Upcoming Education Events

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As the state legislature gets ready to go back into session, and as testing season gears up, education-related events are multiplying. If North Carolina education is to improve, we the public have to let our voices be heard. Please attend if you can – especially the May 10 rally.

Monday, April 21

“How Did Testing Get Out of Control and What Can We Do About It?”

Alexander Graham Middle School, 7-8:30 p.m.

This CMS parent-sponsored forum will examine out-of-control testing in North Carolina schools, focusing partly but not entirely on the Read to Achieve legislation that has caused such disruption in this year’s third grade classes.

Speakers will be Dr. Bruce Taylor of UNC Charlotte on the uses and misues of testing, State Representative Rob Bryan on what the legislature is doing regarding testing, and Pamela Grundy of MecklenburgACTS.org on national efforts to reduce high-stakes testing and how North Carolinians can join in. For more information, click here.

Saturday, May 10

Regional Rally for Education

Marshall Park: noon-2 p.m.

Teacher-sponsored rally to support more sensible state policies in areas such as teacher pay and evaluation, school staffing, class size, testing and other educational issues. MecklenburgACTS.org is a supporting sponsor, and we hope to get a big turnout in order to let state legislators know how serious their voters are about improving the conditions in which our state’s teachers work, and our state’s children learn. We will have a “testing section” at the rally that specifically addresses testing.

April 10, 22 and 23

MeckEd Advocacy Training

April 10, 8-9:30 a.m. in Center City

April 22, 9-10 a.m. at Morrison YMCA

April 23, 10-11 a.m. in Cornelius

MeckEd-sponsored advocacy training sessions focused on how to encourage state legislators to raise average teacher pay in North Carolina. For more information, click here. They have also posted an online advocacy toolkit.

The voices of parents and families matter. For an inspiring story on how parent advocacy made a difference in New York, helping to end a program that would have been a significant intrusion on student privacy, see “Parent power wins! NY severs its relationship with InBloom.”

 

 

 

Charlotte education rally May 10

There will be a major education rally here in Charlotte on Saturday, May 10, from noon-2 p.m. in Marshall Park downtown. Having a large turnout will be important – please plan to come. More details soon . . .

Also check out the petition started by “Fix Read to Achieve Now,” a group of parents seeking to eliminate the misuse of test scores in the third grade Read to Achieve program. Their website and petition can be found here.

 

Opt-out information meeting in Charlotte March 16

MecklenburgACTS.org will be holding an information meeting on Sunday, March 16, at 4 p.m. for families who would like to discuss opting out of/refusing End of Grade tests and North Carolina Final Exams. The meeting will take place  at 1713 Tippah Ave., in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.

If you plan to come, please RSVP to info@mecklenburgacts.org.

We have posted a number of opt-out/refusal information sheets in the Opting out section of the MecklenburgACTS.org website.

North Carolina residents, please consider signing our petition in support of the North Carolina opt-out families and their call for more sensible assessments.

For more information about the reasons behind opting out/refusing, please see the Raleigh News & Observer editorial written by MecklenburgACTS.org co-chair Pamela Grundy and Wake County mother Ilina Ewen to explain why their families will be opting out of/refusing this year’s state tests.

“Testing Resistance and Reform Spring”

Our children are not testing zombies!

MecklenburgACTS.org to support N.C. opt-out efforts

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MecklenburgACTS.org is pleased to announce that we will be part of “Testing Resistance and Reform Spring,” a nationwide effort to advocate for more rational and productive ways to evaluate students, teachers and schools.

MecklenburgACTS.org’s efforts will include providing information and support to North Carolina families who are interested in opting their children out of North Carolina’s high-stakes standardized tests. We will also be meeting with state and federal leaders to advocate for saner policies.

A decade of high-stakes standardized testing prompted by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation has conclusively proven that such testing does far more harm than good. Negative effects include: narrowing school curricula to tested subjects; reducing children’s love of learning through stressful and repetitive test preparation; stifling creativity and innovation; increasing dropout rates; and driving many of our nation’s best teachers out of the teaching profession.

Despite this evidence, however, these tests continue to multiply, and their stakes continue to rise.

This is generally not the fault of local schools or districts, who must carry out mandates from above. Here in North Carolina, the requirements imposed by the US Department of Education as part of North Carolina’s Race to the Top grant have sparked the development of high-stakes state evaluations in dozens of new subjects. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly raised the stakes on state tests by requiring third graders to pass the state reading test in order to be promoted to fourth grade, and by adopting an A-F school grading scale based primarily on test scores.

While testing companies proclaim that “new and improved” tests will solve the problems of the past, this claim has no basis in evidence. As experts and educators have noted, standardized tests simply cannot measure the most important skills that our children need to acquire, skills that include teamwork, creativity, innovative thinking, complex problem-solving and entrepreneurship.

MecklenburgACTS.org has consistently advocated for alternative measures of student achievement and teacher effectiveness that evaluate the work that students and teachers do during a school year. We have also advocated for measures that genuinely improve student achievement, such as small classes, greater respect for teachers, and attention to the effects of concentrated poverty. We continue to call on state and federal officials to adopt these more productive strategies.

North Carolina families who are interested in this effort, or who have questions about opting out, can contact us at info@mecklenburgacts.org. In coming weeks, we will post further information on our website, MecklenburgACTS.org, as well as on our Facebook page.

We will also hold a face-to-face informational meeting on the afternoon of Sunday, March 16, in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more specific details on time, place and agenda.

Why the CMS Board of Education Should Stop the MSLs

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This past Tuesday, a group of North Carolina parents and educators asked our local school board to stop giving a set of federally mandated tests known as Measures of Student Learning (MSLs).

Essentially, we are calling on our board members to consider civil disobedience. It is a lot to ask. But we believe the situation is dire enough to warrant it.

The MSLs rolled out this past spring with disastrous results, especially at high schools, where the bulk of tests debuted. They sucked time from instruction and further depressed already low teacher morale. Another round of high school tests is scheduled for this fall. It is the last thing our schools and students need.

The MSLs were created because North Carolina’s Race to the Top grant and No Child Left Behind waiver require our state to evaluate every teacher on “student growth” – essentially through some kind of test score. The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) is requiring this massive shift even though it has no evidence that evaluating teachers on test score growth improves student achievement.

Because the standard state tests only cover English, math and some years of science, the requirement compelled North Carolina to create assessments for all the other subjects in the state curriculum – a monumental task for which the state had neither adequate time nor adequate funds. The first set of new tests was given in the spring. Additional tests were scheduled to roll out this fall.

The tests did not exactly inspire confidence.

Teachers found the tests poorly designed and badly written. As no money had been provided for grading, teachers at each school had to grade the tests themselves with no additional compensation. One testing coordinator estimated that grading absorbed six hours of the average high school teacher’s time. In addition, because the tests held no consequences for students, many turned in blank papers. The results are not going to be worth much.

Teachers, understandably, were furious. To make matters worse, even as they were busy carrying out a badly executed and largely unfunded mandate, our state legislature was busy cutting school staffs, ending teacher tenure and starting to dismantle the existing state salary scale. In the future, legislators proclaimed, job retention and salary increases would depend on “merit” – measured in part by the problematic tests that teachers were slogging through.

The problems with the MSLs were so bad that district leaders, including our superintendent, have joined with state officials to ask the USDOE for permission to slow the MSL rollout and look for alternatives. We’re glad that they are asking. But the outcome of that process remains far from certain.

Far too often, policy-makers have become so focused on the rush to attach test scores to schools and teachers that they have not taken the time required to effectively plan and evaluate new tests, while also failing to consider the damage that high-stakes tests leave in their wake. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is exhibit number one.

We saw this last week in California. Like many other states, California is in the process of transitioning to Common Core testing, and officials plan to field test the new Common Core exams next year. But when California legislators made the sensible decision not to give both the old tests and the new tests in the same year, Duncan went ballistic. In a letter, he threatened to withhold federal funds if the state did not give the old tests in addition to the new ones.

We saw a similar disregard for the effect of excessive testing on teaching and learning here in Charlotte three years ago, when then-superintendent Peter Gorman rolled out his own massive testing expansion. That spring, schools were required to give the time-consuming battery of hastily planned tests not once, but twice, so that the questions could be “normed” and the scores could count right away.

This disregard has consequences. As any teacher knows, giving a high-stakes test is not simply a matter of walking into class and handing out a test sheet. Such tests require preparation, proctoring, security, rearrangement of school schedules, supervised accommodations for students needing special assistance and more. They put stress on students and teachers. They divert significant amounts of time, money and energy from teaching and learning.

In our current educational climate, where historically low teacher morale combines with deep parent frustration over excessive testing, every additional test chips away at commitment to public schools. Every year, more of our best teachers decide that they have had enough. Every year, more families leave for private schools with more rational testing policies.

Giving the MSLs again this fall, despite the problems they caused, will only exacerbate this situation. It will be testing for the sake of testing, nothing more.

Someone, somewhere needs to show our teachers and our parents that their concerns about excessive and unproductive testing matter enough to warrant immediate action. We do not expect that kind of change to come from the top. This is why we turned to our Board of Education. We hope our Board will join us in taking a positive step here at the grass roots, where teachers teach and children learn.

Stop the MSLs.

The resolution on MSLs presented to the Board of Education of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was a joint project of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators and MecklenburgACTS.org. Residents of North Carolina can sign a petition supporting the effort at: http://www.mecklenburgacts.org/petition-msl/.

Stop High-Stakes MSL Tests Now!

MecklenburgACTS.org is joining the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators (CMAE) in calling for CMS to place a moratorium on administering the Measures of Student Learning (MSLs), the array of new, high-stakes state tests rolled out last spring.

If you live in North Carolina, please join this effort by signing our online petition and writing the CMS Board of Education.

At a time of shrinking school budgets, rising class sizes and plummeting teacher morale, the last thing our schools need is yet another wave of expensive, time-consuming tests.

We will formally present our resolution to the Board of Education during the public comment period at the Board meeting on Tuesday, September 10. Please plan to join us at the Government Center at 5:30 for a short rally and press conference, and then at the meeting, which starts at 6.

The MSLs tested subjects not covered by the longstanding End of Grade (EOG) and End of Course (EOC) tests. K-12 teachers across the state agreed that the MSLs were poorly designed, did little to promote vigorous and engaging classrooms, and took time and resources away from richer and more meaningful opportunities.

Despite these problems, more MSLs are scheduled to debut this school year. The first wave will reach high schools in December.

North Carolina created the MSLs in response to requirements in the state’s Race to the Top grant and its federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements. Both programs require that all teachers be evaluated in part based on student test scores, even though such evaluations require a massive expansion of testing, have been notoriously unreliable and have never been shown to improve student performance.

Last month, CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison and other North Carolina educators traveled to Washington D.C. to ask Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for relief from this requirement.

If Duncan does not take the sensible path of allowing the state to drop the MSLs, our CMS Board and Superintendent should stand up for Mecklenburg County children, and refuse to give them.

For more information on the problems with high-stakes standardized tests, as well as descriptions of better ways to evaluate teachers and students, see the “Testing Information” section of the MecklenburgACTS.org website.

Text of the MecklenburgACTS.org-CMAE Resolution on Excessive Testing

“We can teach our way to the top, but we cannot test our way to the top.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison couldn’t have been more correct when he made the above statement to the Charlotte Observer in December, 2012. It is for this reason that we are asking the CMS School Board, Superintendent and the entire CMS school community to support a moratorium on all tests labeled Measures of Student Learning (MSLs). These tests are poorly designed; not good for children, do little to promote vigorous and engaging classrooms, and take time and resources away from more rich and meaningful opportunities.

First, the MSLs given last spring were deeply flawed. K-12 teachers universally agreed that many of the test questions were not only difficult for students to understand but, more importantly, asked them to respond to questions that were not part of the state curriculum.

Second, the number of these poorly designed tests is expected to expand dramatically next year. CMS has had previous experience with a rapid expansion of testing and it hasn’t been positive. When the system did this several years ago, students, parents and teachers voiced widespread concern. Superintendent Morrison was right to be concerned about this increase when he said that he was “very troubled by the amount of testing we are being asked to do.”

Third, these tests are redundant. The state already has a number of tests that measure student learning. These End of Course or Grade tests were put in place to both measure student learning and assess teacher performance. We do not need another battery of tests on top of these.

Fourth, in a time of tight budgets we do not need to spend money on the manufacture, printing and grading of more tests. If we don’t have enough money for teacher assistants and teacher salary increases we should not spend money on flawed tests. As Superintendent Morrison pointed out, these tests would be “an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Fifth, because of multiple administrations for each test, the amount of instructional time wasted is much more than 2 hours per test and therefore detrimental to students. Each test must be administered in multiple ways to accommodate Individual Education Plans and English as a Second Language requirements. As a result, teachers are pulled away from instruction and class time is lost.

As a community, now is the time to stand up for public schools and stand against statewide mandates for new, excessive and unneeded standardized tests.

We, the Mecklenburg County citizens listed below, submit this resolution to the community and all concerned entities and governmental bodies that are involved in making decisions related to the tests labeled Measures of Student Learning.

Larry Bosc, Charles Smith, Kevin Strawn, Erlene Lyde, Linda Ingle

Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators

Susan Harden, Carol Sawyer, Pamela Grundy 

MecklenburgACTS.org

 

Charlotte Moral Monday

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MecklenburgACTS.org schoolgirl puppet Rosa, with teachers from South Meck High.

A great crowd turned out for Charlotte Moral Monday. As part of the event, MecklenburgACTS.org co-chair Pamela Grundy addressed the on-the-ground effects of recent budget cuts, and the need for parents to speak out.

In the seven years my son has been in school I’ve watched his teachers go above and beyond for their students year after year, even as they’ve been asked to do more with less at school and at home, while also being subjected to growing numbers of high-stakes tests that impede, not facilitate, learning.

The Republican plan offers more of the same. Step by step, our legislators are following the ALEC education blueprint, which aims to undercut our public education system in order to open the field to private, often highly profitable alternatives that will not prepare our children for the future.

They’ve cut classroom personnel and resources. They’ve increased the stakes attached to standardized tests. They’ve abandoned the steps and incentives of the old pay scale, while promising to someday replace it with a pie-in-the sky “merit pay” system, that has never worked anywhere, and which they’re not backing with any significant funding.

They’re also unraveling the safety net on which many North Carolina children depend. Any teacher will tell you that as children’s lives become more stressful and less stable, it gets harder for teachers to teach, and harder for children to learn.

This approach will harm, not help, our children and our state.

As parents, we need to speak out. No one has a greater stake in a strong public education system than we do. It is crucial to our children as individuals, and to the state and nation that they will inherit.

We need to join with teachers in calling for a rational, research-based approach to education that includes decent teacher pay, appropriate class sizes, a rich and engaging curriculum and assessments based on work done throughout the year, rather than on high-stakes tests.

We need to enlist our PTAs and PTOs, call on our state representatives, send e-mails, write letters and make calls. We need to fight for our children and their future. Forward together. Not one step back.

Support Teachers in Charlotte August 19

Moral Monday is coming to Charlotte on Monday, August 19. The event will take place at Marshall Park, starting at 5 p.m.

Please plan to join us in voicing concerns about cuts to public education here in North Carolina, as well as the general direction of our state’s education policy. The more people who turn out, the stronger the message to legislators.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more updates.

ACTS-1With two CMS teachers in Raleigh, July 29.

 

Support N.C. Teachers on Monday, July 29

MecklenburgACTS will be walking in support of our state’s teachers at the North Carolina Association of Educators’ Protest Walk in Raleigh on Monday, July 29. It’s vitally important that parents and community members let our legislators know that their actions undercut the high-quality public education that parents want and that our state needs. Look for our big yellow pencils!

If you can’t make the walk, please let your state and federal representatives know your thoughts on the actions they need to take in order to promote high-quality public education in North Carolina and across the country.

North Carolina teachers are being hit from all sides.

The General Assembly’s cuts to education will make teachers’ jobs more difficult. Cuts to social services will add to those difficulties, by further destabilizing the lives of struggling students. At the same time, teachers face yet another year without a raise, and elimination of many of their basic job protections.

But current legislators do not bear all the blame. North Carolina teachers and schools have also been hit by a barrage of new state standardized tests known as Measures of Student Learning (MSLs), which have sucked time, energy and money from teaching and learning. Responsibility for those tests lies with the previous North Carolina administration, which applied for and accepted a federal Race to the Top grant that required the state to use test scores in teacher evaluations, despite considerable evidence that test scores do not reliably measure teacher quality.

At the moment, we see little policy relief in sight.

The U.S. Congress is currently working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The previous version of ESEA, known as “No Child Left Behind” unleashed a nationwide barrage of high-stakes standardized testing with punitive consequences that have been broadly acknowledged as a failure.

Despite these shortcomings, the Democrat-written Senate bill (S 1094), would continue to require annual testing and to mandate specific, often problematic consequences for schools with low test scores. It would also put the requirement that test scores be used in teacher evaluation into federal law, a measure that would prompt a massive new expansion of high-stakes testing.

The Republican-written House bill (HR 5) would also continue to require annual testing. It would give states greater flexibility regarding the consequences of low test scores and does not currently require that test scores be used in teacher evaluation. But it would also significantly reduce federal aid to education, including money used to lower class sizes.

Research shows (and parents know) that the best way to support teachers and schools is 1) to allocate the resources needed to provide a rich and varied education 2) to create the conditions that encourage strong teachers to stay in the classroom and 3) to focus on methods of evaluation that consider the work that teachers and students do throughout a school year, rather than depending on high-stakes standardized tests.

So far, too many politicians from both sides of the aisle have not listened. Those of us who care about public education need to devise more forceful and effective ways to let our elected representatives know that we expect them to enact policies that will improve our children’s education, not hinder it.