Future of Teaching

Teachers to boycott evaluation-linked tests at newcomer high school

Teachers at a Brooklyn high school for English language learners are refusing to give a new writing test required by the city for new teacher evaluations plans.

Students at International High School at Prospect Heights, mostly made up of recently arrived immigrants, had such a “traumatic and demoralizing experience” taking a similar test at the beginning of the year that teachers decided to boycott the spring version, which is currently being administered in high schools.

“Many students, after asking for help that teachers were not allowed to give, simply put their heads down for the duration,” the school staff say in a media advisory. “Some students even cried.”

They said they are protesting the one-size-fits-all approach of the tests, an essay-based assessment developed by the Department of Education, Teachers College, and Stanford University. At International, teachers said the tests were so far above the reading and writing levels of even the top students that the results said little about proficiency.  

Similar criticism has been lodged by teachers of students with disabilities.

The assessment, called the Measures of Student Learning Performance Assessment, will count toward a teacher’s overall evaluation rating. Families of more than half of the school’s students plan to opt out from taking the test, according to the advisory. 

The staff have already notified Chancellor Carmen Fariña, asking that she reconsider using the citywide performance assessments on English language learners.

Teachers will discuss their decision to boycott the tests at a press conference outside of the school tomorrow morning. Details about the event are below.

WHEN: Thursday, May 1, 2014, 7:45-8:20am,

WHERE: International High School at Prospect Heights, 883 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225

WHAT: Teachers will hold a press conference to announce their refusal to administer the NYC ELA Performance Assessment. 26 teachers and staff at Prospect Heights International High School are refusing to administer a new assessment that is part of the new teacher evaluation system pushed by Bloomberg’s DOE and the UFT last spring.  50% of parents have opted their children out of the test. The high school serves almost exclusively recently arrived English Language Learners.

WHY:  The test was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language.  The level of English used in the pre-test administered in the Fall was so far above the level of our beginner ELLs that it provided little to no information about our students’ language proficiency or the level of their academic skills.

Furthermore, the test was a traumatic and demoralizing experience for students.  Many students, after asking for help that teachers were not allowed to give, simply put their heads down for the duration.  Some students even cried.

Teachers at Prospect Heights are drawing a line with this test.  Standardized, high stakes test dominate our schools, distort our curriculum and make our students feel like failures.  This test serves no purpose for the students,  and ultimately only hurts them.

26 Teachers have signed a letter to Chancellor Farina declaring that they will not give the exam.  The letter expresses gratitude for Farina’s immediate turn around of the DOE’s attitude toward teachers, and asks that the Chancellor reconsider the use of the NYC ELA Performance Assessment with English Language Learners.

WHO:  Teachers and support staff from the International High School at Prospect Heights.

RSVP: This event is open to press and coverage is welcome.

 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.