Senate Proposal Redefines “Low-Performing” Schools

Redefinition of “low-performing” schools and creation of “low-performing” districts would intensify teaching to the test, pave way for state, charter takeovers

Buried in the just-released Senate budget proposal is a measure that would significantly expand the number of state-designated “low-performing schools.” It would also designate entire districts as “low-performing” if the majority of schools in a particular district are deemed “low-performing.” (Proposed Senate Committee Substitute to HB97 §115C-105.37;105.39A).

This shift extends the “test-and-punish” approach that has defined national education policy for the past decade, a policy that has had profoundly negative effects on schools and students while failing to produce significant improvements in student performance. It would create even more pressure for North Carolina schools to teach to the test, while paving the way for dramatic but counter-productive disruptions to schools and districts. We should all urge our legislators to reject it.

In the proposal, “low-performing” would be defined as receiving a D or an F on the A-F scale and not exceeding expected growth. In current law, the “low-performing” designation goes to schools that have a majority of students score below grade level on state tests and fail to meet expected growth. Under the new proposal, the numbers of designated low-performing schools would grow. Required performance levels would rise: under the current A-F scale, any school with less than 55 percent of students scoring at grade level will receive either a D or an F. In addition, under the new proposal meeting expected growth would not keep a D or F school from being designated low-performing. A school would have to exceed expected growth to avoid this label.

With an A-F grading scale shift from a 15 to a 10 point scale, as is currently scheduled for the 2016-17 school year, even more schools would be designated as “low-performing,” since any school with less than 70 percent of students scoring at grade level would receive a D or an F.

Current law (§ 115C-105.37A-B) requires significant intervention in schools that are designated as continually low-performing. Approved strategies include transformation (working with the existing school); restart (turning the school over to a charter); turnaround (replacing much of the school’s staff and administration), and closure. The last three strategies involve particularly dramatic disruptions, none of which has proven consistently effective in improving student outcomes.

The current proposal requires “low-performing” districts to develop plans for improvement. Across the country, however, a number of state legislatures have used the excuse of low performance to take over entire districts – Little Rock, Arkansas, is one recent example. Such efforts have been far from successful: although New Orleans’ Recovery School District is nearly a decade old, for example, in the 2013-14 school year half its schools were rated “D” or “F” on the state scale, and just over 12 percent of high school graduates met the state’s minimum ACT test score requirements for admission to state four-year colleges.

Similar efforts are likely to be proposed here in North Carolina. Stay tuned.

Thanks for the calls!

Last week was a good one in terms of contacting Senators about testing and ESEA. Senators received many calls, and FairTest reported that more than 10,000 e-mails were sent as part of the April 8 action.

The Senate is expected to continue working on the legislation in the coming week, If you didn’t get a chance to call, you can still send an e-mail through FairTest, at: http://www.fairtest.org/roll-back-standardized-testing-send-letter-congres.

You can use the FairTest letter, or write your own. When you get to the page, fill in your contact information and then click on “Start Writing.” A sample letter will appear. You can then choose to send that letter or write your own. It only takes a few minutes.

In addition, anyone who has children with special needs should read the recent Diane Ravitch post about ESEA and students with disabilities. If you share Diane’s concerns, you should call the offices of senators Lamar Alexander (202) 224-4944, Patty Murray (202) 224-2621, and Richard Burr (202) 224-3154 to tell them about your own experiences with testing.

Call Senators Today!

Today, April 8, MecklenburgACTS.org will be part of a nationwide push to convince the U.S. Senate to cut back on federal testing requirements.

Please take a few minutes to phone North Carolina senators Richard Burr (202-224-3154) and Thom Tillis (202-224-6342). Efforts from across the country have already helped to move  Senators in a positive direction, as seen in the bipartisan agreement announced yesterday. Let’s help push them further. (If you’re not living in North Carolina, you can find your senators’ contact information here).

We will be using the following message. Please feel free to use it, modify it, or say something entirely different.

We support changes to No Child Left Behind that will promote a saner and less intrusive approach to public school testing. We are pleased that to see that the agreement announced yesterday removes most high-stakes consequences from federally required tests. But we urge senators to continue to press for a switch from annual to grade span testing. There are too many tests, and it will take federal action to significantly reduce their numbers.

If you aren’t living in North Carolina, you can find your Senators’ phone numbers and Twitter handles here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

For more information on the advantages of grade span testing, see A Better Approach to Tests, recently published in the Charlotte Observer. For more information about local efforts, e-mail info@mecklenburgacts.org.

Contact Senators, Representatives on Testing, Funds

Once again, it’s time to contact federal representatives to urge them to pass more sensible education policies.

A proposal under consideration by the Senate Education Committee would reduce federally required testing by two-thirds, by shifting from annual to grade-span testing (statewide testing for one grade in elementary school, one grade in middle school and one grade in high school).

This is the best chance in years to make a significant dent in the high-stakes standardized testing inflicted on our students, teachers and schools.

An editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, titled A Better Approach to Tests, explains why the shift matters.

Please call or e-mail North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to let them know that North Carolina parents, teachers and community members support a shift to grade-span testing in a reauthorized ESEA.

http://www.burr.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm

http://www.tillis.senate.gov/content/contact-thom

Specific stories about the problems that overtesting has caused at the schools you know best will have an especially strong effect. But just a simple “I urge you to support grade-span testing” would be great as well.

The U.S. House also has a highly problematic ESEA reauthorization bill on the floor, HR 5. It does nothing to improve testing policies. It also threatens to reduce assistance to low-income students and schools. The vote should be early next week (week of March 2). Please call or e-mail your House Representative and urge her/him to vote no.

You can find more details about the pros and cons of the full proposals on the website of Parents Across America.

The Senate proposal analysis is here http://parentsacrossamerica.org/paa-position-senate-esea-proposals/

The House proposal analysis is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/paa-position-hr-5-house-esea-reauthorization-bill/

Thanks for being part of this challenging but necessary democratic process.

If you have any questions, please send them to info@MecklenburgACTS.org

The Problems with A-F School Grades

The A-F school grades being released today provide a textbook example of the politically driven misuse of standardized testing.

Typically, A-F grades summarize how well a student has mastered the full range of material presented in a particular class. They combine performance in a variety of areas that may include tests, papers, presentations, class participation and other factors. They also reflect level of effort: students who work hard generally earn higher grades than those who do not.

As a result, the A-F scale has acquired significant cultural weight as a moral as well as an academic judgment.

Applying this culturally weighted scale to a school’s standardized test scores is far from “transparent.” Rather, it is inappropriate, misleading and harmful.

It is inappropriate because standardized test scores reflect not a broad-based year’s worth of work, but rather a single day’s performance on a single, relatively narrow measure.

It is misleading because even on this narrow measure, A-F grades do not accurately convey what an individual school has accomplished during a year. Teachers at schools where many students struggle can work far harder and accomplish far more than teachers at schools with more privileged students, yet have their schools given far lower grades.

It is harmful, because it forces schools to prominently display an inappropriate and misleading evaluation of their teachers and students, thus misinforming the public. In addition, the high stakes it attaches to test scores force schools to spend additional time and effort preparing for these narrowly-focused tests at the expense of material of equal or greater value, as well as student and teacher morale.

It is no surprise that the major backers of A-F grading also champion the dismantling of traditional public schools through measures such as private school vouchers.

Increasing the role played by test-score growth in the grades’ calculation would make them a somewhat more accurate reflection of a school’s test-related accomplishments. It would not, however, address the basic problem that comes with prominently grading schools based on a single day’s performance on a single, relatively narrow measure. Rather than simply tinkering with this problematic approach to school evaluation, legislators should scrap it.

For a concrete example of the problems of A-F grading at an individual school, see: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/11/3273018/how-allowing-nc-schools-to-be.html

URGENT: Contact U.S. Senators on grade-span testing

We at MecklenburgACTS.org join parent groups across the nation in calling for North Carolina’s Congressional representatives to support Option 1, as presented by Senator Lamar Alexander in his recently proposed ESEA reauthorization. Option 1 would allow states to switch from annual to grade-span testing (one grade in elementary, middle and high school) and provide additional flexibility regarding measures of student achievement.

We also urge parents and others who support Option 1 to contact their U.S. Senators to express that support before January 21, when the Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on the issue.

Like their counterparts across the country, parents here in Mecklenburg County are thoroughly familiar with the damage that an obsessive focus on high-stakes standardized testing has done to our children’s schools. Option 1 would offer students, teachers and schools much-needed relief from excessive testing and test prep, allowing them to get on with the real business of teaching and learning.

The negative consequences of the current federal testing requirements have been widely documented. They have sparked a test-prep-focused culture that has diverted time and resources from actual teaching and learning, narrowed the curriculum, robbed children of their love of learning, and driven excellent teachers out of the profession.

They have had especially negative effects on low-income students, students of color, English-language learners and students with special educational needs. Numerous studies have documented the role played by high-stakes testing in high dropout rates, the school-to-prison-pipeline, widespread cheating scandals, and the closing of under-resourced public schools that have anchored neighborhoods for generations.

While we appreciate the need for strong accountability, we believe this can be done using assessments that more accurately diagnose learning needs. A switch from high-stakes testing to systematic review of actual student work would provide superior evidence of academic progress while also enriching classroom experiences.

A bipartisan state task force has recently recommended a switch to grade-span testing. There is widespread agreement among North Carolinians that the current accountability system has not served our students well. It is time for a change.

More background on the negative effects of high stakes standardized testing can be found on the sites of FairTest, Parents Across America and MecklenburgACTS.

 

Contact Republican Legislators on High-Stakes Testing

North Carolina Republicans will meet this Thursday, January 8, in a closed-door meeting to discuss education policy (click here for a description of the meeting).

One of the “experts” who will be addressing them is the head of Jeb Bush’s “Foundation for Excellence in Education,” a major national promoter of high-stakes, one-size-fits-all standardized testing. This includes numerous state-based policies such as North Carolina’s disastrous third-grade “Read to Achieve” legislation and the soon-to-debut A-F school grading.

Representatives need to hear from their constituents about the problems that high-stakes testing is causing in North Carolina schools, and about the role the General Assembly has played in exacerbating that problem.

If you are represented by a Republican senator and/or representative, please contact those representatives regarding the meeting, and ask for a clear statement of their position on high-stakes testing and related legislation.

You can find out who represents you, along with contact information, here.

You can find a sample letter here.

You can find more information on the problems with “Read to Achieve” and high-stakes testing in general here and here.

 

 

 

 

General Assembly needs to revisit Read to Achieve, A-F school grades in 2015 session

North Carolina legislators from both parties have denounced the negative effects of high-stakes standardized tests on North Carolina schools and students. But the General Assembly’s own actions continue to make the situation worse. Exhibits 1 and 2: Read to Achieve and A-F school grading.

These pieces of legislation do not increase the number of tests that students must take. But they dramatically raise the consequences attached to those tests. As a result, they have sparked major increases in practice testing, test prep, and test-related stress, making it far more difficult for North Carolina students to develop the love of learning they will need to carry them through life.

The most immediate and effective way for North Carolinians to reduce the negative effects of testing on our students, schools and teachers is to convince our state legislators to repeal these two measures and replace them with strategies that genuinely help children learn.

Both Read to Achieve and A-F grading were pushed through the General Assembly in a manner that allowed for little discussion or debate. As a result, many legislators have not considered them in detail. Much of our work will involve informing legislators about the negative effects both Read to Achieve and A-F grading are having on North Carolina students.

MecklenburgACTS.org will be sending out information about statewide efforts in coming weeks. In the meantime, we have compiled information on problems with the Read to Achieve legislation here. An account of the problems with A-F grading can be found here. Teachers and principals should be able to provide plenty of additional information about the effect of these two pieces of legislation on individual schools.

Succeeding in this task will require grassroots efforts in individual schools, communities and legislative districts. If you would like to help with this effort in your school or community, please e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

 

 

 

 

 

2013-14 Test Refusals Successful

Families from several North Carolina counties successfully refused End of Grade tests for the 2013-14 school year. Most of the refusing families persuaded school officials to allow students to read during the testing time, although some had to be more persistent than others.

Goals for next year include spreading the word about test refusal, working with more schools and districts to create appropriate procedures, and working with state legislators to create a “refusal code” for refused tests (currently, refused tests are graded as though they had been been taken, and receive the lowest possible score).

Anyone interested in helping with this work should contact us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

For more information, visit our Opt-Out/Refusal pages.

Much Read to Achieve Work Ahead

The grim saga of Read to Achieve continues.

On Thursday, June 5, the North Carolina House voted 73-40 to concur with H230, the Senate’s proposed changes to Read to Achieve (see here for bill text and vote tallies). Particular thanks go to the bipartisan group of House members who voted not to concur, in an effort to create an opportunity for further discussion about this highly important (and currently highly destructive) piece of education policy.

The changes make some improvements to Read to Achieve. They exempt a wider range of special needs students from the retention requirements, provide greater flexibility regarding summer school, and make some modifications to testing and portfolio requirements.

In our estimation, however, the changes will do little to improve the experience of most third graders in the coming year.

The high stakes still attached to reading test scores will continue to spawn unacceptable amounts of test prep and anxiety.

The changes do nothing for the many children who are still likely to face mandatory retention under the program, despite copious evidence that for most children, retention does more harm than good.

The program also continues to lack needed investments in reading interventions in earlier grades.

MecklenburgACTS.org will continue to work to mobilize parents across North Carolina to press for broader changes to Read to Achieve in the next legislative session. If you are interested in helping to mobilize parents at your school or in your community, please e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

More information about Read to Achieve, including perspectives from experts and from parents, can be found in the Read to Achieve section of this website.