My Letter to the NYS Board of Regents and Commissioner Elia Regarding ESSA Opt Out Provisions

commissioner@nysed.gov 

Regent.cashin@nysed.gov 

ESSARegComment@nysed.gov

Regent.Rosa@nysed.gov

Regent.Reyes@nysed.gov

Regent.Chin@nysed.gov

Regent.Young@nysed.gov

RegentsOffice@nysed.gov

August 16, 2018 

Dear Commissioner Elia and the NYS Board of Regents, 

In private, many of you respect and even agree with our criticisms of New York State’s (NYS) math and English-language arts (ELA) assessments administered annually to students in grades 3-8. Particularly for students with learning disabilities and/or English-language learners, you nod your heads when we discuss with you how developmentally inappropriate and poorly constructed the tests are.  

These state tests have been widely derided by NYS parents and teachers alike.  Your flawed (and manipulated) methods for determining scores, coupled with the poor design of the assessments, render test results meaningless. Yet the state testing program continues to be the sun around which most school and district decisions rotate, including plans to close schools. Furthermore, the changes you have made to the Common Core-aligned tests, in response to our outrage dating back to 2013, have been largely cosmetic. No positive changes have been made to the content and design of the assessments, for example. 

Until we see significant changes to your testing program, we will continue to opt out. We have very little power in your top-down and undemocratic approach to shaping public education in New York but we do, under federal law, have the right to refuse your tests.  

Therefore, *I strongly oppose your draft ESSA regulations that could allow NYSED to label any schools with opt out rates over 5% as needing Comprehensive or Targeted Support, require them to use Title I funds to lower these rates, and even close these schools and/or convert them to charter schools.

None of these provisions are required by the ESSA law, none of them would improve the learning conditions for NYS children, and all of them contradict earlier statements from the Board of Regents that schools with high opt out rates would not be punished.

I strongly urge you to delete these provisions from the proposed regulations, and allow parents to opt out of the state exams if they so choose, as ESSA allows.

Sincerely,

Katie Lapham

NYC parent and teacher 

Districts 13 and 15, Brooklyn 

*The last three paragraphs were copied from: https://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2018/08/send-your-email-today-to-nysed-dont.html?m=1

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A Tale of Two School Systems: The Impact of NYS Testing on NYC Public Schools

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Here is my testimony from last night’s CEC 15/CEC 13 joint meeting about state testing. 

I am here tonight as both a District 15 parent of a third grader and as a District 15 ENL/ESL elementary school teacher.  Luckily as a parent, my daughter is in a school where the vast majority of students opt out and there is no test prep. However, as a teacher this is the hardest time of year for me. One reason I speak out against the Common Core-aligned state testing program is because it helps me to live with myself as a teacher who is forced to administer the math, English-language arts (ELA) and NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test) assessments each spring- one after the other.  I watch kids suffer and shut down, and there’s nothing I can do about it. As a veteran teacher, I feel like a fraud, complicit in perpetuating an educationally unsound and racist testing program that is designed to harm, not help, our public schools. Common Core state testing is at the heart of corporate education reform. It’s the tool, the weapon, being used to privatize public education and dismantle teacher unions.  

To me, the test scores aren’t legitimate because they come from highly flawed assessments.  Any feedback I get from the testing company is unreliable because of the tests’ poor design, developmentally inappropriate content and ever-changing cut scores. However, authentic and meaningful classroom work, created by educators, not testing companies, paints a much more accurate picture of student progress. Furthermore, Common Core curriculum that prepares students for these tests is not innovative or transformative.  Its pedagogy is anti-democratic (see Nicholas Tampio’s critique of Common Core), and it’s highly scripted and formulaic. Context and real critical thinking are lacking, and the work itself is tedious. English-language arts, for example, relies heavily on excessive close reading.

Test scores also hinder school integration efforts.  Real estate agents use schools with high test scores to lure buyers and renters to certain neighborhoods.  Some affluent families in gentrifying neighborhoods use test scores to justify their rejection of schools whose students are largely Black, Brown and poor.  By design, test scores are used to unfairly label schools, students and teachers as “failing,” and they are used to close local schools in Black, Brown and poor neighborhoods.  This destabilizes communities and adds stress to the lives of families living there. This focus on raising test scores also takes us away from the messy – but URGENT – work we must do to address school inequity and segregation.  According to civil rights investigative journalist and District 13 parent, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the thinking is: “if we can just get the test scores up we don’t have to do anything about the fundamental inequality of segregated schools.” She also shared that her daughter is doing great in her low test score District 13 public school arguing that, “the scores aren’t even reflecting what’s being taught in that school.”  Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke at the Network for Public Education’s annual conference in Oakland, CA last October.  I encourage you to listen to her entire speech.

As we all know, there are two school systems in New York City.  Hannah-Jones calls this disparity “desperate,” and she’s cried over it.  So have I. So educationally unsound is Common Core test-centric schooling that I felt like I had no choice but to leave my beloved Title I school in East New York, my second home where I spent my first nine years as a teacher.  I am now in a District 15 school with high test scores and the differences between the two are striking.

NYC schools with low test scores face immense pressure to raise scores and therefore most decision-making revolves around this goal. No one wants to be on a focus school list, which results in greater scrutiny. Teacher morale in these schools is low and this trickles down to students.  Ask your child’s teachers how truly happy they are. The schools are top-down and undemocratic and the staff is micromanaged. There is little to no freedom to teach and learn in schools with low test scores. Schools with low test scores are constantly changing reading, writing and math programs, and they aren’t teacher-created or even teacher-selected.  Schools with low test scores are pressured by districts to adopt developmentally inappropriate and uninspiring test prep curriculum such as Pearson’s ReadyGEN. Pearson, as you may know, created the first batch of Common Core-aligned ELA and math assessments. In schools with low test scores, skills-based test prep begins in kindergarten, which completely disregards early childhood studies showing that “the average age at which children learn to read independently is 6.5 years” (Defending the Early Years).

In many schools with low test scores, there’s an almost heart-stopping sense of urgency to improve students’ performance in math, reading and writing.  As a result, these schools have limited choice time and no free play in the lower grades. Any type of play must have a literacy skill attached to it. There are fewer field trips, fewer enrichment programs and fewer (if any at all) school performances.  An inordinate amount of planning and organizing time is devoted to preparing for the state tests. Out-of-classroom teachers are pulled from their regular teaching program to administer and score the tests. Countless hours are spent bubbling testing grids.  In 2013, as an out-of-classroom ESL teacher, I lost 40 days of teaching to support this massive testing operation.

English-language learners (ELLs) are the most over-tested students in New York State and very few people – including educators – ever set eyes on the NYSESLAT, the annual ESL assessment given to English-language learners every spring following the state ELA and math tests. In fact, many parents of ELLs don’t even know their child is taking it. The NYSESLAT is arguably worse than the ELA test, and it is comprised of four testing sessions, which means four days of testing.  The kindergarten NYSESLAT has 57 questions.  The reading passages are largely non-fiction, and some of the topics are obscure, outside of the students’ everyday life experiences.  The NYSESLAT is more of a content assessment rather than a true language test. It’s also excessive in its use of close reading. The listening section, for example, requires students to listen to passage excerpts over and over again.  Testing at the proficiency level is the primary way an ELL can exit the ESL program. I have students, already overburdened by state testing, that will remain at the advanced (expanding) level on the NYSESLAT because they don’t score well on standardized tests.  Like the Common Core ELA test, the results of the NYSESLAT tell me nothing about what my students know.

Is this the type of schooling our communities want? I can tell you that educators by and large reject this top-down, one-size-fits-all, corporatization of public education. Shouldn’t community input be taken seriously? What is OUR definition of equity and excellence? Does it include high-stakes testing? The Journey for Justice Alliance offers a vision for sustainable community schools in low-income, Black and Brown neighborhoods throughout the United States: relevant, rigorous and engaging curriculum that allows students to learn in different ways, project-based assessments, supports for high quality teachers, smaller class sizes and teacher aides, appropriate wraparound support for students, including opportunities for inspiration and access to things students care about, a student-centered school climate, quality restorative practices and student leadership opportunities, transformative parent engagement, and inclusive school leadership which considers content knowledge and community knowledge (Jitu Brown, North Dakota Study Group’s annual conference, Tougaloo College, Jackson, MS, 2/16/18). As Camden, NJ organizer Ronsha Dickerson put it, “We want what we need, not what you want to give us.” This, to her, is real equity.   

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Telling NYSED Commissioner Elia to Trash the NYSESLAT: My Testimony from the Brooklyn ESSA Hearing

Last night a large crowd gathered at Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Educational Campus to hear feedback on the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) proposed plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Speakers were each given three minutes to testify.  I ran out of time and Luis O. Reyes, a member of the NYS Board of Regents, summoned me to the front table to ask for a copy of my speech.  NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was sitting next to him so I used the opportunity to share with her this message: “Get rid of the NYSESLAT. It’s horrible!”  Here is my June 6, 2017 testimony.  

The current Common Core package of high-stakes testing, developmentally inappropriate standards and dull curricula is unsustainable.  Unfortunately, the state’s proposed plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not improve the learning and teaching conditions of our schools.  In fact, it further penalizes schools, particularly those located in areas of concentrated poverty. With regards to high-stakes testing, which is the focus of my testimony, we have not been fooled by the state’s so-called revisions; the state continues to insult our intelligence. Thus the most effective way for us to fight back is to boycott state tests.  There has been much (justified) denunciation of the state ELA (English-language Arts) and math tests, but few people speak out publicly against the Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT, the annual state English as a Second Language (ESL) test that all English-language learners (ELLs) in New York State must take.  In fact, many parents are in the dark about this grueling assessment that is given right after the state ELA and math tests.  Tonight I wish to highlight this lesser known test because it is yet another example of a wrongheaded state test, and its administration shows just how over-tested our children are, particularly our ELLs. 

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The NYSESLAT is tedious, dense, long, boring, developmentally inappropriate, poorly constructed and confusing, and it is comprised of four testing sessions, which means four days of testing.  The kindergarten NYSESLAT has 57 questions and the assessments taken in grades 1-12 each contain 66 questions, which are a combination of multiple choice and constructed written responses. The passages are largely non-fiction, containing social studies and science content, and some of the topics are obscure, outside of the students’ everyday life experiences.  The NYSESLAT is more of a content assessment rather than a true language test.  It’s also excessive in its use of close reading.  The listening section, for example, requires students to listen to passage excerpts over and over again ad nauseam.  Many teachers bemoan the NYSESLAT, claiming that native English speakers would struggle to test at the proficiency level, which is the primary way an ELL can exit the ESL program.   I have students, already overburdened by state testing, that will remain at the advanced (expanding) level on the NYSESLAT because they don’t score well on standardized tests.  To subject them to this poor quality assessment year after year is abusive.

New York State administers the NYSESLAT to comply with federal law, but it’s the state that creates this developmentally inappropriate and highly flawed test.  I often wonder if any of the decision-makers at the state level have actually looked at the test.  Anyone who signs off on the NYSESLAT should be required to sit down and take this arduous four-part assessment (as well as the math and ELA tests).  At the local level, why aren’t more district leaders publicly condemning the state testing program?  We are past the point of using fear as an excuse to remain quiet.  We can no longer shrug our shoulders and say yes this is a horrible test but we have to give it. What can we do? We can refuse, is what we can do, in spite of the state’s increasingly threatening tone.  How can the state penalize schools for refusing tests that are toxic?  I’m not talking about a fringe group of educators that feels this way.  The tests are widely derided by working educators: teachers and school leaders alike.  If ESSA gives states more leeway in designing their own accountability systems, why not honor assessments that are truly holistic, meaningful and developmentally appropriate? U.S. labor leader Emma Tenayuca once said, “I was arrested a number of times.  I never thought in terms of fear.  I thought in terms of justice.” The opt-out movement seeks justice for all students.  Every child in this state is deserving of a rich and well-rounded education.  The state’s accountability system – centered on high-stakes testing – robs our children of this.

You can send your own comments on the proposed plan through June 16 by emailing ESSAComments@nysed.gov

Here are some additional resources that look critically at the state’s proposed plan:

Leonie Haimson’s (Class Size Matters) Testimony on the state’s proposed accountability system under ESSA

Rally held to express concerns over ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ plan – News 12 Brooklyn

Another Squandered Opportunity: Parents, Students and Educators Slam NYSED’s Flawed ESSA Proposal on NYC Public School Parents

Nicholas Tampio’s LoHud OpEd  

Test Refusal = People Power

In recent months, social media has been ablaze with talk of regular folk taking action to resist the Trump agenda.  Protests are a daily occurrence, and even those who previously paid little attention to politics are now hitting the streets with cardboard signs to express their outrage.  I see girls as young as 6 years old scurrying into brownstone Brooklyn public schools with handmade, mauve-colored pussy hats atop their heads.  I would even argue that more than half of the adult population in the United States knows who Betsy DeVos is and what she stands for.  While I wish more people had been ‘woke’ under Obama, this new wave of activism – with the message of #PeoplePower at its heart – gives me hope.

Since 2013, I have been strongly encouraging residents of New York State – and beyond – to refuse the Common Core-aligned grades 3-8 state tests in math and ELA.  I still have nothing positive to say about them, and at this point – in my weary, I-give-zero-you-know-whats state – I have escalated to practically demanding that you opt out this year.  Even Betty Rosa, the new chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said she’d refuse the tests.  Here’s what Kate Taylor of The New York Times reported in March 2016:

“Dr. Rosa has criticized the new, more difficult tests that the state introduced under her predecessor, Merryl H. Tisch, as part of its transition to the Common Core standards. She has suggested that the tests were designed so that many students would fail, giving policy makers a chance to point to a crisis in the state’s schools. On Monday, she said that if she had children in the grades taking the exams, she would have them sit out the tests, as the parents of more than 200,000 students did last year.”

People, we have power.  Refusing the state tests sends the message that we reject the further privatization of public education in this country.  Under this umbrella, we:

  • say NO to the over-testing of our youngest learners, particularly English-language learners who must also take the grueling four-part NYSESLAT assessment AFTER the state ELA and math tests.
  • say NO to school segregation and the argument that a school is “bad” because of low test scores.
  • say NO to fear and threats! NYC students ARE getting into competitive middle and high schools without test scores, and schools are not being defunded.
  • say NO to a one-size-fits-all education.
  • say NO to poorly constructed, highly flawed and developmentally inappropriate standardized tests.
  • say NO to test scores being used to label schools, students and teachers as “failing.”
  • say NO to uninspiring test prep curricula.
  • say NO to the lack of art, music and culturally responsive curricula in our schools.
  • say NO to data-mining.

Opting out is not just to protect your own child.  It also sends the message that we are looking out for ALL children.   Peter Greene, a highly respected educator and blogger, recently published a piece on test refusal in The Huffington Post.  It gives even more reasons to opt out including “the value of non-compliance,” my personal favorite.  Greene writes, “In this day and age, it is never too early for a child to learn that sometimes people in authority will demand that you comply with dumb actions. Unthinking compliance is unwise. It’s good for all citizens to learn to say ‘no’.” 

The New York State tests begin two weeks from today.  Please visit these websites to download your opt out letter.  It’s not too late to say NO, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t refuse the tests.

NYS Allies for Public Education 

NYC Opt Out

 

Dignity for my Yemeni Students & the Inhumanity of Trump’s Anti-Muslim Immigration Ban

The majority of U.S. citizens do not support the current predator-in-chief.* He does not speak for us or represent our views.  We condemn his racist and xenophobic actions, most recently the executive order he signed yesterday that temporarily bans citizens – including refugees –  of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran from entering the United States.

In the past seven years, I have had the privilege of working with a growing number of English-language learners from Yemen.  Their families are not terrorists.  My current students – aged five to ten – trade Pokémon cards and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  They play soccer and make drawings of purple horses and flowers.  They cry when they fall on the ice and bleed.  Last year, one student broke my heart when she regularly interrupted me to tell me that her cousins in Yemen had no food and were starving.  And in November, a truly perplexed fourth grader asked me, “Why does Trump think we are terrorists?”

While the horrors in Syria have been widely reported, mainstream media barely makes a peep about the bloodshed in Yemen.  According to UNICEF, one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen.  Children there are severely malnourished and lack access to clean water, food and medical care.  This is due – in large part – to a civil war that has been raging in Yemen since 2015.  Not surprisingly, the United States is involved in the conflict as an arms supplier to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which, through its attacks on Houthi rebels, has indiscriminately murdered thousands of Yemeni civilians, including children.

Zaid Jilani, in his January 25, 2017 article in The Intercept, said Trump’s Muslim immigration executive order is “…like a twisted version of the you-break-it-you-buy-it Pottery Barn rule: If we bomb a country or help destabilize its society, we will then ban its citizens from being able to seek refuge in the United States.”

Next week, my Yemeni students may want to discuss this weekend’s events with me.  They may wonder why Saudi Arabia is not included in Trump’s Muslim ban.  Or they may just want to tell me about Pokèmon trainers.  Whatever awaits me, I will continue to rage inside. My newcomer kindergartener will reach for my hand, as she always does, and I will think about how lucky she is to have arrived here before 2017.  I will continue to wonder about the safety and well-being of her relatives in Yemen.  Through gestures and individual words, she will tell me the names of the shapes she’s learned and will ask to borrow one of my books.  The humanity I experience in my school on a daily basis is comforting, and, I believe, reflects the decency and compassion of most U.S. citizens.  Trump’s actions and rhetoric, on the other hand, are vile and inhumane.  He must be stopped, for as we are witnessing, he is an impediment to our ability to become a more tolerant, democratic and caring society.  Trump appears to want the opposite and will lie to get it.  I vow to protect all of my English-language learners as best I can, and will use this space to voice my opposition to the Trump agenda and to continue to tell the truth about what is happening in New York City public schools.

*I am crediting Winona LaDuke for this term

 

Sunset Park Fifth Graders Hold a Human Rights Fundraiser

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“I have been through a lot in my life. This painting represents a time in my life when I changed and became a new person…It also represents when you are in your deepest pain you still have that place in your heart that tells you there is still HOPE and NEVER GIVE UP.”

As the 2015-2016 school year comes to a close, many students and educators nervously await the release of scores that, according to state and local education departments, tell us our worth as teachers and learners.

But these numbers do not rate us on our humanity and on our ability to love and add beauty to our troubled world.  Official data such as test scores and teacher evaluation ratings cannot capture the spirit of our classrooms. 

In celebrating our meaningful – and largely unsung – work, I wish to highlight an amazing project conceived by a fifth grade class in a Title I public elementary school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Inspiration for the project, which is called From Artistic Inspiration to Education, came from two main sources: the students’ study of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and stories told to them by their teacher, Maria Diaz, who recently visited an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic.  In promoting Article 26 of the UDHR, which states that “everyone has the right to education,” Class 5-502 decided to raise money for the school in the village their teacher visited.

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Here’s what the students of class 502 wrote on their fundraising webpage:

We are so lucky to have a school that provides us with all the educational supplies we need. Buying school supplies and uniforms is a challenge for all of the 13 kids that attend that school and we want to be able to provide those basic supplies for them. 

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To date, the students have raised a little more than $1,375.00.  This week, class 502 is inviting the school community to visit their classroom, which they’ve converted into an art gallery to showcase their UDHR-inspired artwork as well as to provide more information about the school they are supporting.  On Thursday, June 16, the students of class 502 will auction off their paintings.  The silent auction will take place at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn from 3:30 – 7:00 pm (427 38th Street between 4th and 5th Aves.).  Please come (or donate online).  Witnessing the students’ enthusiasm and empathy will give you hope for the future.  Their words of wisdom – whether intentional or not – will also move you.  One student wrote this about her painting: “I enjoyed creating it even though it looks messy and a bunch of curvy lines.  That is what art is all about.  That is what education is all about.”

Here is a sampling of their creations.

house

“I am from the Dominican Republic. A lot of people there are really poor. Ms. Diaz showed us a village called El Aguacate, there are mountains there. Article 25 states that you and your family are entitled to having basic necessities, like a house. This is why I chose to draw a house.”

math

“I was inspired to paint Divided Colors because of my love for division in math. It represents how unfair life could be and how some people are divided. For example, children’s education is divided. In the Dominican Republic and in other parts of the world like Yemen kids don’t have the right to a proper education.”

horse

“My piece represents equality for all human beings and animals. If you only have an eye, you can still be friends with someone who has two eyes.”

flowers

“These flowers represent us helping a school in the Dominican Republic. I put the flowers far from each other because the Dominican Republic is another country.”

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bomb

“What inspired me to paint this is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because Article 3 says “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In a lot of places people don’t have that. Also a lot of people suffer so much. BOOM represents the evils that destroy things and harm innocent people.”

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—”To me a parrot represents all the languages spoken in the world. The colors represent happiness and freedom. In Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says that, “Everyone should live life with freedom.” Some people see a bird as a sign of freedom and we can all believe that someday we will all have world freedom.”

 

 

 

 

 

Recognizing Effective Teaching Without Danielson’s Rubric

Where in Charlotte Danielson’s 2013 Framework for Teaching rubric, which is currently being used throughout the United States to measure teacher practice, is the component for teaching empathy, for inspiring students and for giving them tools, as well as the motivation, to keep from giving up on life?

When I was in high school, as far as I know, administrators did not use a rubric to evaluate my teachers.  I became a college and graduate student of history, and a social justice educator, because of Dr. Rick Chase, my high school history teacher at the The Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia. Through Dr. Chase, my interest in politics blossomed.  I discovered that I gravitated towards candidates who strived to be of service to the poor and working class. I felt deep compassion for Paul Tsongas whose dream of becoming U.S. president in 1992 was cut short due – in large part, as I recall – to his health problems.  Like Tsongas, I was a swimmer and took pride in my butterfly stroke.

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from The Lovett School’s Fall 2015 magazine

Dr. Chase’s selection of My Enemy My Self by Yoram Binur pulled at my heartstrings as I read, in horror, Binur’s firsthand account of the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories.  Fighting discrimination and hate became a mission for me. I sought to understand the origins of genocide and, as a 21-year-old, traveled alone to Poland to contemplate human history from the railroad tracks of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

Recently, the talented film editor Michael Elliot produced a four-minute-long film honoring Eileen Daniel Riddle and James Gilchrist, two retired theater arts teachers from Agoura Hills, California who changed his life and those of many of his classmates. 40 years later, we are moved by the testimonials of Riddle and Gilchrist’s former students.  “I love this man so much,” exclaims one woman as she hugs James Gilchrist.  “They were the spark that set my life in motion,” remarks Michael Elliot who also credited Eileen Daniel Riddle with helping students find beauty through pain.

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Film editor Michael Elliot with his former theater arts teacher, Eileen Daniel Riddle

Please share with Michael your story of a teacher who inspired you.  Visit shoot4education.com/teacherproject.  

While these lifelong teachers, now retired, had different teaching styles, interests and personalities, they all taught with passion and instinct, traits not measurable by a rubric. They also had freedom and autonomy, conditions that motivate teachers and boost their morale.  The current path that we are on – the standardization of teaching and learning and the narrowing of curriculum – is short-sighted and unsustainable.  It unfortunately deprives students of experiences that Michael Elliot touchingly describes in his short film.  Eileen Daniel Riddle, James Gilchrist and Dr. Rick Chase are teachers who not only inspired students to expand their learning but also created spaces in which students could feel alive.

What rubric measures that?