Don’t Get it Twisted, Kids are Being Tested for Profit

First let me say, I realize that testing is a part of life.  Whether our students want to be lawyers, teachers, auto mechanics or beauticians, they have to pass tests to get degrees and certifications necessary for these jobs.  Who doesn’t remember sitting in a testing room for hours while you take an exam that determines whether you pass a course, earn your degree, or get that certification for the job of your dreams?  I get anxiety just thinking about it.

I am not anti testing, but testing in the state of Florida has gotten out of control.

State tests like the FSA and EOC are used by government officials to grant school funding and measure effectiveness.  Jeb Bush is the champion for Common Core, high stakes testing, and linking school funding to student performance.  It’s no wonder that he personally profits from the use of testing companies, like  Pearson, who give millions of dollars to his campaign.  Politicians have found a way to make public education profitable.

The FSA test cost our state $220 million of taxpayer dollars 

Tax dollars are even paying random people to score the test, rather than professionals (see Craigs List ad below).  Apparently a teacher’s degree and professional certification isn’t good enough to score student tests.   

Meanwhile in schools across the state, students are forced to sit in over crowded testing rooms for hours at a time, missing months of valuable instruction per year.

The disruption to student learning cannot be ignored

It’s not just the FSA that’s causing our students to suffer, over the course of one week my daughter sat in a testing room for 16 hours out of her 30 hour school week to take End of Course exams.  She sat next to a boy from Nigeria who speaks little English yet was required to take the test beside her.  His score also counts toward the school’s grade and toward his teacher’s performance pay.

End of Course Exams are now state mandated and are no longer created by teachers

Since 2014, final exams must now be created by people elected by the District, and made according to state standards.  EOC’s are required for every subject, even those without specific standards.  Teachers are not allowed to see the test and when asked for a review, District refers them to a list of 50 generic standards online.

I administered an EOC English test which students reported 14 errors in either grammar, punctuation or spelling.  One question was worded so poorly, we couldn’t even figure out what they were asking.  Teachers are not allowed to help their students and must stress the importance of these tests, even though the tests are an embarrassment and do not support their instruction.

The FLDOE website shows an average of only 50% of students passing their EOC’s 

This is a problem and our teachers are not to blame.  Students are failing because they are not being assessed fairly.  They are being penalized as each EOC counts as 10% of their final grade.  Students who can’t pass the FSA receive a certification of completion rather than a diploma.  Teachers who spent the year watching and celebrating their student’s growth, are helpless at the end of the year.  All due to poorly constructed, high stakes tests.  

politicians are using tests as a weapon to destroy public schools

Since these ridiculous state tests are not required in private, charter or home based schools, frustrated parents are pulling their kids out of public school at alarming rates.  This is not due to failing public schools, this is due to greedy politicians who want to standardize our students and then penalize them when they don’t fit the mold.

If there were no profit in testing, teachers would still be able to assess their own kids.  They would be treated as the professionals they are with degrees and hours of professional trainings each year.   

Article by Jeffrey Solochek, “Pasco County Teachers Raise Concerns About Fairness of District Finals” Tampa Bay Times May 17, 2017

If there was an actual benefit to the FSA and State EOC’s, all schools would use it, including private, charter, and home schools.  If tests were more than just a tool to deny schools funding and teachers the pay they’ve earned, it would actually assess what the kids are learning, after they’ve learned it.  

I love public education and I will fight for it.  I think public school teachers are the strongest, most caring people on the planet.  In spite of all the political interference, they put our children first.  I believe administrators love their school and want the best for everyone, but they’re afraid.  Afraid that if they don’t follow these ridiculous requirements they will lose everything.

Our schools are being blackmailed and need your help.  Stand up for our kids.  Write your superintendent and your legislatures:

  • Tell them your kids deserve to be tested less and taught more.
  • Tell them to throw out this ridiculous EOC and allow teachers to take back their classrooms.  
  • Tell them their tests do not accurately measure your child’s growth and ability.   
  • Tell them you want tests created by the people who actually teach your kids.  
  • Tell them your child is smarter, and better than their test.

In the meantime, look into opting out of the FSA:  https://www.facebook.com/TheOptOutFloridaNetwork/

Make sure your children are taking the proper tests that count for their future.  The ACT and SAT are still required for college acceptance and students can begin testing in 8th grade.  Requirements for the SAT and ACT have changed in recent years.  If you’re interested in finding out more information regarding college acceptance requirements, click here.

If you were asked what you remember most from school, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be testing. Let’s make sure our kids get the experiences and the education they deserve.


For source information click the pictures and links above.

 

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The Slowest, Most Painful Way to End the World

The slowest, most painful way to end the world is to deprive people of the things that they love.  In my world, it’s the arts.  Art can come in many forms.  Art is music, literature, dance, and is even found in the human experience.  The beauty and breathe of our world, lies in art and the emotional connection it evokes.  I was lucky enough to have family and teachers who exposed me to art in many forms throughout my life.

My mom and grandmother taught me how to love unconditionally and fight for those who felt unloved.  My dad and grandfather exposed me to the sites of our beautiful nation and taught me to love my country, but it wasn’t until college that I understood why we should love others, and even how to love them.

 

College exposed me to black and white pages that revealed an entire society’s problems and helped me make sense of my own world.  College showed me beautiful works of art that were masterfully made in a way that made me lose myself inside the painting, much like I found myself doing in the lyrics of a song.  

My education in humanities taught me the importance of culture and how our human experiences shape our perception of the world; from Greek history to African American history to stories of our veterans and their personal struggles after war, I discovered that their experiences are woven into my life and color my world.  

Without art, music, literature, and human studies, I would live in a gray world of smog and industry.  If a degree in business, engineering, architecture, etc. focuses on the outside of structures and how they work, the arts focus on the inside.  The arts breathe life into a hollow hole.  As humans, and as an industrial nation, we can’t survive without them.

Our world was not created on the beliefs of industry and if we’re not careful, we can destroy it due to industry.  Just as we balance our personal lives when it comes to work and what we love (family, friends, etc), we must properly balance the love we have for one another and our planet, with the money and resources to protect it.

As more programs that are meant to help people are eliminated, we have more responsibility to one another than ever.  

  • If we can give our soldiers more weapons, we have to keep the programs that help them when they get home.
  • If we build walls out of fear, we have to create art out of love.
  • If we close libraries and cancel learning channels, we need to support more teachers and leaders to share stories that inspire.  
  • If we restrict agencies from protecting our environment we need to ask ourselves why it’s worth saving and start saving it one household at a time.
  • Finally, if we are going to call ourselves a Christian nation, as the new president declared, we have to follow the basic principles of faith; love one another as God has loved us and take care of the less fortunate.  Love and charity are, in fact, the foundation of all of the world’s major religions including Islam and Hinduism.  If we can’t, as a nation, take care of the poor and love more than we discriminate, then we can’t call ourselves a Christian nation.

We will all fall if we place our faith in the hands of fear.  

I’m a proud scholar of the arts, but I also respect the power and industry of our nation. Industry might make us #1 in the world but an athlete can’t compete without her heart.   

There is room in this world (and the budget) for both.  Just as we can make room in our lives for the love of family, and the work we must do to feed them and protect their future, we can find a balance that protects individuals AND our nation’s bottom line.  

If in the end, the value of art, music, literature, and humanities is removed from our nation’s priorities, then it’s up to us to save her heart.  Here are ways we can save the arts:

  • Share stories of artists, authors, musicians, and humanitarians that have made an impact on our world.
  • Share art that replaces dark, violent images with the colors of hope.
  • Share music with messages of love, inspiration, and overcoming challenges.
  • Share pictures of our beautiful land touched only by God.
  • Share the colors of our world and do everything in your power to protect it from becoming extinct.

 

*There are many programs that will be defunded if the new budget is passed.  A little bit of your time can make a big difference in someone else’s life.  If you’d like to get involved in a charitable organization in your area, read  http://expertlyflawed.com/2017/03/5-best-volunteer-organizations/   

 

 

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A Teacher’s Final Goodbye

I left my students on October 21, 2017 and it was the hardest decision I ever made. I left 125 students who looked to me for knowledge, guidance and encouragement.  I’m sure some were happy, but even more shared my broken heart.  My decision has been documented in previous blog posts and I will continue to share my letters, experience and advocacy, but today I was feeling nostalgic and thought I would post the goodbye video my kiddos made for me.

 

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Why The Boy in the Hoodie Needs Public Education

 

Somewhere there’s an AP Lit teacher dressed as Shakespeare so that he can greet his Seniors at 6am and get them excited for learning.  Somewhere there’s a theatre teacher who just turned the lights to her classroom out at 9pm just to turn them back on at 6:30am.  As she walks to her door, she sees a student sitting there with the same hoodie he wore yesterday, the same hoodie he wears everyday, earphones in and a look of darkness and despair.  She feels herself get heavy as she approaches him, a little because she has so much to do and can’t leave students in her room unattended but more because every morning he’s waiting by her door and every morning she lets him in, only to be greeted by coldness and silence.  Today he actually speaks, just to complain he has to start a Shakespeare unit in English, why does he have to learn about a guy wrote stupid love stories over 300 years ago?  The teacher gives a passionate response that includes themes and lessons and the fact that The Baird actually has a lot of provocative innuendos for those keen enough to pick up on them.  A smile cracks his lips as other students start to filter into the room.  

Ready or not, the show begins and the drama teacher puts on a 6 hour performance…. That’s what teaching is, or good teaching anyway.  You are on stage period after period giving the audience what they need and feeding off their energy to make it the greatest performance of all time.  The main difference between broadway and classroom teachers, is that every day there’s a new show with very little rehearsal time in between.  

 

After school the AP Lit teacher stops by the drama classroom to talk about the student.  He had his hoodie up and his earphones in all period, does this happen to every teacher or just him?  The AP Lit teacher goes on to explain how lively the lesson was, he was all dressed up for goodness sake.  Maybe he took it a little personal that this kid showed no interest but he was going to call home and speak with his mother.  Both teachers agreed that he should not be in AP classes if he’s not going to do the work and that his disconnected behavior is concerning.  They rang the number on file together but there was no answer.

The drama teacher thought about the boy in the hoodie all night.  She talked to her friends about him over dinner.  About how tired she was and how busy her mornings are, yet she finds herself consumed by him.  When her mother called, she mentioned her conversation with the AP Lit teacher… “I just don’t understand why he even comes to school if he doesn’t care!”  

And then, lying in bed thinking of ways to get through to him, it came to her.  He comes to school because it’s all he has. The boy in the hoodie met the drama teacher at her door at 6:30 the next morning.  She let him in as she always did and he had the usual tormented look.  She asked him about Shakespeare.  He told her that his teacher dressed up and it was really cool.  Cool?  He also mentioned that they would be reading the play Hamlet and that he actually liked plays.  Maybe he could be in her next production, behind the scenes or something?  He doesn’t have anything to do after school and he’s always there early.  “Yes,” was all she could say.  

The boy in the hoodie was her most reliable student and although she didn’t get her copies made every morning, and often had to listen to him go on about his other classes, she felt being there with him served a purpose greater than having a perfect lesson.  She always preferred the impromptu lessons anyway.  

The boy was socially awkward and often got bullied for wearing the same hoodie everyday.  He still put his earphones in and often got in trouble by his teachers for defiance.  His grades slipped and he failed all of his state tests, simply because he refused to take them.  Yet he was the drama teacher’s most reliable stagehand.  He arrived early (albeit too early) and she actually had to kick him out every evening.  He came to school everyday because it was better than the life he faced at home.

His father was an alcoholic and his mother left 3 days before the school year began.  His father lost his job, due to alcoholism and spent the day passed out, when he was actually home.  There were times he left for days at a time and the boy often wondered whether he would come back at all.  There was nobody to take him to the store and buy food for him and he had no means of washing his clothes.  He once stole money from another student’s backpack to pay the utility bill.  This is what he told a social worker when his case was finally investigated after no parental contact was made all year.  

The boy in the hoodie would continue to fight but school made him feel safe.  His drama teacher gave him a warm classroom to enter through everyday and through his role in the play, he had a purpose.  His AP Lit teacher made him smile and even when he was getting in trouble, he felt cared for.  School was his escape and his teachers were his saviors.  
This is what public education is for.

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The Value of Teachers

Once, on vacation a friend asked me why teachers always seem to complain.  He knew I loved teaching and the question seemed to come from nowhere, but it stung.  “If you only knew,” I thought.  A million responses rang through my head; lack of support and resources, ridiculous evaluations for teachers and students, massive workload without compensation, but instead I said,

“I guess because they feel undervalued.”

Today, a teacher’s value revolves around accountability and data; It’s formulaic.  Teachers are expected to teach a specific way, using a framework chosen (and paid for) by their state.  If they don’t use this framework, they receive low evaluations which not only affects pay but public shame by being published on the internet.  They are given standards to teach, often scripted using resources also paid for by the state.  Finally, students are given tests, chosen and paid for by the State, which are supposed to align with those standards.  

Let’s put aside the validity of these tests and evaluation measures; who makes them, who edits them, who scores and derives data from them.  Let’s even turn our heads for a moment, to the politicians and stock owners who have found a way to profit off the intended failure of our students and teachers.  Instead, let’s focus on what happens to the value of a teacher under this model.

Do you remember the teacher who sat at her desk while you completed scripted worksheets?

Do you remember the teacher who kept a sterile classroom?

Do you remember the teacher who facilitated test, after test, after test?

Most people remember the teacher who brought lessons to life with passion and enthusiasm.  Who went off script and got them to care about issues outside of the classroom walls.  Most people remember the teacher who was well liked by current, former and even future students for being involved in clubs and activities that enhanced their school experience.  Students remember teachers who had warm classrooms, who cared for them and helped them, not because they were told to, but because that’s why they became a teacher.  It’s who they are.

You can’t tell a teacher to care less about her student’s individuality and more about standardizing them.  You can’t turn their passionate lessons into scripted workbooks.  You can’t take them away from their students just to redesign curriculum that inspired, changed, or motivated them to believe in themselves.  You can’t turn classrooms into testing labs and teachers into robots.  You can’t turn their students into numbers.

A teacher’s value lies in her students. Teachers are complaining to defend our nation’s kids, not their jobs.  Under the present model of profit through evaluation and data driven results, our schools become factories, our teachers become robots, and our kids become a product.  A numerical value resides where individual worth, importance, and usefulness once did.

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