Thursday, July 28, 2011

School #21

This is a photo of Victor Mravlag School #21 in Elizabeth, NJ. The school was recently demolished so a new bigger and more modern building can be built. I attended this school in the 1970's. It saddens me that this unique castle-like school, built in 1930, could not be saved. It was the focal point of the neighborhood. I am posting this photo as a reminder that this weekend is the S.O.S. (Save Our Schools) March in Washington, D.C. (see links at my sidebar) Thousands of educators, including Diane Ravitch, will be marching in Washington to protest test driven education reform and corporate takeover of our schools. I am thankful that so many educators are speaking out and standing up for what is right. I am working on a mixed media art piece about my old school and I will post a picture of it here at my blog. So many great memories. I hope we can save our schools.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Possible Cheating on PSSA's in 2009 Never Investigated by Zahorchak

The recent cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia proves that high stakes testing has corrupted our schools. The unrealistic expectations/punitive measures and pressures of NCLB (the federal No Child Left Behind Act), has resulted in rampant cheating in Atlanta, and probably everywhere. A state investigation has confirmed that 178 educators in 44 elementary and middle schools in Georgia participated in the cheating. Now there is news of cheating in Pennsylvania (as many as 35 districts), and other states.

According to a local newspaper report, http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-easton-schools-pssa-possible-cheat20110713,0,534711.story there may be evidence of cheating in Pennsylvania schools, even as close as Bethlehem and Easton. This possible cheating occurred 2 years ago, but was never investigated.

I wonder why the former PA Secretary of Education, and current ASD superintendent Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, never conducted an investigation?

Sounds fishy. According to the always vague newspaper, Dr. Z claims that the report of possible cheating in 2009 never even made it to his desk. He has declined to comment on the matter. I find it a bit odd that Dr. Z doesn't seem to care about potential cheating in 35 PA school districts, when so MUCH is dependent on test scores, including funding, the future of our children, and teacher's jobs. I believe this important issue requires much more investigation, especially in light of Dr. Z's recent unethical coercing of the Allentown Teacher's Union leader. Did Dr. Z cover up the cheating? Allentown ethics board, where are you? Mayor Pawlowski? City Council? School board members, wake UP! Why aren't there any comments of outrage at the online forum where this article appears? APATHETIC Allentown. Parents, what could be more important than our children? This is an important issue, WAKE UP ALLENTOWN.

Children are not data points, the testing needs to stop. But that's not what's happening. Under current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (no teaching experience) the stakes will now get even higher with Race to the Top ( NCLB on steroids) linking test scores with teacher evaluations. (Value-added nonsense that Dr. Z is dictating to teachers in Allentown) Get ready for even more testing and unproven market reform policies written by politicians, CEO's and billionaires pushing their corporate agenda. Testing and standardization is big money. Ultimate goal is to privatize public ed and dismantle teacher's union in order to create obedient minions who don't question authority and bow to the rich. They want to keep the poor and middle-class down. Parents, it's past time to speak out. A school is NOT a business, it's a learning environment where children grow and develop, and where all children are given equal opportunities.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

PSSA Scores Don't "Align" With Report Card Grades

Our nine year old son attends our local public elementary school and is a fine student. He has always had good grades. We were very pleased with his report card grades this year, which were very good, and showed that he met all the "standards" and is performing on grade level in every subject area. Last year he scored proficient on the almighty PSSA test.

We recently received his PSSA test score results for this past year and were surprised to learn that they are much higher than his report card grades. He really hit the ball out of the park on this test! He scored "advanced" in every subject area. Part of the reason for his big improvement is that he received extra tutoring in math right before the PSSA test was given. I questioned this, since his grades showed that he was not struggling in math, but his teacher told me that there were certain benchmarks that he did not meet on the 4Sight tests. (The 4Sight tests are given three times during the year to assess where students need to improve, and to prepare kids for the big PSSA). His teachers and the principal told me the tutoring was for his benefit, and had nothing to do with testing. I wasn't buying that, but I went along with the 7:30 am tutoring anyway.

Since I have spoken with other parents I have learned that the tutoring was not offered to all students. It was not offered to some students who were really struggling in math. I am glad my son was able to improve (and he really moved up a lot) but it looks like the tutoring was only offered to the students who would help move the school's scores up, because those students chosen were already proficient, but had the potential to do even better. The lower students, who really needed the tutoring, were left out because it would have been less likely that they would have made enough gains to even reach proficient, so why bother with them? This is how it looks to me. It's fishy, but I am sure they can justify their reasons for only offering tutoring to certain students. And since there are now plans for teachers to be evaluated based on test scores (ASD superintendent Dr. Zahorchak's value added, Bill Gates endorsed, highly flawed system) then it sure looks like some teachers might be focusing more on the kids who can help them get a better evaluation. (The A$D has partnered with the Bill Gate$ Foundation.)

Question: Since our son's PSSA test scores don't align with his grades, then how do I know if he is really learning and improving? Should he be receiving enrichment classes? According to superintendent Dr. Zahorchak, "alignment is the essence of great teaching." All the test scores I have received throughout the year ( 3 rounds of 4Sights, and the mighty PSSA) are confusing to me, and so is the report card. According to scores from his final round of 4Sights, which were given after the PSSA and are supposed to be used to place him for next year, he showed no improvement in reading all year. This does not align with his PSSA score of advanced in reading, nor does it align with his report card which shows steady growth in reading level during the school year. And how are teachers supposed to use such unreliable data to place students? 4Sights are supposed to show growth. Maybe he had a bad testing day and was tired, hungry, or distracted? How are parents supposed to understand all this data if I can't, and I am a teacher. I think the endless drilling, pre-testing, tutoring, and teaching to the test has sharpened our son's test taking skills. Test scores at the elementary level across the district have improved this past year. Teaching to the test at the elementary level seems to be working. But at the middle school and high school levels scores have dropped. This makes me wonder if the older kids are retaining what they have learned. How much actual learning is taking place when the curriculum is narrowed and geared around one high stakes test? And with plans to cut the arts and other electives, students will care even less about school and much less about testing.

I believe that parents in the ASD should opt their children out of testing. You can do this! In PA it has to be for religious reasons, but you do not have to disclose those specific reasons. You can say it goes against your morals and values. There are parents in Colorado and other states starting to opt their children out of state testing. If the masses had the courage to stand up and do this, then the testing would end. It would have to.

ASD school board members should investigate an unethical superintendent who tried to co-erce the union president. See story: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-allentown-schools-teacher-cuts-20110623,0,4717588.story They have not researched his experimental programs (value added models) which are based on highly flawed research. They are duped. Parents need to get informed about corporate ed reform. There are plans for even more testing next school year. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (no teaching experience) and The Dept. of Ed is focusing on improving the tests, and testing even more subjects. Standardization and testing is big business for Bill Gates and textbook corporations like Pearson. Follow the money. In order to qualify for federal Race to the Top money, districts will have to comply with a new standardized curriculum written by Bill Gates. Don't let money and politics dictate education policy. Speak out, get informed.

Read the new Dissent Article, Dissent Magazine - Online Features -
Firing Line:
The Grand Coalition Against Teachers
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it is a great summary of the ed reform movement. And then attend the SOS (Save our Schools) Rally in Washington July 30th. Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action