Maintaining the Achievement Gap by Threatening Opt Out.


Let’s make this quick.  At this point it is no mystery that high stakes testing does nothing to reduce the achievement gap (30 + plus years of trying).  In fact, the reality is that the achievement gap is maintained by the constant insistence of using test based accountability.  Yes, accountability is responsible for maintaining the achievement gap.

It is also responsible for:

  1. Perpetuating the false failing schools narrative.
  2. Reducing the vibrancy of the curriculum.
  3. Destroying recess and totally upending kindergarten.
  4. Entrenching a system of continued profit and blame that denies children basic needs.
  5. Ruining a wonderful profession and creating a mass exodus of our best teachers from classrooms.
  6. Smashing the dreams of many students that once considered teaching as a future profession
  7. and…………………..

Knowing this you would think that Opt Out would be the go to tactic for those concerned with the future of public schools.  Not so in Wisconsin!

In fact check out this email I received—with the recipient list suppressed—from the Department of Public Instruction.

“A letter was sent to all district administrators late last week indicated a change regarding test participation and the state report card. The letter stated the 2016-17 state accountability report cards, which will be released in fall 2017, will not have deductions for test participation for districts or schools.

Ensuring all students participate in state assessment remains a high priority. Although there will no longer be deductions, we will continue to report test participation rates in the School and District Report Cards. Assessing student performance to measure the progress each subgroup of students is making, and to clearly identify achievement gaps in our state remains a critical focus of the department.

For federal accountability, ESSA requires that schools annually test at least 95 percent of their students in Grades 3-8 and once in high school in ELA and mathematics. In addition, federal law requires that all non-tested students are included in the denominators when determining achievement. Non-tested students will still count against schools in the federal calculation of participation and proficiency as well as the number of students participating in the alternate assessment, Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM).

As outlined in a previous letter, under ESSA, the number of students who may take the alternate assessment is limited to no more than 1.0 percent of the total number of all students in the State who are assessed in a given subject. Despite the cap being at the State level, ESSA further requires that a school district exceeding the 1% cap in any subject must submit a justification to DPI, and DPI must provide appropriate oversight to the district. State/districts must still meet the 95% participation rate for students enrolled in tested grades. Only students with the most significant cognitive disabilities may participate in the alternate assessment (DLM), and no student should take the alternate assessment unless they are also participating in the alternate academic achievement standards (Wisconsin Essential Elements).

In addition, OSEP requires annual LEA determinations and the weight given to results indicators is increasing each year during the period from 2016 to 2018, until 50% of the score comes from Compliance and 50% comes from Results. All LEAs with students in tested grades (3-8 and 10) receive scores for 3B (participation) and 3C (proficiency) in reading and math in LEA Determinations.

DPI’s special education team will continue to provide guidance and assistance to local districts to include only the students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in alternate assessments.”

First question I have is why did I receive this email?  Is it because I’m the Dean (it was sent to my work email)?  And if it was because of my position what the hell was I supposed to do with it?  Or was it sent because of my questionable past as a founder and early leader in the opt out movement?  Or was it meant to be used as a threat in hopes that I would discourage opt out?  I have no idea.  There was NO context. Just the email as presented above with no other recipients visible.

Whatever the reason I can tell you that if this was a threat it didn’t work.  The Forward Test (That’s what we call it now in Wisconsin) has no future with my own children and when asked for opt out advice I will present the facts above and whole heartedly support opt out.

We will only get a chance to be serious about the “achievement gap” and rebuild the teaching profession when we totally eliminate test based accountability.

When will that happen?  When we all opt out!