCAP and was asked to make histograms, I had completely forgotten them, because it was something I hadn’t learned since sixth grade.” Exams shouldn’t punish students for being above the “standard” level, but unfortunately that’s what standardized testing in Colorado has done.

Moreover, standardized testing unfairly punishes low income school districts.  Alfie Kohn, who has written extensively about parenting and education, writes: “Research has repeatedly found that the amount of poverty in the communities where schools are located, along with other variables having nothing to do with what happens in classrooms, accounts for the great majority of the difference in test scores from one area to the next.”[1]  When looking at the CMAS testing scenario, it is easy to see why this occurs. Pearson, the for-profit corporation that created the CMAS tests, recommends that schools purchase their textbooks in order to help students prepare.  For low-income school districts, this is often impossible.[2]

CMAS appears to hold true to these same problems, and thus does not provide a sound method to evaluate schools or teachers.  For example, the CMAS social studies exam tests students in geography, government, economics, and history.  Since these subjects are based primarily on recalling facts, this is not a measure of the teachers ability to teach, but the students ability to remember; thus, it is unfair to fund schools based on these measures. According to Lauren Resnick, a leading cognitive scientist, “They [standardized tests] tend to be contrived exercises that measure how much students have managed to cram into short-term memory. Even the exceptions–questions that test the ability to reason–generally fail to offer students the opportunity “to carry out extended analyses, to solve open-ended problems, or to display command of complex relationships, although these abilities are at the heart of higher-order competence.” For example, at our high school, government and geography are taught freshman year.   If students don’t show proficiency in these subjects, it is not because our teachers are lacking, but because we have not covered the content in three years. Given that different schools have different curriculums and different scheduling, it is hard to see how the tests will accurately measure teacher or student performance.

IV. We as students are subjected to these tests at the same time as Colorado is seeing cuts in education funding.

Colorado schools are currently facing funding shortages, and spending more on standardized tests only adds to the deficit. Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution mandated the legislature to annually increase the funding for schools. The amendment stated that the amount of funding a school received would be calculated from a base amount, plus more funding due to “factors,” or variables such as school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of “at-risk” kids.  The amendment mandated that this amount must be increased  by at least inflation plus 1% until 2010, and then by at least the rate of inflation after 2010.[4] However, since the 2008 recession, lawmakers have repeatedly used a loophole in the law called the “negative factor.”  Rather than include the factors in calculating school funding, lawmakers allocated funding based solely off the base amount; thus, school funding actually decreased.[5] Furthermore, the number of students enrolled in Colorado’s public schools system has increased significantly since Amendment 23 was passed.  When adjusting for inflation, Colorado spent 6% less per student in the 2014 fiscal year than it did in the 2008 fiscal year.[6]

While Colorado has cut spending for schools, it continues to spend tens of millions of dollars on standardized testing each year.[7]  While some funding for CMAS came from the federal government, the costs of administering the test comes from the state taxpayers’ pockets.

As students, we believe this is an unfair arrangement.  We have been subjected to larger class sizes, cuts to art, music, and extracurricular activities, and fewer opportunities in school.  Our reward for putting up with these difficulties is more standardized testing with questionable purposes and monetary costs.

V. The CMAS standards are created by a for-profit corporation, not educators.

While the state allocates less funds toward education, it is spending plenty on standardized tests.  Pearson is a for-profit corporation that makes its profit from standardized testing in states such as Colorado.  In 2013, it achieved sales of over nine billion dollars, 60% of which came from the United States.[8]

Despite these immense resources, Pearson has hardly been error-proof:

  • In 2009, Pearson was forced to pay $9.5 million to the state of Wyoming for “complete default of the contract” after the roll-out of computerized testing failed.[9]
  • In 2013, incorrect scoring on a Pearson test for entrance into gifted and talented programs in New York City led to 13% of children being erroneously rejected from the program.[10]
  • In multiple cases, Pearson has failed to report scores on time, resulting in delays and questions concerning the accuracy of the data eventually reported.[11]

Furthermore, Pearson uses a huge education lobby network to implement standardized testing across the nation.  According to Alan Singer, education professor at Hofstra University, “Pearson’s non-for-profit foundation has paid local and state education commissioners whose schools do business with the for-profit Pearson corporation to attend international conferences in Rio de Janeiro, London, Singapore, and Helsinki, where they meet with Pearson executives.”[12] Additionally, according to the CMAS website from the Colorado Department of Education, Pearson actively encourages schools to “better prepare” for standardized testing by buying Pearson-produced textbooks. It seems that Pearson uses standardized testing not to benefit our education, but to increase their profits. We do not want our education to be used as a tool to line corporate pockets. Only Pearson stands to gain from these tests, but we lose valuable school hours and Colorado taxpayers’ money goes to waste.

If the creators of CMAS really believe in the importance of education, then they need to take a step back from test scores and look at what kids are learning. We believe that the funding and resources that are allocated to standardized tests could be more effectively used to enrich the school courses themselves to be more interactive and engaging.  This relocation of resources will ensure, more so than CMAS will, that students are successful in meeting academic standards and, more importantly, in learning.

Rather than standardized tests, let’s have smaller class sizes.  Let’s fund art and music classes.  Let’s have a conversation about education policy that includes the people who are most affected by it.  Let’s make a commitment to future Colorado students that their learning and their future are more important than their testing.

We hope that you will consider and understand that the actions we take to protest the CMAS, are not meant to disrupt our learning, but represent our responsibility to protect our education and the future of education in Colorado.

Signed,

The students of Colorado

 

Endnotes

[1] Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[2] Broussard, Meredith. “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing.” The Atlantic. N.p. 15 July 2014. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-cant-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/.>

[3]Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[4] “Learning Together: Assessing Colorado’s K-12 Education System.” Center for Education Policy Analysis at the Graduate School of Public Affairs. University of Colorado at Denver. October 2006. Web. Accessed October 22, 2014. <http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/SPA/BuechnerInstitute/Centers/CEPA/Publications/Documents/LearningTogether.Oct%2006.pdf.>

[5] Torres, Zahira. “Group suing Colorado over $1 billion cut in school funding.” The Denver Post. N.p. 27 June 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26046666/group-files-suit-against-colorado-over-school-funding.>

[6] Leachman, Michael and Chris Mai. “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. N.p. 20 May 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011.>

[7] Wetzel, Mike. “Colorado teachers concerned by excessive testing.” Colorado Education Association. N.p. 18 February 2014. Web. Accessed 23 October 2014. <http://www.coloradoea.org/resources/association-news/2014/02/19/testing.&gt;

[8] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

[9] Solochek, Jeff. “Pearson problems nothing new in testing world.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 18 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/pearson-problems-nothing-new-testing-world.>

[10] Figueroa, Alyssa. “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests.” AlterNet. N.p. 6 August 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests.>

[11] Solochek, Jeff. “Problems, problems everywhere with Pearson’s testing system.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 17 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/problems-problems-everywhere-pearsons-testing-system.>

[12] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

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