This post is a little long – for those that are impatient, here is the “tl;dr” version (google it if you don’t know what that means).
From the ISBE SARC public hearing, it is clear that there is still a bit of controversy surrounding PARCC; some believe it is better than what we had, others believe it is too detached from what students really need. There was a significant lack of student voice, and that particular silence rings loudly in my ears. We must ask ourselves, over and over again, what exactly is the purpose of public school?
My take-away actions steps are to:
- Form two or more local focus groups, one primarily of students, with two goals; 1) providing feedback to ISBE SARC, and 2) identify changes and the resources to make those changes happen. Right now, I am leaning towards the EdCamp approach.
- Talk to local SARC member Jean Korder (Urbana Schools 116); apparently, she knows a ton about assessments, and I would like her local perspective on the “good, bad and ugly”
- Push for more involvement and engagement in the local opt-out group that resulted from the last EdCamp. I very much want student input, and I very much would like to see it not die on the vine. On top of that, I want to learn what minorities think of this effort.
Continue reading for more.
I have to confess, writing a review of my visit to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) State Assessment Review Committee (SARC) public hearing seems a bit mundane in light of the violence in the news; Baghdad , Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the Dallas police shootings. However, I do hope to weave in a bit of civil liberties in the context of education at the end of this post.
For those that want to read a little background, you can start with the SARC section of ISBE (scroll to the bottom):
I have asked that the meeting minutes be posted online pursuant to 5 ILCS 120/2.06b, so hopefully we will see those soon as well.
As you can see from the Agenda, public comment was saved until the very end. So while any “public attendees” who were physically present had the privilege to speak up and ask questions at any time, those on the phone (I believe there were about 10) had to wait 2.5 hours before they could speak.
The discussion surrounding the agenda items was mostly informational. Once the meeting minutes are posted, I am hoping they will cover a bulk of the information, but I do have some notes from my point of view.
Angela Chamness started the discussion by saying that the PARCC assessment test was administered to over 1 million students this past year. She went on to say that tests are still being scored by the the vendor (whom I believe is Pearson), but on a “rolling basis” such that schools that submitted data early in the process are already done, and the vendor processes results as they come in. Having said that, ISBE has not had a chance to review or analyze any of the data. I noted that it is already July – as mentioned later in the session, this huge delay makes it very hard to apply PARCC results in any reasonable fashion to guide students or even teachers. It is entirely possible that a student “did not meet expectations” and not even know it, yet.
A huge chunk of time was spent discussing the survey responses and feedback from various focus groups. A University intern helped draft a summary of the responses, and it is my understanding that the draft will be made available “by end of week”, as well as the survey data. The survey will be kept open, and the SARC members will be working to complete a final version of the survey summary.
For those who wish to look at the survey questions or even take the survey (please do!):
o Teacher survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/BJYKK7K
o Student survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/B5LHMMR
o Parent survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/H2GYWVX
o Parent survey (Spanish): www.surveymonkey.com/r/M8FRW5X
Logistically, as of July 6th, they had 376 teacher responses, 430 parent responses, and a mere 41 student responses. I later noted the huge discrepancy between the number of students taking the test (over 1 million) and the number providing feedback (41). That is a significant concern.
36% of the teachers indicated that PARCC was “overly rigorous”, and commented that it carved out a noticeable chunk from teaching time, especially since some of the things tested on only correlate to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), not to what was actually taught in class. This was especially poignant for teachers dealing with extreme diversities in the classroom. Some teachers felt that the level at which the students were “assessed” was inappropriately higher than the classroom material of that year.
There was also a clarifying point made about the statistics. Even though 36% thought it was “overly rigorous”, only about 35% thought it was adequate – the rest of the teacher respondents either were unsure or did not express an opinion.
A request was made to make a survey available for administrators. One of the participants on the phone tweeted that it is too bad there is no survey for “community members” who might not be parents, staff or students.
A lot of discussion was embedded during the information sharing. One participant asked about the “end game” (I believe he was referring to the Survey data, but I was hoping he meant PARCC). Another said that PARCC ultimately helps kids be better prepared for college. I commented later that the combination of growing college debt coupled with the uncertainty of finding a job is not something I personally want to prepare kids for – schools needs to be more than that. One teacher participant playfully suggested we simply throw the PARCC out. And then later during public comment, this teacher revisited the idea more seriously – how is it helping students or teachers? Another participant noted that PARCC does not provide any additional data that teachers do not already know.
Back in the survey data, there was a concern (reflected by the teachers present) that during PARCC preparation and implementation, there was a significant lack of communication and clarification concerning those with disabilities and ESL students, which led to a lot of confusion, lost time and traumatized students.
A participant at the Chicago site commented that one of the reasons why the state decided to switch to PARCC is because PARCC finally offered a way to measure individual growth.
Finally a little after 3:30, we turned our attention to those who were on the phone. I believe most the callers who spoke were teachers. While I nodded my head in agreement with most of what was shared, the last teacher in particular really captured my attention. He struck me as very intelligent, very passionate, and also very reasonable. He gave lucid points about the issues he and his class have surrounding PARCC, and how it has affected their environment. Moreover, I got the subject of this post from him; they have a “own your own education” session in his classroom whereby they encourage students to embrace their educational futures, to make their voices known, and the school respects the student voice. This same teacher also spoke to the oppressive nature of how federal Title I money is tied to PARCC participation rates. He likened it to a threat, and that the Feds are basically bullies. This is, in its base form, harassment. Why do we put up with that?
In addition to the public comments previously shared in the above paragraphs, a couple teachers at the Chicago site emphasized how traumatic PARCC was for some students, especially those in the 4th grade. They also reiterated that they saw very little value from PARCC. One also mentioned that even though PARCC is aligned to CCSS, it is not necessarily aligned with students’ skills. Another asked if Illinois is indeed one of the 6 remaining states out of the original 24 in the PARCC consortium – “can we leave?” was asked.
I was last to speak during public comment. I already mentioned how I spoke to the gap between 1-million-plus students tested versus 41 providing feedback. I made a segue from the teacher who talked about students owning their own education and suggested that students should be afforded an opportunity to routinely provide feedback about their teacher’s performance (I said the PARCC should be used for that purpose). And finally I shared about the group I participated in that is drafting an opt-out petition, and shared some of the wording; that PARCC is an inaccurate and inappropriate tool to judge student achievement, school quality and teacher effectiveness, and that public tax dollars should not be used to support the mass production and grading of these tests.
As I reflect back upon this public hearing, I am struck by two things. First, folks like Angela Chamness (ISBE Director of Assessments, firstname.lastname@example.org, 217-782-4823) make it exceptionally clear that they crave feedback from students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. They openly acknowledge that the ISBE website isn’t the best, but they invite requests for documents, information and data in an effort to increase transparency. I believe their statements about not wanting to hide anything are very sincere – not the self-righteous lip service we get from so many others in positions of power these days.
On the other hand, there is a significant amount of discontent surrounding PARCC. Is it really worth our time? What are we putting our students and teachers through?
And what bothers me is who gets to decide what students learn? Who “owns” the education of a child? It galls me that some entities (ie, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, etc) make a significant profit off the “free” education of our children. It also bothers me that some far-away authority decides what should be taught and how it should be taught, without any sense or context of the most significant issues in our country (or local communities) today. Yes, I am really hung up on the Pledge of Allegiance – this is a mandated mantra every single school chants every single day, yet understanding the words of this pledge is not even in the curriculum, let alone encouraged to be taught in the classroom. I find it chilling that we twist words like “rigorous” to mean something “good” and then test the bejeebies out of our kids on “standard” topics when those very same kids have family members and/or friends victimized by hate, sometimes even perpetrated by the very forces sworn to “serve and protect”.
One person at the public hearing made a very wise comment – the values that are assessed in the PARCC reflect the national values. Clearly, as a nation, we do not value diversity, we do not value loving and caring for each other. But, as a nation, we apparently value strict adherence to abstract rules, following orders and sending our kids to college.
It is no wonder our communities are being ripped apart by hate, greed and corruption.