Tag Archives: salemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Salem Puclic Schools – Part One – Demographics

As I write this, I fear I am dooming my child to a school assignment in the janitor’s closet. Why do I feel this way? Because living in Salem I have learned that to rock the boat and to speak out against anyone in public office can make your life really quite difficult and unpleasant. The ranks close and small town attitudes take over. Those of us who “moved in” and who are not afraid to speak out are shunned. Instead of teenagers pointing fingers and whispering “witch” we face an entrenched population saying “how dare you criticize us? How dare you ask for more?”

I am the mother of a very bright 4 year old, and since her infancy I have been following the state of the Massachusetts educational system. We moved to Salem because we genuinely liked the community, we liked the low crime, and we liked the quiet. And then we watched the slow inexorable slide of the schools into the disaster that they are today. We have watched the failure of Bentley and the endless finger pointing that has followed. Parents are to blame, teachers are to blame, the MCAS is to blame, poverty is to blame, and minorities are to blame. There seems to be plenty of blame to go around, and yet there the one thing we have never heard is accountability. The school committee has not stood up and said “We did not do enough to stop this,” the Mayor for all her lip service has not made education a priority, she has chosen instead to focus on developers and the tourist economy, and while I acknowledge that you inherited a mess, you sir have done nothing to improve the plight of our schools. I am not writing this as an emotional reaction, I have sat down and talked to parents, and I have spent hours going over the enrollment data and MCAS scores for the past decade. It has made for very interesting reading. The conclusion I have come to is that things are very wrong in Salem. So wrong that I honestly do not know how they can ever be repaired.

Before we get to the data, I am a huge proponent of public education. I firmly believe that education should be free, of a very high standard, available and equitable to all. I think that teachers should be allowed to teach, so that the young minds they are shaping are able to develop critical thinking skills, and a deep understanding of the material they are studying. Our children should be taught to question, and to challenge. They should be allowed to create and grow as human beings. They should be exposed to music, art and foreign languages from a young age, as I hope you know there is a plethora of research that shows that children exposed to music, art and languages excel in other fields such as math and science. Sadly I do not see this happening in the Salem School District. I looked at the new Bentley curriculum proposed by Blueprint – there is no time for art and music. Other schools have art once a week, and music teachers are basically itinerant going from school to school. I have heard from parents about how everything stops for MCAS test prep – full days of math before the math test, full days of writing before the ELA tests. If our children were being properly educated then test preparation of this intensity would not be required, there would be a process of continual readiness. Cramming like this only sets up poor study habits, and creates resentment and boredom.

But now to the state of the schools overall and some of the statistics I looked at were very concerning to me as a parent, and as someone who believes in equality in education. The district’s own assignment policy states:

Rationale: When a school’s student composition becomes socioeconomically imbalanced in contrast to other schools in the District, that school’s environment and educational opportunities also become imbalanced, contributing to educational inequality. It is well-documented that students learn from each other as well as from teachers and other adults. Interaction with students from different backgrounds and abilities is a powerful tool for advancing student learning and performance as well as preparation to live in the larger world.

So with this policy in mind how can the district explain the following statistics in regards to low income student enrollment based on data from 2011 to the present day:





















Horace Mann





Nathaniel Bowditch










Witchcraft Heights





The difference between FRL enrollments in the schools is in direct contradiction of your own policy. How was the FRL population at Horace Mann for example allowed to increase by 18.1% while Witchcraft Heights and Saltonstall have remained so stable? Why are there between 36 percentage points difference between Witchcraft Heights and Bentley? Why when you convert the percentages back into numbers are there only 84 children considered RFL at Saltonstall versus 219 at Bentley? Actually why are the numbers of FRL students so low at Saltonstall overall? The Witchcraft Heights numbers seems reasonable when compared to the other schools until you factor in the size of the population at Witchcraft (493 total enrollment).

If you then look at enrollment by race and ethnicity how were the schools permitted to become so unbalanced? Out of a school population of 300 only 78 children who are identified at Hispanic/Latino are assigned to Bates, yet Horace Mann and Bentley which are of comparable size have Hispanic populations of 120 and 128 respectively. Saltonstall again shows limited diversity with 361 students enrolled and only 90 students are Hispanic. Out of the two largest schools Witchcraft Heights and Nathaniel Bowditch (493/569) are even more disparate with only 108 Hispanic students at Witchcraft and 335 at Bowditch? If you walk around the neighborhoods in Salem you will see that these numbers do not reflect the neighborhood demographics. I have heard the local myth that the reason for low Hispanic enrollment at Saltonstall was the year round calendar, and that Hispanic families did not like that because “they like to go home for a month in the summer.” This is nothing more than a myth that has obviously been perpetuated throughout the district, especially when you look at the statistics going as far back as 1996. The Hispanic population at Saltonstall has remained incredibly stable, and the only dips in Hispanic enrollment have occurred during periods where there was a decrease in the overall Hispanic enrollment in the district.