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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools / RA Principal

March 5, 2015

Dear Rivendell Families,

This fall I sent a lengthy letter all to all Rivendell families explaining issues related to federally required standardized testing (the SBAC) in Vermont and across the country. The time for administering the tests is approaching. I would like to update you on what the testing will look like at the Academy and update you on what we have been continuing to do in order to roll back the testing requirements.

During the week of February 9 - 13, we created a special schedule so the 7th and 8th grade students spent approximately 5 ½ hours learning how to take the new online tests and taking practice tests in English and math. They spent additional time in class working on testing strategies. The 11th grade took a half-day on March 3rd to run though the online test materials.

The time spent on familiarizing students with the test format takes away time from instruction and learning. We are trying to avoid wasting time on test prep, while doing what we need to do to familiarize students with the new computer format and the format of the questions. Since the law mandates the tests, it would not be fair to students to not give them some preparation negotiating the new types of questions and computer format. Our staff also needs to increase its knowledge about strategies of administering the tests, and we will be trying to push our computer network to the limit to determine if we can maintain full wireless access in the building as we test.

There are two components to English and math tests. In one section the questions actually increase or decrease in difficulty depending on a student's answer. The second part of the tests begins with a scripted ½ hour classroom activity that we do with students the day before they take the test. The second test (both subjects) does not level the questions. The testing will take place over 6 days.

In addition to the critical issues that were raised in my fall letter, Michael Galli's presentation on tests, letters and a visit to the Vermont Secretary of Education and other work that we have continued to do, the most frustrating issue at the moment is the significant amount of instructional time that is being spent on testing and the amount of staff and administrative time that the SBAC is costing the school and district. Here is a rough estimate of the time spent so far:

  • ¾ day meeting in October (Keri, Chris White, Eric Reichert)
  • Full-day meeting in January (Keri, Gabi Martino)
  • Student practice time described above
  • 25 hours (Nancy Murphy and Gabi Martino organizing schedules and information regarding testing requirements)
  • 7 hours (On-line certification of teachers, administrators and counselors who will potentially need to proctor the testing)
  • 25 hours (Hank Plaisted loading secure browsers and updating the network to support the testing)
  • 8 hours meetings (Keri, Jan Cole, Gail, Tammy)
  • 4 hours data input (Bridget Peters)

Between October and today we have spent roughly 141 person-hours related to administering the test. This is a conservative estimate and, in addition, we still have work and meetings planned, student data to input, and scheduling to do before we actually give the test. None of this includes the instructional time that will be missed during the testing itself.

We should not be spending so much time and money on work that, I have no doubt, will NOT help us do a better job of educating our students. I have included a memo from the secretary of education indicating her opinion of the testing. I am less optimistic about what value the test results might have. Quite often the results of educational research or data gathering is simply common sense. Also, I have not heard one national or state strategy for educational improvement linked to test results. My worst fear is that opponents to public education will use the results to further erode support for public education. This comes at a time when the US has reached an 80% national graduation rate, an all-time high. Iowa is at 88% and Vermont and Wisconsin are at 87%. (http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state.html)

I have continued to speak out against the testing. Michael and I contacted Senator Sanders' office and discussed our concerns with one of his staffers, David Cohen. I learned that Senator Sanders is working hard on the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act. This would help relieve Vermont, one of the top states in terms of student achievement, of having all of its schools become "in need of improvement" based on the NCLB Act's requirement that all states test proficient in math and English by 2014.

I encourage eeryone to contact Senator Sanders' office. Here is a copy of an email that I sent to David Cohen after our conversation.

Dear Mr. Cohen,
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our concerns about the SBAC test, AYP requirements, school improvement and all the rest. Yesterday, I mentioned that school administrators and teachers in Vermont were not engaging in a robust public debate about the education issues that we are facing today. Here is a link that will take you to a letter from another Vermont principal who has found his voice. The letter was sent to Vermont principals from the Vermont Rural Partnership. It is a thoughtful letter that reflects the challenges of teachers and principals across the state.

http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2016/WorkGroups/House%20Education/Vermont%20Principals'%20Association/W~Anonymous%20Vermont%20School%20Principal~Testimony~1-29-2015.pdf

I am interested in hearing if your office is getting many calls from principals, superintendents, teachers, school boards, and parents about education issues. As I indicated in our conversation yesterday, I don't hear people speaking up in statewide meetings. I agree that Vermont is in a good position compared to states that signed the waiver agreement, but I am afraid that if policies don't change at the national level, it will only be a matter of time before Vermont and others are forced to fall in line. I have attached a letter that I mailed to parents about a range of issues and policies related to testing and test results.

Thanks again for you time and your work. Please tell Senator Sanders to keep us informed of his work with the Senate Education Committee and let us know what we can do to support his work with the committee. Time and resources in education are being wasted. We need a change in policy. We need to continue to be creative and innovative.

Best,
Keri Gelenian
Principal, Rivendell Academy
Head of Schools, Rivendell Interstate School District
(603) 353-4321
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