High-Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial says Former Assistant Secretary of Education

Yesterday’s Mom on a Mission isn’t the only person to think that high-stakes testing isn’t beneficial. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, once a staunch supporter of No Child Left Behind, is now an outspoken critic with a new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. One of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

According to NPR, “The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,” Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. “And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there’s a lot of cheating going on, there’s a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it’s actually lowered standards because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.”

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial

I recently started a group on facebook (please join) where I heard from April Peacock, a mother of a third grader from Pennsylvania. She was looking for advice on how to respond to her son’s teacher, who had sent home a high stakes testing practice booklet, with instructions to the parents on how to review with their children.

High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial
by April Peacock

Yesterday, I received a packet from my third grade son. The front letter says the following:

Dear Parent Helpers,
Attached is this week’s PSSA Practice Packet to review with your child. As always your help and assistance in your child’s education is so important. This is one way you can help show them what they are doing in school is important.

Remember to review the packet with your child. Make sure they read the story and questions carefully before trying to figure out the answers. A little each night works well. The answer key is included for your reference. Research has shown (Ashbaugh, 2009) that when parents practice with their children in high stakes testing, students do much better.

Please fill out and return the paper below to your child’s teacher on 2/1. Do not return the packet.
Third Grade Teachers

Week # 1
Student’s Name
Time spent on this packet with student _______________ mins per day.
Were you able to finish the packet? Y N
Please list anything that your child did not understand, so that we can review it in the classroom.

Here is my dilemma: I’m glad that they make the material available to us, but I don’t feel that “high stakes testing” is beneficial and I resent that I am required to fill out a form stating exacting how long I practiced with my child. I dislike them telling me how to spend my time.

Does anyone have an good responses to this? I would like to send in a short letter with references, etc., but I don’t want to sound upset. Basically, I want my letter to be just as PC as theirs. My Case Against Homework book is packed away because we just moved.

A North Las Vegas Elementary School Eliminates Traditional Homework

The Eva Simmons Elementary School in North Las Vegas instituted a new policy in January, encouraging parents to make sure their children read every night and practice their math skills using a website resource. “One size fits all homework is just not a best practice for our students,” said the principal, in defending the decision to eliminate the traditional nightly homework assignments. Any homework that is sent home will be geared toward the individual child. Read more here.

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Chicago

Today’s post is by Laura, an intellectual property and reinsurance attorney in Chicago with three children ranging in age from 5 years to 4.5 months. A long history of LD and ADD makes effective education one of her hot button issues. She wrote a lengthy letter to her daughter’s kindergarten teacher explaining her position on homework.

Homework is Detrimental to Long Term Success
by Laura

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

I am writing regarding the progress report we received for Libby this past week, specifically the home assignments to her. The primary purpose of this letter is to outline our position regarding home assignments for our five year old. We expect this letter should be included in her school records. Principal _____ is copied on this letter; please feel free to provide it to any administrator who has a valid reason to read it.

I understand assigning homework at all grade levels is Chicago Public School policy; however, I strongly believe that homework at the kindergarten level, absent specific deficiencies, is detrimental to long term educational success. A significant number of longitudinal studies show homework, especially in the younger years, increases family strife, increases the child’s stress level and does not provide a lasting gain in test scores. I agree that the lessons learned in the classroom should be reinforced at home, but I believe we do that adequately by showing how what was learned in the classroom is used in real life and in fact homework interferes with our ability to do that.
Continue reading “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Chicago”

A Parent’s Concern with Mandated Reading Programs (Part 2)

Last year, I posted a piece by a parent of a middle schooler in Massachusetts, who had asked, to no avail, that her child be allowed to opt out of the Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program.

Today, she provides an update.

Our School’s Use of the Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reading Product Has a Detrimental Effect on Our Children’s Desire to Read
by a Middle School Parent

Our middle school uses Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader quiz product to verify that students are reading books at home. Scores on the 10-20 question fact-recall quizzes are then applied directly to students’ English/Language Arts grades.

AR is widely used in schools in the U.S. and around the world, often in conjunction with prize incentives and awards to “top readers.” Some schools, like ours, use it as part of a reading grade for students’ “free reading” at home – which is separate from in-class reading and literature instruction – despite the company’s clear statement in its supporting material that quiz scores are not meant to be reading grades. I am sharing this here because I know we are not the only parents who are concerned about the unintended consequences of this and similar well intentioned but potentially damaging requirements that turn children’s at-home pleasure reading into a chore.

Continue reading “A Parent’s Concern with Mandated Reading Programs (Part 2)”

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–San Anselmo, California

Torri Chappell, a teacher and mother from San Anselmo, California, has written here before about her experiences advocating for homework reform. When something strikes Torri as being wrong, she doesn’t hesitate to speak up, either in letter or in person.

Recently, when her School District had a meeting to talk about the school facility, Torri was on hand to talk about the importance of not only where children learn, but also what they learn.

What and How our Children Learn is More Important than Where They Learn
by Torri Chappell

We have two facility issues in Ross Valley resulting from abundance…an abundance of children and an abundance of assessments.

The first facility issue is regarding the facilities WHERE our children will learn. We have an abundance of students.

The second facility issue is regarding the district’s facility in making uninformed decisions about WHAT and HOW our children learn.
Continue reading “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–San Anselmo, California”

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Atlanta, Georgia

Diana Toma is an artist and the mother of a pre-schooler and a second-grader who attends a public school in Atlanta, Georgia – a school which encourages parents to volunteer at least 10 hours a year. Before they moved to Atlanta, her daughter had attended an alternative school in Brooklyn, New York, where there was no curriculum, homework, or grades and where the focus was on play. Diana, who hails from Romania, writes here about her experiences talking with her new daughter’s teacher about homework and education.

When Parents and Teachers Work Together, Our Lives are Easier
by Diana Toma

When I went to meet my daughter’s teacher at the new school, I have to admit I was going with some preconceived ideas. Everybody at the Brooklyn alternative school had told me that public schools are to be avoided like some sort of “educational hell on earth.” I was scared to have those opinion confirmed. Plus I was afraid that the teacher would judge me because my daughter was “behind” in many of the skills that the public school students in Georgia had.

When I sat down with her and had a conversation, I was pleasantly surprised that she was willing and ready to listen to what I had to say. I told her where my daughter is coming from. The teacher told me that she hadn’t ever had any contact with alternative schools, and she asked me questions about it and listened carefully to what I had to say. I quickly got that she was really interested in who my daughter is and what methods would work or not with her. After all, that is all I could ever wish from any teacher!

Continue reading “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Atlanta, Georgia”

The Flat World and Education

(I’ll be back after Winter Break, on February 22.)

I highly recommend Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. As Howard Gardner states in his blurb, “Anyone who desires a quantum leap in the educational achievements of American students – as opposed to the ‘quick fix’ – must address the issues raised in this carefully argued and well-documented work.”

The book is incredibly detailed and researched and shows precisely why education needs to be overhauled if it is to meet the needs of students and society. I particularly loved the chapter where Darling-Hammond looks at the ways in which Finland, Korea, and Singapore overhauled their schools and how their students have “catapulted from the bottom to the top of international rankings in student achievement and attainment, graduating more than 90 percent of their young people from high school and sending large majorities through college as well, far more than in the much wealthier United States.” (Page 192.)

All three systems have:

    *funded schools adequately and equitably

    *eliminated examination systems that had previous tracked students for middle schools and restricted access to high schools

    * revised national standards and curriculum to focus learning goals on higher-order thinking, inquiry, and innovation, as well as the integration of technology throughout the curriculum

    *developed national teaching policies that built and subsidized strong teacher education programs

    *supported ongoing teacher earning by ensuring mentoring for beginning teachers and providing 15-25 hours a week where teachers plan collaboratively and engage in analyses of student learning

    *pursued consistent, long-term reforms (Pages 192-193.)

Is Arne Duncan reading?

A Teacher Speaks Out

In the Comments to I Hate Reading Logs, a middle school special education teacher wrote about the difficulties teachers face. She calls herself Anonmyous 2010, and I suggest searching for her many comments on that thread. Here’s her first:

Comment to I Hate Reading Logs
by Anonymous 2010

I am an educator, and while I agree with some comments made by both parties on this web site, I truthfully feel that if a parent has tremendous issues with public education, they should simply edu­cate their children at home. That comment is not meant to be mean or harsh. I currently teach middle school special education, but I plan on staying at home with my children through their elementary school years. I don’t have any children yet (I’m 26,) but I know that public school can only provide so much individual attention towards each child in one day. If I want my child to have the oppor­tunity to play, explore, be creative, and have time to truly investi­gate all the questions they have about the world, I will have to make it my job to stay home and provide that sort of education to them.

The system has changed tremendously since I was in elementary school.
Continue reading “A Teacher Speaks Out”

A Glimmer of Hope

I was heartened to read the Comment posted by a teacher in response to the piece I ran two weeks ago, The Trouble With Kindergarten.

I want you all to know that there are corners of hope for early child­hood education. I teach kindergarten at a charter school in San Diego CA: the San Diego Cooperative Charter. We believe that chil­dren learn best through a partnership between parents and educa­tors. My students learn through play and exploration, as children were designed to do. My job is to know each of them well enough to be able to structure learning experiences that will best meet their needs. Just as in the main stream kindergartens I’ve experienced, some of them read and write at the end of the school year, and some of them do not, but they all love school, have learned to negotiate and get along with their classmates, and are excited about learning. Our curriculum is the CA state standards, but our day is filled with blocks, guinea pigs, singing, gardening, clay, rain­forests, outer space, dress up, swings, stories, drawing, and ques­tions.

Our school, which serves children in grades K through 8th, was started by parents and educators who saw how children were being short changed by the typical public schools. It was hard work, but oh so fulfilling. If you want a better learning experience for your child, and ALL the children, find out what you can do to create alternatives. You’ll be glad you did.