Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sample Superintendent Letter for Ohio

Here is a letter Ohio superintendents concerned about common core implementation and PARRC assessments can use as a template or model to send to Ohio legislators as they contemplate HB 237.

Dear (state legislator)

We are a group of superintendents from districts in Ohio who would like to express our concern over recent developments and requirements in K-12 education in our state.  You are examining a bill to halt implementation of the common core standards, as well as the PARCC assessments that are due next school year.  We believe that it is important for you to hear our voices and concerns as you debate this legislation.

There is much good in the common core standards, adopted in Ohio as the New Learning Standards in English/Language Arts and Math.  Our teachers are using Close Reading strategies and taking students more deeply into complex text.  We are using more focused math standards and solving rich problems.  We are purchasing materials to help with the instructional shifts required. However, we also have grave concerns about the common core standards and the assessments that accompany them.

First of all, child development specialists, early childhood experts, and teachers of young children are concerned about the cognitive level and developmental readiness required in the new standards.  The standards were developed by selecting the SAT score that would be required to achieve a B in a 4-year college program, and then back-mapping the skills and knowledge to preschool.  This is unrealistic and certainly not research-based.  If we are to implement these standards, early childhood experts MUST be involved in developing the benchmarks for young children.  

We are also concerned that these standards are totally untried.  They may lead to children being more prepared for college and career, and they may not.  They may also lead to higher dropout rates, frustration, and discouragement; we simply don’t know.  With the extreme accountability measures in place for teachers and schools, undue emphasis is placed on English and Math standards that may or may not work.  Not only that, but with budget cuts and such high stakes on standardized tests, subjects that are untested are falling by the wayside.    

Another question concerns the purpose of the new standards.  We have heard that they are intended to prepare students for college and career, however research suggests that there is no correlation between student achievement and rigor of standards. We posit that the standards were developed for the purpose of creating a national market for companies that sell educational tests, textbooks, and test-prep materials. Bill Gates, at the 2009 National Conference of State Legislators, stated, “ When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.”  Our children deserve better.

Next Generation Assessments will be piloted this spring and enforced upon our schools next year, carrying high stakes with them, as well, even though there is grave concern that we do not have the number of computers nor sufficient band width to accommodate so many students taking online assessments at once. Again, the tests are untried, hurriedly prepared, and are designed to fail 70% of the students taking it. There is no reliability or validity to these assessments.  Using them to notify 9-year old children that they are not on track for college and career is ludicrous, and to use them to evaluate teachers is equally as absurd.  In addition, our children will be spending literally days of instructional time in lengthy assessments.  Children in grades 4-8 will spend 9.5 hours in standardized testing for the ELA and math assessments, and those who are most needy and require extended time, even longer.  Science and social studies assessments for Ohio are expected to mirror the format of PARCC assessments, which is an additional four hours, minimum. In addition, children will be required to take an assessment in “Speaking and Listening,” with no projected time specified yet.  When children are in the computer labs or classrooms for extended testing time, the operation of the entire school is disrupted.  The PARCC assessments alone take 40 days of assessment (20 for performance assessments and 20 for end of year assessments) to rotate all children through the limited computers we have.  If even half that number of days is required for science, social studies, and speaking and listening, our schools will be disrupted for 60 days of the school year.  This is a conservative estimate.

With these concerns in mind, we urge you to support HB 237 to halt the implementation of the common core and PARCC assessments.  Review the standards with child developmental readiness in mind.  Pause high-stakes testing until we can transition properly to new standards that are good for all of Ohio’s students.

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