Thursday, March 30, 2017

Graduation Workgroup Solutions Earn a Score of One.

The Workgroup Says... Here's a solution that might not solve anything.

The Springfield Sun-News today explained the allowances recommended by the Superintendent's Grad Workgroup for the class of 2018.

"The first recommendation of the group was that Class of 2018 students who passed their required courses and took all seven state tests (regardless of score) could graduate if they met two of these six requirements: 93 percent attendance senior year, 2.5 GPA in senior-year classes, complete a capstone project, have 120 hours work experience or community service, earn three or more College Credit Plus credits, or earn a score of 3 or better on an Advanced Placement exam."

Superintendent DeMaria explained that this is necessary because he's "sensitive" that this has been a "transition" through a variety of tests, so deserves special consideration. He assures the public that he's confident that ALL students will reach these "new levels" set by the state.

I'm not sure where to begin, so I'll translate. You can fill in the hidden meaning and see what you think...

Sensitive = Blind to the Fact

Transition = Train Wreck

Special Consideration = Lip Service

ALL students = Enough Kids to Satisfy the Most Vocal Opposition 

These New Levels Set By the State = Compliance with a state system that does nothing to improve education.

Me and My Students.

I spoke individually with dozens of sophomores today. A few are just killing it on these tests. They're bright and test very well. Others are on pace for the 18 points, maybe a point or 2 low on the average. Still others are growing sick with worry, only a couple points on a couple tests, some who took retakes with no improvement. A few mentioned how terrible the scores make them feel. "I feel like a failure," one kid told me. I told them not to feel that way. They're not failures, but the assessments send that message. These are personable kids who work hard, participate in athletics or student council, have jobs. They're the pride of their families. They know how to organize and work as a team. Their success in academic classes is often, predictably, driven by interest. A few may struggle with math. Others don't like language arts, but love numbers. Sometimes one state test score balances another. Most of the time they don't.

I'm looking these kids in the eye and telling them what needs to be done, remediation, retakes. It's a waste of their academic time. They know it and so do I, without saying a word. They also know that they might not graduate unless something changes. I'm promising them fours and fives on the assessment for my class. "You'll make up those points," I tell them. This is a statistically improbable promise, but I will do everything within the rules to help them achieve. This is what teachers do.

Out of Touch

The Grad Workgroup's proposal, released today in a variety of news outlets  is completely out of touch. What they're suggesting is that a kid who scored a 1 or 2 on an ELA or Algebra test should just acquire some College Credit Plus hours or score a 3 or better on an AP test. Have these people ever met any of the students to whom their "sensitivity" is being directed? Are they aware of their home lives, the issues they bring to school? Do they understand how learning works, and how abilities differ dramatically from child to child? They also would recommend fitting 120 volunteer hours in with hundreds of hours of remediation for, and retakes of state assessments.

God bless Senator Peggy Lehner for weighing in realistically on the two "easier" options, 93% attendance and a 2.5 GPA...

“For the kids that are really struggling to pass, I think you’re going to find it’s not easy at all,” said Lehner, R-Kettering. “I’m a little bit concerned that it’s not going to capture as many kids as we maybe think it will. 2.5 is a pretty high GPA. And for an amazing number of these kids, that (93 percent) attendance rate is pretty high.”

She's right. As far as I can tell there has been no study to determine what additional percentage of students will graduate with this offering. I hope that she's as good as her promise of a few months ago in which she said legislators would fix this if the board can't. This Workgroup is evidence that the Superintendent, the ODE, and the board acting on their behalf have no intention of coming up with a LONG TERM SOLUTION to this problem.

The ODE powers that be are too busy either patting themselves on the back for their sensitivity, or complaining that this makes it too easy. From the Springfield article...

Tom Zaino of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce argued that the remaining requirements didn’t ask much. “I don’t think they’re that tough,” Zaino said. “I don’t know what it does to lower it, except why don’t we just say everybody graduates?”

With all due respect to Mr. Zaino, who I'm sure wow's them in his career as a corporate tax attorney, even if you eliminate the assessments, everyone doesn't graduate. All he's done with that comment is to illustrate how unbelievably misinformed he is, as well as suggest that he's stealing his lines from Tom Gunlock and Todd Jones, as well as Governor Kasich. Also, if you "don't know what it does," then why the hell are you even weighing in on the issue?

Solutions: This One's for Andy.

Someone tweeted my last post about former state board member Tom Gunlock's irrelevant rambling to House Education Committee Chair Representative Andy Brenner  who complained that I offered no solutions. In my defense, had Mr. Brenner read prior posts on the issue or any of the emails that I have sent him, then he would be well aware of my ideas for solutions. In his defense, I'm sure he's a very busy man and doesn't have the time to read all correspondence or the often agitated ramblings of this Ohio teacher. With that said, here you go, Mr. Brenner. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know.

SHORT TERM SOLUTION: (Thanks to my wife, Mandy, for tirelessly championing this solution)

Because of the significant distress and mismanagement associated with the PARCC assessments, subsequent changes of vendor and test construction, as well as the switch between paper/pencil and computer based tests, recognizing the fact that all other groups were given a pass on punitive measures related to those assessments, the Class of 2018 shall have a complete "safe harbor" from the punitive effects of assessment scores related to the Graduation Requirement.


While I advocate for the elimination of punitive measures associated with standardized tests, and recognize the fact that assessment scores are NOT federally mandated for graduation, I understand that eliminating all "high stakes" consequences may be politically impossible. With that said, in the interest of increasing instruction time and promoting student academic development and creativity, as well as the development of skills associated with true college and career readiness, I recommend the following...

The Graduation Requirement should be structured to promote opportunities and inclusivity, not prevent graduation.

1) Ohio's assessment system should be brought in line with federal minimums. At the high school level, the state will administer 1 Math test, 1 ELA test, and a test in Science. For what it's worth, I find a Social Studies assessment acceptable as well, even though it is out of line with federal mandates. I am an American History teacher, and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea that I'm in this out of some self interest.

2) If high stakes are associated with the assessments, they should not be used as a determinant for graduation until 3-5 years of data can be studied to prevent a similar problem.

3) Maintain a points system to graduation where students may acquire additional points completely unrelated to assessments. These should include those currently being championed by the Workgroup, but also include internships, participation in academic clubs and student government, arts education, athletics, and otherwise. College and workplace skills are developed in these venues, so they should be recognized as such if the system is truly designed to promote readiness. Perhaps limit the amount of potential points through these activities. 

As a side note, any business taking any form of tax relief from the state or municipalities should be required to establish internships for Ohio students.

4) The ACT should be eliminated as a potential path to graduation. The state of Ohio should offer (not mandate) one free attempt for all Ohio's juniors. Not all of Ohio's students anticipate attending a four year college, nor should they be expected to, which makes this requirement completely inappropriate for sizable portions of Ohio's students.

5) The state shall provide a system to track student progress toward graduation, or provide resources to local districts including, but not limited to additional counselors, and career advisors to manage what has become an unmanageable amount of data. Funding can be drawn from that saved in the elimination and minimization of assessments. Other funding diverted from the assessment system should be returned to Ohio's public schools in the interest of shrinking class sizes, promoting arts education at all levels, and creating programs that encourage students to pursue academic interests.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Manifesto in Response to Tom's Tired Rhetoric.


I'd like to believe that I take a philosophical approach to any success I may have had as an educator. My students are ultimately the best judge of any of that. I believe that I am a teacher who is constantly seeking improvement, and on a good day can help students facilitate connections to content, develop their skepticism and critical thinking skills, as well as encourage them to expand their worldview and develop the skills necessary to work with diverse populations. Having been at the business of education for 20 years, I believe I know some things. Not all things, but some things. Education is a collaborative effort, a community undertaking, and should be treated as such. I am interested in developing as a teacher through this collaboration in order to help develop the potential of my students.

However, I will not have a man with negligible experience in education lecture me on what is best for students. Nor will I accept a lecture on hard work from a guy whose current job exists because of nepotism (the family business), and his last job was acquired because his family made sizable donations to political campaigns, and the governor (state school board).

I know, I thought we were rid of him as well, but it appears that former Ohio School Board President Tom Gunlock hasn't had enough of hearing himself spout off about things he hardly understands. Earlier this week, he graced the pages of the Dayton Daily News with an op-ed riddled with the same bullshit argument about his crusade to increase rigor through assessments.

As I've said before, the fundamental difference between myself and Gunlock's opinions on the matter of graduation lie in his belief that the only measure of value in a student's education is a score on a standardized test, while I believe education is the sum of the process of a student's education, their coursework K-12, grades, projects, interactions, involvement, collaboration, etc. In other words, the entire experience.

In this "new" op-ed, Gunlock takes us on a tour of the same shit he said before he quit the school board, a host of tired talking points and baseless claims utterly devoid of credible support. Here's some of my favorites...

Tom Gunlock: "The dirty little secret, though, is that the Ohio Graduation Test is a test of eighth-grade knowledge." 

Testing Window: Something is not a dirty little secret if you keep talking about it. It also isn't true just because you keep saying it.

Those who've paid attention have heard this one used before by Gunlock, Todd Jones, and Governor Kasich as the lead-in for why they, and other champions of rigor, decided to change Ohio's standards to better prepare students. The second part of this myth is typically that they did so without the support of educators who, in their minds, are lazy, shiftless, selfish bastards.

I asked Mr. Gunlock for evidence to corroborate his grade 8 claim after he sent me a nasty email in January , but he failed to respond with any data to document his claims regarding the developmental level of the OGT.

TG: "In 2010, Ohio set in motion higher standards, and the expectation that in order to earn a diploma students should demonstrate at least a 10th-grade level of learning to earn a diploma. Our districts and schools have known this for six years..." 

TW: The state is always right, however awkward the phrasing, the problem is teachers.

It's funny because we did a lot of Professional Development in my district beginning in 2010 to adjust our curriculum to meet the standards, and when we asked how the assessments would look, nobody knew, not even ODE people. Every six months we asked, and every six months nobody knew. We knew the adjusted standards, and worked accordingly, but have had no indication of how the assessments would be constructed, graded, etcetera, which is to say, we didn't know shit.

Again, Gunlock provides no documentation regarding how he knows this is a "10th grade level of learning." He is a Centerville businessman who spent 6 years on the state board, so apparently he anticipates we will blindly believe. Unfortunately, most people know that the cut scores are set after the tests are taken, and other members of the board have admitted that the process has little to do with assuring any measure or "level" of learning, but rather arbitrarily assures that a certain percentage of students pass, and a certain percentage fail.

TG: "What happens if we decide it’s just too hard? Businesses will continue to struggle to find workers with the knowledge and skills to do the increasingly complex work that represents the new normal."

TW: More smoke and mirrors, no legitimate research or data.

Gunlock and his peers insist that the demand for this increase in standardized testing comes from businesses who lament the caliber of student arriving on their doorstep with an Ohio diploma. Two problems... First, I have never heard from a business leader, chamber of commerce, or otherwise that what we need in Ohio is more standardized tests to assure a qualified workforce. Second, as I have indicated often  including in frequent correspondence to Mr. Gunlock and other school board members, the skills needed for success in the workforce (and college) are generally not items that can be measured on a standardized test.

OK, three problems. If the issue is, in fact, the necessity to pursue further education outside of high school in order to qualify for career quality jobs, as is suggested elsewhere in the op-ed, then how on earth is preventing graduation with tests accomplishing that goal. Without a diploma, a student will find it impossible to get student loans, and terribly difficult to pursue skills-based, or vocational training.

TG: "At the other end of the spectrum are districts that say, “The sky is falling! Forty percent of our students won’t graduate... They’ll go on to tell you that the tests are too hard, and they simply don’t know what to do to help students reach these higher levels. They might even suggest that students simply can’t reach this higher bar. Not everybody needs algebra, right? Who really uses geometry, or biology?"

TW: Nobody is saying those things, Tom, except that 40% won't graduate in some districts because it's true.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, prior to this quote, Gunlock did point out that some districts have not suggested a problem. Gunlock loves those guys because they shut the hell up, don't disagree with him, and he assumes they're all on board (not necessarily true), and will simply put their shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone, and pull themselves and their students up by their bootstraps in the greatest, grittiest story of Ohio accomplishment since the son of a mailman got elected governor, and started scouring his list of donors for potential school board members.

Unfortunately, I fall into the category of those "at the other end" who would dare to disagree with Mr. Gunlock's wholehearted belief that the only measure of value in education is a score on a standardized test. I don't believe that test performance necessarily indicates some "higher level." The thing is, I disagree because I have worked in education for awhile now, taught in a tested subject through the duration of the OGT, and from what I have seen, the proof of the value of a student's education comes through a million moments, most of them far from the context of a single test.

With that in mind, as a professional, I will maintain the mentality that I am improving as a teacher, and seek to better myself in the interest of my students. I will not, however, simply swallow whatever shit system is handed down by those in power. I will continue to advocate for something more humane, an educational process interested in developing human potential, not stifling it through punishments associated with standardized tests. I will do so despite the ire of those whose position or wealth provide them with a misguided sense of superiority over me, my students, and my fellow teachers.

Friday, March 17, 2017

We're Sick With Committees Around Here. Will Somebody Do Something Already.

"I said a hip hop. The hippie, the hippie, to the hip, hip, hop, and these tests don't stop." Senator Lehner introduced a committee to study Ohio Assessments in 2015, and now Superintendent DeMaria wants his own Committee to do the same damn thing.

In some sort of perfect storm of ESSA resistance, outspoken superintendents, courageous parents, panicked high school juniors, pissed off teachers, emboldened legislators, and a backpedalling superintendent, everyone is talking about testing. 

As you may have heard me say before, "Right on!"

This week in a presentation to the Senate Education Committee and the State School Board, Superintendent DeMaria announced a combined analysis of assessments in Ohio to be conducted by the existing Graduation Workgroup, a committee analyzing teacher evaluations, and yet another brand new Advisory Committee on Assessments (I know, just pretend we didn't already do this in 2015 with Senator Lehner). That's a wealth of committee work. Alas, despite my longtime concern and study regarding the graduation problem, I have not been invited to advise on assessments. Perhaps, my insistence on disagreeing with the Superintendent on these issues hasn't helped my cause. His tendency to walk a line somewhere between the diplomatic position of listening to stakeholders, while simultaneously deflecting the blame onto and completely ignoring those parties is simultaneously reassuring and unsettling. I'm a wreck just trying to figure out what (or whose) agenda this guy is pursuing.

For example, along with announcing this week the delay until September of the submission of our ESSA plan, which was both welcome and ridiculously unexpected news, the Superintendent tried to deflect responsibility from the weight of state testing onto local districts. In the Plain Dealer's article on the subject, DeMaria tactfully admitted that while districts are responsible for two-thirds of standardized testing, these are usually administered to comply with state mandates regarding teacher evaluation, or to give districts data to inform instruction in order to assure student progress on state benchmarks. What the hell, man, our relationship is spinning me in circles.

I fear that this foreshadows a return to the same old, tired policy mandates that demand a reduction in local assessments with no change at the state level. Not only is this a violation of the great rallying cry of "local control" embraced by many, it is counterproductive. After all, if the state were to eliminate all high stakes from assessments (3rd grade, grad requirement, OTES, A-F report card), if not all assessments above federal minimums, then the two-thirds of assessments the Superintendent is so concerned about at the local level would become unnecessary and be eliminated immediately or gradually diminish. As teacher created and district tests are the only ones that provide any meaningful data, it would be absurd to adopt a policy that limits local assessments in favor of state tests. (Now that I see it in print, I fully understand why I'm not invited onto these committees)

More problematic than the Superintendent's above comments is my understanding that he suggested in a meeting of the Senate Education Committee that if you were to look at a student's time spent testing, as opposed to the testing window or time allotted, then the assessments are reasonable. We all realize every kid isn't testing every day of the window, and still stakeholders argue the assessments are excessive. And if we're talking about the window allotted for a test, with all due respect to Mr. DeMaria, in my school, in most cases, a student who finishes an assessment early still sits for the entire window. This is designed to encourage kids to give their best thoughtful effort (because any number of high stakes are tied to the damn assessment). In other words, "don't race through and give me the finger as you leave. I understand, but we can't have that. Try your hardest" This says nothing of the time spent in standardized test specific review that detracts from a student's education. What is more alarming than the Superintendent quibbling about time versus windows, is that 15,000 stakeholders, parents, teachers, principals, counselors, and local superintendents are reporting excessive assessment based upon the reality they see in Ohio's schools, and DeMaria is responding with excuses and technicalities to deflect and avoid responsibility.

As a high school teacher, what I find more alarming is that, in the same meeting, the Superintendent insisted that he likes the Graduation Requirement because it provides "flexibility" for schools and students. This is consistent with O.D.E. rhetoric, but contrary to available information. Vocational schools are reporting that the WorkKeys is an assessment appropriate for, and available to, terribly few students. Furthermore, the students who are finding success within the state's 18 point assessment system are the same students likely to achieve remediation free scores on the ACT (which are scores set higher than the state average). If this system is flexible, it is only flexible for a homogeneous group of traditional students who are good test takers. As anyone with experience in education will tell you, this is not in any way representative of all students. So, contrary to the message of Superintendent DeMaria, the Graduation Requirement is NOT "flexible," as evidenced by the 35,000 juniors currently in danger of not receiving a diploma.

Thankfully my week hasn't only been filled with the Superintendent and his doublespeak. Our friend Jeanne Melvin of Public Education Partners beautifully condensed the issues with the graduation problem in this graphic...


Also, thanks to Representative Teresa Fedor who announced that she's including an amendment in the budget bill that would provide a safe-harbor for students affected by the Graduation Problem in the class of 2018. I hope you agree that this would be an excellent move as legislators craft a well informed, long term solution to the issue. In her words, "The adults got it wrong, not our children."


TAKE ACTION: Use Jeanne's info above, and contact your legislators in support of Rep Fedor's Amendments, as well as a long term solution that does the following...

1) Reduces the reliance upon standardized tests as a requirement for graduation.
2) If the testing system must remain, lowers the overall points necessary to graduate AND
3) Provides additional ways to earn the points necessary for graduation.

Here's links to the contact info...