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The following comments were made to the Board by concerned teachers from the Bradford School.
My collegues and I are troubled by a tremendous over-reliance on the DRA to make important decisions about children. The DRA is overlooking children with weak phonics skills and it over-identifies children as having poor comprehension who are merely poor writers. These problems have been identified by our veteran teachers, reading specialists, and even our novice teachers. Yet the DRA score is given far more weight than a teacher’s professional opinion.
No single test should be used to make critical and complex decisions about children, and a teacher’s observations & judgment should always be relied upon when interpreting scores.
Currently, there is more red tape to get children extra support than ever before. Teachers are required to provide so much data to document a student’s weaknesses that there is little time to conduct meaningful interventions. For each child who struggles, the teacher must document specific weaknesses with work samples, observations and test results, describe the interventions and then chart their frequency. The teacher is expected to administer tests to struggling children every 2 weeks.
The documentation and red tape is so burdensome that under these conditions, only the weakest students get services, and children with milder problems are neglected until their problems become a severe hindrance to their ongoing development.
In addition to problems with documentation, RTI takes too long. District policy dictates that children can’t officially move to a higher level of support until the start of a new marking period. This has been problematic for a Bradford student who requires speech services. The child’s needs were evident on the first day of school, and supported by our speech pathologist’s screening. However, the child’s teacher was not able to refer him for a formal evaluation and told to wait unti the start of the next marking period. This means he’s unlikely to get services until February or March.
We are frustrated by the administration’s response to our concerns about students. When requesting extra support, we are too often told that our students cannot quality because their DRA scores aren’t low enough. It’s appalling tha the expertise of teachers and specialists are disregarded in favor of a DRA score.
The district is grossly misusing RTI. Rather than using is to proactively help children, it’s used to reduce referrals to special education and make it appear as though the district is eliminating the achievement gap. In reality, this gap is widening for more children and at a faster rate than ever before.
I am here to speak on behalf of Bradford MEA members – about our concerns regarding teacher professional development, communication and technology.
We have district-mandated PD days – that are one-size fits all workshops and are not beneficial to all of us. We are at widely varying stages of our professional lives and can identify our own strengths and areas for improvement. We yearn for quality professional development in areas that we choose according to our needs. We are expected to differentiate our instruction for children. We want that same respect paid to us.
For example, in October, teachers attended a workshop about guided reading that many of us could have taught. Substitute teachers were hired and our students lost yet another day of real teaching. When a teacher at our school requested funding for an out-of-district workshop given by experts in the field, she was told that “the district already gives PD in this.”
There are more “professional development” days planned for this school year – more days away from our students, more funds spent on substitutes. The Board has been told that this PD is “invaluable” to the teachers. What would be “invaluable” to us would be to receive funding and release time for professional development of our choosing that addresses our needs. Stop taking us from our students! Stop listening to the administrators’ misrepresentation of how great the district professional development is. LISTEN TO THE TEACHERS!
Communication between the district & teachers is lacking and misleading when directed by the district to the parents. Parents are led to believe when it comes to the Common Core, benchmark assessments, and PARCC preparation that teachers are resistant to change and don’t like having to work harder. THIS IS NOT TRUE. We embrace change when the change is appropriate and beneficial to our students. We are not opposed to more work!
Communication is also last minute. Central Office sent an email on the last day of a 2-week time period given to complete reading assignments that gave additional instructions, new tasks and new procedures for entering reading grades on the report cards. Most of us had already completed the DRAs and entered the grades. The information came too late !
Regarding technology – we are asked to implement curriculum that requires technology that we do not possess. We are using Pearson Envision math with an online component. We were told that use of this Pearson product would be reflected in our observations & our evaluations. At Bradford – some of us have Smart Boards – some us do not. For those who do not, the program is used by gathering about 25 students around one old small computer screen – often with buffering internet.
If we have to use technology – YOU MUST SUPPLY IT ! Do not tell us that funds are not in the budget ! A budget that supports bonuses to the superintendent & members of her staff should not plead poverty when it comes to servicing students.
At the heart of Bradford School, is a concern for the importance of equity as well as respect for the work that the paraprofessionals do each day. We could not possibly meet the needs of our most vulnerable students without these dedicated and experienced professionals. At Bradford School, we have a large number of children with special needs and we work hard to be inclusive. We have been mulling over the importance of equity and how that relates to the importance of paraprofessionals since October 13th, a day when the entire district came together to hear Dr. Chris Emdin speak about equity in education and, ironically enough, a day for which the paraprofessionals have NOT YET BEEN PAID. We are simply appalled that the BOE prefers to pay more to enter into a grievance process than to pay the paras for this day of work.
It is not possible to separate the importance of equity in education from the important role that the paraprofessionals play in supporting the students of Montclair. Paras work one-on-one with children or with small groups of children to provide specific interventions for children such as: helping children focus, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, and reviewing strategies not yet grasped. Equity is about providing our students who are furthest behind with the support needed to succeed and eventually close the achievement gap. On a side note, we would like to echo the call from others to disaggregate the achievement gap data in Montclair according to socioeconomics.
Yet, paras are not valued for the vital role they play in the education of our students. A few years ago, they were threatened with outsourcing and stripped of their benefits. The district has made significant cuts which has left the classrooms with paras for classified students ONLY. Currently, most paras are spread very thin – often assigned to three or four of our neediest students. So, it is inconceivable that classrooms are threatened with a 30% down-sizing of paras again. Moreover, there are an increasing number of paras being hired as long time subs without contracts. If we continue to disregard our para professional’s work conditions, we will not attract high caliber individuals and our students will suffer. Despite these conditions, our paras arrive each day at school bringing dedication and their unique talents to the children with different learning styles. Paras show infinite patience and resourcefulness. They continually go above and beyond, are asked give up lunch periods, and asked to perform tasks designed for highly trained specialists.
One final note, despite the repeated outcry of every school in our district, our MEA president Gayl Shephard’s place on the board meeting agenda has not been reinstated. Last year you provided each school with a forum to speak. This year we are given no voice at all, so we rely on Montclair teachers who reside in town to speak. Your efforts to silence us have not gone unnoticed. Your efforts to silence us have not worked.
The following comments were written and presented by members of Montclair 250, an organization of Montclair residents who work for the school district.
We are Montclair. We live here; we work here; we are parents of children who have or still are part of the Montclair school system that has always been a source of pride for our town. We are your neighbors, friends, and educators. As educators we say change is good, and there are many changes throughout the district that we would welcome.
The history of Montclair is steeped in the freedom to disagree yet still have a voice. It has always been part of the culture of this town and part of our respect for each other and our differing opinions. Lately, many voices of varying dissent are being silenced. This is not the norm for Montclair and we are not comfortable with this leadership that seems out of touch with what families want for their children’s education.
We are sad to say that it is our experience that members of this board and administration seem to have a need to separate people from one another: Principals from teachers, parents from teachers, and teachers from paraprofessionals. You have removed people from the agenda, ended a tradition of having teachers speak for their schools and have taken names out of order when calling people up to speak. We would never teach our students to jump ahead of line. Yet this is what is modeled at these meetings.
This kind of separation is attempted through breeding distrust. However, we, as a town, are all together – unified in whatever we agree and disagree about. It is the culture of this town: a culture that is more important than some may realize.
Succeeding in separating groups of people cannot go very far when it is based upon the misinformation, disrespect and inconsistency that affects our students. The current administration and some members of this board are no longer trusted to be honest or respectful to others. Most important of all, they are not trusted to be concerned with the quality of education for all of our children. Instead, this board and administration continue to pass blame for any failings on past administrations, present employees and still attempt to set one group against another.
For example, at the last board meeting, after a round of public comments from many parents in this town who took the PARCC and were not pleased, the Board discussed this. Rather than listen to what the citizens of Montclair said, David Deutch stated “This is simple economics. The PARCC is going to count in teachers’ evaluations. It gives them the incentive to be negative about it.”
Let us be clear with you: the issues educators have with the PARCC are not based on the fact that we will be evaluated. Rather, it is that we have evaluated the PARCC, and find it developmentally inappropriate for each age group it covers, and of low quality. Much more important, is the stress it puts on our students, while offering no benefit to them or instructional direction for teachers.
Perhaps listening to the many parents and educators who have recently taken the PARCC and trying to work within a framework of compromise (at a minimum) instead of attacking educators would be more helpful. Those who work with students are the experts. It is time that all realize that how to educate is best left to the educators.
During a meeting at the Bradford school, between parents and teachers last March, Dr. MacCormack, discussed how 46 states were adopting the common core and how wonderful it was. A parent stood up and asked, “If the common core is so good, then why have several schools spoken out against it at the board meetings?” Dr. MacCormack said “Because it’s hard.” She then went further and explained to the parents that it is difficult for teachers to change, that the common core is very different for them – it’s rigorous. Change is hard for the teachers. This same line has been given to parents at meetings they’ve had with Gail Clarke. It has become the central office’s mantra. One parent said that Gail Clarke made the common core so clear to her, and then followed up by stating that “I know no one likes the extra work, but it’s good for our kids.” Can you imagine anyone walking around stating “Oh, they just don’t like change—it’s too much work” about people in other fields? Again, this is misinformation to separate the community and to continue abusing our children’s education: because all of this dishonesty, and micro-management of who says what to whom, and retribution or intimidation for speaking up is just that—abuse of our children’s education.
Let’s step back to one of the first powerpoint presentations by Dr. MacCormack at a board meeting. Dr. MacCormack’s data showed that the achievement gap was much wider in Montclair than previously thought. She showed that the previous administration (again, the blame sits elsewhere) did not include the socioeconomic data and said this is something she would not leave out. In the most recent presentation of data that included the achievement gap, she did just that. Data and budgets change seamlessly. Responsible approaches, collaboration, any transparency and honesty are lacking in this top-down, corporate model of management that is not working for education. It ends up reducing the role of the educators, excluding them from the planning and decision making in a way that decreases the ability to move our students forward.
Not one member has addressed the budget with any real transparency. In addressing the budget, this district recently reported that they ended the year with no deficit balances and no line item over expenditures. However, with all the money marked for technology, why did they have to take money from principals’ building budgets to fulfill their spending on technology? Forget deficits – where has a surplus that could have been used for students gone? Again, this is something that greatly affects our students.
Also stated in the district’s budget report was that as this district prepares for the development of the 2015-2016 budget, they continue to address increasing expenses in the areas of special education costs, utilities and employee health benefits. This district changed health insurance companies to save a vast amount of money. They muddled through this quickly, not researching CIGNA enough. Much quality has been lost. The CNA determined that Cigna denies roughly 39.6% of all claims (compared to competitors such as Aetna who denied about 5.9% of all claims in the same time frame.) The district did not research other companies, get bids on the insurance, or discuss it with the MEA. After handling this in so incorrect a manner to save money, we do wonder why employee health benefits is under the label of increasing costs.
More importantly, this district claims that special education costs are increasing. They certainly are. When the needs of our students are not met, parents will take their students elsewhere and our district and taxes will foot the bill. Out-of-district placement is up. In this administration’s short tenure legal fees have tripled from the $200,000’s to the $600,000’s. This upsets us greatly. We work hard to make a difference in our students’ lives even without the needed resources in materials and staffing. Our students are our neighbors and their parents our friends. By taking away materials and paraprofessionals, and worrying more about seeming to close a gap rather than really closing it, once again, the board and administration of this district have frayed the edges needed to help our next generation of students succeed.
The meetings held with parents early in this administration’s tenure introduced the idea that the brightest and the best would be brought in. First of all, the insult inherent in that statement to all the existing staff is offensive. Many of the brightest and best have been here much longer than this administration and have helped thousands of students, both academically and emotionally, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. So far, incorrect data, misleading statements, poorly thought out plans, and a lack in the ability to motivate, train, and advance educators is all we have seen. We are still waiting for the brightest and the best.
Last year offered little professional development to teachers or paraprofessionals. Until late in the year, most of the Professional Development offered was a repeated overview of the Marshall Rubric. We are educators. As educators, we have dealt with a vast amount of rubrics in our careers. We could figure out the Marshall rubric. So after a year of this, Central Office decided to get back on the academic track. They offered specific Professional Development. This was offered with the promise of more. Gail Clarke specifically said that the Balanced Literacy Professional Development was geared more toward newer teachers, even calling it Professional Development 101, but would move forward from there. It has not moved forward.
Many of us have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge. We would like to go outside of district for more in-depth professional development. We are told no—the district provides it. We have to miss a day of teaching our students to come to these Professional Development sessions that do not offer growth. If the Professional Development is geared toward newer teachers, then why does the whole district have to lose teaching time and pay substitutes? Just as we differentiate our teaching for our students, we expect the district to be held to the same standard. It seems that our definition of Professional Development and our district’s differ.
For example, high school history teachers were recently told to bring their students to the assembly for a meeting about Amistad. As the students entered, Davida Harewood, district supervisor for social studies, asked if any students would like to ask questions of the presenter afterwards. Students did raise their hands. Those students were handed pre-written questions to ask from Ms. Harewood. The Common Core demands higher analytical thought, yet our students are being taught to read someone else’s questions, putting their own thoughts aside. As students left the auditorium, Ms. Harewood told them to always question – make sure they question their teachers all the time. Professional Development should always model best practices. Later that day, all the teachers found Professional Development certificates in their mailboxes, from Central Office. Just for walking their students to the auditorium. Yet this district talks about raising the bar.
New Jersey’s Department of Education states that the definition of professional development is one that is aligned with student learning, educator needs and embedded in educators’ daily work. It further states that that PD shall have as its primary focus the improvement of teachers’ and school leaders’ effectiveness in assisting all students to meet the Common Core Curriculum Standards.
Neither change nor rigor is hard for teachers. We change consistently and constantly to meet the needs of our students, not Central Office’s need to have us teach to tests. Whatever anyone’s issues with the Common Core, let’s understand that our Central Office has been doling out propaganda for Pearson Publishing and keeping the curriculum narrower and narrower so that we are teaching to a test. That is not what we do. We educate. There is a vast difference between teaching to a test and teaching our students to have a love of learning. Enriching the lives of our students is what matters. We are critical of the changes, not anxious about change. It is time that this difference is understood.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) website offers a vast array of information about this new, untried assessment system, and it is designed to sell the PARCC assessments to parents and educators on all levels. As the PARCC is tied to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the website does a good job of promoting those standards, too. Published within a handbook for “State and District Leaders” in implementing the PARCC and the CCSS is chapter 4, titled “Organize to Implement: Getting the Message Out.” It is a 14-page long public relations manual, replete with charts and graphs and all sorts of useful suggestions.
The Montclair Schools have had an interesting relationship with the notion and function of public relations over the past year, and this year Central Services has hired its own public relations professional. While Mr. Frankel is indeed busy in selling the notion that all changes coming from the state and through superintendent MacCormack are working wonderfully, the public relations efforts to support the CCSS and the PARCC go beyond one man’s effort and employment with the school district. A close look at the PARCC’s chapter on organizing public support is telling; while any public relations work needs to be tailored to local populations and concerns, there is a good deal in the handbook that resonates loudly and clearly here in Montclair.
So let’s take a look at what the PARCC suggests.
The chapter begins this way:
The new evaluation system implemented by the state of New Jersey is serious, and educators across the state are feeling incredible pressure. Myths abound as to the focus, purpose, and effectiveness of the evaluations, and the truth is as complicated as the new system itself. Many in the public arena interpret teachers’ criticisms of the new process as whining, and some go as far as to accuse teachers of resisting evaluation on the whole, insinuating if not stating that teachers do not want to be assessed because they fear being found incompetent. But it’s easy to make such broad statements when you don’t have the facts. There are a lot of myths going around – so what is the truth?
Myth: Teachers do not want to be evaluated.
Truth: Not true. Teachers always have been evaluated. We’re very accustomed to it. Having an administrator observe a class is nothing new, and many teachers welcome the opportunity to introduce principals and supervisors to the wonderful things that students do in the classroom.
But we want the evaluations to be fair. The criteria for what needs to be included within a teacher evaluation has changed since the advent of Race to the Top, and New Jersey has answered by developing AchieveNJ. This is a highly complex system that includes classroom observations, Student Growth Objectives (SGOs), and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs). While this seems fine on the surface, problems can arise if any administration chooses to use the observation portion as retaliation against teachers for practicing free speech or when the state introduces SGPs aligned with brand new tests (PARCC) that have never been used before and about which there is no information about accuracy or reliability.
Myth: Classroom observation criteria are fair and objective.
Truth: Well, that largely depends upon how one defines “fair,” and observations are always subjective, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are 5 observation rubrics available to all districts in NJ, and Montclair is using the Marshall Rubric. There is too much to summarize here, which implies that there is too much. Read the rubric; how much of a difference is there between earning a 3 or 4 in most categories? Between a 1 and a 2? Look at the number of categories. How can any teacher show all of this during any given observation? Can any administrator see all of this? If any administrator in any part of the state wanted to target a teacher, he or she could easily do so, as teachers can defend themselves on evaluation procedures but not on evaluation ratings on the rubrics. Whatever an administrator says, goes.
Myth: No administrator would be so vindictive as to use evaluations to target specific teachers.
Truth: Yes, some would. While we have yet to see a case brought to public attention through the courts in Montclair, it has happened in Newark. Read about it here.
Myth: SGPs are a fair way to use data.
Truth: SGPs, which are a form of Value Added Measurement (VAM), are student test data used in a formula to impact a teacher’s overall rating. But using VAMs is a complicated and expensive process, one that is known to be harmful to schools in many ways if not done properly. (See links to articles about VAMs on our Articles page.) According to the AchieveNJ website, “SGP is a measure of how much a student improves his or her NJ ASK [PARCC] score from one year to the next compared to students across the state who had a similar test score history.” [There is no PARCC history. How can this count for 10% this year?] The state then takes the median test score of a teacher’s students to use. There are many factors that affect student test scores – from home environment to socioeconomic status to whether or not the student ate breakfast on the day of the test, to name a few – but these are not taken into account.
Myth: SGOs help teachers focus their instruction on standards.
Truth: Instruction is, as mandated by the state, centered on standards. It has been for many years, since New Jersey implemented the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCCS) in 1996, so the assertion of the NJ DOE that SGOs will help teachers focus on standards is untrue – we already do. Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (which replaced the CCCS for ELA and Math), instruction has been aligned with these as well. Evaluation requirements demand a teacher to focus on one standard for each SGO and to complete a fairly long process of documentation. The issue is that the standards, again, are already being addressed. The SGO requirement does not cause teachers to bring in new methods or learn new content or strategies; it does cause teachers to spend a lot of time documenting what is already documented through our lesson plans, which are checked by the administration regularly. Because SGOs must document student growth, teachers must establish a baseline at the beginning of the school year; this is why teachers are now giving tests and assessments in September that they know the students will not do well on. If we have not yet taught a skill or concept, of course the pre-assessment scores will be low. We do not want to waste our time or the children’s time with these pre-assessments, but we have no choice.
Myth: Teachers getting bad evaluations must be bad teachers.
Truth: Not at all. In NJ and in other states that have adopted these evaluations, very good teachers are being put on probation and let go. Think of the teachers who volunteer each year to work with the students who struggle the most. No matter their effort, if test scores are low, they are to blame. Teachers who work with English Language Learners and Special Needs students are also at greater risk for their SGPs and SGOs coming in with low scores. Test scores also reflect student placement. If an administrator schedules a teacher with many overcrowded classes filled with students with low skill levels, that teacher will do poorly on the SGP (and possibly in the observation as well). Under the guidelines of AchieveNJ, two consecutive ”ineffective” ratings or one “ineffective” and one “partially effective” rating will trigger tenure action by the state DOE. This means that the state can revoke teachers’ tenure even if their administrators want the teachers to be retained; while a district can challenge the state’s tenure revocation, it is limited in what it can do.
There is nothing, not one thing, in the evaluation system that takes into account how factors outside the school affect student performance.
Myth: You’re whining.
Truth: We’re not. Our jobs are at stake.
By Monica Lavosky
During your visit to the high school, Dr. McCormack, at our November faculty meeting, you mentioned that we should prepare for cuts in the budget. As a teacher, Montclair resident and mother of a senior student, I would like to know what programs and/or faculty this would affect. You also said that there is no longer a surplus and I would like to know what happened to those funds.
The bonus you received above your salary of $177, 500 is almost equal to the salary of a paraprofessional. I believe there are better ways to appropriate our funds to avoid the aforementioned budget cuts.
For the salary of your Public Relations Officer, Matt Frankel, who was recently hired, we could hire another teacher. In the World Language Department, for example, many of our classes are bulging at the seams, especially in Spanish. We have to work to decrease class size across all grades and disciplines for the benefit of our students.
Although I love coming to school every day to teach my students and meet with my colleagues to create engaging lessons, I do not enjoy my time in the restroom facilities. The ratio of stalls to staff members at the high school, is about 300 to 8. We must appropriate the necessary funds to building better bathroom facilities for the staff, that have enough stalls and that meet a healthy level of cleanliness with proper ventilation.
Finally, concerning the PAARC standardized exams and the Core Curriculum Standards, I would like to quote Dr. Chris Tienken, Assoc. Prof. at Seton Hall University and co-author of ‘The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth and Lies’, who spoke recently at a Montclair Cares for Schools forum and said: “All these standardized reforms… rest on pillars of sand.” He further added that ‘one-size-fits-all curriculum standards’ seeks to homogenize education. “Local school boards have been reduced to state adopted polices.” And he added, “Testing is not learning. Test preparation is not teaching.”
Montclair residents Christine McGoey and Michelle Fine have shared their public comments to the BOE on the mcasparentvoices blog. Click here to read them.
Sarah Blaine has posted her comments to the Board of Education meeting on her blog, Parenting the Core. Click here to read them.
From the National Education Association, neatoday.org, on Paraprofessionals:
By John Rosales
“Paraeducators definitely impact student achievement when they are trained in their job roles and responsibilities and receive appropriate supervision from their teacher…When teacher and paraeducators teams are trained together on particular curriculum or instructional strategies students can make impressive academic gains.”
From With a Brooklyn Accent on Charter Schools in New York:
A letter written by Brian De Vale
“None of the unqualified folks that you consistently helped obtain waivers to run the system over the past dozen years… ever possessed the required certification to hold their positions. You seem to be running an affirmative action program for the rich and unqualified.”
From the New Jersey Education Association:
The NJEA has published a chart that shows the estimated time on task for the PARCC assessments, grade by grade, including the March Performance Based Assessments and the April-May End of Year assessments.
Click here to see chart.
By Margaret Sararco
We are fighting to maintain a creative approach to teaching in our classrooms. Everyday we are fighting for our students. Things are so rosy when we come to the Board of Education meetings, but our truth, the one we live everyday, is different than that.
There is an ever-growing climate of harassment, intimidation and silence. We see it here at these meetings. If you want more clarity on what goes on in the district, I am asking that you invite schools to present at the meetings again. Otherwise, you exclude the educators’ voices that do not reside in Montclair. Silence is golden, is an out-dated proverb and has no place in our progressive town.
There is a disconnect between information shared with parents and teachers.
We still do not have quality professional development, instead we have trainings that many are asked to turnkey without sufficient understanding about what they are training. Then we receive an onslaught of documents from Central Services.
I am saddened to report that this is not the town I moved to 22 years ago. The focus of the district no longer embraces programs we held dear to us. Instead its focus on data mining, testing, testing protocols and testing in general are draining our students, teachers and parents alike. We do not have any complaints with our son’s teachers, who work tirelessly to meet their students’ needs, but teachers are burning out all over the district. Morale is low, ladies and gentlemen.
Enough, is enough. Stop trying to break us. We need the support of the Montclair Board of Education to change this dynamic.