Tag Archives: against high stakes testing

Day 21: Thanking Teachers and Wondering

Dear Readers,

As we near the end of the school year (only three days left next week), I got to thinking about my early days at school.

I started ballet lessons soon after seeing Swan Lake when I was four years old. I remember wearing  my blue velvet dress and white tights and looking at the stage and thinking–I want to do that. My teacher, Paulette, taught me how to grasp the barre, how to hold my head up, how to tie my hair in a bun, my first plies. There was leaping across the wood floor.

My 2nd or 3rd grade teacher (I can’t remember her name) taught me how to write haikus. One day she said, “You don’t have to give a fake smile when your real smile is so beautiful.”

My gym teacher in 3rd  grade made up  knock knock jokes with my name,  it was funny and silly (pre-politically correct days) and I learned to walk on the balance beam and do gymnastics.  I was a good sprinter and  did well running short distances really fast. One of my teachers (was it Miss Julie?) ran a Boston Marathon and we went to cheer her on. I was terrible at baseball, always afraid the ball would hit me. Once I hit a home run, but had to  be told (yelled at, really), “RUN! Go, go, go!” I never liked ball sports. That’s been a constant.  These days, I  enjoy a short game of throwing a ball back and forth (preferably a large, light, beach ball type deal) with M. Somehow with him its fun.

In  4th grade I won my first art award, Best Design for The Great Paper Airplane Contest. It remains one of my prized possessions. I had painted my paper airplane with the blue stars and stripes of the Israeli flag, rainbow colors, peace signs, and flowers. It didn’t go far or fast, but that wasn’t the point.

greatairplane

Ever since I was very little, I was into the arts and the performing arts . I did well with language, reading, and writing. I adored painting,  drawing, and just about any art project. I loved dancing and playing make-believe and had a very imagination filled childhood. I spent hours making up stories, making mud pies, talking to imaginary characters in my head, in the garden. I don’t remember being tested much. I don’t remember having to do excessive amount of homework. But maybe that’s the kind of stuff one forgets? I don’t know.

I watch M  and he spends a long time making up his own stories. His most interesting pictures are those he makes himself in the spur of the moment— inspired by something, he will say, “I need paper and to paint.” And off he goes, choosing his markers, crayons, or sometimes coming into my room  asking me for my paints. Sometimes  we paint side by side. I never tell him what to do. I ask open-ended questions. I tell him all colors are beautiful, and he can choose whichever he wants and put them together anyway he likes. I tell him there are no mistakes in art. He usually has confidence when he draws, or paints. He  does his thing. One teacher  told me  last week that “he’s an out of the box thinker.” I beamed with pride.

I’m  lucky, I guess, to have had a progressive, well-rounded public school education in the suburbs of Boston in the 1970s. To have had parents who were artists (wacky, no doubt) who believed in coloring outside the lines. I have passed that on to M. And I hope what happens in our district doesn’t squash what he has. If I was a child who had to go through what is being suggested for my child, I’d be sad. And I am sad, that the district we live in now, that we moved to especially for the schools, is now infected with a sickness of sorts.

I wonder if or how teachers can teach freely,  passionately, and happily when they’re afraid. I wonder what kind of effect that has on the atmosphere of a school. I wonder how much that will be noticed when M goes back in September. Or  by some miracle will things  stay the same? Is it possible? I dread what might happen but at the same time, can’t let M know all this.  How do I make everything be OK? This is a child who wants to play. Paint. Make up stories. Be with friends. Investigate and explore. If they say he must be tested or assessed in first grade, do I allow it? Do I opt him out? Instead of sitting here simply able to enjoy his accomplishment of finishing Kindergarten, I’m now worried about what first grade will bring. I try to compartmentalize this so that I can be here now and be happy in what he’s done and where we are. His potential,  abilities, and mind are always growing and changing, but some things of his essence probably will probably stay the same.   I will do whatever I have to to make sure he gets the kind of learning he needs. I thought I had found IT. But IT has changed. The ground we stand on has shifted.

Goodnight, good morning.

Happy Summer.

Elana

Day 12: A Letter to the BOE

Dear Readers,

I wrote this letter to two board members. I’m calling them BOE 1 and BOE 2. The reply from BOE 2 is at the end.

Dear BOE Member 1 and BOE Member 2,

I’m a parent of a kindergarten student in Montclair.
You might recall that I spoke up against the Strategic Plan
at the BOE meeting on Monday, June 10, 2013.

I understand that Common Core is being implemented by the State
and that is a separate struggle for those of us who believe it should be taken down.

Montclair has an opportunity, as do many other districts, including our neighbor Bloomfield and in New Milford, NJ, to determine how we will use our creativity and imagination to keep the values of our school system intact—even with CCSS and as long as it is mandated and in place. We should not be adding one test or assessment above and beyond the minimum required to  comply with CCSS. And our district should eventually be in vocal opposition to CCSS, but that’s aside.

I feel our students, parents, citizens, educators, and community are losing precious time having to debate High Stakes testing, when there is overwhelming evidence that High Stakes testing doesn’t work and is a failed policy. Instead of being able to truly dig into and address the many issues our schools face, we’re stuck having to deal with additional High Stakes testing, added evaluations, added assessments that are not part of CCSS requirement and a plan that doesn’t reflect the real values of our community and are a set up for failure for our students, teachers, and principals. We must reject what isn’t acceptable to Montclair residents. We must remain vigilant so that all our voices are heard and represented. We should not be embracing this failed business model approach to education. We should be turning far away from it. It is shocking to me and many others that this plan has even gotten as far as it has.

We must use our collective imaginations and creativity to really think about how we can move forward and maintain our core values (and all that is good about our schools) and focus on the individual student, build on our strengths, and not lose what this town has offered in the past. Montclair has had an excellent reputation, has been a leader in desegregation, and has been recognized as a top magnet school district that  thrives on its diversity and strengths of its citizens who believe in democracy in our town and in our public schools. Do I believe there is much to change and improve upon? Of course, and there always will be room for improvement. However dismantling everything is counter productive and destructive. We’re not a “failing school district” in need of a complete overhaul of this type (which no district would want or need even if it was “failing”) and in such short a time, and at such cost. The measures being implemented here are drastic and a radical departure from our town’s core values. They do not address the many real issues, but instead they distract us away from what really needs to be done. They divert us away from even from having that conversation in a meaningful real community -input -way.

I offer up some alternatives and suggestions of where we can begin to have that conversation. The Strategic Plan as it is currently written is a disaster for our school district and will be harmful to our students, teachers, and entire community. It represents a gutting of core values, it won’t close the achievement gap, won’t inspire our teachers or students to have meaningful, authentic learning experiences that really could prepare our students for the world we live in now and in the foreseeable future. The Plan must be  rejected.

The following are links I urge you to read, watch, and consider ahead of the next BOE meeting on 6/17/2013.

http://bloomfield.patch.com/blog_posts/the-problems-with-high-stakes-testing-in-our-public-schools

http://www.northjersey.com/news/204865771_Bloomfield_BOE_wants_assessments_re-examined.html

http://atthechalkface.com/2013/05/23/wow-a-tremendous-media-report-about-high-stakes-testing/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/06/11/a-new-education-declaration-for-genuine-school-reform/

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/03/instead_of_a_war_on_teachers_how_about_one_on_poverty/

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-coming-revolution-in-public-education/275163/

http://criticalclassrooms.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/a-nuanced-look-at-the-no-excuses-slogan/

http://www.democraticeducation.org/

http://www.ayearatmissionhill.com/index.php

http://www.upworthy.com/elementary-class-solves-one-of-the-worlds-biggest-mysteries-in-10-minutes

http://esheninger.blogspot.com/2013/05/authentic-learning-cant-be-standardized.html

Thank you for your consideration and time.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope to continue this conversation about our school district at the next BOE meeting.

Sincerely,

SIGNED NAME

The auto reply I received from BOE Member 2:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact me.  Your comments are important and I wanted to confirm that I have received your message.

I also will review your message and refer it to the appropriate staff members for a response.  Should I have additional input or need information from you, I will be back in touch.    Again, thank you for your communications.”

That’s all folks…..Have a goodnight or morning!

Elana

PS. I found this online and don’t know who to credit it to.  I loved it and it helped me today during a moment of —-ARGH I can’t take it anymore —-and so I’ll try to find out who made this and will credit them in an update when I do. Meanwhile, if you made this and you see this post, please tell me who you are and I’ll credit and link asap. Thank you!

rightandwrong