Farewell Dr. Terri Hodges, Hello Delaware PTA President Julie Alvarez

For the past five years, Dr. Terri Hodges led the Delaware Parent Teachers Association through some very trying times in Delaware.  As Common Core became a staple, along with its evil counterpart, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Hodges stood up for parents during the opt out movement in Delaware.  Yesterday, Hodges turned over the mantle to the newly elected Julie Alvarez at the annual Delaware PTA convention.

Yvonne Johnson, Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty, and Dr. Terri Hodges

Together with their Vice President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson, Hodges and Johnson were the PTA Mafia in Delaware.  I mean that in the best way possible.  They made the opt out movement what it was back in 2015 with their non-stop advocacy for parental rights on the issue.  Sadly, they were shut down on that advocacy by their parent organization, the National PTA.  The Nation PTA President, Laura Bay, threatened to shut off their national funding if they didn’t shut up.  It was a classic case of bullying.

Johnson, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, Hodges

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Hodges in support of House Bill 50, the infamous legislation that ultimately passed the General Assembly but was subject to a veto by the very corporate education reformer loving Governor, Jack Markell.  Hodges strongly supports funding for basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade along with tons of common sense legislation.  I will miss her as President of Delaware PTA but I have no doubt I will continue to count her as a friend I met during my journey in Delaware public education.  Thank you Terri for your outstanding advocacy and looking out for Delaware students!

As for President Alvarez, she had some words to say about her new role.  I look forward to working together with her on various education bills and policy in the years ahead.

Thank you for joining us at the annual Delaware PTA Convention and for all of the work that you do on behalf of Delaware’s children. We have put together an extensive day of networking and information gathering opportunities for you that we hope you will find beneficial.  Make sure to visit the vendor area and take advantage of the door prizes and giveaways.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Terri Hodges for all of her hard work and tireless efforts as the Delaware State PTA President for the past five years. In that capacity, she has created a strong platform on which I plan to continue to build upon. I am excited to continue working with her as she moves to the position of Immediate Past President as well as with the other members of the board.

In the coming year, my focus will be on three major areas: expanding family engagement in our schools, increasing PTA membership and involvement through raising awareness of the value of and developing excitement for PTA, and continuing the advocacy that is the foundation of PTA.

I invite you all to join Delaware PTA as we work together to make positive change towards the mission of making every child’s potential a reality.  Enjoy the Convention!

Regards,

Julie Alvarez

Delaware PTA President Julie Alvarez

Caroline Harrison-DeJose became the Delaware PTA 1st Vice-President as well yesterday.

Hey Terri & Yvonne! DE PTA Needs To Get Back On The Opt Out Bus! If NY PTA Can Do This, You Should Too!

As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the United States Department of Education is required to issue regulations associated with the new law.  Of course U.S. Secretary of Education John King saw this as his big chance to make his national mark for his corporate education reform buddies, so he stuck with the accountability script and harsh rules about opt out of high-stakes tests.  The New York Parent Teacher Organization wrote a letter to King as part of their public comment for the regulations.

Something to keep in mind is the National PTA’s bizarre stance on parent opt out.  They are against it and don’t want the state PTA’s advocating it either.  Last February, they threatened Delaware with severe sanctions if they continue to advocate for a parent’s right to opt out.  This caused a complete shutdown with Delaware PTA on the issue.

Here is the letter the NY PTA sent to King:

There are a few other things readers need to be aware of when it comes to this issue.  Sanctions against the NY PTA would not be as damaging as ones against Delaware PTA.  If even ten percent of NY parents belong to their PTA, that is still at least ten times the amount of members as Delaware PTA.  Which means they have a lot more cash and pull with National PTA.  Plus, New Yorkers are a hell of a lot fiestier than Delawareans.  That doesn’t mean I would seriously mess with the Dynamic Duo of Dr. Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson.  I wrote a few articles about this issue last winter, as well as poking a bit at Johnson’s involvement with the Christina School District.  I caught holy hell for that.

But I do wish Delaware would follow New York’s lead on this.  They are basically telling John King AND National PTA “We don’t care what your stance on opt out is.  We are going to tell parents what their rights are.”  New York leads the way with opt outs, followed by New Jersey.  Yes, Delaware’s PTA could get into a heck of a lot of trouble with National PTA if they get back on their opt out positions, but who cares?  This a PARENT-TEACHER organization, not Laura Bay and Friends.  If the former district testing coördinator wants to hate on opt out, let her.  But she should not get a whole parent organization to stop doing what they feel is best for parents.  It’s kind of what they are there for Ms. Bay!

In the meantime, the next few months will be very interesting, not only in Delaware, but across the country.  As these regulations go forward, I predict a lot of pushback from many states, teacher unions, parents, schools, and advocates for public education.  Hopefully, the members of Congress who like to call out John King on a monthly basis will continue to do so.  If they don’t, John King gets his way, and the punitive mandates of Race To The Top will still be here.

Assessment Inventory Minutes From February Show Clear Divide Between DOE & Everyone Else!

The Delaware Assessment Inventory Committee met in February, and the meeting was very controversial!  It is interesting how the Delaware Dept. of Education spun what happened in their meeting notes.  The minutes, written by Susan Haberstroh with the DOE, do show a lot of discussion around the Smarter Balanced Assessment and its effectiveness.  In the above link with my perception of the meeting, I have, verbatim, what I said in my public comment.  Never once was the word “weasel” used!

The next meeting of the Assessment Inventory Committee is on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar for May 2nd at 4:30pm at the Townsend Building in Dover.

Something Doesn’t Add Up With National PTA’s Intimidation Letter To Delaware PTA…

PTABullying

I was thinking about this a lot the past two days.  Since I posted the National PTA “Comply Or We Will Make You” letter to the Delaware PTA, something didn’t feel quite right.  Was it the absolute absurdity and gall of National PTA, or the timing of it?

The Delaware PTA heavily advocated House Bill 50, the Delaware opt-out legislation that our cowardly weasel of a Governor vetoed last July.  When an attempt  to have our legislators do the right thing and override Markell’s veto, the Delaware PTA staged a rally outside of Legislative Hall in Dover.  This was a month and a half ago.  The very next week, the Delaware PTA announced National PTA would be coming out with a position statement against opt-out very soon.  They did so in the beginning of February.

Let us flash forward to last Wednesday.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has their post-State Board meeting where State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray is grilled and served on a plate by Wilmington school districts and members of the Commission.  State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson is most likely highly embarrassed about the allegation she advised State Board members how to vote on the WEIC plan.  The very next day, President of Delaware PTA Dr. Terri Hodges gets the comply or die letter from Laura Bay, the President of National PTA.  Right before the assessment inventory meeting at the Delaware Department of Education.  Right before.  As she walks into the meeting, handouts are provided to the committee and members of the public.  One of them is the National PTA position statement on assessment and opt-out.  It was a very odd choice for a hand-out.  Especially since it was NEVER discussed at all during the meeting.  Dr. Hodges attended the previous meeting, and I’m sure the DOE knew some type of Delaware PTA representation would attend the meeting.  I’m not coming right out and saying this, but I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Yes, the National PTA did issue the position statement against opt-out.  For what reasons, I absolutely cannot fathom.  But Kilroy’s Delaware did present something very interesting today in regards to National PTA President Laura Bay.  It turns out she is the coördinator for assessment and instruction in her Washington school district.  And she essentially runs National PTA.  But was there some outside influence to have Bay pull a sword on Delaware PTA?

We have January and February of 2016 as two key months with a lot of Delaware PTA/National PTA/State Board of Education/Delaware DOE/WEIC activity.  All involving some very key players in this very bizarre game of Russian Roulette with parental choices.  Add in some referendums, priority schools, and redistricting and we have a huge mess on our hands!

In the backdrop of it all: a very power-hungry Delaware Governor Jack Markell and John King, the very controversial figure at the US Department of Education who is hoping to become the next US Secretary of Education instead of Acting.  Surrounding all of this is the massive tome called the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The mammoth legislation that has not been clearly defined but will in the coming months when the US DOE begins issuing regulations around it.  To make matters more complicated, this will be going on during most state’s testing windows for their state assessments, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  Also during an election year.

The bridge between Delaware PTA and National PTA has one person on both sides: Yvonne Johnson.  She serves as the Vice-President of Advocacy for Delaware PTA and is a board member of National PTA.  The Governor was not pleased with the Delaware PTA’s defense of House Bill 50 at all.  The Delaware PTA has some choices ahead of them.  Fight, submit, or secede.  None will be easy decisions.  Secession is not an easy thing.  Fighting could result in major issues for them.  Submit will assuredly permanently scar the organization that has made a name for itself over the past year by supporting a parent’s right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  Dr. Hodges is not one to surrender quietly.  This will definitely be something to watch over the coming months.  Perhaps a little push is in order…

 

 

Opt-Out Heats Up Again During Arctic Chill

Here we go again!  The opt-out movement is back!  And smack dab in the middle of it all is Delaware’s 62 legislators in the House and Senate.  Matthew Albright with the News Journal wrote about the Veto Override of House Bill 50.  There are some great quotes in here… and then there is Earl…

“If you’re a Democrat, and the governor’s a Democrat, you have to think long and hard, ‘Do I want to override my governor?” said Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, chairman of the House Education Committee. “It has to be a really big issue for you to do that.”

Jaques was one of five representatives who voted against House Bill 50. He says parents already have the right to opt out, so he doesn’t understand the need for a new law.

Earl, Earl, Earl… when are you going to get what this is all about?  I’ve already put Earl in the no column on this.  I don’t expect him to change his vote at all.  There is no law when it comes to parents opting out, thus House Bill 50!!!  It protects the parents, but it is more than obvious Earl wants to side with the Governor.  Luckily, State Rep. John Kowalko is able to comment on this insanity with a breath of fresh air”

“If it’s a good policy, you voted for it because it’s a good policy,” Kowalko said. “That policy does not change its makeup just because the governor has decided that he doesn’t like it. If we start considering another branch of government as dictating to us how our decisions should be made, we are seriously compromising our rights as an independent body.”

State Rep. Mike Ramone is once again thinking this is all about the amount of testing kids take.  Mike, I’m going to tell you right now I have never once heard from any parent about any other test but the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Parents don’t want to opt out of any other test but the Smarter Balanced.  Once again, those who are pro “assessment inventory” are missing some basic facts.  When DCAS was around, it was taken two to three times a year depending on how the students did on the first Spring test.  If they didn’t hit proficiency, they had to take it again.  That’s when parents were talking about “too much testing”.  But what happens when we do get rid of the assessments that do matter in favor of SBAC and the interim assessments that accompany it?  Then you will have opt-out and NO assessments that give good feedback.  I am not anti-assessment.  Like the PTA, I support assessments that give timely feedback with a validated test.    I already gave my predictions on the final results for the Assessment Inventory Committee.  But Ramone… does he realize what House Bill 50 actually is?

Ramone also said he wants to see a statewide process for opting out, since the current rules are a patchwork of district-by district rules.

A statewide process for opting out?  It’s called House Bill 50.  It specifically states when schools would receive letters from parents and that students who are opted out need to receive another form of instruction.  Does he want us to do it through the DOE?  That would be a never-ending nightmare!  Let’s not muddy the waters any more Mike.  House Bill 50 is what it is.  You are either for parental rights or you’re not.  At the end of the day, this is what it all boils down to.  Something Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges agrees with:

“The message we’re trying to send is that parents and teachers and the community have spoken,” said Terri Hodges, the PTA’s president. “We are hoping our legislators honor the will of the people and follow their original vote.”

I am already hearing the DOE is talking about Smarter Balanced results coming in before kids leave school for summer.  I saw that one coming a mile away!  This will be another one of their attempts to dissuade legislators from voting for the override.  “Look, parents said they wanted quicker feedback.  We’re going to make that happen.”  But no matter when the results come in, we have to face facts.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a BAD test.  Period.  I am all for getting rid of SBAC for high school juniors.  But I am also for getting rid of it for ALL Delaware students. Until that happens, parents will opt out, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.  Yes, the legislators do need to look at the reasons why.  I won’t disagree with that.  But talking about it doesn’t do anything for parents.  The legislators who voted for the Smarter Balanced Assessment knew there were issues with it.  But they voted it in anyways.  This is the consequence of that action.  Yes, Murphy already bought the test.  We all know that.  But look at the results.  Has it changed anything for our students?  Not really.  It has brought disruption and chaos to our children’s education.  The only ones who support this assessment are the very ones who seem to profit, whether financially or through an illusion of success by having “great scores”.

As for the infamous letter the ten Democrats sent Governor Markell about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this is NOT their idea.  The Delaware DOE has been talking about this publicly since last May.  The College Board is redesigning the SAT to be more like the Smarter Balanced and make it all about the Common Core.  So guess what, it’s not like it will be that much of an improvement.  Can’t wait to see those SAT scores on top of Delaware’s already horrible scores.

This is a bill that comes down to basic and fundamental parental rights.  Meanwhile, over 200 parents have already signed the Delaware PTA Petition.  More will sign as well before it is all said and done.  This is a battle parents aren’t giving up on.  We won’t stop until our rights are protected.  I am frankly shocked that some legislators would rather see parents fighting with schools than overriding a ridiculous veto by a Governor who is so entrenched in corporate education reform he can’t see the forest from the trees.

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Hodges & Johnson

DEPTA

Hodges & Johnson is not the latest detective show hitting television.  But it is an appropriate name for the powerhouse behind the Delaware PTA.  They really stepped up this year for parent rights.  President Dr. Terri Hodges and Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson started the year off with a bang by announcing two town halls for those interested in opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I will fully admit to being blown away when I heard this but I quickly got in touch with Dr. H and let her know I was in full support of this.

In March, the duo held the first opt out town hall in New Castle County.  To say the first town hall on opt-out was controversial would be an understatement.  Confession time again: I truly thought I was advocating on my own for opt-out.  I knew others in the state who supported it and a couple school boards were behind it, but in terms of rallying the troops I thought it was going to be a solo act.  With that first town hall I knew there was massive support for the rising movement in Delaware.  Around the same time, the very controversial House Bill 50 was introduced in the General Assembly, State Rep. Earl Jaques was blasting opt-out parents, and Governor Markell was taking steps in his failed effort to squash the movement.

By the time the second opt-out town hall in Kent County happened a couple weeks later in early March, Brian Touchette from the DOE and Donna Johnson with the State Board of Education were forced to admit there was no law preventing parents from opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This was a major breakthrough in the opt-out movement and cleared the path for everything that went down at Legislative Hall over the next four months.

Johnson & Hodges, or at least one of their carefully chosen representatives, were present for every single opt-out meeting or vote at Legislative Hall.  By the time the Delaware Senate finally passed the bill on June 25th, summer was here and everyone who supported the bill needed a well-earned break.  But not even a month later, Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed House Bill 50 and spit on parental rights everywhere.  Immediately the talk went towards overriding the Governor’s veto, but the General Assembly went out of legislative session for six months.  Since then, Hodges & Johnson, with the PTA membership, have been gearing up for next month when the legislators return.

In the past few months, the Delaware PTA again stepped up to help prevent the harsh opt-out penalties as part of Delaware’s new state accountability system.  Unfortunately, Secretary Godowsky caved in to pressure and recommended the opt-out multiplier penalty as opposed to districts and schools having to come up with a plan to prevent opt-out.  The State Board of Education approved the final part of their ESEA Flexibility Waiver last month and they are awaiting word from the US DOE on final approval.

I have no doubt that will happen, especially given the stab in the back from the US DOE announced today about definitive funding cuts for states who dip below the 95% participation rate two years in a row.  But the Delaware PTA is on it, and the recently announced House Bill Veto Override Parent Rally at Legislative Hall on January 14th will show the legislators parents should not be underestimated.  In the thick of it will be Yvonne and Terri, Delaware’s own Hodges & Johnson!

Both of them truly believe parents have a voice in education, and they have proved it time and time again.  While I don’t agree with 100% of everything the PTA endorses, I respect their ability to draw consensus from a large group of parents for whatever they decide as a group.  That is how it should be in education, but we have too many Markells and Rodels in our country.

News Journal Gives False Impression Of Every Student Succeeds Act

The Delaware News Journal’s Jon Offredo wrote an article about the United States House of Representatives passage of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” and how in a rare moment of consensus, most stakeholders in education agree on the legislation.  Citing the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), the Delaware PTA, New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt, and Governor Markell in the article is not a completely accurate picture of consensus.  Many in Delaware feel the bill, while giving states more authority in education, opens the door to all sorts of new problems.  But the News Journal didn’t reach out to anyone else who could have offered a negative opinion of this bill.

States, districts and parents decried a one-size fits all education policy and many of the goals, including one that mandated every student to reach a proficiency on tests by 2015, were not met.

Since then, Congress has been unable to come up with a better education law so the Obama Administration has issued waivers to states exempting them from the requirement. The waivers mean states won’t lose federal money.

It is those very waivers that have allowed the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell to steer Delaware education towards a disastrous path since Markell took reign in January of 2009.  It is my contention Congress refused to act on reauthorizing this bill due to immense pressure from corporate education reform lobbyists who got exactly what they wanted with the ESEA Flexibility Waivers and with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Perhaps the biggest cheerleader for ESSA is Governor Markell, because he got to keep his precious standardized testing…

“The Every Student Succeeds Act preserves some of the most important elements of our existing system, including annual testing requirements in 3rd-8th grade and in high school, which ensure that every student counts,” the statement said. “We would have liked to see stronger requirements for timely intervention in schools where students are struggling, but overall, the Every Student Succeeds Act is an important step forward that will give states more flexibility to meet their students’ needs.”

What I worry about this is states like Delaware who lead the corporate education reform movement.  Every move Markell made in the past ten plus years has been towards the goals of companies who thrive on “fixing” education.  In giving states more authority in education, states who already abuse that power are ripe to continue  DSEA, along with their national counterpart, the NEA, has trumpeted the ESSA as a great bill because it does not have as big an impact on teachers in terms of evaluations.

Many people are very concerned about the huge pot of money available for new charter schools which will result in a sort of “Race To The Top” for new charter schools.  Others are concerned about the consequences “community schools” and services can have on parental decisions and rights.  Technology and personalized learning are touched on in this bill but in a way that gives the controversial practice a wide berth in the future.  Standardized testing is still here, and Common Core is so embedded in education now that it would be very difficult to just do away with it as the bill allows.

The only parent voice in this article belonged to Dr. Terri Hodges with the Delaware PTA who wisely stated she is “cautiously optimistic” about the ESSA.  The News Journal rarely goes out to ask everyday parents who don’t belong to some organization about their thoughts on education matters.  Not one Delaware legislator commented on this article.  But if it is something Rodel or Vision Coalition related, the News Journal goes out of their way to write huge articles and allow multiple letters to the editor on what those groups promote.  Many understand this is because those groups and those of the Delaware Business Roundtable provide a lot of advertising dollars for the News Journal.  As a result, many folks in Delaware have lost respect for the newspaper based on this and other biases.

 

Delaware PTA President-Elect Bill Doolittle Steps Down

The Delaware PTA President-Elect announced he is stepping down from that position today at the Delaware PTA State Convention held at Del-Tech in Dover.  Bill Doolittle has been with the Delaware PTA since 2011, and has probably served on more committees and task forces in our state than most.

Bill is a good guy, and he is a strong advocate for students with disabilities.  I know him from the IEP Task Force.  I wasn’t a member, but I attended every meeting so I got to know him pretty well.  I also saw him in action as a member of the Accountability Framework Working Group the past couple months.  Doolittle was not happy with the opt-out penalty, even if the DOE’s minutes from last Winter may have suggested otherwise.

Doolittle will remain with the Delaware PTA as part of their advocacy committee run by Yvonne Johnson.  And he still holds a seat on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Exceptional Citizens.  I have no doubt Bill will continue to be an active voice for our special needs kids here in Delaware!

Dr. Terri Hodges remains the President of Delaware PTA, and Ashley Dalzell-Gray was voted in as the first Vice-President of Delaware PTA at the convention today.

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!

Delaware PTA Statement On House Bill 50 Parent Opt-Out Veto & Link To Petition For Legislators To Override Veto

Thanks to Dr. Terri Hodges, President of the Delaware PTA for letting me post this in it’s entirety from the Delaware PTA website.

A message from the State PTA President, Dr. Terri Hodges

On Thursday June 16, 2015, Governor Markell vetoed HB 50 on the parent opt out. You can read Governor Markell Statement to House of Representatives Vetoing House Bill 50

We are deeply disappointed in the Governor’s decision to veto HB 50. Even more so, we are disappointed with the reasoning outlined in his letter to the General Assembly. His statements clearly demonstrate a lack of understanding of not only HB 50, but also of the motivations behind parent support of this Bill. We are deeply saddened that the Governor has chosen to defend his right to exercise his veto power on the backs of our minority and at risk student populations. Many national civil rights organizations have clearly shown that these types of high stakes tests only serve to widen the achievement gap. As such, Delaware PTA denounces the Governor’s arguments. Furthermore, the argument that this assessment is the “only objective” tool we have to measure student growth and school performance is categorically false.

As we have stated before, this Bill is very straight forward, in that it codifies a parent’s right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. However, opponents of the bill and subsequent amendments took the argument down a very convoluted and confusing path. Even those that are well versed on the subject and familiar with the bill were confused at times. To help alleviate any confusion or misconceptions with regard to parent motivation and interest in HB 50, Delaware PTA attempted to meet with the Governor on numerous occasions, but he did not acknowledge our requests or attempt to meet with us. In fairness, his Education Policy Advisor did agree to speak with me for about 10 minutes via phone towards the end of the legislative session. Out of fairness to the thousands of members we represent and given the enormity of what was at stake, we felt a more genuine conversation was warranted.

HB 50 passed both the chambers with more than a 3/5 majority. Your legislators worked very hard and fought for your rights as parents. They listened to you. For that they should be commended.

Although the Governor has vetoed this bill, it is not dead. Our legislators still have the right to override his veto when the general assembly resumes in January 2016.  This is an election year and we know the legislators will continue to work hard to represent their constituents.

During the last 24 hours, we have heard from many of you asking “what’s next?”, and many more have taken to social media to express their discontent with the Governor’s decision.
We came together before to get the bill this far, and we are asking for your support once again.

 

  1. We need each and every one of you to contact the legislators and thank them for their support on HB 50. Ask them to stand firm in their convictions, support their constituents and honor their first vote by overriding the Governor’s veto of HB 50. 

 

  1. Sign this petition to override the Governor’s veto of HB 50

 Here you will find the  HB 50 Roll Call listing all the legislators and how they voted. In addition, here is the contact information for the Delaware Legislators 2015 

Dr. Terri L Hodges,

State PTA President

I have to admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Delaware PTA before this whole opt-out movement.  But even before that, when they wrote a letter against the priority schools initiative, they started to turn me to their side.  And then the opt-out movement hit, and the Delaware PTA went right up to bat and hit a grand slam home run with their Town Hall meetings on opt-out.  They haven’t looked back since.  They have been at the forefront of every single meeting, decision, and supporting it front and center.  My most sincere thanks to the Delaware PTA on this!  While I may not agree completely with their stance on the Common Core state standards, I know they will listen.  But for now, go PTA!

Please sign the petition Dr. Hodges provided a link for, and lets get these legislators to override Governor Markell!!!!!!!

And once again, if this is your first time seeing the message, opt-out is dead, we are now REFUSE THE TEST DELAWARE!

Delaware Opt-Out Gets FairTest Coverage the Past Two Weeks!!!! Delaware PTA & Exceptional Delaware!!!

The FairTest website, for the past two weeks, has Delaware opt-out in the news.  In their synopsis from two weeks ago, they had Dr. Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson, both with the Delaware PTA, covered in their weekly news with their very awesome editorial in the News Journal.  In last week’s news, they covered the letter State Rep. John Kowalko and I wrote to the News Journal.  Kowalko did NOT get co-authorship from the News Journal for our letter.

I’m very glad to see little old Delaware get noticed for our growing opt-out movement.  The noise will get louder as long as the Smarter Balanced Assessment is still on the table.  You know, the test that is included in the “assessment inventory” but was called “The best test Delaware ever made,” by Governor Markell today in a speech at a reformy non-profit in D.C.

For those who may not be aware, the next step for House Bill 50 is the Senate Education Committee meeting tomorrow, 3pm, at Legislative Hall in Dover.  If it passes there, and then the full Senate, will Governor Markell sign into law a bill designed to not punish schools and students over this “best test”?  Or will he veto the legislation, dragging the House Bill 50 out over the rest of the month, or possibly into next January?  Either way expect some fireworks!

The Key Moments For House Bill 50 Opt-Out Victory In The Delaware House

There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware.  I’ll start at the beginning:

1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014.  It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.

2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled.  Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.

3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out.  The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly.  It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective

4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.

5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February.  Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off.  What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.

6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.

7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March.  DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.

8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.

9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.

10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents.  Jaques quickly apologizes.

11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence.  A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents.  Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.

12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.

13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware.  Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.

14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out.  Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.

15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.

17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.

19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.

20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.

21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.

22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges.  The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.

23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques.  Kowalko successfully fends him off.  After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill.  Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas.  After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.

24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.

25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.

26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.

27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.

28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.

All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent.  At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change.  This could not have been done by one individual at all.  It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.

What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell.  And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques.  He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing.  Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.

While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation.  Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill.  Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes.  Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock.  But the others are a mystery for now.  I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.

Delaware PTA’s Excellent Statement Of Support For House Bill 50 & Opt-Out

From the Delaware PTA website:

The Truth about Parent Opt Out and HB 50

The parent opt out movement is in full swing in Delaware. HB 50, legislation sponsored by Rep John Kowalko provides a consistent process to allow Delaware parents to opt their child(ren) out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment without fear of punishment or reprisal from district and school administration. The Bill also requires meaningful academic instruction for those students not participating in the test. In its simplest form, HB 50 secures a parent’s right to opt their child(ren) out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interest of their child. The Bill acknowledges the parent’s right to protect their child from unnecessary and harmful tests. At its core, HB 50 places students first.

The increased momentum of the parent opt out movement in Delaware has resulted in an increase of misinformation regarding the purpose, intent and implications of HB 50. Delaware PTA supports HB 50 and a parent’s right to choose. This was a decision that was voted on and supported by our Board of Managers after months of research and community outreach among various stakeholders throughout the state. Delaware PTA is not encouraging any family to opt out of the state assessment. We do not believe it is our place to make such an important decision on behalf of thousands of Delaware families. We believe that this fundamental right is reserved for the family. Our goal in advocating for HB 50 and the parent opt out is to ensure that every family has the ability to make that decision, free of coercion, intimidation and fear of reprisal from their district and the state of Delaware. Current state code does not contain any language that prohibits the parent/guardians from opting their student out of the state assessment. Many school and district officials have already confirmed that they cannot and will not force a student to participate in the assessment. HB 50 simply codifies this.

Rather than debate the merits of a parent’s rights, those who oppose HB 50 continue to play on the fears of parents, exploit the vulnerable and coerce other stakeholders by misleading them on the intent and value of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Opponents of HB 50 have waged a war against parents, students and teachers. They claim a parent has no right to decide what is best for their child. Implying that these decisions are better left in large part, to large for-profit corporations and other parties that stand to benefit financially from the Smarter Balanced Assessment. State leaders say they want family engagement. They say they want parents to be involved in the education of their children, but only when it suits them.

Delaware PTA is not, and never has been anti-assessment. We support standardized tests, if they are limited, developmentally appropriate and provide useful instructional feedback. The Smarter Balanced Assessment does none of this. Assessments, regardless of which one is used, have to be judged against their intended uses. The SBAC was not designed to meet the needs of students and teachers; it was designed to meet the needs of the state, to allow state level and inter-consortia comparisons of student performance. For years parents and teachers were led to believe that No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiatives would help identify at risk students and schools, allowing state officials to direct resources and supports to our most neediest schools in an attempt to reduce the achievement gap. In fact, all that has happened under these initiatives were attempts to label, punish and close our schools. Yet, we are to believe that the new Smarter Balanced Assessments will do more than prior assessments and initiatives, and that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are necessary to reduce the achievement gap.

In 2013, Delaware PTA expressed concerns with the then proposed Smarter Balanced Assessments. We met regularly with decision makers in an attempt to have these concerns corrected prior to piloting and implementing the assessment. In 2014, exactly one year ago this month, Delaware PTA went on record in opposition of HB 334, the legislation that allowed Smarter Balanced to replace DCAS as the state assessment for English Language Arts and Math. We urged legislators not to support this Bill and we outlined very specific concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the same concerns we had been addressing since 2013. Despite the numerous concerns and flaws with the assessment, leadership pushed forward with Smarter Balanced and HB 334 was passed. Here we are in 2015 and the very concerns we voiced in 2013 and again in 2014, are now being voiced by our legislators and other stakeholders. Nothing has changed. That is why it is imperative that parents, teachers, legislators and community members support HB 50. We realize that the parent opt out is symptomatic of a larger problem. We understand that many educators, parents and community members want to change the Smarter Balanced Assessment to an assessment that actually provides meaningful individual student data in a timely manner. However, we must not ignore the right of a parent to make these critical decisions while we continue to work together to address the testing problems in our state.

We all want to see reductions in the achievement gap. For years, Delaware PTA and other stakeholders have worked tirelessly to advocate for an increase in supports and services for at risk students. We know that the solution to this problem is not more testing. Our public schools are being destroyed by the negative effects from annual high-stakes testing, which include less creative and engaging schooling; the de-professionalization of teachers and teaching; the reduction of teaching of the arts, music, social studies, and science; and the continued intimidation of our parents and teachers.

Parents are not opting out because the test is “too hard”. Parents are opting out because this overly subjective assessment provides no value to the student or teacher. The test results are not available until after the academic year has ended and students are losing valuable instruction time. Parents want meaningful assessments that produce accurate and valid data on how their student is performing. They want feedback that allows them to work with the teachers to support student learning and growth. Parents support HB 50 because they want teachers to teach and students to learn.

Dr. Terri Hodges is President of the Delaware PTA. Yvonne Johnson is the Delaware PTA VP of Advocacy.

Delaware PTA slams Governor Markell and Delaware DOE over their latest harebrained scheme!

I am loving the Delaware PTA this year!  After Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE announced their little “we’re scared of opt-out so why not brainwash more parents into thinking their kids won’t have to take remedial classes in college” scheme, many stakeholders were not happy.  Including the Delaware PTA who has been very vocal in support of parent opt-out.  They are fast-learning that there is no collaboration in Markell’s nation!

Delaware PTA’s Response to Press Release on SBAC and DE Higher Ed Institutions 

In a statement made today by Governor Markell, Delaware PTA learned that the four colleges; Wilmington University, University of Delaware, Delaware Technical and Community College and Delaware State University have all agreed that the outcomes of the 11th grade Smarter Balanced Assessments is a good indicator of college readiness. In addition, these institutions have all agreed to accept the assessment in lieu of other placement exams.

At a time when there is so much turbulence in our public education system, we are disheartened to learn that the conversations that proceeded this major conclusion did not include input from any of our major stakeholders. The Delaware Department of Education and the Governor’s office have publicly committed to greater transparency and collaboration with the broader community, yet Delaware PTA, the Delaware State Education Association, state legislators and other community stakeholders were not only excluded from these conversations, but we only learned of this decision a few hours prior to the public announcement.

We believe the lack of a collaborative process has resulted in misguided decisions regarding the efficacy of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, further misleading parents and students.

While Delaware PTA supports the use of assessments with a growth model that will effectively and adequately measure student growth and college and career readiness, we stand by our previous statements, citing the following concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessments:

1. In its current form, the SBAC does not provide a true growth model;

2. In its current form, the SBAC is overly subjective and not an accurate assessment of student knowledge, skills and abilities;

3. Our educators have not had sufficient time to teach and our students have not had sufficient time to learn;

4. In its current form, the SBAC does not provide parents or teachers with the individual diagnostic data necessary to work together to support student success.

Although we believe that this most recent development is a knee jerk reaction to HB 50 on the Parent Opt Out, Delaware PTA remains fully committed to engaging in collaborative and transparent discussions on developing a state assessment that provides meaningful data for parents, students and teachers.

Decisions made in a vacuum often lead to outcomes that are misaligned and unsuccessful. Delaware parents, students and teachers deserve better. 

Dr. Terri L Hodges, State President 

Yvonne Johnson, VP of Advocacy

A Must Read! FULL Transcript of DE PTA Parent Opt Out Town Hall

An individual transcribed the complete Delaware Parent Teachers Association Parent Opt Out Town Hall from February 19th.  Transcription is a very difficult endeavor.  I’ve done it before, and it is time-consuming at best.  The longest I’ve ever done it for was a forty-five minute meeting.  This person did it for a two-hour meeting with multiple participants.  I posted the part with “Mr. Brandywine” yesterday, but this also has this individual’s conversation with him afterwards.

If you are on the fence about opting your child out, this is an essential document for you to read.  If you will never do so, you may want to read this anyways to find the “true value” of these tests.

Mr. Brandywine Transcript From DE PTA Parent Opt Out Town Hall

Details are still coming in on the controversial Delaware PTA Parent Opt-Out Town Hall from Thursday night.  One member of the audience saw how heated this meeting was going to be so they recorded it.  This same individual also went to the trouble of transcribing the incident with the member of the audience who is being referred to on social media as Mr. Brandywine.

First of all I’d just like to say thank you to the parents that came out tonight. I work for the Brandywine School District and it means a lot to see you here, expressing your concerns around the amount of testing. But, I sit here and I look across the room and I see a teacher that I used to work with, Sabrina Fitzhugh, who I think is an outstanding teacher. I think if every parent sat here, you can run through the outstanding teachers that your children have in the public school systems.  And please be cognizant of the unintended consequence that opting out will have.  Cause I sit here and I think, ‘when Sabrina gets her evaluation and some of the top performing students in her class opt out, Sabrina has to live with maybe a rating that doesn’t reflect….. (at this point several people became irate and were flabbergasted by what he was saying.)  And, and I share the concern on the amount of testing and I just want to be clear (Someone from the audience, I believe her name was Meg Eldred, a teacher in the Christina School District, stated that opting out was nothing personal against the teacher) and I know that… (there was more grumbling from the audience.  Terri Hodges called for the audience to be respectful of him and to allow him to speak.  To which, the audience questioned WHY he was being given the floor at all.  He was not a member of the panel and no other member of the audience had been given the right to speak, outside of the questions that were asked on the index cards, except to clarify a question that was asked)  I will be the first one to share your concern on the amount of testing, right?  But there are ripple effects and I want that to be heard not just to the parents, but I think that we all need to be cognizant of that because we do have outstanding teachers. So, please bare that in mind.

Mr. Brandywine was later identified as Brandywine Assistant Superintendent of Academics, Lincoln Hohler.  A message was left for Mr. Holher yesterday for comment on this issue, but no call has been returned at this point.