Sunday, April 19, 2015

Please Contact Your Legislators

Look, it only takes a few moments. Google "contact your legislators name", go to their handy plug in the info screen and be done. I know the EOY testing window is already open. We're going to have to grind through this one too, but if we want things to change sooner rather than later, then we must continue to apply pressure.

Below is my message to my Senator, Gayle Manning. It's no better (and possibly worse) than the message you can articulate in the interest of the change you seek. I also contacted my Rep, Gayle's son Nathan. We're a one family political district 'round here. Which is cool, as long as they agree with me. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Senator Manning, 

I trust that your return to Columbus in the last week has been positive and productive. Since you saw me speak at the education forum in Elyria, I have been working diligently in the interest of my Elyria High students' success in American History, on the OGT and otherwise. I have also been continuing my efforts to raise awareness regarding our new testing system and it's terribly intrusive, and technologically and academically inappropriate nature. I have spoken at forums in North Ridgeville as well as Vermilion. 

Once again, I would like to thank you for protecting school funding in the wake of increasing opt-outs. I would also like to know what work has been done to remedy the testing system. I have heard about the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing and its survey, which told us that most stakeholders oppose the new system (which I think we knew). What I'd like to assure is that there is legislation in the works, that it seeks to eliminate the practice of testing all spring in two windows through PARCC and PARCC-like assessments created by AIR. I know that your time is limited because of another sizable legislative break prior to next school year, so I hope legitimate progress is being made. 

Thank you for your efforts in the interest of your constituents, and thank you in advance for a response to this message. 

Matt Jablonski 
Social Studies Teacher 
Elyria High School

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Window Has Reopened. Prepare Your Bribes.

A neighborhood kid, on a short break from dodgeball in our front yard, complained that he didn't get a ticket after the PARCC test yesterday. "I tried my hardest," he complained, "and that's what you have to do, and take your time. Then I can trade my ticket for a Snickers. But they never gave me one."

At this point I joked with my son, very inappropriately, that I'd buy him 2 Snickers if he told his teacher the test is bullshit. They'll let anyone be a parent.

But this is what I'm kid doesn't get a Snickers because he isn't taking the tests. We've refused for many reasons. They are academically inappropriate, far too lengthy, intrusive, and offer students and teachers nothing meaningful except undue stress or perhaps an ulcer.

What does a candy bar have to do with the pursuit of an education anyway? Unless these tests have very little to do with education.

I sat on a panel a week ago, the day before the window reopened, and listened to a state legislator and a state school board member essentially advise parents to refuse the tests. They were of the mindset that it would take a "storm" to motivate change. And so a parent uprising, an opt-out movement (but you better say refuse), a teacher revolt, and onward...

In the meantime the tests continue, and I'm angry that my friend didn't get his ticket. He took your test. He's never going to see any detailed results. Why the hell else was he taking the test?

I have to go. I need to go to the store for a Snickers. I have to write my State Representative.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Senate Advisory Committee on Testing

The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing is seeking input regarding how they should move forward following this year's roll-out of of the Next Generation Assessments. The passage below is what I submitted. I had more to say, but their system has a word limit. I still believe that I was able to squeeze in some valid points. Check it out, and then give them a piece of your mind here...

     I am a 16th year American History teacher at Elyria High School in Elyria, Ohio. For the last 10 years I have spent my career as an educator preparing students for the Ohio Graduation Test according to the mandates in No Child Left Behind. The law was designed to provide data to assure success by all children through school improvement, and bridge the so-called "Achievement Gap." Like most standardized tests, they have been most successful at indicating the economic standing of the student being tested. Furthermore, the "Achievement Gap" has not been bridged, and the test scores have been used to shut down schools in poor communities in favor of charter schools that have been, in many cases, less effective. Ohio had implemented more assessments than necessary under NCLB, and now with 10 years of proof that a system of standardized testing is not working, we have begun the process of implementing a far more intrusive, academically inappropriate system of assessments through PARCC and AIR. I am guessing that the logic here reads something like "if the previous testing didn't resolve the issues, then certainly more testing will do the trick."  As an educator, I disagree, and believe that this new system does a great disservice to our children.

     When legislators hear an educator come out in opposition to standardized tests, the assumption is that the educator must oppose being held accountable for their work. I would like to assure the committee that this is not the case. As a professional, I welcome my administrators and others into my classroom, and am open to discussion of my teaching process, and through analysis and reflection I am also open to my development as a teacher. If your belief holds that the only true measure of a teacher's ability is a standardized test (which statisticians and other experts in the field of education and assessment completely disagree with), then you can check Ohio's data for my students on the Social Studies OGT and see that they have been very successful.

     The reality here is that even having found success within this system of assessments, I have consistently disagreed with that system. While the OGT/OAA is far less intrusive and time consuming than the atrocious new model, it still created a culture of assessment in our schools. What I mean here is that in any grade assessed, in a high stakes situation or not, the tests themselves have driven classroom practice. Essay writing cannot be thoughtful and expansive, it has to be modeled after state test assessments to assure success. Classroom resources are not chosen by teachers for their appropriateness or ability to spark student interest, nor for their relevance to their community. They're chosen for the degree to which they reflect the resources students will encounter on a standardized test. Review of sample questions is an ongoing process, that overwhelms the weeks just prior to the assessments. "Just teaching" students is impossible as non-proficient students need to be made proficient, and those proficient need to rate at the higher levels of accelerated and advanced in order to satisfy the state report cards.  These are but a few examples of the manner in which the former system sucked the life out of the school day. Schools and teachers have struggled to motivate students and spark interest and connections to content because the system of assessments came to dictate all decisions. Ultimately, students have suffered the most, seeing their natural curiosity stifled, and losing a sense of the fun that is learning.

     And now we have undertaken a system that is far more intrusive, far more time consuming, and overall far more developmentally inappropriate. In schools across Ohio the Performance Based Assessment testing window spanned February and March. Schools implemented weeks of late arrival for some students, or integrated testing in the school day, removing students randomly from instruction time to complete assessments. One AP History teacher I spoke to said that she didn't even see one of her class periods for 2 weeks. Upon our return from spring break, the End of Year or End of Course testing window will open, spanning the better part of April and most of May. Again, students will be removed from instruction in order to be assessed. This is not just an issue with PARCC, as most current legislation has attempted to address. The issue also involves, or will involve, the Social Studies and Science tests created to be "PARCC-like" assessments by the American Institutes for Research. Whether it is PARCC or AIR, this system of a double testing window is far too intrusive and time consuming. It forces two periods of test review, instead of one, and its scheduling disrupts instruction time from February through May, essentially the entire second semester. The former system lasted a week in most cases. If you'd like students to learn, then give us more time to teach. Thank you for your consideration.