"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

Monday, February 25, 2019

NOHB118: Not good for teachers; not good for students

A few years ago, the legislature passed a law that prohibits teachers from being evaluated based on state test scores.  I was very supportive of this legislation.  The arguments against allowing teachers to be evaluated are very similar to why students shouldn't be evaluated based on this assessment.

Please email all the senators and ask them to VOTE NOT on HB118 (#NOHB118).



















Here is my letter to them:

I ask you to vote no on HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessments.  I was very supportive of HB201 that Rep. Poulson ran a few years ago that prohibited teachers from being evaluated based upon our statewide assessments.  There were many reasons, not the least of which were the lack of validity, reliability and predictability, of our statewide assessments. 

I will provide a few reasons up front, with more information below, should you desire it.

1.HB118 will provide a reward to those who take the tests, which inherently punishes those who opt out.  This is akin to offering a dessert to one of your children while another child is standing there watching you.  There may be reasons for this: the other child has a food allergy, for example.  You are not "per se" punishing the child who doesn't get the dessert because they wouldn't have had that dessert anyway.  BUT, watching you offer the dessert to another child is mean and does end up as a punishment.  So, the "carrot, not a stick" argument is unfounded. HB118 allows for the use of a stick for the child who is not rewarded.  The schools feel a lot of pressure to get kids, especially the one with very involved parents who probably test well, to take the test.  While incentives are currently against the law, there are many examples of students being pressured, in violation of state law, to take the assessments. (See below.) What methods will be available to opt out students and their parents who are now "punished" in accordance with state law?

I am supportive of teacher-created tests and assessments of my child's knowledge and performance.  I am not supportive of the statewide assessments which have provided no benefit to my children or to their teachers other than a single data point in time.  For a child who doesn't test well with great test anxiety or who doesn't get why one needs to know 4 different ways of finding the area of a rectangle instead of just one, this testing actually causes more trouble with the learning process than it's worth.  Additionally, the emphasis of language in math assessments puts children on the autism spectrum at a disadvantage, as well as ELL students.  Finally, special ed students are tested on grade level, not developmental level.  So, a 4th grade student who is doing 2nd grade math, would be taking the 4th grade test.  This is, in my opinion, abusive.  For these and many more reasons, parents opt out of testing. 

2. There is no federal money at risk if we don't attain a 95% participation rate.  ESSA states: 1111(b)(2)(K): “RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—

“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

3. Special Ed students* are required to take the test at their age-level, not their developmental level.  So a student who is in sixth grade, reading at a fourth grade level, is compelled to take the sixth grade test, not the fourth grade test.  This is completely wrong, and many special ed teachers have reported (confidentially) that they are not to inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

4. Increasing the focus on testing (one that isn't seen by parents or teachers) devalues the professionalism of the teacher and his/her assessment of my child after 180 days of teaching and in-class assessments.  To allow a statewide test to take the place of a local assessment places greater value on the state-diktats than on the teacher's own evaluations. 

5. State law used to not prohibit the incentives, and after a year, the prohibition against incentives was put into state law.  HB118 seeks to reverse this trend, that the legislature apparently felt was important in 2015.

6. We talk a lot about accountability.  But this just places accountability AWAY from teachers and onto the state.  Our teachers are professionals, and they have the ability to assess our students, especially since they are in the classrooms daily, with much more nuance, understanding, and compassion than a single statewide assessment at the end of the year.  The accountability we seek should not be micromanaged from Salt Lake or from Washington.  The accountability needs to be with the local school boards, the parents and the teachers.  This further impedes the parent-teacher-student relationship. 

Rather than drawing "battle lines" between parents and schools and placing the students in between, we need to respect parental rights to opt out of things they can't see and can't control, and return the true value back to our teachers.  In point of fact, the statewide assessments exist because of a lack of trust about what is being taught in the schools.  That trust increases the more there is direction and communication at the local level, not the state or federal level.

Please vote no on HB118.

Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
Mom of 3
HI02 Precinct Chair

More information.

1. Unfortunately, while punishing students who opt out of testing or rewarding those who take the tests is currently illegal, it doesn't mean that it isn't happening.  I just recently retired after 2 terms as a local school board member.  As such, every year during state testing, I would receive emails, FB messages, texts and so forth from many people (across the state, even) with concerns about how their children were treated when they decided to opt them out of state testing.  I have heard of every practice to incentivize kids to take the test, despite state law.  My children, every year,  report how the "opt out" parents are discussed at school as being uninformed, and sometimes the rhetoric expands to disrespect of the parent or outright mocking.  Some schools have used participation points to circumvent the "course credit" requirement or have required students to take tests that they are promised are "harder and more time consuming".  Some other requirements were pizza parties, ice cream parties, not having to take the final if you simply take the test.   Additionally, our good teachers feel a lot of pressure from their districts (and the state) to perform, even though they no longer are subject to test scores being part of their evaluations.  I have had several teachers who were unaware that the test scores did not impact their own evaluations, a few years after state law had made such a practice illegal. 

2. ESSA is, in fact, in conflict with itself.  In one part it requires a 95% participation rate, and in another this rule on parent rights that clearly is violated in regard to state law. In October, State Board Member Alisa Ellis asks whether there is federal money at stake if we have a lower participation rate than 95%.  The answer she was given by the State Supt Chief of Staff was no.  The federal requirements would impose an additional line of reporting that include the 95% figure as the denominator in assessment performance.  It doesn't have to be submitted to the feds.  It doesn't impact funding.  And only about 5 Title 1 schools might be impacted for turnaround status.  However, the State Board is able to make sure that those schools are not negatively impacted if their "performance failure" is strictly due to opt outs.  State turnaround and school grading formulas remain unchanged.  see 6:05 for the explanation and 17:50 for the answer on federal monies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSdQ0jkhiqc&feature=youtu.be

3. This is a "feature" from No Child Left Behind, of which, ESSA is just a reauthorization.  Many parents of special needs students, myself included, will not allow their children to take these tests because they would be demoralizing and certainly they do not provide any information that is beneficial if they are tested at a level so much higher than what they are able to grasp.  Special Ed teachers have confided their concerns to me, but also feel the pressure to make sure they have a 95% participation rate because ESSA requires all subgroups, of which Special Ed is a part, to have a 95% participation rate.  Some teachers report they have been threatened with disciplinary action should they inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

5. SB122 from 2014 was the first bill to address opting out of statewide tests.  It contained no prohibition against rewarding students who take the test vs those who don't.  It did require that schools and employees not be negatively impacted by those students who opt out.  One year later, SB204 was passed that prohibited rewarding students for taking the test and also prohibited using the test for course credit or advancement.  HB 118 will repeal this provision that the legislature felt was a necessary protection against treating students who are opted out poorly. 

6. An example, one child was struggling in 4th grade with needing to show 4 or 5 different methods of multiplying 2 or 3-digit numbers.  The child was very good at the standard way of doing it, but really struggled with the other methods.  When his mother approached the teacher about doing just the one method that we all learned as kids, the teacher's only concern was that the child would not do well on the statewide assessment.  Doing the math, and learning how to do math wasn't at issue, it was the test that stood in the way of what both the mother and the teacher thought was best for this student. When the mother informed the teacher, the child would be opted out, the teacher was pleased to allow the correct answer through discovered by the standard algorithm to count for this child.  (If you would like more examples of the problems with our assessments and what is being assessed, I'm happy to provide that.)  Suffice it to say, these are not straight-forward, objective tests that we think of.

*All but 1% of the most cognitively disabled must take the same test as everyone else.

Monday, February 18, 2019

No on HB118: Just Say No to Legal Bullying Incentives

Contact the Utah Senate Education Committee Members TODAY (Monday, Feb. 18) and ask them to VOTE NO ON HB118.  Please be courteous, put NO on HB118 in the subject line, and write your own letter.  Please do not copy and paste.  They meet at 8am on Tuesday. 

Senator Henderson - dhenderson@le.utah.gov
Senator Davis - gdavis@le.utah.gov
Senator Fillmore - lfillmore@le.utah.gov
Senator Grover - keithgrover@le.utah.gov
Senator Hillyard - lhillyard@le.utah.gov
Senator Millner - amillner@le.utah.gov
Senator Reibe - kriebe@le.utah.gov
Senator Stevenson - jwstevenson@le.utah.gov


HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessment Performance is sailing through the state legislature.  The federal government wants 95% of Utah students (and their subgroups: ELL, Special Ed, etc) to take the former SAGE, now RISE/ASPIRE tests as part of compliance with ESSA (remember that federal legislation that everyone said would RETURN power to the states.  Ha!).  

So, in order to help with that federal compliance piece, we want to "help" Utah parents make the "correct" decision, and give them all kinds of reasons to have their kids submit to the federal requirement.  In order to "incentivize" (aka make you comply "voluntarily"), the Utah legislature would like to allow teachers to give course credit for a student taking the state test. A test with no validity, reliability or predictability, that only 15 people have been allowed to see some portion of, but hey, the feds want it, why wouldn't parents want to go along?  

The reason for this is, in part, to not lose federal dollars under ESSA.  However, there is NO RISK of losing federal dollars, and ESSA specifically states that it protect parent rights to opt out:


“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

Some concerns with HB118:

1. Every year, I receive many letters, private messages, texts, and tags on facebook posts from parents who have seen their children bullied for being opted out of state testing.  One young lady, who was quite shy, was told that instead of taking the SAGE test, she would be required to present an oral report in class about why she was opted out of SAGE.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Children are having their parents' ideas and opinions on this subject denigrated in class in front of other students.  Without exception, my children have been told, every year, by different teachers in different classes, that their parents do not understand and are uninformed as to the value and benefit of the state tests.  Do we really believe it is correct to undermine parental authority and to alienate child from parent all so a student will contest their parent's decision about a state test?  Is state testing really that important on any level that it demands the mockery of a parent's decision about the best interest's of their child?  Agree or disagree with opting out, mocking a child's parent is completely inappropriate, especially in a state that states a parent is legally the primary person responsible for a child's education and that the state should be "secondary and supportive."  It is currently illegal to incentivize this behavior, as well as to give rewards for testing.  Why would we want to make it legal?

2. Special Ed students (other than the 1% most cognitively disabled) are required to take the state test for their age and not for their developmental level. For example, an 8-year-old who reads on a 1st grade level would take the 3rd grade test.  Because these are "computer -adaptive" tests, some people, mistakenly, believe that they will "adapt" to present First Grade material to the 3rd grader taking the test.  This is not correct.  The 3rd grade test contains only variations on 3rd grade material. So, the child reading at a 1st-grade level, will either just hit submit through the entire test (best case) or will struggle (no time limit) to try to understand things far above her ability.  This will be demoralizing and serve absolutely no purpose. The teacher, parent and everyone else already knows the child doesn't read or do math on a 3rd grade level.  What other information would be gleaned from subjecting this child to that test?  Additionally, I have received reports from Special Ed teachers who have been told they are not to let parents know their children can be opted out. There is great pressure placed on Special Ed to get that 95% participation rate, since they are one of the groups mentioned specifically in the federal law.  Many parents and teachers of students with special needs are greatly relieved when they realize their child can be opted out, under state law, without (currently) any negative consequences to their child or their school.

3. No money at stake.  Utah, originally, requested a waiver from the feds for the 95% participation rate, due to our state law.  Since the feds rejected this waiver, HB118 was introduced to up our participation rate from 94% to 95%, proving that Utah is only a vassal state to the master that is the US Department of Education.  However, in an October State Board of Education meeting, the Board Members were told no money was at stake, and we only need create another line item in our reporting (posted on our website, not sent to the feds) to show the federal calculation along with the state calculation.  Additionally, for those (estimated at 5) schools who fall into the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools due to lower participation rates, the State Board can decide what "remediation" if any is necessary. This way, the state doesn't spend money to "remediate" schools that don't need remediation because their only "flaw" was having more kids opting out than what the feds like.  Here is information from the October State Board meeting on this subject, from Board Member Alisa Ellis: https://youtu.be/nSdQ0jkhiqc

It would be well worth your time to watch the entire segment but if you don't have time here are a couple of places that are critical.Beginning at 6:25-As our opt-out rate increases above the 95% participation threshold, the federal government requires that we change our calculation. In our board meeting the Superintendent estimates about 5 schools would be affected in the state.We would look at the lowest 5% performing schools in the state and then the change in calculation would only occur if any of those schools had more than 5% opt out.It's also important to note that we aren't even required to send the calculations to the Federal government. We simply have to run a report and post it for public consumption.Beginning at 17:50 -I asked if our opt out numbers continue to climb if we are at risk for losing federal $$$. The answer was no.
More information on opting out, nationally, can be found here: http://www.fairtest.org/federal-law-and-regulations-opting-out-under-essa

Write the Senate ed committee members and your senator, as well.  Then share this with every friend and neighbor who wants to maintain parents as primarily responsible for their child's education and to keep bullying of kids who opt out illegal.