state testing

City teachers testify before U.S. Senate committee on reducing testing

Earth School teacher Jia Lee testified on high-stakes testing before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Wednesday.

Two New York City teachers were among a panel of experts called to testify on testing and accountability at a U.S. Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

Earth School teacher Jia Lee and Harvest Collegiate High School teacher Stephen Lazar both spoke to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how high-stakes testing has affected their Manhattan schools, offering frank assessments of the role testing should play in the government’s efforts to improve schools.

Up for debate was how to fix No Child Left Behind, the law that requires states to annually administer standardized tests. The law expired in 2007 but has yet to be re-authorized, and Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called for the committee to pass a bill overhauling it by the end of February.

“Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?” Alexander asked.

Lee, an outspoken critic of the state’s standardized tests and a special education teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan, told the Senate committee that test-focused policies have caused schools to become “data-driven” instead of “student-driven.”

“The great crime is that the focus on testing has taken valuable resources and time away from programming – social studies, art and physical education, special education services and [English language learners’] programs,” the fourth and fifth grade teacher said.

“As a teacher of conscience, I will refuse to administer tests that reduce my students to a single metric and will continue to take this position until the role of standardized assessments are put in their proper place,” she said. Last year, more than half of the small East Village school’s students were opted out of taking state Common Core-aligned exams by their parents, which allowed her to avoid administering them.

New York City parents opted out more than 1,900 students from taking state tests in 2014 – a 450 percent increase from the about 350 students that opted out in 2013. But the small group of students that didn’t take state tests last year still represents less than half of 1 percent of the city’s test-takers.

Stephen Lazar, an eleventh grade U.S. history and English teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan and a member of Chalkbeat’s reader advisory board, was the last to testify. He said the new law should remove mandated high-stakes tests, limit the number of tests used for accountability purposes, and allow schools to use performance assessments.

But despite the “many well-known flaws” of No Child Left Behind, Lazar said No Child Left Behind’s requirement that schools and districts to separate out the academic performance data of different student groups put a “much-needed spotlight” on achievement gaps, something that “should not be abandoned.”

Sen. Alexander’s draft bill, released last week, would still require states to provide annual academic data for various student populations. The draft also offers options to either give states flexibility over testing or keep No Child Left Behind’s current testing requirements.

As changes to federal testing requirements are considered, Lazar emphasized that teachers voices should be the loudest when it comes to deciding how their students are assessed. He recalled apologizing to his students every May for having to spend the last month of the school year having them “repeatedly write stock formulaic essays and practice mindless repetition of facts so that they could be successful on their state exams.”

“The stakes for my students force me to value three hours of testing over a year or learning,” he said. “Standardized tests measure the wrong things.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.