stephanie jones

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Are the Test Questions Absurd? Tell Everyone!

In high-stakes tests, NCLB on April 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Lots of fabulous news has emerged regarding the ridiculous nature of questions on tests – you know, those meaningless things that now are tied to children’s academic futures, teachers’ salaries, schools’ funding, and the morale of a country?

Here’s a great letter from a New York City principal about test questions, riding the coattails of the viral “Pineapple and Hare” question.

Tell us about the absurd test questions you found this year – let everyone know how ridiculous it is that these tests are being heralded as the foundation for “accountability” in education.

Projecting and Producing Failure – Where is Success?

In critical literacy, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, social action on April 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm

An essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective



Projecting and Producing Failure – Where is Success?

An Essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective

The end of the CRCT (Georgia State Standardized Tests) marks the time of the school year that teachers look forward to most. Its the time when teachers have more freedom and flexibility to teach in student-centered, inquiry-based, and curiosity-driven ways. It’s the time of the year when tensions subside and mandates are over. Well, at least that’s what we used to look forward to. However, this year after the CRCT is over there is a new district mandate in Clarke County to which third and fifth grade teachers must adhere. It’s called the “Blitz.”

Third and fifth grade teachers across the district have been asked to compile a list of students “projected to fail” the CRCT. Teachers were forced to use previous standardized assessments to determine this list of students. And if the lists weren’t long enough, teachers were told to add more, just in case.

Students on the “projected to fail” list will be involved in a “Blitz” session immediately following the conclusion of the CRCT – before test results are even known. Students will be re-rostered – that is, the students will be grouped with new students and different teachers so all the “projected failures” will be in one class receiving “intense remediation” while the remaining students will experience “acceleration and enrichment.”

This means that while some students are investigating how tornadoes are formed, creating inventions to fix a problem they see in their community, or making informational videos using iPads, the “projected to fail” students will be sitting in a computer lab staring at a screen and listening through headphones to practice skill and drill reading assignments for an hour every day. This is on top of the hour and a half of direct reading instruction they will receive.

When does the torture end? Why aren’t all students given the opportunity to learn in creative and inspired ways? Why are students who may struggle with reading constantly given boring and uninspiring things they must read while other students have choice and learn to read through creative projects? Don’t all students need an enriching and encouraging environment surrounded by friends and teachers that know them best?

“Struggling” students are constantly on the losing end of every battle – and now they lose even before their test results are known.

If students aren’t successful on a high-stakes standardized test in reading, the blame is aimed at the student who is labeled defective and in need of fixing. But what if the student isn’t what needs fixing? What if the way school policies and mandates are created is what needs fixing? What if the budget is what’s broken? What if we stop blaming the students, their parents, and the teachers and instead look at the conditions of schooling that produce failure?

We dream of a school system where students aren’t projected to fail and schools don’t produce failure. That school system would encourage teachers to slow down and learn about a student who is struggling and design instruction to make that student successful. We teachers don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs, we need time to teach our students in the way that is best for them. And students don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs either. They need a less stressful and anxiety-ridden environment and more time in creative, supportive classrooms where they know they are valued and projected to succeed.  They need student-centered inquiries back in their school lives, and teachers who do engaging projects with them where they ask questions and find answers.

School systems’ fear of failure has created the conditions for more failure to emerge. We might all be surprised if we stopped making decisions out of fear of failure and started making decisions based on hope and seeing our students as possibility. Let’s change the definition of “success” to include more than one test score and project success for all our students.


We might begin with a different kind of “Blitz” – which is defined as an intense campaign for something, even if most definitions refer specifically to military campaigns. Let’s use the end of the school year for a “School is a place I want to be” Blitz to motivate students to make deep connections to school and inspire them to look forward to the fall. Keeping them in their classrooms with teachers and students they have come to know and trust all year is one place to start, and engaging them with challenging and creative projects is another. If we don’t, this “Blitz” for the CRCT – even after the CRCT is over – will likely backfire on us all.


The Teaching Georgia Writing Collective – check it out!

In democracy, discourse, Education Policy, feminist work, Standing up for Kids, teacher education, teacher education resources, Teaching Work, work and workers on April 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

About the Collective: The Teaching Georgia Writing Collective is a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians.

 Members of the collective do not have to disclose their participation in any way. However, each collective member can decide when and where she or he informs others that she or he is a member. It is important that all members of the collective respect the right of others to remain anonymous in the collective writing process.

Contact the collective:



CRCT Appeals Process – a re-posting

In democracy, Education Policy, families, high-stakes tests, NCLB on April 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Hi everyone – I’m getting so many blog hits from parents trying to figure out what to do with these crazy testing policies, so I wanted to re-post something from way back in 2009. As far as I know this all still holds. In addition to this, I’ve been commenting back and forth with some parent commenters – so check out this link. And get involved! Endorse the National Resolution on Testing and Google your local, state, and national organizations fighting against high-stakes testing. In Georgia, that would include EmpowerEdGeorgia and at least one national organization is the Save Our Schools group, or SOS.


From the 2009 post:

We all know how ridiculous it is to decide a student’s fate on one test score. It doesn’t make any sense at all from an academic, social, emotional, or policy perspective. Teachers, students, and parents know best about how a student has progressed across a year – and if a teacher doesn’t know that, then she is not doing her job. I can’t get to this issue though – because kids’ lives are being ruined by unthoughtful decision-making about whether they should be promoted or retained. Wanna know the odds that a kid will finish high school if she or he is retained one time in their educational career? Not good…check out the statistics for yourself.

I’ve heard numerous stories about students in all grades being spontaneously “retained” at the end of the school year because – and only because – of the CRCT scores. And kids are carrying home this news on the last day of school – crying on school buses. This is regardless of how well the student has done all year.

Here are some facts about the Georgia state policy on promotion/retention:


THERE IS NOT A STATE POLICY FOR OTHER GRADES regarding the CRCT scores – DO NOT LET SOMEONE TELL YOU THERE IS (or ask for it in writing – I can’t find it anywhere). That means that any last minute decision to hold back a child in K,1,2,4,6 based on CRCT scores is not substantiated in state policy – and parents, teachers, students should fight this decision if it is not in the best interest of the child.


1 – The school district should have a local policy about how the CRCT is “weighted” in decisions of promotion and retention.

2 – The school district should have a local policy about the other factors that will go into deciding whether a child is promoted or retained.


3 – If a child in 3,5, or 8th grade does not pass the CRCT, the family must be notified BY FIRST CLASS MAIL WITHIN 10 DAYS OF THE SCHOOL’S RECEIPT OF THE SCORES WITH THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION:

a) The below-grade level score on the CRCT

b) The specific re-tests to be given and testing dates

c) The opportunity for accelerated, differentiated, or additional instruction (this can be like summer school – but this is NOT mandatory for students to attend prior to retaking the test. It is only mandatory for the school to offer it).

d) The POSSIBILITY that the student might be retained for next year


a) The principal may choose to retain the student – and if so, the student’s family must be informed BY FIRST CLASS MAIL of this decision, AND of the option of the parent/guardian or teacher to APPEAL this decision.


a) A “placement committee” must be formed and convened to discuss information about the child from across the school year that one might not know from looking at the CRCT scores. This committee would be: the principal OR a designee, the family/parents/guardians/ (I would add other advocates), and the teacher or teacher(s) who know the student best in the subject of the CRCT. If a child receives special education – THE IEP COMMITTEE IS THE PLACEMENT COMMITTEE).

b) In addition to other things, the placement committee must establish ongoing assessments for the child in the next year to monitor her/his progress.

c) The decision to promote to the next grade must be unanimous.


Listen – the No Child Left Behind Act has created a machine that eats up children, families, teachers, and administrators. CRCT is part of the machine. Everyone is working over-time to cover their own butts – and you’ll find VERY FEW PEOPLE going out of their way to save a child who is dangling over the edge getting ready to plummet into the grinder.

If you don’t do it – no one else will.


(ALL INFORMATION PULLED DIRECTLY FROM PROMOTION/RETENTION POLICY DOCUMENT “STATE BOARD RULE” 160-4-2-.11.PDF ON THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION WEBSITE. I have paraphrased most of this given the complex language of the original document – but I have also pulled some direct quotes. I have the full pdf if someone wants to contact me about getting it)

National Testing Resolution – sign your school or organization up now!

In democracy, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, teacher education, teacher education resources on April 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm
From Bridging Differences:
Posted: 24 Apr 2012 06:50 AM PDT
Dear Deborah,
The backlash against high-stakes standardized testing is growing into a genuine nationwide revolt. Nearly 400 school districts in Texas have passed a resolution opposing high-stakes testing, and the number increases every week. Nearly a third of the principals in New York state (some at risk of losing their jobs) have signed a petition against the state’s new and untried, high-stakes, test-based evaluation system.
Today, a group of organizations devoted to education, civil rights, and children issued a national resolution against high-stakes testing modeled on the Texas resolution. The National Testing Resolution urges citizens to join the rebellion against the testing that now has a choke-hold on children and their teachers. It calls on governors, legislatures, and state boards of education to re-examine their accountability systems, to reduce their reliance on standardized tests, and to increase their support for students and schools.
The National Testing Resolution calls on the Obama administration and Congress to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators”.
The organizations that have joined to oppose high-stakes testing include the Advancement Project; the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Fairtest; the Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.; the National Education Association; the New York Performance Standards Consortium; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago); Time Out from Testing; and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
I hope that parents and teachers everywhere endorse this important statement of principle and bring it to their local and state leaders for consideration.
By coincidence, standardized testing was exposed to national ridicule this week because of a nonsensical question about a pineapple and a hare on the New York state English language arts test for 8th graders. Complaints about the pineapple story appeared on the New York City parents’ listserv, were reported in the New York Daily News, and then went viral overnight with postings on Facebook and Twitter. The New York City parent blog has a good summary. The Wall Street Journal published a hilarious interview with the real author of the fake testing story. On Twitter, it was referred to as #pineapplegate. The pineapple story was covered by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
But the state’s high-stakes testing examinations are no joke. The principal of a high-performing school wrote a letter to the state commissioner complaining about the quality of the questions in every grade. Teachers of the deaf said their students were asked to answer questions about sounds “such as the clickety-clack of a woman’s high heels and the rustle of wind blowing on leaves.”
There is madness in tying teachers’ careers and reputations to their students’ scores on such low-quality and incoherent examinations. Our policymakers have chosen to ignore the research warning that value-added assessment is inherently fraught with error, instability, and unreliability. Children are not wheat, their growth is not utterly predictable, and the standardized tests capture only a subset of what matters most in education.
But, Deborah, as the National Testing Resolution explains, there is a far larger question at issue here than the accuracy of the test questions. Even if the tests contained no absurd questions; even if the tests were flawless, the misuse of test scores is an affront to educators and to students. There may be diagnostic value in standardized tests, but they are now being treated as scientific instruments. What Pineapplegate demonstrates is that they are not scientific instruments. They are cultural artifacts, social constructions, created by fallible people. They should be used appropriately to provide useful information to teachers, not to punish or reward them.
At present, the standardized tests are used inappropriately. There should be no stakes attached to them. Decisions about teacher evaluation should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about bonuses should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about closing schools should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about retaining students should not be tied to student scores. All of these are weighty decisions that should be made by experienced professionals, taking into consideration a variety of factors specific to the child, the teacher, and the school.
Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers. The more we rely on high-stakes standardized tests, the more we destroy students’ creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to think differently, and the more we demoralize teachers. The important decisions that each of us will face in our lives cannot be narrowed to one of four bubbles. We must prepare students to live in the world, not to comply on command.
The National Testing Resolution calls on all those who are concerned about the future of our society and the well-being of children to stop this mad obsession with test scores.
I hope the revolt grows until it consumes the terrible cult of measurement that has now so distorted the means and ends of education.

– Diane Ravitch

Handcuffing Kindergarteners – Making Criminals of Children (of color)

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Really? Educators – people who are supposed to be trained in understanding children’s perspectives, understanding how behavior escalates and how to calm children, and understanding how to create conditions in the classroom where everyone can be successful – are calling the police on six year olds?

And…get this…the police are handcuffing six year olds and taking them to the police station?

Well, this story is finally getting some national attention and hopefully our public will be outraged that young children can be treated with such indifference, as if they are criminals already, not little people who often have to spend their entire school days in classrooms where there is little to no fun, little to no respect, and lots and lots of discrimination.

I’m not commenting about this particular story here – I know nothing about the school, the teacher, the administrator, or this child. But I do know I’ve witnessed too many examples of teachers humiliating young children (of all races, but yes, of color), and I do know that our country has spiraled out of control in its efforts to get as many people as possible into the criminal justice system – and now we’re starting with six year olds.

This happened to a child in my daughter’s school a couple years ago and my head just about popped off when I read about it in the local news – no one in the school felt it necessary to share this information with families. “What if my child had acted in the same way?” I asked teachers familiar to the situation – you know, my lilly white little girl from a middle-class family and a mother who is a professor? Would she have been toted off in a police car?

I doubt it. And if she had been, I would likely have followed in a police car of my own after making all kinds of trouble at the school. Children are not to be handled like criminals – and I will fight over that.

The boy at my daughter’s school was African American.

The little girl in this most recent story is African American.

Trayvon Martin was – well…you all know the story.

We have a serious problem in this country, and folks better wake up. Mother Jones hasn’t jumped on this story yet – but a 2011 Education Round-Up shows a disgusting, ugly, despicable trend of making criminals of children and families who are often struggling just to make it in the world.

I can hear my undergrads in the back of my head…”What would you have done Stephanie?” Well – I have faced similar situations in my own first grade classroom, so I can give some specifics – at least from those examples. When a child is angry, you don’t push them into a corner, you don’t belittle them, you don’t necessarily try to physically restrain them. You give them a little space, some big paper and crayons or markers to draw out their rage, a mini-trampoline to jump a bit, and you check in to see if/when they want to talk or need your help for something. Some children like to hear music to help calm them down, others might like to scribble or write or dance or just lay down and cry. In my experiences, these outbursts don’t happen out of the blue, but they are rather produced from existing conditions in the classroom. Sometimes (maybe most of the time) children can’t even articulate exactly what it was that prompted them to behave in such ways – but somehow their bodies felt that something had gone terribly wrong, and without knowing what else to do, they have screamed, hit, thrown things, etc.

In one very severe case, I worked with the nurse, the counselor, the principal, and the parents and the decision was made to call a health professional to help. The child then attended in-patient and out-patient treatment and, over time I hear, thrived in a variety of educational settings. This was a very severe case that lasted across months, and never, never did the word “police” or even “punishment” ever enter into the thoughts or discussions of anyone involved. 

Children often know – or feel – when they are disrespected, devalued, not seen or heard as fully human. And in moments and over sustained time of not being “recognized” as a person with dignity, things often go wrong.

Handcuffing is not the answer. Criminalizing is not the answer. Punishing is not the answer.

I am in education for a reason, I often tell my adult students, and I am not in criminal justice for that same reason.

Learning more about children’s perspective is one way to begin, and having a commitment against criminalizing children will help us get there.

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