Friday, February 27, 2015

Great work Gayle.

As you may have read, Senator Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) added an amendment to HB7 that sets up a school funding Safe Harbor. This protects districts from losing funding if students do not complete all state assessments, something the state could have done under the Ohio Revised Code. The legislation has passed out of the Senate Education Committee. Contact your legislators and encourage them to support this legislation.

Below is my thank you to Senator Manning for her efforts. She is the Senator from my area, and while I did not vote for her because I play for the other team, she is beginning to win me over.

Senator Manning. 

I simply wanted to send a quick note to thank you for including the Amendment in HB7 providing safe harbor with regard to school funding. Many parents locally (myself and my wife included) and state-wide have made the difficult decision to refuse the test for our children. My son had a host of physical issues while preparing for the OAAs last year, medical, eye, and blood tests - so the idea of having him take three times the amount of assessments under the new system was unconscionable to us. Our schools have made dramatic cuts as it is, and a punishment in funding under these circumstances was of great concern. 

As you know, I have been outspoken regarding my desire to implement a more sane and less intrusive system of accountability. (We traded messages about the Elyria Education Forum.) Your amendment and the legislation do well to buy us some time in order to move toward a solution. 

Thank you again for your work. I will plan to contact legislators to encourage them to support this legislation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Lesson in Assessments.

That's me in Kindergarten. I wish I still had that shirt. O.K., perhaps a larger one. I'll bet my mom told me I looked handsome. She was kind in that way and, like most parents (myself included), she was a pathological liar, spinning yarns about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and that old parental favorite about how you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. If that's true, then why am I a high school history teacher and not Batman?

The picture is from a book entitled "School Days" that my mom kept for me, and I would later take over. Here in Kindergarten, she indicates my friends, none of whom I remember, and the fact that I enjoyed a variety of sports.

She also wrote that my hobbies were "Art" and "Play," two things that I still very much enjoy today. Also recorded is the fact that I enjoyed playing in the wagon at school. I find this passage especially telling in that I still use a red wagon in my gardening in the spring and summer.

I attended Eastgate Elementary at that time. Due to declining enrollment and cuts in state funding it was shuttered years ago. It is now occupied by a charter school. My Kindergarten teacher was Miss Myers, and while I do not have many specific memories of my time in her care, I am confident in saying that she was an excellent teacher. I believe this to be true because those who work with very young children are a particular kind of saint. I also believe that she played a significant role in instilling in me some confidence that I hadn't previously known, as well as a love of school.

Here's my Kindergarten report card circa 1978. While the document indicates scores of "Satisfactory" in all categories (a fact I have mentioned in all subsequent job interviews), it also shows that I was deficient in certain categories. I have been given the grade S- in "follows directions," "completes work," and "listens." An S- is also used to describe my inability to relax at quiet time. My wife found these grades "interesting."

Academically I scored well. I knew how to write my name, and numbers 1 - 10. I could identify basic shapes and rhyming words. If this were today, I wonder if the State of Ohio would categorize me as being on a path to career and college readiness. I'm going to guess that the answer is No. In my defense, I think that today's Kindergarten curriculum is far more advanced, and the state would need to administer a battery of standardized tests before even allowing me to attend school.

The funny thing is, I don't remember any assessments in Kindergarten, and few in the other early grades. It was the 1970s which, looking back, seems like the Wild West of raising children. 

I do remember one incident that I believe has informed my philosophy of assessments to this day. Our Kindergarten classroom was dark at the end of the day. My classmates and I had our school bags ready, and the tiny chairs up on the tiny desks. We must have been waiting for an announcement to dismiss. We were supposed to be quiet, but there was a murmur of children goofing when I started to say my ABC's. I must not have said them aloud before because Miss Myers called the attention of the class, and, to my horror, asked me to begin again. So, I nervously recited the ABC's and the class applauded. 

I tell this story because as I remember it, I'm not sure that I could've recorded the alphabet in writing, or on command even, but my teacher recognized my accomplishment and my feedback was immediate. The applause was my reward and it filled me with self-confidence. The assessment was unusual, spontaneous, and so illustrates that students should be given many chances in a variety of settings to prove their knowledge. This sensibility serves me well as a teacher.

If our legislators refuse to listen to facts about the developmentally inappropriate nature of state assessments, their wildly unnecessary length, and intrusiveness on the instructional process, perhaps they might simply reflect on what tests worked for them in the simplest of settings.

If you see Miss Myers, tell her that I said thank you. I'm no Batman, but I think she did well.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Contact your Legislator. Here's a quick and easy format.

Guidelines for writing your legislator.

With the increasing concerns regarding standardized testing, funding issues, teacher evaluation, and charter school reform, a great grassroots movement has begun. This movement combines the efforts of those of us in education with an increasingly spirited, well informed, and outspoken coalition of parents and other community members. A key component to exacting positive change in all of these issues is in maintaining communication with those who write and pass the laws, your legislators. If you're interested in contacting legislators, but weren't sure where to begin, then follow these simple guidelines.

1) Always include your full name and address, as well as your phone number and email address.

If you're communicating through the legislator’s website, this is required, but if you're writing or otherwise communicating you'll need to include this information. Politicians receive lots of correspondence, so their focus will be on individuals that they represent directly. However, many of them will read and respond regardless of geography, so I would argue that contacting ALL legislators is still a good idea. 

2) Greet the legislator with respect, and quickly summarize your concern.

For example… “Senator Manning, I am writing you today with concerns about the increased time spent on Standardized Testing in Ohio’s schools.” There is no need to butter them up with accolades… “Honorable Senator so and so” or “The Great and Powerful John Kasich”, nor should you be too familiar or insulting… “Dearest John, you ignorant son of a...”

3) Explain yourself using detailed facts or a personalized connection wherever possible.

For example… “Students in Ohio are spending 2-3 times more time on testing this year when compared to last.” or “I would like to share with you what happens to my students/children when faced with these assessments.” The well being of their constituents, especially children, should be very important to every legislator, so a personalized illustration of the issues facing education is a very effective device. We may not recall statistics, but stories can be very powerful.

AVOID accusations, insults (however mild), and threats. They know we know their voting record on legislation. They know we can vote them out of office. We are angry at the current educational system. Our anger moves us forward. However, I believe that a legislator is more likely to take you seriously if you take a more measured approach. Step back, take a breath, and rationally express your concerns, and possible solutions if you have them.

4) Conclude by thanking them for their time, and that you look forward to hearing their thoughts on the issue.

Don't get discouraged by an automated response, or no response at all. A personal response takes time, and often multiple attempts at contact. Don't be afraid to write again. While it takes a bit of time, it is the best way to maintain pressure on our legislators and keep our concerns at the forefront of their minds.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Four Simple Rules for Moving Forward With Educational "Reform."

Rule #1: Under no circumstances should you follow the lead of Texas. (See NCLB & W)

Rule #2: Under no circumstances should you follow the lead of Florida. (See 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee)

Rule #3: Do not attempt to apply a business model to the process of education. (See above, and also Charter School success rates and Mr. Bill Gates)

Rule #4: Wherever possible seek the input of teachers and other experts in the field.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Letter to, and response from Senator Gayle Manning.

Dear Mr. Jablonski,

Thank you for your email. First and foremost, you did an excellent job moderating the education forum in Elyria.  I appreciate you sharing your concerns, as it is very helpful to have you voice your concerns with these pressing issues, specifically as a history teacher. 

As for Senate Bill 3, I questioned a person being qualified in the subject area, but not in management of a class, etc. meeting the individual needs of students. I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind regarding this issue. 

Again, thank you for reaching out to me to express your thoughts.  Should you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (614) 644-7613 or


Gayle L. Manning
State Senator 
13th Ohio Senate District

-----Original Message-----

Subject: Constituent Form Submission

First Name : Matthew
Last Name : Jablonski
Subject : Education

Message : 
Senator Manning,
I wanted to thank you for attending our education forum in Elyria this past Monday. I am the History teacher who moderated and spoke about the OGT, Next Gen Assessments, and the issues with our culture of assessment. It meant a lot to everyone there that you were interested enough in our concerns to attend.

My wife and I were reading an account of committee hearings on education in which you questioned the ODE (?) regarding the new tests and special education. This issue had been addressed at our forum by Ms. Starr who you'd heard the day before. Thank you. This is an excellent example of the democratic process in action.

I just received a letter from Senator Faber, asking me to comment on Senate Bill 3. I have yet to contact him, but at a glance it looks awful. I'm guessing it's a piece of ALEC legislation seeking to destabilize public education. While the exemptions for high performing schools seem to increase "local control", they are clearly dangerous examples of an attempt to remove highly qualified teachers from the classroom. Furthermore, the elements that seek to limit testing to 2% and test practice to 1% are toothless mandates. The elimination of 1 - 3 diagnostics is clear. I would advocate the end to KRA's as well. The problem with the percentages is the fact that the tests remain high stakes. As long as student graduation and promotion, teacher evaluation, and school performance are tied to tests, the inauthentic culture of testing will persist. Because the benefits seem minimal SB3 seems to be a bust.

Thank you, as always, for your time and work in our interest, and again for your attendance at our event.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Andy Young: "the NEW tests pose little risk to students." I beg to differ.

In Sunday's edition of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, editor Andy Young leant us his vast intellect and expertise in the field of education in his editorial entitled "Parents shouldn't pass on testing."

After taking a swipe at concerned parents choice of "trendy names," he assures all interested individuals that while the tests will be more challenging, they are simply designed to assure that our students will be career and college ready. Mr. Young has clearly done his research by finding the meaning of the acronym PARCC.

"The new tests pose little immediate risk to students," he tells us as a segue to introducing us to recent House legislation that will not allow districts to retain or otherwise punish students for low scores. Mr. Young is confident the bill will become law, and I have no reason to disagree.

However, he goes on to smugly mock my colleague Stacie Starr for her announcement last week to leave public education due, in part, to the culture of assessment in public education. Mr. Young believes that the introduction of the aforementioned House Bill "12 days earlier" should have alleviated her concerns.

Andy Young you are missing the point. Had you even read your own paper's account of the forum, or spoken to Chronicle reporter Lisa Roberson who attended, then you would know that a fear of low scores and retention were not the issue for Ms. Starr. They are not the issue for others opposed to the assessments either. We know the scores will be low. A rudimentary bit of research indicates that passing rates on similar tests in New York are at 30%. Passing rates for minorities there have been as low as 16-17% in ELA and Math.

The reason people are outraged, and why some have chosen to refuse the tests, is because the mere process of assessment is utterly demoralizing for the students involved. Yes, more time is spent in assessment, as he indicates, but what is more problematic is the fact that the tests themselves are developmentally inappropriate, the reading levels are too high for grade level, as are maturity levels in the readings. Beyond this, the electronic format and the use of multiple texts is a confusing and convoluted presentation from the perspective of an average student. This was Ms. Starr's issue, along with the sentiment that it is morally wrong to subject Special Education students to these experiences, especially because the state is refusing to allow accommodations as prescribed in the student's Individual Education Plan.

I challenge Mr. Young to do some actual research.  He should attend a forum, speak to some students or teachers familiar with the practice tests, or take a practice test himself.

I should congratulate him on recognizing that the Common Core is not a diabololical conspiracy to take over education or Ohio or the United States. He also recognizes the philosophical conundrum that Republicans in Ohio need to address: more assessment and accountability or get the government out of the lives of the people.

Despite these reasonable conclusions, the editorial's topic (as rambling as it may have been) was to discourage parents from refusing the test.  I believe that Mr. Young needs to do a lot more research before he can provide an educated opinion on that topic.

Let Mr. Young know how you feel about the issue of excessive assessment at the following...
          (440)329-7111               or                     


I've seen a lot of people complaining about the nature of these assessments, PARCC and Pearson, length of tests, developmentally inappropriate readings and questions.  They serve little purpose, but to pass some inaccurate judgement on teachers and public schools. They certainly do not benefit students, and do nothing to inform instruction (despite what the state may have told you). Unfortunately, none of this is new except for the outrage. I'm OK with that. It's about time.

It feels good to complain. I understand. 

The testing window opens on Tuesday. Expand your complaint this week. Go beyond that Facebook rant or the water cooler discussion with your like-minded coworkers (I think I'm most guilty of this one, so I'll take my own advice). I understand that sometimes it's difficult to know just what to do. Don't overthink it. Do something.

Write a letter to the editor here.

Contact an Ohio Legislator, or two, or ALL OF THEM here.

Be an agitator. Be a rabble-rouser. The people in power are beginning to listen. Let's be louder.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Reasonable Solution? Not SB 3.

About a month ago, I emailed every legislator in the state of Ohio regarding my concerns with the excessive and inappropriate use of standardized testing. I have since received responses from many well-intentioned (and some uninformed) individuals. Today I got a letter from Ohio Senate President Keith Faber thanking me for my correspondence. He also included a list of the items addressed by Senate Bill 3 and asked for my thoughts and suggestions. Below is my response. While I am an advocate of the elimination of standardized tests, I took a more measured approach with Senator Faber. I believe some of these solutions are quite reasonable. What do you think?

Senator Faber,

Thank you for the response to my letter regarding excessive standardized testing, and the opportunity to comment on Senate Bill 3. I can see that you have attempted to respond to the recommendations of Dr. Ross, and I would assume that this would be a starting point from which to begin eliminating further tests. With that said, I've seen these same issues proposed of late in other Republican led states which makes me suspect the legislation was not penned in state, but was think tanked elsewhere. Despite these suspicions, I'll comment because I'd like to believe that you're interested in doing what's right for Ohio's children.

I'd first like to say that as a high school history teacher, I have no knowledge of health care contracting or the competitive bidding process, so I am unable to comment on these components of the bill.

Regarding the first point on eliminating the Fall 3rd grade reading test: on the surface this means less testing. However, you are creating a situation where 3rd graders now have one fewer times to meet the reading guarantee. I believe this component could be made successful with the complete abolition of the third grade reading guarantee. We borrowed this idea from Florida. It didn't work there. Very few children are held back as a result of the guarantee. Many are forced into summer school, most are promoted, likely as a result of the ODE lowering expectations on the summer assessment. In short, if you must test in 3rd grade, get rid of the high stakes guarantee.

Speaking of high stakes, as long as you tie standardized tests to student promotion or graduation, teacher evaluation, administrator evaluation, and school and district grades, the use of percentages to limit testing and practice will be ineffective (item 3 on your list). I spoke at an education forum in my community this week in which I indicated that the high stakes nature of testing forces the hand of teachers and other stakeholders to focus solely on the test. We have created this culture of assessment which promotes inauthentic learning experiences. For example, on the OGT my students are asked to write 2 point, two sentence, short answer, and 4 point, single paragraph, extended response questions. To assure success, the essays on class tests are modeled after these. It works. However, the process is counterproductive if you consider the type of writing students are required to complete at the college level. Because graduation, teacher evaluation and school rating are based on these tests the system cannot change regardless of a state law that limits test practice to 1% of time. It is the incorrect answer. A more effective solution would be to eliminate the high stakes components. Because of the demand for accountability in some circles this is unlikely. I am nothing if not a realist. If abolishing high stakes elements makes you uncomfortable, then make the high stakes component more manageable for students, teachers and districts.

I like the item listed as #2 on your list, eliminating state mandated diagnostics in first through third grade. I would advocate taking it a step further by eliminating the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, and all other assessments (OAA and PARCC included) at that level. Teachers don't use the results, the data is irrelevant by the time they receive it, and not very valid in the first place. Speak to some Elementary School teachers. Ask them what they need. Not one will answer "more assessments". If you have to give an elementary assessment, limit it to math and language, administer in the 4th grade, then leave them alone to teach and learn. Perhaps you could revisit those students with a few assessments in middle school, maybe add science and social studies, administer the tests at the end of 7th grade, then leave them alone. Finally, if we must maintain a graduation test it should be no more intrusive than the OGT, which I believe is too intrusive.  The new system, PBAs and EOYs, PARCC and AIR, is an abomination.

As for your "rewards" for high performing schools, they appear very dangerous. Exempting these districts from class size requirements, the use of qualified, credentialed teachers, the use of mentors and the rest seems like the tip of the iceberg in the complete deregulation of public schools. I cannot believe that any public school teacher or administrator worth their degrees would advocate such a system. It sets up a scenario in which unlicensed members of the community could be hired to teach standing room only classes if the circumstances require it, such as massive state cuts to affluent districts (much like the governor's current budget proposal).

Senator Faber, I'm afraid that I don't agree with much in your legislation. With that said, this should be dialogue or a "constructive conversation," as you indicated in your letter. I am speaking as an advocate for students and teachers, for public schools. I appreciate you taking the time to consider my point of view, and look forward to a response.

Thank you.
Yours in education,
Matthew T. Jablonski
Elyria High School Social Studies Teacher