“The DOE gave no compelling argument to have children take the test”
Last night’s Delaware Parent Teacher Association held their first of two Parent Opt Out Town Halls. The meeting was very controversial and heated according to most participants. The meeting, held at the Delaware PTA office in Bear, DE began at 5:30pm with about 60 participants. Over half were parents and the others were teachers, some of which served a dual role as both a parent and a teacher. A panel at the event included the following: News Journal education reporter Matthew Albright who moderated and asked the participant questions, Dr. Terri Hodges, President of the Delaware PTA, Yvonne Johnson, former PTA President, Bill Doolittle, President-Elect of the PTA, Frederika Jenner, President of the Delaware State Educators Association, Brian Touchette, the Director of Assessment at the Delaware Department of Education, and Shelley Rouser, the Director of K-12 Initiatives and Educator Engagement for the DOE. Members of the audience were given index cards to write questions on.
Jenner gave a presentation on the history of standardized assessments in Delaware and how they impacted students. Rouser informed the audience Jenner was her teacher when she was a child. Jenner clarified that “Key points were that while opt-out is the current action, the real goal we all share is to reduce the number of mandated tests, reduce the time dedicated to testing, reduce test prep except for what is agreed is really necessary to intro kids to new test, and to put testing in its proper place–not to rate and rank kids, educators, schools and certainly not to shame and blame.”
Jenner also said much of her presentation was based on questions surround lack of availability for other types of learning during the testing window. Libraries and computer labs will be used for the test, which will take away time when those services are needed. As well, she stated elementary school curriculum, which has become very narrow, is in danger of decline based on the testing environment in schools. She said in a recent Facebook post she is “not opposed to testing. Heck- teachers invented tests. What we want are tests that are valid, reliable, aligned to what we teach, and not invasive and predatory. We want time to teach and time to learn. This is not too much to ask for. The current regime of testing is not beneficial to children and other living things.”
Brian Touchette advised the audience he was approaching the meeting with a respectful tone and he expected the audience to do the same. Multiple participants claimed Touchette was very defensive in the beginning, but after many questions he appeared to become very flustered and answered many questions with “I don’t know”. Touchette told the audience that he understands they are not on the same side, but he did not want the yelling to continue.
Touchette presented the same statement from the DOE this blog put up yesterday which included Delaware state code from Title 14, Federal regulations, as well as multiple threats to funding from the United States Department of Education to the Delaware DOE, and from the Delaware DOE to the local school districts. He did, however, confirm to the public there are no consequences when a parent opts their child out for the student or the parent. The DOE has provided each school district with guidance to ensure that students who do not test will receive academic instruction. Sit and stare is not a policy in Delaware.
Terri Hodges, the Delaware PTA President, clarified that Federal law states Local Education Agencies must test 95% of all students in order to be compliant with No Child Left Behind or risk losing Federal funding. This is not the same as saying all students must test or that it is illegal for parents to opt their child out of the test. The PTA said the consequences are financial for the DOE and the school districts, and the districts do have financial back-ups if they fail to reach the 95% mark needed to validate the results of the assessment. The Delaware PTA felt the Delaware DOE will not concede on this point. Hodges stated the Delaware PTA talked with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on this matter and he doesn’t feel it is illegal for a parent to opt their child out of the state assessment. The PTA is going to ask for a formal legal opinion on this matter.
Wendy Johnson, a teacher in the Christina School District, said “The DOE gave no compelling argument to have children take the test, beyond the penalties that were mentioned. Of course they never said it was money, they just used consequences and repercussions. When asked, they were forced to admit that the results had nothing to offer the student, teacher, or parent regarding the child’s ability to progress, but they hope to use the Smarter Balance for years to come so they can begin to collect that data.”
A parent from the Appoquinimink School District showed a letter she received from the district asking her to sign a letter acknowledging she is breaking the law by opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and this is illegal. The Delaware PTA is forwarding this letter to the Attorney General’s office as part of their legal opinion request. Bill Doolittle with the PTA said this could have been an earlier version of a DOE letter, before they offered the school districts further guidance. This blog contacted the Appoquinimink School District and spoke with Lilian Miles, the Public Information Officer for the district. She explained their letter is based on a Delaware Department of Education template they received and she would find out who the DOE representative was that provided this information to them. I reached out to the Delaware DOE Public Information Officer Alison May and left a message for clarification on this matter but at publication time I had not heard back from her.
As the meeting wound down, a man stood up and said he was an employee in the Brandywine School District. He explained there was a former teacher in the room who was wonderful. The man said something parents may not have taken into consideration when opting out is the negative evaluations teachers may receive as a result. He further clarified that “since we really love our teachers, do we really want to do that to them?” While no direct threat was made, many parents and teachers reported they felt threatened and intimidated by his statements.
Teachers in the audience apparently were very offended by these comments as well. Jennifer Twardowski, a teacher and member of the Christina Educators Association told the audience “If any of my parents are here, please do not worry about my evaluation. I will not take it personally if you opt out.” The teachers were told to stop shouting out but many teachers advised the man was given an opportunity to speak and they felt they should be afforded the same opportunity. The man was later identified as Brandywine Assistant Superintendent of Academics Lincoln Hohler. I left a message for Mr. Hohler, but I have not heard back from him, possibly due to the inclement weather Delaware is experiencing today, but the district office is open today.
Mike Matthews, President of the Red Clay Educators Association and a teacher at Warner Elementary School, said he left the State Board of Education meeting in Dover at 4:30 to get to the Town Hall. Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education and a couple of members of the State Board were scheduled to attend the Town Hall, but Matthews said the State Board meeting wasn’t even halfway through their agenda by the time he left. He did say Johnson asked him to let the PTA know they apologized for not being able to make it. Matthews later said Johnson was very upset they were not there.
Hodges issued an official statement on behalf of the Delaware PTA over the controversial issue of parent opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“We firmly believe in a parent’s right to choice whether it is on the location of the school or participation in the state assessment.
Based on all the information that has been presented so far (by the Delaware Department of Education and through our own research), we feel that parents do have the right to opt out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interests of their child.
Assessments can be a valuable tool if developed, implemented and used correctly, with the student in mind. We do not believe that is what we have at the moment.”
Hodges announced at the meeting she would be opting her own child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
The next Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Hall is at the Dover Public Library, 35 East Loockerman St. from 5:30 to 7:30pm on March 3rd. To register for the event, please go here: http://www.123contactform.com/form-1131334/Parent-Opt-Out-Town-Hall
**UPDATED, 7:15pm to include further details and comments from Frederika Jenner. Appoquinimink provided a copy of their letter to the parent, which can e seen here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/appoquinimink-school-district-responds-to-parent-opt-out-issue/
No response has been given by either Alison May with the Delaware DOE or Brandywine Assistant Superintendent Lincoln Hohler at this time.