On Depression & Anxiety and the Hell That Was My First Month of Teaching

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This photograph is significant to me. My first three years of teaching were spent working with the same group of students, most of whom were Dominican. They all have a special place in my heart as they (unknowingly) helped me get through my first year of teaching, my father’s death and other personal struggles that they were not aware of. I was pregnant for most of our third year together and they delighted in watching my belly grow, guessing the baby’s gender and offering me name suggestions (as well as parenting tips). We were a family. They are now going into 10th grade and I am about to begin my ninth year teaching at the same school. 

This is an essay I wrote exactly two years ago but I’ve not shared it publicly until now. As vulnerable as it makes me feel to post it, I thought it might be helpful to teachers who, like me, suffer from depression and anxiety. This was my first and only brush with suicide so it may also shed light on what causes people to want to end their lives. There has been much discussion of this topic on social media as a result of Robin Williams’ tragic end earlier this week.

On reflection, I realize that this essay might contradict my current disdain for scripted curriculum, particularly Pearson’s Ready GEN for ELA and Go Math. As a new teacher, I may have been comforted by being told what to teach – from what materials to use to what performance tasks to give.  Unlike now, I did not possess a broad knowledge of children’s literature and how to effectively use it in the classroom. What is clear to me, though, is the critical importance of teacher collaboration. Our school has improved greatly in this area since I first started teaching. I would not still be in this profession were it not for my colleagues’ selflessness and empathy, particularly ML.  However, these are somewhat separate issues, and I’ll continue to explore them in forthcoming posts.

-KL, August 2014

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August 22, 2012

It’s a long-held belief that teachers tend to be a little crazy. And indeed I’ve been known to exhibit my eccentricities in the classroom (through “break dancing,” speaking with a British accent and so on) in the interest of captivating an audience of jaded ten-year-olds. What I didn’t consider as I entered the profession was the thin line between sanity and madness that an anxiety-prone new teacher navigates during those first months of teaching.  In 2006, despairing of ever experiencing job satisfaction and inspiration in the dull world of book publishing, I joined the New York City Teaching Fellows and became a 2nd grade bilingual teacher at a public elementary school in East New York, Brooklyn. I was 32-years-old and already had a wide variety of work experience.  This was not my first major job change.

I felt pretty strong and energetic the day I met my new students. I had lesson plans and was nervous but not yet panicky. However, when outspoken Alberto*, whom I would go on to instruct for two more years, asked me, “What are we going to do today?” I lost all faith in myself as a teacher. A sea change of feelings took hold of me and set in motion an emotional derailment that would ultimately lead to a full-blown panic attack and thoughts of suicide. For the first few days after Alberto’s innocuous question, I was able to complete a series of activities and keep the kids engaged and relatively controlled, but in my mind they were learning nothing and were unmanageable. And with no curriculum to follow – aside from Everyday Math and the vague Balanced Literacy model for English-language arts instruction – I was running out of ideas.

Then the sleep stopped for seven consecutive nights. I obsessively created lessons plans to fill my plan book and my brain would not turn off. My principal at the time had recited to me “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”, and being a dutiful employee, I viewed this edict as a teacher’s biggest sin; a sign of incompetence. I couldn’t fathom being placed in that category. But, as a new teacher, there were not enough hours in the day for such thorough planning. At one point – in a manic state – I dashed off to a dollar store in downtown Brooklyn, convinced that buying 24 brand new marble notebooks for my students would be the answer to my problems. It wasn’t. My husband tried to help by giving me massages and turning on relaxing music at night. I drank red wine – lots of it – and took Tylenol PM, but a switch had been flipped and I couldn’t let go of my thoughts long enough to slumber. The only relief I got was physical. In the middle of the night, I used nail scissors to dig into the sides of my big toe, obsessively trying to remove an ingrown nail. The instantaneous, spreading pain and subsequent release of blood were the only sensations that comforted me during this time.

I soon also started obsessing about the non-academic and administrative aspects of the job that weren’t touched upon during my intensive summer training. Keeping track of the blue cards containing the kids’ emergency contact information was a seemingly life or death task. What if a student disappeared and we didn’t have her number to call home? I don’t remember seeing José at dismissal. What if he was abducted, his broken body to be discovered days later on Conduit Boulevard’s grassy median? I began imagining myself behind bars or living out of a trash can in a stinky back alley.  I had no problem giving parents my cell phone number. In fact, that first year I would sometimes call home under the pretense of clarifying a homework assignment, but my real mission was to ensure that my students had made it home safely.

After a girl calmly approached me with a bloody nose, to which I reacted with panic, as if I was expected to perform emergency heart surgery on her, I concluded that I was not mentally fit to be in charge of a group of second graders for eight hours a day. My anxious mind, compromised by an extreme lack of sleep, could not hold all the potential calamities I felt could occur due to my perceived lack of control. My eyes stung and my thinking was myopic. I felt stoned all the time. I could hear sounds and see objects but my brain wasn’t processing the information, at least not in a “normal” way. I could not make decisions, even little ones, like what drink to buy at the bodega. I walked in circles around my classroom dabbling in a bit of everything but never completing a single task. I could only be reactive. I remember clutching a clipboard at all times as if it served to keep me grounded. I was so lost mentally, so deeply lodged in some dark, sticky part of my brain, with no way out. My former self had been replaced by someone so sleep-deprived and irrational that the prospect of being struck down by a city bus while crossing the street was welcoming. It would provide instant and permanent relief from unbearable feelings. Resisting the urge to end my life was a daily struggle. 

I decided to tell on myself. During a prep period, I walked into my principal’s office and confessed to her that I was a horrible teacher and a danger to my students (citing the nose bleed incident). I begged her to come watch me to see for herself. My new colleagues were stunned by my lack of filter.  I, in turn, was dumbstruck by how at ease some of the teachers appeared to be. How is it possible to feel calm enough to actually laugh with students? Equally baffling was the idea that you could leave at 3:00 pm right after dismissal. Overhearing teachers talk about weekend plans, dinner menus and their own children simply confirmed that something was seriously wrong with me. My entire day was consumed by my constant thinking about teaching. I didn’t cook (or even eat much) during that time. Showering infrequently, I didn’t care about my appearance. Every aspect of my life – from my relationships to my sleep – was held hostage by my obsession about the new job. A friend loaned me episodes of Lost on DVD, hoping it would distract me and help sever the chains that bonded me to my overactive brain. I couldn’t even make it through half an episode. If I wasn’t constantly thinking about teaching – even at 3:00 am – I felt like my world would implode. In a new job where I had little control and success, this, in my mind, was the only way I could hang on.

Around mid-September, my principal suggested that I resign. This was exactly what I wanted to hear. Being a perfectionist and possessing an irrational fear of failure, I didn’t want to be the one to make that decision. I immediately started to feel relief and my limbs lightened. But it didn’t last. A close friend intervened, arguing that I would regret this decision. She and my principal brokered a deal in which I would take five days off in order to see a doctor and to sleep. Working in the medical field, my friend made an appointment for me to see a psychiatrist that day. However, unable to fully let go, I also saw the hiatus as an opportunity to return to school in order to devote hours to selecting teaching materials. When my principal found me rummaging through a book closet one day, she sent me home claiming that it would be confusing for my students, who were being instructed by a substitute teacher, to see me wandering the halls of the school.

At the psychiatrist’s office, I unclenched and cried for the first time. I even admitted out loud that I had had suicidal thoughts during my descent into madness. The doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder and prescribed Klonopin, which I took until the end of the school year, as well as an anti-depressant**. That evening my closest New York City friends came over. No one wanted me to be alone for fear I’d slit my wrists with a kitchen knife. I also think they were curious to see for themselves just how unhinged I’d become. I have such a sharp picture in my head of my crazy self, propped up in bed, taking that first Klonopin. The effects seemed to be immediate. My whole body relaxed and I felt hopeful. I even re-discovered my self-deprecating humor. I heard one friend say, “Katie’s back” and I knew I was going to make it, perhaps not in teaching, but I was going to sleep and function again as a human being.

I am now about to begin my seventh year of teaching*** at the same school, although the principal has changed. No one remembers my rough start and I try not to think about it, out of both shame and fear that I’ll go back to that awful place. My life is now more balanced. I am motivated by my job and inspired by the connections I make with my students. I continue to struggle with feelings of anxiety and despair, but I have found community, in both my personal life and at work, and I no longer feel as disconnected and isolated. Although I remain stubborn and proud, I am learning how and when to ask for help. I am learning how to reassure myself that it’s going to be okay.

*name changed

**I haven’t taken Klonopin since 2007 but I’m still on anti-depressants.

***I wrote this two years ago so I’m now starting my ninth year at the same school.

Fred Smith on the NYSED’s Delayed Release of the 2013 Technical Report, Part I

 

photograph courtesy of the New York Daily News

Below is Fred Smith’s initial reaction to the long-awaited release of the Technical Report of the 2013 New York State Common Core Math and English-language Arts (ELA) tests. Smith, a NYS testing expert and statistician, has long been sounding the alarm on the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) lack of transparency.  He is also an active member of Change the Stakes and has launched a campaign to Say “NO!” to Pearson stand-alone field tests, which were administered throughout New York State in June 2014. Currently, Smith is scrutinizing the item analysis data contained in the overdue 2013 Technical Report and “will be parsing some of its fuzzy verbiage.” At first glance, Smith reports, “there are a number of serious questions regarding the ELA exams that add weight to the concerns of educators and parents about their composition and use.”

Fred Smith: The New York State Education Department (NYSED) just posted the 2013 Technical Report– seven+ months past Pearson’s deliverable deadline. All 339 pages of it, in which the NYSED and the publisher have continued to deny useful information that the technical reports contained before Pearson took over the state testing program.

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/reports/2013/ela-math-tr13.pdf

So now we can see what data they are showing us about the quality of the 2013 Common Core-aligned baseline tests three months after the 2014 exams have been given. The foundational 2013 Common Core ELA and Math tests were described last year as providing a “transparent baseline.” NYSED acts in bad faith and its words peter out in sheer derision.

No matter what the selective disclosure of the delayed data shows, this is an unacceptable way to operate and the antithesis of transparency.

Here’s one piece of clever obfuscation: Embedded Field Test Items (p. 8)

“In 2010, the Department announced its commitment to embed multiple-choice items for field-testing within the Spring 2012 Grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics Operational Tests; this commitment continued for the Spring 2013 administrations of the Common Core assessments. Embedding field-test items allows for a better representation of student responses and provides more reliable field-test data on which to build future operational tests. In other words, since the specific locations of the embedded field-test items were not disclosed and they look the same as operational items, students were unable to differentiate field-test items from operational test items. Therefore, field-test data derived from embedded items are free of the effects of differential student motivation that may characterize stand-alone field-test designs. Embedding field-test items also reduced the number of stand-alone field-tests during the spring of 2013 but did not eliminate the need for them.”

Yes, imagine if General Motors said: “And we are committed to selling cars with brakes, as it makes driving safer. But when we can’t do that as much as we’d like to, there are times we have to sell cars without brakes.”

Thank you, Fred, for your insights.  Stay tuned for Part II.

-KL

 

Does Kindergarten-Ready Really Mean Common Core-Ready?

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Is she kindergarten-ready?

This is an embarrassing but necessary post for me to write. Writing helps me wade through the tangled – often muddy – weeds in my brain, and perhaps what I have to share will be useful to those participating in the early childhood education debate. For me, real personal growth comes with letting down my guard and being completely honest with myself.  So here goes.

Yesterday, I came across the following Tweet by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT):

7/23/14 @rweingarten: Americans know we need to help kids be kindergarten ready #InvestInKids #reclaimit http://t.co/g4rx0KOCCT

With my almost-five-year-old in mind, I pondered the meaning of the term kindergarten readiness. According to this 7/17/14 article published by the First Five Years Fund“An overwhelming majority of Americans from diverse political and demographic backgrounds support federal action on early childhood education,” said First Five Years Fund Executive Director Kris Perry. “They understand its return on investment. They demand that Congress fund programs that meet high-quality standards. And, they want to invest now.” The fund cites – albeit vaguely – the acquisition of “knowledge and skills” as necessary for ensuring kindergarten-readiness.

First today’s education reformers shoved college and career readiness down our throats, and now this? Is anyone else sickened by the return on investment analogy in talking about early childhood education? Where is the humanity? As a public elementary school teacher in New York City, I see firsthand how kindergarten has become first grade. I am a huge proponent of preschool but not for the purpose of preparing kids for an unnaturally “rigorous” kindergarten experience so that they can meet the needs of the Common Core, as demonstrated by its developmentally inappropriate and uninspiring testing program.

My spirited kid, N, will be starting kindergarten in September* and I’m fraught with anxiety, but not because she lacks “knowledge and skills.” On the contrary, N can decode anything from picture books to brochures. She can define the term instrumental (thanks to the Frozen soundtrack), and just yesterday N told me that the co. abbreviation stands for company. Monopoly is N’s favorite board game and her read-alouds, without any prompting from me, include higher order thinking questions.

What tightens the permanent knot in my stomach is the fact that N won’t poop in the potty. Last November she was diagnosed as a stool withholder. She takes Miralax and sees a child psychologist. For the past three years, N attended a private preschool. On average there were eight students and two teachers in her class. In true it-takes-a-village fashion, Ms. D and Ms. J, her teachers for two consecutive years, helped us with the arduous task of potty training N. On more than one occasion, I have given myself an ineffective rating in parenting (do I deserve a score of 1 in the teaching of grit?), and I often fantasize about living life as a Mongolian nomad, cut off from the pressures of the modern world. I envision N pooping off the side of a camel or in the grasslands. That’s all she would know.

In September, N will attend our zoned public school in Brooklyn, NY. There will likely be around 25 students and just one teacher in her full-day kindergarten class. With today’s academic demands, which include the regular administration of assessments to track student progress, combined with growing class sizes, N will not get the individualized attention that she benefited from in preschool. Her teacher will likely not tell her to go to the bathroom. How will the class respond to N when she is squatting in the corner of the room, refusing to participate? Will they tease her when she smells like urine or when a wet spot appears on the back of her pants? Our current public school learning climate does little to accommodate social and emotional learning, which is so critical, particularly in the early years.

We all know that children develop at different rates, however the First Five Years Fund’s report fails to acknowledge our multiple intelligences.  There is no mention of the whole child. The report’s tone is urgent, as if the authors felt pressured to ensure that incoming kindergarteners were ready for a “rigorous” Common Core education. If early childhood education does not include social and emotional learning, authentic and developmentally appropriate instruction as well as opportunities for play, compassion and love, then I don’t consider it high-quality.

*I will delete this post in the near future to spare N from any embarrassment my writing may cause her.

Teaching in Davonte’s Inferno: A Must Read Summer Book

Former New York City public school teacher, Laurel M. Sturt, tells it like it is. Refreshingly, she’s real with us in her no-holds-barred memoir Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years In The New York Public School Gulag, a heart-breaking and humorous exposé of the farcical – and often terrifying and depressing – working conditions in a Bronx public elementary school. Like Sturt, I have substantial experience teaching in a Title I public school located in a low-income New York City neighborhood. Luckily I’ve never worked for tyrannical principals – as was Sturt’s fate – but I did relate to much of what she describes in her book.

For my own personal growth as a teacher (dare I say ‘professional development’?), Davonte’s Inferno shed more light on the social and emotional problems facing a number of our kids in Title I schools: abuse of all forms, neighborhood violence, and chaotic, unstable homes, the most shocking Sturt calls “houses of horror.” Her scientific research details the ‘toxic stress’ associated with poverty that negatively impacts student learning. Reading it served, in part, as a reminder to offer my students more unconditional love and to provide them with a safe space in which they can speak freely without fearing any judgement on my part. Due to the lack of much needed wraparound services in our public schools and in our neighborhoods, combined with the dearth of individualized instruction as a result of overcrowded classrooms and cuts to academic intervention services, Sturt’s book motivated me to spend a few lunch periods each week with angry fifth grade boys I fret over. We teachers wear many hats.

For the wider audience, not only is Davonte’s Inferno a crucial read for those entrenched in the corporate education reform debate, but it’s also relevant due to recent anti-teacher tenure initiatives such as the Vergara v. California decision and, here in New York City, Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, which, among other efforts, has filed a lawsuit in New York to remove “poorly-performing” teachers from the classroom. The lawsuit cites low test scores as “evidence” that New York City students aren’t getting a sound education and claims that “far too many students every year find themselves stuck in classrooms led by ineffective teachers. It’s a problem that affects families in every corner of the state, but the sad truth is that the students who need great teachers the most—those who grow up in low-income communities—are often the least likely to get them.”

Sturt’s book acknowledges that ineffective teachers exist.  In fact, she describes the follies of one teacher who abused the system by faking an injury, among other misdeeds. She also tells on herself when she loses her cool with a student, something that EVERY teacher struggles with.  However, contrary to Campbell Brown’s argument, there are far fewer ineffective teachers in our schools. Similar to what I see at my Brooklyn elementary school, Sturt writes that, “Where I connected with everyone was my desire to help the kids.  I had never been around so many people who loved children as much as I did.”  “As vilified as public school educators had become,” Sturt remarks, many of the teachers in my school were in fact accomplished and committed:  I would have gladly put my own son in their care. Just like in the rest of the system there were, however, a handful of hacks, protected by favoritism, whose incompetence had never been questioned.”  Note ‘handful.’

What education reformers like Campbell Brown fail to fully consider are the exacting conditions in which we work.  In addition to the above-mentioned examples, New York City public school students and teachers are demoralized by excessive, high-stakes testing and the narrowing and standardization of pedagogy and curriculum as a result of the Common Core package and the NYC Department of Education’s application of Danielson’s Framework for Teaching for teacher evaluation purposes.  Some, unfortunately, also face vindictive principals like the four administrators detailed in Davonte’s Inferno: Cruella, Guido, Principal Dearest and Rosemary’s Baby. Countless administrator horror stories have been shared with me and I consider myself lucky to work at my school and to have due process rights as a tenured teacher.  Sadly, the capricious behavior of the principals at Sturt’s school led to the unjust firings of several promising new teachers.

If all stakeholders in public education could be honest with themselves and truly put children – not ego and profit – first, then perhaps we’d experience real progress in addressing the problems in our public schools, namely the achievement gap. Laurel Sturt’s authentic book moves us closer in that direction.

 

To the NYCDOE – Put Children First & Opt-Out of Pearson’s Field Tests

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Taking Back Our Schools/Save Our Schools rally in New York City – May 17, 2014

“Children First. Always.” is the motto of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). I rage inside whenever my eyes happen to fall upon this misappropriated phrase – a leftover from the Bloomberg reign – on the NYCDOE’s home page.

It is at once laughable and insulting to make such a claim as New York State education policy puts corporations, like Pearson, first.  Next week Pearson, together with its bedfellow, the New York State Education Department (NYSED), will begin administering stand-alone field tests. The official assessment window is June 2-11, and the administration of these tests follows a flurry of test-taking that has left both students and educators in New York City burned out and fed up.  Is this what ed deformers mean by grit? Here’s what our elementary and middle schools have endured since April 1, 2014:

  • Pearson’s Common Core ELA assessment (three days)
  • Pearson’s Common Core math assessment (three days)
  • Four-part Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test) – speaking, listening, reading comprehension and writing (for English-language learners ONLY)
  • Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) ELA Performance Assessment for schools that chose this as their local measure for teacher effectiveness rating purposes
  • Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Math Performance Assessment for schools that chose this option as their local measure for teacher effectiveness rating purposes
  • New York State Science Performance Test (grades 4 & 8 only)
  • New York State Science Written Section (grades 4 & 8 only)
  • Chinese Reading assessment (for students in grades 3-12 receiving bilingual or dual language instruction in Chinese)
  • Spanish Reading assessment (for students in graders 3-12 receiving bilingual or dual language instruction in Spanish)
  • CTB/McGraw-Hill Mathematics Benchmark Assessment Aligned to NYC Core Curriculum Option Go Math! (optional, not all schools participated)
  • CTB/McGraw-Hill English Language Arts Benchmark Assessment (optional, not all schools participated)
  • ELA and Math portfolio assessments for potential holdover students

Change the Stakes, a New York City-based parent and teacher group that opposes high-stakes testing, has done an admirable job of raising awareness of the detriments of field testing.  They report that 1,682 NYC public schools have been assigned to field test either the math or ELA test, and another 103 are signed up for the science field test.  The following information about field tests is published on their website.

What’s Wrong with Field Tests?

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Field tests are an integral part of high-stakes-testing, a system that narrows curriculum and dampens children’s natural enthusiasm for learning. When the stakes are unreasonably high, it encourages widespread teaching to the test and cheating, wastes ever-shrinking resources, and results in inaccurate measures of student performance.
  • 

Field tests provide misleading data. Children aren’t motivated to do well on “trial” exams.
  • Reputable researchers spell out their aims, invite participation, and pay subjects. This is not the case with test publishers. Children provide free labor for product-testing, while their parents and even their schools are kept in the dark.

Why Opt Out? 

  • No child is required to take a field test, and opting out will in no way harm their record, their teachers, or their school.
  • Publishers of field tests see them as essential for creating standardized exams. Without field tests, they argue, there would be no exams. So opting out is a powerful way to demonstrate your opposition to high-stakes testing.

Our students are suffering.  As a result of excessive testing and low-quality Common Core curricula, we are seeing an increased level of behavior problems in our classrooms. More and more students are shutting down, refusing to do work, particularly at this time of year.  I support Change the Stake’s call to opt-out of the upcoming stand-alone field tests. The New York City Department of Education should do the same.  They truly need to put our children first. 

 

Where are the 2013 Technical Reports?: A Call for Transparency at John King’s NYSED

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photograph courtesy of Susan Watts/New York Daily News 12/13/13

On April 14, 2014, sociologist Aaron M. Pallas posted an illuminating report on the lack of transparency at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) with regards to its controversial standardized testing program.  It’s posted on his blog  A Sociological Eye on Education.  I was struck by Pallas’ mention of the missing technical reports of the 2013 NYS Common Core assessments that Pearson was contracted to deliver to the NYSED in December 2013.  At present, the reports have yet to appear on the NYSED website. Did Pearson fail to deliver the reports, which is costing the state $75,000, or is the NYSED sitting on them the same way it sat on the 2012 technical reports, which weren’t made public until July 2013? Click here to read the 2012 English-language Arts technical report and here to view the 2012 Mathematics technical report.

In his latest blog post, Pallas writes:

New York sent teachers’ Mean Growth Percentile scores to its 700 school districts in August 2013, which enabled teachers to receive their overall evaluation scores and categories by September 1, 2013. But no one—neither teachers, parents, journalists nor researchers—has had access to the information necessary to evaluate either the quality of the tests or the quality of the Mean Growth Percentiles. That’s because the technical reports that tell us about last year’s state assessments have yet to be released to the public.

Let that sink in for a moment.”

Fred Smith, NYS testing expert and statistician, has long been sounding the alarm on the NYSED’s lack of transparency.  He is also an active member of Change the Stakes and has launched a campaign to Say “NO!” to Pearson stand-alone field tests, which are to be administered throughout New York State in June 2014.  Smith sent me the following note:

Aaron Pallas gives a powerfully succinct explanation about why the lack of transparency here is intellectually dishonest and beyond objectionable from a scientific perspective.

In simple terms, the failure to produce or make the report available in a timely fashion has been calculated to give SED and Pearson after-the-fact wiggle room to shade its presentation in order to make poorly designed and constructed tests appear less glaringly bad. Even worse, absent the report, researchers and analysts cannot examine the quality of the test instruments.

The entire performance here is another example of SED and Pearson acting in cahoots — with SED running interference for Pearson in order to make the Common Core a fait accompli. Together they have spared no effort to preserve, protect and defend a “sloppy roll-out.”

Parents and educators in New York must continue to put pressure on the NYSED to release the 2013 technical reports.  Use #PearsonTechReports and #BoycottPearson on Twitter.  Please also read and share Fred Smith’s fact sheet on opting-out of Pearson field testing this June.

Thanks, Katie

Carmen Fariña’s Visit to District 19: A Call to Boycott Pearson Field Testing

The evening of April 10, 2014, I attended the District 19 (East New York, Brooklyn) Community Education Council (CEC) meeting with Carmen Fariña, the new chancellor of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). Chancellor Fariña spoke for about 20 minutes before community members took turns voicing their concerns at the microphone.  Here are the parts of her speech that stood out to me:

1.) Chancellor Fariña acknowledged that she invited herself to District 19 after noticing that the district wasn’t included on her tour of NYC school districts.  She stressed the importance of visiting “underserved and underheard” communities such as East New York, Brooklyn.

2.) Right away, Fariña asked if there were any educators in the audience. She reiterated her pledge to bring back respect to NYC teachers and principals, and she encouraged us to speak up at the meeting. This put me at ease until I got no reaction from her after delivering my speech (posted below).

3.) Fariña assured us that the NYCDOE would rely less on outside consultants for curriculum and professional development. She sang the praises of the wonderful work already being done in our schools and called on schools to share ideas and best practices.  I believe she said that she’d reward schools for doing this.

4.) Fariña declared that she believed in the Common Core.  Her view is that “it’s not a curriculum; it’s a series of strategies.”  She said memorizing information won’t get our kids good jobs. This statement reminded me of last year’s NYCDOE pro-Common Core ad that tormented me on my daily subway commute.  The ad – posted below – implied that schools just taught basic skills in the pre-Common Core era. This is false and misleads the public.  Critical thinking and higher order thinking questions are not new concepts and have long been practiced in our schools. Did Fariña not see this happening in her schools? I don’t think so. It’s worth noting that, contrary to Fariña’s interpretation, last year’s NYCDOE ad referred to the Common Core as a curriculum.

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5.) Trailers are a big issue in District 19.  Fariña said that in five years, trailers would be gone from New York City public schools.

After addressing the remaining issues of chief concern to District 19, the public was invited to speak. I only got halfway through my speech because we were given just two minutes each to speak. My intention was to raise awareness of excessive standardized testing in NYC public schools and to inquire about the feasibility of a citywide opt-out of Pearson’s stand-alone field tests, which are to be administered in June. Here’s my speech:

My District 19 elementary school is my second family. My English-language learners are like my own kids; I’ve taught their siblings, I know their families and I help newcomers adjust to both a new language and to a new culture. I’m here tonight as an advocate for them, and also for my own daughter who starts kindergarten this fall in District 13.

The current Common Core testing program is unsustainable and developmentally inappropriate, and it must be stopped. The Common Core state tests are meaningless to me as a teacher. They are also unreliable measurements of student learning and achievement. They do not reflect my students’ knowledge and how they’ve progressed over the course of the school year.

Sadly, standardized testing is far from over for the year. Here’s what’s coming up on the 2013-2014 NYC testing agenda:

1.) NYS Common Core Math assessment: Wednesday.  April 30 – Friday, May 2

2.) The four-part NYSESLAT assessment for English language learners (ELLs): speaking, listening, reading comprehension passages and multiple choice questions and writing, which is comprised of 2 essays: 1 fact-based and 1 picture description. April 9 – May 16.

3.) New York State Science Performance Test (grades 4 & 8). May 21 -30.

4.) New York State Science Written section (grades 4 & 8). June 2.   

5.) MOSL (local assessments) used for teacher ratings (at many, but not all, schools). Grades 3-5 students will complete a reading and writing performance assessment, and a math Scantron online Ed performance will also be administered. May 5 – 12. 

6.) Pearson field testing. June 2 -11. 

The New York City Council has already unanimously passed a resolution calling on the State Education Department to cease fielding testing. Chancellor Fariña, I call on the NYCDOE to opt-out of Pearson’s upcoming field tests. At the very least, can you please ensure that NYC parents are notified in advance that Pearson field tests will be administered. It would be helpful to send principals a form letter that notifies parents of the date, grade and subject area of the field test. It should also state that the field tests are not mandated, and it should ask parents whether or not they consent to having their children participate.

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Please read this field test fact sheet produced by Fred Smith of Change the Stakes. You can print out copies here. Please spread the word that this is happening!

Our students deserve authentic, teacher-created assessments that can be used for instructional and diagnostic purposes. These NYS Common Core tests don’t do that; rather they exploit children for political and economic gain.

Thank you,

Katie Lapham