Thursday, July 13, 2017

I was a third grader too.

That's the third grade me. I wore that shirt for my fourth grade picture as well because I have absolutely no fashion sense. I was an introverted kid who worried about things, but I liked school largely because my teachers, Mrs. McKnight that year, were great. I had a sense that she and the other adults impacting my life were looking out for me.

I've been thinking a lot about third grade this week, and am growing increasingly despondent over the recent news regarding third grade retention associated with the reading guarantee. When I try to wrap my mind around how the 3rd grade me would respond, I find myself approaching a panic attack. As an Ohio teacher, I am sincerely ashamed that I am working within a profession that would allow these things to happen, however well intentioned.

If you've somehow missed the news, a few days ago the Ohio School Board had the opportunity to act, and did nothing, having been informed of some serious issues by the school districts of Akron, Canton, and Columbus. Apparently, mistakes in setting the cut scores on some alternative assessments are going to cause hundreds, if not thousands of students to be held back in 3rd grade for little justifiable reason. To be perfectly honest, I do not believe there is a justifiable reason to retain a child based on a standardized test score.

As with the Graduation problems I've written so much about, it appears that the adults have fouled things up while the students are left to suffer, and the adults refuse to admit their mistake.

And then today, the bad news got worse as the Cleveland Schools revealed that 50% more of their 3rd graders, 26% total, will be retained this year. 

As a teacher, I understand that all students come to school at different developmental levels, and that some of them likely need remediation in order to help bridge deficiencies. However, I also know that students develop at different rates, and especially in younger grades often catch up to their "accelerated" peers later, after third grade even. Now, I'm not an elementary teacher, nor am I an expert on literacy, but I believe these things are worth consideration, especially the latter. If we recognize that time for individual development is a legitimate factor, then retention becomes completely unnecessary (which it is). 

What is left, then, is to assure that attention is being paid to those students who need additional help. Many districts already provide this remediation as their limited resources will allow, but it is difficult to provide the individualized attention necessary when Ohio's schools are currently being funded far less than they were during the Great Recession.  We would be well served to divert resources from our excessive assessment system, and put them into literacy programs and/or fully funded universal early childhood programs statewide.

The Ohio Department of Education and state leaders claim to operate using data to fuel decision-making. If that is the case, then they should be made aware that data illustrates that retention has proven to be academically harmful, and that early childhood education has a positive impact on literacy. Unfortunately, what I'm finding is that many leaders are deaf to data that does not serve their beliefs.

This week, the Ohio School Board decided to take no action to help these 3rd graders adversely affected. They want further study. They want more data. I suspect that they want data that will support their retention policy. What's getting lost in this bullshit politicizing is the fact that these are children we're talking about, many of them worried introverts likely approaching something of a panic at having to go to 3rd grade again.

Isn't it time some adults stepped up and proved that we're looking out for these kids?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Graduation Problem: It Ain't Over 'til It's Over.

Much as I'd like to celebrate the inclusion of the Graduation Workgroup's recommendation in the biennial budget signed yesterday by Governor Kasich, I cannot. Until I'm able to look my students in the eye and say that the class of 2018 is being treated equitably in the face of an atrocious and volatile high stakes assessment system, I will not celebrate. Until I see an actual analysis of the probable impact of the recommendations based on real data from Ohio school districts, I refuse to claim a victory. Until I can speak to my students of last year, the class of 2019, and next year's sophomores in my American History classes, the class of 2020, and say that we've come to a legitimate long term solution to the graduation requirement that seeks to promote educational opportunities instead of punish students, I see little reason to celebrate.

As much as I am tired, and would like to call it over, it's not over. Because that is my belief, I am turning my attention to the Ohio School Board who meets July 10th and 11th, and has some influence on these things. If you feel the same way, then I encourage you to do the same. Below you will find the letter I penned this morning, and here is a link to their contact information.

Board Member

Despite the recent inclusion of the Graduation Workgroup’s recommendation in the biennial budget, there are still very real concerns regarding the high school requirement. First, there has been no study to indicate how many students will be positively impacted by the aforementioned action. Please demand a study by the Ohio Department of Education to provide a data driven, district to district analysis of graduation status after the spring tests for the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020, as well as probable effects of the Workgroup’s plan for 2018. Second, please consider taking even more expansive action to protect the class of 2018 by providing a legitimate safe harbor or dramatically lowering the required points to graduate. Finally, please begin looking at a long term solution to the graduation problem. While I understand that an ultimate solution will take legislative action, the state board should be proactive and begin to reconsider the fact that Ohio is one of only 13 states to require assessments in order to graduate. Our requirement for high school kids is at least excessive and too reliant upon high stakes assessments, and in the minds of many educators like myself, completely unnecessary and without merit.

Thank you for your consideration and work on behalf of Ohio’s students.

Matthew T. Jablonski