“Our children are more than test scores”, my letter to the editor printed in Delaware State News today

Our Children are more than test scores - 10-7-14

On October 2nd, I sent a letter to the editor to Delaware State News, Dover Post and The News Journal.  Today, Delaware State News printed the letter in it’s almost near entirety, and the Dover Post will post a shortened version tomorrow.  I am waiting on word back from The News Journal.  This is the letter that appeared in Delaware State News today:

To The Parents of Students in Delaware,

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Christina Board of Education meeting. There were over 200 people in the crowd, including parents, teachers, and legislators. Sept. 30th was the deadline for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the Delaware Department of Education and Gov. Jack Markell forced upon the Christina School District and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. At issue was six schools in the city of Wilmington that were deemed “failing” by the DOE based on proficiency scores with the DCAS standardized testing.

To judge any school, much less Title 1 low-income schools with high populations of minorities and special education students, based on standardized testing is a major fault with the DOE. But what made it even worse was the caveat of hiring new school leaders for each school at a salary of $160,000 a year.

The worst part is every single teacher in these schools would have to reapply for their positions. If the school districts did not sign the MOUs then they would have 120 days to comply or risk a state takeover of the schools. Most feel they would become charter schools. Wilmington already has a great deal of designated space in the Bank of America building at Rodney Square within a mile of each of these schools. If they can try to pull this in Wilmington, they can do this anywhere in the state.

The Christina School District voted to ignore the MOU, and to come up with their own with all involved stakeholders: parents, teachers, and the community- Which is something Markell and the DOE should have done to begin with. Instead, they made a big press announcement at one of the schools and announced they would give the six schools $5.8 million dollars over four years. After the costs of the new school “planner” for each school ($50,000 a year), and the new “school leader” ($160,000 a year), this would amount to the schools receiving $31,666 a year. This would not solve the problems these schools are facing. They have bloated classroom sizes, with many having up to 30 students in each classroom. There are also issues of crime, drugs, parental neglect and abuse that many of these children face.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said he is willing to negotiate with both districts, and I pray he lives up to his word. But this whole education reform with Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing has been controversial at best. There was no input from the school districts when it was implemented in 2009. The United States Department of Education, under the rule of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and with President Obama’s blessing, offered hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding called Race To The Top. The only catch was the governors of each state had to accept the new Common Core standards as the new curriculum for the states. The Common Core State Standards were written by non-educators, and the only educators involved in the process quit because they thought the standards were horrible.

Next Spring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming out. This replaces DCAS as Delaware’s standardized test for all public schools. Murphy has already stated he believes 70% of students in Delaware will fail the test for the first couple of years because of the “new” curriculum. These students will not fail the test because it’s a hard test. They will fail because it’s a bad test.

Many parents don’t realize the impact this once a year test will have on our public school teachers in Delaware. Their annual reviews will be based on the student scores of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This is completely unfair to educators, and as seen with the priority schools agenda, can have major ramifications for teachers and schools.

Questions have arisen in Delaware and many other states about the legality of parents having their child (ren) opt out of taking the tests. The DOE and the districts will say there is no policy, but here is the bottom line: If more than 5 percent of the students in any district do not take the test, then, they risk losing funding. But what happens if every school district in the state makes this benchmark? Would Markell allow every single school district in the state to lose funding? There were cuts in 2008 and 2009 during the recession that were never fully, or even remotely, restored. To have more cuts would be a disaster for the entire education system in the state- Which is the one part Markell and the DOE won’t tell you. It’s a game they cannot win.

Delaware parents, opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All you have to do is write a letter to the school, and let them know you do not want your child taking any high-stakes standardized testing, and when other children are taking the test, you expect your child to be educated as is his or her right under Free Appropriate Public Education. Don’t let the state take away the local control that is any school district’s right. It will only take 6% of us in each district to make this happen, but let’s show the DOE and Jack Markell a much bigger percentage.

Have I opted my child out? I am doing it right now. My son, who attends William Henry Middle School in the Capital School District, will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Our children are more than test scores. Don’t let the state define what our children are. Let children define what they are based on their individualized and unique talents.

Kevin Ohlandt, Dover

Updated 5:51pm, October 7th: Based on a conversation with Senator Bryan Townsend on Twitter, he did not say the Smarter Balanced Assessment was “horrible and bad for students” so I am taking that part out of my article and have requested the Delaware State News to correct this as well.  I based this off of things I have heard from multiple sources but since Senator Townsend never went on record with these thoughts, I apologize.  Senator Townsend DID say “I think it’s appalling to change tests/curriculum so quickly & to bases teachers’ evals on tests.”  He also clarified he did not take the full Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Kuumba Academy Manipulating Low Income Data in Application For Charter School Performance Fund Award @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @delawareonline @TNJ

In their application for their request for $469,000 from the charter school performance fund, Kuumba Academy states their low-income population at Kuumba is 84%.  But the Delaware Department of Education school profiles page shows Kuumba at 63.1% low income.  When you go to the details page it shows the same amount.  Even more interesting, when you convert the document to PDF format, which you are able to do on the website, the Low Income section is completely taken out.

From their application for the charter school performance award, taken from this DOE website: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/senate148/files/dcspfg/KuumbaAcadmyPerfFund.pdf

As a recipient of Title I funding, 84% of the student body at Kuumba qualifies for federally free and reduced meals based on their family income. Additionally, approximately 10% of Kuumba students are classified as special needs and have an Individualized Educational Program. The expansion plan outlined in Section A will benefit all students in grades K7. For the 20142015 school year, this is estimated to be 467 students. These initiatives would benefit approximately 392 lowincome students in grades K7, or 84% of the student body in these grades.

This is the second area of completely different data being skewed on their application as opposed to what appears on the DOE website.  Yesterday I noticed a large change in their special education numbers between the application and the DOE School Profiles page.

The DOE has indicated on a Twitter conversation that the low-income numbers were formulated differently and Matthew Albright with the Delaware News Journal has already reported this.  I did a search for this article, but if they are talking about this link: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20130919/NEWS03/309190036/Too-many-kids-capable-college-never-even-apply-?gcheck=1 nothing comes up for it.  To be on the safe side I’ve made a request with Matthew Albright to provide a link to this story.

But this doesn’t change the fact that the Delaware DOE was caught red-handed yesterday by MULTIPLE witnesses changing low-income numbers on their system in real-time.  The truth will come out when the 2014-2015 September 30th numbers are reported by the Delaware DOE in November.  All eyes will be on those reports!