"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015 Community Meetings and Attendance Follow-up

Two Issues:

1. 2015 Community Meetings
2. Follow-up from Oct. 27, 2015 Attendance Discussion with Judge Bazelle

2015 Community Meetings
District personnel will be holding community meetings at every school in the district over the next month.  The purpose is to provide information about the projects that were part of the 2011 bond.  Where we are, and what was done.  It is also to provide information about our growth situation and to provide the community information about how we plan to address those needs.  One of the options would be a bond next year.  The board has not yet decided on a direction, but this is a good opportunity to see what the concerns are, and to voice your opinion on these issues.

In my area, two of the schools, Ridgeline and Highland, have already had their meetings.  The rest are as follows. 

Thursday, Oct. 29, 10:00 am: Lone Peak HS
Thursday, Oct. 29, 1:30 pm: Mountain Ridge JH
Thursday, Oct. 29, 1:30 pm: Timberline Middle
Thursday, Nov. 5, 1:30 pm: Deerfield Elementary
Friday, Nov. 6, 10:00 am: Cedar Ridge Elementary
Thursday, Nov. 19, 10:00 am: Westfield Elementary
Thursday, Nov. 24, 10:00 am: Alpine Elementary

Here is a link to all the meetings taking place in the district.  Feel free to attend whichever one is the most convenient for you.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzUjUSlTes-4QlZEV1dHZ2xYc0k/view?usp=sharing  I ask that you share this information on the community meetings with at least 5 of your neighbors. 

To provide follow-up on the meeting, please use this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1pqI5BzSttELzPm0dED0frhCltcf05U5H1AWr75bc48M/viewform

Attendance Policy Follow-up
Quite a few people showed up for the Study Session last Tuesday for the discussion with Judge Bazelle about our Attendance Policy.  We had 9 people comment in the public comment portion of the Board Meeting, 7 of those specifically on the current Attendance Policy. But all commenters, including those who came about the Cherry Hill ALL program, were in support of keeping our current attendance policy as it is.  I appreciated all the comments from my fellow board members about keeping parents in charge.  The Judge also said that it has been shown that the Judicial system should be the path of last resort because those that can be helped out prior to getting into that system are better off.  She would prefer that the schools work through a non-judicial process for helping any children that might need it. 

It is important to note that the Obama Administration has an attendance initiative.  And a lobbying organization, Attendance Works, regularly lobbies the state legislature to pass laws tracking chronic absenteeism, not just truancy.  It is important to keep this in mind and to follow these developments.  I greatly appreciated the comments last evening because it will help our Board should we need to weigh in on any proposed attendance legislation come from the State or the Feds. 

One final note on attendance, most studies either do not include parent-excused absences or they don't separate them out to see whether there is any difference between parent-excused absences and truancy on academic outcome.  Of the three studies that I have found that do delineate between excused absences and truancy, there was not any correlation between excused absences and performance.  None!  In fact, one study said they couldn't tell whether the academic performance drove the absence or the absence drove the academic performance.  In short, if a parent is excusing their kids, there is no risk, despite what you are hearing.  Please confirm this for anyone who is concerned that there is no difference.  There is no difference for the majority of the studies because they failed to track excused absences separately from truancy. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Attendance Policy

This Tuesday, Oct. 27 @ Deerfield Elementary (4353 West Harvey Blvd, Cedar Hills), the Board Study Session will include a discussion with Juvenile Court Judge Bazelle about the current attendance policy.  The Study Session begins at 4:00pm, and the Judge will be there at 4:30 pm.

The regular board meeting with public comment will take place at 6:00 pm.

Why should you care?  One major issue that keeps coming up from parents and taxpayers is attendance.  I have had many complaints about the strictness of our former policies, and the inconsistencies of the application of our current policy.  Some parents have sent their kids to a different school specifically because of the harshness of some of the attendance policies.  I have not had anyone complain that our attendance policies are too lax...until now.

State Law allows certain things as valid excuses: illness, death in the family, etc.  It also allows "any other excuse established as valid by a local school board, local charter board, or school district."  In our district, our policy says, "The Alpine School District Board of Education has determined that the parent or legal guardian of a student can excuse an absence for reasons they deem necessary."

At our board meeting on Sep. 22, Board Member Taylor reported that in a meeting with Judge Noonan (who oversees that Orem area), concerns were raised that our policy is working great for about 95% of our students, but there are 5% that they can't help because our policy is too lenient.  (To listen to the audio, go to http://board.alpineschools.org/2015/09/18/september-22-2015-board-meeting/, click on 'Additional Media', and the second audio file is the Board Meeting.  The report begins about 1 hour into the meeting.)

While I have found that our district policy is not being implemented as stated, that is more of an internal issue.  However, at the end of the day, we passed the attendance policy in order to support parental rights.  We do no one a service when we try to insert ourselves into the realm of the family, prematurely, where we actually do not belong. 

In other states where there has been no distinguishing between excused absences and truancy, many children have become 'collateral damage' to a system that is hoping to make sure that increased attendance is the ultimate good. But how many innocent parents and children will be harmed in the process?   http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2011/12/chambers-family-in-bed-sick-at-school.html

The question I have is whether we can find a non-judicial way to help those families that may need that help, without jeopardizing the rights of the rest of our families.  Those who find themselves in extreme circumstances do not need the added concern of the County Attorney looking for reasons why they are unfit, if the only indicator is attendance.  Attendance alone, if excused by parents, is insufficient to predict negative consequences for kids in school or later life (current internet talking points notwithstanding.) 

At the end of the day, how many good families and how many parental rights are we willing to sacrifice?  Do we start with the premise that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, unless they have children in our school system?  I think the same standard needs to apply.  Can you imagine the pain and heartache in your family if you were threatened with the loss of custody of a child?  Do you believe that only the 'bad parents' are possibly at risk? The evidence shows otherwise.

Justice Dallin H. Oaks, ruled, "Family autonomy helps to assure the diversity characteristic of a free society.  There is no surer way to preserve pluralism than to allow parents maximum latitude in rearing their own children."

Parents have the fundamental right to manage their children, including their education. Until that parent has violated that trust (and it has been proven, with evidence), the state does not get 'veto' power over parents.  The laws come from We, the People, not The State.  We either value parental rights and support them, or we subject ourselves to the power of the State.  This is an important discussion for us to have.  Please join me on Tuesday!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

SAGE: Florida tries to validate Utah's test

Florida has done what Utah has been afraid to do. They have performed a validity test on the SAGE test administered by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on the assessments of grades 3-10 ELA, grades 3-8 math, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.
The validity test, performed by Alpine Testing and EdCount, was performed to test whether or not the test scores were valid for a specific use. In other words, does the test work or not?
Once the validity test was completed, Alpine Testing and Edcounts reported their findings to the Florida Senate K-12 Committee on September 17, 2015. The full video can be seen here.
What significance does this have for Utah? As can be seen from the video (and in their report) the field testing wasn’t performed primarily on Florida’s test. They used Utah’s test (thank you, Florida, for paying for Utah’s validity test.)
What Alpine Testing said in their comments to Florida is astounding. We have outlined some key points from the video. 
  • At 44:50- Many items found in the test didn’t align with the standard that was being tested.
  • At 47:70: Test scores should only be used at an aggregate level.
  • At 48:15 – They recommend AGAINST using test scores for individual student decisions.
  • At 1:01:00 – They admit that “test scores should not be used as a sole determinant in decisions such as the prevention of advancement to the next grade, graduation eligibility, or placement in a remedial course.”
  • At 1:20:00 – “There is data than can be looked at that shows that the use of these test scores would not be appropriate
Alpine Testing was the only company that applied to perform the validity study for Florida. Once awarded the contract, they teamed with EdCount, the founder of which had previously worked for AIR. What's surprising is that, regardless of their being questionably independent, they STILL recommend against using the test scores.
So, what we have is a questionably independent group stating that this test should not be used for individual students, but it’s ok for the aggregate data to be used for schools and teacher evaluations. If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is. If it’s been shown that this test isn’t good for students, why would we be comfortable using it for the grading or funding of our schools and teachers? The sum of individual bad data can’t give us good data. Nor should we expect it to.
What more evidence do you need to determine that our students shouldn’t be taking the SAGE test? This test is a failure. How much longer will our children and our state (and numerous other states) spend countless time and resources in support of a failed test, or teaching to a failed test?
Utah's children deserve more.
Brian Halladay and Wendy Hart
Alpine School Board Members for districts A4 and A2