Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter To Our New LAPS Superintendent

By CHRISTY RUGPOR
Los Alamos

An open letter to our new LAPS Superintendent: 

Dr. (Kurt) Steinhaus, congratulations on your new position. As I parent of three elementary school children, I beg you to do something about the increasing state-mandated testing and harmful ‘education’ directives that are being inflicted on our wonderful public schools by the NM PED. 

PARCC testing is starting this week in the elementary schools, and my children are opting out. The system has become so problematic; we are past the point of idle threats that “lack of participation will jeopardize your school’s grade” or will decrease your child’s opportunities.

It’s hard to see the value of a test that will be graded by temporary employees who are paid less than the telemarketers, and are recruited through Craig’s List. It’s troubling to see these ‘test-marketing’ companies promoting a ‘teach to the test’ philosophy on their websites.

It is hard for me to have faith that these tests can accurately measure anything about a student’s skills when the sample test questions put forward by the NM PED are often problematic, flawed, or factually wrong. A recent article shows that years of testing from NCLB (and years of ‘practicing’ standardized tests) isn’t helping millennials when compared to the rest of the world. 

In fact, they are “falling behind.” There is no reason for elementary school children to be ‘practicing’ so many standardized tests. As stated by a school principal, our kids don’t need to get used to this, we need to stop it.

Using poorly designed tests and flawed test evaluation as part of a Value Added Model for teacher evaluation is simply wrong and unfair. All the money and time we throw at testing does nothing to help fix any problems, such as under-performing students or rare cases of ineffective teachers. 

These tests cannot truly be measuring academic achievement or future potential. The system is demoralizing and demotivating to teachers. It devalues teachers and limits their creativity and individuality. 

To any parent who has considered opting out, but worries about the dubious NM PED school ‘grade,’ ask yourself if you’d rather send your kids to a ‘C’ Elementary school in Los Alamos that stated they were limiting standardized testing time for young children and increasing teaching time, or an ‘A’ Elementary school that fully prepared students for each and every state mandated test and interim assessment despite the impact on teaching time.

According to the listed average wage reported by the US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013, compared to numerous temporary job advertisements by contractors for Pearson’s & other test corporations.

See Craig’s List ads for Longmont, Colo., Kelly services, recruiting for Measured Progress in Longmont, Colo. Measured Progress is  the company contracted to grade NM SBA tests. To see how problematic the grading can be, see  books on test evaluation, such as “Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry” by Todd Farley.

See http://www.measuredprogress.org/common-core-assessments  and the look at their assessment time line. And be sure to contact the sales department!

Please go see the 4th grade SBA science, which is fraught with questions that have factual, technical, or other inaccuracies and has questions that will be impossible for temporary workers to accurately evaluate based on a pre-determined rubric for scoring. In many cases, the entire ‘science’ premise of the question is simply wrong.  I have gone through every sample test for available for tests for which I have opted my children out, and have not found a single one that did not have serious problems.  

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/02/u-s-millennials-post-abysmal-scores-in-tech-skills-test-lag-behind-foreign-peers/?hpid=z4  

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/06/principal-to-parents-we-dont-need-to-get-used-to-this-we-need-to-stop-it/

Even the American Statistical Association has concern with how standardized testing in VAMs are being used: http://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf.   Additionally, this type of system can add many many problems to our schools—it  punishes teachers for taking on the students with the most education challenges,  since they could affect the teachers ‘measured’ effectiveness. More importantly, VAM based teacher evaluations  do not address the actual issue of performance gaps, but instead blame teachers, despite significant published research documenting  that large (and admittedly far more challenging) issues such as poverty are a root cause.

To any parent that has considered opting out, but worries about the dubious NM PED school ‘grade,’ ask yourself if you’d rather send your kids to a ‘C’ Elementary school in Los Alamos that stated they were limiting standardized testing time for young children and increasing teaching time, or an ‘A’ Elementary school that fully prepared students for each and every state mandated test and interim assessment despite the impact on teaching time.

According to the listed average wage reported by the US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013, compared to numerous temporary job advertisements by contractors for Pearson’s & other test corporations.

See Craig’s List ads for Longmont, Colo., Kelly Services, recruiting for Measured Progress in Longmont, Colo. Measured Progress is  the company contracted to grade NM SBA tests. To see how problematic the grading can be, see  books on test evaluation, such as “Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry” by Todd Farley.

See http://www.measuredprogress.org/common-core-assessments and the look at their assessment time line. And be sure to contact the sales department!

Please go see the 4th grade SBA science, which is fraught with questions that have factual, technical, or other inaccuracies and has questions that will be impossible for temporary workers to accurately evaluate based on a pre-determined rubric for scoring. In many cases, the entire ‘science’ premise of the question is simply wrong. I have gone through every sample test for available for tests for which I have opted my children out, and have not found a single one that did not have serious problems.  

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/02/u-s-millennials-post-abysmal-scores-in-tech-skills-test-lag-behind-foreign-peers/?hpid=z4  

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/06/principal-to-parents-we-dont-need-to-get-used-to-this-we-need-to-stop-it/

Even the American Statistical Association has concern with how standardized testing in VAMs are being used: http://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf.   Additionally, this type of system can add many, many problems to our schools—it punishes teachers for taking on the students with the most education challenges,  since they could affect the teachers ‘measured’ effectiveness. More importantly, VAM based teacher evaluations do not address the actual issue of performance gaps, but instead blame teachers, despite significant published research documenting  that large  (and admittedly far more challenging) issues such as poverty are a root cause.

This has profound negative impacts on our children. At the elementary school level, I want my children to LOVE school and learning. I want them to have the desire to explore their world and try new things.  I want them to be creative and divergent thinkers. I want them to develop socially, emotionally, and academically. The excessive focus on testing kills creativity and intellectual exploration and stifles divergent thinking. It creates an environment where kids are labeling themselves at a very young age, rather than striving to learn more and challenge themselves.

Dr. Steinhaus, you stated in your interviews that you were a ‘data-driven’ educational leader. I know you see the need to assess our students and teachers, but the system that has evolved in NM is not doing this. I urge you to look deeply into the impact this excessive testing is having on our teachers and students. If we do need to participate in federal and state designated standardized testing, it should be limited to ~6 hours per year at the elementary school level. There are many other ways to access and evaluate our teachers and children, and many other states and school districts are actively exploring their options.

Los Alamos should be a district that leads in education innovation. 

Dr. Steinhaus, please be a champion for the educational reforms we need. Find a way to let our teachers teach and our children learn, without endless testing and evaluations.  Lead our schools into the future despite NM PED. And I’ll keep encouraging parents to refuse the test until you do, so we cannot sink into complacency. Our students do well despite the tests, not because of the tests. We can do even better without them.

For more information, see some recent articles: 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/01/principal-what-ive-learned-about-annual-standardized-testing/

http://www.aaup.org/article/warnings-trenches#.VNIl7UdHarV

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/23/the-coming-common-core-meltdown/

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