Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Testing resistance movement exploding around country

Excellent commentary by Monty Neill at FairTest. -Angela

Testing resistance movement exploding around country

The testing resistance movement is growing rapidly around the country and parents are opting out their children from high-stakes standardized tests in most states. What do test reformers want to accomplish? Monty Neill, executive director of  FairTest, explains in this post. FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, is dedicated to eliminating the abuse and misuse of standardized tests.

By Monty Neill
This spring, the testing resistance movement has exploded across the nation. It will continue to grow as the testing season heads into the final stretch. How can assessment reformers marshal this energy and use it to accomplish positive change?
Protest activities around the country reinforce the three core demands of Testing Resistance and Reform Spring: test less, end high stakes, and implement multiple forms of performance-based assessment of student learning.
Parent, student and teacher concerns include:
* There is too much testing. It crowds out other subjects, even recess, depriving children of an engaging, well-rounded curriculum.* The tests are not useful to teachers, parents or students because they don’t assess important areas of learning, questions and answers are secret, and scores are not returned in a timely manner.
* Parents, teachers and students object to spending millions of dollars on testing and computer infrastructure for online testing while schools suffer increased class size and cuts to arts, sports, and other engaging activities.
* As a result of stress and anxiety, students are crying, vomiting and soiling themselves during standardized exams. Children fear that if they fail, their teachers will suffer. Some justifiably worry they will be denied promotion to the next grade or graduation.
*  Computer systems around the country are crashing during test administration, often compounding the stress, especially for students less familiar with technology.
* The tests are unfair, particularly to students whose first language is not English and to students with disabilities, as well as students who attended ill-funded schools in low-income communities.
* Parents dislike the use of student test results to judge teachers. They know that federal mandates to evaluate teachers based on student scores produce inaccurate ratings, a huge increase in testing, and more teaching to the test.
* The exams are too long and full of errors: unclear questions, obscure reading passages, math problems embedded in confusing language, more than one right answer – or no right answer.
* Parents object to huge, profit-making companies using their children as unpaid “guinea pigs” to try out questions for the PARCC and SBAC Common Core tests.
Most resisters say they don’t oppose all standardized testing. They want it cut way back and the stakes dramatically lowered. Many say that evaluation should be in the hands of teachers, not states and testing companies. They point to real work kids do in classrooms as the best evidence of student learning.
In some states, thousands of students and parents are opting out. Elsewhere, organizing drives are just getting started. Activists across the country understand this will be a multi-year effort.
In addition to expanding the movement, there are two other critical issues to address.
One is to continue strengthening alliances across boundaries of class and race. To win, assessments reformers must build a broad, diverse movement with political muscle.
In several communities, urban students across the nation have taken the lead by walking out of test sessions. Hundreds of parents of color in low-income New York City boroughs of Harlem  and Brooklyn recently publicized their opt out actions. They know that test overkill most damages schools serving low-income, minority and second language students, and that authorities are using test scores to justify closing schools, with resulting disruption of community life.
Parent, teacher and student activists at the recent United Opt Out conference in Denverplanned concrete steps to diversify the movement. For example, students working to build the Colorado Student Union are organizing meetings with both urban and suburban peers.
Our nation has historically failed the often-segregated schools attended by students of color. Thus, parents and communities demand accountability from schools and systems. Unfortunately, too few people know there are far better ways to provide information about schools than focusing on test results. Test reformers must develop and promote high quality assessment and evaluation that responds to the needs of all communities.
Second, while the resistance is shaking up the education establishment and has won important victories, meaningful policy changes have been implemented in only a few states and districts. The assessment reform movement needs to focus on important goals, such as:
* Districts must sharply reduce the number of standardized exams they require on top of federal and state mandates (e.g., “benchmark” tests). They should also end high stakes uses of exams for purposes such as grade promotion.
* States must eliminate testing requirements that are not federally mandated and drop high school graduation exams.
* Federal law should reduce required statewide assessments to once each in elementary, middle and high school, as recently introduced legislation will do. It should allow states to use sampling rather than test every child. Test scores must not be the basis for punitive actions against schools; genuine assistance must replace punishment.
*  The federal government also must end its requirement that states evaluate teachers “in significant part” on student scores in order to receive waivers to NCLB.
Since students deserve high-quality assessments that enhance learning, districts and states need to work with teachers to overhaul assessment. To know how well students are learning, the best evidence comes from reviewing their ongoing school work. This will also ensure the use of multiple measures. For those concerned about a lack of objectivity or comparability, there are effective ways to validate teachers’ judgments.   Limited use of standardized testing can act as an additional check on the system, as can school quality reviews. Without such structural changes, schools will remain vulnerable to an inevitable counter-attack from profiteering corporations and testing zealots.
Winning these changes will take political clout. As the resistance grows, we must find ways to turn anger and mobilization into concrete changes. Activists have employed various tactics toward that end. These include forums with elected officials (or empty chairs if they refuse to participate), working with legislators to draft bills, rallies and lobby days at state capitols where the public meets with their elected representatives, and letters-to-the-editor that identify policymakers who are blocking assessment reform. Building alliances across communities is essential. Texas parents and their allies persuaded the legislature to eliminate two-thirds of the state’s graduation exams through careful “inside” (legislative meetings and lobbying) and “outside” (rallies and grassroots mobilization) strategies.
Efforts to placate the opposition with changes that are more cosmetic than substantivewill inevitably continue. Activists should not be fooled. New Yorkers, for example, launched an enormous escalation of their opt out campaign just days after a mostly irrelevant “reform” bill passed in Albany, showing they would not be tricked. (On the bright side, the new law states that tests cannot be a “major” part of grade promotion decisions.)
Authorities also may promote “solutions” that benefit more privileged communities, thus re-dividing people by race and class. Examples include proposals to allow high-scoring districts to test less or to design alternative accountability systems, even though it is low-income schools and districts that most need these options. Reformers should welcome sound changes to assessment and accountability systems but insist they include all communities. By rejecting schemes to divide us, the testing resistance and reform movement can grow stronger and win fundamental changes.
The resistance movement has grown from modest roots to a flowering movement with increasing power and sophistication. That is a fantastic start for winning long-term victories.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Earth Shifted A Bit This Last Week Here In Austin and Texas

 by Angela Valenzuela

On Wednesday, the march for Mexican American Studies to the capitol took place. 

On Thursday, a Civil Rights Conference that brought Presidents Obama, Carter, Clinton and Bush to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Auditorium at the University of Texas commemorated 50 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Accordingly, two important reports came out that underscore the continuing importance of civil and human rights struggles:
New Civil Rights Report Confirms Racial Inequity in US Schools

A Future In The Balance::  Confronting Inequities And Creating Equal Opportunity For Austin’s Poor And Minority Students

Simultaneously, outside of the LBJ auditorium, immigrant rights students, parents, organizations, and community organized a Not 1 More Deportation Rally and March.  
 Specifically, they protested, asking President Obama to halt the deportation of the mostly undocumented Mexicans.  

Impassioned pleas were made and three arrests took place.  Ironically, this rally and march calling for an end to deportations mirrors that very same call for social justice and human dignity that fueled the legislation that expanded civil rights to U.S. minorities 50 years ago. 

Surely, if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would have  stood with us outside of, rather than inside, the LBJ Auditorium.  He would never have turned a blind eye—and most importantly, would have stood up to the savagery of our nation's immigration policies.

Our local, state, and national leaders really do need to hear the suffering of our children and families as a result of harmful, unjust deportation policies.  Here are links to testimonies that I gathered at the rally outside of the LBJ Auditorium.  

Although the first recording is in English by one of the three young people that got arrested shortly after this testimony, you will certainly hear and understand the acute pain and suffering of the remaining three testimonies in Spanish that our inhumane deportation policies have wrought:

Listen to this moving testimony of Patrick Fierro who got arrested in today's demonstration (April 10, 2014), along with Emily Freeman and Alejandra Gomez on either side of him for crossing federal jurisdictional lines in front of the LBJ Library.— at LBJ auditorium, University of Texas at Austin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHhfae4ufag


A poignant shout out to President Obama by Cecilia Hernandez, immigrant rights advocate, leader, and parent. Ms. Hernandez is one of our beloved, trusted leaders in the immigrant rights movement and community in Texas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJeccf2kj0g

This young boy asked me to share his story. He is sharing a very terrible experience. He says that his father was put in jail after having a traffic accident. He was put in jail and then deported. His father found his way back to Austin and he was caught again and his father was put in jail again. Currently, he is in jail. His family is very sad and it is very hard for his family right now. — at LBJ auditorium.

Another beloved, tireless leader, Maricela Galvan, speaks about the unconscionable 2 million deportations of undocumented immigrants and urges the President to use his power to stop them.  She also points to how his re-election was not only enabled by the Latino vote but that he also promised in his campaign that he would institute comprehensive immigration reform.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1wr2LBbYt8

Despite the intransigent, reactionary resistance to righting wrongs in many quarters with respect to these unjust immigration policies, (more) just education policy was developed by the State Board of Education which is indeed the culmination of decades-long advocacy, scholarship, and activism.  I list an assortment of articles that can give you a good sense of what played out this week:

1) State Board of Education Plans Mexican-American History Course

by Published on Thursday, January 2, 2014,

2) The Jury's in: Texas Wants MAS, Mexican American Studies is Act II of the Civil Rights Act

3)  More Texas Educators Throw Support Behind Mexican-American Studies 

Posted: 04/04/2014 7:34 am EDT

5) Texas mulls adding Mexican-American studies course By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press | April 8, 2014 | Updated: April 8, 2014 11:30am


by  10 Apr 2014

The apparent growing strength and diversity of the protests community  led me to think and feel that  the Earth shifted a bit this past week.  This was a much-needed offsetting of the status quo with a shifting of the political center of gravity with respect to our state curriculum.  

This is actually no small thing as curriculum is very much connected to the development of critical faculties in our young people that will go on to graduate and vote in greater numbers with an enhanced, more meaningful sense of who they and their communities are in the world.  

While Mexican American Studies and other area studies that will surely get taught in our public schools with much greater frequency, this will not happen automatically.  As an advocacy community we must remain ever vigilant in order to extend this right and opportunity to every school, community, and child that seeks this opportunity—and there are many.

 Finally, our community celebrated the re-opening of Resistencia Bookstore casa de Red Salmon Arts at it new site at 4926 E. Cesar Chavez St., Unit C1 Austin, Texas 78702. It was a beautiful ceremony that consisted of prayers, dance, and poetry reading.  Here is one photo that I took of Rosa Tupina Yaotonalcuauhtli, Susana Almanza,Yvette Mendez , and Diana Barragan, thanking them for their leadership and prayers for our community—prayers for respect, dignity, human and civil rights, peace, inclusion, and a more just and caring society.


While this shift suggests the growing political power of the Latin@ community, we must not forget all the incredible work and sacrifices that have been made for this to occur.  Indeed, this is a community that embraces democracy  and core uniting values like tolerance, inclusion, due process, fairness, the rule of law, equity, civil society, and the public good.  We should all feel encouraged.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not 1 More Deportation Rally and March 4.10.14

 Listen to this moving testimony of Patrick Fierro who got arrested in today's demonstration (April 10, 2014), along with Emily Freeman and Alejandra Gomez on either side of him for crossing federal jurisdictional lines in front of the LBJ Library. Ironically, today was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This rally and march calling for an end to deportations mirrors that very same call for social justice and human dignity that fueled the legislation that expanded civil rights to U.S. minorities 50 years ago.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Students push for Chicano studies minor - News - The Battalion - Texas A&M

Students push for Chicano studies minor - News - The Battalion - Texas A&M

 Panel to generate buzz for petition Wednesday

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 00:04


Jenna Rabel

and instruction graduate student Jose Luis Zelaya discusses media
strategies for the Latino-Chicano studies panel Wednesday.

While the University offers a Hispanic Studies minor, some students believe there is a need for expansion of the curriculum.

Aggies advocating for the addition of a Latino-Chicano studies minor at
A&M will convene a panel to discuss the proposal and generate
publicity for online and paper petitions.

Jasmine Jimenez, panel organizer and sophomore political science major,
said the University doesn’t offer enough courses relating to Hispanic
culture aside from those related to literature.

“The University currently offers a Hispanic studies course path, which
concentrates mainly on Spanish literature and arts and a linguistic
course for the Spanish languages,” Jimenez said. “But for someone like
me who wishes to learn about the history, problems and relevant issues,
like immigration and laws, of my people, it’s pretty inadequate.”

According to the current petition, the standing Hispanic Studies minor
has a focus on the Spanish language and literature but fails to
adequately cover disciplines such as history, sociology and political

Joseph Puente, forefront speaker for the panel and senior
telecommunication media studies major, said the addition of the minor
would enrich the educational opportunities at A&M by allowing
students to learn more about the influence of Hispanic cultures.

Puente said he hopes advocating to adopt the Latino-Chicano minor will
empower and create a greater future for those who belong to or are
studying these communities.

Student advocates on the panel are involved with the Council for
Minority Student Affairs, Hispanic Presidents’ Council, Mexican Student
Association, Committee for the Awareness of Mexican-American Culture and
Phi Lota Alpha.

Adam Brennan, author of the petition posted at change.org and freshman
business administration major, said one of the most important aspects of
this movement is to help accomplish the University’s goal of Vision
2020 by diversifying the A&M undergraduate community and educational

Alfredo Garcia, CMSA president and senior economics major, said the
idea to push for the minor is a culmination of his experiences
advocating for minority students and his conversations with a professor.

“I wished to work together and unite the Latino community at Texas
A&M and so I spoke with sociology professor Pat Robio and he gave me
the idea and inspiration to further the movement for a Latino-Chicano
studies minor here,” Garcia said.

Jose Luis Zelaya, curriculum and instruction graduate student involved
with the panel, said the push for the minor is part of a greater social
legacy that these student advocates aim to leave at A&M. Zelaya said
those advocating can inspire the next generation of leaders to be
better informed of the “Latino reality” and more involved with the rise
of a large minority.

“Texas A&M is where ideas can grow and we wish to allow our
community to be inspired and more educated on a culture that we have
built our communities in America on,” Zelaya said. “We are aiming for
realistic and a beneficial, positive social change.”

The panel, which will involve students and University officials, will be from 7-8:10 p.m. Wednesday in Rudder Hall 308.

Monday, April 07, 2014

What Americans like best about their favorite teachers

Authentically caring teachers make a big difference in the world.  Exactly what I found to be the case in my case study research, SUBTRACTIVE SCHOOLING:  U.S.-MEXICAN YOUTH AND THE POLITICS OF CARING (1999).

What Americans like best about their favorite teachers


What attribute do Americans find most compelling in the teacher they have identified as having the greatest impact on their lives?

I learned the answer recently when I was listening to a speech by Brandon H. Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education, about public education and what polls show about how Americans view their teachers.

He noted that a strong majority of Americans say they have trust and confidence in public school teachers (even if many school reformers don’t).  He also said that when asked to describe the teacher who had most affected their lives, the attribute that was seen as most important wasn’t smart or demanding but, rather, “caring.”

The 2012 Gallup study, titled “Public education in the United States: A nation divided,” said this:
Over 40% of Americans describe the teacher who had the most positive influence in their lives with words such as caring, compassionate, motivating, and inspiring; while just 17% of Americans thought intelligent, knowledgeable, persistent, hard-working, and demanding were words that describe the teacher who had the strongest influence on them.
I’d like to see how teacher evaluations linked to student standardized-test scores measure for “caring.”