Monday, April 1, 2013

Opting out of the PSSA

On another post Anonymous wrote:

NEW please-- OPT OUT of PSSA

Besides spreading the word about opting out- this article defines the affects of the endless testing


Anonymous said...

Only ONE QUESTION: Do you truly understand what and why you are “opting out” ?

If it is just because children in Pittsburgh are not doing well on the test, you might want to rethink your position.

Why are PPS children not doing well on a single test that is assessing very simple and minimal skills? The PSSA would be “aced” by all PPS students if they were being taught the very simple skills that we send them to school to learn. It is not a content-oriented, but skills –oriented.

PPS is 494th out of 500 districts. Why? Our children are as smart, if not smarter than the top 100 schools. They should NOT be doing poorly! We must ask if they are being taught the skills that we send them to school to learn.

Opting out of a test is running away from the real problem . . . .

At a time when 48 states are moving to more challenging skills/standards, the new COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS, you are suggesting “opting out” of the relatively low skills/standards of the PSSA?

Please do NOT allow PPS to LOWER its standards, its expectations, its teaching and learning skills any further. Instead demand that PPS teach the skills being assessed, skills like the following:

What SKILLS are tested on PSSA Reading & Math?

The THINKING SKILLS mandated for Reading (whether it be PSSA, Keystone, or CCSS) require teachers to emphasize, and students to learn, the application of skills as follows: Identifying, analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, summarizing, main idea, supporting details, context clues, inference, multiple meaning words, distinguishing fact from opinion, comparing/contrasting, cause/effect, problem/solution, bias/propaganda, generalizations, charts/graphs, fiction/non-fiction, literary elements ( characterization, setting, theme, plot, climax, resolution, etc.), literary devices (alliteration, hyperbole, personification, simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.).

The Math SKILLS that are assessed on the PSSA include the following categories: Numbers and Operations, Measurement, Geometry, Algebraic Concepts and Data Analysis and Probability

Anonymous said...

No-- it is because so called "high stakes" testing has overtaken public education. The tail is wagging the dog. Come on adults-- we ALL had achievement tests! They did not rule our education. This "opting out" is the beginnings of "we're mad as hell and we arent going to take it any more."
Please just read this and other articles and listen. The environment of our schools has changed and not forvthe better. When first graders talk about being " nervous" on test days, when i walk into a school in a district not mentioned in the article and it is bare-- and people say -- ooo must be testing-- everything has changed, read carefully all that is being lost in schools to the great God testing. More children are medicated cause gee they cant just sit and get the script. This is NOT the schools you knew even a few years ago.
No-- demanding that teachers teach the skills on the test is not the answer.
How about demanding a learning environment where all learning -- basic skills, the arts, social skills, life skills-- are balanced for all students.
Life out in the world isnt defined by PSSAs-- or even the Keystone tests.

Anonymous said...

Addendum to the first comment:

All of what Kathy Newman states is absolutely true! Agreed!

HOWEVER, her solution is counterproductive. As a community, as parents, as students, WE must DEMAND that the skills mentioned in the first blog be embedded, taught and learned in every school activity, content area and situation. The skills mentioned must be taught and learned seamlessly, creatively, thoughtfully, effortlessly across all teaching and learning situations . . . That includes library, art, music, languages, theater, sports, athletics, clubs, conversation, individual and group activities etc., etc.

There should NOT be any test-prep, none at all. This is ONE test with skills (as listed above) that have been known, articulated, and a part of the teaching and learning, expectations, processes, but NOT content for the past 15 years in PA.

WHY is Pittsburgh PPS Administration finding it so difficult to embed these simple skills across PPS learning environments???????

Why is PPS 494 out of 500?

These are two questions that must be asked and answered!

Questioner said...

Parents have no control over whether there is or is not test prep or what the test prep may be. Demands won't change that. The only thing parents can control is whether or not their child takes the test.

Anonymous said...

"Opting out" of such a simple, one-time assessment as the PSSA will only set PPS back even farther.

The PPS APPROACH to PSSA, Keystone, CCSS is what is really needed! This test should be just another day in the life of a rich, creative, challenging, even fascinating teaching, learning environment with curricula that engages children.

There should be no need to eliminate courses, but rather add to them! There should be no need to narrow curricula, but rather broaden and deepen it. There should be no need to "test-prep" for simple skills, but rather expand and deepen students' capacity to think, create, experiment, and go far beyond the parameters typically set for them!

No! Testing (even one) should not be necessary, but if schools are not preparing kids for college and careers, how can anyone hold them accountable. PPS students (even from Allderdice) are struggling after graduation because they have NOT been adequately prepared! WHY?

How about some suggestions here on how PPS might better be required to prepare students or how to hold them accountable for not doing so?

Questioner said...

Only board members have the actual power to hold Pps accountable.

Anonymous said...

NOT true, NOT true at all . . .

Quotes About Disempowered . . .

“Today, you have the opportunity to transcend from a disempowered mindset of existence to an empowered reality of purpose-driven living. Today is a new day that has been handed to you for shaping. You have the tools, now get out there and create a masterpiece.”

“Blame is the creed of the disempowered.”

“Sometime people are disempowered because they subconsciously identify themselves by their temporary circumstances instead of connecting with their innate value and truth.”
― Steve Maraboli

PLEASE DO NOT SIT BACK and BLAME others. "CONNECT" and STAND on behalf of our children.

Parents arm yourselves with the facts, not opinions and ORGANIZE. Do not allow yourselves to be demoralized, disempowered, ineffectual, emasculated, or inexorably marginalized by a school system that is NOT serving the best interests of our children OR even minimally providing the standards set for rich or productive education that they are hired and highly paid to execute!

Questioner said...

Did schenley parents sit back and blame others? Did Westinghouse parents sit back and blame others? Did burgwin parents sit back and blame others? At this point parents who don't like a situation just choose something different for their child.

Anonymous said...

From the Post Gazette comments:

LP Shollar:
"I agree with Tara. I think the stress associated with the test is really a reflection of the bureaucratic way that public schools are run. Too much centralized control, and not enough individuation and local control."

"At the same time, there needs to be some accountability for the school, and a way of knowing that they're doing what they need to. To my mind, this is not a test of students, it's a test of schools. The problem comes when the results are used to threaten schools, rather than to inform future curricular choices. To my mind, "prepping" for the tests misses the whole point.
Also, I believe that the state is making these mandatory in the future, and that award of a HS diploma will depend on these, so opting out might not be practical."

Well-stated, to the point, and submitted here for consideration.

Anonymous said...

To Pam Harbin on the PG article:

Did you know that there are online CDTs, Classroom Diagnostic Tools, that are continually available for teachers to assess (NOT TEST)student strengths and weaknesses in skills areas?

You are right about there being so much that is NOT known by students, parents and even teachers.

The comments from uninformed, well-meaning bloggers only create greater, more insurmountable problems than the ones that are being complained about, that actually have solutions, good ones at that!

Questioner said...

It is not helpful to call others who are posting uninformed. Better would be to identify the specific statement thought to be incorrect and explain why. Are they really incorrect or do they just have a different view of a situation?

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is a " baby outcwith the bath" to alot of the testing... No one wants cheating, but please understand ... Little kids are totally confused by a substitute, let alone strange people who dont know them testing them... And the weird brown paper on the walls surrounding them-- sorry it is STRANGE the way we set up testing environments. Teachers know who gets nervous and needs the rest room, who needs to be off in a cornercalone to work, even who needs to pace when stressed. None of what we know about optimum environments -- well exceptvfor mints ;) is followed when everyone panics over these tests.

Questioner said...

Is this thing with covering walls and having some kind of sterile testing environment new? Is it halls too and if so, why? It it required by the state? It seems like overkill and too intense.

Anonymous said...

No, many schools, classes, teachers sneak in wall postings that give answers.

So, the rules have become "cover" or "take down" anything that gives students "answers" or clues to answers that provide an inequitable advantage to students who are not provided with such.

One technique, used in some schools, is to simply COVER (with a sheet, cotton/other, or rolls of brown paper) these 'postings' during test days. Then, after the testing period, remove the 'coverings' to let all that great stuff be, once again, on public display. A good solution, don't you think?

It removes the need to take all of the pieces down that are then rarely restored to prominence because it is 'too much trouble'.

This way no one can be accused of 'cheating' when or if monitors visit the building during the testing period.

Questioner said...

Even for SAT's walls are not covered. Do hallways need to be covered too? Suddenly blank or covered walls could easily make students nervous by giving the impression of the test being a really big deal, something that may determine whether their school stays open. It seems like overkill.

Anonymous said...

It has gone from anything that " might give answers" to any written words
Busted for a fire drill sign

And yes it looks like a strange planet, yes it is labor intensive and yes -- test nazis do appear

And no, you wouldnt want your own kids stressed out in this way
Yes, teachers are aware of the on-line tutorials etc.

Questioner said...

Is this a state requirement or just something PPS came up with? If state, is it being done in other states as well?

Anonymous said...

Hope that all of the folks "opting-out" of PSSA, Keystones, CCSS are not also "opting-out" of "graduation" for your children or "opting-out" of the necessary preparation for successful college and careers!

A word to the wise, please consider the purpose, the approach, and the outcome!

Kids need "skills" and if they are not being taught how to "think" don't you want to be aware of that problem?

Anonymous said...

My biggest concerns with parents opting out are who will be opting out and the effect it will have on our district.

Most of the parents choosing to opt out are college-educated, middle to upper middle class, etc. Their kids generally do well on these tests. (No, not all of the kids and No, not saying kids whose parents aren't those things won't do well).

So, many schools that have okay scores will now not be making AYP (magnet schools). Honestly, a school like Colfax can't do much worse, BUT they can miss AYP on more factors.

If more and more schools don't meet AYP, I worry that it will push the district to close more schools, open more charters, hire more consultants and push in more Gates/Broad reforms.

Though I'll admit I'm not sure how much worse things could get.

Questioner said...

If Pps does well it will be attributed to broad gates anyway.

Anonymous said...

Sounds as though you think they may do well. That would be terrific wouldn't it? Broad/Gates or whoever!
Does it matter who gets the credit?

Just curious, what are the signs that give you the impression that PPS will do well?

Questioner said...

There is no reason to think results will change significantly, just pointing out that no matter what the results the expected response is more Broad Gates.

Anonymous said...

From today's PG, a response to Kathy Newman's op-ed piece about allowing her son to opt out of the PSSA from PA Dept of Ed Press Secretary, Tim Keller.

Questioner said...

So this is how press secretaries do their jobs these days- with a focus on justification and management of public opinion, at the expense of addressing valid concerns raised.

Anonymous said...

What is lost is that Mr. Eller is trying to make it sound like we've always had tests, etc. and ignoring the ramifications of so called "high stakes" testing that NCLB brought. This may not be the best way to protest the overall insanity that has come into schools in the past 10 years. It cant turn around the time constantly preparing for tests at the expense of socialization, the arts etc., but it is all parents can do today to voice their disdain.

Anonymous said...

The stakes have become very "high stakes" for school districts who have not been educating students in their buildings.

When a district (PPS) ranks 494 out of 500, it is very high stakes.

HOWEVER, for most of the PA Districts whose students are achieving at or near the minimum standards set each year, the PSSA is just another activity scheduled for April. There is no "test prep." There is no stress, no tension, no practice, no cancellation of art, music, sports, clubs, library, etc.

The students take the test, feel good about their ability to do what is asked. . . and then move on . . .

There probably is no real need for them to even be tested; however, that is NOT true of Districts who are not educating students successfully for college and careers that follow a "graduation" from schools whose STANDARDS (PSSA, CCSS)
are being met each year (for the last 10 years) because the skills (being assessed) are routinely embedded in the day-to-day curricula.

There is tremendous stress for Administration in Districts who are NOT up to par, who are not preparing children for successful futures.

That STRESS is being shifted to students (who are not responsible for the curricula nor the instructional process being implemented. IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF STUDENTS THAT THEY ARE NOT MEETING STANDARDS! It is the fault of a school system that is not adequately performing its function!

The blame has been shifted to students, their parents and the community. And we have all allowed this to happen because we do not know how to hold the Districts accountable. So, the States (48) have taken on the accountability via NCLB requirements.

The PSSA, as it currently exists, is a MINIMUM STANDARD assessment! WHY, then are our students not "proficient" at a minimum standard?

Eliminate PSSA, et al and the STANDARDS will be even LOWER! Is that what parents want for their children? REALLY?

Think about it!

Anonymous said...

The overall insanity in schools is created by Administrators who are ill-equipped to educate children to minimal levels of proficiency. The States were forced to put a test in place that would require Districts to educate children for careers and college since colleges and employers were complaining that these young people were not ready to work or continue an education!

If you take away the once a year assessments, now in place, the standards for education will fall to the degree that even employers and universities will not be able to catch them up.

Parents must unite and demand that public schools EDUCATE their children so that they can go on productively after graduation.

Its not the kids fault, so the pressure should not fall to them. It's the schools' fault and that is where the pressure must fall.

Put people in place that can get these kids educated. If they can't do that, they must be replaced.

Questioner said...

Many people remember higher standards in the days before tests like the pssa, especially for advanced students.

Questioner said...

Comments to this thread are getting repetitive. Only comments that do not repeat the same ideas and arguments will be posted. For example the call to parents to unite and demand has already been discussed.

Anonymous said...

This District Opted out on Displine in the buildings and the classrooms years ago. But it has gotten much worse in the last 6 years. Kids come to class and do what ever they please. Pricipals are not permitted to suspend students. Their reviews and their bonus pay are based upon how many students they do not suspend. This came with Eli Broad foundation and MR and countinued by Lane. Kids run the halls disrupting other classes. If you write displine referals they are not answered by VP's Teacher's that write too many disipline referals are focused and put on corrective actions plans. Then as the district and the PFT state they are exited. Teachers have no support from School Administration or even our own farce of a Union.

With out a True disipline code enforced by Administrators in the classroom setting we will never have an enviroment cunductive to learning.

Student Disipline is the biggest issue in this pathetic district with little or no attention.

It is the most common reason why parents Opt out of this district.

Danny Green

Anonymous said...

Students who are productively engaged in classrooms by teachers whom they respect do not need to be disciplined by administrators. There are teachers in every school who have teaching and learning going on without a hitch.

Administrators are useless in developing a code of discipline in any classroom. They can do it in areas outside of the classroom if they have also developed an position of respect among students.

Punishment, nastiness, and disrespect from adults do nothing for developing a school climate that works.

A professional and personal "code of conduct" begins with school adults who care, who teach, who respect and who engage students productively.

Anonymous said...

Well stated Danny-- without a doubt EVERY family I saw leave PPS was because when there was a "critical incident"- nothing was done. No one runs their homes that way--teachers get on the intensive observation list the moment they suggest consequences. There are no discussion of school environment at meetings-- just reviewing of scores.

Questioner said...

Uh, how does a teacher engage and teach a student not assigned to their class who pops in to disrupt that class ? The answer to every problem cannot be to expect the teacher to pull off a miracle.

Anonymous said...

Every PSCC meeting should include a report on building discipline similiar to the report at the start of legislative meetings where suspensions and expulsions are read into the record. Every building has a disciplinary committee but how many of us know who sits on that committee? Are those meetings too just held in the spirit of compliance?

Anonymous said...

That is an important point, 7:58.

Asking to make that a routine report at PSCC meetings could begin a helpful discussion with suggestions and follow-up from parents.

Anonymous said...

7:58 "Every PSCC meeting should include a report on building discipline similiar to the report at the start of legislative meetings where suspensions and expulsions are read into the record."

I don't know how helpful that would actually be. What would many suspensions imply? What would few suspensions imply?

The key is to get direct student and teacher imput. (I know that would not be easy, and that it's hard to quantify such imput.)

Anonymous said...

The answers to your questions would make a difference, absolutely! If the answers were truthful. Currently, the problem of truth is a bigger problem than the others that need to be known to be solved.

Anonymous said...

Just that parents might be insisting on including a report from the disciplinary committee at PSCC in each building might bring about some change. We need to know that the application of rules is consistent across the district.

Anonymous said...

No we don't need to know that at all.

What works in one place may not work in another!

What we do KNOW for sure is that one-size-fits-all NEVER works for ALL.

Questioner said...

But when for whatever reason the tests are not passed the reality is that under the current circumstance unhealthy pressure and perhaps counterproductive responses result.

Anonymous said...

So, you are suggesting that the paper is the problem and not the people. and if you get rid of the paper, you get rid of the problem. Simplistic, to be sure, but counterproductive, undoubtedly.

With no measure of accountability in place, not even a minimum measure, you put in place a system that can continue not to provide even basic educational expectations for children whose futures depend on it.

Whoa! That is a very poor, if not criminal implementation of a school system. Public school kids have a civil right to an education that provides opportunities for successful futures.

Questioner said...

The context in which the paper is given is the problem. And so until the context changes, the issue is whether basic educational expectations are more likely to be provided with the paper, or without the paper. Based on experience, some people clearly believe that in the current real world context education will be better without the paper.

Questioner said...

As an analogy, albeit extreme, see the article in today's paper about the Mike Rice scandal. Looking back he seems to scarcely believe how he behaved. But pressures outside the basketball court and locker room, many of them in turn rooted in money, transformed him into a monster. PSSA pressures are not this extreme and we do not have monster teachers, but it shows what can happen when careers and lives turn on student performance. And how long it can take until what is happening is exposed.

Anonymous said...

And students' lives and careers and futures turn on teachers performance.

Might this not be a more accurate and honest description of what is happening here?

Yes, a good question: how long will it take before what is happening is exposed.

Anonymous said...

The Education Trust:

"States are preparing to implement the new Common Core State Standards, but some are transitioning better than others. William Schmidt and Nathan Burroughs of Michigan State University explain why it’s so important for states to implement the math standards effectively:

“If we fail… we abdicate our social responsibility and become complicit in the perpetuation of unequal opportunities.”

Well-stated, but lost on those who "opt out" and all who fall victim to the "opt out" movement and its false premise. So sad, to make students the victims of adult insecurities; but, it will continue to happen in the rolling sea of adult ineptitudes and shallow thinking.

Questioner said...

Well no, because students' lives do not turn on one or two years performance on pssa's. And the issue is whether pssa's are not just measuring student progress but impeding it due to the way the pssa's are being used. Ideally pssa's would not be used in such a damaging manner but that's where politics and the system come in. The system needs to be reformed. In the meantime- are these tests doing more harm than good?

Questioner said...

And in fact, pssa's may not even measure progress if students are demoralized and sick of testing. And those who opt out of the test are not necessarily opting out of learning the material.

Anonymous said...

Opt out.. I will. Civil disobediance is much needed. Note the last example from Pittsburgh.

*I am not the parent who wrote this great letter to Dr. Lane.

"Dear Dr. Lane,Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(5) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child excused from any State standardized testing because of religious and philosophical beliefs.During the time when other students are taking State standardized PSSA tests (including make-ups), I would like my child, Ayden Harbin, to be provided with real learning opportunities at his school during test time (I have my clearances and would be willing to volunteer for this at Liberty). Or, if you would prefer, I could keep Ayden at home.Dr. Lane, I am not required by law to explain my reasons for opting out. But this decision, to participate in civil disobedience, comes after much research and reflection so I will explain my thoughts in detail. I’ve chosen to copy the members of the Board of Directors and my Principal at Liberty to inform them of my decision. (In addition, my principal was directed by her superiors to tell parents that a copy must also be sent to Lisa Augustin and Tina Still, employees in the PPS Assessment Department. I have copied them here even though Chapter 4.4 clearly states that parents must send a written request to the Superintendent only. Please instruct your staff to correct this mistake.)My philosophy about education is based on the simple belief in social justice and human rights. I believe every child has the right to an education filled with rich learning experiences that encourage creativity, critical thinking, taking risks, making mistakes and having independent thought. High-stakes standardized testing like the PSSA exam is not consistent with these beliefs and consequently result in the following:" sic

Anonymous said...

Part one of sic. This parent is amazing

"The PSSA has high-stakes for students and schools. Pittsburgh Public Schools has made and will continue to make decisions to close schools based on the results of this test. Therefore, the stakes are the highest for schools that already suffer from the inequities in our schools; high teacher and principal turnover, concentrations of students living in poverty, inadequate resources and institutionalized racism.

The PSSA has high-stakes for teachers, and soon, principals. Test-based teacher and principal evaluation systems are gaining popularity as evidenced by current state legislation. (Act 82 of 2012) Unfortunately, there is no research available to prove these evaluation systems work to improve student learning. There is evidence though that the reliance on high-stakes testing, for the purpose of evaluating teachers, has caused a narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test and an increase in cheating. Additionally, testing companies have admitted that these tests were not developed for the purpose of evaluation and should not be used in that way.

High-stakes tests are not a diagnostic assessment of student learning. I am not against all assessments. I do understand that teachers need ways to assess if students understand what has been taught. The PSSA exam is not this kind of assessment. In fact, results from the PSSA exam are not available to teachers until the next school year. Therefore, high-stakes standardized tests have no value to the teacher to assess student learning.

High-stakes tests cause student fear, anxiety and loss of confidence. In my home, we place a value on learning and the love of learning. We encourage our kids to learn from making mistakes. You can understand why I would be upset when my son in 2nd grade adamantly refused to answer a homework question (with 2 possible answers) because he was afraid he would get the wrong answer.

I was also upset to learn from a science teacher that her students, when asked to write a hypothesis, hesitated to write it until they knew it would be ‘correct’. Even though she explains to them that famous scientists have made great discoveries precisely because their hypothesis was ‘wrong’."

Anonymous said...

Part two:

"Recently, a student at Pittsburgh Obama wrote in the school newspaper about high-stakes testing, “ These standardized tests have become increasingly stressful for the teachers and students. There is too much at stake on one test that you take once a year. It has gotten to the point where the tests are a disruption to learning”.

High-stakes tests cause a narrowing of the curriculum and undermine the quality of instruction. Classes and subjects that are not tested have been increasingly eliminated in PPS. At Liberty (a Spanish magnet) students previously had Spanish every day. No more. The time allocated for Spanish has been replaced by more ELA and Math because Spanish is not tested.

Liberty is fortunate though, we still have a full time art and music teacher. Some schools do not, because they have even more ELA and Math. Schools that perform poorly on the PSSA have art and music instruction once every six days and schools that perform better on the PSSA have full-time art and music instruction.

Children identified as ‘low performers’ on the high-stakes PSSA are given more frequent assessments and are subjected to drill and kill methods of instruction. Simply for the purpose of enabling them to achieve higher standardized test scores. This is not quality instruction nor is it learning.

At a community meeting at UPREP Milliones, I learned that a decision was recently made to ensure that students can pass the Keystone Algebra 1 Exam (a high-stakes test). Students at UPREP will have 2 years’ worth of instruction in Algebra 1. But, as a result, Algebra 2 (with no high-stakes test attached to it) will be taught as a double block in one semester. Cramming a years’ worth of curriculum into one semester is not a best practice for teaching and learning.

High-stakes tests cause poor school climates. The use of high-stakes testing has turned our schools into test prep centers. This increases barriers to real learning and student engagement.

Students themselves, like the Obama student I quoted above, report high levels of stress and anxiety associated with their performance on high-stakes testing.

The fear that some students or subgroups will bring down test scores contributes to a hostile and stressful school climate. This creates animosity between racial and economic groups. Students with disabilities are often vilified because they disproportionately score lower on high-stakes tests.

Since the beginning of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the focus on results of high-stakes tests, suspensions rates and expulsions have increased and graduation rates have decreased. Colleges and Universities have reported that students are less prepared for the challenges of higher education (academic and non-academic).

High-stakes tests may not accurately measure learning and achievement. Why do certain subgroups disproportionately score lower on these tests? Is it possible that the PSSA has a racial, economic and ability bias build in that is beneficial to certain subgroups of students?

Racial, economic and ability gaps in testing outcomes exist but I refuse to call it an ‘achievement gap’. Our students are achieving every day—we just don’t have a system in place to measure and celebrate these learning achievements. Parents are told that this is the EASIEST way to measure learning, not the BEST way."

Anonymous said...

An excellent letter by Ms Harbin. She certainly means well and is 'right on' with many of her comments, but there are also many inaccuracies and false statements. Most statements speak for themselves (though opinions are abundant). As a caution, many, but not all can can discriminate and/or distinguish between fact and opinion.

The reason for a semester change in Algebra was because students getting ready to graduate had not had Algebra I which is a STATE REQUIREMENT for graduation! All but one or two students were failing Algebra II because they had not had a legitimate Algebra I class. Why? (Is the Assistant Superintendent responsible for the courses offered at Milliones U-Prep?) The problems, and there were many serious problems, were discovered earlier in the year, but action on correcting them was pushed back month after month. Finally, the changes in schedule were made (after the start of 2nd semester so that students would be able to GRADUATE this year. The principal and teachers are struggling to make this a possibility. Other low-achieving PPS high schools would be wise to check the legitimacy of ALL courses.
An AUDIT of all courses done by an external source would be the wise and prudent course of action for most PPS high schools.

Classroom Diagnostic Tools in December revealed that only 3 students at this school were at "proficient." This cannot be blamed on students who were NOT TAUGHT the "material."

Yes, "opting out" will save the students from learning that they do not have the skills; but it will not prepare them for success after graduation. Graduation is currently taking place in many high schools based on inflated grades.

Please ADVOCATE for an AUDIT of courses, so that students will be TAUGHT Algebra I before they are placed in Algebra II.

Ms Harbin's and others concerns are very legitimate, but must go far beyond "opting out" of a basic skills level assessment that ALL students SHOULD be far beyond in terms of knowledge and skills.

Often, Ms Harbin and others, have only superficial understanding of egregious, underlying problems in a system, problems that can have disastrous effects on our students' future goals and/or possibilities.

Advocate for a system that serves our STUDENTS well!

Questioner said...

Ms Harbin exhibits an understanding far beyond superficial. She gives specific examples which can then be easily checked for any inaccuracies (Pps has most likely not made public clear information on the algebra problem) and refrains from denigrating others with different views. She sets an excellent example.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:01
"The reason for a semester change in Algebra was because students getting ready to graduate had not had Algebra I which is a STATE REQUIREMENT for graduation! All but one or two students were failing Algebra II because they had not had a legitimate Algebra I class. Why? (Is the Assistant Superintendent responsible for the courses offered at Milliones U-Prep?) The problems, and there were many serious problems, were discovered earlier in the year, but action on correcting them was pushed back month after month. Finally, the changes in schedule were made (after the start of 2nd semester so that students would be able to GRADUATE this year. The principal and teachers are struggling to make this a possibility. Other low-achieving PPS high schools would be wise to check the legitimacy of ALL courses."

How can high school a high school student get promoted to 10th or 11th grade without algebra 1? That seems impossible. I am not doubting you, but it is perplexing.

Anonymous said...

Someone suggested an AUDIT of PPS courses.
Who is a non-partial (to PPS) entity that could conduct and audit of ALL PPS courses?

We need to get to the bottom of PPS being among the LOWEST-ACHIEVING DISTRICTS in Western PA as well as the state of Pennsylvania.

We do not have children who cannot learn when taught in positive and productive ways, including art, music, library, technology, foreign language (that kids can speak) etc.

Really we don't have incapable kids, those of you who are blaming the kids! Nor do we have incapable teachers, only teachers who chained to poor programs and curricula.

Questioner said...

No one is "blaming the kids" for low rankings.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like kids who you categorize as in "poverty" can't learn and do as well as others.

Give them (inside schools) the quality, the excellence,the commitment, and the EQUITY (real equity, not yet defined here, ever) and any child, poor or African American will SOAR!

Questioner said...

Schools in Western Pennsylvania have not yet figured out the specifics of providing "the quality, the excellence, the commitment, and the equity" required for comparable results, but there is no doubt that many, many teachers and others are trying hard.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Questioner, there are many educators in Western Pennsylvania that HAVE figured out the specifics, but have been cast aside by the "powers that be". Teachers trying hard (to do what they know will work) in systems that want control and financial gain for themselves will be let go if the succeed at "trying hard".

The systems in place prevent that from happening in very real ways.

There is no hyperbole in the analysis of what is occurring.

Questioner said...

There may well be individual teachers, principals, board members, community members, students, etc who understand at least in part what needs to be done, but overall the systems that exist in Western Pennsylvania have not succeeded in identifying and implementing what needs to be done. Even when they themselves stand to gain personally from success they don't know what to do.

Anonymous said...

Actually, several of the lowest-achieving district in Western Pennsylvania raised their achievement 20 to 30 points in one year when they were following the lead of one of those people who KNEW WHAT TO DO.

The problem is people who "know" are often here today and gone tomorrow since leaders who "don't know what to do" missed the point or wanted to keep control (adult agendas, again).

And, you're right, it doesn't matter if the district improved exponentially, it only matters if more money is coming in and they can maintain the positions in which they are not competent. Adult agendas rule the day, here, there and everywhere.

Anonymous said...

April 5, 2013 at 9:01 AM, you contradict yourself.

First, you admit, "Classroom Diagnostic Tools in December revealed that only 3 students at this school were at "proficient." This cannot be blamed on students who were NOT TAUGHT the "material.""

Then go on to say, "Yes, "opting out" will save the students from learning that they do not have the skills"?

The very same diagnostic tool used in December, will be used again in at least once more before the PSSA or Keystone exams. Why then is opting out of the high-stakes exam a problem? This exam neither reveals new information (especially since the results are not available until the next year) nor does it "save students".

Anonymous said...

"The reason for a semester change in Algebra was because students getting ready to graduate had not had Algebra I which is a STATE REQUIREMENT for graduation! " This statement is not consistent with the information that was shared at the UPREP meeting. According to the presenter (name escapes me), the students were in Algebra 2 class but were learning Algebra 1. That is when they decided to change the class name to "Keystone Algebra" (another name for Algebra 1).

Students will have 2 years of Algebra 1 because that is the Algebra that is tested on the Keystone Exam. Algebra 2 is a graduation requirement, but is NOT tested on a Keystone Exam therefore is given less attention.

This is clearly teaching to the test, not rich curricula.

Anonymous said...

Just the FACTS:

§ 4.24. High school graduation requirements.
(a) Requirements through the 2013-2014 school year. Each school district, including a charter school, shall specify requirements for graduation in the strategic plan under § 4.13 (relating to strategic plans). Requirements through the 2013-2014 school year must include course completion and grades, completion of a culminating project, results of local assessments aligned with the academic standards and a demonstration of proficiency in Reading, Writing and Mathematics on either the State assessments administered in grade 11 or 12 or local assessment aligned with academic standards and State assessments under § 4.52 (relating to local assessment system) at the proficient level or better to graduate. The purpose of the culminating project is to assure that students are able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding.
(b) Requirements beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
(1) General. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, each school district and AVTS (including charter schools), shall specify requirements for high school graduation in the strategic plan under § 4.13 that, at minimum, include:
(i) Course completion and grades.
(ii) Completion of a culminating project in one or more areas of concentrated study under the guidance and direction of the high school faculty. The purpose of the project, which may include research, writing, completion of a college application or some other appropriate form of demonstration, is to assure that the student is able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding. Projects may be undertaken by individual students or groups of students.
(iii) Demonstration of proficiency as determined by the school district or AVTS (including charter schools), in each of the State academic standards not assessed by a State assessment under § 4.51 (relating to State assessment system).
(iv) Demonstration of proficiency or above in each of the following State academic standards: Reading, Writing and Mathematics (Appendix A); Science and Technology and Environment and Ecology (Appendix B), as determined through any one or a combination of the following:
(A) Successful completion of secondary level coursework in English Composition, Literature, Algebra I and Biology in which a Keystone Exam serves as the course final exam.

Questioner said...

Facts only go so far without analysis. The regs indicate an alternative to the pssa or keystones in order to graduate. This assessment has been referred to as a project.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely true. However, the FACT is that a new process is currently being put in place with new online requirements that will assess projects in a way that has been impossible previously.

School districts who previously used "projects" as a supplement for students who "failed" to meet minimum PA standards were able to graduate these students on a "wing and prayer" since PDE did not have the capacity to evaluate whether the projects met minimum standards. So there was an automatic "pass."

The new Common Core State Standards are now in place raising the standards to levels of complexity far beyond the current PSSA.

We have yet to learn what will happen with projects.

It is a sad day when Schools are administered by people who have little or no educational background or who believe that eliminating rich content, creativity, the arts, critical thinking will better prepare students with reading and math skills. There is no agreement anywhere that this should be happening. Nor is there agreement that there should be no accountability for preparing students with the basic skills needed to survive or be successful in our world, today.

Opting out is running away from critical and constructive solutions for preparing young people at all economic levels for successful lives.

Questioner said...

If good measures for the project alternative are in place that might be a good option for those who wish to protest the way the test is being used.

Anonymous said...

The real PROTEST must be around what is happening in schools that eliminates rich content, critical thinking, creative activity, music, art, debate, journalism, etc. in favor of "drill and kill" which has done NOTHING to improve reading, writing, math or science skills?

Let's get to the root of the problem and not just "opt out" of accountability for basic skills that students can and must learn routinely, creatively, productively, positively in schools.

Become a part of a thoughtful, well-planned PROTEST that seriously engages educators, parents and community in a process for providing our young people with abundant opportunities to learn, develop and put their inherent natural talents to successful outcomes.

Instead, "opt in" on behalf of "excellence and equity" for ALL of our students, even those now marginalized by race or "poverty."

"Opting out" will never be a solution!

Questioner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Questioner said...

Choosing the project option is not opting out.

As for thoughtful and well planned protests, the response is merely thank you for your input or occasionally a minor adjustment.

Anonymous said...

One big " note" on the test...pps students have been encouraged to " turn and talk" in every class in almost all situations-- it is very hard to convince students that TODAY work is individual-- think about it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point! One that needs to made vociferously to Central Office.

During the past three days, there have been extended time opportunities to talk with experienced, high-quality, committed, caring teachers who always knew how to engage students creatively at high-levels. What the current administration has done to egregiously depress and strip these teachers(professionals) of their goals to educate our young people is nor only demoralizing and debasing but has reached the point of being criminal. These professionals need to think about a class action suit against the c.o. perpetrators who have degraded students, parents and teachers en masse.