Tag Archives: Salem Public School

Testing, testing, one, two, three

I came across this testing schedule during some of my ongoing research and it doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I have heard that ANet is an indicator as to how well children will do on the MCAS, and also that is the tests that are used to assess ability throughout the year. So I sat down and rather laboriously counted out the number of days that our children are in school over the academic year, and then I finally tracked down the entire testing schedule and came up with some numbers..

In the USA in general the academic year runs for between 170 and 186 days with the average being 180 days.

When we compare this to some other countries you can see that our children are getting less education than some other countries:
Mexico: 200 days
South Africa: 200 days
Japan: 200 days
Brazil: 200 days
Netherlands: 200 days
UK: 195 days
Finland: 190 days

In Salem there are 175.5 days in the school year broken down as follows:

September: 18.5 days
October: 21.5 days
November 16.5 days
December 14.5 days
January: 20 days
February: 14.5 days
March: 20.5 days
April: 15.5 days
May 20.5 days
June: 13.5 days

But how many of those days are “instructional days?” and how many are testing days? Let’s face it we love standardized testing. A disclaimer I am not including BAS, K/1 Inventory, SRI, Access testing or the Math mid-year and end of year common assessment (for K-1). Oh yes…we test our Kindergarteners here in MA

October
21.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

December
14.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

February
14.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

March
20.5 days of class time
4 days of testing for ELA MCAS

April
15.5 days of class time
3 days of testing for Math ANet

May
20.5 days of class time
4 days of testing for Math MCAS
2 days of testing for STE MCAS
3 days of testing for ELA Anet

I looked at the school calendars and 24 school days are taken up with Anet testing. When we figure in the days spent doing the MCAS it is as follows
Grade 3 – 28 days total
Grade 4 – 29 days total
Grade 5 – 30 days total

This of course does not take into consideration the shifting of class schedules to accomadate test prepartion, and there are horror stories.

“We moved here from PA to MA in the summer of 2012 so that my husband, a first year teacher could accept a position in Salem. We could not find housing in Salem in the short amount of time we had before school started, so we ended up in a neighboring district for our first year in Massachusetts. We wanted to be in Salem, so we knew it would be temporary. After our first year, we made the move to Salem and enrolled our boys at the school where my husband was teaching My husband had some concerns about the educational model at the school but knowing his first year as a teacher was their first year using this model he figured they’d work out the kinks and that the second year would be better.

The beginning half of the year was ok. I felt it was a much narrower education than the one they received in the neighboring district but nothing I didn’t feel I could supplement at home. Then February break came and went, and the entire structure of the school day changed. Time was taken away from reading and math in order to drill writing. Writing to prompts, writing essays, writing open responses from mid Feb until April. They did so much writing that my son was coming home and telling me that his hand hurt. He was asking me questions about why they were doing so much writing all of a sudden. At first, I thought nothing of it, then he began begging me to stay home from school. He began asking me if he could go back to his old school and began telling me that he hated writing, that writing wasn’t fun for him anymore (a stark difference from last year, when he would write books for fun, and was even encouraged to do so in school!). So my ears perked up, I began paying more attention and questioned Why my son all of a sudden hated going to school? The day before the ELA MCAS was administered, he did writing all day (with the exception of lunch, recess, and special). He came home drained and burned out, and then was expected to take the test the next day.

As soon as the ELA MCAS was over, the principal mandated an extra hour of math for all 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders (of course, the Math MCAS is next, so why not?!). So on top of their usual 90 minute math block, they’d be receiving another 60 minute math block. This extra 60 minutes of math time took away from reading & writing. I am fairly certain my son received little to no guided reading instruction during this month that they implemented the extra math. I also know he received very little Science time as well. My husband, and other teachers, were also instructed by the principal to group the kids according to “passing”, “on the cusp”, and “won’t pass”. They were to allow the “passing” and “won’t pass” kids to do Dreambox (an online math game, that the principal says “is part of the curriculum”) for the second 60 minute math block, while the “on the cusp” kids were given the extra instruction. It was at this point that my husband came home and said that’s it, job security aside, we need to say something. So we drafted, as parents, a professional and cordial (but firm) email to the principal stating that we were not okay with what was happening. That we saw what happened with the writing and the toll it took on our son, and didn’t want to see it happen now with math. We ended the email requesting a meeting to further discuss our concerns, and signed it from the both of us. The very next morning, my husband was pulled from his classroom and berated by his principal. He sent me a text asking me to come over right away, and I did. I sat in the waiting room and could hear her screaming at my husband (and so could others.) She got the union involved because she wanted to fire him on the spot, but was told she could not. She said he crossed a personal/professional line. Our email was written strictly out of parental concern and was handled extremely inappropriately and unprofessionally.

At that time, I requested that my son be opted out of the extra 60 minutes of math and be given time to independently read or write. It was granted – after me pushing. However, it didn’t spare the other kids. I also went to the superintendent, who informed me that he “in fact supports the changes to the instructional schedule, not for the sake of testing – but to teach the standards we are responsible for teaching.” I can show you our email exchanges, I’ve saved them all. I responded back informing him that this was, in fact, for the sake of the test and that if this was the type of learning environment he supported, then I would find an alternative option for my sons. I received no response.

After this my husband went from receiving all “effective” marks on his evaluations to being marked “needs improvement” for nearly everything in his last evaluation. He was also informed last week that his contract would not be renewed. All because we had concerns about the education our son was receiving and spoke up about it.

So this morning we had a final meeting with the principal (we figured he’s already lost his job, now we have nothing left to lose). We addressed all of our concerns, we called her out on her decisions. And she has said that she stands by her decisions. We have to “agree to disagree.” She “analyzed the data and did what was best for her students.” She is sorry our son had the year he had, but she feels she did what was right. She says it wasn’t test prep, because they weren’t placing practice tests in front of them during the extra math time, it was “quality math instruction.” That’s not the point! That 60 minutes of math took away 60 minutes of something else. It made 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders endure two and a half hours of math, every single day for nearly 5 weeks! She doesn’t understand how this was wrong. She says she spoke with her math and ELA consultants and they backed her. As a parent, I am sick to my stomach that this can happen. As the wife of a teacher, I am sick to my stomach that this has resulted in my husband losing his job (though she claims it is because he is a “bad teacher”). The data she loves so much doesn’t say so.

And to make my point even clearer, the difference between the education the kids in the neighboring district are receiving and the kids in Salem are receiving (at least at the Level 3/4 schools) is not even comparable. This would not happen there. Last year my kids studied Greek Mythology. They were allowed to do creative/fiction writing (which is non-existent in the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum). I only heard the word “MCAS” the week before the tests, and that was an email from their teacher telling us that our kids were well prepared, no worries, they’ll do fine. Last year, they completed hands-on projects. I haven’t seen one project of my 4th grader’s this year. If you walk though the upper halls of this Salem school there is virtually nothing on the walls. I did a tour of other schools in Salem (except for Bentley), and even in those schools there were projects on display, artwork on the walls. I can tell more of what those kids did all year than my own. Even within the district, there is a stark difference between the education the kids are receiving at two other prominent elementary schools in Salem, and what my kids experienced this year. And these are schools within the same district! The difference is – our school has approx 75% low-income, while the aforementioned prominent schools are approx 35-40% low-income. Our kids are not free/reduced lunch, so it’s pretty much a guarantee that we wouldn’t get spots at either of those two schools. Yet if we stay where we are , our kids receive an education like they did this year. This is troublesome and I have no idea where to go from here. And judging by the way our situation was handled by the principal, and the superintendent, we have no voice or input in what happened or is happening. It’s pretty much take it or leave it, we need to get the test scores up…if you don’t like it, leave.”

I am so appalled by this. This family went from having a child who loved school to having a child who hated school. We cannot keep teaching to the test, we cannot keep narrowing the focus of our children, we need to be educating our children, we need to be allowing them to explore their interests with our guidance, not mandating that they take 2.5 hours of math a day. Hell, their class periods should only be 40 to 45 minutes max, not 90 minutes. Children are not made to sit still for that long.

As I have said I do not know how to fix this, but we need to start looking at alternatives, we need to examine what works in other countries who have way higher academic achievements than the USA. We need to do something, before we have a generation of children who only know how to respond to narrow questions and narrow parameters.

ELA Fail….

I was browsing the individiual elementary school webpages trying to get a better feel for the schools, and I noticed that one of them has a newspaper, wirtten by the students. My first though was that this was a lovely idea, what a great way to encourage literacy skills. Then I started to read more about it including the little biographies written by the “cub” reporters. The first thing that struck me was the awful grammar such as “I talk Spanish and English” (this occured more than once), surely before publishing this a teacher should have sat down and worked with the children to make sure that their English was actually correct.

This letter which is posted on the Salem Public Schools web page has been bothering me for many months. It is littered with very basic grammatical errors, and to be honest is just very badly written. My question is this, how can we expect our students to excell English when our school superintendent obviously does not? I have bolded the grammatical errors that I noticed plus a couple of just horrifically written sentences.

A reason to believe ..,,

 Why should you send your child or children to Salem Public Schools?

 During the past several weeks, I have been asked this question by our City Councilor’s during their review of the FY 14 budget and again by a parent concerned over what kind of a future their child would have if she attends Collins Middle School. My response, “let me tell you the Salem story.”

 I tell them about …

 The diverse and dynamic nature of this city. I tell them about the 39 different languages spoken in our schools. I tell them about the Mayor and Council’s leadership, the new courthouse, the planned T-station, the arrival of Footprint Power, plans for a deep water port, Salem Prides’ downtown beautification efforts, the city’s rich history, our National Park, the Ferry to Boston, the 20 year involvement of the READ Trust in promoting science education in our schools, the Salem Rotary Clubs’ scholarship and literacy support and I tell them about the many other wonderful attributes that Salem offers.

 I tell them a out the partnerships that we’ve established with Cyberspace, the Business Partners Group, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Education Foundation,and Salem State University, to name a few.

 I tell them about the coordinated efforts underway to support students through the Latino Outreach Initiative, the work of the YMCA, the Girls & Boys Club, the House of Seven Gables, the Parks and Recreation Department’s Programs and youth & athletic activities.

 I tell them about Salems’ natural beauty, our neighborhood parks, the Commons, the Willows, the Point Neighborhood’s murals and the many opportunities to engage in a wide variety of activities available in the city and throughout Essex County.

 I tell them about what a great place this is to live and bring up children.

 And I ask them…,

 How many city’s do you know of that set a full day aside to celebrate a “Hats off to Education” day involving over 100 venues located throughout the city ? How many citys’ have recently hosted Governor Patrick in a visit to the Carlton School Innovation Program, the Early Childhood Education Center, the celebration of Bullying Prevention with students at our middle school or participated in a high school town meeting? How many school systems have had the new MA Secretary of Education Matt Malone visit the Bowditch and Bentley Schools during his first several months on the job or high schools play host to State Treasurer Steven Grossman in awarding one of only eleven statewide Financial Literacy Grants to Salem High School’s staff and students?

 I ask them how many school systems offer school choice from among their elementary and middle schools? How many have comprehensive high schools engaged in expanding their vocational programs to include “Green” facilities management, medical assistant and early childhood training planned to compliment their existing automotive and culinary arts programs? I ask them how many school committee’s partner with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in committing to participate in an accelerated improvement process to improve their schools or successfully obtain $1.5 million dollars in 3 school redesign grants? How many school systems support an independent Horace Mann Charter School, the successful Bridge Program or Salem Prep alternative high school for non-traditional (and successful) learners?

 And I tell them about our future …,

 I tell them about our application to the national Center for Time & Learning grant proposal designed to proactively tackling the challenges of increased learning time. I tell them about the implementation of a grade 2-8 system of regular assessments designed to improve instruction with plans to extend it to grades 10-12 during the upcoming school year. I tell them about the efforts underway to pilot a summer program designed to address student’s summer learning loss and I tell them about our plans to assess the grade configuration of our schools as a means of making the best use of available tax dollars and program consistency. I tell them about the work still to be done in raising the academic bar, in helping all of our students to experience success and I tell them about the commitment that we all share in helping them get there.

 I tell them the Salem story