Wednesday, December 10, 2014

3 Dallas ISD trustees call for reducing focus on testing

Good news. -Angela

3 Dallas ISD trustees call for reducing focus on testing

Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor
Dorsey Martensen, whose son attends Rosemont Primary School, said ACP tests are inappropriate during a meeting Tuesday at Kessler Park United Methodist Church.
Three Dallas ISD trustees want Superintendent Mike Miles to pull back on testing after parents and teachers have complained about an excessive focus on scores and data instead of learning.
Parents and teachers have packed community meetings in recent weeks to voice concerns with the increase this year on school days used to take exams. They say children are spending too much time preparing for exams designed to evaluate teachers and determine their pay.
Board members Eric Cowan, Dan Micciche and Joyce Foreman said they share those concerns and will call for changes.
Micciche said parents have complained about the new district exams in elementary school for elective courses, such as art.
“Parents object to these new tests because they create new stress for very young children, take time away from learning and take the fun out of the special classes,” he said. “They don’t see a benefit from testing how well a kindergarten student draws.”
Cowan said he wants the district to do away with the exams — known as “Assessment of Course Performance,” or ACPs — in elementary school elective courses as soon as possible. “Parents are calling them unnecessary exams for classes that are supposed to be fun. It’s an easy win [to get rid of them] that we could implement right away,” he said.
The new teacher evaluation system, which started in August, relies on ACPs and other exams to help grade teachers and determine their pay. The trustees will get a chance to publicly propose changes during Thursday’s board briefing when Miles gives a presentation on the new evaluations.
In addition to testing changes, Cowan, Micciche and Foreman plan to request other modifications.
Micciche said he sent a list of possible changes to the administration, which includes:
• Reducing the number of spot observations, which is when an administrator visits a classroom to grade a teacher. Currently there are 10 per year.
• Changing the style of the spot observations to make them less about compliance and more about opportunities for coaching and training teachers.
• Eliminating ACPs at the end of the school year if students are also taking a STAAR test in the same subject.
• Better informing teachers about the content on ACP exams so students and teachers aren’t surprised by questions about topics not covered in class.
A request for comment from Miles about whether he would consider changes to the teacher evaluation system was answered by DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. “The superintendent has said repeatedly that the initiative will continue to be refined over time,” Dahlander said in an email. “We continue to receive input regularly from teachers about TEI [Teacher Excellence Initiative] and are using that input to make changes where appropriate.”
Some parent groups and district superintendents in other parts of Texas have rallied in recent years against the influence and number of standardized tests. In Dallas ISD, parent concerns about too much testing reached a tipping point in recent months.
At a meeting Tuesday in Oak Cliff, parents said students as young as 5 are stressed about districtwide tests to be given later this month. Some schools have devoted the next two weeks to review and prepare for upcoming ACPs.
“You’ve got kids that just learned to use the bathroom six to eight months ago, and now you are expecting them to stand up and take a test,” said Michael Evans, whose daughter attends kindergarten at Harry Stone Montessori Academy. “It’s just wrong.”
Some parents suggested that their children refuse to take the ACP tests, which the district designs, administers and grades. But the parents decided against it because a failing score would hurt a teacher’s evaluation. Starting next school year, teachers’ pay will be determined by their evaluations.
Some of the loudest critics of DISD’s focus on testing and data were from middle-class families, which the district tries to keep from fleeing to private schools, charters and suburban districts. Several parents at the meeting said they are exploring other school options.
Some parents placed the blame on Miles.
The ACP exams, which are given in addition to state-mandated STAAR tests, were initially given to secondary grades. They were later given to elementary school students in core subjects. This year, however, Miles required ACPs in elementary-level elective courses.
Parents have voiced the most concern about tests in art, music and physical education. The second-grade physical education test requires students to roll on the ground and “travel independently in a large group while safely and quickly changing speed and direction.”
Amy Lee, who has a kindergartener at Rosemont Primary School, said she doesn’t understand the benefit of the new tests, especially the music ACP for first-graders. It requires students to sing a capella after a teacher plays a note.
“That breaks my heart. It is hard on the kids,” she said.
Staff writer Tawnell D. Hobbs contributed to this report.

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