Will Delaware State Board of Education & DOE Throw Delaware PTA Under The Bus For Smarter Balanced Scores As Well?

I found this very interesting item today… On October 5th, there will be a tentative special Delaware State Board of Education Workshop on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Accountability.  While it is not on the State Public Meeting Calendar, they already have the agenda up if you go to the above link, along with documents to be used in the presentation.  I wrote yesterday about the DOE’s plans to use teachers as scapegoats for the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, and from the looks of this, the Delaware PTA may be used in similar fashion.

State Board Workshop on State Assessments and Accountability 10/5/2015 – 5:00 PM

Date, Time and Location all TBA

Below are resources that may be helpful in providing additional information about Delaware State assessments

Here is the link to the Smarter Balanced practice test: http://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/

A website with lots of resources and information on Delaware’s standards and assessments: http://delexcels.org/

Additional information about the Smarter Balanced Assessment: http://bealearninghero.org/classroom/smarter-balanced

Smarter Balanced Assessment Guides developed by Delaware PTA and the National PTA:
http://delawarepta.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/smarterbalancedassessmentguide.pdf

http://www.pta.org/files/PTA%20Assessment%20Factsheet%20FINAL.pdf

Resources to review specific skills aligned with Smarter Balanced Score report information by grade level: http://bealearninghero.org/skill-builder

Grade by grade overview of English and math standards: http://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2909

That’s a whole lot of mention of Delaware PTA in just one part of this presentation.  This will be a couple weeks after parents get the kid’s Smarter Balanced scores, and they will be freaking out.  Here comes the State Board to the rescue.  They are going to make this a big thing.  all parents are invited.  Media will be on hand and probably already got their “save the date” email.  The State Board will say “We didn’t design the test.  Teachers contributed and the Delaware PTA directed parents where to go.”  And that will be all parents need to hear: teachers and an organization to help shoulder the blame.  The State Board and the DOE will promise to look into this. They will assure parents they will do everything they can to make this assessment more tolerable this year and will work with the schools and districts to make sure they are doing it right. And then comes the usual “we want all children to succeed,” most likely from State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray.

Unless some soothsayer blogger predicts this a month and a half ahead of time and publishes it on his blog… 😉

What the State Board of Education and the DOE may not realize is the Delaware PTA was the biggest advocate of parents opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. While they did provide links to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, it was a way for parents to find out what this test is really about. They came right out and said they don’t think the Smarter Balanced Assessment is an effective measurement for student success. I would be hard-pressed to find anyone more dedicated to parent engagement than Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges and VP For Advocacy Yvonne Johnson. One of them was at every single debate and meeting on House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill, at Legislative Hall. They formed the town halls on opt-out that ignited the fire. They know how bad this test is.

If parents want to blame someone for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, they can look to the following individuals and groups: Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Former Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, the un-elected Governor appointed Delaware State Board of Education, the entire leadership of the Delaware DOE (including David Blowman, Penny Schwinn, Chris Ruszkowski, Susan Haberstroh, Karen Field-Rogers and Michael Watson), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Delaware Senator David Sokola, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques, former Delaware State Rep. Darryl Scott, Rodel, The Vision Coalition, the Delaware Business Roundtable, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network. If parents want to take action on their frustration with these people, there is no easier way to do that than to say NO MORE! Refuse the Test for your children! Opt-out! And email-bomb every single member of the 148th General Assembly: State Reps and Senators, demanding they override Governor Markell’s House Bill 50 veto the first day they come back to legislative session in January 2016. And while you are at it, demand legislation removing the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state assessment of Delaware! Parent’s voices were heard with House Bill 50, and those who voted no will be held accountable. But the vast majority voted yes, and they will again when the override comes. Especially when they receive ten times the amount of emails, calls, Facebook messages, tweets, and messages.

I encourage anyone reading this to keep coming back to this link. So when the big news does break with the scores, and enraged parents get on Google and start researching Smarter Balanced Assessment and Delaware PTA, this will be the first link they see on Google. Share it, spread it, email it, write it down and put it on cars at the mall!

Sneak Peak: WEIC Presentation At Red Clay Board Tonight & The Devil Inside

You find all sorts of things looking at a school district’s board meeting agenda. Tonight, Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and Dan Rich from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Delaware will give a presentation to the Red Clay Consolidated School Board on Red Clay’s role in WEIC. This is the presentation they are giving tonight, and it includes a very key section! See if you can figure out before I write it after the obligatory Scribd document…

Okay, if you read through the whole thing and didn’t just scroll down real quick, you know exactly what section I’m talking about, with nine words bolded for emphasis:

Will the implementation plan recommended by WEIC be limited to redrawing boundaries?
•No. Simply redistricting is of no value without a comprehensive plan for school reform.
•The WEIC plan must include funding, parent and community engagement, and wraparound services.
•The WEIC plan will present a comprehensive package and ask the State Board to approve the entire package.

As Tony Allen is fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and that is one hell of a detail.  I wasn’t aware the State Board had the authority to approve the entire package.  I thought they only had authority for the actual redistricting.  Where is the General Assembly’s role in this?  And this commission will go on for six years?  Does this mean they can go to the State Board whenever they want to implement changes without legislative approval?  That is a HUGE mistake.  ENORMOUS! GIGANTIC!  The State Board should not have that much authority.  They are unelected and appointed by the Governor.  They never vote against his wishes.  This is the devil in all of this.  Here is the exact wording from the Governor Markell signed House Bill 148:

(g) The WEIC shall work with and across all governmental agencies, educational entities, and private and nonprofit institutions to promote and support the implementation of all recommended changes from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC). The WEIC will oversee the redistricting of school districts as set forth in this Chapter.   The WEIC also will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations. In addition, the WEIC will develop a transition plan, including a timeline, for the provision of necessary services to schools and students affected by the implementation of the changes recommended by WEAC. WEIC shall also develop a resource plan regarding transitional resources to effectively implement school district realignment. Both the transition plan and resource plan must be submitted first to the State Board of Education and then to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval.   Both are due for submission and related action by December 31, 2015.

This is a very slippery slope to start off on.  If I were the Red Clay board I would clarify this very important omission in their presentation TONIGHT!

Chair of Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Tony Allen Clears The Air & My Thoughts On Special Education For The Commission

In a Facebook post on the “Solutions for Wilmington Schools” page, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen addressed some concerns people were having, including myself.  I will fully admit I reached out to Tony last night and he responded very fast:

As always, I welcome the thoughtful critique and continued questioning relative to my decisions and related actions on this historically important set of issues. It will make our Commission better, our mandate more focused and the resulting product more meaningful to students and families.

To level set everyone, the 23-person Commission is effectively a steering arm and ultimately an approving authority for what will be the work of our five working committees. I use “working” intentionally here as each will carry a heavy burden, over the next five years, to create strategies to implement the recommendations outlined in the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s final report, “Strengthening Wilmington Education: An Action Agenda.” Updated versions of this report are available now.

As for the Committees themselves, there are five: Redistricting; Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty; Funding Student Success; Parent Family and Community Engagement; and Charter and District Collaboration. At present, we have only named the Co-Chairs of those committees. The Co-Chairs will finalize all of their respective committees over the next week or so, but you should all know that there is plenty of room. What I hope everyone experienced in the WEAC process was a spirit of candor, engagement and full participation. I don’t expect any of that to change with the new Commission.

On the notion of representation from Early Care & Education, Daphne Evans, you raise good points, but I think you will find that we are well-represented along those lines. There are more than a few Commission members that a passionate about the issue. And perhaps more important, in my view, the foremost authority and one of the most ardent advocates on early care & education is Dan Rich. He remains the Commission’s chief administrative and policy counsel on this work and is the reason that more support for the early care movement is central to the recommendations outlined in the WEAC final report.

Kevin Ohlandt has also written a piece and talked with me separately about special education and the need for it to have its own committee. I am confident he is right, but I don’t think that such a Committee needs to be standalone in this work. To be clear, the issue of serving low-income students is multi-pronged and interwoven. That is why one of our core recommendations and legislative priorities deals with more funding for special education K-3. This issue will be taken up in the “Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty” and the “Funding Student Success” committees.

Finally, many have rightly noticed our website moniker, http://www.solutionsfordelawareschools. We decided to broaden our materials because many of our recommendations have applicability statewide and we believe deal directly with the 51% of public school students throughout the state that are low-income. In short, while much of the discussion has been focused on redistricting, as I have said many times, simply redrawing lines does not constitute a new path for Wilmington Education. We see and have presented our recommendations as a package of ideas to be considered together and will not make additional recommendations that don’t holistically attempt to address the fundamental problem of student success.

Despite my many thoughts, concerns, issues, and predictions with the overall outcome of this whole thing, I think Tony Allen is a stand-up guy.  He is making this process very transparent which will be the key to community engagement and letting folks know what is transpiring.  I believe the whole “basic funding” for K-3 students is pivotal to making this happen, it is just one part in a machine called special education in Delaware that has 1,000 other issues that need to be fixed.  But it’s a start, and if anyone out there is a strong special education advocate and knows what Delaware needs, I strongly suggest attending these meetings and letting your voice be heard.

I had a conversation last night with parent advocate Devon Hynson who is well-known in Wilmington and around the state to be a very strong voice for students with disabilities.  We both agreed Child Find is integral to special education improvement in Delaware.  Child Find is part of IDEA and Delaware state law which mandates that if schools see issues with a child they proactively attempt to get an evaluation and contact the parents for permission for any such evaluations.  Instead, many charters and districts punish first and ask questions later.  As a result, students tend to become lost in the system.  When they could be getting the special education they legally deserve, they are treated the same as their peers.  I’m not saying schools should be diagnosing kids, but if teachers or staff see certain behaviors or situations happening, they need to reach out to their special education coordinator or educational diagnostician to get the ball rolling.  Even one school year can make a huge different in a student’s life.

Even with all the new laws passed by Senate Bill 33, which stemmed from the IEP Task Force last year, there are a host of other issues this hopefully reconvened committee needs to address.  The most important of which is “the battle”.  This is the time when districts or charters try to negotiate with the parents or advocates over services for an individual child.  This is a very fine line, and one misstep over it can have disastrous results for a special needs student.  Personally, I think every child who gets an initial evaluation should have a full-blown neuro-psychological report done by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.  These types of tests are very long and time-consuming, but the benefits far outweigh any expense.  The reports generated tend to be very specific about what a student needs and what kind of services they should have.  The IQ tests and behavior analysis tests given for initial evaluation do not give a full picture or delve into the full scope of what a child needs.  This would help the IEP process immensely as the report will give most of what the student needs.

As any parent of a special needs child knows, dealing with schools can be your worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is a difference between collaboration and negotiation.  Frequently, these children can not afford to have any service cut or put on the back burner.

For the general population, many think of special education as Autism or Aspergers, or, I hate to say this because I find it offensive, the “kids who ride the short bus”.  This is so far from the truth it is ridiculous.  Disabilities in children run the whole gamut of dyslexia to social learning issues to ADHD to Autism.  And several components combine in children, which makes it even trickier to help them.   When these students manifest their disabilities, which are often neurologically based, all too often the perceived notion is they can control it.  In most cases, they can not, and the law is written to understand this.  But society as a whole doesn’t get this, including schools.

I’ve always felts psychiatry needs to play a much larger role in special education.  Therapy with a psychologist, councilor, or therapists is very important, but since disabilities are neurologically-based, and this is a psychiatrist’s area of expertise, why are we relying on psychologists for everything when they just study behavior and how to fix it?  Some manifestations of disabilities, even in the highest-functioning and brilliant child, can not always be “fixed”.  But the student can learn coping mechanisms or the school can work around these things.

For example, if a child cannot control a body movement, like tapping their fingers, instead of telling them to stop, maybe give them a soft cloth or matting so they can tap on that.  This way the child is able to manifest their uncontrolled action (not behavior), and it is not a distraction to the rest of the class.  It can be that easy!  But I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty if you try to make a child stop an uncontrollable action, it will result in conflict.  If that energy is not released, it will come out in other ways.  I like to think some special needs children have coping mechanisms wired into them to sub-consciously mitigate their actions.  While tapping is minimal, it could be the child’s way of stopping themselves from jumping up and down.  A classroom is not the place for a battle of wills between a special needs student and a teacher or staff members.  Heck, there is nowhere in school this should happen.  It embarrasses the student, frustrates the teacher, and distracts the rest of the class from effectively learning.

As a parent of a child with Tourette Syndrome, I see physical manifestations of my child’s disability all the time.  I have seen research and videos and case studies that report the same thing every single time: if a child is having tics, just ignore them.  Pretend they don’t exist.  Even in the 10% of Tourette Syndrome when they have coprolalia, the uncontrollable swearing, most experts say to ignore it.

Children with special needs often go undiagnosed and this can result in a disproportionate number of suspensions or expulsions compared to their non-disabled peers.  This is one of the largest problems going on in Wilmington schools.  And yes, putting a child in an out of school placement is often a punishment.  For too many kids, it’s the school giving up and throwing their hands in the air and refusing to deal with the true issues: their inability to provide adequate special education.

When I hear about children with disabilities being placed in day programs and residential treatment centers, my first question is always “How long did the child not get the essential services?”  If a child with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder begins showing this disability in Kindergarten, but they didn’t get services until 5th grade, of course this child is going to have major issues.  Because the child has learned that any time they exhibit their disability they are “bad” because that’s how they have been treated for the past five years.  A brand new IEP isn’t going to erase years of damage for this child.  That road to recovery, if ignored, is going to set up a lifetime of anger and resentment on the child’s part.  Their very foundation in school is a symbol of failure in that child’s mind.

These are key things I feel the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission needs to look at right away.  Funding doesn’t solve everything, some things are just common sense.  Instead of fixing special education, we need to be embracing and celebrating these unique individual kids.  They need us to understand them when the world is screaming at them.  They are scared, and feel isolated, and they don’t get why everyone hates them.  They need compassion and empathy, not a strong hand and rigor.  They want what all of us want: to feel accepted and acknowledged they are a person, not a problem.