Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Can't Believe It's the End of the Year.

So, it's the end of the year, and everyone likes to say "I can't believe it's the end of the year." Or they wear a surprised face and say something like, "Gee, it sure went fast."

I think that this is the product of being in the business of saying good-bye. Saying these things tempers the overall melancholy involved. What I mean is, I got to know a hundred twenty or so high school sophomores this year; good, fine people. We've done some things, had some fun and suffered a bit together. They'll walk out in a week, like all students, and by and large I won't see them again. So, while a break is welcome, this is always a bit difficult.

So, we'll say my goodness the year went fast. Except that it didn't. It was a marathon of contract disputes, and overall disrespect of public education and educators from both inside and outside the business. We implemented a brutally excessive evaluation system and rolled out an even more horribly intrusive and inappropriate testing system while attempting to phase out the old one. Throw in legislators changing the laws as we went along, and some more criticism of teachers just for good measure and we've rounded out a year that felt like at least a decade.

All I wanted to do was teach, to find a measure of success for my students. Needless to say, in this environment it was terribly difficult.

Between you and me, I wanted to teach my students that sometimes no one understands what you're going through, and sometimes everyone seems completely crazy or cruel or completely mad, but it's O.K. I wanted to teach them something about empathy and compassion, that happiness will come through understanding, a feeling of accomplishment, service to one's community, being there for one another. I hoped to instill in them a sense of skepticism, a desire to question, to pursue the truth, to be an active participant in the acquisition of knowledge in order to better understand the world around them, and to work to change it to fit the ideal in their mind.

Unfortunately, these aren't lessons best conveyed in a presentation. I am an American History teacher, so I taught the assigned curriculum and hoped the rest shone through. I gave the assigned assessments, and told stories about my Polish grandmother and her immigrant parents until she got ill and I couldn't bring myself to talk about her anymore. 

We discussed Industry and American Ingenuity, activism and agitation. Outside of class I grew more vocal against the state's testing system. Those who didn't know me said this was because I was a failure within the system. They were wrong. I spoke out more. 

My students pursued the world wars, we read poetry and manifestos, wrapped our minds around the economic despair of the Depression with their own economic hardship, and related the significance of the Civil Rights era to events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland. 

I wrote my own manifestos as assigned by the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System to prove that I am a quality teacher. They worried about the state tests, so I made them laugh and worried for them. We read and wrote and prepared, and the assessments arrived and arrived again. 

More people got sick, students and family. I worried more. Holidays came and went. And throughout, the testing ground away at their enthusiasm as March became April which delivered more testing in May. And still I taught, and still they learned, despite the system.

It has always been this way.

So, it's the end of the year. On the whole we have passed the assessments and evaluations while operating within an atrocious system that belittles us. 

As a side note, I believe that my students also learned many things of value this year.

I have a few words for those who continue to criticize me and all of us in public education, but they are not school appropriate.

So I'll say good-bye to my students. We had some fun didn't we?

It sure went fast.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lessons in Assessment.

When I was in second grade at Saint Mary, Sister John Edward was my teacher. I thought she was the greatest. I remember one test that I took that year specifically. It was a reading test that I finished with great confidence. So great was my confidence, in fact, that I wrote "simple" at the top of the page to illustrate the degree to which she'd presented me with a lack of rigor.

I'm sure you can guess where this is going. In an excellent Catholic school lesson in humility I earned a C on the quiz and a comment at the top from my devout instructor that said something like, "simple huh?"

I learned several important lessons that day...

Lesson One: Don't be a pompous ass.
Lesson Two: Assessments are somewhat unpredictable.
Lesson Three: Both of the above lessons contain the word ass.

From that moment forward, I never took for granted results on a test. Even now, in my 16th year of teaching, I hesitate to make predictions regarding assessments.

This week we received from the state the scores from the Ohio Graduation Test. I teach approximately 120 sophomores who, along with their teachers, have waited with varying degrees of anxiety for two months for the scores to arrive. Even in our urban high school, most students pass all assessments the first time, but there are those not as fortunate.

Because I take my job seriously, and because I have not truly internalized Second Grade Lesson One (see above), I am deeply troubled when test scores do not meet my expectations. This is exacerbated when I have to inform a student they haven't passed with a score of 398, as 400 is the lowest acceptable score. 

This year I have also been troubled by a decline in scores to qualify for the higher ratings of "Accelerated" and "Advanced." Better than 10% fewer of my students rated Advanced this year when compared to the last two years. Having not received any specific data from the state in order to analyze the situation to inform instruction, I am left to speculate on the reasons for this decline.

I have spent the last few days compiling this speculative mental list, much of it constructed when I wake up at 2am with the awful feeling that I have forgotten something. My list includes Second Grade Lesson Two, as well as many other far reaching issues including curricular, instructional, academic, societal, and economic deterrents to success. Overall, my focus always comes back to what I could have done differently. Having reflected I will plan accordingly for the future.

Eventually, I will receive more data from the state. They will argue that this very important information can be used to "inform instruction," thus providing a vital reason for the existence of standardized tests. The real issue, as many teachers will tell you, is that the data arrives far too late, lacks specific information, and is often entirely irrelevant.

A vital component of assessment is in the immediacy and detail of the feedback. The very nature of the Ohio Graduation Tests runs contrary to this premise. It is an end, that either allows, or in far worse cases, does not allow a student to graduate. These are assessments being used inappropriately (in this and other ways).

And so why am I losing sleep over these results? Why do I even care how I am measured by a system with which I wholeheartedly disagree? Well, because I want my students to be successful. Because for the last 10 years this has been a fairly public measure of my quality as a teacher.

Maybe I'm just an ass. Simple.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Still not much happening in Columbus.

So, I've been frustrated by a lack of progress on meaningful legislation, so I contacted my Senator and Rep for an update. Of course, the Ohio Senate has created a committee, studied the issue, and made recommendations. Below is the response I got from my Rep's Legislative Assistant, and my follow up.

Good Afternoon,

I wanted to write and let you know that I have passed your message along to Representative Manning.  On behalf of him, I would also like to thank you for continuing to keep us updated with your thoughts on education issues.  As I am sure you've figured out, education is one of the top issues the leadership wanted to tackle during this general assembly so I am confident that we will have a lot to consider.

As far as what has been happening in regards to testing, I would urge you to check out House Bill 7, House Bill 74, and Substitute Senate Bill 3.  All of these can be found on our website at

Again thank you for the message and I am glad that you are able to run into Rep. Manning in the district.  I also see that you will be attending our education roundtable on May 14th.  I am sure that you will be able to get a lot of your questions answered there as well.  In the meantime,  please don't hesitate to call with any additional concerns or questions.


Jordan Triance | Legislative Aide
Office of State Representative Nathan H. Manning | District 55
Ohio House of Representatives

Mr. Triance,

I appreciate your ongoing correspondence, and passing along my messages to Representative Manning.

I wonder if you have received them all, however, because I have written to comment on HB74 and SB3. Representative Brenner's bill doesn't really address any issues by limiting tests to 3 hours and not addressing multiple testing windows. Furthermore, setting percentages of time for testing and test prep is completely ridiculous in that it is utterly unenforceable. I have contacted the entire House Education Committee, and find it frustrating that the input of educators seems to be ignored.

SB3 has more to do with dangerous deregulation of schools than it does the impact of testing on education. I addressed the multitude of issues with this bill months ago to the Senate Education Committee, as well as on my education

HB7 is admirable in its "safe harbor" expansion. My recommendation would be to extend "safe harbor" until the system can be completely overhauled. Three years would be a fine start on the assumption that it could be expanded as long as problems persist.

As long as standardized tests are linked to high stakes decisions there will be problems. As long as testing is linked to teacher evaluation there will be problems. As long as you are spending three months administering state assessments there will be problems. And as long as these problems persist, we are doing a disservice to Ohio's school children.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to meeting with Representative Manning next week.

Matt Jablonski
American History teacher
Elyria High School

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hey it's been awhile.

Hey, it's been awhile, but life is like that. We've lost track of one another. I've been doing my best to teach American History, wrap up the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, mow lawns, coach youth soccer, harass legislators, research testing issues, and navigate the end of the testing window.

I'm afraid of the end of the school year. I fear that without the ridiculous pressure and injustice of assessments and evaluation, I will somehow implode. Perhaps, I'll simply curl up fetal and cry my way toward the Fourth of July.

So, I've been thinking a lot about 50% of a teacher's evaluation coming from student test scores. Here's a few things...

When I took my driver's test for the first time they wouldn't even let me get behind the wheel. I failed the eye test because my contacts were a mess. Based upon my temporary blindness, my driving instructor would've been labelled a complete bum. No matter that I went on to pass the test and maintain a sound driving record (only one speeding ticket that my son won't let me forget).

A few of my son's fifth grade buddies said that they heard some kids say they were going to tank one of the state tests because they want to see if they can get a teacher fired.

I overheard a student say that in response to a PARCC essay he wrote, "F - U."

A teacher in my building said that a girl, angry at the volume of testing, filled in random answers on her Student Growth Measure while staring directly at the her.

One of my sophomores reported to his testing location today. Unable to log onto the system, he was told to leave. Later he was told not to bother with the End of Year test because he didn't take the Performance Based Assessment in February so he already failed the test.

Another student, hospitalized during the PBA, was made to take the EOY despite the fact that he too has already failed the assessment.

These are just a few examples from the last week or so.

Young people aren't stupid. They recognize an injustice when they see one. Three months of standardized testing with minimal instruction time and an utter lack of meaning and relevance is hard to miss.

So is the absurdity of 50% of an evaluation coming from a one off assessment.