Friday, November 18, 2016

That's (not) what she said.

In a spectacular turn of events, I received a reply from Senator Lehner having called her out for blaming me (schools really) for the pending Graduation Crisis. I wasn't happy, and based on the response that I got to the post about writing her directly, a lot of other people weren't happy either. 

What I found interesting about the response is that it seemed to be from the Senator herself. While I have gotten responses from other legislators, and lots of standard "thank you for your participation in the democratic process" form emails, I had certainly never gotten a reply from the Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Not even after having emailed the offices of all of the House and Senate Education Committee members multiple times over the last year about the pending Graduation Crisis alone. 

So, as it turns out, the Senator believes that her comments, whatever they were, have been taken out of context. Here is a copy of her message...


Mr. Jablonski....this quote was really taken out of context and doesn’t bear any resemblance to what I actually said.  I have consistently placed the blame for the current graduation fiasco on a too rapid implementation of the new requirements. Based on the quote you provided I can’t even tell what I tried to say and I supposedly said it!  


OK, so if I'm wrong, and this were taken out of context as Senator Lehner suggests, I apologize. In her defense, many articles on the meeting said that she told the state school board that if they did not fix the issue, then the legislature will. This is very important because the state board's band-aid on this situation will need to be fixed permanently by the legislature. If the ODE follows its own guidelines, it will recommend legislative changes based on ESSA stakeholder input, which vehemently indicates that we need to reduce the level of standardized testing to federal minimums.

To be honest, I want to believe Senator Lehner. My problem stems from her indication that she has "consistently" blamed the fiasco on too rapid implementation of new requirements. When I attended a state school board meeting in June, board member A.J. Wagner was articulating the problems with the graduation requirements. My wife and I were there to support A.J.'s position, so were terribly disheartened when Senator Lehner laughed it off. She assured the state board that there would be no problem. She said it would work out as well as the 3rd grade reading guarantee. Having spoken to an actual 3rd grade teacher or two, this prospect scared the hell out of me. Third grade has become a meat grinder of assessments.

Because of my concern with the term "consistently," and to clarify my position, I shot back a reply to the Senator, and got another timely response, to which I provided yet another reply because I don't like the proposed decrease to 15 total points required for graduation, but prefer the plan proposed by Olmsted Falls Superintendent Dr. Lloyd. His plan involves a full safe harbor for this year's juniors, or a gradual increase in points beginning with 12 this year. His comments to the state board, including his proposed solution to the graduation problem can be found at the bottom of this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

What follows below is the back and forth I had with Senator Lehner. While I'm sure she's exhausted by my bullshit, I feel as if I got to make some decent points regarding the need for, and a possible solution to the Graduation Crisis. I'm still not sure what to make of the initial comments reportedly made by Senator Lehner blaming teachers like me for the problem. I do know that she has, at best, been terribly inconsistent in recognizing that there is a problem. However, I believe that she is committed to finding a solution going forward. I also believe that lowering the point requirement to 15 is not enough, and I will advocate for Dr. Lloyd's proposed solution by contacting each member of the state school board prior to their December meeting. I'll hope you'll consider doing the same.


Senator Lehner,


Thank you for the prompt reply. A comparable quote was reported by several news outlets, and I have spoken to many colleagues who heard it and were equally frustrated. I also heard you speak at the board meeting in June, sure that the situation with graduation was not a problem. Unfortunately, you were wrong. I'm sure you understand my frustration.


I had spent the day teaching American History to the standards. I taught a test remediation class the day before, and had also counseled a hard working student who suffers from anxiety, who as a junior has only amassed 8 points. We are all in a frightening situation in Ohio's high schools. I trust that the state board and legislature will recognize this as we move forward.


Thanks again for your reply and consideration.



Matthew I can absolutely assure you that ODE will have an acceptable solution before the end of the year-probably lowering points needed to 15 and gradually increasing up to the 18 points over four years as schools become more familiar with the tests and put remediation programs into place.  The final details will be worked out once all the data is collected.  


Thank you Senator.

I will be interested to see the ODE's projected grad rates with a total of 15 required. Thinking of students in urban schools like mine, I'm not sure how much that helps. I just read Dr. Lloyd's proposed plan in the Plain Dealer. It sounds brilliant, starts lower, and seeks to offer opportunities beyond just tests to earn points.

Thanks again for this correspondence. I know you're busy.

Matt Jablonski 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I think Senator Lehner just blamed me for the Graduation Crisis.


So, the debate raged today in Columbus about whether or not the Ohio School Board should adjust the graduation requirement so that the statewide graduation rate doesn't drop to 70%. As an educator, I believe that this is the only option. Unfortunately, others disagree, as I discovered when reading an account of the proceedings in the Plain Dealer this afternoon.

I decided not to spend the energy responding to the ass backward sensibilities of Board President Tom Gunlock and Board Member C. Todd Jones who still seem to believe that standardized tests can improve education despite years of data to the contrary. Their comments display a fairly typical far-right wing hatred of teachers and factual information, as well as a love of the warm embrace of privatization (again, no facts allowed).

I was, however, terribly disappointed by comments made by Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DiMaria. I believe the Superintendent has purposefully, politically miscalculated the impact of the Paths to Graduation in the aforementioned article. I decided to correct him. My hopefully diplomatic and researched response is at the bottom of this post. 

Senator Lehner, on the other hand, has historically positioned herself as a reasonable defender of pragmatic education policy. Because of her political affiliation I have always been at least cautious of her motivation, but today she attacked me personally. What follows is my message to Senator Lehner. It includes her comments from the PD article.

Senator Lehner, 

The following is from an article in the Plain Dealer regarding today's discussion about the graduation requirement... 

"State Sen. Peggy Lehner of Dayton told the school board that she was hearing from people across the state that something needs to be done. She said that if schools have failed students so much that they cannot score high enough, it is unfair to penalize them now." 

As an American History teacher at Elyria High School who works terribly hard to assure student success, academic and otherwise, I resent your suggestion that this mess associated with graduation is my fault. While I am continually improving as a teacher, this situation is not on me. When the standards changed we adopted them. We changed the nature of our courses and taught to the standards. When the ODE released very little information about the new assessment system over 5 years, we made educated guesses and continued to teach. Our students graduated and went on to successful college careers and gainful employment. When the state botched the rollout of PARCC and AIR, we kept teaching and told our students we were fighting for them. When the state moved to AIR and borrowed test questions from Utah and Nevada, claiming the tests were valid, we taught. When the state school board set arbitrary cut scores based somehow on the idea of the NAEP, we taught, and our kids learned. 

Senator Lehner, with all due respect, I have spent the better part of the last 20 years teaching students to be successful, and they have done just that. It is your 3 Paths to Graduation and the corresponding assessment and points system that is failing students. It is time for you and your fellow legislators, as well as the bulk of the state school board to finally admit that you messed up. The school board can act next month to save this year's juniors, and then the legislature can act in the interest of minimizing standardized tests and their high stakes according to ESSA.

Superintendent DiMaria,

You were referenced in a Plain Dealer article this afternoon as having suggested that the 29% of juniors not on pace to graduate is a high number because it doesn't factor in those pursuing the WorkKeys and ACT path. I fear you are mistaken. The very students scoring well in the testing system are the same students who might graduate by following the other paths. In other words, a current junior who has earned 8 or 10 points on the state assessments is NOT going to earn a remediation free score on the ACT, nor a high enough score toward an industry recognized credential.

Please stop using the 3 paths to graduation as a defense of the current system. It is a false argument. According to the Ohio Economic Policy Institute in analysis of state data, even in districts with only 10% economically disadvantaged students, only 69% were able to earn a remediation free score on the ACT. In districts with 90% economically disadvantaged students the number is 15.1%. As for the WorkKeys path, a study by the Fordham Institute in 2014 said that only one in four students in Ohio's Career and Technical Planning Districts earned an industry credential. As of 2016, of the students attending Lorain County JVS, the vocational school in my area, only 8.9% earned the credential. These are not viable paths to graduation for most students, and neither is the assessment system.

Please look at the research prior to making very public suggestions to the contrary. I realize that you are in a position that forces you to defend an awful system created by the state legislature and the Ohio School Board, then shaped by an ODE not under your leadership. However, this is no reason to sell out a generation of Ohio's children for the sake of politics.

More than a decade of standardized testing has not improved education in Ohio or the United States. Contrary to what you may hear from Mr. Gunlock and Mr. Jones about the objectivity and usefulness of these assessments, no gaps have been closed, NAEP scores have not increased, and Education has not become more rigorous, nor has it improved. Programs improve education. Teachers with time to teach improve education. Counselors with adequate time, unencumbered from being test administrators, improve education.

I hope you'll consider that 29% not on pace to graduate might be about right, or as a matter of fact a conservative estimate depending on your formula. I hope that you will advocate for a "band-aid" for this abysmal system, and then a dramatic downsizing of standardized tests as the ESSA input has recommended, so that we can move forward with some policies that actually improve education.

Thank you for your time, and work on behalf of Ohio's kids. Please contact me if you have any questions that I might be able to address.

Matt Jablonski
American History Teacher
Elyria High School

Saturday, November 12, 2016

If you see Mr. Gunlock, tell him I'm doing my job.


State School Board President Tom Gunlock trotted out his tired defense of the Graduation Requirement on Ideastream this week indicating that those kids who find themselves short points, say they've got 16 of the needed 18, can simply get some remediation to pick up the extra two points. When the teachers teach the standards, there's no problem.

First of all, we've been teaching the state standards at my school for years. I know that Mr. Gunlock is fond of blaming teachers like me for not teaching the standards, but our success under the prior assessment system should prove my adherence to state standards. We're all exhausted by your teacher bashing. Your current assessment system is a mess, Mr. Gunlock, as are the cut scores you and the school board established. Own the problem you took part in creating. Fix it. Teachers like me are not the issue. Remediation is not the answer.

I'm teaching remediation classes in American History right now. My plan is to try to make an awful and unfair situation tolerable. I'm getting together twice a week with a cool group of motivated kids, and trying to keep it weird, entertaining, and reteach a year long course over 15-20 hours. It's ridiculous. If I'm honest, we spend half of our time together discussing sample questions, and examining how to approach a test essay. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, as they say, and I would be doing these students a disservice if I didn't help them learn to take the test. You'll notice that I did not say learn American History, or the skills of a historian, or strategies to help them be successful on the job, or skills for college readiness. No, we don't have time for that because we have to jump through these hoops and hope to earn another point or two on a completely irrelevant assessment, so that (God help us) we can earn the 18 points necessary to graduate.

How about one more problem while I'm at it. The vast majority of kids in my urban high school in need of remediation don't have 16 points. They have 6, or 8, or 10. I know a kid with 12 points and only one test left to take, but it's difficult to attend remediation classes to prep for retakes because their courseload includes college classes. I can think of a half dozen kids who are currently gainfully employed, model employees as a matter of fact, who are not on pace to graduate. They can't miss work to go to remediation. Here they are "college and career ready" in real life, but will be unable to earn a high school diploma in this absurd system.

Prior to Board President Gunlock's non-solution, Senator Peggy Lehner explained that we needed these new assessments to increase the rigor that didn't exist before. Apparently, employers have approached her to explain that the kids just don't have the math and reading skills, the soft skills either, to be successful. 

See the above examples, Senator Lehner, and furthermore, I have been contacted by dozens of employers myself to provide recommendations for my students and never have they asked me about their math and reading skills. "OK, so Susan is articulate, works well with others, and exhibits responsibility, but how would you rate her reading skills." "Tommy is a great team player and critical thinker, but how would you classify his skills in mathematics." Even if employers were asking these questions, you are not measuring these skills within this assessment system. Certainly not to the degree that the test(s) should be any sort of determining factor toward their graduation.

In the Senator's defense, as my wife explained it, she went on to say some more productive things, and Dr. Lloyd, the Superintendent of Olmsted Falls Schools delineated the many problems with the system, the fluctuation in tests, methods of testing, and questionable validity. My apologies to both of them, especially Dr. Lloyd, because I couldn't get past this initial wave of bullshit to listen to the rest of the program. I am happy that the issue of the graduation requirement is being discussed. For a long time, I felt like no one was listening at all. The fact that possible solutions are being debated publicly by some very influential people leaves me hopeful. My worry is that the solution will fall short. Too many people seem to believe that there is value in standardized testing. If there is, it is minimal.

The entire Ideastream program was based on the premise that somewhere between 20 and 50% of this year's juniors will not graduate under the current assessment system, and this is too many. What is implicit in this argument, according to Senator Lehner, Mr. Gunlock, and others who share their sensibility regarding testing, is that there is an acceptable level of non-graduates. 

I, for one, can't accept that.

The acceptable level of students being prevented from graduating solely due to performance on standandardized tests, regardless of how many chances they get to take the test, is ZERO. There are simply too many variables for stakes this high to be tied to culturally biased, linguistically confusing, anxiety inducing assessments that measure little more than economic standing  Don't get me wrong, if a student is not attending school, not attempting coursework, or is deficient in the credits necessary as established by the state, then they have not earned a diploma.

Refusing a diploma because of test scores does nothing to help the student, nothing to improve education, and only exacerbates socioeconomic problems in our communities. 

As it stands, more and more people are beginning to get it. Dr. Lloyd has helped to orchestrate a mass demonstration at 10am on Tuesday November 15th on the South Lawn at the Capitol to pressure the State Board of Education and state legislators to fix this mess. Hundreds of Superintendents will be in attendance along with hundreds of local school board members, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. It coincides with the Ohio School Board's meeting to discuss the Graduation Requirement. For my students and other high school kids statewide, the stakes could not be higher.

If you can get there to raise some hell, please do so.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend. I will be teaching according to the Ohio standards associated with 1920's American History, and preparing for my remediation class the following day. If you see Mr. Gunlock, tell him I'm doing my job, along with thousands of other Ohio teachers. It's time he and the others in power in Columbus do theirs.