Archive for August, 2015

School Days 2015-16

Monday, August 17th, 2015
rural California high school

rural California high school

A new school year begins country-wide, but few newly credentialed teachers frantically interview, cross their fingers, hope to find a position before the first day students appear. It’s the school districts that are frantic. Why?

School districts wouldn’t be the in this situation if there were enough teachers who remained at their assigned school. But, as you have heard many times, new teachers often leave after five years. New hires are few because experienced teachers who move to a new state have licensing trouble. Higher Education teacher preparation lags.

Districts wouldn’t be in trouble if sufficient budgeted funds for the school year were settled before October of the new school year. Does it make sense for a legislature to fight and schools to wait?

Districts would not be on the horns of this dilemma if salaries were high enough to make new teachers jump to replace retiring faculty. Right now, the only money perk in most school districts is health benefits. Do you hear ca-ching when a teacher sees the salary schedule and must repay debt for an education, buy a house, support a family?

Schools would not be in turmoil, even schools that are low-performing, if teachers had the opportunity for substantial professional development and leadership roles to “own” the school.

The final reason teachers are fed-up is testing. Not that students shouldn’t be tested, but the school districts and the states are unable to stand back and make testing decisions that benefit students first and parents, teachers, administrators last.

The latest protest confuses the Common Core State Standards (which strive to close the achievement gap for public school students in this country) with the fury about testing that has overwhelmed certain schools from the highest-achieving to the lowest-performing.

The disapproval is based on the number of tests that students take during the school year, an average of 113 country-wide. Critics blame the federal government under which the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a Congressional measure, is still the law and mandates accountability for students, teachers, schools, and districts. But only seven (7) assessments are required under federal law. They include the reading and math yearly assessments, testing to measure the fluency of English Language Learners, and assessment for Special Education. Anything else is designated by the state and district where the protest should be directed.

Teacher concern is based on the time used for assessment. According to the National Education Association (“Thousands of Students Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Protest” Associated Press, Christine A. Cassidy, April18, 2015), 30% of school year time is devoted to test preparation, proctoring, and reviewing results. In the view of this blog, analysis of test scores is valid, if time is set aside for such work and if teachers have the power to make curriculum decisions based on those results.

Another teacher criticism of assessment is the weight of student testing proficiency (which can be up to 50%) included in the teacher’s yearly evaluation. This year in revision of NCLB, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, not yet made into law, the Senate allows states to determine the weight to give tests when evaluating teacher and school performance. Oh, great!

In the end, parent protest to opt out of testing has reached a crescendo in states that use PARCC assessment, like New York and Colorado. On the other hand, in California and other states, opting out is legally authorized and is rarely used. Also, California has determined that schools will not be held accountable for results this year. However, in the spring 2015 California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance, a substantial number of 11th grade students in four high-achieving high schools in affluent areas of the state opted out. One high school with 37% low-performing students had a high rate of opting out. California has 9,324 public schools (2015 statistics).

Try these three (3) actions. Strongly advocate for alternative assessments at sessions of state and district school boards. Insist on funds so teachers have time to learn to analyze the assessments. Concede that teachers be paid to take time to assure assessment provides adjustments to learning. That’s how the achievement gap will close.