Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tell Senators that A-F Grading System Fails

Tony Bennett’s system of punishment for schools (or maybe I should call it: privatization tool) is being called into question tomorrow morning.  The Senate Education Committee is meeting to hear a bill that would void “the administrative rule that establishes the A through F designations”  (SB416) and require instead something that would not pit students against their peers in an Orwellian-termed “growth model.”

In January of 2012, I went to the Department of Education with a friend to testify against this A-F metric system of evaluating schools.  It was a packed room full of educators and even a mayor.  Every single person I heard person testified against this punitive method of evaluating schools. I remember one principal or superintendent had to pause to fight back tears and compose himself as he undoubtedly felt the devastating injustice of this draconian system of evaluation and the effects it would have on the caring teachers and innocent children in his school.

This is what I said to one D.O.E. board member and three other official-looking people (Dr. Bennett and the others apparently couldn’t make it to hear in person this outpouring of emotion):

“Hello.  My name is Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer.  I am here as a parent of four children in public schools.  I represent many of my friends who can't be here at 10 in the morning on a Tuesday because they are busy at work or caring for their children at home.  I'm sure there are hundreds of people across the state in our shoes.

I am deeply concerned about these efforts toward "reform" which directly affect my... OUR kids.  This morning I am speaking specifically of this new grading system for elementary and middle schools, which is setting up a third of them to fail.  When I tell my friends and neighbors that this grading system is based on a curve, they are shocked.  A curve sees 34 % plus not making the bar!! 

Now, I am a product of public schools and so I can think critically.  I can only assume this is designed exactly for that purpose.  And I can only THEN assume that the agenda is to take away local control and take over our public schools through private companies or by turning them into privately-run charter schools.  

I believe education should see the child as the center of policy.  And if you have the child as the focus, then you are meeting him or her where he/she is on the developmental continuum.  We should be looking at the WHOLE child, not just a test score.  An evaluation of schools should be based on their improvement wherever they are --- it is NOT an equal or level playing field for all children and they don't learn in a vacuum.  We must be fair to all schools and all children.  

My own children are so much more than a test score.  My school is a wonderful caring environment of learning--not a factory or business.  And my children's education is NOT a commodity. 

I would hope we as citizens of this democracy would be supporting public schools as the cornerstone of that democracy... NOT trying to turn them into a for-profit venture and designing them to fail.


Unfortunately, the testimony fell on deaf ears.  The A-F system went through and the first set of grades under this new law came out just before the election in November and Glenda Ritz’s amazing and inspiring victory over Dr. Tony Bennett.  As we all suspected (and as anyone who has read about standardized testing knows) the hardest hit schools were those with the highest concentration of poverty.  For an excellent review of this, please read Steve Hinnefeld’s blog post: "Indiana's grading curve runs uphill for high-poverty schools"

Here is a letter I’ve written to the two schools in my city that received an F under this system of setting schools up to fail.  I am posting it in honor of those two caring communities (schools) and in hopes of inspiring others to write on behalf of their own schools labeled as failures or near failures with this weapon of punishment.  Write to your state senator and to the Senate Education Committee.  Tell them to stop punishing schools and extend help instead.

Dear Schools of Caring and Community,

We want to express our most heartfelt support for you and all that you do to make your school great.  As parents, grandparents and members of this city and community at large, we know that this system imposed on us by the state is neither fair, nor accurate, and completely unjust.

Your schools work exceedingly hard for children and their families to create a caring and welcoming environment.  The teachers and staff at your schools recognize that in order for children to find their passions and to achieve to the best of their individual potentials, they must meet each individual where he or she is on the developmental spectrum and address as many of their unique needs as possible.

We have seen the statistics of many families at your schools and know that there is a segment of your population who find it very hard to make ends meet.  Perhaps families have to move away from the school for a while in the middle of the year to live with grandparents in another area.  Perhaps there are single parents struggling with two jobs trying to make ends meet.  Regardless of each individual situation, we know that a child who is hungry or tired, who has moved often and who has not had the luxury of being read to regularly or given the extras (music lessons, sports activities) that money can buy, may not do as well on a standardized test.  The grading system imposed on us by the state is on a curve.  That means that there will always be losers, the bottom third of the curve.  We recognize that it is not a level playing field across our community and that there should be no losers when it comes to our children and their education.

That’s why the work, the arts, the extra things that your schools do is so important and valuable.  A good teacher knows that “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted counts.”  Sometimes the goal is to help a child be able to sit still and pay attention so that she CAN learn.  Sometimes the goal is to help a child solve conflicts without aggression so that he can grow up to get along with others.  Sometimes the goal is to get a child to really think about a problem and find a creative solution.  Sometimes it is just that spark of curiosity or that joy of finding a subject that interests her which makes a child a lifelong learner. 
None of these things are deemed important to the state that seeks to punish the child and the teacher for not showing quantified progress on a stacked means of measurement.  But we who understand children and learning, know that these things listed above, things which are not tested, are the only way to achieve real progress.

Please know that we reject the idea that all of your hard work, innovation and caring is reflected in the state’s decision to give you an “F”.  We as a community care about you and will continue to support you in as much as we are able, recognizing that a child (and a school) is so much more than a test score.
I know many of you are discouraged by the constant onslaught of punishments and hurdles and game-rigging aimed at public schools by our state legislature.  You've testified, made phone calls and sent emails.  But we just can't give up.  Please speak up.  If you can get to the statehouse, go tomorrow. If you can call, please let these senators hear your voice.  We need to also let these schools know that we support them and that we know that teaching and learning IS so much more than test scores.

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