When the superintendent wishes to throw himself a party, he tends to do it right. Last Thursday during the Board’s Work Session meeting (which they call “work sessions” so they can exclude public comments at the end), the Superintendent had Alabama Representatives singing his praises for his PTA Superintendent of the Year award last year, had board members singing his praises for winning yet another “major award” from eSchoolNews for being a “tech-savvy” superintendent of the year, and got to sing his own praises by telling the district just how amazing the school turnaround at Westlawn Middle is going. There was precious few non-scripted moments during the school board meeting this past Thursday, which is exactly what the superintendent wants: control.
(About the only non-scripted moment must have really chapped Dr. Wardynski’s backside as it ruined his plan to leverage local support for overturning the School Calendar “Opt-Out” bill into support for the Local Control School Flexibility Act. After Wardynski and Robinson made their claims that if you like having local control over the school calendar, then you should support the Flexibility Act, Senator Holtzclaw stood to point out that the Calendar “Opt-Out” bill and the School Flexibility Act are two separate bills. You could see Dr. Robinson’s face fall when he said this as she had been doing her best–as was Dr. Wardynski–to claim that the two bills were one. Thanks to Sen. Holtzclaw for stopping this farce. If only either of them bothered to read the local paper from time to time, they would have known that there were in fact two separate bills. I guess it’s too much to ask that our superintendent and school board actually read.)
For those who don’t know, a “turnaround” school is what happens to schools when they fail to achieve their AYP goals under Obama’s Race to the Top grant programs. Basically, a turnaround school loses all of its existing administration and the overwhelming majority of its teachers. In turn, the district receives a little over $1.5 million dollars for use at that school for personnel, extended learning time and “incentives” (bonuses paid to teachers for good results on the STAR test–yes, some teachers, not all, get a bonus if your child does better on a test).
The turnaround model isn’t beloved by everyone. Many low-income, minority communities across the nation are balking at the loss of local control and lack of parental involvement and input. And it seems that the data, and you know we’re all about DATA here in Huntsville, doesn’t support the claim that removing everyone from a school actually improves student performance.
But that was exactly what Dr. Wardynski was claiming on Thursday night. Here’s the video of Ms. Lynette Alexander walking the board and the enthusiastic faculty of Westlawn through the all important data that shows that the turnaround model is working. (If you would like to download the PowerPoint that Ms. Alexander was using, you may get a copy from here.)
STAR testing is AMAZING isn’t it? As are all the changes that Wardynski has made at Westlawn, including bringing in Teach for America (who made the first part of the presentation that night), and of course our beloved technology. These components led Cathy McNeal so aptly say, “I’ve never seen growth like this. It’s phenomenal.”
Now that we’re beyond the passion of the moment and we can think rationally about this report, let’s consider what we’ve heard.
Suddenly, because of just a few minor changes, miracles are occurring that lead a 40 year educational veteran to claim that she’s never seen growth like this.
Someone needs to let
MsDr. McNeal know that when things look too good to be true . . . well, you know the cliché, don’t you?
There are a lot of interesting claims being made in this presentation. First, we start with Wardynski’s beloved STAR Enterprises Test that he brought to the district last year. This is a test that is administered across the district basically whenever the superintendent decides that he wants more data to play with. Officially it was supposed to be administered three times during the year: September, January, and March. However, the test has already been administered three times in September, October and January. It will likely be administered at least twice more in March and at the end of the year when our elementary students will sit for at least three consecutive weeks of testing with STAR, ARMT+ and the new ACT test.
Setting aside for a moment the questions and doubts that any parent has with a district that is evaluating teachers on student test scores (remember when tests were used to evaluate students?), the district in its infinite wisdom has scheduled some form of testing every single month students are in school. Here’s a list:
- STAR Enterprise Benchmark l, Grades K-2 September 10 – 14, 2012
- STAR Enterprise Benchmark l, Grades 3-12 September 12 – 14, 2012
- DIBELS Next (K-1) and DIBELS Grade 2 Sept 17-21, 2012
- Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) September 17-21
- Mathematics Monday, 9/17/12
- Reading Tuesday, 9/18/12
- Language Wednesday, 9/19/12
- Social Studies Thursday, 9/20/12
- Science/Biology (both tests) Friday, 9/21/12
- PSAT October 17, 2012
- EXPLORE Grade 8 & PLAN Grade 10 – Career Inventory Section October 18, 2012
- EXPLORE Test, Grade 8 Academic Section October 23, 2012
- PLAN, Grade 10 Academic Section October 23, 2012
- EXPLORE & PLAN Make-Up Day October 24, 2012
- Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) December 3-7, 2012
- Science/Biology (both tests) Monday, 12/3/12
- Mathematics Tuesday, 12/4/12
- Reading Wednesday, 12/5/12
- Language Thursday, 12/6/12
- Social Studies Friday, 12/7/12
- DIBELS Next (K-1) and DIBELS Grade 2 January 3 – 11, 2013
- STAR Enterprise Benchmark ll, Grades K-12 January 14-18, 2013
- Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) March 18-22, 2013
- Science/Biology (both tests) Monday, 3/18/13
- Mathematics Tuesday, 3/19/13
- Reading Wednesday, 3/20/13
- Social Studies Thursday, 3/21/13
- Language Friday, 3/22/13
- STAR Assessment Grades K-8 ONLY March 18-22, 2013
- ACCESS for ELLs March 25 – May 3, 2013
- Alternate ACCESS for ELLS March 25 – May 3, 2013
- Alabama Alternate Assessment (AAA) April 15 – May 3, 2013
- DIBELS Next (K-1) and DIBELS Grade 2 April 15 – 24, 2013
- HCS ACT QualityCore End-of Course Assessments 2 – 45 minute tests – April 29 – May 2, 2013
- English 11 (HCS Wavier Assessment) To be Announced
- English 12 To be Announced
- Algebra II (HCS Wavier Assessment) To be Announced
- Pre Calculus To be Announced Chemistry To be Announced
- Physics To be Announced US History (HCS Waiver Assessment) To be Announced
- MANDATED ACT End-of-Course tests (1 day each) SDE will announce dates To be Announced
- English 9 To be Announced
- English 10 To be Announced
- Algebra I To be Announced
- Geometry To be Announced
- Biology (HCS Waiver Assessment) To be Announced
- International Baccalaureate (IB) Provisional April 30-May 22, 2013
- STAR Assessment Grades K-12 April 29 – May 3, 2013
- STAR Early Literacy April 29 – May 3, 2013
- AP Exam May 6 – 17, 2013
- Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test+ (ARMT+) Gr 3-8 May 6-14, 2013
- ARMT+ Reading May 6, 2013
- ARMT+ Reading May 7, 2013
- ARMT+ Math May 8, 2013
- ARMT+ Math May 9, 2013
- ARMT+ Make Up May 10, 2013
- ARMT+ Science (Grades 5 & 7) May 13, 2013
- ARMT+ Make Up May 14, 2013
This is the official list, but it doesn’t include everything like the additional STAR Assessment that was administered in October. If you total the days by age group, you’ll find the following:
- K-2: 43 of 180 days
- 3rd-8th: 42 of 180 days
- 9th-12th: 59 of 180 days.
This is what the district was “celebrating” last Thursday.
And if you think that’s bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Race to the Bottom
Remember when Ms. Alexander was talking about the “phenomenal” growth? I wonder how such growth could be achieved?
Well, it happens because every student who doesn’t benchmark on the first STAR test in September (or presumably October) has the benefit of taking a STAR practice test every single week of the year.
That’s right. Our lowest performing students are taking the STAR test every single week until they begin to “grow” in their performance. The STAR test evaluates two subjects: reading and mathematics. It doesn’t evaluate science, technology, history, biology, physics, social studies, civics, or even a skill as basic as writing. We are testing students from kindergarten through twelfth grade (yes, some 12th graders are being evaluated regular on their ability to read).
You know the educational reformers, like Wardynski, used to claim that their reforms would make our schools the envy of the world. I wonder how many other nations in the world are envious of twelfth graders who can read? Race to the Bottom would be far more appropriate and honest, don’t you think?
But wait, it gets far, far worse.
“Phenomenal” Growth Explained
Remember that growth that was too good to be true. Well, once you realize that these students are practicing this test every week, it becomes a bit easier to understand.
But even growth at that level isn’t sufficient to gain Wardynski’s praise. It has to be higher. And so, we add to this mixture “incentives” for teachers to increase their growth. At Westlawn alone, as a part of the “turnaround,” teachers are receiving financial incentives to improve their students’ grades. So far the district has distributed $80,000.00 of a budgeted $355,392.00 to incentivize teachers to help their students grow.
Westlawn has 43 “teaching staff.” If half of them have received an incentive to improve test scores, we’re taking about a $4,000 bonus for half a year’s work with an additional $275,392 remaining to be spent during the second half of the year.
Imagine how much of an incentive it would be to someone making $36,144 a year to be offered a $4,000 bonus. That’s an 11% raise. And that’s assuming that half of the teachers are receiving this bonus. There’s no way the number is that high.
But wait again, there’s still more.
In addition to being “incentivized,” some teachers at some schools are being allowed (or are breaking the rules and doing it anyway) to give the actual STAR test to their students multiple times. When a student takes the test multiple times, even if the test is randomized, they’re going to show growth.
This is the environment that Wardynski has instituted in our district. It’s an environment where school is pitted against school. (You’re only “successful” if your scores are higher than other schools.) It’s an environment where teacher is pitted against teacher. (You’re only successful if you’re better than your peers. That’s why some teachers names appear on the STAR data report while most don’t. Only the best are worth acknowledging.)
It’s an environment where teachers have a significant financial incentive to produce “growth” as measured by a flawed tool. It’s an environment where teachers jobs are being threatened if they don’t produce “phenomenal” growth. It’s an environment where a tool that was designed to evaluate students is instead being used as the primary evaluation tool for teachers. (Can some of our world famous engineers please explain to Wardynski–who likes to claim that he is one–the fallacy of using a tool designed to evaluate students being used to evaluate teachers?)
Testing To Death
This will result in the death of education in our district.
- Education is only concerned with passing the test in Huntsville City Schools. We test constantly leaving no time for anything else. Forget about art, music, or dance, there isn’t time for social studies, history, or science. That’s right, Rocket City doesn’t have time for science anymore.
- Testing isn’t focused on evaluating students anymore but rather teachers.
- Teachers are being placed in a position where cheating to improve test scores will be seen as a necessary survival tool. And we know from our neighbors in Atlanta just how that will turn out.
The district knows that these are issues, but they continue to head down a path towards destruction simply because our “Strong Leader” wishes it. No one is willing to stand up to him and tell him that his policies are killing our schools.
So what can we do?
- It’s time to organize and boycott the test. The STAR test, no matter how wonderfully your child is doing, is not being used to evaluate your child. It’s being used to evaluate your child’s teacher. In other words, your child is being used as a tool to abuse the very people who are trying to help them. It’s time to say that you opt-out of this abusive system.
- It’s time that teachers, like their brothers and sisters in Seattle, Chicago, and New York band together and opt out as well.
- It’s far past time for organizations that claim to support teachers like the Huntsville Education Association and the Alabama Education Association to quit making it easy for Dr. Wardynski to use our children to abuse our teachers. Twice last Thursday, Dr. Wardynski praised Rex Cheatham, HEA Uniserve Director, and Shirley Wellington, President of HEA, for their cooperation and support as they move the district toward a model that bases evaluations of teachers on student test scores. Who exactly are AEA and HEA working for here?
We can still save our schools, but we have to work together. Parents have to realize that having a child score on a 10th grade reading level and an 9th grade math level in the 4th grade doesn’t mean anything at all except that your child can take a standardized test. It doesn’t mean that they’re 5 or 6 grade levels ahead.
You’re being lied to. What it means is that the district is not teaching them science, history, social studies, art, music or even writing.
We can still save our schools if teachers realize that they do have power to fight this abuse.
We can still save our schools if organizations designed to stand for teachers actually begin doing so.
We can still save our schools if we care more about education than we do turning a profit for business and industry, which is all that Wardynski and the Board of Education are concerned about.